Movies to See Right Now

Gil Birmingham in WIND RIVER

With the contemporary Western thriller Wind River, screenwriter Taylor Sheridan has delivered another masterpiece, this time in his first effort as director. It’s got mystery, explosive action, wild scenery and some great acting, especially by Jeremy Renner and Gil Birmingham.

Other movies that are among the best of the year are the historical thriller Dunkirk and the delightful romantic comedy The Big Sick.

The best of the rest:

  • Baby Driver is just an action movie, but the walking, running and driving are brilliantly timed to the beat of music.
  • I enjoyed Charlize Theron’s rock ’em, sock ’em, espionage thriller Atomic Blonde.
  • The Trip to Spain, another gourmet romp from Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan is funny for the first 90 minutes or so – just leave when the characters part company in Malaga.

Given that Netflix will release Top of the Lake: China Girl in September, my DVD/Stream of the Week is the original Top of the Lake from 2013. It’s the perfect choice to binge watch on Labor Day weekend.

Turner Classic Movies spotlights the director Werner Herzog on September 7 with Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo, Stroszek, Aguirre the Wrath of God and Cobra Libre and the Les Blank documentaries Burden of Dreams (about the making of Fitzcarraldo) and Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe.

On September 4, TCM brings us an evening of boxing films, including Requiem for a Heavyweight, The Harder They Fall, Somebody Up There Likes Me and The Golden Boy.  I am recommending the 1972 Fat City from the great director John Huston. Huston shot the film in Stockton, and Fat City is a time capsule for the Central Valley in the early 70s. Stacy Keach plays a boxer on the slide, his skills unraveled by his alcoholism. He inspires a kid (a very young Jeff Bridges), who becomes a boxer on the rise.

Keach and Susan Tyrrell give dead-on performances as pathetic sad sack barflies. Tyrrell was nominated for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar. In this wonderful 2000 profile in LA Weekly, Tyrrell said, “The last thing my mother said to me was, ‘SuSu, your life is a celebration of everything that is cheap and tawdry.’ I’ve always liked that, and I’ve always tried to live up to it.”

Susan Tyrrell in FAT CITY

2012 at the Movies: farewells

Andy Griffith in A FACE IN THE CROWD

This year I wrote farewells to four of my movie favorites.

Most Baby Boomers first saw Ben Gazzara as the star of the 60s TV series Run for Your Life, and cinephiles point to his work in two groundbreaking John Cassavetes films, Husbands and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie.  I immediately thought of the Coolest Movie Character Ever, John Russo in Peter Bogdanovich’s They All Laughed.

Levon Helm‘s 17 acting credits include some very top shelf stuff. He was Loretta’s father in Coal Miner’s Daughter. In The Right Stuff, he played Ridley, test pilot Chuck Yeager’s aircraft mechanic, the guy who loans him Beeman’s chewing gum before each life-risking test flight. He was also the narrator in The Right Stuff.  I particularly loved one of his last roles, Old Man with Radio in Tommy Lee Jones’ overlooked 2005 The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada.

Susan Tyrrell was nominated for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for a dead-on performance as a pathetic sad sack barfly in the under appreciated Fat City (1972).

For his very first feature film, Andy Griffith shed the likeability and decency that made him a TV megastar and became a searingly unforgettable villain.  In the 1957 Elia Kazan classic A Face in the Crowd, Griffith played Lonesome Rhodes, a failed country guitar picker who is hauled out of an Arkansas drunk tank by talent scout Marcia Jeffries (Patricia Neal).  It turns out that he has a folksy charm that is dynamite in the new medium of television.   Presaging communication in the television age, A Face in the Crowd is one of our most important political movies.