Another Oscar season has been and gone, and the awards have been duly handed out
in the 24 categories. In the same way that the Emmys got me thinking about my
favorite TV shows over the years, the Academy Awards sparked thoughts about some
of the more memorable films I have seen in my day. And I have seen a
Be they films I saw on the big screen or their scaled-down clones on
TV, the world of cinema has always been “terra fascinate” for me. When I was
living in Montreal, I would get a two-week pass for the annual Foreign Film
Festival, and for 14 days I would sit entranced, day and night, entering exotic
locales and encountering a myriad of characters speaking every language
imaginable. What was great about having a pass was that if I didn’t like a
particular movie, I could just walk out and go into a different theater hall and
settle in for another film.
Seeing so many movies in one stretch, I
learned to distinguish among three types of films: ones that are based on a true
story; ones that are adapted from a book and ones that are written for the
I often find that films based on a true story lack the right
amount of suspense and drama; and all too often they contain elements that do
nothing to further the main thrust of the story but are in there because, well,
they really happened.
Films that are adapted from a book often try to
cram too much in. The characters are often not fully developed enough for the
audience to get to care about them, and the plot skims along so quickly that the
viewer is left wondering “Why are they doing that?” or “When did that happen?”
Good films that are made for the screen take the time to develop the characters
and play out the plot.
This, of course, is not to say that there are not
superb films based on true stories or adapted from books. That’s why there are
awards in that category – because it’s not an easy feat in any
That being said, one of my all-time favorite films is adapted
from a classic novel by Rudyard Kipling.
The Man Who Would Be King, which
I have seen umpteen times, never fails to delight and intrigue me. Starring
Michael Caine and Sean Connery and co-starring Christopher Plummer, the film has
all the charm, drama and grandeur that make for firstclass entertainment. I have
to admit that every time I see it, I keep hoping it will end differently – but
alas, it never does.
But when it comes to endings, nothing gets me like
the one in An Affair to Remember. No matter how many times I see that beautiful
romantic film, I always get choked up. It is such a wonderful story that the
film has been made three times. The original film, called Love Affair, was made
in 1939 and starred Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne. It was remade in 1957 as An
Affair to Remember, starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. Then in 1994 it
resurfaced again as Love Affair, this time starring Warren Beatty and Annette
Bening. The story is always disarming, but for me the most memorable version is
the one with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr – truly an affair to
Deborah Kerr starred in another one of my film favorites, The
King and I. That scene with her and Yul Brynner zestfully waltzing around the
palace ballroom to “Shall We Dance?” is forever etched in my memory, and the
music still echoes in my ears.
And speaking of music, there is a film I
saw only once, when it came out, and have never seen it advertised playing
anywhere since, not in repertory theaters or on TV. Amadeus was simply
The life story of Mozart, played to the hilt by Tom Hulce, was
so poignant, passionate and powerful that I am truly surprised it has not been
screened more often.
A film that does come to TV from time to time,
speaking of passionate, is a little-known movie called Passion Fish, which I
just love. Made in 1992 and directed by John Sayles, it stars Mary McDonnell,
Alfre Woodard and David Strathairn. Filled with wonderful dialogue, engaging
characters and an equally engaging story line, it has all the elements of a
truly fine film.
Those prime elements are featured in the Japanese film
Departures, which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 2009 (not to be
confused with Martin Scorsese’s action film The Departed). Add to this an exotic
culture and a rarely observed ceremonial ritual, and you have a genuinely
Another film that I feel fills all the boxes, so to
speak, is Parenthood, directed by Ron Howard. With an ensemble cast that
includes Steve Martin, Mary Steenburgen, Diane Wiest, Jason Robards and Tom
Hulce, this comedy-drama is intelligent and warmhearted and is a film everyone
can relate to because it focuses equally on parents and children – and children
who become parents.
In the realm of comedy, my two favorites are any Marx
Brothers film and any Woody Allen film. I can watch them over and over again
because the rapid-fire dialogue is so witty, clever and simply off the wall that
it never gets old.
There was a comedy that I saw years ago, which my
friends in Montreal will never forgive me for. A spoof on all the disaster films
of the time, I thought The Big Bus was a riot, and I recommended that my friends
go and see it. Well, as much as I loved it, they hated it. What can I say? I
still think it’s very funny.
It’s about the maiden voyage of a
nuclear-powered bus traveling non-stop from New York to Denver (I’m laughing
already), with all the trappings of a luxury ocean liner, and the calamities it
experiences on its first run. The co-driver they hire for the trip (John Beck),
who is tall and well built, has the nickname “Shoulders.”
“Why do they
call you ‘Shoulders?’” asks the bus hostess, played by Stockard Channing. “Is it
because you have such broad shoulders?” “No,” he answers. “It’s because I have
narcolepsy. I keep falling asleep at the wheel and go off the shoulder of
To each his own.
Sometimes a film is so well made that
it transcends all personal aversions and predispositions. I cannot stomach
violent films, I dislike westerns (so boring), and I never watch films about the
Holocaust (too painful). And yet, three more of my favorite films fall into each
of those categories.
Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction has so much
artistry, grace and bizarre humor, that the extreme violence is somehow
transmuted (except for that sequence in the basement). Sergio Leone’s spaghetti
western The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is so epic that I can watch it again and
again. And Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List is so compelling and well crafted
that it is painfully beautiful – especially the last scene.
So there you
have it. Just some of the cinematic gems that have enhanced, enriched and
enlightened my life.