An Arbitrary List of Films for some Arbitrary Times

An Arbitrary List of Films for some Arbitrary Times

Seen everything already? Looking for some random recommendations? Well, then this is the movie list for you.

Maybe. Maybe not. I don’t know your tastes.

I had intended to post some chocolate cake recipe today. But because of a very unwise mix of foods yesterday there will no chocolate today. There may be no food at all.

There will be lots of movies though.

Quite a few of these movies I haven’t watched in years but I did really enjoy them when I did. Time for a rewatch.

OK so the page wasn’t loading fully so I removed most of the clips.

From the 1930s

Hold Your Man (1933)

This I did see recently. I was going to start off this list with Platinum Blonde. It’s a Frank Capra film staring Jean Harlow, Loretta Young and Robert Williams. You probably haven’t heard of Robert Williams which is a pity because he had a great, natural and charismatic screen presence. But it’s understandable if you haven’t heard of him because he actually died the year that Platinum Blonde came out – in 1931.

So I was going to start the list with that film because the whole cast are good in it, I like Frank Capra movies and not too many people have heard of it. The thing is though, while the performances are good and there are lots of nice touches to the movie, the plot is not very engaging or interesting. And then when I went to get a clip of Platinum Blonde a clip of Hold Your Man starting playing immediately afterwards on autoplay.

I had never seen or heard of this before so I immediately went and got the full-length version. And it’s a very surprising film. I really enjoyed it. It takes a real turn halfway through. It’s co-written by Anita Loos who wrote the novel Gentlemen Prefer Blondes – which the Marilyn Monroe film is based on. Hold Your Man is nothing like Gentlemen Prefer Blondes; It’s a pre-code melodrama but it does have touches of the same sort of charm and humor. I enjoyed it a lot – you might too.

Is it odd enough to qualify for an odd movie list? I don’t know. It’s certainly different.

The Last of Mrs. Cheney (1937)

A beautiful American widow, Mrs. Cheyney, captures the attention of some well-heeled English aristocrats. She is a fine, upstanding, woman, with servants and a butler (played by William Powell) in tow. Or is she? Is she really the sort of person this fine and upstanding family of aristocrats would want to associate with if they really knew her? – And are this family of aristocrats so very fine and upstanding themselves?

It’s cute and fun. And the whole cast are good. Particularly Crawford and Montgomery.

Topper (1937)

A beautiful and beautifully heedless carefree rich couple live fast and die young and … oh … well … decide to do a good deed before they completely leave this mortal world in peace. The good deed they decide to do concerns one Mr Topper.

This is an odd screwball comedy but it’s very charming. If you’re going to be haunted – may it be by the Kerbys.

Though obviously I hope that doesn’t happen.

And also I don’t believe in ghosts.

Well, this took a turn…

It’s charming really.

From the 1940s

The Devil & Daniel Webster (1941)

This is a Faustian tale of a farmer, Jabez Stone, in New Hampshire in the early 1800s who is struggling to survive and in desperation makes a pact with the devil for 7 years of prosperity.

Daniel Webster is a lawyer and statesman who will take on Jabez’s case with the devil.

The character of Daniel Webster is based on the actual Daniel Webster. I know next to nothing about American history. It is possible if I did I wouldn’t enjoy this tale so much. It’s hard to understand why this movie isn’t better known. Maybe this is part of the reason.

But all that aside, as a standalone film this is great stuff. And full of good rousing morals. Very enjoyable.

I Wake Up Screaming (1941)

This is such an odd movie. It shouldn’t work. The way it tells the story should leave you uninterested in the main characters. The way it throws humour into a murder mystery – at times that it shouldn’t. It shouldn’t work. But it does. I think it’s down to the cast and in particular the charisma of Victor Mature and Betty Grable – and also the wonderful creepiness of Laird Cregar. It’s a strange, creepy, sometimes funny and an oddly loveable murder mystery. Take a watch.

Ministry of Fear (1944)

I haven’t seen this in a while but I love the trope it uses here. Ray Milland plays a man recently released from a mental asylum who ends up stumbling into a nazi spy ring. Is he crazy? Is there anyone he can trust? Can he trust himself?

From the 1950s

The Asphalt Jungle (1950)

I think this has been described as the definitive crime caper movie. We watch the set up, execution and unraveling of a meticulously planned jewel heist. This is really great.

The official trailer completely spoils the movie. Luckily there are lots of clips of this one.

It’s hard to pinpoint who are the leads here – it’s a real ensemble cast. So just look up the imdb page for full details.

Nights of Cabiria (1957)

This is absolutely heartbreaking. So true to life in a way. Giulietta Masina plays “Cabiria”, a prostitute in Rome. She feisty, a bit nuts and brimming with spirit. This could be very depressing but ultimately her spirit is unbreakable which is why this is so heartbreaking but also oddly sweet and very oddly uplifting at the very end. Or so I thought.

Night of the Demon (1957)

From the sublime to the ridiculous. This is a lot of fun. And so well done. Dana Andrews plays John Holden who is determined to find out what exactly happened to his friend, the late Professor Henry Harrington.

This was made in the 1950s and so the effects are what you would expect from the 1950s. But that kind of adds to the fun.

You know that bit in the Hounds of Love song – “It’s in the trees! It’s coming!!!” That is from this movie.

I had said that this could be remade to be made more scary – and it could – but watching again recently I have to say it’s a great watch as is.

From the 1960s

Becket (1964)

This is the story of Henry II of England, played by Peter O’Toole, and Thomas Becket, played by Richard Burton, who would go on to become the Archbishop of Canterbury. They were best friends, reveling in the pleasures their world had to offer people of their rank. The king truly loved Becket who shared his love of life but was also a wise and trustworthy advisor. Unfortunately for Henry, Thomas seems more focused on higher pursuits.

Liberties have been taken with the historical facts but watching just as the games powerful men play for love, ego and their place in history it’s a great movie.

Gambit (1966)

You know what? The trailers for most movies should just be the first 3 – 5 minutes of the movie. Don’t screenwriters write them in a way that you should be hooked within 3 – 5 pages? So … why don’t trailers just show this amount?

Anyway this trailer isn’t bad. But I would love to just have shown you the beginning of the movie.

Michael Caine plays Harry. Harry has the perfect plan. And he has found the perfect woman (Shirley MacLaine) to help him pull it off. Only…

This is great. It’s so fun and charming. You should enjoy this one.

In the Heat of the Night (1967)

Aside from the social commentary, this is also a great whodunnit and what-exactly-happened murder mystery. It stars Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger.

The clip above is not from the very beginning of the movie. Still it doesn’t spoil anything really.

This is really good. Give it a watch.

From the 1970s

Two Mules for Sister Sarah (1970)

Clint Eastwood plays a mercenary in Mexico during one of France’s military expeditions there. He rescues a nun, played by Shirley MacLaine, from three cowboys and then has to let her accompany him on her way to safety. It’s difficult for the rough and uncouth mercenary to get along with the pious and devout nun. But they eventually reach an understanding and become friends.

However the nun, Sister Sara, is not quite what she seems.

A New Leaf (1971)

I absolutely love this. Only saw it for the first time last year. I actually decided to do up a movie list because of this film. Films that are slightly odd but full of charm and very enjoyable. This film is great.

Henry, played by Walter Matthau, is broke. He is not used to being broke. He was born into money. The whole poverty idea doesn’t appeal to him. Quite understandable really. His butler helpfully suggests that he marry for money. The whole marriage idea doesn’t appeal to him either. But he has no alternative. He’ll have to find some rich woman to marry. And then he can bump her off and resume his old life in comfort.

It’s a plan.

But where can he find the perfect woman for this plan?

Enter Henrietta, played by the writer-director of movie, Elaine May. She is rich. She is a botanist. And she is … a walking disaster. Very relatable. The walking disaster bit.

Badlands (1973)

I haven’t seen this in years. I’ll probably rewatch it after finishing this list. I’m not sure how much I’m going to enjoy it after all the true-crime stuff I’ve watched in the intervening years. This film is not true-crime. It is supposed to be loosely based on the on the real-life murder spree of Charles Starkweather and his girlfriend, Caril Ann Fugate. But the film doesn’t actually acknowledge this and I think it’s best to view it as its own work.

It’s brilliantly filmed, very atmospheric. It’s got an almost dream-like quality to it. So it’s kind of shocking to pair that with a brutal crime spree. It’s strange but it is a very – I feel bad saying this about a serial killer movie – but it’s a very enjoyable film to watch. At least that’s how I remember it. I’ll have to give it another go. The performances and cinematography though are all great.

Stars Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek.

From the 1980s

My Favourite Year (1982)

I watched this, for the first time in years, yesterday. It’s so lovely. Funny and full of heart.

Peter O’Toole plays Alan Swann, a star from the Golden Age of Hollywood. Whose parts have dried up as he has himself nearly permanently pickled. He is due to perform on a live TV skit show.

And the show has a few troubles of its own…

Definitely worth a watch.

And the childlike expression on Peter O’Toole’s face at the end when he’s waving his sword – it’s perfect.

Terms of Endearment (1983)

Do you need a good cry? This film will make you cry.

I’ll cry at almost anything. I now actively avoid things that’ll make me cry. So I haven’t seen this in years. It’s very sweet though – and not cloyingly so – but you will end up bawling crying at this.

There are so many stars in this I don’t know where to begin – just check the imdb page is easiest.

Shirley Valentine (1983)

I also haven’t seen this in ages. But I remember it as very funny and very sweet. Shirley Valentine, played by Pauline Collins, is a bored, lonely and unappreciated housewife, who talks to the walls. One days she decides to head off on a holiday to Greece by herself.

I love how the husband, played by Bernard Hill, ends up talking to walls too.

From the 1990s

The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)

OK, I take it back. When the trailer is well done, as it is in this case, it is better than just showing the first 3 – 5 minutes of the film. Still though … why do so many of them spoil the actual movie? I cannot understand who allows that or why. Actually there are sort of a couple of spoilers in this one – but it’s fine.

What do you get if the ultra cynical Coen Brothers direct a Frank Capra style film? You get this little gem. Frank Capra I think was quite cynical himself so it makes sense really.

I’ve only watched a few of their films. I’m not really into their usual fare but I love this film. Gosh-darnit it’s just sweet and funny is all. With just a little bite to it.

This stars Tim Robbins, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Paul Newman.

Breakdown (1997)

I watched this recently on Netflix. It’s great. It’s a simple story but packed full of tension and suspense. A couple, played by Kurt Russell and Kathleen Quinlan, are moving across country. Their vehicle breaks down and the wife goes off with a passing truck driver played by J. T. Walsh. She never comes back. A little later the husband manages to get the vehicle running again. He goes in search of his wife. She’s nowhere to be found.

It’s great. A real thriller.

Fallen (1998)

I haven’t seen this for a while either. Denzel Washington plays a cop who brought a murderer to justice and watches the criminal execution. Or does he just watch the body die that a wicked spirit was inhabiting? It’s an interesting concept and played well.

The one thing I wish they had done here was played more with having people thinking this cop was losing his mind.

But if you’re in the mood for a supernatural thriller give this one a go.

From the 2000s

Half Nelson (2006)

Ryan Gosling plays an inner-city junior high school teacher who does his best. His best is a little handicapped by his crack habit. He forms a friendship with one of his students, played by Shareeka Epps, who happens to discover his habit.

Basically good people, but in environments that aren’t anywhere near as supportive as they need to be to help people out of the stranglehold life has them in. The problems are bigger than the individuals. How supportive can you be if you’re just barely holding on yourself?

Not really the point of the film. But at some point you’ve got to see that the root cause of some problems are the way society itself is structured.

I think this is an excellent film.

Syoo-peo-maen-i-sseo-deon sa-na-i – A Man Who Was Superman (2008)

I saw this … probably about 6 or 7 years ago. It’s really sweet – and it’s another real tearjerker.

Song Soo-jung (Jeon Ji-hyun) works for small TV production company. Her specialty is human interest stories. She produces fluff-filler stories but her ambition is to one day be South Korea’s version of Oprah Winfrey. But after three years of this work she’s losing patience. One day, after months of not getting paid, she leaves her office with the company camera to film yet another piece of nonsense.

On her way there a mugger approaches her but she is saved somehow by Superman in a Hawaiian shirt. “Superman” claims he’s unable to tap into his supernatural powers as the bad guys have placed kryptonite inside his head. However, he doesn’t let that get in his way from helping others, from saving the world from global warming to saving a lost puppy. Soo-jung can see this will make a good story and, with a little tweaking and a little fabricating, she produces the Superman Saves the World documentary which goes on to be a ratings hit.

But the real story of how this man became this way is far more interesting and ultimately ends up saving Soo-jung. Sort-of? … I don’t know. I can’t properly remember the film. And I had to edit the synopsis I found. So … I really enjoyed this when I saw it. Maybe someone will upload an English subtitled version somewhere? Ah go on. What would Superman do? Hmm?

Un prophète – A Prophet (2009)

This is great. A fantastic crime thriller. Malik El Djebena, played by Malik El Djebena, plays a young criminal, doing his first stint in adult prison. It could crush him. He’s hoping to lay low and survive it. Instead he is taken under the wing of a powerful leader of a Corsican criminal gang, César Luciani, played by Niels Arestrup.

This is great. Take a watch.

From the 2010s

Dans la maison – In the House (2012)

A teacher, played by Fabrice Luchini, notices that a sullen and shy schoolboy has a gift for writing. The schoolboy, played by Ernst Umhauer, writes stories about the lives his friend’s family. They are portraits with a little distance to them, to begin with, but the lens pulls in ever tighter and the schoolboy insinuates himself into the most private moments of this family.

Are the stories real?

Do you really care? Or do you just want to hear the next fascinating twist and turn of the story?

This is really good. Everyone in it plays their part really well.

And watching the teacher lose sight of all that actually matters in his life to follow some ridiculous soap opera told to him by a child… it’s devastating and great.

For me privacy, the need people have for privacy, is like the need most plants have for shade; it’s essential. To find intruders traipsing around your life like an intruder in your home is an extremely unpleasant experience. Off they go carelessly knocking about details and dropping their bits and pieces into your private space. And depending on who does it or how it is done you may be powerless to stop it.

I also find the way people can spend so much time talking and wondering about other people who they really have no connection to or any genuine interest in is fascinating.

This film explored these themes really well.

Or so I thought. I have since seen a later film by this director which made me question if I had interpreted In the House how it was intended.

Anyway regardless of the intentions behind it – Dans la maison is very good.

No (2012)

In 1988, the then military dictator of Chile, Augusto Pinochet, called for a referendum to decide his permanence in power. Gael García Bernal plays an advertising executive working on the campaign for the No vote.

I think people who are very familiar with the history of Pinochet’s military coup, his time in power and its conclusion, are not as impressed by this film as someone like me. So for someone who doesn’t know the history that well this is a good introduction to pique your interest.

This is kind of a pop culture point of view of an important time in history – because it’s from the point of view of advertising executives, maybe? I liked it. It’s different. Take a look.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)

Melissa McCarthy plays Lee Israel a biographer whose work isn’t getting the attention it used to. She discovers the profitable market for the personal writings (letters or notes) of dead writers and celebrities. Being adept at aping the writing styles of others and knowing how to fashion an enticing turn of phrase, she turns her hand to forgery. She is aided and abetted in this criminal enterprise by her loyal friend Jack played by Richard E. Grant.

This is an adaptation of Lee Israel’s memoir “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”.

To begin with she’s a pretty hard character to like. But your heart will be melted – at least a little – by the end.

This is odd and charming. Perfect fit for this odd movie list.