New This Week
Last week, I recommended six TV series to consider for giving as gifts to those who still prefer physical media to here today-gone tomorrow streaming services. This week I have six times six or thirty-six recommendations for you to buy for yourself or for giving to a serious cineaste who doesn’t already have them.
These recommendations are of four films per decade from the 1930s through the 2010s, all of which are available on Blu-ray and original DVD. None of these are obscure films, but I have purposely excluded those that most collectors will already have in their possession.
From the 1930s, I have selected Westfront 1918, Show Boat, Make Way for Tomorrow, and Holiday.
All four of these are Criterion Special Editions, and special they are. G.W. Pabst’s Westfront 1918, like Lewis Milestone’s Oscar-winning All Quiet on the Western Front, which was filmed at the same time, looks at the Great War from the perspective of German infantrymen, but is more somber, more austere, and ultimately more heartbreaking. James Whale’s Show Boat is still the definitive version of the Jerome Kern-Oscar Hammerstein II musical with the entire cast culled from various productions of the groundbreaking musical. Leo McCarey’s Make Way for Tomorrow is a heartfelt look at old age just before the introduction of social security, and the film that should have won McCarey the Oscar over his The Awful Truth. George Cukor’s Holiday is the best pairing ever of Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn.
From the 1940s, I have selected The Mortal Storm, The Ox-Bow Incident, The Keys of the Kingdom, and Notorious.
Frank Borzage’s The Mortal Storm (Warner Archive), beautifully acted by Margaret Sullavan, James Stewart, and Frank Morgan, was one of the first, and still one of the best, films about the Holocaust. William A. Wellman’s The Ox-Bow Incident (Kino Lorber), with Henry Fonda in one of his best roles, is the best western you many never have heard of. John M. Stahl’s The Keys of the Kingdom (Twilight Time) is the antithesis of all those treacly modern religious dramas with a great cast led by Gregory Peck. Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious is still oddly not as well-known as some of the great director’s other films despite a cast lead by Ingrid Bergman, Cary Grant, and Claude Rains at their finest.
From the 1950s, I have selected Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Witness for the Prosecution, Auntie Mame, and The Last Hurrah.
Stanley Donen’s Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (Warner Archive) remains the most joyous of all original screen musicals. Billy Wilder’s Witness for the Prosecution (Kino Lorber), toplining Charles Laughton, Marlene Dietrich, and Tyrone Power, brilliantly adds comedy to Agatha Christie’s mystery. Morton Da Costa’s Auntie Mame (Warner Archive) showcases Rosalind Russell in her best role ever as everyone’s favorite relative. John Ford’s The Last Hurrah (Twilight Time), starring Spencer Tracy and a host of great character actors, gives us the screen’s best old man film ever.
From the 1960s, I have selected Home from the Hill, Fanny, A Patch of Blue, and The Whisperers.
The first three are from Warner Archive and the fourth is from Kino Lorber. Vincente Minnelli’s Home from the Hill, starring Robert Mitchum, Eleanor Parker, George Peppard, and George Hamilton, is the director’s best dramatic film. Joshua Logan’s Fanny, starring Leslie Caron, Maurice Chevalier, Charles Boyer, and Horst Buccholz, charmingly compresses Marcel Pagnol’s The Marseilles Trilogy. Guy Green’s A Patch of Blue reminds us of the power of Sidney Poitier’s presence. Bryan Forbes’ The Whisperers reminds us of what a towering actress Edith Evans was.
From the 1970s, I have selected Lovers and Other Strangers, Sunday Bloody Sunday, Nashville, and Hair.
The first is from Kino Lorber, the second and third from Criterion, while the fourth is an Olive Signature release.
Cy Howard’s Lovers and Other Strangers is an ensemble comedy about a wedding party with something for everyone. John Schlesinger’s Sunday Bloody Sunday gives us a post-Oscar Glenda Jackson and a pre-Oscar Peter Finch in even better roles than the ones for which they won, here playing lovers of a man who jilts them both. Robert Altman’s Nashville is an absorbing ensemble political drama in a country music setting. Milos Forman’s Hair is an exuberant film version of the Broadway musical with a newly written compelling backstory at its center.
From the 1980s, I have selected The Verdict, The World According to Garp, A Room with a View, and Born on the Fourth of July.
Sidney Lumet’s The Verdict (20th Century-Fox), starring Paul Newman, is a superb courtroom drama, one of the best for both director and actor. George Roy Hill’s The World According to Garp (Warner Archive) was the film that started Glenn Close on her as-yet unfulfilled quest for an Oscar. James Ivory’s A Room with a View (Criterion) re-introduced E.M. Forster to the world with the help of Maggie Smith and Daniel Day-Lewis among others. Oliver Stone’s Born on the Fourth of July (20th Century-Fox) gave Tom Cruise his best role ever as paralyzed Vietnam Veteran Ron Kovic.
From the 1990s, I have selected Awakenings, The Wedding Banquet, The American President, and Gods and Monsters.
Penny Marshall’s Awakenings (Image) stars Robert De Niro as a catatonic patient and Robin Williams as the doctor who revives him in this fact-based crowd-pleaser. Ang Lee’s The Wedding Banquet (Olive) was the director’s first film about a gay romance, a hilarious comedy filmed in New York in Mandarin and English. Rob Reiner’s The American President (Warner Bros.) gave us Michael Douglas as its widowed Clintonesque protagonist romancing Annette Bening in this modern comedy classic. Bill Condon’s Gods and Monsters (Lionsgate) evokes both the 1930s in which James Whale directed all his great films and the 1950s in which he lived his last days.
From the 2000s, I have selected Billy Elliott, Wonder Boys, Children of Men, and Atonement.
All are from Universal except Wonder Boys, which is from Paramount. Stephen Daldry’s Billy Elliot, which introduced Jamie Bell, is a dance-filled modern family drama full of heart. Curtis Hanson’s Wonder Boys is a spirited comedy starring Michael Douglas as a one-time wonder author and Tobey Maguire as his protégé. Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men gives us a dystopian future that ends in hope. Joe Wright’s Atonement is an absorbing look at a family destroyed by a lie.
From the 2010s, I have selected Les Misérables, Manchester by the Sea, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool.
Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables (Universal) is a modern musical version of Victor Hugo’s 1862 masterwork. Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea (Lionsgate) is about as upbeat a film about depression as you are ever likely to see. Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (20th Century-Fox) is an absorbing modern mystery with twists and turns galore. Paul McGuigan’s Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool (Sony) gives us Annette Bening as Gloria Grahame and Jamie Bell as her last lover in this sobering look at the last days of a once glamourous Oscar-winning actress.
This week’s U.S. Blu-ray releases include Made in Italy and Mission Impossible: The Original TV Series.