• A Christmas Story
    Some mediocre films earn a reputation as “American Classics” entirely because the producers and marketers (or the critics and other members of the chattering class) have so declared them, and the rest of us are cowed into submission. But sometimes a movie attains this status honestly by slowly and steadily building a following because […]
  • A Hard Day’s Night
    The beloved film critic Roger Ebert maintained that what we now remember as the “the 1960s” may actually have started in 1964, as the magnificent sound of George Harrison’s new 12-string guitar opened A Hard Day’s Night. At the time, it had every promise of being a forgettable flick: low budget, quickly made, unknown […]
  • And Then There Were None
    Agatha’s Christie’s tale of 10 strangers on a remote island who are mysteriously killed off one by one has been adapted countless times on stage, on television and on the big screen. But it will be hard to ever top the 1945 version that was the highlight of the otherwise forgettable English-language phase of […]
  • Annie Hall
    Given how many weak movies make a lot of money and garner a pile of laurels, it is particularly satisfying when justice is done and a magnificent film is a hit both with audiences and critics. So it was with 1977’s Best Picture Oscar winner Annie Hall. The plot is straightforward. A neurotic Jewish […]
  • Ernest & Celestine
    I received some nice notes from parents who enjoyed watching my recommendation A Cat in Paris with their kids (as well as from some non-parents who enjoyed it just for themselves). So I return this week to the same terrain with another absolutely charming French-language animated film that was re-dubbed for American audiences: Ernest […]
  • Everything Must Go
    Raymond Carver penned a bleak, oblique, short story about an alcoholic husband whose possessions are scattered all over his front lawn, which leads passersby to assume mistakenly that he is conducting a yard sale. First time writer/director Dan Rush spun this unusual premise into a more extended story and turned it into a fine […]
  • House on Haunted Hill
    Producer/director William Castle was part film maker and part carnival barker, being famous for gimmicks such as placing nurses in theater lobbies ostensibly to aid any viewers who were overcome with fright, wiring seats to give mild shocks when a monstrous “Tingler” came on the screen, and, for this week’s film, pioneering “Emergo” technology […]
  • How to Succeed in Business (Without Really Trying)
    An incisive take on the life of corporate suits and their sexy secretaries in 1960s Manhattan, with Robert Morse as the star. No, it’s not Mad Men, but 1967’s toe-tapping, uplifting and funny “How to Succeed in Business (Without Really Trying)”. Based on the smash Broadway hit, the heart of the film is of […]
  • I’m All Right Jack
    The hit British comedies of the 1950s and 1960s don’t age consistently well. Just about everything from Ealing Studios holds up today, but outside of that, it’s hit or miss. I don’t doubt that the The Knack…and How to Get it and the comedy-drama Billy Liar made audiences roar with laughter at the time […]
  • Impromptu
    Artistic stars of 1830s Paris are brought vividly to life in the high-spirited and entertaining 1991 film Impromptu. Directed by Tony-winning Sondheim collaborator James Lapine, the film stars Judy Davis in a bravura performance as George Sand. She spends the film avoiding prior lovers (including Mandy Patinkin as Alfred de Musset) and chasing a […]
  • Kind Hearts and Coronets
    It is so difficult to make a neat job of killing people with whom one is not on friendly terms. Black comedy is the only genre of film that rivals my affection for film noir, which helps explain why my favorite of the thousands of movies I’ve seen is Dr. Strangelove. But if I […]
  • L.A. Story
    Ever wonder what the result would be if Steve Martin tried to make a Woody Allen movie? You will wonder no longer after watching 1991’s L.A. Story. The plot concerns wacky L.A. weatherman Harris Telemacher, who is in a mid-life rut. His extremely high-maintenance girlfriend (Marilu Henner, just perfect) is emotionally distant, his TV […]
  • Local Hero
    Following the success of his low-budget films That Sinking Feeling and Gregory’s Girl, Scottish film maker Bill Forsyth had the adjective “quirky” hung on him by critics, and it stuck. But there’s a nicer way to describe this talented writer-director’s output: Sweet, original and offbeat. For me, no film in Forsyth’s career better illustrates […]
  • Murder by Death and The Cheap Detective **Double Feature**
    There is an above average Jimmy Stewart movie called No Time for Comedy, in which he is cast as Gaylord Esterbrook. Gaylord writes hilariously funny plays yet feels he should write dramatic productions of greater weight in order to be a “serious writer”…but his effort to do so is disastrous. The movie always makes […]
  • My Favorite Year
    This 1982 star vehicle for Peter O’Toole (playing a drunken, rakish, movie star oddly reminiscent of Peter O’Toole) delivers big laughs as well as some acute observations on the nature of fame. The movie also opens a window into the world of 1950s live television comedy and the people who made it happen. The […]
  • Passport to Pimlico
    Ealing Studios produced a broad range of films in its first decade and a half of existence, including a number of respected documentaries as well as the classic horror film Dead of Night and the trendsetting “kitchen sink noir” It Always Rains on Sunday (my recommendation here). But it’s the marvelous comedies Ealing made […]
  • Peter’s Friends
    One of my favorite Christmas movies is Kenneth Branagh’s Peter’s Friends. Sometimes glibly dismissed as a “British knockoff of The Big Chill” this 1992 movie is in fact superior in most respects to that film (which not incidentally was itself based on a better, little seen movie, The Return of the Seacaucus Seven). The […]
  • Porterhouse Blue
    If a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, think how much harm a lot of it could do. That’s the animating spirit of the academically-challenged but gastronomically-unmatched Cambridge college of Porterhouse, as portrayed in 1987’s Porterhouse Blue. Based on Tom Sharpe’s satirical novel of the same name, this television mini-series centers on the longest-serving […]
  • Pygmalion
    It’s a fun bit of trivia that George Bernard Shaw is the only person to have won a Nobel Prize for Literature and an Academy Award. He secured the latter for a truly brilliant adaptation of his own stage play: 1938’s Pygmalion. The plot: Eliza Doolittle is a poor Covent Garden flower girl (Wendy […]
  • Raising Arizona
    Edwina’s insides were a rocky place where my seed could find no purchase In terms of dialogue in American film, we are a long way from Preston Sturges and Ben Hecht. Between the audience becoming younger and the market more international, artful talking has largely been replaced by car chases, explosions and slapstick. Yet […]
  • Ruggles of Red Gap (Guest Review)
    This film recommendation comes from Dr. Jean O’Reilly, a friend and colleague of mine at the National Addiction Centre at King’s College London. I am indebted to Jean for introducing me to the gut-bustingly funny, wise and sweet film Ruggles of Red Gap, about which she has done serious scholarly work. She can describe […]
  • School for Scoundrels
    As an ex-academic, BBC comedy writer, and member of The Savile Club, Stephen Potter had ample opportunity to observe all the ways British culture provided to “win without cheating”: the perfectly timed cough when your golf opponent is about to tee off, the lightly dismissive remark that flusters a fellow diner in the midst […]
  • Slap Shot
    George Roy Hill and Paul Newman scored two mega-hit, crowd pleasing films with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting (Recommended by Johann Koehler here). When they reunited in 1977, the commercial temptation would have been to more or less repeat themselves. Being highly creative artists, they instead challenged many of their […]
  • Support Your Local Sheriff
    As you may have gathered from my hearty endorsement of Airplane! I enjoy movies that make fun of movies, particularly when they star people who are staples of the genre being mocked. If Airplane! is the king of disaster movie parodies, its western sibling is director Burt Kennedy’s 1969 laughfest Support Your Local Sheriff. […]
  • The 39 Steps
    Alfred Hitchcock had a successful directing career in Britain that preceded his American super-stardom. Hitchcock fans rightfully consider the 1935 comedy-romance-thriller The 39 Steps among the very best works of the Master’s “British period”. Robert Donat cuts a dash as Mr. Hannay, the hero of the film, who tries to save England from the […]
  • The Bingo Long Traveling All Stars & Motor Kings
    Hollywood has made many beloved films about baseball from Field of Dreams to The Pride of the Yankees. 1976’s The Bingo Long Traveling All Stars & Motor Kings is a lively, enjoyable movie about America’s pastime that like the era it portrays is often forgotten today. The plot: In the waning days of the […]
  • The Castle
    The Australian coat of arms has an emu and a kangaroo upon it because neither animal ever takes a backwards step. That Australian spirit suffuses Director/Co-Writer Rob Sitch’s hilarious 1997 film The Castle. The plot: Daryl Kerrigan (Michael Caton) is an honest, happy, tow truck driver who heads a close-knit family. He adores his […]
  • The Cat and the Canary
    God bless film restorers. When I first saw the Hollywood film that established the template for haunted house movies, I thought it was an above average flick, but I couldn’t recommend it because the scratched up, herky-jerky quality of the available print detracted so much from the viewing experience. But cinematic magicians at the […]
  • The Court Jester
    Sometimes comedy in the movies gets a bit ahead of current cultural tastes. But the joy of TV re-runs, DVDs, streaming, and the like is that as audience sensibilities catch up, a film whose wit eluded people at the time of its release can be recognized as a comedy classic. This has been the […]
  • The Front
    Hollywood has always been fascinated with itself, so it’s not surprising how many movies address the “blacklisting” of suspected communists in the 1950s (Guilty by Suspicion, Trumbo, and Hail, Caesar! to name only a few). Among the best of these is a 1976 film made by a director (Martin Ritt), screenwriter (Walter Bernstein), and […]
  • The Hospital
    Over the decades I have worked in hospitals, I have seen countless movies that draw on the drama, humor, joy and frustration that happens every day in the medical world. It’s a tough call, but if pressed to choose my favorite of such films it would be 1971’s The Hospital. The magnificence of the […]
  • The Mating Season
    If I told you I was going to recommend a funny 1951 movie about class differences, you would naturally expect something British. But The Mating Season shows that post-war Americans too could also mine the comic possibilities of people from different economic strata rubbing shoulders. The plot of this mistitled little gem: Ellen McNulty […]
  • The Music Man
    The Music Man is a joyous, funny and romantic musical that has been lifting hearts for decades. Iowa native Meredith Willson laboured for years to fashion the tale of a fast-talking huckster who comes to fleece the small town rubes of River City and finds more than he bargained for, including romance with the […]
  • The Ruling Class
    I stand outside myself, watching myself watching myself. I smile, I smile, I smile. It takes courage to make a movie that defies all conventions and challenges the audience. Sometimes, indeed most of the time, the filmmakers fall on their faces. But every once in awhile a group of wildly innovative iconoclasts create something […]
  • The Rutles: All You Need is Cash
    Before A Mighty Wind before Fear of a Black Hat and yes, even before This is Spinal Tap was the first mock rock documentary (or, to paraphrase Marty DiBergi, the first, “if you will, mockumentary”). I am speaking of 1978’s The Rutles: All You Need is Cash. Monty Python alumnus Eric Idle is in […]
  • The Special Relationship
    Screenwriter Peter Morgan and actor Michael Sheen ventured into the life and career of British Prime Minister Tony Blair three times, with tremendous success. The Queen is by far the best known of these films, but this week I recommend the conclusion of the trilogy: 2010’s The Special Relationship. The film begins with a […]
  • The Stunt Man
    If God could do the tricks that we can do, he’d be a happy man. The late Peter O’Toole signed on to many over the top, unconventional films (no small number of them when he was intoxicated). This resulted in him headlining some legendary stinkers (e.g., Caligula). But it also landed him plum roles […]
  • Three Oscar Snubs
    Rather than focus on a single film, I am going to commend to you to three fine movies that the Motion Picture Academy snubbed by failing to recognize Oscar-worthy work. Comic performances are massively undervalued by Oscar voters, who just don’t seem to appreciate what the legendary English actor Edmund Kean allegedly said when […]
  • Time, Gentlemen, Please!
    Due to distribution problems, lost celluloid, legal disputes, or bad luck, some excellent films became inaccessible after their debut and eventually fall through the cracks of almost everyone’s memory. 1952’s almost completely forgotten Time, Gentlemen, Please, which isn’t even mentioned in most of my books about film, is a prime example. There were I […]
  • To Be Or Not To Be
    Long before Mel Brooks got everyone laughing at Nazis, a Hungarian-born producer (Alexander Korda) and German-born director (Ernst Lubitsch) somehow persuaded Hollywood to take a major risk at the height of World War II: Combine an espionage thriller with screwball comedy! The resulting film met a decidedly mixed reception in 1942, but over time […]
  • When Harry Met Sally…
    I recommended Steve Martin’s effort to make a Woody Allen movie (L.A. Story); let me now recommend Rob Reiner and Nora Ephron’s attempt to do the same: When Harry Met Sally…. In one of the signature romantic comedies of the 1980s, college students Harry Burns (Billy Crystal) and Sally Albright (Meg Ryan) meet not-so-cute […]
  • Zero Hour! and Airplane! **Double Feature**
    This double feature recommendation comes with a strong suggestion for viewing order. You absolutely should watch Zero Hour! first, because once you’ve seen Airplane!, you will have a hard time taking the former film seriously again. And that would be too bad, because it’s a perfectly solid drama/thriller. Written by Arthur Hailey of Airport […]