Friday, September 26, 2008

Weekend Rental Picks

Broadcast News (James L. Brooks, 1987)
James L. Brooks is perhaps better known today for the mega-weepie Terms of Endearment and the infamous As Good As It Gets, which earned Helen Hunt an Oscar over
a lineup including Dame Judi Dench and Julie Chrisite, but Broadcast News, his nearly forgotten, rarely discussed film from 1987, is his real masterpiece. Broadcast News is about so many things-- male/female relationships, a love triangle, ethics of the TV news, the wackiness that goes on behind the scenes, women in power-- but, unlike most films that would crumble under all that heft, Brooks' film thrives under the pressure. Broadcast News is funny, literate and beautifully done, the type of smart film that we sadly don't see much of anymore. And what a cast: Holly Hunter excels in one of her first big roles, Albert Brooks gives Woody Allen a run for his money as the most neurotic actor around and William Hurt, whom I never thought much of as an actor beforehand, is fantastic as the "dumb jock" who gets by in life on his looks.

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (Frank Capra, 1936)
It Happened One Night and It's a Wonderful Life are Frank Capra's masterpieces, but Mr. Deeds Goes to Town is my favorite film of his. Silly, but never ridiculous; dreamily romantic, but never sappy; idealistic, but never preachy- it's the type of film only Frank Capra could do and get away with (as evidenced by the abysmal failure that was the Adam Sandler remake a few years ago). Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur both give their best performances as the common man fighting the corrupt system and the newswoman who first laughs at Cooper's foreigness but later commends it, respectively.

La Strada (Federico Fellini, 1956)
Federico Fellini would quickly become a more sophisticated (and, as a result, less accessible) filmmaker after the worldwide success of this film. To me, however, nothing that I've seen of his (except for, possibly, the first half of La Dolce Vita) has ever come close to the beautiful, humanistic La Strada. Giulietta Masina plays the impish, Chaplin-esque wife of a brutish strongman (Anthony Quinn) and Fellini follows their exploits all around the Italian countryside. La Strada is touching, precious, gently funny and enormously charming; if you're going to try Fellini, this is the perfect place to start.

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