Movies to See Right Now

Julian Dennison and Sam Neill in HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE
Julian Dennison and Sam Neill in HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE

The Movie Gourmet has been very quiet of late because I’m dealing with a major home remodel and a temporary move, as well as the demands of my day job, which seem to increase during even-numbered years. But I’ll be back in full force by mid-September, just in time for the big prestige movies of 2016. In the meantime:

  • Really liked the New Zealand teen-geezer adventure dramedy Hunt for the Wilderpeople.
  • Florence Foster Jenkins is not just a one-joke movie about a bad singer – it’s a love story about trying to protect the one that you love.
  • I found the documentary about Burt Reynolds and his stuntman/director Hal Needham, The Bandit, very enjoyable; it’s playing on CMT.
  • Woody Allen’s love triangle comedy Cafe Society is a well-made and entertaining diversion, but hardly a Must See.
  • I haven’t seen them yet, but readers with really good taste have recommended Captain Fantastic and Hell or High Water.

On September 1, Turner Classic Movies will be presenting the best work of Preston Sturges, the first workaday Hollywood screenwriter to transition into a major writer-director. TCM will be screening The Lady Eve, Sullivan’s Travels, Hail the Conquering Hero! and The Great McGinty, an impressive body of work that Sturges churned out between the ages of 42 and 46. Unfortunately, his turbulent personality led to conflict in his business affairs, which exacerbated his drinking. He burned out and was dead at age 60, but he left behind some of the very, very smartest and funniest movie comedies.

Veronica Lake and Joel McCrea in SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS
Veronica Lake and Joel McCrea in SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS

Movies to See Right Now

Jared Leto and Matthew McConaughey (both Oscar-nominated) in DALLAS BUYERS CLUB.
Jared Leto and Matthew McConaughey (both Oscar-nominated) in DALLAS BUYERS CLUB.

Oscar nominees Nebraska, American Hustle and Her all made my Best Movies of 2013.  I also strongly recommend Best Picture nominees The Wolf of Wall Street and PhilomenaDallas Buyers Club, with its splendid performances by Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto, is formulaic but still a pretty good watch.

Not nominated, but pretty damn good, is The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, another fine thriller from that franchise, with another amazing performance by Jennifer Lawrence. I also admire the compelling French drama The Past. And I also like the Mumblecore romance Drinking Buddies, now available on VOD.

I haven’t yet seen the Oscar Nominated Live Action Shorts, but I’m gonna because they’re always good.

I’m not a fan of Disney’s Saving Mr. Banks (sentimental and predictable) or the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis (about an unlovable loser – and I didn’t love the movie, either).

My DVD/Stream of the Week features Philip Seymour Hoffman in Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead is available on DVD from Netflix and streaming from Hulu.

Turner Classic Movies has launched its wonderful annual 31 Days of Oscar – filling the entire month with Oscar-nominated movies. This week I recommend two wickedly funny Preston Sturges films – The Great McGinty (inside workings of a corrupt political machine) on February 10 and The Lady Eve (con artist Barbara Stanwyck tries to land the clueless but wealthy Henry Fonda) on February 11. TCM is also cablecasting the Howard Hawkes screwball comedy Ball of Fire, with Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck, on February 11.

Coming up on TV: Sturges classics

William Demarest and fellow Marines comfort Eddie Bracken in HAIL THE CONQUERING HERO

On June 30, Turner Classic Movies is broadcasting six classic comedies by the great writer-director Preston Sturges.  Sturges’ masterpiece, of course, is Sullivan’s Travels, a fast-paced and cynical comedy about a pretentious movie director who goes out on the road to be inspired by The Average Man – and gets more of an adventure than he expects.

The brilliantly funny Hail the Conquering Hero is one of Sturges’ less well-known great comedies.  Eddie Bracken plays a would-be soldier discharged for hay fever – but his hometown mistakenly thinks that he is sent home a war hero.  Hilarity ensues.  All the funnier when you realize that this film was made in 1944 amid our nation’s most culturally patriotic period.

TCM’s other Sturges choices are thigh slappers, too: The Lady Eve, The Palm Beach Story, The Great McGinty and Christmas in July.

Here’s a snippet from Sullivan’s Travels.