I have this reputation for basically hating everything. This applies to co-workers, restaurants, entire countries...I mean it's a sliding scale from burn-you-with-the-heat-of-1000-suns hate to "yeah I hated that." But it is not true. I do like some things. Birds, cats, tea, Scotland, Thelma Ritter, baked goods. YOU, some of YOU I like. But when it comes to the arts I am incredibly opinionated. Of course, I am not immune to the appeal of candy (Pretty Little Liars anyone) or popcorn (Channing Tatum in anything--don't lie, you love Step Up--admit it!).
So I thought it might be fun to talk about two movies: one that I love that is highbrow, and one that I love that is lowbrow. I looked through my Netflix ratings of the 3052 movies I have rated (is that all?) and tried to find something that I rated 5 stars in each category.
5 STARS: HIGHBROW: The Apartment
I have been in love with Billy Wilder for as long as I can remember. More awkward now that he is dead. But his dark humor is what I live for. It is a window into human behavior that can simultaneously be heart-breaking and gut-busting because it is true and because it is real. Even as a child I was drawn to his work (pretentious much). My favorite Christmas movie as a child was The Bishop's Wife. Years later I learned that Billy Wilder did uncredited re-writes on it. I have to believe I was attracted to his genius even then (because I am incredibly pretentious). I remember my brother and I nearly-wetting ourselves watching The Fortune Cookie with Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon. A much later Wilder work and one I probably wouldn't enjoy as much today but...like I said I have a thing for Wilder.
I like to think that if there is a perfect movie it is The Apartment. The cast is fantastic. The script is sharp. The direction is tone-perfect. The cinematography is lovely (not like Gregg Toland Citizen Kane cinematography which gives me orgasms just thinking about) but it is pretty darn good (seriously even if you know nothing about movies, you have to watch Citizen Kane just to see how amazing Gregg Toland was--also The Best Years of Our Lives another one of my favorite movies and he shot that too). It is dark, romantic, funny, and sad. If you don't know the plot, in short, Jack Lemmon plays a young executive on the rise in a company and to assist in his career trajectory he lends out his apartment to his bosses for their extra-marital affairs. He falls for the elevator operator in his office building, played by Shirley MacLaine. She is, however, involved with someone else. As he is to discover later, it turns out it is someone he knows.
Jack Lemmon is to die for in this movie. He manages to play a charming, sweet, adorable guy who is also an active participant in this sordid scheme. There is a look he gives Shirley MacLaine in one scene that melts my heart. And there is a moment when he discovers who she is involved with that breaks my heart. Claudia Shear in her terrific book Blown Sideways Through Life (my Bible from age 19-24) describes Buster Keaton as having "the liquid compassionate eyes of a Perugino Madonna." I think the same could be said for Jack Lemmon here. A lifetime of happiness and sadness, love and loss, just glow in his eyes and he makes you fall in love with him with just a look. There is a hilarious supporting cast which includes Ray Walston, Edie Adams and David White. As someone who has lived and worked in New York for a long time, I always think about how this movie feels authentic--giant office buildings, a sea of humanity pouring into elevators, quiet brownstone blocks where lovers fight and kiss. It is New York through a darkly comedic eye but still feels accurate even if it was made in 1960. I believe this is one of the last, if not the last, black and white movie to win Best Picture at the Oscars (Schindler's List does not count and don't get me started on Spielberg again). An Oscar win is not always necessarily something I support (erhm...Titanic anyone, A Beautiful Mind! Ok I was trying to keep this positive...I'll shut up now). But here, I think it was richly deserved and you should give this film a viewing.
5 STARS LOWBROW: Groundhog Day
Ok Groundhog Day isn't like say She's the Man lowbrow (which I apparently gave 5 stars to on Netflix...I assume 4 of them were for Channing Tatum...I can't even bring myself to review She's the Man here...I'm dying of embarrassment as we speak--yet I would totally watch it again--this explains why Netflix cannot recommend movies to me. I totally flummox their algorithm--I want a T-shirt that says that--"Come up to my room sometime so I can flummox your algorithm." No. Not sexy. Fine. ) but it's not quite Billy Wilder. That said, it is another pitch perfect comedy (some could argue dark comedy as well). And it's not like an old fogey classic movie that, of course, I would like. But it's a totally accessible American comedy that is damn good (see also DAVE. I think a totally under-appreciated comedy).
For like the three of you who have never seen it, it is about a weatherman who ends up covering the Groundhog's Day Celebration in Punxsutawney, PA and he gets stuck their overnight due to an unexpected snow storm. When he wakes up it is Groundhog Day again. Every day he wakes up he is reliving that day exactly as he did before. His TV producer is played by Andie MacDowell. I will say for the record that I mentally edit out all Andie MacDowell performances in any films that actually star Andie MacDowell. I have been doing this for a while. It's a gift. It allows me to like movies with Andie MacDowell in them. She is less annoying in Groundhog Day than in other movies (Four Weddings and a Funeral might be a perfect movie if someone else was cast in her role). I am sure she is a lovely person but I have never been taken with her (unlike the casting directors of the early 90's--WHY WHY OH THE HUMANITY).
This movie is all about a terrific script and a great performance by Bill Murray. It is a real testament to script by Danny Rubin and Harold Ramis that you can repeat the same lines, and story over and over again as part of the plot device and it doesn't feel repetitive. Then take what is familiar to the audience and turn it into a playground for Bill Murray to do his best work in. Bill Murray is an interesting guy. Worked on a movie he was in and ended up at funeral with him once (Our on-set photographer died during the shooting of a movie--heart attack--and Bill Murray, who wasn't even in this movie, heard that he died, came to this stills photographer's funeral, spoke, gave a lovely eulogy...it was just so generous and unexpected). As much as I hear he can be very difficult to work with it, I have always liked him for that gesture.
In Groundhog Day he plays an unlikable, curmudgeon (a role he was born to play) and yet we come to have sympathy for him in his plight and even want to root for him in the end.