Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Film Finds of 2013

In 2013, I watched many 5-star films.  Most of them were repeat viewings of tried and true faves, and while I always enjoy watching a beloved favorite, I also love discovering "new to me" 5-star, "love it" films.  I came upon eight such films this year, seven of which, I have reviewed. I had intended to showcase the other one during Montgomery Clift's stint as "star of the month;" however, blog burnout prevented me from doing so.  I will try to get at that one sometime in the new year.

Here are my 5-star film "discoveries" for 2013.

1.  Edge of the City  (reviewed HERE)---Starring John Cassavetes and Sidney Poitier, this 1957 racially-charged drama is one I caught during Mr. Poitier's reign as star of the month.  I am always completely and totally impressed by the performance Mr. Poitier gives.

2.  To Sir, with Love (reviewed HERE)---Another fabulously-acted drama discovered during Sidney Poitier month, this film features a beautiful, incredibly touching theme song.  The song, coupled with the sentimentality of the film, took this one from 4 to 5 stars for me.

3.  A Raisin in the Sun  (reviewed HERE)---A meaty, powerful, emotionally-charged racial drama, this film features some of the most incredible acting I have ever seen.  All the leads are spectacular---and Oscar worthy.  I truly believe Mr. Poitier's performance here is even more brilliant than in his Oscar-winning role in Lilies of the Field.

4.  The Red Badge of Courage (reviewed HERE)---Discovered during Audie Murphy month, this film is one I almost failed to watch, simply because I don't care for the novel upon which it is based.  Directed by John Huston, this Civil War drama sees Audie giving perhaps the very best performance of his career.

5.  The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone  (reviewed HERE)---Not a Tennessee Williams fan nor a Warren Beatty fan, I very nearly didn't watch this film.  It was only my desire to see Vivien Leigh's entire filmography which caused me to DVR it when TCM aired it in February.  The acting is stellar (even Mr. Beatty's!), the photography is beautiful, the score is spectacular, and the ending scene is powerful and haunting.  All those things combine to make this a 5-star film experience for me.

6.  Wild River---Starring Montgomery Clift and Lee Remick, this Elia Kazan film is meaty, hard-hitting, and very thought-provoking.  Not a feel-good story at all, it focuses on the Tennessee Valley Authority's need to remove long-time residents from their homes, in order to build a dam which will benefit thousands.  In support is Jo Van Fleet, and it is her amazing performance which takes this one into the 5-star category.  In her mid-40's here, yet playing a woman of 80+, she is positively brilliant.

7.  The Hunchback of Notre Dame  (reviewed HERE)---Discovered during Maureen O'Hara's month, this film is nothing short of spectacular.  A lavish production of Victor Hugo's classic, the film sees Charles Laughton giving what I think may well be the performance of his career.  The man is completely amazing!  The film also features hard-hitting drama, incredible costume design, a gorgeous Maureen O'Hara, and a very young Edmond O'Brien.

8.  The Quiet Man  (reviewed HERE)---Not a John Wayne fan, I have been putting this film off for years.  I decided to see it simply because it was being shown at the Egyptian Theatre as part of Maureen O'Hara's 93rd birthday bash, and it was going to be introduced by Miss O'Hara herself. Wow, what a spectacular first-time viewing experience it was---the big screen of a beautiful vintage theatre, a 700+ crowd, an introduction by the lovely Miss O'Hara; plus, the stunning scenery, the gorgeous musical score, and the beauty of the story itself.  What more could a person ask for?!

What makes a film a 5-star film for me?  It's a combination of three things...incredible acting, a deeply moving story which touches my heart and/or brings me to tears, and a powerful or bold dramatic story which I just can't get out of my mind.  (For me, comedy, while entertaining, rarely touches my heart...that's why there are few comedies among my favorite movies.)  Usually, all three of those things have to be working together for me to call a particular film a 5-star film.

So there you have my 5-star film discoveries for 2013.  What about y'all?  What 5-star film discoveries did you make this year?

Happy viewing!!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Looking Back and Looking Forward

The end of the year is always a good time to take a look back at where we've been and what we've accomplished, as well as to look forward to what is on the horizon.  Here is what has been going on in my classic film/blogging life this year, with a little glimmer, as well, into what the next year holds.

January--I began 2013 being accepted into the membership of the Classic Movie Blog Association (CMBA).  It is a privilege and honor to be part of a community of classic film writers, and I've enjoyed being a part of the group and having the opportunity to get to know other classic film enthusiasts.  This year also saw me taking on another year of "star of the month" blogging, though instead of highlighting two or three stars each month, I scaled back and began highlighting only one, beginning with Loretta Young, in honor of her 100th birthday.

February---star of the month was the simply sensational Sidney Poitier.  Mr. Poitier excels at meaty, hard-hitting drama, and my "month of Sidney" resulted in three 5-star film discoveries for the year.  Also, I took part in the CMBA-hosted "Fabulous 40's" blogathon, highlighting Sentimental Journey.  Additionally, I caught An Affair to Remember on the big screen of Boise's Egyptian Theatre.  Seeing Cary Grant up close and personal on the big screen made the movie even more wonderful than it usually is.

March---not only was the great John Garfield my star of the month, I hosted a 4-day blogathon in honor of his 100th birthday.  Nearly two dozen other bloggers participated in the event.  This was my first time hosting such an event---it definitely won't be the last.

April---I highlighted Doris Day and baseball films and also took part in the James Cagney blogathon, reviewing that quintessential gangster film, The Public Enemy.

May---Another of this year's centennial birthdays, Stewart Granger was the star of the month.  I devoured his autobiography, Sparks Fly Upward, finding it an interesting, entertaining read.

June---I paid homage to war hero-turned-actor Audie Murphy, which made for my single most meaningful month of blogging ever.

July---I was out of town for 10 days, so I didn't get a lot of blogging done, but I did catch Gone with the Wind on the big screen of the beautiful, historic Egyptian Theatre.  That was right on track, as Olivia deHavilland was the star of the month.

August---star of the month was birthday girl Maureen O'Hara.  I was able to take part in her 93rd birthday bash here in Boise, by attending a showing of three of her films at The Egyptian, including The Quiet Man, which was introduced by Miss O'Hara herself.

September---I highlighted Claudette Colbert and participated in the Gish sisters blogathon.  I also began experiencing the first waves of blog burn-out, which were upon me full force by mid-October.

October---I shared my insight into George Eastman's A Place in the Sun mind in the Great Imaginary Film blogathon.  Montgomery Clift was the star of the month, but blog burn-out was intense, so I failed to really highlight him as I had intended.  Instead, I began a much-needed blog break.

November---On vacation for 3 weeks, I experienced almost nothing classic film related, except for 2 movies on TCM.

December---For the second year in a row, my daughter and I took in White Christmas on the big screen of the beautiful Egyptian Theatre.  I also found my blogging fire being rekindled.

This year also saw me enlarging my "absolute favorite guy" list to 10 guys...I call them my terrific 10.  As this elite group of special favorites grew, Humphrey Bogart found himself included in the group.  Also, Kirk Douglas came on the scene, not only making it onto my top-30 list, but very nearly into "terrific 10" status. Currently, I rank Kirk in my #2 grouping (the #11 through #20 guys), but he's pretty high up in that group---#15.  I can easily see him joining the elite in the not too distant future. His acting is brilliant...it mesmerizes me.

Movie-wise, 2013 gave me eight "5-star film discoveries".  While I have reviewed the majority of them throughout the year, in a future post, I'll reveal them again .

My blog break has been good, and it has served to rekindle the blog fire.  While there were times I considered abandoning blogging altogether, these weeks away have made clear that abandonment will not be happening.  I love sharing classic films too much to do that!  These weeks away----while good and necessary---have made my blogging heart grown fonder.  So, I'll be keeping this blog going, though I will only be writing 3 or 4 articles a month.  Also, I've decided to dispense with the star of the month format; while I enjoyed doing that, I prefer the flexibility of focusing on whatever films and stars strike my fancy on any particular day.  I will, however, be observing Tyrone Power's centennial birthday in May, as well as Richard Widmark's in December.  Other than those two scheduled months, though, it will be random and free around here.

A huge thanks to all of you for joining me in 2013; I look forward to having you along for 2014's ride as well.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas, My Friends

Wishing all my dear blog friends the merriest of Christmases.  May it be a day filled to overflowing with love, joy, and laughter.

Our family will be hosting a Christmas Eve dinner for 13 guests.  (The original plan was for 5 guests, but we live by the "no family should be alone on Christmas" philosophy, so upon learning of 2 other families who wouldn't be with loved ones, we invited them to join us.). Later in the evening---after our guests have departed---we'll focus on the real reason for the season with our annual viewing of The Nativity Story.

Christmas Day, as has become our tradition, we will be taking in a movie (Saving Mr. Banks, this year) and, afterwards, having dinner at a Thai restaurant.  And then to end our Christmas day, as we have been doing for nearly a decade, we will settle in to watch It's a Wonderful Life...my absolute favorite Christmas movie of all time.

Whatever y'all's plans, I wish you safety on the roads and happiness and love in your celebrations.

Merry Christmas!!!

NOTE:  Image courtesy of The Old Design Shop (HERE)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Reflecting on a Week of Losses

Wow, what a week it's been.  Four (!!) classic film greats departing this life in the same week.  I can't remember a week in which we have lost so many.  The ranks of Classic Hollywood are thinning out rapidly, and it makes me very sad.  Just like they don't make films like they used to, they don't make stars like they used to either.  Yesteryear's stars exuded glamour, elegance, and style in a way stars of today do not---with class and grace.  We will not see their likes again.

The first loss of the week was Eleanor Parker.

My #4 gal (behind only Bette Davis, Susan Hayward, and Barbara Stanwyck in my heart), Eleanor is very beloved to me.  When my daughter told me of her passing (since I am largely offline these days and hadn't seen anything about it), I couldn't help weeping.  In memory of her, I chose to watch one of her films that evening, and since there is a Santa Claus scene in Never Say Goodbye, I'll be watching that one as part of my Christmas movie viewing this week.

Following closely on the heels of Miss Parker's death was that of Audrey Totter.

It was through a Classic Hollywood posting on Facebook that I learned of Miss Totter's passing, and my first thought was, "Oh, no, not another one."  In recent years, it seems that 2 or 3 stars (but not 4!) have often passed around the same time. Audrey was fantastic at portraying the icy femme fatale of the 1940's noirs, but she could lean to a softer side as well, as evidenced in my favorite of her films---The Set-Up.

Only days after Audrey's death,  Peter O'Toole passed away.

I am not overly familiar with Mr. O'Toole's works, but there are several of his films I've been wanting to see---especially Lawrence of Arabia and The Lion in Winter.

Barely had the news of Mr. O'Toole's death crossed my path, when I learned (again from my daughter) that Joan Fontaine had died.

This one, again, hit me very hard.  Miss Fontaine is one of my top-15 favorite actresses, and I had fully intended to have her as a star of the month this year.  She was to have been October's star; however, for a variety of reasons, I changed my schedule in September, then ended up taking a blog break before October was out.  Now, I am kicking myself for that decision.  Oh, sure, I can highlight Joan some month next year, but I would much prefer having honored her while she was yet alive (as I did her sister Olivia in July).  My favorite of Miss Fontaine's films is Rebecca.  I think her performance in that film was Oscar-worthy---even better than her Academy Award-winning performance in Suspicion.

So, as we bid goodbye to four beloved stars, I am reminded of my favorite George Eliot quote, "Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them."  Thanks to so many great films which have been preserved for us, we will never forget you Eleanor, Audrey, Peter, and Joan.

And in the words of Clark Gable, "Death is something none of us can avoid.  I suppose it's pointless to worry about it.  Just live your life how you want and hope somebody remembers you fondly."  (From Dear Mr. Gable's Facebook page)

We do remember you fondly, dear friends.  May you all rest in peace.

NOTE:  All photos were obtained from Doctor Macro (HERE)

Monday, December 09, 2013

Rest in Peace, Beloved Eleanor

Although I am on a blog break through the holiday season, I have to interrupt my break in order to pay tribute to one of my most beloved actresses---the beautiful, exceedingly talented Eleanor Parker, who passed away this morning at the age of 91, due to complications of pneumonia.  (June 26, 1922 - December 9, 2013)

This lovely, gentle-voiced lady resides near the very top of my favorite actress list---at #4!   I completely love Miss Parker and am definitely on a quest to see as much of her filmography as I can. She was a terrific actress, receiving a Best Actress Academy Award nomination three times.  (I go on record as saying that I think she ought to have won in 1950, for her performance in Caged. Though I adore Judy Holliday [who did win], Bette Davis [who was also nominated], and Sunset Boulevard [for which Gloria Swanson was nominated], I definitely feel that Miss Parker's performance was the most brilliant of them all and ought to have garnered her the Oscar.)

It was my search for Robert Taylor films which brought this delightful lady to my attention. The two of them made three movies together (Above and BeyondValley of the Kings, and Many Rivers to Cross), and when I watched Above and Beyond for the first time, I was surprised to see a name I recognized from The Sound of Music.  I had no idea that the Eleanor Parker of Sound of Music had been part of Hollywood's "golden era" or even that she had made other films.  (Of course, since I didn't get into classic films until 2006, it's no surprise that I was ignorant of Miss Parker's career for so many years.)  At any rate, I loved Eleanor in Above and Beyond, so in addition to tracking down the other two films she had made with the handsome Mr. Taylor, I sought out several of her other works, and the more I saw of her, the more impressed I became.  She very quickly rose to near the very top of my favorite actress list---where she will remain forever.

Besides the afore-mentioned Caged, Above and Beyond, Valley of the Kings, and The Sound of Music, some other highly recommended, very loved, titles include The Man with the Golden ArmLizzieInterrupted Melody, Pride of the MarinesNever Say Goodbye, Detective Story, Escape from Fort Bravo, The Very Thought of You, Scaramouche, and A Hole in the Head.  A viewing of any one of those films will showcase Miss Parker's loveliness and the broad range of her talent.

Rest in peace, beloved Eleanor! You will always be one of my most favorite actresses.  Thank you for bringing so much enjoyment to my life through so many wonderful movies!!