As we head into Independence Day weekend, for these who’d like to move beyond the evergreen “Yankee Doodle Dandy”, I want to suggest some classic titles scattered over the decades that every in their way evoke our country’s unique character- to paraphrase a favored movie title, encompassing the Very good, the Undesirable, and the Ugly…
If you have not observed any of these for a although, nicely now’s the time.
Mr. Deeds Goes To Town (1936)- Easy nation boy Longfellow Deeds (Gary Cooper) inherits an immense fortune from a distant relative he does not even know, and must then navigate a sea of handlers and hand-out requests to make sense of his new life as multi-millionaire. But those who feel they can manipulate this tuba-playing rube are quickly in for a rude awakening.
This charming slice of Americana from director Frank Capra is one particular of Cooper’s most attractive comic forays, as his plain-talking homespun reflection of rural America-foxes all these smug and greedy city-slickers. Thus the film reinforces the recurring Capra theme of solid individual integrity more than the mob of established, monied interests. The husky voiced Jean Arthur delivers a note-perfect turn as Babe Bennett, a hard-nosed lady journalist who 1st ridicules, then falls for Longfellow, significantly to her surprise. A single of the screen’s genuine classics, this is pixilated comedy at its really very best.
Young Mr. Lincoln (1939)- Charting the early life experiences of Abraham Lincoln (Henry Fonda) in Springfield, Illinois, this fictionalized biopic follows the future Civil War president from his 1st political speech in 1832 and the tragic death of girlfriend Ann Rutledge (Pauline Moore) to his first trial case as a lawyer. Throughout, we glimpse moments of anguish and triumph in the producing of a moral leader, as effectively as his courtship of society belle Mary Todd (Marjorie Weaver). The film culminates with Lincoln summoning uncommon ingenuity in defending two young men accused of murder.
Fonda, who initially declined the part simply because of his awed reverence for Lincoln’s legacy, embodies Abe with plainspoken assurance and gutsy idealism. Weaver, as the future Mrs. Lincoln, and Alice Brady, as the mother of two sons presumed guilty of murder, round out a luminous studio cast. Don’t miss this gorgeous, mythic portrait of American greatness personified, by the legendary director of “Stagecoach.”
The Very best Years of Our Lives (1946)- The fantastic Sam Goldwyn created this initial, most ambitious movie about the plight of returning servicemen at the end of the Second Globe War. The film follows the unique readjustments to civilian life faced by three veterans: Fred Derry (Dana Andrews), a young officer coming back to a dead-end job, Al Stephenson (Fredric March), an older soldier returning to a loving family members and steady career, and Homer Parrish (Harold Russell), a sailor who has lost each his hands in combat.
Each and every character is subtly drawn below William Wyler’s specialist direction, evoking the complicated challenges that confront veterans of all ranks – producing sense of their own war experiences although readjusting to a changed America. Even with the requisite dose of sentimentality and romance, the film never strays far from its central premise that no matter what you return to in a time of peace, war changes you forever. Oscar-winner for Greatest Picture, Best Actor (March) and Best Supporting Actor (Russell, an amputee veteran, and non-actor!).
Picnic (1955)- Hal Carter (William Holden), a down-and-out former college football jock, hops a freight to Kansas to ask his wealthy former roommate Alan Benson (Cliff Robertson) for a job. Alan’s thrilled to see him (at 1st), but other folks distrust the rugged stranger, including Flo Owens (Betty Field), the socially ambitious mother of the girl Alan’s been dating, town beauty Madge (Kim Novak, in her film debut). She senses the prospective chemistry in between Hal and Madge, an attraction that may hurt Hal’s job search, and ruin Flo’s carefully laid plans for her daughter’s future. Matters come to a head at the town picnic.
Joshua Logan’s adaptation of the hit William Inge play captures the feeling of mid-twentieth century little town America as couple of other photographs have. Place shooting (in Technicolor) aids, with the crowd shots of real Kansans enjoying themselves during the picnic sequence particularly evocative. The two romantic leads do certainly heat up the screen, specifically for the duration of their memorable dance to the fifties regular, “Moonglow”. Robertson, Field, Rosalind Russell and Arthur O’Connell round out a very first-price cast. Attend this “Picnic”.
Medium Cool (1969)- Tv cameraman John Cassellis ( an unrecognizable, pre- “Jackie Brown” Robert Forster) meets and falls for struggling single mom, Eileen (Verna Bloom), against the least opportune of back-drops: the turbulent 1968 Democratic Convention, when brutal police reaction to student demonstrations place the city of Chicago in chaos. John and sound-man Gus (Peter Bonerz) should capture the unfolding crisis for posterity, and in this volatile scenario, it seems nothing is protected, like any future for John and Eileen.
Haskell Wexler’s a single-of-a-sort film seamlessly blends narrative and documentary forms, as the actors actually played their scenes as the Chicago riots have been exploding all around them. The heightened sense of immediacy and danger is palpable. Incredibly properly-played by Forster and Bloom, this is a fascinating, irreplaceable American time-capsule for the ages. Appear for Peter Boyle as an impassioned correct-winger.
Breaking Away (1979)- This strikingly buoyant coming-of-age picture set in Indiana tells of 4 neighborhood boys (and recent higher-college grads) who should face their futures, but not prior to enjoying one last carefree summer. Protagonist Dave (Dennis Christopher) is obsessed with cycling, and on finding out how many cycling champions come from Italy, cultivates an appreciation for all items Italian, significantly to the consternation of his conventional parents (Paul Dooley and Barbara Barrie). Dave’s cycling capabilities will at some point be tested against the snobby college guys in Bloomington’s annual bike race.
Director Peter Yates’s heartfelt, life-affirming film will prove a winner for older children and adults. Christopher is appealingly quirky in the central role and the film also showcases the budding talents of future stars Dennis Quaid and Daniel Stern as two of Dave’s buddies. Dooley is outstanding as Dave’s bewildered father, a solid Middle American you might in fact get a utilised car from.
Tender Mercies (1983)- Mac Sledge (Robert Duvall), when a successful country music balladeer, has a extreme drinking issue and has lastly hit bottom. It’s no surprise that when alcoholics reach this sad crossroads in life, they either wither away totally or climb back up into the globe. With the aid of patient widow Rosa Lee (Tess Harper) and her young son, Mac steadily finds the strength to reclaim his life.
This quiet, unadorned gem, beautifully realized by Australian director Bruce Beresford from a brilliant Horton Foote screenplay, is an actor’s showcase, and Duvall tends to make the most of it, turning in a bravura overall performance that won him a well-deserved Oscar. (Trivia note: screenwriter Foote had also accomplished the script for Duvall’s 1st film twenty years earlier: “To Kill A Mockingbird”, exactly where the actor played the mysterious Boo Radley).
Born On The Fourth Of July (1989)- This riveting biopic of Vietnam protester Ron Kovic (Tom Cruise) opens with his all-American upbringing in Massapequa, NY, and entry into the war as a deeply patriotic enlisted man. Later, Kovic returns property disillusioned and psychologically scarred from a bullet wound that is left him paralyzed from the waist down. Alienated and adrift in Mexico, the tough-drinking vet at some point starts to pull his life with each other, devoting his energies to anti-war activism.
Helmed by Vietnam vet Oliver Stone, “Born” is a profoundly moving portrait of a macho athlete whose horrific battle expertise causes him to reassess his politics and reorient his give-’em-hell attitude. Cruise, in an ambitious turn away from heartthrob roles, plays Kovic with precision and conviction, particularly at his darkest moments, delivering the finest operate of his profession. Co-written by Stone and Kovic, “Born” reflects the pain and anger felt by an whole generation of returning US soldiers, and will leave a lasting impression.
American Beauty (1999)- Leading an empty suburban life with his uptight, real-estate-agent wife, Carolyn (Annette Bening), and depressed teenage daughter, Jane (Thora Birch), sardonic forty-one thing Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) decides to overhaul his physique–and his life–when he falls madly in lust with gorgeous nubile Angela (Mena Suvari), Jane’s flirtatious greatest friend.
This superlative drama by theater director Sam Mendes peers at the dark side of American middle-class life with ripe, risque humor and aching poignancy. Both screenwriter Alan Ball and cinematographer Conrad L. Hall were honored along with Mendes at the 1999 Academy Awards for their evocation of suburban alienation, but Kevin Spacey, whose cool, cynical narration constitutes the film’s central nervous method, deserved all the acclaim he received for bringing Lester to life (including a Ideal Actor Oscar). Functioning in a subplot involving Lester’s new neighbors, an unhinged Marine (Chris Cooper) and his artsy, drug-dealing son (Wes Bentley), Mendes provides this “Beauty” a gut-wrenching finale that completes Lester’s transformation.
Transamerica (2005)- Just a week just before pre-operative transsexual Bree Osbourne (Felicity Huffman), formerly Stanley, is about go under the knife to comprehensive her male-to-female transformation, she learns that she has a 17-year-old son named Toby (Kevin Zegers), who’s in problems with the law. Encouraged by her therapist, Margaret (Elizabeth Pena), to come to grips with her past, Bree bails Toby out of jail and takes him on a cross-country road trip to Los Angeles.
Expertly handled by very first-time director Duncan Tucker, this funny, touching film belongs to a tradition of beautifully observed movies about nontraditional American households. Huffman is riveting to watch, especially in the scenes with her disapproving mother, Elizabeth (Fionnula Flanagan). But it is her rapport with Zegers, perfect as the troubled Toby, that gives the film its heart and soul, specifically as he believes Bree is a goody-goody church kind-not his father. Their trip-so usually the arc of development in great road films-is mutually nourishing and eye-opening. Settle in with “Transamerica” for a frank, heartfelt outing.