5 Favorites Redux #45: Favorite Michael Caine Films

Welcome to 5 Favorites. Each week, I will put together a list of my 5 favorites (films, performances, whatever strikes my fancy) along with commentary on a given topic each week, usually in relation to a specific film releasing that week.

Michael Caine has earned six Oscar nominations in his career, winning the award twice. Outside of the 1990s, Caine has earned nominations in each of four decades, no small feat for an actor who got his acting debut as a boy in the TV movie Morning Departure. Since then, he’s starred in some stellar films and worked with numerous different directors. The first film I can remember seeing him in was Dirty Rotten Scoundrels opposite Steve Martin. For younger audiences, he will forever be recognized for his supporting role in Christopher Nolan’s trilogy of films based on the Batman comics (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises).

That trilogy was the first time he ever worked with Nolan as a director, but it’s a partnership that has persisted from Batman Begins straight through to his most recent effort, Tenet, which opens wide this coming weekend. Of the eight films he’s appeared in for Nolan, only his vocal work in Dunkirk sticks out as being a thoroughly minor effort. In celebration of an eight-decade-plus career, I’m looking at five of my favorite films featuring Caine.

California Suite (1978)

Neil Simon had a hell of a run at the cinemas in the 1970s. The screenwriter adapted a handful of his plays to the big screen with this 1978 Herbert Ross film being one of the more successful ones. Four groups of guests are staying at the Beverly Hills Hotel at the same time and their stories unfold across the breezy 1 hour and 43 minute film.

Starring Jane Fonda, Alan Alda, Maggie Smith, Caine, Walter Matthau, Elaine May, Herb Edelman, Denise Galik, Richard Pryor, and Bill Cosby, the play comes to life in varied and hilarious ways with Maggie Smith getting the juiciest role (along with an Oscar for it). Caine plays her closeted husband and their interplay is well worth the price of admission.

Noises Off… (1992)

Based on the hit West End and Broadway farce of the same name, Peter Bogdanovich’s filming of Noises Off… brings the hilarious stage play to the big screen and while it might feel as stage-bound as its source material, the events depicted in the film are nonetheless hilarious.

Starring Carol Burnett, Caine (as the director of the play-within-the-play, Denholm Elliott, Julie Hagerty, Marilu Henner, Mark Linn-Baker, Christopher Reeve, John Ritter, and Nicollette Sheridan, the film is absurdly entertaining. It follows a baudy stage play called “Nothing On” as it tours through small towns in try-outs while the cast begins to fracture and antagonize one another, which eventually translates into backstage bickering and conflicts that bleed onto the stage.

I’ve seen the play performed by a local theater as well as this big screen version and the stage certainly feels like a better place for these adventures as we get to see the rich details and interplay between the play within the play and the backstage drama. If you haven’t had a chance to see the play (and you should at the earliest opportunity), the film is the next best thing.

Children of Men (2006)

I’ve highlighted this film numerous times in the last year and there’s a good reason for that. Children of Men is hands-down one of the best films of the 2000s and stands tall on its own in the historical context of the cinema.

Alfonso Cuaron’s film, adapted from the celebrated P.D. James novel, stars Clive Owen as a government worker who takes on the dangerous task of guiding a young woman across the post-apocalyptic landscape of England hoping to smuggle her to safety. This dystopian picture also stars Julianne Moore, Clare-Hope Ashitey, Caine, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Charlie Hunnam, Pam Ferris, Peter Mullan, and Danny Huston.

It’s a frightening glimpse at civilization’s future should a pandemic spread through the populace causing infertility. Like The Handmaid’s Tale, Children of Men is about totalitarian authority and its desire to manipulate and control the populace with the government’s own protection in mind. The film is stellar and although Caine’s role is a small one, it fits the proceedings quite nicely.

The Dark Night (2008)

The second film in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy follows the caped crusader (Christian Bale) as he struggles to protect Gotham City from the threats of the nefarious Joker (Heath Ledger) while the duplicitous politician Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) attempts to leverage his political clout for an upwardly mobile move to higher office.

Caine plays Bruce Wayne’s (Bale) dedicated butler Pennyworth while Gary Oldman reprises his role as Commissioner Gordon and Morgan Freeman returns as Wayne’s personal gadgeteer Lucius Fox. Maggie Gyllenhaal steps in as the film’s romantic lead replacing Katie Holmes who appeared in the prior film as the same character, Rachel Dawes.

Outside of Superman and 1989’s Batman, there seems to be a trend where the second film in a superhero saga ends up being better than its predecessor, and the best of the entire trilogy or series. Think X2: X-Men United, Spider-Man 2, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The same is true here with Ledger’s iconic work as the Joker netting him a richly deserved Oscar after his untimely death in January of 2008.

Inception (2010)

Delivering on the promise of his breakthrough film Memento, Nolan has proven himself a director gifted not just with being able to sell intimate and complex character portraits, but also capable with large budget special effects extravaganzas. If it wasn’t already clear with Batman Begins, Inception more than made the case for his stature as one of cinema’s great film directors.

That his subsequent work, with the exception of Dunkirk, has been lackluster speaks to our ever heightening expectations for the director’s work. He’s traveling down a road that Francis Ford Coppola and Ridley Scott also traveled, turning out less than stellar work after their peaks with a gem or two in between? Will he follow the same path or can he overcome that downward trajectory in the same way that Steven Spielberg has managed? Time will tell, but this film remains a mind-bending, glorious adventure with everyone involved doing terrific work (Caine has a relatively small part in the picture), especially on the creative and technical elements of the film.

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