A look at the contenders for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress this year and how many of them play a historically-beloved role for Oscar, the mother.
"American Experience: Billy the Kid" is available on demand at PBS.org after its January 10 broadcast at 9 p.m. (ET/PT). Check local listings.
Who hasn't heard of Billy the Kid? He's often portrayed in Westerns -- sometimes as a blood-thirsty killer -- but the PBS "American Experience" documentary "Billy the Kid" gives us a sympathetic portrayal of an orphan who "became the most wanted man of the west." Instead of drama, blood, and lust in the dust, you'll get a more multicultural view of a homeless kid gone wrong after being wronged.
The one-hour film, narrated by Michael Murphy, begins with a hangman's noose. The date is April 28, 1881 and the 21-year-old man known as Billy the Kid is in the custody of Sheriff Pat Garrett. He escapes his appointment with the hangman, but he won't be alive much longer.
Marie writes: Having recently seen a stage play, I was reminded again of how much I enjoy them. And the buildings they're often performed in. Which sent me off looking for old ones and hopefully Theatres you never hear about - as then it's like stumbling upon a secret known only to a lucky few. And thus how I found "Minack Theatre Portcurno Cornwall" with a view over-looking the Cornish sea...
While it is one or two steps behind "Dr. Strangelove," "The President's Analyst" (1967) is a very good black comedy sniggering at Cold War paranoid. Maybe it's not as ruthless as that great comedy, but the movie romps cheerfully on its subjects with a take-no-prisoner attitude. And during this loony joy ride we eventually discover that the movie foretold something very accurate more than 40 years ago.
We have seen many psychiatrist whose lives become more burdensome than usual thanks to their unusual patients in the movies ("Analyze This") and TV series("The Sopranos" and "In Treatment"), but I think no one can top our hero Dr. Sidney Schaefer (James Coburn). His new patient is none other than the president of the United States, the most powerful figure in the world who incidentally does not appear on the screen.
In a Coen Brothers movie every pause and stutter, every "um" and grammatical (mis-)construction, every repetition and idiosyncratic pronunciation, is inscribed like a note on a musical staff. The composer-conductors write the music, indicate the pitch, tempo and duration of each passage, and the select musicians -- soloists and ensemble players -- attack their assigned parts with the virtuoso flair for which they are known. As composers have often written works specifically suited to the talents of their favorite musicians, so the Coens frequently write roles tailored to the individual actors they want to work with.
"Burn After Reading" is a deft little piece, directed with a straight face and performed with a roiling comedic energy that matches brio with precision. That's what makes it funny. Emmanuel Lebezki's cinematography, Carter Burwell's score, Roderick Jaynes' editing (yes, we all know that's a pseudonym) could proudly serve any modern espionage picture. All serve a ridiculously plotted absurdist farce, which is what the best spy stories usually boil down to, whether they're comic or tragic.
For the Close-Up Blog-a-thon at The House Next Door:
Someone is trying to kill Dr. Sidney Shaefer (James Coburn). Hell, it seems like just about everybody is trying to kill him -- or spy on him or abduct him or drug him or interrogate him or brainwash him or flip him or something. And it's no wonder. He knows too much. He's the president's analyst in Theodore J. Flicker's 1967 "The President's Analyst," one of the great unheralded movies of the '60s and one of the great paranoid political comedies ever -- part "Strangelove," part "Parallax View," part "Our Man Flint," part "Little Murders."
Poor Sidney -- or Sid, as his former patient and CEA (Central Enquiry Agency) agent Don Masters (Godfrey Cambridge) calls him. Even the President of the United States now has someone he can talk to. But Sidney can't trust anybody. So, for now, he has managed to slip away in the station wagon of the Typical American suburban Quantrill family of Seaside Heights, New Jersey: Wynn (William Daniels), Jeff (Joan Darling) and their son Bing (Sheldon Collins), tourists he picks up while they are taking a White House tour.
"Gee whiz, Dad. Why can't we take the FBR tour?" Bing whines. "I want to see the files."
"Sorry Bing," Dad replies. "We've got to get back to New Jersey as soon as we finish the White House.
"Now be a good boy and enjoy your heritage," says Mom.
View image "Yes."
The Quantrills are liberals. Not left-wingers or anything like that, but they're for civil rights. They've done some weekend picketing. As a matter of fact, they even sponsored the "Nigro doctor and his wife" when they moved into the development. Their next-door neighbors are fascists, though.
Stepping into the Quantrill's split-level home, Wynn flicks a switch on the living room wall and groovy Bacharach-esque Muzak begins to play. "Total sound," he explains with evident satisfaction.
"Want a draft beah?"
Dr. Sidney Schaefer slides off his sunglasses and beams ingratiatingly. "Yes."
I defy you to watch Coburn flash his killer pearly-whites here (can you tell Sid is maybe beginning to go a little off his rocker?) and not find yourself grinning, too. This is megawatt star-power, so bright you gotta wear shades.
The Sunday New York Times Magazine devoted itself to comedy this weekend -- and you know how funny the New York Times Magazine can be. Actually, there's a very good article by A.O. Scott on the art of the pratfall in which he explains why some of the greatest modern comedy (from "Little Miss Sunshine" to "Borat") is of the well-executed physical variety. (Not to be confused with what Chris Farley used to call, with an undertone of dismay, "Fat Guy Falls Down" -- a desperate stunt that may elicit knee-jerk laughs, even if it's not inherently funny.)
As part of its comedic survey, the Times Mag asked some 22 comedians, well-known and not-, to name five of their favorite "Desert Island Comedies" on DVD. I don't like any of the lists much (while agreeing wholeheartedly with a few individual choices) -- but I salute David Cross (somebody I've long thought is really funny) for the humor inherent in choosing "Homer and Eddie" and "Rent."
To paraphrase an old David Steinberg routine: There are those who say... (that's the end of my paraphrase) that to analyze comedy is anti-comedic. I could not disagree more strongly. I say if you don't understand why you're laughing, when you're laughing, then you don't appreciate the comedy and you may as well not be laughing at all, since any old reaction is probably comparably appropriate for you. You could be crying or sneezing and it's probably the same thing. But let's put that aside for the moment and concentrate on some lists of very personal, very funny movies.
I suppose I could choose the great movies that have made me laugh the most -- the first that come to mind, such as: a Keaton ("Sherlock, Jr." or "Steamboat Bill, Jr."), a Fields ("It's A Gift" or "The Bank Dick"), a Marx Bros. ("Animal Crackers" or "Duck Soup"), a Sturges ("The Lady Eve" or "Miracle of Morgan's Creek"), and, let's say, a classic comedy (preferably starring Cary Grant or Barbara Stanwyck or Jean Arthur, and written and/or directed by Ernst Lubitsch or Howard Hawks or Billy Wilder or Mitchell Leisen, like "Trouble in Paradise" or "Heaven Can Wait" (1943) or "Bringing Up Baby" or "His Girl Friday" or "The Major and the Minor" or "Some Like It Hot" or "Easy Living" or "Ball of Fire"...). But those are all 50-75 years old, and I haven't even mentioned my modern-era favorites, like Luis Bunuel ("The Exterrminating Angel," "Simon of the Desert," "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie," "The Phantom of Liberty"), Monty Python ("Life of Brian" -- greatest comedy of the last half-century), Christopher Guest & ensemble ("Spinal Tap," "Waiting for Guffman," "Best in Show") or the Coen Bros. ("Barton Fink," "The Big Lebowski"). So, I thought I'd just offer up a few relatively obscure, underappreciated or, at least, off-the-beaten-path comedies that I think are hysterically funny and invite you contribute some of your own:
"I Was Born, But..." (Yasujiro Ozu, 1932) I know it's an acknowledged masterpiece by one of the greatest directors in movie history, but how many of you have actually seen it? Two boys, big belly laughs. Some of this material was re-worked in "Ohayo" ("Good Morning") in 1959.
"The President's Analyst" (Theodore J. Flicker, 1967) I love this movie -- the perfect paranoid Cold War 1960s espionage satire companion to "Dr. Strangelove" and James Bond, with James Coburn in the title role. Who is writer/directorTheodore J. Ficker, anyway? Well, according to IMDb, he directed episodes of "The Dick Van Dyke Show," "The Man From U.N.C.L.E., "The Andy Griffith Show," "I Dream of Jeannie," "Night Gallery" and "Barney Miller."
"Taking Off" (Milos Forman, 1971) You couldn't find a better time capsule for 1971 -- which Forman has captured with his characteristically uncanny ease and naturalness. Buck Henry "stars" as a father whose daughter has run away to some sort of "hippie" musical audition -- probably in the Village. The whole thing feels spontaneous and improvised -- but it was written by Forman, Jean-Claude Carrierer ("The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie," "The Phantom of Liberty," "Birth"), John Guare ("Atlantic City," "Six Degrees of Separation") and Jon Klein. One of the late, great Vincent Schiavelli's finest moments: teaching a group of uptight, wealthy parents with missing kids how to smoke pot. Early cameos by Kathy Bates, Carly Simon and Jessica Harper, among others. (Long unavailable, this recently showed up on the Sundance Channel, which I hope means it will soon be released on DVD.)
"How to Get Ahead in Advertising"(Bruce Robinson, 1989) Robinson's equally brilliant and demented "Withnail & I" is the official masterpiece (and object of obsessive cult veneration in the UK), but this is Richard E. Grant's finest hour. He's a London advertising executive so sick with self-loathing that he grows a foul-mouthed boil on his neck. How's that for a premise?
Coldblooded" (Wallace Wolodarsky, 1995) In some ways, this is a precursor to "Dexter." Jason Priestly is magnificently deadpan as an empty young man who is recruited to become a hit man -- and turns out to be mighty good at it. Co-starring Peter Riegert, Robert Loggia (getting ready for "Lost Highway"), and Jay Kogen -- who, along with writer/director Wolodarsky, wrote some of the classic early episodes of "The Simpsons."
"Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy" (Kelly Makin, 1996) Critics were mostly bewildered or repulsed, but this movie gets funnier every time I see it (and I've seen it at least a dozen times). It plays GREAT on the video screen -- better, I think, than any of the TV shows. A drug company speeds a new anti-depressant to the market, only to find that the insanely popular Gleemonex has a troublesome side effect: It puts people into comas of happiness. Each of the "Kids" has at least a handful of indescribably (but not inexplicably) funny moments. Including: "Cat on my head! Cat on my head!"; "I'm an elephant rider!"; "Tasty"; "How pleasing!"; and "Just... a guy." Should be seen alongside the great documentary, "The Corporation."
I cheated. That's six. But, OK, I've left out hundreds of great titles. Your turn. And the more obscure/underappreciated the better, please.
P.S. Anybody else remember the rest of the sentence from that David Steinberg bit?
Shhhhhh. Don't tell a soul. Close Oscar-watchers (and Academy insiders) know that what you are about to read is true -- but few like to talk about these things. When it comes to picking Oscar winners, you can study the stats of Oscars past in search of patterns and clues, but there are certain influential paradigms that defy and transcend conventional statistical analysis.
It was a year when more movies opened than during any other year in memory. A year when the big Hollywood studios cast their lot with franchises, formulas, sequels, and movies marketed for narrow demographic groups--focusing so much on "product" instead of original work that they seemed likely to be shut out of the Oscars, as they were essentially shut out of the Golden Globes. A year when independent and foreign films showed extraordinary vitality. A wonderful year, that is, for moviegoers who chose carefully, and a mediocre year for those took their chances at the multiplex.
PARK CITY, Utah--Good films but no great films. As the Sundance Film Festival heads into its final weekend, last year's exhilaration fades into a kind of contentment: We've enjoyed ourselves, we've seen films of originality and quality, but where is this year's equivalent of "Memento"? "The Deep End"? "In the Bedroom"? "Waking Life"?