Tag Archive: Jack Lemmon


Best of Movies: 301-350

Well, it’s been three and a half months since we’ve been down this path, but I can’t be any happier that we finally made it here. As long time readers know, every 50 films that I review, I do a superlative list of the best films in specific categories that I watched (I also make one at the end of every year). It’s a chance for me to conveniently place in one spot a post where readers can get links to all of the best movies that I’ve reviewed over this particular time period. And more than any single other 4 film block in the blog’s existence, the competition to make these lists (except for the comedy section because I watched a surprisingly low number of comedies) was absurdly intense. Because of my film studies class this semester, I watched a crazy number of “classics” these last couple of months and it will most certainly show. Also, I gave a whopping 5 “A+”s this time around. And on that note, I want to give a special mention to Undefeated, one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen, which doesn’t qualify for any of the awards I give out on this list, but it was still one of the 5 best films I’ve watched during this particular period on my blog. Anyways, I hope you enjoy the list and find something worth watching therein.

Best Picture – Drama:

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1. Chinatown

2. The Godfather: Part II

3. Glengarry Glenn Ross

4. The Master

5. Gangs of New York

Best Picture – Comedy:

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1. Silver Linings Playbook

2. Catch-22

3. Clerks II

4. The Great McGinty

5. Brave

Best Director:

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1. Roman Polanski: Chinatown

2. Francis Ford Coppola: The Godfather: Part II

3. Ange Lee: Life of Pi

4. Paul Thomas Anderson: The Master

5. Joel Coen: The Man Who Wasn’t There

Best Actor in a Dramatic Role:

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1. Jack Lemmon: Glengarry Glen Ross

2. Al Pacino: The Godfather: Part II

3. Leonardo DiCaprio: The Departed

4. Joaquin Phoenix: The Master

5. Daniel Day-Lewis: Gangs of New York

Best Actress in a Dramatic Role:

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1. Glenn Close: Fatal Attraction

2. Glenda Jackson: Sunday Bloody Sunday

3. Faye Dunaway: Chinatown

4. Jessica Chastain: Zero Dark Thirty

5. Natalie Wood: Rebel Without a Cause

Best Actor in a Comedic Role:

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1. Bradley Cooper: Silver Linings Playbook

2. Jack Lemmon: How to Murder Your Wife

3. Alan Arkin: Catch-22

4. Brian O’Halloran: Clerks II

5. Jimmy Durante: Billy Rose’s Jumbo

Best Actress in a Comedic Role:

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1. Jennifer Lawrence: Silver Linings Playbook

2. Rosario Dawson: Clerks II

3. Kelly MacDonald: Brave

4. Doris Day: Billy Rose’s Jumbo

Best Supporting Actor:

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1. Al Pacino: Glengarry Glen Ross

2. Philip Seymour Hoffman: The Master

3. Robert De Niro: Silver Linings Playbook

4. James Gandolfini: The Man Who Wasn’t There

5. Alec Baldwin: Glengarry Glen Ross

Best Supporting Actress:

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1. Sally Field: Lincoln

2. Diane Keaton: The Godfather: Part II

3. Judi Dench: Skyfall

4. Samantha Barks: Les Miserables (2012)

5. Frances McDormand: The Man Who Wasn’t There

Alright people, that’s it. Come back in another three months and hopefully I will have reached the 400 movies reviewed mark. If you’re looking for movies to watch, I just recommended plenty of great ones (except for the acting categories where me loving a performance should obviously not necessarily mean I loved the film. *cough* Les Mis *cough*).

How to Murder Your Wife

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Occasionally, this blog does some really weird stuff. I.e., for the first 300 and so films of my blog’s existence, Jack Lemmon didn’t make a single appearance, but after his arrival in the masterful Glengarry Glen Ross, he makes his return just four films later. Pacino did the exact same thing. He hadn’t been any movie prior to the flaccid Scarface last week, but he came roaring back for Glengarry Glen Ross a couple days later. And that’s odd because those are two of Hollywood’s most beloved actors of all time. It’s so weird that it took them this long to show up in the first place. And after two films (when I wasn’t that intimately familiar with Jack Lemmon’s non-Grumpy Old Men roles), I get the allure surrounding this Hollywood legend. Because ten films into my current 50 film line-up for this blog (cause I break my awards down into 50 film chunks), Jack Lemmon is the front-runner for both Best Actor in both Drama and Comedy (though there’s plenty of time for him to be dethroned for both).

That isn’t to say that my current movie, How to Murder Your Wife, is half the movie that Glengarry Glen Ross was. It’s not even operating in the same galaxy of excellence. Actually, to be honest, it’s sort of bad. Jack Lemmon is just brilliant in it. He’s apparently one of those actors like Meryl Streep who can make even subpar material good in the wake of his terrific acting. I’m sure that for the time this film felt revolutionary with its almost counter-culture message about marriage, 50 years later, How to Murder Your Wife seems almost virulently misogynistic and the laughs don’t come often enough to justify it’s overly long two hour running time. The movie has some great comic bits, but for the most part, How to Murder Your Wife is a bore that hasn’t aged well.

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Stanley Ford (Jack Lemmon) is America’s most beloved comic strip artist. His daily Dash Branigan series chronicling the adventures of a secret agent is read by 80 million people every day. He lives in a gorgeous New York City town house with his butler Charles (Terry-Thomas), and Stanley’s life is the very model of content bachelorhood. When a stag party ends with Stanley married to the dancer that jumps out of the cake (the absurdly gorgeous Virna Lisi), his life becomes everything he fears from domestication. His cartoon hero becomes a domestic marriage satire, and Stanley even begins to put on weight and lose his cocky swagger. Angry with his new lot in life, Stanley decides to have Dash Branigan murder his fictional wife. But when Mrs. Ford finds out about Stanley’s cartoon plans, she runs away and everyone else begins to suspect that Stanley actually murdered her.

Similar to the screwball action at the heart of The Palm Beach Story, this movie actually sounds pretty funny on paper. And if more of the film had been devoted to Stanley’s harmless escapist fantasy of murdering his fictional wife and it avalanching out of control, this could have been a great movie. Sadly, the film spends too much time as a terribly dated family comedy where they try to play on dated gender stereotypes for as many laughs as possible even though the laughs don’t actually arrive. Most of the women are unbearable, unlikeable nagging hags. Mrs. Ford isn’t even given a real name. She’s not necessarily unlikeable but her stupidity and naivete is almost unending. And Stanley’s lawyer, Harold Lampson (Eddie Mayehoff) is a paragon of male boorishness and a picture of the emasculated henpecked husband. But, it’s not funny. It’s just pathetic.

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Thank god for Jack Lemmon and Terry-Thomas then. Anyone wanting to be a comic actor should just go back and watch old Jack Lemmon roles because he is a master of comedic timing. He just knows the exact right moment to deliver the punchline. And the way he can roll his eyes or sigh or become deflated after his plans fall apart is just wonderful. And despite the awful situation he believes he’s found himself in and the almost unsympathetic figure that the script paints him as, Lemmon has such a natural joie de vivre that you can’t help but root for this scheming weasel whose dick got him into more trouble than he could afford. And Terry-Thomas helps to obliterate all of the tropes and cliches associated with the wise and mature butler. He’s as sexist and scheming and hard-willed as Stanley and honestly, the film could have used more of Charles the Butler.

How to Murder Your Wife is not a good movie. It has some great moments. And when they let Jack Lemmon just be Jack Lemmon, it can border on brilliant. He gives a speech towards the end of the film is absurdly offensive in its sexism, but coming from Jack Lemmon’s mouth, you almost don’t want to realize what he’s actually saying. That’s how good he is. He’s like the D.W. Griffith or Leni Riefenstahl of sexism in this film. If you like classic comedies, you might enjoy this film. I love classic comedies though, particularly the classic screwball films, and How to Murder Your Wife did not prove to be one of them.

Final Score: C+

Glengarry Glen Ross

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More than any other aspect of screen writing, dialogue is the trickiest to nail (at least for me). To find the perfect balance between propelling the story forward without inundating the audience with flat exposition is one of the toughest high wire acts of all. Some writers have a natural gift for it. You could almost just simply listen to an Aaron Sorkin film with the visuals turned off and not miss a beat of what was happening or lose a second of enjoyment. It’s snappy, witty, and fast. Woody Allen is the same way, and though this may seem hyperbolic, I’ve long believed that Deadwood scribe David Milch is the best writer of poetic (yet astonishingly crude) dialogue since William Shakespeare. Playwright David Mamet deserves to rank among these men.

It is often under the leanest conditions that writers deliver the most precise and captivating material. Conversations with Other Women is more or less a man and a woman reminiscing on their past love and their current entanglements for an hour and a half, but it’s romantic drama perfection. You Can Count on Me is on its face a simple story of brothers and sisters who can’t be what the other needs, but a truer depiction of the modern family has yet to be made. Based off Mamet’s own stage play, 1992’s Glengarry Glen Ross could be reduced to its base story of four men competing in a sales contest, but beneath that, it’s a stark condemnation of human greed and the perils of ambition. It is a warning of the lengths that men will sink when their careers depend on it, and it is one of the most finely acted films I’ve ever seen.

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Endearingly referred to as “Death of a Fuckin’ Salesman,” Glengarry Glen Ross charts a fateful twenty four hour period at a flailing Chicago real estate firm. When a tough-talking and foul-mouthed representative (Alec Baldwin) from the home offices drops an atomic ultimatum into the mix of a heated sales contest, the four salesmen working at the company and their manager (Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil‘s Kevin Spacey) find their world’s turned upside down. The top salesman at the end of the week wins a Cadillac El Dorado. The second best gets a set of steak knives. And the bottom two performers get shit canned.

Every man in the office spirals into his own turmoils and base instincts. Shelly “the Machine Levine (Jack Lemmon) has a sick daughter and is riding a month of bad luck and shitty leads. The oldest man in the office, Levine works harder than nearly everyone else, but the customers haven’t been calling. Dave Moss (Ed Harris) is an angry schemer with dreams of stealing and selling the valuable “Glengarry leads” to a rival agency and wants his coworker George Aaranow (Catch-22‘s Alan Arkin) to do his dirty work. Smooth-talking Rick Roma (Scarface‘s Al Pacino) is the only guy in the office closing any sales but even he finds himself tested when a big deal threatens to fall apart even after the paperwork has been signed.

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We are 306 movies into this blog, and Glengarry Glen Ross has without question the best ensemble cast of any film yet. It won that race and then lapped everybody around it for good measure. The performance from Alec Baldwin perhaps sums this film’s strengths up better than any other performance (although trust me, we’ll get to Pacino and Jack Lemmon in a second). He’s in the film for all of 7 minutes but by the time his seven minutes are up, you may find yourself exhausted from the gushing fountain of vitriol, greed, and obscenities that spews from his mouth (and person). The man is capitalistic excess and evil incarnate and Baldwin turns the small role into one of the greatest one-scene performances in all of cinema.

Baldwin appears early in the film and disappears quickly, but after his monologue, I thought it would be impossible for any one to top him in the film. Apparently, I’d forgotten how great Al Pacino and Jack Lemmon are. Jack Lemmon is primarily known for his comedic roles. With Walter Matthau, Jack Lemmon is responsible for some of Hollywood’s most beloved comedies. But he turns Shelley Levine into such a broken, sniveling, desperate man that you forget you’re even watching Jack Lemmon. You just see a man who has fallen to the lowest nadir of any man’s life, and Lemmon makes you feel every last bit of pressure as money and greed and the futility of life suck his very essence away. It was a masterful performance.

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And Al Pacino! After his hammy, overwrought turn in Scarface earlier this week, I’d nearly forgotten how terrific he is when he controls himself and lets the explosions come with precision. Ricky Roma has a silver tongue and we see him ply it over a customer as he tries to make a sale and later have to weave even more intricate lies and run-arounds as he tries to keep that client in the company’s fold. But, as fate and the incompetence of others threatens to unfurl Roma’s machinations, Roma unleashes his not-so-righteous fury on those that threaten to impede him. And watching Pacino flip that switch from cool to terrible is one of the most delightful experiences in all of film-making.

The whole cast is wonderful from Arkin’s spineless Aaronow to Ed Harris’s manipulative Moss to Kevin Spacey’s bureaucratic Williamson. It would be too easy to spend this entire review raving about how wonderful and nuanced each performance is. These actors gel with the type of coordination and rhythm that you only seem to find on television programs where the same actors have been performing together for years. Mamet’s world feels lived in and the intimacy each performer brings to the table makes you feel each stab and wound as these men betray and assault one another to survive.

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As much as Glengarry Glen Ross brutally savages the spiritually decayed men that inhabit its walls and sell their souls for real estate and fleeting success, the film’s true indictment rings against the system and culture that forces Ricky Roma an Shelley Levine to be the kind of men they become. These men are forced to fight tooth and nail for useless leads. They have to degrade their own ethics and morals to close on these worthless leads and only then will the company let them touch the real leads that might lead them to fruitful deals. The original stage play was one of the first major indictments of Reagan-era greed and ennui, and it rings even truer today as a haunting prediction of the spiritual state of our nation.

Glengarry Glen Ross is one of those films that has it all. It has a monumentally important story. It’s characters are as fleshed-out and developed as any that have hit the big screen. The performances are universally sublime. There isn’t wasted second in a story that is the definition of efficient. And the dialogue is as sumptuous a feast as you’re likely to ever find. It has been six months (Margaret in August) since a film received the honors I’m about to bestow upon this film, but nothing has come close to deserving it in a while. Glengarry Glen Ross is cinematic perfection and, simply put, one of the best films I’ve reviewed so far.

Final Score: A+