5 Buddy Films You Must See

13 05 2011

Buddy films have been chosen as the next entry in the “5 Films You Must See” series.  What constitutes a buddy film?  Well, really nothing other than the story revolves around two or more really good friends, with their friendship being a major motivator of the plot.  My girlfriend wanted me to add in that my list below is distinctly guy buddy films and, honestly, it is.  What I would consider a girl buddy film would most likely fall under “chick flick” for me, of which, I doubt I will create a list for, though I did strongly consider including Thelma and Louise.

Copyright 1996 Independent Pictures

5. Swingers dir. Doug Liman (1996) – This movie is absolutely hilarious and was the star-making roles that really started off the careers of Vince Vaughn, John Favreau and Ron Livingston.  Favreau plays Mike(y), a down-on-his-luck comedian, who recently moved to Los Angeles from New York, ending a six year relationship with his girlfriend.  Mike can’t get his ex out of his head and refuses to get back in the game.  His friends, Trent (Vaughn), Rob (Livingston) and Sue (Patrick Van Horn), try to get him to loosen up and let her go.  Much of the film is the different buddies interacting or gambling in Las Vegas, going to clubs or trying to cheer Mike up.  The dialog in the film is so sharp, however, that the easy flowing plot really doesn’t matter.  Accompanied by an upbeat jazz score, this is 1990s comedy at its best.  Also, after a first viewing, don’t be surprised to find yourself referring to everything as “money” in your personal life.  I’ve seen this film at least 10 times and it never gets old – definitely a must see!

Copyright 1987 Handmade Films

4. Withnail and I dir. Bruce Robinson (1987) –  This seminal British comedy is one of my personal favorites on this list, though I love them all.  A semi-autobiographical film from writer/director Robinson, this film follows the lives of Withnail (Richard E. Grant) and I (Paul McGann) in 1969 London town.  Living in a small, rundown apartment, the two out-of-work actors spend their days drinking, doing drugs and going on weekend benders.  For a change of pace, the two take up Withnail’s flamboyantly gay uncle, Monty (Richard Griffiths) on a trip to his country cottage.  Thinking it will be a relaxing getaway to the country, the two find it to be anything but.  They have a hard time getting food, it is cold and raining and the cottage itself is in shambles.  Unexpectedly, Monty shows up at the cottage in the middle of the night and begins hitting on Paul McGann’s character during their stay because Withnail told Monty he was closeted.  In the end, the relaxing getaway turns out to be anything but and challenges the relationship between the two protagonists.  Having had a period myself where I spent many nights in the bar and out of work, this is a very relatable film for me and, coincidentally, I have a friend that is very reminiscent of Withnail who was a frequent drinking buddy.  Watching this film always makes me nostalgic about that time in my life; though it wasn’t productive, it was a lot of fun.  Everything about this film works: the writing is great, the direction is precise and the acting is brilliant by all involved.  Like Swingers, this film will also give you many quotable lines to use in daily life.  Scrubbers!!!

Copyright 1980 Universal Pictures

3. The Blues Brothers dir. John Landis (1980) – I’m sure most of you have probably seen this film at some point in your lives.  Starting out as a Saturday Night Live skit with John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, the feature film version is the definitive story of Jake and Elwood Blues.  When Jake (Belushi) gets out of a three year stint in prison, him and his brother Elwood (Aykroyd) visit the Roman Catholic orphanage where they grew up.  They find that the orphanage will close unless $5,000 of property taxes are collected within 11 days.  The brothers decide they should get their old Rhythm and Blues band back together to help the church with benefit concerts.  Being on a “mission from God”, the two set out recruiting all the old musicians.  Over the course of the film, they run into all sorts of precarious situations with the police, a crazy ex-girlfriend, rowdy country bars and other situations.  Guest appearances by many famous musicians including Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, John Lee Hooker and Chaka Chan, among others, appear throughout.  The final chase scene is probably one of the biggest chases and car pile ups committed to film.  This film is infinitely entertaining and has so many great scenes and musical numbers that it easily ranks as one of the best movies from an SNL skit beginning.

Copyright 1969

2. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid dir. George Roy Hill (1969) – This is a perfectly formatted buddy film because almost everything revolves around the friendship of the two main characters, Butch (Paul Newman) and Sundance (Robert Redford).  The leaders of the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang, the whole film follows the two and their gang going through successful and unsuccessful robberies of trains and banks.  As a side story is the relationship between Sundance and school teacher Etta Place (Katherine Ross).  Going from one robbery to the next, the two eventually find themselves cornered by the Bolivian calvary and the film ends with on of the most memorable and climatic endings of the 1960s.

Copyright 1959 Ashton Productions

1. Some Like it Hot dir. Billy Wilder (1959) – Billy Wilder constantly ranks as one of my favorite filmmakers.  If you look at a list of his credits, you will be astounded by the many classic films that were made under his helm.  This one is probably my favorite comedy of his.  It revolves around two struggling musicians, Jerry (Jack Lemmon) and Joe (Tony Curtis), who witness the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.  The leader of the gang who authorized the massacre, “Spats” Colombo (George Raft in a role parodying his former roles in 1930s and 1940s gangster dramas), see the two of them at the scene of the crime and they run for their lives.  They join an all-female band heading to Florida in disguise as Josephine and Daphne.  The all-female band is lead by bandleader “Sugar” Kane (Marilyn Monroe).  Joe falls for her deeply and tries to romance her in yet another disguise as a wealthy businessman with Cary Grant-like mannerisms, all the while keeping up the female disguise as Josephine when needed to not blow his cover.  When the gangsters show up to Florida at the hotel the band is playing, the disguises become harder and harder to keep up.  The final scenes of the film are filled with hilarious chases and mishaps and the final line of the film, “Well, nobody’s perfect” has become one of cinema’s most famous closing lines.

5 Silent Films You Must See

3 04 2011

I love silent films, I really do.  Honestly, I feel like we lost an artform in and of itself when sound came in and totally redirected the entire process of filmmaking.  Unfortunately, many didn’t realize that silent filmmaking and sound filmmaking, though both forms of cinema, were very different in their execution and style.  It’s a shame that both couldn’t co-exist; but as with anything, when something new comes along, the predecessor usually disappears over time.

Many of my friends and colleagues hate silent films (which amazes me how we are still friends/colleagues).  They can’t stand the black and white or the fact you have to read title cards or the jerky motion (which is not due to the films themselves but the haphazard projection and transfer rates we have shown them at in recent years), melodramatics of some of the dramas or slapstick silliness of some of the comedies.

Yet, there are many, many wonderful silent films.  Films that many people won’t even give a chance because of some strange discrimination against them.  So, I’m here to give a starter kit, so to speak; films I can see as being fairly available and enjoyable to the mass audience.  If you watch these five recommendations and still can’t stand silent films, then I can at least give you the “e” for effort.  I still might not understand it, but it will appease my unrest.  Anyway, gear up your netflix queue or drop by the local video store and start here:

5.  Battleship Potemkin dir. Sergei Eisenstein (1925) – If you have ever read a book on film or taken a film class in college, then I’m sure the name Eisenstein is somewhat familiar to you regarding his landmark theories on movie montage.  Eisenstein, outside of his work as a theorist, was even more so a renowned Russian filmmaker.  Wait, what?  You are not only recommending silent films, but foreign ones at that!  Yes, but remember, we are in the silent realm, so the foreign part doesn’t really matter much.

So, what’s this film about?  Well, it’s a propaganda film that dramatizes the mutiny that took place aboard the battleship Potemkin in 1905, during the Russian revolution.  Sounds a little heavy handed from the description, I know.  However, if you can give this film a chance, I don’t think you would regret it.  The style, form and use of his much theorized montage theory creates an exciting and entrancing film.  It will shock you that this film is nearly 90 years old because it will be completed and satisfying before you even realize you just watched a silent film.  Furthermore, once you watch this film, let me know all the movies you can think of who have directly ripped off the Odessa Steps sequence.

4. The General dir. Clyde Bruckman and Buster Keaton (1926) – I’m sure most of you have heard of Charlie Chaplin, he’s been pretty ingrained in pop culture even to this day.  Well, Chaplin was one of three comedians who dominated silent comedies.  The other two were Harold Lloyd (none of his films on this list, but try Speedy or Safety Last for a good taste of his style) and our star of this film, Buster Keaton.  Keaton was referred to as “Old Stone Face,” and if you give this film a chance, you will see why.

This film is set during the American Civil War and has a fairly simple premise.  Keaton, who plays railroad engineer Johnny Gray, has two loves in life – one is his train, The General (title cue), and the other is Annabelle Lee (Marion Mack).  When the Civil War breaks out, he goes to sign up for the Confederate Army, but is rejected because of his critical role in working for the railroad.  Annabelle and her father are let down immensely and feel he is a coward, not understanding the true reason he was rejected.  A year into the war, Annabelle’s father is wounded.  On a trip to see him aboard the General, Union spies sabotage the passengers and steal the General and take Annabelle Lee hostage.  The rest of the film is Gray proving himself as an unsuspecting hero, a feat that no one does as expertly as Keaton.

The acrobatics and physical comedy that Keaton performs in this film are absolutely breathtaking.  The entire film is a joy to watch and has as much action, intrigue and suspense as anything created today (much of the time, more so).  The only difference is that all those stunts are actually Keaton himself doing them, not a stuntman or CGI handy work.  This is real filmmaking, real locations, real stunts, and all that, makes one hell of a great film.

3. Intolerance dir. D. W. Griffith (1916) – I’m sure the name David Wark Griffith probably rings a few bells.  Most of you probably know him for creating what is by-and-large considered the first full-length, modern feature (it wasn’t, but hey, the guy did a lot of amazing things for filmmaking, so I don’t mind credit here) with his controversial film The Birth of a Nation.

Well, after The Birth of a Nation received so much negative feedback, D.W. decided to make a film in retaliation that would even outdo himself.  The result was this film, Intolerance. If you adjust inflation into the mix, it is the most expensive and grandest motion picture ever made.  Yes, that’s right, the most extravagant motion picture ever made is a film that was produced just 20 years into cinema’s existence.

The film deals with varying degrees of intolerance by analyzing four main stories in four different eras: The Babylonian Period and the fall of Babel, the events surrounding the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, The French Renaissance and the failure of the Edict of Toleration and a modern day (1914) story concerning workers rights and the oppression of the everyday American.  A common motif, the “Eternal Mother” (Lilian Gish), artistically serves as a seque between the four different stories.  To go much further into the synopsis of this film would get pretty convoluted and probably just be confusing to you.  In other words, watch the film!

When I saw this film for the first time, it shocked and awed me more than any present day movie I’ve ever seen.  The masterful precision that Griffith used to make this film in scope of story, cinematography, direction, set design and editing between the four time periods is mind blowing.  There are few films like this from any era.  Make sure you have a long afternoon for this one though, as it’s the longest of the five recommendations at 197 minutes for the full version.

2. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans dir. F. W. Murnau (1927) – Murnau, a native of Germany, was already extremely well-regarded in his homeland before coming to the United States.  He came to Fox Studios in 1926 to make his first American picture, and this was the film he made.

The film follows the story of a man (George O’Brien) and his wife (Janet Gaynor), whom have a young child.  The man (yes, there are no actual names), is having an affair with a Woman of the City.  One night, while frolicking near the river, the Woman of the City insists the man should murder his wife and make it look like an accident, so that they can live together.  The man is reluctant, but ultimately agrees.  The next day, he and his wife prepare for an outing to the city.  He attempts the murder, but can’t actually pull it off.  He and his wife then continue on to the city and renew the pervious glory of their relationship.  On the way home, however, a strong storm hits and fate seems to bring their worlds into disarray on its own terms.

Sunrise is as human as a motion picture can get.  The lead characters have no names other than “the man” and “his wife.”  Yet, the story itself is so deep, moving and real that you really don’t need a specific identity for these characters.  In regards to direction and cinematography, this film was way ahead of its time.  Murnau took liberties in not only shot selection, but even in title transitions, that were experimental and progressive.  Charles Rusher and Karl Struss co-shot the film, ultimately winning the first Academy Award for Best Cinematography for their combined efforts.   The in camera tricks, lighting and complexities of shots still don’t fail to amaze the eye.  Sunrise is, quite simply, a brilliant, moving film that I feel anyone can enjoy on the most basic level.  Every part of this film just works, and for the joint efforts of cast and crew, it was awarded an Oscar for “Unique and Artistic Production” as a special category.

1. City Lights dir. Charles Chaplin (1931) – With the advent of sound in 1928 with The Jazz Singer, silent films started to dwindle.  By the time this film was released in 1931, silent films were generally a thing of the past.  However, Chaplin, one of the greatest stars of the silent era, insisted on keeping this film silent, because he didn’t feel that the world was ready to hear his eternal waif, the Little Tramp, speak.

A master at blended comedy and drama, Chaplin produced a film that continues to bring a world of emotions some 80 years after its release.  The story revolves around Chaplin’s character of the Little Tramp, who falls in love with a poor, blind flower girl (Virginia Cherrill).  Through a hap circumstance, she believes that he is a millionaire and can help her and her mother in their desperate time of need.  Determined to help, he befriends a raucous, party-driven millionaire and does everything he can to help the flower girl and her mother.  In the end, he helps them and she is able to get an eye operation that restores her sight.  But, will she be able to accept the Tramp for his true self?

City Lights is, in my opinion, the best Chaplin film.  It combines all the elements that made him so legendary in perfect array, and being someone who has seen all of his features and most of his shorts, I feel like I have a pretty good judgement in Chaplin’s filmography.  This is a beautiful, moving film that I couldn’t see anyone watching and not thoroughly enjoying.  If there is one silent film that you are willing to give even the slightest chance, then this is the film that I think you should see.  It’s comedy, it’s drama, it’s Chaplin.

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