Summer Classic Film Series at Home
A World of Adventure. The Comfort of Home.
As we gear up to welcome you back to the theatres safely and responsibly for our July 3rd Opening Weekend, we are transitioning from Quaranscreen to the “Summer Classic Film Series at Home” through June. That means we’ll still be revealing expertly curated classics from Film Programmer Stephen Jannise every Friday!
To take your stay-at-home cinematic experience to the next level, we’re partnering with local restaurants to bring you DINNER AND A MOVIE. Browse their exclusive offers under each theme below and enjoy via safe pick-up or delivery. It’s a great way to support a few Austin favorites when they need you most! THANK YOU for doing your part to follow guidelines and keep our community safe.
A note from our Film Series partner: In this unprecedented time in our lives, Capital Metro is proud to serve our Central Texas community, helping our friends and neighbors get to essential jobs and run their necessary errands. But life in Austin is more than just what’s necessary. And CapMetro is happy to support an essential part of our cultural lives: The Paramount Theatre and the Paramount Summer Classic Film Series at Home.
Note: We’ve listed a streaming subscription service where you can find each film if applicable, but most are also available for rent on Amazon, FandangoNow, and other services.
Support Black Filmmakers
The murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd are the latest horrific examples of the racially motivated violence inflicted upon Black people in our country, and the protests that followed have provided opportunities for voices that are so often silenced to be heard. Now more than ever, we must speak out and act against the racial injustices that have been allowed to run rampant in our country, and we must amplify and empower our Black artists to tell their stories.
This week, we are looking back at some recent films and TV shows made by Black filmmakers who have made their voices heard despite the considerable challenges they face in this industry, and we are featuring excerpts from reviews of those films by Black film critics — film criticism being another area that still has a long way to go to achieve equal representation. Whether you’re seeing the films for the first time or would like to see them again with fresh perspective, we hope you’ll read these reflections on some of the most important films in recent years. Hearing and learning from others is how we keep this important conversation going.
DINNER AND A MOVIE WITH DA BOOT PO’BOYS & FOWLER’S SMOKIN SOUL FOOD
DA BOOT PO’BOYS offers an authentic New Orleans style menu: red beans with rice on Tuesdays, mouth-watering seafood gumbo in the fall, and staples like shrimp, fish, oyster, and crawfish Po’boys. Or indulge in soul food including pork chops, collard greens, mac’n’cheese, fried chicken wings, okra, and other southern favorites. Order take-out or delivery online or call 512-413-8722.
Fowler’s Smokin Soul Food, a family-owned, family-style restaurant offering BBQ and soul food, is back for dine-in or take-out! Fill your belly with real-deal brisket, juicy sausage, chicken wings, mac’n’cheese, yams, bread pudding, cobbler, and more. Please come out and enjoy a meal made with love! Visit fowlerssmokinsoulfood.com or call 512-300-0226 to place an order.
Directed by Ava DuVernay
13TH (2016) & WHEN THEY SEE US (2019)
Odie Henderson on 13TH: “When the 13th amendment was ratified in 1865, its drafters left themselves a large, very exploitable loophole in the guise of an easily missed clause in its definition. That clause, which converts slavery from a legal business model to an equally legal method of punishment for criminals, is the subject of “13th.” Director Ava DuVernay takes an unflinching, well-informed and thoroughly researched look at the American system of incarceration, specifically how the prison industrial complex affects people of color. Her analysis could not be more timely nor more infuriating. The film builds its case piece by shattering piece, inspiring levels of shock and outrage that stun the viewer, leaving one shaken and disturbed before closing out on a visual note of hope designed to keep us on the hook as advocates for change.” – Read Henderson’s review here.
Eric Deggans on WHEN THEY SEE US: “The film was tough to watch because DuVernay’s look at the Central Park Five depicts a chilling circumstance that sits in the back of my mind, as a black man in America, pretty much every day. What happens when/if white America decides you are guilty of a horrific crime, partially to confirm its own horrific prejudices about people who look like you? What if that happens regardless of the evidence or circumstance? And when/if that time comes, what if every institution that is supposed to protect you — police, lawyers, the media, even your parents and family — all turn their backs, pile on, or are too overwhelmed to make a difference? This is the stark picture DuVernay offers, in a masterpiece of a series aimed at humanizing five boys who were vilified for decades and served years in prison for a crime they didn’t commit.” – Read Deggans’ review here.
Directed by Jordan Peele
GET OUT (2017) & US (2019)
Aisha Harris on GET OUT: “You need no more than a passing knowledge of horror movie tropes to immediately recognize the opening scene of writer-director Jordan Peele’s horror satire Get Out. And you need no more than a passing awareness of the past five years’ news cycle—or what it’s like to inhabit a black body in America—to immediately recognize the way in which Peele cleverly repurposes those tropes. A young black man (perennial scene-stealer Lakeith Stanfield) walks down the dimly lit sidewalk of a quiet suburban street, fumbling around on his cellphone for directions to his destination. A white car suddenly appears and begins to creep alongside him…Instantly, his defenses are triggered. “Nope. Not today,” he mutters anxiously to himself, turning back the other way…But, not unlike the black teen whose name became a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement, he can’t avoid trouble….This is the essence of Get Out, which only grows more darkly relevant as the main story gets going, masterfully unfurling all of the real-life anxieties of Existing While Black while simultaneously mining that situation for all its twisted absurdity.” Read Harris’ review here.
Jason Parham on US: “The prowess of a Jordan Peele film reveals itself in the dive. With Get Out…Peele explored what it meant to descend into, and ultimately be trapped by, the dark vista of the mind. What unfurled was a cerebral madhouse of tangled racial horrors. It felt true. Especially true if, like Daniel Kaluuya’s character Chris Washington, you are forced to live in the world merely as a consequence to mischievous white purveyors…[Peele] is someone who appreciates the complexities of the metaphorical rabbit hole. How deep it runs. Where it takes his characters (and, by extension, viewers). What we take from it. Its cavernous toll on the body and the mind in moments of escape or bold embrace. With Us, his latest horror puzzle, Peele continues to burrow furiously into the sinister subterranean of the American project.” Read Parham’s review here.
Directed by Barry Jenkins
MOONLIGHT (2016) & IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK (2018)
K. Austin Collins on MOONLIGHT: “Two brown teenage boys on a Miami beach late one night, their dark skin alive in the moonlight, their voices saying nothing and everything at once — boys free to be who they want to be, free to allow each other to be who they are. It’s an image that should hardly feel radical, when you think about it: two boys, a blunt, and a beach. Now see it for the phenomenon it really is: male intimacy. Black male intimacy, and the freedom and vulnerability that come with it. That’s an image most of us don’t get to witness every day — certainly not at the movies or even on TV. Hence the beauty of the image — and of Barry Jenkins’s new film, Moonlight, from which it’s drawn.” Read Collins’ feature story here.
K. Austin Collins on IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK: “Barry Jenkins makes movies about black love. His 2008 debut, Medicine for Melancholy, chronicled a one-night stand turned burgeoning romance in a maddeningly gentrifying San Francisco. Moonlight, his wonderful follow-up and 2016 best-picture winner, is a coming-of-age story about a fatherless queer boy set among the impoverished Miami neighborhoods that were once home to Jenkins himself. Its endgame isn’t sex, or even necessarily sexuality, but something even more rare in movies: pure, loving intimacy between black men, sexual and not. Now comes If Beale Street Could Talk, Jenkins’s extraordinary adaptation of James Baldwin’s soulful 1974 novel. It’s a lush, courageous black melodrama set in 1970s New York, a story about love defying injustice—or trying its damndest to.” Read Collins’ review here.
Directed by Spike Lee
Odie Henderson: “BlacKkKlansman presents racism as a dichotomy between the absurd and the dangerous; the film’s intentional laughs often get caught in one’s throat. This is not Lee’s first cinematic depiction of the KKK. In Malcolm X, he presented them riding “victoriously” into the night while a preposterously large moon hung in the sky. It’s a quick scene but its intentions are unmistakable: Lee is evoking D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation, one of the most effective pieces of propaganda racism ever had, but he’s not paying it any tribute. Instead, the obvious fakery of the gorgeous, celestial backdrop behind the Klan served as a middle finger to Griffith and his film. Though the action in Lee’s scene is dramatically potent and played straight, the technique itself is parodic, as if to call bullshit on the notion that Griffith’s filmmaking prowess excused the vileness of what he depicted. In BlacKkKlansman, Lee has more middle fingers to wave at Griffith’s alleged “masterpiece…”” – Read Henderson’s review here.
BLACKKKLANSMAN (2018) is available on HBO.
Directed by Dee Rees
Ina Diane Archer: “Pariah is one of a handful of contemporary coming-of-age features that depict the transformative experiences of adolescent African-American women. It may be the only recent film that also portrays the coming-out process of a young person of color. As the title suggests, Alike (Adepero Oduye), a 17-year-old lesbian, could be perceived as the ultimate racial and sexual Other. She is introduced in the dynamic first scenes of the film hanging out with her friend Laura (Pernell Walker), a flashy and charming playa, trying to navigate the scene in a local women’s nightclub. Among butch women Alike is initially hard to distinguish from a young man with her dark, baggy clothes, do-rag, and baseball cap. But despite the gangsta pose, her face reveals both wonder and uncertainty in this setting. On the bus home, like a quick-change artist she adjusts her clothes and demeanor, transforming into a feminine teenager. This compelling opening suggests that Pariah will be exploring an exotic subcultural space, but in fact Alike’s story shares the most basic concerns of coming-of-age narratives: affirming burgeoning sexual (and cultural) identities, negotiating friendships, separating from one’s parents, and, overall, learning how to “be in the world.” – Read Archer’s review here.
PARIAH is available for rent.
Directed by Boots Riley
SORRY TO BOTHER YOU (2018)
Maya Phillips: “In Boots Riley’s cartoonish, anti-capitalist drug trip of a movie, Sorry to Bother You, the protagonist, a telemarketer named Cassius “Cash” Green (Lakeith Stanfield), is at a bar with friends when he discovers his “white voice.” The nasal, nebbishy caricature of whiteness (provided by David Cross) comes out of Cassius’ mouth like a bad dub on an anime bootleg, and it unsettles everyone at the table; his racial ventriloquism is, as Cassius’ friend Salvador (Jermaine Fowler) describes it, “some Puppet Master s**t.” Riley’s version of Oakland, California, starts off grounded in reality, but Cash’s seamless code switching is one of the first increasingly outlandish signs that things are just off. Sorry to Bother You is the latest in a wave of black-written, -directed, and -acted movies and TV shows to dip into the surreal, particularly when it concerns matters of racial performance.” – Read Phillips’ essay here.
Programmed by Film Fans
To give “Summer Classic Film Series at Home” an extra-special and passionate kick-off, we had our amazing Film Fan members choose the lineup!
Many Film Fans wrote in to cast your vote and tell us why these are some of your favorite films. It was difficult to narrow things down to the list below, though it helped that some of you managed to suggest films that are already slated to screen in the theatre when we reopen (great minds!) It was such a pleasure to read your thoughts on these classics that it almost felt like being back in the lobby talking about movies together. Here is our Film Fan lineup, programmed by YOU!
Fish Out of Water
MY COUSIN VINNY (1992) & TRADING PLACES (1983)
The act of taking someone out of their comfort zone and putting them in a situation that is totally different from their everyday lives has been a successful generator of movie comedies over the years, and you chose two of the great examples of that genre for this week’s lineup. When two college students from New York are put on trial in Alabama for a murder they did not commit, their cousin Vinny Gambini from Brooklyn (who only recently passed the bar exam) travels down South to defend them. A potent combination of comedy and courtroom intrigue featuring career-topping performances from Joe Pesci and Marisa Tomei, this film makes you laugh and leaves you with a smile on your face. As Film Fan Charles Nowland said, “after viewing this movie, it is impossible to be in a sad mood.” Sounds like a movie we could all use right now.
Speaking of potent combinations, fellow SNL alumni Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd turned Trading Places into a box office smash. As a wealthy investor (Aykroyd) and street conman (Murphy) whose stations in life are reversed thanks to some meddling businessmen settling a wager, these two legends get to take turns perfectly portraying both sides of our social spectrum. In his review, Roger Ebert said, “Trading Places resembles some of the classic Frank Capra and Preston Sturges comedies: It wants to be funny, but it also wants to tell us something about human nature and there are whole stretches when we forget it’s a comedy and get involved in the story.” High praise indeed. Take Film Fan Marian Casey’s advice: “if you’ve somehow missed out on this one, now’s the time!”
Never Mix Work and Love (Triangles)
BROADCAST NEWS (1987) & BULL DURHAM (1988)
These two 1980s classics feature the crackling chemistry of great actors involved in heated romantic intrigue against the backdrop of fascinating workplaces (the newsroom and the baseball field). James L. Brooks, one of Hollywood’s masters of the romantic comedy, teamed up with the dream cast of Holly Hunter, Albert Brooks and William Hurt for Broadcast News, which sees Brooks’ seasoned but not-so-telegenic reporter facing off against Hurt’s charismatic rookie for the affections of Hunter’s news producer. As Film Fan Carolyn Cohagan says, “This movie is James L. Brooks at his best. It’s a classic romantic comedy about a smart woman caught between two men, torn between her brain (Brooks) and her libido (Hurt). At the same time, the movie manages to be a drama about the downfall of real news, which still affects us today.”
Bull Durham brings the same dynamic to baseball. Kevin Costner’s veteran pitcher is sent down to the minor league to train up-and-comer Tim Robbins, and Susan Sarandon finds herself falling for both of them. The film was actually written and directed by a former minor player, Ron Shelton, which explains why the film has been lauded for its accuracy and authenticity (Shelton received an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay) and has been placed at or near the top of almost every list of the greatest sports movies ever made. As Film Fan Terrell Halaska suggested, “since we can’t play baseball, we can at least watch movies about it!”
To Catch (Feelings) for a Thief
TO CATCH A THIEF (1955) & POINT BREAK (1991)
One of the all-time-great directors, Alfred Hitchcock, teamed up with two of his most frequent collaborators (Cary Grant and Grace Kelly) to make a “romantic thriller” like only he could. To Catch a Thief, set in the French Rivera, features Grant as a former cat burglar who is forced out of serene retirement when an copycat commits crimes that put the authorities back on his tail. As he races to clear his name, Kelly finds herself wrapped up in this intrigue and falling in love with a career criminal. Film Fan Greg Teltschik sums it up perfectly: that plot with that director and that cast in that location adds up to “the perfect definition of a summer classic.”
The title of Hitchcock’s film also perfectly describes the plot of the second entry in this double feature, Point Break — a film from another all-time-great director, Kathryn Bigelow, about an FBI agent tasked with identifying and taking down a group of gang members. The only problem is that the agent finds himself sympathizing and ultimately bonding with the gang’s leader. In response to the question of why this film should be included in our lineup, Film Fans Sara and Steve Cady provided the shortest and sweetest argument we received: “Keanu Reeves. Patrick Swayze.” I have nothing to add to that faultless logic. It’s on the list.
Classic and Modern Vampires
VAMPYR (1932) & ZODIAC (2007)
In a very happy coincidence, two of our Film Fans suggested atmospheric thrillers from two different eras of filmmaking, both of which share one common bond – a town haunted and preyed upon by a relentless killer who seemingly cannot be stopped. Vampyr was legendary silent film director Carl Theodor Dreyer’s first sound film, and it relies quite heavily on the silent film techniques he mastered over the years to tell the age old story of a village cursed by the presence of a vampire. Film Fan Robert Miller says, “the eerie, surreal, and sometimes oddly comical Vampyr is one of my favorite films. It is such a curious little emotionally insular film. It is one of the most non-traditional vampire films ever made and truly so unlike any other film. But that’s what distinguishes Dreyer. He was truly original.” HBO Max just launched this week with a truly remarkable collection of classic films, including several from the Criterion Collection, and Vampyr happens to be one of them. If you bought into that new streaming service, give this one a try.
Not all vampires are fictional, as the citizens of San Francisco discovered when they were menaced by the elusive Zodiac Killer in the late 60s and early 70s. The case remains unsolved to this day, and director David Fincher spent 18 months researching the case before making his instant classic Zodiac in 2007. Film Fan Quin Aldredge says, “Zodiac is Fincher’s greatest achievement. It’s the story of how fear terrorized hundreds across California, but more importantly, how the extreme desire for answers drove San Francisco’s authorities to madness. It is fueled by excellent performances all across the board, from John Carroll Lynch’s Arthur Leigh Allen to Mark Ruffalo’s Inspector Dave Toschi. James Vanderbilt’s wonderful screenplay and Fincher’s innate attention to detail and need for perfection (so much so that he actually flew in oak trees for the Lake Berryessa scene after seeing there were none in place) as well his superb direction, especially the long dark shots he uses throughout the film, make Zodiac an unbelievably suspenseful classic thriller that deserves to be seen by all.”
A Singular Epic
ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA (1984)
Sometimes during the Paramount Summer Classic Film Series, we do away with the double feature concept to let an epic film breathe (and because we simply run out of time). After watching Sergio Leone’s epic masterpiece Once Upon a Time in America, which clocks in right about four hours in length, you’re going to want to schedule some time to reflect. Long known, and really still known, mostly for his spaghetti Westerns like The Good, The Bad and the Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West, this one gave him a chance to leave the West behind to spend 50 years in New York City, following the rise of two gangsters (Robert De Niro and James Woods) as they rise to power from 1918 to 1968. With such an epic runtime, you get a chance to see a lot of familiar faces in the form of wonderful character actors like Joe Pesci, Burt Young and Danny Aiello, and the sheer scope of the film is of course virtually unmatched. Film Fan Matt Prostko says, “This is Sergio Leone at his best.” Hard to argue with that.
ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA is available for rent.
Made in Austin Week
The occasional drive around town during quarantine just isn’t the same as truly engaging with the people, the atmosphere and the all-around pleasant vibe that is Austin. So, we’re bringing Austin into your house this week, showcasing some of my favorite films that have been shot in and around this city that we love. From local heroes who have defined the Austin filmmaking scene to out-of-towners looking for a certain flavor that only Austin can provide, our town has served the cinema well. Some of these you already know were shot here in town, but a couple just might surprise you…
DINNER AND A MOVIE WITH CISCO’S & AUSTIN BEERWORKS
Austin Beerworks has been voted Austin Chronicle’s ‘Best Brewery in Austin’ for 6 years in a row. The taproom is currently closed, but you can still pick up over 20 different fresh, locally-made beers from the brewery to enjoy at home. For all the options or to place an order, just visit austinbeerworks.com. Enter the code quaranscreen at checkout for a 15% discount on all Beer-To-Go!
THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (1974)
There are those who wish outsiders would stop moving to Austin in droves. If you’re one of those people, I suppose you could try scaring everyone away with this horror classic. From a cemetery in Leander and a gas station in Bastrop to the “family home” where most of the film takes place (which was located in Round Rock at the time), Austin and its surrounding areas have never looked more terrifying. The making of this film is the stuff of legend – it was apparently as hot, sweaty, exhausting and terrifying as it looks. But it was worth it. This is no mere slasher picture – Tobe Hooper had more on his mind than just grisly violence, and he went and made one of the best movies of all time.
DAZED AND CONFUSED (1993)
It’s a no brainer that Richard Linklater would be on this list, and it’s difficult to choose just one of the many films he has shot in Austin (in fact, let me just go ahead and say that if you have not seen Bernie yet, do so as soon as you can. One of my personal favorites.). But, as a tribute to all those newly graduated high-schoolers who didn’t get to spend their last few months soaking it in with their friends, let’s revisit Dazed and Confused. Curbed provided this great location map (not that you’d need one to spot Top Notch), so watch the film and then go on a little driving tour – one of the few pleasures left to us these days other than the movies. Austin shines so brightly in this film that it manages to catch your attention despite the fact that it features so many recognizable faces, including Matthew McConaughey, Parker Posey, Ben Affleck, Milla Jovovich and, if you pay close attention, Renee Zellweger.
WAITING FOR GUFFMAN (1996)
Together with co-star Eugene Levy, Christopher Guest came up with a basic story about a community theatre troupe in the small town of Blaine, Missouri, that struggles to put together a musical in celebration of the city’s 150th anniversary. But that’s basically where the writing stopped, and the improvisational magic began. Most of you what you see (at laugh hysterically at) in this film was devised on the spot in front of the camera, a high-wire act that could only be pulled off by a perfectly cast group of razor-sharp comedians. Luckily for Guest, that’s exactly what he had for this film. In addition to Guest and Levy, the likes of Catherine O’Hara, Parker Posey and the late, great Fred Willard formed one of the finest comedic acting troupes ever assembled. If you’ve already seen it, you may be surprised to learn that many scenes were shot in Lockhart and right here in Austin.
WAITING FOR GUFFMAN is available for rent.
OFFICE SPACE (1999)
Someone should ask writer/director Mike Judge if, after 2 months of quarantine, he thinks the characters in this beloved comedy would — against all odds — be missing their office and officemates at Initech, the poorly managed software company that drives them slowly insane. Judge based on the film on Milton, his series of animated shorts about a corporate worker who has just had it. Milton, who is very protective of his stapler, is unforgettably portrayed in the film by Stephen Root, rounding out a cast that includes Ron Livingston, Jennifer Aniston and Gary Cole. The buildings are so nondescript (which is the whole point) that you’re going to need some help finding them.
OFFICE SPACE is available for rent.
25TH HOUR (2002)
This story of a man trying to make the most of his last 24 hours of freedom before going to prison is one of Spike Lee’s best films and one of the best films of this century. It stars an absolutely knockout cast (Edward Norton, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rosario Dawson, Anna Paquin, Brian Cox), and what seems like a relatively run-of-the-mill plot is given vibrant cinematic life thanks to Spike Lee’s wholly unique vision. Roger Ebert said it best in his Great Films review: “Everybody knows that Spike Lee is an important filmmaker, but do they realize how good he is with actors, and how innovative he is with style? We live in a period when many filmmakers use either a straightforward meat-and-potatoes style, or draw attention with meaningless over-editing, queasy-cams and showboat shots. With Lee, as with any classical director, the emphasis is on the story and the people. But he’s always there, nudging us, being sure what we notice, moving his camera not merely with efficiency but with grace and innovation. Because he doesn’t go out of his way to call attention, how many realize what a master stylist he is?” The film is set in Brooklyn, but guess where Lee shot one particular sequence set in a small town? As Lee himself said, “Texas gives you a whole lot of different looks.”
25TH HOUR is available for rent.
SPY KIDS (2001)
Like Linklater, Robert Rodriguez is another local legend whose films could make up the entirety of this list. But since we’ve so far included a blood-soaked horror classic, some adult-skewing comedies and a devastating drama about a man headed to prison, let’s include something for the whole family. With Rodriguez’ four Spy Kids films, what’s equally important to the exterior locations that Austinites will recognize is the fact that the series’ visual effects were dreamed up by Rodriguez’s own production company, Troublemaker Studios, also located right here in Austin. With each passing film in the series, the effects only grew more and more sophisticated, proving that the renowned “dream factory” of Hollywood isn’t the only place where talented craftspeople can work at the top of their game. It doesn’t hurt that these are exactly the types of movies I would’ve wanted to watch as a kid (which means you’ll also love them if you happen to be an adult).
SPY KIDS is available for rent.
WHIP IT (2009)
In 2007, roller derby athlete Shauna Cross (better known to fans as Maggie Mayhem) released a novel called Derby Girl about her experiences in the TXRD Texas Roller Derby League. Two years later, she wrote a screenplay that caught the eye of Drew Barrymore, who made her directorial debut with the film that would ultimately be titled Whip It. And, naturally, she came back to the source to shoot several scenes in Austin (you can’t miss Lucy in Disguise). Starring Ellen Page and an amazing supporting cast that includes Kristen Wiig, Juliette Lewis and Marcia Gay Harden, Barrymore’s film has become a cult classic and a source of pride for Austin, where you can usually catch retrospective screenings throughout the year.
WHIP IT is available for rent.
TRUE GRIT (2010)
The Coen Brothers have shot scenes in Austin for a handful of their films, including their directorial debut Blood Simple (which is also very much worth your time). But I’m going to mention the film that tends to get me in trouble with a lot of classic film fans — because I think their 2010 remake of True Grit is better than the John Wayne original by a country mile. You might watch that original and think John Wayne was clearly the actor born to play the role of Rooster Cogburn. After all, he did win an Oscar for it. But I would argue that Jeff Bridges digs even deeper into the role, going beyond cantankerous to create a character that made me laugh a whole lot and, surprisingly, made me cry quite a bit, too. Beyond Bridges, you’ve got Matt Damon having a great time chewing the scenery as a Texas Ranger named LeBoeuf (pronounced LeBeef by Bridges with his pronounced Southern twang) and Hailee Steinfeld giving a performance that probably should have won her her own Oscar, even if she was only 14 at the time. If you’re up for a trip, make the journey to the Old Blanco County Courthouse (1 hour southwest of the Paramount Theatre) to find a location used prominently in the film.
TRUE GRIT is available for rent.
THUNDER ROAD (2018)
In addition to the filmmakers who have used our town as a backdrop for their stories, Austin has also earned its place in the cinematic landscape thanks to the local festivals that premiere some of the most exciting new work right here in our own backyard. One recent gem that was shot in and around Austin and premiered at SXSW is Thunder Road, a riveting and absolutely delightful comedy from local filmmaker Jim Cummings. The film opens with a police officer (played by Cummings) speaking at his mother’s funeral, and in one 12-minute take, we see a man spiraling into the beginning of a major meltdown, we learn just about everything we need to know about him and his history, and we witness the makings of an excitingly talented new filmmaker whose next film I’m eagerly anticipating. I never knew where this film was going, and I was always thrilled by where it went. And I wasn’t the only one – it won the SXSW Grand Jury Award.
I wouldn’t consider myself a rabid sports fan, but I have certainly taken for granted that on any given night, if I felt like watching a competition between professional athletes, I’d be spoiled for choice. If you had told the February 2020 version of me just how much I would miss access to sports, I would’ve laughed. I think that’s why I (and many others) agree that the most riveting documentary to emerge during this quarantine has been The Last Dance, ESPN’s 10-episode gem about Michael Jordan and the 1990s Chicago Bulls (sorry, Tiger King fans). In addition to being a well-made nostalgia trip for those of us who grew up watching the NBA in the 90s, it’s filling the sports void.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some other sports movies we can watch until the leagues find a way to safely resume competition — starting with the very best sports documentary ever made.
DINNER AND A MOVIE WITH MIGHTY FINE BURGERS, FRIES & SHAKES
HOOP DREAMS (1994)
This is not just the best sports documentary of all time — it’s one of the best films ever made, period. Hoop Dreams follows two high-schoolers who have devoted their lives to making it into the NBA despite the many obstacles that block their paths. William Gates and Arthur Agee, two talented young athletes, must struggle against the adversities that threaten to consume their Chicago neighborhood and potentially their own families, and, as the film unspools, we begin to sense that we can’t count on the happy ending that usually accompanies this type of story in narrative films. This is real life, and, at times, the difficulties facing William and Arthur seem far too overwhelming for two teenagers to overcome. Sure, this is a movie about basketball, but it’s also a movie about so much more, which is why so many people (including those who could care less about basketball) have come to cherish it. The film gained a lifelong champion in film critic Roger Ebert, who declared it the best film of 1994 and, later, the best film of the 1990s overall. In his review, Ebert summed it up perfectly, “A film like Hoop Dreams is what the movies are for. It takes us, shakes us, and make us think in new ways about the world around us. It gives us the impression of having touched life itself.”
It’s not hard to see why Rocky suffered some critical backlash when it became a massive commercial hit in 1976. In the midst of one of the most politically active, artistically adventurous periods in American filmmaking history, here was an old-fashioned underdog story that simply made people smile. In an Oscar year that included all-timers like ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN and NETWORK, this little movie that could garnered three Academy Awards, including Best Picture. And the fact is (as the years have proven) — this is a true classic, in the sense that it’s a timeless narrative featuring a superstar turn and one iconic moment after another. Most of all, its rags to riches plot mirrored the rise of the man who made it happen, Sylvester Stallone. While flat broke and with a baby on the way, Stallone wrote Rocky in three days, shopped it around to producers and wouldn’t accept major offers to buy the script and cast someone else as the lead. Instead, he took a small fee for the script and a percentage of the potential gross in exchange for the right to play Rocky. He gambled on himself, and it’s safe to say it paid off. Made on a $1 million budget, the film grossed more than $50 million and made Stallone a global star.
ROCKY is available for rent.
If you’re looking for a movie that can truly recreate the thrill of watching sports and rooting for a team (or in this case a boxer) you are truly invested in and care about, you can’t do better than this instant classic (and easily the best Rocky sequel by a billion miles) from writer/director Ryan Coogler. I had never heard people applaud a movie in a chain megaplex until the day I saw Creed at a Regal and witnessed an entire audience literally leap out of their chairs and pump their fists with pure, unadulterated joy. That speaks to how great Michael B. Jordan is as Adonis Creed, the son of Rocky’s rival and eventual best friend Apollo Creed. Seeing him build a relationship with Stallone, who is back as the aging fighter, is a real treat, but the shocker is that this movie would have been just fine without Rocky. Jordan and Tessa Thompson are one of the most electric on-screen couples in recent years, and we deserve at least as many Creed sequels as we have Rocky sequels. We’re up to one…four to go.
CREED is available for rent.
A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN (1992)
Many have said that they will always remember two events in particular that made the pandemic real in the U.S. — the report that Tom Hanks had the virus and the postponements of the MLB and NBA. So let’s paint a happier picture of Tom Hanks and baseball and revisit this endlessly charming, hilarious classic from Penny Marshall, especially since it’s one of the all-time great warm hug movies ever made. This fictionalized account of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, formed when World War II effectively cancels Major League Baseball, is rich with period detail and finely drawn characters and conflicts. Some stories are just waiting to be told — in this case, Penny Marshall stumbled upon a TV documentary about the league in 1987 and couldn’t believe no one had made a movie about it. It took five years to get the script written and find a studio passionate about producing it, but the wait was well worth it. Among its many memorable moments, it boasts one of the most quotable lines in movie history. You’ll know it when you hear it.
A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN is available for rent.
FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS (2004) & FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS (2006-2011)
As the quarantine continues into the summer, small towns across Texas are going to start getting particularly antsy about the possible cancellation of a beloved pastime — high school football. If you didn’t grow up in one of these towns like I did, you can’t get much closer to what that’s like than Peter Berg’s 2004 adaptation of Friday Night Lights, journalist Buzz Bissinger’s real-life account of the 1988 Permian High School Panthers football team and their attempt to win state. What sets this story apart from the typical football movie is just how much we care about these characters and how real they are. It shows us the everyday worries of life in a small town, and then it shows us how effective those Friday night lights are at making everyone forget about them, if only for a few hours. When the credits roll on this movie, and you find yourself wishing it wasn’t over, great news! There’s a TV series, also developed by Peter Berg, that is even better! And extra bonus, it was shot almost entirely in Austin. If you lived here in the late 2000s and can barely remember what it looked like, this is all the reminder you’ll need.
THE MIGHTY DUCKS (1992) & SPACE JAM (1996)
Here’s a perfect double feature for the whole family. If you were a 90s kid and haven’t seen these movies since, get ready for a truly delightful blast from the past. And if you haven’t shown them to your kids, what are you waiting for?! The Mighty Ducks is the ultimate sports story – a young prodigy grows up to be a cynical business-minded adult who has put his sporting days behind him but, through a twist of fate, is forced to coach a group of lovable losers and rekindle his love of the game. The role Emilio Estevez seems to have been born to play, that unforgettable score (and those Queen needle drops), a cast of great child actors, a villainous rival coach you truly love to hate. This movie has it all.
I don’t know if it’s possible to make the kids of today understand what a seismic event it was to see Michael Jordan on the big screen with the Looney Tunes, but it’s worth a try! If you’ve been watching The Last Dance like the rest of us, you’ll recall that on October 6, 1993, after winning the NBA Championship three years in a row, Jordan (the greatest basketball player of all time) announced his sudden retirement from the game. Jordan would spend the following year and a half in minor league baseball, pursuing the dream that his late father always had for his son. But, in early 1995, Jordan returned to the NBA and subsequently won another three championships. Or at least that’s how this story was reported in the news…but it’s not the whole story. You see, at one point during his “retirement” from the NBA, unbeknownst to the rest of us, Jordan agreed to play an intergalactic basketball game of epic proportions to help Bugs Bunny and the other Looney Tunes win their freedom from alien kidnappers. Luckily for us, it was all caught on film. And Bill Murray was there.
Movie Moms Week
In honor of Mother’s Day, we’re looking back at some of the most unforgettable movie moms — from the ones you’d want protecting you from aliens and killer robots to the truly despicable ones who make you especially grateful for your own mom.
DINNER AND A MOVIE WITH JUNIPER
Located in East Austin, Juniper is a farm-to-fork restaurant offering contemporary fare inspired by the old world standards and culinary traditions of Northern Italy and the rich flavors of Texas. Juniper is offering curbside pick-up daily from 11am to 8pm with a menu of classic Juniper favorites, customizable family-style meals for 4 people, grocery offerings including housemade pastas and sauces, wine, and more. Treat mom to a delicious Italian meal and receive 15% off your entire order with the promo code “Loveyama” valid over Mother’s Day weekend (May 9-11, 2020). To view the menu and order online, visit juniperaustin.com.
ALIENS (1986) & TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY (1991)
Exemplified by the fact that he’s currently working on four (!) sequels to Avatar, when James Cameron finds an idea that works, he tends to stick with it. Take, as another example, these sequels to two of the most successful sci-fi action movies of all time. In 1986, Cameron followed up Ridley Scott’s bone-chilling thriller Alien with the decidedly more action-oriented Aliens, throwing Sigourney Weaver’s iconic heroine Ellen Ripley back into the fray with the villainous xenomorph. But this time, she finds herself protecting an orphan girl, and let’s just say that, when her maternal instincts kick in, no alien stands a chance.
Five years later, Cameron went back to the same well and brought back Arnold Schwarzenegger’s terminator (this time programmed for good) to help Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor defeat a souped-up new terminator model hell-bent on killing her son. After spending most of the original film in damsel-in-distress mode, Hamilton got a chance to go full Ellen Ripley in the sequel, and her hesitancy to trust Schwarzenegger after he (or a terminator who looked a lot like him) tried so hard to kill her adds a fascinating layer of complexity to this effects-fueled blockbuster.
THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (1962) & GYPSY (1962)
1962 brought us two of the big screen’s most infamous “stage moms,” who will stop at nothing in their quest for fame and power — even if it means using their children as pawns. In Gypsy, Rosalind Russell had the unenviable task of following Ethel Merman in the role of Mama Rose, the domineering mother whose determination to make her children vaudeville stars threatens to ruin their childhood and turn them against her. As always, Russell was more than up to the challenge, delivering showstoppers like “Some People,” “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” and “Rose’s Turn” with gusto.
Of course, Mama Rose looks like a saint compared to Angela Lansbury’s Eleanor Iselin in The Manchurian Candidate. This political thriller finds Lansbury and her son, played by Laurence Harvey, wrapped up in election manipulation, brainwashing and other forms of international intrigue, with Frank Sinatra racing to solve the conspiracy before it’s too late. Lansbury has won generations of hearts through her performances in the hit TV series Murder, She Wrote and classic movies like Beauty and the Beast — she couldn’t possibly be the villain behind all of this…could she?
PSYCHO (1960) & CARRIE (1976)
The horror genre preys on our greatest fears. Considering this psychological connection, it’s no surprise that some of the greatest horror films have focused on the people who get badmouthed on therapists’ couches the most — mothers. One of Alfred Hitchcock’s most iconic films, Psycho introduces us to the Bates Motel. It’s run by Norman Bates, though he and anyone who dares to stay there are terrorized by his mother. When the film was first released, audiences were caught off guard by the cheaper black-and-white imagery that Hitchcock elected to use, which seemed a step back from the Technicolor delights of VERTIGO and NORTH BY NORTHWEST. But the visual approach proved a perfect match for the story, an elegant ruse disguised as trashy exploitation. There’s a lot more going on here than first meets the eye…
Another master of the cinematic thriller, Brian De Palma, found another villainous mother to bring to the big screen in Stephen King’s debut novel, Carrie. Considering how iconic Sissy Spacek’s performance in the title role has become, it might surprise fans to learn that De Palma initially wanted another actress for the lead role of Carrie. But, when Spacek auditioned for some of the other roles, she was given a chance to test as Carrie and nailed it. Once De Palma saw her, he couldn’t see anyone else playing the part. As for Carrie’s mother, Piper Laurie received her second of three Oscar nominations for portraying this truly monstrous mom.
TERMS OF ENDEARMENT (1983) & POSTCARDS FROM THE EDGE (1990)
Shirley MacLaine is one of the greatest actors of all time, and she has proven over the decades that she can play literally any part to perfection. It just so happens that two of those roles were among the most iconic movie moms. After being nominated for the Best Actress Oscar four times previously, MacLaine finally won for Terms of Endearment, a poignant story by Larry McMurtry that follows the relationship between a mother (MacLaine) and daughter (Debra Winger) over three decades. The film is a tearjerker, and it earns every single one of those tears. It also earned Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director and Screenplay (James L. Brooks) and Best Supporting Actor (Jack Nicholson). In other words, if you haven’t seen it, what are you waiting for?
When Debbie Reynolds died just two days after her daughter Carrie Fisher in late 2016, it brought their fascinating relationship back into the spotlight. Fisher’s semi-autobiography about said relationship, Postcards from the Edge, gave MacLaine a chance to play a character that was based partly on Reynolds, while Meryl Streep played the quasi-Carrie Fisher role. Thanks to Fisher’s legendary wit, MacLaine and Streep get to have the time of their lives in this moving comedy. Two great actresses riffing on two other great actresses — you can’t go wrong. BONUS SUGGESTION: Thanks to Albert Brooks, you can see Reynolds herself play a mom who can’t help but give her kid a hard time in a comedy titled, would you believe it, Mother.
In 1903, The Great Train Robbery became one of the first narrative hits of the early silent era, popularizing a number of cinematic storytelling techniques that would continue to be polished and perfected in the years to come. At the end of the film, an outlaw fires his pistol directly toward the viewer, creating an iconic image that laid the foundation for the Western genre’s grip on moviegoers’ imaginations over the decades to come (Martin Scorsese even paid tribute to this moment in Goodfellas).
Like most genres, the Western has changed with the times to tell stories that resonate with each era’s audiences. The result is a library of diverse, often political films that are much more than just escapist entertainment. This week, we are making our way through the decades to point out a few that you may have missed. You won’t see movies like The Searchers or Unforgiven here, but you don’t need us to tell you about those.
DINNER AND A MOVIE WITH L’OCA D’ORO & SUSTO
Make it a spaghetti western. Mueller’s beloved, Italian-inspired L’Oca d’Oro is offering an updated take-out menu each week, including Zucchini Parm Bianco, Lasagna Family Meals, and Pasta Kits. Mention the Quaranscreen movie you’re going to watch in your online order notes to receive 10% off family meals and their SUSTO cocktail of the week. Discount applied on your pick-up day. Online orders are taken Mon-Wed; you’ll choose a pick-up time for Thurs or Fri from 1–6pm. “Obey the Directives. Eat Good Food.”
THE 1930s: DESTRY RIDES AGAIN (1939) & WAY OUT WEST (1937)
While Stagecoach was stealing the spotlight of the Western genre in 1939, there was another lighter, breezier Western released the same year that deserves its fair share of attention. Destry Rides Again uses the Western as a foundation and builds upon it with equal parts comedy, musical and romance, and it doesn’t hurt that Marlene Dietrich and Jimmy Stewart are on top of the bill. Credit goes to director George Marshall and the screenwriting team, who not only deftly managed these varying tones and genre elements but also turned many Western stereotypes on their heads. Jimmy Stewart’s entrance into the story as a sheriff carrying a parasol and ordering milk at the saloon bar was a far cry from the typical macho type being developed in other Westerns. With Stewart taking the softer role, the film’s most confident and aggressive character proves to be Frenchy, the female saloon owner, and when it comes to adding a healthy dash of swagger, you needn’t look any further than Marlene Dietrich. Unlike most Western damsels in distress, who often found themselves screaming at the top of their lungs while being tied to railroad tracks, Dietrich is a force of nature that no man in the entire frontier could hope to match.
When Laurel and Hardy hit the frontier in Way Out West, it’s a safe bit that you’re in for wall-to-wall comedy. While this would certainly not be the last spoof of the Western genre (paging Mel Brooks), it was certainly one of the best. Stan and Ollie have been assigned to deliver the deed for a gold mine to the dead prospector’s daughter. Seems easy enough, but leave it to Laurel and Hardy to get mixed up in a number of shenanigans every step of the way. Aside from the usual slapstick gags, you will be treated to one of the most delightful dance numbers ever recorded when the duo soft-shoe their way through “At the Ball, That’s All.” If you’re like me, you’ll find yourself looking that scene up on YouTube for the rest of your life whenever you need a smile.
THE 1940s: RED RIVER (1948) & 3 GODFATHERS (1948)
When most people think of “a Howard Hawks Western,” they think of “the Dean Martin one” (Rio Bravo). But I’m partial to his earlier Western masterpiece, Red River. For his first major attempt at the genre, Hawks played it safe and hired genre legend John Wayne to play Tom Dunson, a man tasked with herding the first great cattle drive along the legendary Chisholm Trail. However, when it came time to cast Dunson’s adopted son, Hawks made a decision that had everyone in Hollywood scratching their heads – and it was the most intriguing decision he could’ve made. Rising stage star Montgomery Clift happened to be performing on Broadway, and Hawks stopped by to see the show. Something about Clift’s performance led Hawks to offer him the part, despite the fact that urbanite Clift had about as much experience in Westerns as John Wayne had in horror films. Naturally, Clift was nervous about acting against Wayne in the latter’s cinematic territory. But, Clift impressed everyone on set with his tireless efforts and riveting debut performance. After their first scene together, even Wayne himself reported to Hawks, “He’s gonna be okay.”
If you’re one of those families that has put their Christmas decorations back up during the pandemic, check out John Ford’s 3 Godfathers and experience that rarest of subgenres – the Western Christmas movie. John Wayne, Pedro Armendariz and Harry Carey Jr. portray the titular characters, which are essentially a Western take on the Three Wise Men. While on the run from the law, these three outlaws encounter a woman giving birth in the desert. They help bring the baby into the world, but the mother doesn’t survive. She makes them vow to keep her baby safe, and, surprisingly, these three criminals keep their promise. Certainly one of the more heartwarming films John Ford ever made.
THE 1950s: THE NAKED SPUR (1953) & THE TALL T (1957)
In the 1920s and 30s, the Western genre was seen as the quintessential “B-picture” genre – films that could be rapidly and efficiently churned out to fill screens and keep people buying popcorn. By the 1950s, great filmmakers had revealed the true potential of the genre, led of course by John Ford and John Wayne. But there were many others making Western classics at the time, including the equally prolific duo of director Anthony Mann and Jimmy Stewart. In The Naked Spur, Stewart is tracking a vicious murderer across the frontier and – in classic Western fashion – enlists total strangers to help him out. Mann’s film features plenty of twists and turns and one of Stewart’s greatest performances. If you haven’t seen this, you’re in for a treat. It’s not just a good Western – it’s often praised as one of the best ever made.
Even further afield is director Budd Boetticher, whose work has been recognized more and more in recent years. In one of his best, The Tall T, Randolph Scott plays a rancher who gets kidnapped along with an heiress (the always great Maureen O’Sullivan) who is being held for ransom. When The Tall T was released on DVD along with four other Boetticher classics in 2008 (the motivation for the recent revival of interest in his work), film critic Stephanie Zacharek wrote this in the New York Times: “The late-1950s westerns of Budd Boetticher are shoestring masterpieces that put the idea of flashy, big-budget, prestige filmmaking to shame. These are taut miniatures: none of the pictures top 80 minutes. They were shot on minimal budgets with shooting schedules of around 18 days, but the storytelling is so compact and vital that you’re never left feeling hungry.” In other words, you’ve got plenty of time to give this classic a try.
THE 1960s: ONE-EYED JACKS (1961) & THE MISFITS (1961)
Times were changing in the 1960s, and it seemed that Westerns needed to change with them. For so many years, Westerns had told uncomplicated good vs. evil stories and always let the good guys win, but that wasn’t the reality that many Americans were experiencing in the lead-up to Watergate, Vietnam and other events that defined the era. Audiences were ready for something new, and leave it to Marlon Brando to deliver – he didn’t just star in One-Eyed Jacks, he directed it, too. Originally meant to be directed by Stanley Kubrick from a screenplay by Sam Peckinpah (who was responsible for the decade’s most aggressive revisionist Western, The Wild Bunch), the responsibility ultimately fell to Brando. The experience proved so stressful that he never directed another film again, and it was met with mixed reviews by critics at the time. But it has since been recognized as a truly great Western that benefits from typically piercing performances from Brando and Karl Malden, and it has earned a spot in the Criterion Collection.
If you told me there was a movie that starred Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe and Montgomery Clift, you wouldn’t need to tell me the genre, the plot or anything else about it – I’m there. The Misfits just happens to be a neo-Western that argues not every Western needs to be a “period piece -” the genre works just as well in the present day. The three legends play a group of misfits just trying to get by in the Nevada desert. Not only is it one of the best films of all three actors’ careers, it is also tinged with the melancholy fact that it was the very last film for both Gable and Monroe. Based on what he was able to see of the finished film before he died, Gable felt it was the best performance of his career.
THE 1970s/80s: MCCABE & MRS. MILLER (1971) & HEAVEN’S GATE (1980)
By the 1970s, the Western was no longer a genre that belonged to a select group of filmmakers or specific worldview. It was seen as a genre that could speak volumes about any number of subjects, and that made it intriguing to more great directors than ever before. Take, for example, director Robert Altman, who is certainly not most well-known as a director of Westerns. While his calling cards like M*A*S*H and Nashville have always been heralded as masterpieces, McCabe & Mrs. Miller has been screened more and more frequently in recent years. Altman proudly referred to it as an “anti-Western,” which is perhaps what drew Warren Beatty and Julie Christie to the project in the first place and encouraged Leonard Cohen to allow his songs to be used in the soundtrack. If those names haven’t sold you, maybe this statement from Roger Ebert will – “Robert Altman has made a dozen films that can be called great in one way or another, but one of them is perfect, and that one is McCabe & Mrs. Miller.”
After his previous film The Deer Hunter proved to be a commercial hit and a Best Picture winner at the Oscars, director Michael Cimino was on top of the world with a wealth of Hollywood political capital. He decided to spend it all to make an epic Western called Heaven’s Gate, and that film’s extravagant budget and subsequent flop at the box office has saddled the film with the label of “biggest box office bomb of all time.” No doubt, this has prevented many from giving the film a chance. But if you look at more recent assessments of the film, you’ll find a number of befuddled critics and movie lovers who can’t fathom why it was so viciously maligned when it came out. This is an extraordinarily ambitious Western that is absolutely worth your time.
The earliest film listed on IMDb and Letterboxd isn’t really a film at all. In 1874, French astronomer Pierre Janssen was part of a worldwide effort to observe and study the passage of Venus against the Sun. This occurrence only happens every 120 years, so naturally Janssen wanted to capture this once-in-a-lifetime event photographically if he could. To do so, he invented the “photographic revolver,” an instrument capable of taking 48 images in 72 seconds that – when seen in rapid succession – created a moving image. The result: Passage of Venus (1874).
Though Janssen accurately guessed that his invention might help further the study of animal movement, he could not have predicted the cinematic art form that would spring forth from breakthroughs like his, nor could he have imagined that his obsession with space and its many unknowns would be shared by hundreds of filmmakers throughout that art form’s existence (including early silent film pioneer Georges Melies, whose Trip to the Moon we featured many weeks ago). This week, we are looking back at some great sci-fi films to show that, even over the course of nearly 150 years, some things never change.
DINNER AND A MOVIE WITH PARKSIDE
Located on historic 6th Street, Parkside is offering out-of-this-world farm-to-table fare through curbside service Tues-Thurs 12-8pm, Fri & Sat 3-9pm. Enjoy 20% off the dinner menu and $10 build-your-own 6-pack or bottle of wine when you mention “Quaranscreen.” To place a to-go order, visit parkside-austin.com or call 512.474.9898.
FORBIDDEN PLANET (1956) & INTERSTELLAR (2014)
Among the many reasons we continue to develop space exploration technologies – and certainly the most thrilling – is the idea that we might one day discover what exists on other planets. However, as many sci-fi films have warned us, we may not like what we find. These two films exemplify the thrill of watching people step down a ramp and into the great unknown. Beyond featuring pre-spoof Leslie Nielsen in a serious role, Forbidden Planet boasts an unsettling and unusual electronic score and fantastic visual effects for the time, all in an effort to put a sci-fi spin on Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Stick with it through the somewhat dry first 10 minutes or so – believe me, things pick up.
Nearly 60 years later, Christopher Nolan gave us Interstellar, another fascinating glimpse at what might be waiting for us in the stars. During their search for a new habitable planet for humans, a group of astronauts disembark on an ocean world that presents unforeseen dangers, but even more astonishing is the state in which they find their fellow crew members who stayed onboard the ship. I could count on two hands the number of times my jaw has literally dropped in a movie theater, and this was one of them. The usual Nolan thrills are balanced by a career-topping (in my opinion) performance from Matthew McConaughey, who helps make this easily Nolan’s most profound and emotionally wrenching film.
THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951) & ARRIVAL (2016)
While we wait for the opportunity to set foot on distant planets, we find ourselves wondering if other life forms will visit our planet and whether they will come in peace…or not. Two of the most highly regarded entries in this particular sci-fi subgenre arrived 65 years apart. in 1951, The Day the Earth Stood Still introduced a mysterious alien visitor named Klaatu whose statement that he comes in peace is immediately met with hostile aggression by unwelcoming hosts on Earth. What is his true purpose on this planet? And will we ever know what “Klaatu barada nikto” means? It’s worth the 90 minutes to find out.
Thanks to Amy Adams, we prove a bit more hospitable (though still pretty wary) in Arrival, which, along with 2013’s Prisoners, shot director Denis Villeneuve into the top tier of filmmakers and earned him not only the honor of directing the long-awaited sequel to Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner but also the (perhaps unenviable) position of being the latest to attempt to adapt Dune to the big screen. Adams plays a linguist tasked with communicating with newly arrived alien visitors, and watching her race against the clock to ensure a peaceful conclusion is riveting from start to finish. Plus, just when you think you have this movie figured out, it punches you right in the gut.
SOLARIS (1972) & AD ASTRA (2019)
The vast expanse of space has often served as a backdrop to explore humanity and our shared place in the universe, but it can also host intimate stories of individual struggles. These two films feature protagonists that essentially need to go to space to confront grief and loss. Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris tells the story of Kris Kelvin, a psychologist who is sent to the Solaris space station to investigate the strange behaviors of the crew members onboard. Once he arrives, he starts to experience unexplainable – and very personal – phenomena firsthand, forcing him to undergo what amounts to an interstellar therapy session. This film has inspired many filmmakers in the years since its release, and Steven Soderbergh even made his own version with George Clooney in 2002. But it’s worth watching the 1972 version first.
45 years later, director James Gray (The Immigrant, The Lost City of Z) sent Brad Pitt into space to explore mysterious power surges that are threatening human life. But this isn’t quite a normal mission, as the power surges are emanating from the “Lima Project,” a mission led by Pitt’s father – who was previously presumed dead. As he makes his way through the Solar System while coming to terms with the idea that his father might still be alive, he finds himself reflecting on their troubled relationship and wondering how this possible meeting might go. Between this and his Oscar-winning turn in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, it’s safe to say Pitt had a pretty great 2019.
2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968)
To pair Kubrick’s masterpiece with another movie would do a great disservice to that movie. 2001 is a contender for the greatest film of all time, a sci-fi film that represented the summation of everything that came before it and greatly influenced everything that came after it. No doubt you’ve heard that this is a contemplative, philosophical film, and it certainly is that. But if you’re looking for a thrilling adventure into the unknown, you’ll find that here, too – thanks to the rogue AI, HAL, whose scheming puts our heroes in great danger as they venture into uncharted space. Sure, this film will have you questioning our place in this universe and even the very meaning of life. But it also features the most gasp-inducing cut to Intermission I’ve ever seen. Normally, I’d encourage those who haven’t seen it yet to wait and watch it on the big screen. But there’s no time like the present to check this one off of your list.
2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968) is available for rent.
SPACEBALLS (1987) & MARS ATTACKS (1996)
As you can plainly see, sci-fi is a genre that has taken itself pretty seriously over the years. Thankfully, when you need a break from contemplating the vast unknown, the genre has also given us two of the most delightfully silly comedies of all time as well. Leave it to Mel Brooks to turn a beloved franchise like Star Wars into an equally beloved spoof in Spaceballs, which has now become pretty ubiquitous in its own right. As usual, nothing is sacred, and no opportunity for a gag is left unexplored. And I think comedy lovers would agree that any chance we get to see Rick Moranis, John Candy and Joan Rivers at work is one you can’t pass up.
Tim Burton followed that up several years later with his take on the “we come in peace…or not” genre, Mars Attacks. Based on, of all things, a series of trading cards, Burton took those evocative drawings of Martians and turned them into hilariously antagonistic villains hell-bent on Earth’s destruction. Combined with a mega-watt, all-star cast playing characters you mostly love to hate, Burton almost seems to be making a case that we should be rooting for the Martians.
TCM Fest Week
Like every spring event this year, the annual TCM (Turner Classic Movies, but you already knew that) Classic Film Festival was canceled, a major blow to the global community of film fans who love congregating on Hollywood Blvd. every year to discover old films that are “new to them.” Thankfully, TCM quickly pivoted (as so many have) to a special “home edition” of the festival that is airing on the channel April 16-19, including films that have been highlighted in previous iterations of the festival along with Q&As and extended conversations recorded at those festivals. I recommend tuning in at any time this weekend – you can’t go wrong with their lineup.
I fell in love with old movies at a young age thanks to TCM, and they’ve been introducing me to new favorites ever since. I’ve been lucky enough to attend the festival a few times, and I wanted to use this week’s list to share some of the discoveries I’ve made there over the years. These are films I saw for the very first time at the festival.
DINNER AND A MOVIE WITH WORD OF MOUTH CATERING
The culinary geniuses behind so many memorable Paramount events are now offering take-home family meals! The menu changes weekly with offerings like Bourbon & Brown Sugar Bacon-Wrapped Pork Tenderloin with White Cheddar Grits, and Curried Chicken with Yellow Lentils, Chickpeas, Coconut Milk, Ginger & Steamed White Rice. View this week’s menu. Available for delivery or curbside pick-up M-F 10am-4pm from their cafe at 917 W. 12th Street. Order with 24-hour advance notice by calling 512-472-9500 or email email@example.com. Mention the Paramount Quaranscreen Film Series and get 15% off your first order!
BACHELOR MOTHER (1939)
If you only know Ginger Rogers as one-half of the Rogers/Astaire partnership, then you’ve been missing out on many of the things that make her such a charming, humorous and unforgettable actress. This movie features Rogers at her screwball best. By the time she and Fred Astaire wrapped production on their ninth film together in 1939, both actors had decided that their individual talents were being underutilized in the service of their team efforts, so they decided to call it quits and pursue their own cinematic goals. In Bachelor Mother, her first film after that partnership dissolved, Rogers plays a single working girl just trying to get by who happens upon a baby left on an orphanage doorstep and is mistaken for a mother trying to give up her child. As she fails time after time to convince anyone that she is not the mother, and ultimately takes ownership of the baby under remarkable circumstances, the film increasingly relies on our ability to suspend disbelief (that’s why they call it screwball!). David Niven also does career-topping work here as a department store heir and Rogers’ boss who, would you believe it, falls in love with her.
BACHELOR MOTHER is available for rent.
STORMY WEATHER (1943)
In 1942, the U.S. government tasked the Office of War Information with boosting morale at home through all available channels, including Hollywood studios. This effort was inclusive of all Americans, backed by a mandate to unite the country. As a result, studios were encouraged, for the first time, to produce films with all-African-American casts, shining a spotlight on entertainers who had so often been marginalized on film. As a result, we have Stormy Weather, a joyous musical experience overflowing with some of the most talented singers and dancers that ever graced the silver screen. I wouldn’t worry too much about the plot, which in this film is just a device to set one astounding musical performance after another into motion. You’re going to see Lena Horne deliver the title song as only she could. You’re going to see Cab Calloway conduct his boundlessly energetic orchestra as only he could. And you’re going to see the Nicholas Brothers perform the most awe-inspiring dance sequence ever filmed, and I dare anyone else to even try it. You’ll also see Fats Waller, Dooley Wilson (of Casablanca fame), and so much more. Stormy Weather not only gives us (and future generations) a chance to see these legends in their prime but also urges us to confront the industry norms that prevented them from being seen as often as their white peers. In other words, it’s a national treasure.
STORMY WEATHER is available for rent.
WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE (1962)
No doubt you’ve heard of this movie, but have you actually SEEN this movie? Based on the way it has been portrayed in popular culture, many people have undoubtedly dismissed it as B-movie schlock not worth their time. But, in fact, this is a deliriously entertaining all-timer featuring two of the screen’s best actresses giving it everything they’ve got. Like most Hollywood legends, time has surely hyperbolized the animosity between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford on the set of this movie, but the idea that these two were warring as much offscreen as they are onscreen only adds to the movie’s appeal. As two sisters forced by circumstance to live together in a decrepit Hollywood mansion – despite hating each other’s guts – Davis and Crawford bring the same intensity to this story of aging actresses being cast aside as Gloria Swanson did in the similarly-themed Sunset Boulevard (which would make a great second feature in a Hollywood Gothic double bill). After you watch the film, you’re going to want to binge Feud: Bette and Joan, the Ryan Murphy miniseries about the making of the film that features Jessica Lange as Crawford and Susan Sarandon as Davis.
WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE is available for rent.
THE LODGER (1927)
Growing up during the early days of silent cinema, Alfred Hitchcock was a scholar of the art form from its inception. Because British cinemas were dominated by American films at the time, a young Hitchcock was heavily influenced by filmmakers from across the pond. As a young assistant director, Hitchcock found himself working in Germany at the famed UFA studios, idolizing German greats like Fritz Lang and F.W. Murnau and becoming familiar with the jagged edges and dark shadows of German Expressionism. And, at the Film Society of London, Hitch first encountered Soviet films by Sergei Eisenstein, Lev Kuleshov, and Dziga Vertov and became interested in the editing techniques that these directors espoused. By combining these three influences—the narrative thrust of American filmmaking, the striking visuals of German expressionism, and the cinematic language formed by Soviet montage theory—Hitchcock concocted his third feature, The Lodger. Later, in a book-length interview with French director Francois Truffaut, Hitchcock would acknowledge that this was “the first true Hitchcock film,” exhibiting the mastery of suspense and tension that would become his stock-in-trade. Starring silent screen idol Ivor Novello as the first of Hitchcock’s wrongly accused men, The Lodger introduced British audiences to something they had never seen before.
REIGN OF TERROR (aka THE BLACK BOOK) (1949)
When you think about film noir, you probably think about 1940s private detectives prowling the streets of New York or Los Angeles. The last thing you probably think about is the French Revolution – at least until you see this unforgettable film. Robert Cummings plays an underground operative working to overthrow Robespierre by tracking down “the black book,” Robespierre’s list of those who he deemed treasonous and planned to execute. Released just two years after HUAC published its Hollywood blacklist of those who refused to cooperate in the committee’s communist witch hunt, the parallels are unmistakable. All of the elements of film noir are here – shadows, striking camera angles, claustrophobic settings. If anything, the unusual period setting only serves to heighten these directorial flourishes, making this a film noir that stands out from the crowd.
REIGN OF TERROR (aka THE BLACK BOOK) is available for rent.
BLACK NARCISSUS (1947)
The filmmaking team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger was responsible for some of the most gorgeously shot films of all time including A Matter of Life and Death and The Red Shoes, which tends to be the example used in most Film History 101 introductions to the duo’s work. If you’ve seen that film and appreciated its awe-inspiring Technicolor photography and the dizzyingly heightened emotions of its raw melodrama, you’ll love Black Narcissus, a story about a group of nuns trying to establish a school and hospital on a remote mountain in the Himalayas. That might not sound like much on paper, but when solitude and repressed desires turn into cabin fever and all-out emotional warfare, you’ll be on the edge of your seat. Rather than drawing inspiration from other films, director of photography Jack Cardiff looked to iconic painters for visual ideas. Cardiff was particularly drawn to the work of Vermeer and Caravaggio, as “they both lit with very simple light. Many painters did, but with Vermeer and Caravaggio you were very conscious of it; they really used the shadows. Caravaggio would just have one sweeping light over everything so that you were aware of the single light.” Cardiff’s work impressed even the Technicolor consultant on the movie, and Martin Scorsese has said that watching the movie is “like being bathed in color.”
THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE (1962)
Director John Ford made so many great Westerns over the years that it can be difficult for people to experience all of them. If you’ve seen The Searchers and Stagecoach but haven’t gotten to The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance yet, I urge you to add it to your list, especially because it finds Ford – later in life – complicating, if not flat-out contradicting, the more romantic, sentimental version of the Old West that he depicted in his earlier films. Ford suggests in this considerably darker film that not all was well in the West, that violence is not always the solution to every problem, and that perhaps the hardened gunfighter is not always the type of hero we need. He abandoned his beloved Monument Valley, the breathtaking location that provided the backdrop for his more optimistic versions of the frontier, for a more claustrophobic approach. And to really hammer the point across, Ford elected to shoot in black and white, which flabbergasted both critics and audiences at the time. But as always, the director knew exactly what he was doing. The decreased emphasis on gorgeous vistas and eye-popping colors focused our attention on the real main event of the film, the two leads. In one corner, we have John Wayne, representing as always the toughness and gritty heroism of the old West. But in the other corner, we have Jimmy Stewart as a new type of hero, the civilizing influence that might just tame the frontier. It was going to take someone with considerable screen presence and charismatic power to convince us that John Wayne, the Western legend we’ve all come to adore, was maybe not the right hero. It was going to take someone like Jimmy Stewart, and once again, John Ford knew best.
As you know, the Paramount and State Theatres have long been places where the Austin community can experience an eclectic and diverse mix of music, live performance, comedy, movies and more. One of the most exciting things about the theatres is that, on any given week, you might see a stand-up comedian on Tuesday, a live podcast taping on Wednesday, a 70mm screening of 2001: A Space Odyssey on Thursday and your favorite band on Friday, and we really miss inviting you into our venues for all of those unforgettable moments. So, for this week’s suggestions, we are going to highlight not one but two of our favorite pastimes and celebrate movies that celebrate live music.
DINNER AND A MOVIE WITH HISTORIC SCHOLZ 1866 GARTEN
The Longest Running Biergarten in America and the Oldest Restaurant, Bar & Live Music Venue in the State of Texas…Historic Scholz 1866 Garten is now a purveyor of “Heat n’ Eat” chef-prepared meals and groceries! All available for touchless curbside pick-up or delivery. Mention the code phrase “I Love Paramount Theatre” for special HAPPY HOUR PRICING: $12 Karbach Six Packs, $12 Lone Star Tall Boy Six Packs, $20 32oz Haus Draft Margaritas OR Ginger Cherry Limeades (4 cocktails). Full Prepared Meal, Bar and Grocery Menu with ordering info here (PDF).
DON’T LOOK BACK (1967)
Master documentarian D.A. Pennebaker follows Bob Dylan on his 1965 tour of England, which became known as the already legendary folk artist’s last ride as an acoustic musician before his somewhat controversial decision to go electric. The movie starts with a bang (the iconic “Subterranean Homesick Blues” sequence in which Dylan nonchalantly drops a series of lyric cue cards and creates something like a proto-music video in the process) and keeps your undivided attention for the 90 minutes that follow, during which you’ll get to see several selections from his performance at the Royal Albert Hall. Most unforgettable, though, are the behind-the-scenes, off-the-cuff performances, including intimate moments between Dylan and Joan Baez and an unforgettable sequence in which Dylan, having just watched Donovan play “To Sing for You,” ruthlessly sweeps him aside with a “Hey, that’s a good song, man,” before ripping into “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” The kind of devastating folk shade that would make Llewyn Davis proud.
AMAZING GRACE (2018)
The release date above says 2018, but this riveting celebration of gospel music led by the greatest vocalist of all time, Aretha Franklin, was actually produced in 1972. Franklin assembled the Southern California Community Choir at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church to record a collection of gospel songs. Filmed by director Sydney Pollack (Tootsie, Out of Africa), who was already a seasoned filmmaker at the time, this should have been a shining document of the recording of an album that remains, to this day, the highest-selling live gospel music album of all time. Alas, Pollack and his crew made a rookie mistake and forget to use the clapperboard at the start of each take, which made it virtually impossible to sync picture and audio in post-production and resulted in it being shelved for over 40 years until modern technology saved the day. Set all of your troubles aside, and let Aretha Franklin take you a spiritual journey you’ll never forget. By the way, you’ll be seated next to Mick Jagger, who took the inspiration from the revelatory moments he experienced here straight into the studio to record “Exile on Main St.” Give it a listen, and I think you’ll hear the resemblance.
STOP MAKING SENSE (1984)
Is this the greatest concert film of all time? If you’re even the slightest bit a fan of David Byrne/Talking Heads, it’s going to be no contest. Director Jonathan Demme (Philadelphia, The Silence of the Lambs) assembled this rollicking 88 minutes of musical genius from four nights of footage captured from the band’s tour stop at Hollywood’s Pantages Theater in 1983 (promoting their “Speaking in Tongues” album). If you’ve ever seen David Byrne perform, you’ll know that he played a critical role in this movie’s legendary status. Whereas most musicians/bands leave it to the director to determine how to make their performances “cinematic,” Byrne worked in tandem with Demme to make sure that every decision — from the choreography to the idea of bringing members of the band onstage one at a time to build excitement — played to perfection on the big screen. If your knowledge of Talking Heads starts and ends at “Psycho Killer,” get ready to have many, many new favorite songs.
THE LAST WALTZ (1978)
This is the other “greatest concert film of all time,” and like Stop Making Sense, it was directed by another all-time-great filmmaker, Martin Scorsese. Filmed at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco on Thanksgiving Day, 1976, this concert was billed as the farewell performance of The Band, and a whole bunch of their friends showed up to say goodbye. We’re talking Eric Clapton, Dr. John, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Ringo Starr, Muddy Waters, Neil Young, Bob Dylan…the list goes on and on. If you’ve never made time for this movie because you aren’t the biggest fan of The Band, how would you feel about making time for a visual mixtape of some of the very best musical performers at the top of their games?
NEIL YOUNG: HEART OF GOLD (2006)
Jonathan Demme serves as the link the two aforementioned movies, having directed the former and having become close friends with a participant in the latter, Neil Young, with whom Demme ultimately made three concert films. Every live show has that moment where the other band members exit the stage, and the spotlight shines on the lead singer (usually seated on a stool) as they calm the mood with a heartfelt ballad or two. This film, particularly the all-acoustic second half featuring many of Young’s greatest hits, is like a feature-length version of that moment. If the previous films have your heart pumping a little too fast, take a breather with “Harvest Moon,” “Old Man,” and the title song.
HOMECOMING: A FILM BY BEYONCE (2019)
Watching all of these classic concert films can lead one to feel like today’s musical performers just don’t have the same talent, ambition and onstage charisma as the stars of yesteryear. And then Beyoncé comes along with Homecoming to remind you that musical genius is not exclusive to the past. This is an experience that is about more than just Beyoncé performing her greatest hits to an awestruck audience at Coachella (though that would be more than worth the price of admission alone). It’s part memoir of her personal journey and part celebration of black culture and the legacy of HBCUs, and it’s an undeniable confirmation that, when it comes to putting on a live show in the 21st century, no one else can even come close to her. It’s the stuff that classic movies are made of.
HOMECOMING: A FILM BY BEYONCE is available on Netflix.
At nearly four hours in length, this document of the most legendary music festival of all time seems like the perfect Saturday matinee choice. This is an absolute treasure trove of musical performance. You’ve got Richie Havens doing “Freedom,” Joe Cocker doing “With a Little Help from My Friends,” Crosby, Stills and Nash doing “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” Jimi Hendrix doing a trio of “Voodoo Child,” “Purple Haze” and his own electric take on the national anthem. Need I go on? If you’ve ever wondered what it must have been like to be part of this historic event, this is the closest you can possibly get. And I have that on good authority — the last screening we hosted at the Paramount was attended by several people who were actually there.
WOODSTOCK is available for rent.
ZIGGY STARDUST AND THE SPIDERS FROM MARS (1979)
We’re bringing this list full circle with another all-timer from director D.A. Pennebaker. The tagline on the poster for this electric snapshot of David Bowie’s rock and roll ascent into mega stardom says, “The historic farewell performance of the king of glitter rock,” which sort of spoils one of the movie’s most discussed moments. After 90 minutes spent riling up a crowd of face-paint-sporting fans with songs like “Changes,” “Suffragette City” and a mesmeric cover of The Velvet Underground’s “White Light/White Heat,” Bowie announces to the crowd that this “is the last show that we’ll ever do.” The crowd took this to mean that Bowie himself was quitting music altogether, which elicits audible moans of despair from thousands of people at once. Of course, he only meant that he was retiring the Ziggy Stardust persona, and this would prove to be just one of many personas and artistic peaks over his remarkable career.
ZIGGY STARDUST AND THE SPIDERS FROM MARS is available for rent on iTunes.
20 FEET FROM STARDOM (2013)
While it doesn’t actually document a specific musician, concert or tour, this account of the highs and lows of being a background singer for some of the most legendary musicians of all time does feature a ton of performance snippets that will have you scouring YouTube for the full clips. The talent on display will give you chills, particularly in an expertly edited scene in which we see Merry Clayton and Mick Jagger listening to her unmistakable contributions to “Gimme Shelter” and cracking smiles over just how devastating her vocal work is in that song. After the film’s SXSW screening in 2013, the Paramount Theatre had the great honor of hosting two of its featured artists, Darlene Love and Judith Hill, for live performances. I think I speak for everyone who was in attendance when I say that it was an experience I will never forget.
Hidden Gems Week
Beyond giving moviegoers the opportunity to see their favorite films on the big screen for the first time (or for the first time in a long time), the Paramount Summer Classic Film Series has also given film fans opportunities to take a chance on underseen gems that may not be omnipresent on every must-see list. As a film programmer, nothing is more rewarding than hearing from someone who gave a new movie a try and ended up with an instant new favorite.
Below are some of the films that have generated the most “Where has this movie been all my life?!” comments from the past several iterations of the Paramount Summer Classic Film Series. While we’re all playing it safe and staying inside, why not take a chance in the most responsible, quarantine-approved way possible?
DINNER AND A MOVIE WITH JULIET
Juliet Italian Kitchen, located in the heart of Austin’s beloved Zilker Park neighborhood, is offering curbside service and deliveries via restaurant employees from 12pm – 8pm daily through May 1st. Order any Family Meal Kit and get a $10 gift certificate on the house! Browse their to-go menu and give them a call at 512-479-1800 when you’re ready to order.
SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS (1957) & THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL (1952)
Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis are two of the most celebrated actors of all time, and they’ve been in movies that you’ve no doubt seen or heard of before (From Here to Eternity and Some Like It Hot, just to name two). But this classic gives you both for the price of one in a razor-sharp story from a time when newspaper columnists wielded more power than kings and screenplays featured crackling dialogue laced with arsenic. These great actors engage in a verbal battle to the death — if you’ve never been on the edge of your seat just listening to two people talk, you will be here. As if that weren’t enough, iconic cinematographer James Wong Howe (whose career spanned from early silent films in the 1920s through golden era favorites like The Thin Man and Yankee Doodle Dandy all the way to Funny Lady in 1975) gives us the gift of gorgeous, black-and-white, on-location shots of 1950s Manhattan at its hustling, bustling finest.
If you prefer ruthlessly vindictive characters of a more West Coast vintage, give Vincente Minnelli’s The Bad and the Beautiful a try. Also starring two screen titans, Lana Turner and Kirk Douglas, this equally well-written melodrama takes place where all positive, happy thoughts go to die…Hollywood.
THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS (1942) & FISH TANK (2009)
Anyone looking to brush up on their film history has seen Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, which typically finds itself at or near the top of the “greatest films of all time” lists. Whereas that film has to contend with decades of hype, Welles’ follow-up The Magnificent Ambersons is less discussed, and, therefore, easier to approach with an open mind. What you’ll find is a movie that is every bit as visually dazzling and narratively engaging as Kane. A producer today might pitch it as “Downton Abbey set in turn-of-the-century America,” and, like that famous British series, Ambersons ably blends aristocratic melodrama with great performances (Welles’ frequent collaborators Joseph Cotton and Agnes Moorehead are unforgettable) and inventive camerawork to craft a movie that — despite the now-legendary attempts by the studio to ruin it in post-production — deserves a place alongside Kane in any conversation about the classics of Hollywood’s Golden Age.
Sticking with extraordinarily strong follow-ups, director Andrea Arnold took the art house world by storm with her 2006 debut Red Road and then somehow topped it with 2009’s Fish Tank, a film that defies the very concept of “sophomore slump.” Set in such a different time and place from Ambersons that it’s hard to believe they’re on the same planet, Arnold’s poignant drama follows a rebellious British teenager (played by Katie Jarvis, who was discovered by Arnold while arguing with her then-boyfriend in the very train station used in the film) who starts to develop feelings for her mother’s boyfriend (Michael Fassbender in what remains arguably his best performance).
MY MAN GODFREY (1936) & WHAT’S UP, DOC? (1972)
William Powell is probably most famous for pairing up with Myrna Loy as the inimitable Nick and Nora Charles in the timeless Thin Man series. But he also sparks electric chemistry with Carole Lombard in Gregory La Cava’s delightful screwball comedy My Man Godfrey, and with good reason. Powell and Lombard enjoyed two brief years as a married couple before divorcing in 1933. Though their marriage didn’t last, their close friendship did, and they work together splendidly in this Depression-era story about a “forgotten man” who is taken in by a rich family as their new butler. Nonstop hilarity ensues. For a more sobering experience, you can hear the heartbreaking story of Carole Lombard and the second man who fell in love with her, Clark Gable, by listening to Karina Longworth’s podcast You Must Remember This (Episode #28: “Star Wars Episode II: Carole Lombard and Clark Gable”)
People typically think of the screwball comedy as a genre that flourished in the 1930s and died out by the mid-1940s, and it is true that many attempts at the genre in the decades that followed were misguided failures. But leave it to dedicated scholar of film history Peter Bogdanovich to resurrect the genre with 1972’s What’s Up, Doc?, starring two of the hottest stars of the era in Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal. Aside from knowing seemingly everything about every movie ever made, Bogdanovich also had a great eye for contemporary talent, filling out his cast with Mel Brooks regulars (and laugh riots) Madeline Kahn and Kenneth Mars.
THE IRON GIANT (1999) & WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE (2009)
If you’ve already worked your way through last week’s list of family films, here’s another one for you. The Iron Giant is the feature-length debut of director Brad Bird, who would go on to achieve massive success with Pixar favorites like Ratatouille and The Incredibles series. This first attempt, however, didn’t go so well due to a lack of marketing and confidence from the studio. “How will 90’s kids relate to a Cold War-era boy who befriends a giant metal man that fell from space?” executives worried. “Very well!” said the handful of kids who actually saw the movie when it came out in 1999. Gorgeous animation and important lessons, the hallmarks of a great family film, are here in abundance, and you’ll want to grab some tissues. This is a Babe-level tearjerker.
I hope you’ve been hoarding tissues because Spike Jonze’s adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are will keep the tears flowing while reminding you what it was like to be a kid. Its unusual approach to effects in creating the titular wild things resulted in mixed reviews from critics, but it stands the test of time as an eccentric outlier among family films, as it should be. You’ll eat this movie up, you’ll love it so.
A NEW LEAF (1971) & ISHTAR (1987)
Directors who are light years ahead of their time tend to struggle to maintain a consistent career in Hollywood, especially if said director happens to be a woman. Take Elaine May, comedic genius and one-half of a legendary improv duo with Mike Nichols. She was only given the opportunity to direct four films despite the fact that each of them is an absolutely vital addition to the cinematic landscape. With A New Leaf, she steps in front of the camera as well to team up with Walter Matthau in a riotous comedy pairing that gives all the screwball greats a run for their money. The setup couldn’t be better: Matthau is a rich womanizer who has blown all his money, so he marries a rich woman (May) to maintain his lifestyle. But when she starts driving him crazy, his thoughts turn to murder. Enjoy two of the best at the top of their game in an uproariously dark comedy.
If you read the part about all four of May’s films being exceptional and then looked them and up thought, “Wait…even Ishtar??” — the answer is, yes, even Ishtar. No less than Edgar Wright, Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese have declared it to be among their favorite films. Pretend your opinion hasn’t been swayed by the ruthless critics who labeled it the worst movie ever made and give it a try.
A FACE IN THE CROWD (1957) & ELMER GANTRY (1960)
When you think of Andy Griffith, you think of “The Andy Griffith Show” and of the kind-hearted, all-knowing town sheriff he portrays. How could you not – his name’s right there in the title, and it’s one of the most popular TV shows of all time, still airing after all these years. So, if you want to see an acting 180 that will knock you right off your feet, try this Elia Kazan drama about an imprisoned, no-good drifter who rides his charisma all the way into elected office. That typical Andy Griffith charm will win you over just like it does the characters in the movie, until all the fame and power start to reveal the rotten core underneath the Cheshire Cat grin on the surface. Griffith is mesmerizing from start to finish – if you’ve found yourself glancing at your watch every five minutes recently, turn this on and watch two whole hours disappear in a flash.
Why settle for one charming con artist when you can have two? Burt Lancaster returns to this list as charismatic traveling salesman Elmer Gantry, who realizes that his sales pitches sound so much like sermons that he might make more money as an evangelist. He proceeds to warp religion for his own personal gain and ruins the lives of everyone around him in the process. It’s not often that you find a movie in which the protagonist and central figure is a villain you love to hate. These are two of the best of that exceedingly rare genre.
ORLANDO (1992) & THE AGE OF INNOCENCE (1993)
An endless supply of Jane Austen adaptations has conditioned us to expect a certain sameness about period dramas/romances – two people meet and bicker over their philosophical differences for two hours while obviously falling in love. If you’re looking for a period film that will absolutely keep you guessing (and probably guessing wrong) from start to finish, look no further than this Virginia Woolf adaptation from British director Sally Potter. The always captivating Tilda Swinton plays a young nobleman named Orlando who is promised property and riches by the dying Queen Elizabeth I under one condition: that he never grow old. And Orlando doesn’t grow old, living through the centuries as a rich, educated and increasingly well-traveled aristocrat. But the movie isn’t done working its fascinating magic, as one morning Orlando wakes up to discover that an extraordinary transformation has occurred, one that will change how Orlando sees the world — and how the world sees Orlando. Everything about this movie is exquisite: the score, Tilda Swinton, the costumes and decor, Tilda Swinton, the cinematography. And Tilda Swinton.
Another surefire way to spice up a period romance is to get Martin Scorsese to make one, which he did in typically masterful fashion with 1993’s THE AGE OF INNOCENCE. Imagine the movie of your dreams, and think of who you would cast in it. You said Daniel Day-Lewis, Michelle Pfeiffer and Winona Ryder, didn’t you? Well, have I got some great news for you…
A popular complaint among parents is how often their children watch the same movie over and over…and over…and over again. Of course, in this new normal we find ourselves in, that 148th viewing of Frozen 2 is probably saving the day, giving parents the time they need to do their job or get their online grocery shopping done. But this new normal also might present families with a rare opportunity — what if your kids get tired of the same three movies and (gasp!) want to try something new?
This week, when the time comes to shut off your computers, set aside the nonstop news updates on your cell phones and watch something together as a family, here are some classic films every kid should see. Who knows, you might have a future film buff sitting next to you on the couch!
DINNER AND A MOVIE WITH BAO’D UP
Rediscover Chinese Takeout with Bao’d Up! A family combo lets you mix-and-match any eight bao of your choosing, and it comes with two generous sides of Szechuan fries – all for $19.95. Use code PARAMOUNT for a complimentary bao on the house! Order online at baodup.com for no-contact pick-up through their food lockers or for delivery.
BABE (1995) & WHALE RIDER (2002)
There are many things that parents want their kids to know, but probably the most important among them is, “No matter what, I’m proud of you.” Babe, made by the Australian filmmaking duo of George Miller (the Mad Max films) and Chris Noonan, conveys that sentiment while wrapping us in the warmest hug a movie possibly could, and it does it all with three simple words. Though it begins (like so many stories for children do) with a heartwrenching loss of a parent, the movie quickly introduces a cast of hilarious characters that will have the whole family laughing while it makes its way to a powerhouse emotional ending.
Hailing from the same corner of the globe as Miller and Noonan, New Zealander Niki Caro (whose live-action remake of Mulan is due out at some point this year) directed the 2002 indie favorite Whale Rider, an equally poignant take on our desire to make our parents proud and to be accepted for who we are. If you didn’t make the trek to your local arthouse cinema to see this 18 years ago, you’re in for a real treat.
HUGO (2011) & A TRIP TO THE MOON (1902)
Martin Scorsese was a frequent topic of conversation over the past year, thanks to his most recent masterpiece The Irishman and the random standing ovation he got at the Oscars simply for being an inspiration to this year’s big winner Bong Joon-Ho. Though he known mostly for movies that are decidedly not for kids, he proved yet again that he can literally do anything with the 2011 gem Hugo. This delightful film is about an orphan in 1931 living in a Paris train station who somehow ends up meeting Georges Melies, the silent-era legend whose 1902 short A Trip to the Moon gave us the iconic image of a rocket crashing into the man on the moon’s eye. If anyone can get 21st century kids interested in the earliest days of the cinema, Scorsese can.
Obviously, the first thing you should do after watching Hugo is actually show your kids A Trip to the Moon. In addition to the history lesson it provides about the birth of the movies, it also has the wow factor of enabling your kids to see people from over 100 years ago moving in front of their very eyes (Melies, who also plays the head professor in the film, was born in 1861!)
A LITTLE PRINCESS (1995) & THE SECRET GARDEN (1993)
There was a remarkable period of time in the 1990s when Hollywood was giving up-and-coming international filmmakers the opportunity (and the budget) to direct adaptations of beloved literary classics, and, as is the case with both of these films, these were often the directors’ English-language debuts. Before Roma, Gravity, Children of Men and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, director Alfonso Cuaron made an exquisite adaptation of the Frances Hodgson Burnett novel A Little Princess. And Polish filmmaker Agnieszka Holland led a remarkable collection of talent, including screenwriter Caroline Thompson (Edward Scissorhands) and cinematographer Roger Deakins, to create easily the best cinematic version of The Secret Garden. The two filmmakers’ talent is already quite evident in these films, which exhibit a level of filmmaking craft rarely seen in live-action children’s films today.
LITTLE WOMEN (1994) & LITTLE WOMEN (2019)
If you’re the type of family who likes to engage in a healthy debate, try watching these two most recent adaptations of Louisa May Alcott’s beloved novel and see which one everyone deems to be the best. Both offer a snapshot of Hollywood superstardom at the time they were made — do you prefer Gillian Armstrong’s 1994 version with Winona Ryder, Kirsten Dunst, Claire Danes, Christian Bale and Susan Sarandon or Greta Gerwig’s 2019 version with Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, Emma Watson, Timothee Chalamet and Laura Dern? If the argument gets too tense, just remember that it’s a trick question. They’re both perfect.
MARY POPPINS (1964) & SAVING MR. BANKS (2013)
Sure, Mary Poppins is on the longer side, but we’ve got plenty of time, don’t we? Your kids will enjoy the jaunts into animated worlds of wonder and want Mary Poppins to be their babysitter, just like you did when you were younger. But if you haven’t watched this movie in a while, you might be surprised to discover that, for adults, the character you care about most is not the titular nanny but the father George Banks. Under our current circumstances, many of us are thinking of our own parents and reflecting on the sacrifices they made for us, working hard to provide while still making time to be part of their children’s lives. If you had a George Banks in your life, this movie will help you appreciate them even more.
To learn more about Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers, her contentious collaboration with Walt Disney throughout the making of the film, and how her own relationship with her father motivated the character at the heart of the story, make it a double feature and check out the biopic Saving Mr. Banks.
PETE’S DRAGON (2016) & CHRISTOPHER ROBIN (2018)
Surprisingly, Disney has recently been inviting a number of highly regarded indie filmmakers to craft their own interpretations of some of the company’s beloved classics, and the results have proven that not every modern children’s film has to leave you saying, “They don’t make them like they used to.” A great example is Texas filmmaker David Lowery’s (A Ghost Story, The Old Man and the Gun) 2016 remake of Pete’s Dragon. One of the most exciting directors working today, Lowery’s latest The Green Knight is set to debut later this year (presumably when things are somewhat back to normal). In the meantime, give his Pete’s Dragon 10 minutes and you’ll be hooked.
From arguably even further out of left field, art house darling Alex Ross Perry (Her Smell, The Color Wheel) co-wrote the screenplay for 2008’s Christopher Robin, which brings Winnie the Pooh back into the life of an all-grown-up Christopher Robin (delightfully played by Ewan McGregor) just when he needs the silly old bear the most. If you grew up with these characters, you’ll remember why you fell in love with them in the first place.
THE RED BALLOON (1956) & UP (2009)
The wonderful thing about films that don’t rely on dialogue is that, no matter when or where they were made, they can speak to kids forever. The timeless, short-but-sweet French film The Red Balloon from 1956 is virtually silent, but it conveys a message that any child will understand. Kids can recognize bullying when they see it in any language and from any time period, and they can also sympathize with the desire to rise above it all. One of the most triumphant endings in movie history.
After watching The Red Balloon, it would be a perfect time to revisit Pixar’s Up (also on Disney+) with your kids (you’ll understand why) and show them how great art can inspire generations of future artists. Also, if you choose to subscribe to The Criterion Channel to access this movie, congratulations! You’ve just opened the door to a treasure trove of classic films from around the world. When it’s time to put the kids to bed, pick literally anything. You can’t go wrong.