Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Movie Guy: AFI Countdown 40 to 36

Climbing ever toward the top of the AFI "mountain," here are 5 more films upon which the AFI and I wholeheartedly (mostly) agree:

The Sound of Music (1965)
The story of a free-spirited young governess who brightens the lives of a widowed naval captain and his morose children through music and song was a hit on Broadway and it was a huge success as a movie. Critics were mixed about both, with "saccharine" being the operative buzzword for the story's failings. Personally, I think that the sweeter the main story is, the greater the impact later when the clandestine rise of the Nazi party in Austria is revealed.
Filmed in the beautiful Austrian countryside and carried by the luminous Julie Andrews, this film may be the most sugary film about the insidious spread of the Third Reich, and I think that's just fine, because it serves as a reminder that when fascism and prejudice rule: everyone is affected.

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
Stanley Kubrick makes the list again with this black comedy based upon the thriller novel Red Alert. Kubrick had intended to make a straight thriller, but as he wrote early drafts of the screenplay, he began to notice the dark humor inherent in cold war paranoia and the politics of mutually assured destruction. Great performances by George C. Scott, Keenan Wynn, Sterling Hayden, Slim Pickens, and Peter Sellers (in three roles) elevate the already sharp script to the level of brilliance.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
This is a very different type of Western from director John Huston. Instead of cowboys, we have down-on-their-luck gold prospectors in Mexico, and our "hero" Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart) isn't much of a hero at all and is quite the opposite further into the film. This is a great story, but very bleak. Bogart's performance is stellar, but Bogie fans looking for his usual charm are likely to be disappointed by the feckless Dobbs. I like this film, but it isn't one of my favorites. Still, I think it belongs on the list. I just might swap it places with 12 Angry Men.

The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
We meet three servicemen returning from World War II on board the same transport plane. One of them (Harold Russell) has lost both of his hands as a result of battle. The other men (Frederic March and Dana Andrews) have injuries that are far less visible. March's character finds that he is quite fond of drink upon returning to home, and we find that Andrews's character is having an extremely hard time adjusting to life after the war. In a very dramatic sequence late in the film, we realize that he is suffering from PTSD (though it was called something else in those days) - one of the first mainstream films to deal with that affliction. This film is also notable for casting a disabled veteran (Russell) in the role of a disabled veteran. Russell was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, but the Academy wanted to make sure he was given an Oscar (and they probably didn't think that a non-professional actor would really win), so he was given a special Oscar "for bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans" early in the awards ceremony. Russell then did actually win the Best Supporting Oscar as well, giving him the distinction of being the only person to win two Oscars for the same performance. I really like this film, and the performances by Frederic March and Myrna Loy elevate this above melodrama.

The Bridge On The River Kwai (1957)
Like most people my age, Sir Alec Guinness is to me - first and foremost - fatherly Master Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi from Star Wars (1977). In the years since, I have found many performances from the talented Sir Alec that are far superior. One of these is the role of by-the-book British Lt. Colonel Nicholson in this film. What I love about this film is that it's hard to know who to root for: Nicholson is building a bridge for his Japanese captors as a way of boosting morale among his men in the camp. Meanwhile, the shifty Shears (William Holden) is coerced by the British Army to destroy the bridge because of its advantage to the Japanese. Great cinematography. Great performances. Great film.

Writing about the The Best Years of Our Lives, I was reminded of this routine by the late, great George Carlin:

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