Staff Picks: Movies
Staff-recommended viewing from the KPL catalog.
Writer and director Nora Ephron passed away yesterday from cancer. Some of her films include Silkwood, When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, You've Got Mail, Heartburn, and Julie & Julia. Known for quirky, romantic comedies, Ephron's work lives on here at KPL.
Julie & Julia
Every December, the National Film Preservation Board, established by Congress in 1988, chooses up to 25 movies to be added to the National Film Registry (NFR) List. The “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” films chosen must be at least 10 years old, though not necessarily of feature length, nor must they have been released to a theatrical audience (though you will recognize many that have.)
KPL has a great many of these films in our collection. I was intrigued to find a wide variety of movies, such as Halloween, El Norte, Toy Story (I) and Marian Anderson: the Lincoln Memorial Concert (produced in 1939.) Watch several of the shorts from the NFR list in Treasures from American Film Archivesand More Treasures from American Film Archives
To learn more about NFR films, check out 2 books from our collection, both with the main title of America’s Film Legacy. The older edition focuses on the first 500 films on the list, while the newer version updates readers about 50 movies more recently added to the list.
To find NFR films in the KPL catalog in the future, choose Movie Search on the horizontal menu, and type “National Film Registry” in the Word or Phrase search field.
Treasures from American Film Archives
Comedic straight men are vastly underrated. Ask anyone who the funniest person on Arrested Development was, and they’ll say someone like Will Arnett or David Cross or Jessica Walter. But I’ll defy everybody and say that the MVP of that particular piece of television gold was Jason Bateman, who had to deal with a cadre of loonies while wearing a straight face and lobbing under-the-breath quips and deadpan one-liners that could steal the show from any chicken-dancing cast member. His was a subtly brilliant performance that provided a (mostly) levelheaded balance to the rest of the kinetic comedy going on around him, and he doesn’t get enough credit for it.
Bateman’s heir apparent to the Underappreciated Straight Man throne is Adam Scott. Scott’s been playing a wide variety of roles in both film and television since the nineties; he’s the kind of ubiquitous actor who, if you don’t know his name, certainly makes you think, “Hey, it’s that guy from that one thing.” Some people recognize him from his turn as Will Ferrell’s arrogant younger sibling in 2008’s Stepbrothers; others might know him from his stint on the critically-acclaimed-but-short-lived HBO drama Tell Me You Love Me. Of course now he’s best known for playing Ben Wyatt, Pawnee’s former assistant city manager, recovering Boy Mayor, and Leslie Knope’s go-to grope on the NBC sitcom Parks and Recreation. Here, much like Bateman, Scott repeatedly finds himself playing it straight to eccentrics like Aziz Ansari’s aspiring entrepreneur Tom Haverford and Chris Pratt’s dimwitted Andy. His comedic timing and down-to-earth wryness have helped turn Parks & Rec into what is easily the funniest show currently on television.
But the series that put Adam Scott on my radar was another short-lived gem known as Party Down. This two-season Starz comedy ran from 2009 to 2010 and follows the exploits of a small catering company in Los Angeles comprised of Hollywood outcasts—aspiring actors, comedians, and writers on the rumpled fringe of success, most of whom are waiting despondently for their big break. Scott plays disillusioned Henry Pollard, whose brief moment in the spotlight as the star of a popular nationwide beer commercial made him a household face, but ruined his career. Now Henry finds himself stuck in the aimless limbo of early adulthood, unsure of what his next step will be and haunted by the career that never was, thanks in particular to the constant stream of people who order him to recite his famous line from the old beer spot, “Are we having FUN yet?” Each time Henry is forced to repeat the catchphrase, Adam Scott lets you see a little bit of his character’s soul dying. It’s another one of Scott’s hilarious straight-man performances in the middle of a great show that ended too soon. So if you’re a fan of Parks and Recreation (and if you’re not, you should be), check out Party Down, because every time Adam Scott says, “Are we having FUN yet?” you’ll say, “Yes, Adam. We are. Thanks to you.”
Now it’s time for you to let us know: Who are some of your favorite underrated comedic actors and actresses?
A classic is a work of art that can stand the test of time and remain relevant, fresh and engaging years after its creation. It possesses the internal mechanisms and universal themes to produce pleasure and awake interest in its audience year after year. Its appeal will carry on long after trends and fads dissolve into the dustbin of historical detritus. The films of John Hughes are unquestionably considered classics today by both the navel gazing critic and the new movie fan alike. Hughes worked mostly in the 1980’s, mostly concentrating his writing and directing on intelligently conceived teen comedies (The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, Some Kind of Wonderful) that possessed depth, dimension and pathos, characteristics that were rare for youth-centered movies of the eighties. Hughes had a string of hits that he either wrote or directed beginning with Sixteen Candles (1984) thru Home Alone (1990).
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, a hilarious romp that follows the afternoon adventures of a school skipping Ferris, his girlfriend Sloane and his best friend Cameron, launched the career of Matthew Broderick and also featured a cameo from a young Charlie Sheen. Arguably one of Hughes’ best “teen” films, it continues to feel unsullied by time, even today, twenty six years after it was released.
Ferris Bueller's Day Off
The Guard is a dark comedy set in a small town in Ireland. It's also a throwback buddy film where two cops from different backgrounds work together to fight crime while insulting eachother. It has its tender moments but for the most part, The Guard is all about the genre and complying with the dictates of cliche. The great character actor Don Cheadle plays an uptight FBI agent sent to provincial Ireland to bust a drug ring. Along the way, he encounters the eccentric and verbally unfiltered policeman Gerry Boyle, who has his own method of conducting police investigations. The two bristle at one another’s approach, disliking the other’s personality but like all buddy films, they come to find common ground in bringing the bad guys to justice.
On a recent day, whilst in the midst of reflecting upon the great breadth of films we own at KPL and those I’ve watched, I challenged myself to list 100 of my favorite movies while acknowledging that such a list was neither full nor accurate (the problem of memory). I’m sure I’m missing some very obvious choices but here they are, in no particular order and with almost no employed criteria involved whatsoever. Later on this year, I'll add another 100 to the mix.
Harold and Maude
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
There Will Be Blood
My Left Foot
Dog Day Afternoon
Au Hasard Balthazar
Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner
The Elephant Man
The Breakfast Club
Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Tree of Life
Cool Hand Luke
All the President’s Men
Night of the Hunter
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Rebel Without a Cause
The Way We Were
The Royal Tenenbaum’s
A Few Good Men
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Coal Miner’s Daughter
Dead Man Walking
The Shawshank Redemption
Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
My Own Private Idaho
The Deer Hunter
A Streetcar Named Desire
Full Metal Jacket
Little Big Man
Kramer Vs Kramer
The Last Picture Show
Do the Right Thing
Frankie and Johnny
My Life as a Dog
Wings of Desire
Silence of the Lambs
Thelma and Louise
This is Spinal Tap
Raiders of the Lost Ark
When Harry Met Sally
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf
The Age of Innocence
The Big Lebowski
In the Mood for Love
Days of Heaven
Glengarry Glen Ross
The professional [videorecording]
If you love movies like I do, you may have been waiting anxiously for the Academy Award nominations that were announced this morning, which is kind of like opening day for Oscar season. And if you’re a hardcore fanatic like I am, you try to see as many of the nominated films as possible before the Big Night. Thanks to the nearby Rave Cinema, which often shows more independent and limited-release films than its in-town competitors, I can often catch many of the nominees in a timely fashion. But for some of the more esoteric films, I often find myself driving to places like Grand Rapids, Lansing or Ann Arbor, as I have already done this season. (Crazy, I know, but I did use the word “fanatic” to describe myself.) For those of you normal folks who’d prefer their cultural horizons to be expanded without breaking their odometer, I thought I would mention all of the year’s Oscar-nominated stuff that you can get right here, right now at KPL.
Four of the Best Picture nominees are available now on Blu-ray and DVD:
The film Hugo had the most Oscar nominations with 11, which included Best Picture, Director (Martin Scorsese), and Adapted Screenplay. As of this writing, it does not yet have a release date for Blu-ray or DVD, but you can read The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Brian Selznick’s Caldecott-winning book upon which it was based. Howard Shore’s score was also nominated and is currently on compact disc.
Other Best Picture nominees not yet available on Blu-ray or DVD but based on books you can read now include Kaui Hart Hemmings’ The Descendants (5 nominations), Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close(2 nominations), and Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse (6 nominations).
Beyond the Best Picture list, there are plenty of currently available films that received Oscar nominations today:
David Fincher’s adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s mega-popular mystery The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo received five nominations; it’s not yet available on Blu-ray or DVD, but you can read the book, check out the original Swedish version, or listen to Trent Reznor’s score (which was, in my opinion, the Academy’s biggest snub this year).
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy received nominations for Actor (Gary Oldman), Original Score, and Adapted Screenplay. You can read the novel from spymaster John le Carré, or check out the original British mini-series starring Alec Guinness.
Flight of the Conchords vet Bret McKenzie received a Best Original Song nomination for the amusingly existential “Man or Muppet” track from—what else?—The Muppets. The soundtrack is available now. The only other song nomination came from the soundtrack to the animated film Rio.
So there you have it: an exhaustive list of currently available materials from this year’s crop of Oscar nominations, complete with links to the items themselves. Whether you use it to browse for some ideas, or turn it into a checklist for immediate consumption is up to you. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some driving to do.
(Psst. If your interested in my personal choices for the ten best films of the year, you can find them here.)
Over the holiday I was able to catch up on some film titles from the past year that I had failed to see during the previous twelve months. In particular, I enjoyed two documentaries, Page One: inside the New York Times and Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop, that were both listed on KPL staff 2011 Best of Lists. While very different in style and content, the films relate in my opinion because the subject of each documentary seem to be, at least at some level, “in” on the project and are using the documentary format to take a position and very effectively tell the audience something about themselves. In the case of Page One, it’s the NYT convincing us that they remain relevant and the authoritative place for news in an ever splintering media landscape, and in the case of Conan O’Brien, which was filmed in the aftermath of O’Brien’s famously contentious split with NBC and Jay Leno, its O’Brien convincing us that he is an incredibly, almost compulsively, driven entertainer. Both films have compelling characters featured prominently, with Page One its NYT media and culture columnist David Carr – who, after watching this film, I think of as the Keith Richards of journalism – and with Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop it has to be O’Brien himself, he is in nearly every frame of the film and working incredibly hard to entertain everyone near him during his every waking second. I’m glad that I had the time to watch both films, and I recommend using KPL staff picks, our Movies and Music pages, and KPL staff in all our locations to help keep your “to watch” lists full of great titles.
Page One: inside the New York Times
Seeing Robert Duvall's crazy hermit hair on the back of the DVD case for Get Low made me want to see this movie. In Schneider's movie, Duvall has lived alone for 40 years in the Tennesses backwoods trying to pay penance for some past actions that are slowly revealed throughout the movie. During those 40 years, the townspeople have passed along a lot of stories about what he has done and why he lives alone. He has also become the destination for dares amongst the children who are afraid of him, but also intrigued by the mystery.
Feeling his mortality, Duvall decides to commission a funeral party, but one which he will attend, alive. Bill Murray, an owner of a funeral parlor, decides to make it happen. The prickly and humorous interactions between Murray and Duvall are fun to watch.
One day when I walked into my bank one of the very nice employees, who knew that I worked in Reference at KPL, said she had seen a good movie that made her think of me. I was glad she recommended 'The Desk Set' because I enjoyed it very much. Filmed in 1957, the setting is the reference area of the library at the fictional Federal Broadcasting Company. A seasoned cast, headed by Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn, works through a comic story line that involves the computerization of the library (already in 1957!). Thinking the computer is there to take over their jobs, the librarians fight mightily to prove that service by humans is superior to any that could be rendered by a machine. In the end, they find out that the computer has been installed to assist them, not replace them, and all is well. Even without the good plot, which takes place during the end-of-the-year holidays, 'The Desk Set' is worth watching just for the furnishings and architecture. Actually, the library and its methods of operation in this film are much closer to the KPL in which I began working in 1969 than to the library of today. Tempus fugit!
Desk Set [videorecording]