A hallmark family film that is less about a girl’s relationship to her horse than it is about her relationship to her family, her determination, and her adolescence. National Velvet is based on a bestselling Enid Bagnold novel, and features 1940s Technicolor, but none of that is as bewitching as a twelve-year-old Elizabeth Taylor, whose earnest zest for competition lights her from the inside. Well-turned-out performances all around, and with more subtle, genuine moments than fluff, thanks to the good humor of the script and the Oscar-winning performance of Anne Revere as the wise mother.
Moon about penguins and parrots all you like, but An Inconvenient Truth, Davis Guggenheim and Al Gore’s dissertation on global warming, sets up the big environmental picture, and gets the sirens going. No matter what kind of gag orders are placed on using the words “climate change,” the burden of unassailable evidence says the wheels have already been set in motion for making our planet essentially uninhabitable and no amount of corporate or political prevarication will make that fact go away.
Here’s that cuddly, romantic, back-to-school vibe again. The persistent, friendly northern chill in the browning foliage (shot, as it happens, in Canada) and on the cast’s rosy-cheeked faces may be the only aspects of this award winner (set, happily, in an old private school in the woods) that doesn’t feel silly and dated today. But since most autumn movies tend to be either hair-raising or cynical, Children of a Lesser God offers a snuggle-on-the-couch alternative, complete with motormouth William Hurt at his peculiar best, Marlee Matlin‘s passionate debut, and a happy ending.
Barbara Kopple, with a team of fellow documentarians, returns to the striking life in this Oscar winner about the union workers of a Hormel meatpacking plant in Minnesota who buck up against the corporate headquarters’ desire to cut their wages and benefits despite escalating profits. American Dream is the reality of workers in the post-Reagan era, and it isn’t pretty. Unfortunately, we’re still in the thick of it.
Don’t be fooled by the ad art, which features Sally Field leaping and beaming like a cheerleader. Her character, Norma Rae, is a poor, uneducated factory worker who’s had children with men she barely knew; Field looks justifiably wan and sweaty through most of the film. Salvation comes in the form of a Jewish Brooklyn union organizer (Ron Leibman). Forget romance; Norma Rae is all about workers’ politics. Field won her first Oscar for her performance.
Alfred Hitchcock’s unassailable Gothic classic is merely the first of his many biopsies on marriage and the secret poisoning within them. Filled with superb set pieces and supporting performances, it all boils down to Joan Fontaine’s nameless heroine, nervously thrust into both an aristocratic milieu and an uncommunicative union she has no business occupying. Reportedly, Hitchcock (with the help of costar Laurence Olivier) subtly abused Fontaine on the set of Rebecca, a ploy that not only made her performance realer than real, but made the entire film, inside and out, a working metaphor for a dysfunctional marriage.
Featuring quite possibly the most thoughtfully written script in Hollywood history, Paddy Chayefsky’s torrential satire on the television industry wasn’t so far-fetched at the time, and it’s turned out to be so prophetic that today’s jaded high schooler might think it tame. Network is to be savored for many reasons, among them the autumnal crisis endured by aging network exec Max Schumacher (William Holden), who faces the business end of his career just as Faye Dunaway’s irresistibly amoral company hotshot lures him into an affair. He knows it’s all a soap opera cliche, and she hardly knows soap from real life, but in the meantime there’s real heartache here, with Holden and his wife (Oscar winner Beatrice Straight) bravely facing—in painful, human terms— the desperate confusions of fading love and angry devotion. It’s a notably sympathetic portrait because it’s so viciously honest, and 203 | dl fe Cr s s IV anyone in his or her fifties can find understanding company in Holden’s melancholy, hound-dog visage.
Based on Michael Lewis’s book detailing the life-so-far story of NFL player Michael Oher, who was homeless and struggling until a Tennessee family took him in and helped him join the ranks of the highly-prized college athletes. Sandra Bullock won an Oscar as the tough-talking, don’t-mess-with-my-kids adoptive mom.
A band of single friends, led by the shyly charming Hugh Grant, chase each other around England, attending weddings in various states of disarray and embarrassment. Star-crossed amour and funny wedding mishaps abound, but this international smash sucked in both its audience and an Oscar nomination with the grace of its execution, a brilliantly witty screenplay—perfectly staged and acted—and a pervasive fondness for even the bit characters and background extras.
The well-read Richard Llewellyn novel by way of director John Ford, this portrait of Welsh coal-mining country gets you right here. Packed with Ford’s Celtic stock company of actors, including Maureen O’Hara, plus Walter Pidgeon as a schoolteacher, Oscar winner Donald Crisp as Dad, and Roddy McDowall as the family’s youngest son.
Dating movies don’t often come this well stocked: for the guys, there’s Harrison Ford as a cop in a suspense-rigged thriller; for the gals, there’s Harrison Ford, as a fish out of water in an amorous tango (in Amish country, no less). Sexual tension is high, but it’s consummated only with gunfire.
A poker-faced slalom through the icy fields of true-crime docudrama, Joel and Ethan Coen’s cascade of frozen Minnesotan cops and crime is probably the loopiest based-on-fact murder drama ever made, something like In Cold Blood reimagined by Dave Barry. Somehow, the filmmakers tell the snowbound saga of a tumbling-dominoes permafrost bloodbath—featuring nerve-frayed scam source William H. Macy, wired hired gun Steve Buscemi, and serene pregnant policewoman Frances McDormand (who won an Oscar for her performance)—as cold realism, yet retain their trademark absurdism and larky rhythms. Having grown up in a Minneapolis suburb, the Coens know the vernacular inside and out; though it often feels like a snarky plummet down a long flight of stairs, the movie ends up being a celebration of quiet banality. By the time we reach the wood chipper, we’re as thankful as McDormand’s Chief Marge that there’s a mittened world full of idiotic pleasantries and all-you-can-eat restaurants to go back to.
Woody Allen’s great, sweeping, intimate, moving comedy-drama about a sprawling, neurotic New York showbiz family, their failures, cross purposes, heartbreaks, and hilarious obsessions, all of it spanning two Thanksgiving Day celebrations. And the festivities are not entirely unlike your Thanksgivings, either—witness the spite, drinking, betrayal, boredom, speeches, chitchat, and bustle, all wrapped in a family’s unmistakable warmth. The film is segmented into brisk, poetically-titled chapters, scored with a mix of old show tunes and Puccini, and armed with brave performances (Oscar-winning and otherwise) from Allen, Mia Farrow, Barbara Hershey, Dianne Wiest, Michael Caine, Max Von Sydow, Maureen O’Sullivan, and a sadly semi-Alzheimer-ish Lloyd Nolan. It’s one of those rare grown-up films—even from Allen—that summons a palpable sense of healing, joy, and resilience without for a moment pandering to the audience’s sentimental wishes or surrendering to its sometimes harrowing relationship with the real world. You can tell the Woodman was happy in the 1980s—the movie glows with affirmative energy.