Ah yes, I remember them well

A stroll down the silver screen’s memory lane reflects some of the films that have made a lasting impression.

Michael Caine in 'The Man Who Would Be King' 370 (photo credit: allmoviephotos.com)
Michael Caine in 'The Man Who Would Be King' 370
(photo credit: allmoviephotos.com)
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 lot.
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 screen.
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 regard.
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 remember.
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 riveting.
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 well-made film.
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 the road.”
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.