2012 Best in Cinema: The Classics

It’s no secret that I am cinema obsessed. I’ve easily seen over a hundred films in the last calendar year. I went to film school, work within the industry, live around the industry, and hit the movie theater more times in a month than your average person likely does in six. To stress my point, I even spend most of my time when I am actually home with time to spare watching a movie. Needless to say, if I had to admit to a love affair – it would unequivocally¬†be with a reel of film (and a bag of Hot Tamales). ūüôā

With 2012 behind us and my now having had several weeks into the new year to agonize reflect on all things cinema, this week’s posts will be my declaration of the best in movie entertainment from the year. Since I have such an¬†indescribable¬†appreciation for cinema and often like varying films for a myriad of different reasons, I decided NOT to rank them, but to share the films that I met this year that left an¬†indelible¬†mark on me in alphabetical order. It would take me another month of agonizing¬†reflecting¬†to somehow even rank them and I’ve decided not to torture myself trying to do so –¬†starting with The Classics…

I spent a lot of time in 2012 at home on my couch (or in bed) catching up on the oldies, films that you hear about some 50 years later as “a classic.” I loved getting to know the real deal acting chops of Bette Davis, finally understanding the enigma of Marilyn Monroe, and felt awe and amazement at the grandeur of a 4 hour film that¬†notoriously¬†had lots of production and budget issues yet made it to the big screen in a time when special effects were non-existent.

Here are my top 10 favorite classic movies I met and fell in love with in 2012 (in alphabetical order, so as to not torture myself):

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)¬†–¬†I loved the complicated, harsh, yet realistic marriage portrayed by the succulent eye candy in Paul Newman and the equally¬†beguiling¬†Elizabeth Taylor. This movie at its core is about relationships and the consequences of not facing our demons. Since this film is based on¬†Tennessee¬†Williams’ acclaimed play, the strength of this movie is in character development and well written dialogue.

Cleopatra (1963)¬†–¬†Admittedly, it took me a week to get through this film! I’d squeeze in an hour here and 30 minutes there because it took awhile to get to the point. But once I hit the intermission and inserted disc 2, this 4 hour epic study of the rise and fall of Queen Cleopatra took my breathe away in its totality. I¬†benefited¬†greatly by watching the film with the subtitles turned on (because I had trouble following those complicated Egyptian names and all of the dialogue involved with this movie and there’s a lot of it). In the end, despite the turmoil that¬†nearly bankrupted 20th Century Fox¬†in getting Cleopatra to the big screen, I was glad they pulled off the $44 million dollar saga, originally budgeted at $2 million. (Random fact: that is the equivalent of $323 million if made today – thanks Wikipedia!)¬†I have such esteem for this film:¬†its detail, its grandeur,¬†and its powerful leading lady in Elizabeth Taylor (who couldn’t look less Egyptian).

Dead Ringer (1964)¬†–¬†I vividly remember watching this crime driven drama on Halloween night. Not exactly a horror movie, but¬†pretty¬†disturbing and very much entertaining. Bette Davis plays the dual role in Margaret and Edith, twin sisters who have had a falling out over (of course) a guy. At his funeral, they reconnect, the one who was screwed over kills the sister who stole her man and assumes her identity. You couldn’t get more “Young and the Restless” than this.

Doctor Zhivago (1965) – A film that explores the opposite of¬†unrequited¬†love in the most epic of manners. Omar Sharif and Julie Christie are in love, in the middle of war, want each other desperately, yet life’s complicated¬†circumstances (read: the fact that they are both already married)¬†prohibits it – or does it? What stands out most about the film is the sweeping drama and time lapse this film takes the viewer on. Not only are we in the middle of the complexities of Dr. Zhivago (Sharif) and Lara’s (Christie) relationship, we’re in the middle of the very intense Bolshevik¬†Revolution¬†that further creates an atmosphere of desperation. What I came to like about watching this film was how that desperation came through in every aspect of the film, so much so that you rooted for these characters.

Lawrence of Arabia (1962) – In retrospect, I liked this film for similar reasons to that of Cleopatra and Doctor Zhivago. It seemed the 60’s were a time in¬†film making¬†for celebrating the tiniest of details within a scene, sweeping camera work, and giving movie going patrons more for their money in yet another nearly 4 hour motion picture, creating epic drama at its best. What I¬†appreciated¬†about Lawrence of Arabia, was in fact not attributed to the story so much as the love and effort put into this film that seeps through in every frame. The moving shots of the vast Arabian desert; the amount of extras used within the frame; and the wonderful chemistry of Peter O’Toole and Omar Sharif simply in their eyes. I constantly had to remind myself of the time period this film was created, with limited technology compared to today and the nearly 1.5 year shooting schedule. Passion went into this project and that passion is what the viewer sees and why this film is so revered. I had the pleasure of seeing the film for the first time on a newly restored 70mm print at a recent screening at Sony Pictures. You can read about that memorable day here.

Niagara¬†(1953)¬†–¬†Film noir and Marilyn Monroe go oh so well in Henry Hathaway’s¬†Niagra. What a treat to see the¬†sultry¬†Monroe play the femme fatale after co-conspiring the murder of her husband with her lover. Let’s just say things don’t exactly go according to plan. Surprisingly, of the 10 Marilyn Monroe films I saw in 2012, this was my favorite.

The Prince and the Showgirl (1957)¬†–¬†It was January 8th, 2012. My first official night delving into the Marilyn Monroe filmography. After seeing My Week With Marilyn in late 2011, I was immediately¬†interested¬†to see how the film depicted in that movie turned out in reality. As luck would have it, the American Cinematheque was¬†showcasing¬†a Marilyn Monroe double feature night and I spent my first time absorbing the very charming Monroe as ¬†a leading lady. Seeing this film led me down a path of wanting to know more about her story and her films.This past summer I got acquainted with her not only as a movie star, but as a person when a book was suggested to me to check out. You can read my review of Barbara Leaming’s exquisite biography here.

Some Like it Hot (1959) –¬†My Marilyn Monroe double feature with the American Cinematheque¬†continued with this classic comedic gem. The funny chemistry of Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon, dressed up pretending to be women to escape a group of gangsters, are the perfect counterparts to Monroe’s portrayal of a¬†ukulele playing sexy vamp that catches their eye. This was simply a fun film to watch.

Sunset Boulevard (1950)¬†–¬†Gloria Swanson is haunting as Norma Desmond, a former film star who makes the unexpected acquaintance¬†and later lover in Joe Gillis, played by William Holden, a down on his luck writer talked into re-working a screenplay that Norma’s considering as her big comeback. I knew this was going to be a good story when the opening sequence finds our protagonist floating in a swimming pool, dead. Further to that, the eerie mansion sitting on Sunset Boulevard, a¬†character¬†itself within the film,¬†was the perfect setting for this¬†tantalizing¬†noir. Aside from the witty, well-written dialogue, the noir themes perfectly create such a dark and deluded feeling that the viewer instantly melts into it and spends 2 hours trapped there.

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)¬†–¬†Bette Davis and Joan Crawford BRING IT in this dramatic thriller testing the depths of sibling¬†rivalry¬† The infamous off-screen conflict between these two early divas fed so perfectly into the¬†story line¬†that it likely didn’t take much effort to pull it off. This seems particularly true when it comes to Davis who goes so off the wall insane while taking care of her wheelchair bound sister, it’s beyond creepy. Well acted. Well paced. Well written, and simply a great fun story make What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? at the top of my list for the best entertainment I had in 2012.¬†If I absolutely had to pick, this would’ve been my favorite classic to watch this past year.

2012: Best In Books, Non-Fiction

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I’ve always been a book worm, in and out of the library,¬†hanging¬†out in bookstores (for fun!), juggling two different reads at a time. That is, until I’d hear about something else that would catch my attention where I would then unceremoniously¬†drop whatever I was reading altogether to focus on a completely new novel. Essentially, this consistently left me with a ton of never finished books. I’m happy to report that 2012 turned out differently and this was largely due to joining a book club late last year (making me accountable to actually finish), but also because I found reads that really captivated me¬†enough¬†to not want to put them down. I’m dedicating a few posts to reflect on the best stories that filled my time this year, the best in books across many genres – starting with my favorite non-fiction read this year about a lady you might have heard of…

Marilyn Monroe

by

Barbara Leaming (2000)

I’ve always wondered why the lasting fascination with Marilyn Monroe? After seeing “My Week with Marilyn” last year, I was lured into wanting to watch the original 1957 film that inspired its events, “The Prince and the Showgirl.” Instantly, I understood it. You’re drawn to her whenever she’s on camera, no matter who else is in the scene – your eyes follow her. There’s a charm to her, a beauty to her, a mystery to her, that pulls you in and doesn’t let go.

Subsequently, I picked up this book and was instantaneously sucked into another world, another time. Hollywood during a very tumultuous, yet booming period. When the movie-making business was very much male-dominated but in a very different way than it is today; and the origins of movie stars as a brand, true sex symbols, no longer simply a person. I have to say reading this novel really made me question: is it simply the brand that Marilyn Monroe created that resonates with us? Is it what she represented or was it in fact “her?”

Marilyn Monroe was admittedly flawed and tragic, insecure and incessantly seeking approval and respect. Perhaps it’s because of these characteristics – despite the sex symbol – she resonates with us, it makes her human. Perhaps even more it’s because she’ll always be that “brand” frozen in time. We’ll never see her age. She’ll always be and represent glamour to us.¬†Either way, the last act of her short-lived life was anything but glamorous behind closed doors: a third failed marriage, a third miscarriage, high profile sexual affairs, drug and alcohol abuse, and several suicide attempts.

Throughout the entire story there’s an air of depression and desperation on each page. There’s a side to her that is explored that I didn’t know much about: her troubled childhood, her temper, her fear of being in front of the camera, her dependency on people that were just using her, and her consistent tardiness or lack of appearance on set which always complicated production on many of her films.

I firmly believe that Marilyn Monroe might not have stood have a chance from the moment she became this “brand.” How do you maintain that? How do you live with that type of constant pressure? Furthermore, it was never enough for her, it seemed. No amount of money, love, fame, or success seemed to satisfy her. It begs to question the idea and realism of destiny and the complexity of the human condition.

Marilyn Monroe would have been 86 years old in 2012 but she is very much alive. Film festivals and museum exhibitions are still orchestrated in her honor. I wondered, as I finished the last pages of this biography, that as she swallows the contents of several bottles of pills, if she would’ve known then that her legacy 50 years later still exists in a way that no other movie star has managed to have, would THAT have finally been enough to persuade her? An excellent, detailed, well-written biographical account of one of the most highly coveted enigmas in American film history, with a tragic and very unhappy ending.

*Book cover image courtesy: goodreads.com