Ranking the films of Stanley Kubrick

Stanley Kubrick, the enigmatic filmmaker from the Bronx, is my favorite director of all time.

There are other directors I like, including Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Billy Wilder, Ridley Scott, Elia Kazan, Christopher Nolan, Francis Ford Coppola and others.

But what makes Kubrick stand out are three things:

His versatility.
Every movie of his is unique and he worked in so many genres. Sci-Fi. War movies. Horror. Period-piece drama. Political satire. Sexual thriller. (He even almost directed a Western once. Marlon Brando contacted Kubrick, asking him to direct an adaptation of a western novel. Brando ended up directing it himself, becoming “One-Eyed Jacks.”) The only other director with as much variety on their resume is Spielberg, but he’s had a few misses.

His lack of flops.
He directed 13 feature films between 1953 and 1999 and the lowest ranking on Rotten Tomatoes is 75 percent for “Eyes Wide Shut.” Four of those 13 movies made the American Film Institute’s top 100 movies of all time.
In my opinion, he never made a single bad movie. I might like some better than others, but each one contains a nugget of genius. This isn’t true for every great director. Coppola directed “Jack,” a comedy in which Robin Williams plays a kid who ages fast, an embarrassing flop. Spielberg has critical flops like “1941” and “The Terminal” and others like “Hook,” “War of the Worlds” and “Ready Player One” aren’t universally loved.

His perfectionism.
Whether it was the lighting for his shots or a prop in the background, Kubrick paid attention to every detail in his movies. His movies were not quick to shoot as a result. “Eyes Wide Shut” took 14 months to film and he’s famous for doing hundreds of takes of the same scene over and over again to get it just right. While none of his movies are completely perfect, they all seem to have a strong passion behind them. Nothing is mailed in ever. He’s not a “director for hire” who dispassionately makes movies to get a paycheck. Kubrick liked to tell his family, “You either care about something or you don’t.” To him, caring isn’t a halfway thing. It’s 100 percent.

So I’ve watched every feature-length film directed by Kubrick and I’ve arranged the list according to my personal preference. I didn’t include “A.I.: Artificial Intelligence” since he did not direct that movie.

13 — Fear and Desire

Kubrick was only 25 years when he let his father mortgage his home in order to finance his 62-minute feature debut which cost about $50,000 to make. The entire film crew only consisted of 15 people. The movie itself, an anti-war film about a fictional war, isn’t amazing on its own but there are elements of Kubrick’s style that you could see even in his first movie. The use of close-ups and lighting. Kubrick was a professional photographer for Look Magazine and you can see his ability to put great images up on a screen. The acting and story could use some work, but you could see the potential.

12 — Killer’s Kiss

In Kubrick’s second film, he focuses on a boxer who gets tangled with a crime boss who has his claws around a ballerina he’s in love with. Scorsese said he was influenced by “Killer’s Kiss” when shooting “Raging Bull.” The shadows and lighting are exceptional. This one is also short, only 67 minutes long. Kubrick had to borrow $40,000 from his uncle to make this movie and it didn’t recoup its budget but it impressed some film producers who helped him make his next movie, “The Killing.”

11 — The Killing

His third feature, this is Kubrick’s first great film. A film noir heist film, this is the first Kubrick movie with a strong plot and acting. Quentin Tarantino said he was inspired by this movie when he made “Reservoir Dogs.” Sterling Hayden, who would work with Kubrick again on “Dr. Strangelove,” stars as a con man who enlists a corrupt cop and a cashier to help him rob a race track. It unfurls similar to “The Sting” or “Ocean’s Eleven” with everything conceivably going off as well as planned, but jealousies and mistrust start to put a knot into the proceedings. Finally, an ironic twist visualized by cash floating away in the wind shows how life doesn’t turn out how you plan. At the end, Hayden’s character has the last line of the movie: “What does it matter?” In this film, we really start to see Kubrick’s cynical view of humankind. The standout in my mind was the dynamic between the teller and his wife. He tells her about the heist in hopes that getting the money will help his wife finally love him. She belittles him constantly but when she hears about the money, she’s quiet. Instead she runs to her lover-on-the-side and hatches a plan to rob her husband and his cohorts after the job is done. This is also the beginning of Kubrick’s biggest criticism as a director: he never creates strong likable female characters. Indeed, his movies are mostly focused on men and the few lead women, such as Shelly Duvall’s Mrs. Torrance in “The Shining,” aren’t particularly likable. Probably his best female representation on the big screen was Nicole Kidman’s character in “Eyes Wide Shut.”

10 — Eyes Wide Shut

This movie is unfairly maligned. Critics said they were disappointed, having waited more than a decade for a new Kubrick movie to end up with this confusing, ambiguous, dream-like story. This is the third Kubrick movie to be create controversy and be censored, following “Lolita” and “A Clockwork Orange.” In the case of “Eyes Wide Shut,” the controversy might have overshadowed the final product. Kubrick worked on filming for 14 months and died a week after a private screening of the finished film. He was satisfied with his work and passed away quietly.
The whole idea of this movie is about the strength of marriages. Infidelity and doubt chipping away at the foundations. So it makes sense that a married couple in real life took the lead roles in Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. The problem is that Kidman is a much better actor than Cruise. He’s fine. It’s actually one of his better performances, but you never see anything deeper in his face. Maybe that’s because his character is meant to be guarded, detached and emotionless, similar to Ryan O’Neal’s character in “Barry Lyndon,” but this strong facade put up by Cruise’s character leads us to a familiar criticism of this actor: He’s always just playing Tom Cruise in his movies.
Cruise’s acting is one flaw in “Eyes Wide Shut” and the other problem is that narratively the movie loses steam after the infamous night at the mansion. The film climaxes too soon and the viewer wishes there was more exploration of that world. We want answers or at the very least we want to see Cruise’s character return to the mansion. I understand why he doesn’t. It adds to the feeling that it’s all just a dream and the mystery is key. But it’s not very satisfying for the viewer.
Despite any missteps, there are some strong scenes in this movie. The costumes are award-worthy and as usual Kubrick incorporates music masterfully. There’s music by Hungarian composer György Ligeti incorporated into the famous mask-orgy scene that beautifully creates the tension. Interesting enough, people seem to think that Ligeti wrote music for Kubrick but his pieces were always created independent of Kubrick and later used in his movies, such as this one and “2001: A Space Odyssey.” In addition, Shostakovich’s Waltz No. 2 creates that playful vibe at the beginning of the movie which is later contrasted with the dark scenes full of danger and mystery.
This is the only Kubrick movie that seems reminiscent of another director. Certainly you can see shades of David Lynch (“Blue Velvet,” “Mulholland Drive,” “Twin Peaks”) in the dream-like sexual fantasy. Kubrick was actually a fan of Lynch and showed “Eraserhead” to his crew while filming “The Shining.” But I doubt Kubrick is copying Lynch.

9 — Barry Lyndon

This 1975 period-piece drama earned more Oscars than any other Kubrick work and earned nominations for Best Picture and Best Director. Commercially, the film was a flop. Audiences found it to be overly long, dull and emotionless. Some critics compared it to a beautiful book of artwork. It’s big and gorgeous and you love to have it sit on your coffee table, but you don’t actually read it.
Kubrick had long wanted to make a movie about French emperor Napoleon but unfortunately another Napoleon movie called “Waterloo” came out and as a result the financing for his picture dried up. Kubrick had done quite a bit of research on the wars between France and England and wanted to incorporate that into some film, which is why this became a nice fit for him.
Ryan O’Neal was a star at the time, coming off of “Love Story” and “Paper Moon.” He was loved by critics and audiences in the 1970s, but his emotionless performance leaves much to be desired. I understand that’s the way the character was meant to be — a detached social climber — but you don’t feel you get to know him in the three-hour slog. The movie itself has seen its reputation increase over the years and some consider it to be a classic or among his best works. While I might not love this movie, I respect it. The cinematography might be among the best in movie history. Seriously, it’s that good. It looks like a living painting and many of the scenes were modeled after famous pieces of artwork. This is because of Kubrick’s innovation in using special NASA cameras and altering them in order to be able to shoot scenes with natural lighting, including scenes with just candlelight. That wasn’t possible before this movie. The beautiful natural-light cinematography in “The Revenant” owes considerable credit to “Barry Lyndon.” While it’s in the bottom half of Kubrick’s work in my personal opinion, parts of it are a masterpiece. It’s not a failure by any means. After the tepid commercial response, Kubrick decided to film a sure-fire hit for his next movie and adapted Stephen King’s popular novel “The Shining” to a huge box office.

8 — Spartacus

This was the movie that made Kubrick a household name among everyday people. Kirk Douglas wanted to produce a big gladiator movie. Douglas himself was a Christian and wanted to parallel the persecution of slaves with the stories of the Old Testament, but screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (made famous to today’s audiences by Bryan Cranston’s Oscar-nominated portrayal of him) decided to instead make parallels to McCarthyism. Douglas was the star but he was also the producer, so he was the big boss. After a week of filming, he was unhappy with the director so he fired him and brought aboard Kubrick who had just worked with Douglas on “Paths of Glory.” Kubrick was only 30 years old and never made a movie with the budget of “Spartacus” so it was a big challenge. It cost $12 million to make, which is like $100 million for a movie today.
“Ben-Hur” came out the year before “Spartacus” which stole some of its thunder, but it’s a great movie. Kubrick creates a beautiful-looking war epic with action scenes that still hold up 60 years later. The dialogue is clever and there are great performances from some of the greatest actors of all time: Sir Lawrence Olivier, Charles Laughton, Tony Curtis and Peter Ustinov. Ustinov steals every scene he’s in and he ended up winning a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Kubrick had a tough task in making this movie. He jumped in after production had started and he did not have creative control. He had to navigate competing big personalities/egos in Douglas/Trumbo/Olivier/Laughton. Many of the actors did not like one another and Trumbo and Douglas argued on the script. Despite all of that, he made a movie that holds up to this day and includes one of the most iconic scenes in all of movies when each slave stands up and says, “I am Spartacus!” (a scene that has been parodied or homaged many times).
One interesting thing I picked up on that I’m sure many missed was the hidden sexuality in “Spartacus.” There’s a scene in which Olivier’s character is in a hot tub with a male slave who is bathing him and Olivier talks about how he likes “both oysters and snails” in an obvious metaphor for bisexuality. It makes sense in context of ancient Rome, but I wonder if 1960 audiences picked up on that.
“Spartacus” gave Kubrick the clout to make the movies he wanted to make. In the future, he focused on more nuanced characters rather than flawless ones like the hero of “Spartacus.” His movies in the future tended to be more cynical and he had absolute creative control.

7 — Lolita

Immediately after “Spartacus,” Kubrick decided to adapt the controversial novel by Vladimir Nabokov, which deals with a man sexually obsessed with a 14-year-old girl. A movie that amounts to essentially depicting pedophilia? That would be controversial in 2020, let alone 1962 when it was made. Kubrick faced a lot of censorship so he had to cut most of the overt romantic references. For example, he has a scene in which James Mason’s character is making love to his landlord but looks over at the picture on the nightstand of her 14-year-old daughter Lolita. Religious groups demanded that the number of glances had to be limited. Kubrick himself said he would never have made this movie if he knew how much censorship he would have faced. But the controversy made the movie a huge commercial hit and established Kubrick as a director who liked to push the envelope. Mason gives a deliciously creepy performance and Shelley Winters excels as the jealous man-crazy mother of Lolita who ends up marrying Mason’s character. The real standout is Peter Sellers, who ad-libs many of his lines and plays multiple characters, which obviously inspired Kubrick to cast him in his very next feature: “Dr. Strangelove.” It also was the first time that Kubrick was teamed with an excellent actor who knew how to improvise, something that he tried to replicate in each of his movies. He found those brilliant improvisational actors again with Jack Nicholson in “The Shining” and R. Lee Ermey in “Full Metal Jacket.” “Lolita” starts to drag in its second half and the ending is ruined by the “in medias res” beginning but there’s amazing acting and a clever screenplay that pushed the limits. It’s David Lynch’s favorite Kubrick movie and although you might feel dirty after watching “Lolita” and need a shower, it’s a powerful work that sticks with you.

6 — Full Metal Jacket

Kubrick decided he wanted to make a war movie. His friends told him he already made war movies in “Paths of Glory” and “Dr. Strangelove.” He replied those were anti-war movies and he wanted to show the beautiful chaos of war without any political commentary. He worked on adapting a novel for years but when “Full Metal Jacket” finally came out in 1987, other Vietnam War Movies had already come out: “Platoon,” “The Deer Hunter” and “Apocalypse Now.” The first two won Best Picture at the Oscars and the third should have beaten “Kramer vs. Kramer.” The year before “Full Metal Jacket” came out is when “Platoon” was released so it’s possible that audiences had Vietnam War war movie fatigue. Despite all of that “Full Metal Jacket” is brilliant and surpasses, in my mind, all of those movies except “Apocalypse Now.” It’s bleak and cynical and beautifully shot and realistic. Everything you want in a Kubrick movie.
The biggest problem with “Full Metal Jacket” is it feels like two movies. The first half is a masterpiece. You see Vincent D’Onofrio take abuse from a drill sergeant played by R. Lee Ermey (he should have won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role, in which he wrote most of his own lines). The ending of the first half is poignant and shocking and so it’s a letdown when the movie transitions into a typical exploration of war featuring a military journalist played by Matthew Modine, a mediocre actor with no charisma. The second half is very episodic and there are scenes that are brilliant but a lot of it feels like DVD extras with deleted scenes inserted between great ones. The ending is brilliant and you’ll have The Mickey Mouse Club theme song stuck in your head. And you’ll marvel at the wartime scenes shot at “magic hour” with the lighting just perfect and flames flickering in the background. Something so horrible (war) never looked so beautiful.
Years later, Kubrick wanted to make a Holocaust movie — not a true war movie — called “The Aryan Papers” but when he saw “Schindler’s List” he scrapped those plans. Again, Kubrick worked too slowly.
“Full Metal Jacket” is a work of genius but it’s not without its flaws which keeps it out of the top 5 best Kubrick movies ever.

5 — Paths of Glory

It might be somewhat controversial that I’m putting Kubrick’s fourth feature — made in his twenties — as one of his best movies, but it’s so very underrated. Many people haven’t seen this black and white World War I movie about a French solider who defies his general when sent on a mindless suicide mission that was ordered only to satisfy the general’s ego. His troops stay in their trenches and the general decides to have a court-martial and sentence a few representatives of all of the troops to death. Kirk Douglass plays a colonel who defends the men in the kangaroo court trial and it’s truly a smart commentary on the absurdity of war and the insecure world leaders who decide if people live or die. There’s humor that we’ll see again in “Dr. Strangelove”, witty dialogue and great use of shadows in the cinematography. It’s hard to watch the scenes of soldiers walking through the trenches and not think it looks just like “1917” (another WWI movie that obviously is inspired by this film).
The ending is haunting in its beauty and Kubrick himself ended up marrying the actress who played the German singer at the end. They remained married until his death.
Interesting side note: The French weren’t happy with this portrayal of cowardice and the movie was not available in French until 1975, 18 years after its release.
“Paths of Glory” might have been overshadowed by the bigger budget (and better made) war film “The Bridge on the River Kwai” that came out the same year. “Paths of Glory” might not reach that height but it’s a smart anti-war film that really impresses considering its small budget and young director.

4 — A Clockwork Orange

Something extraordinary happened when Kubrick adapted Anthony Burgess’s 1962 novel (which many thought would be unadaptable due to the made-up slang), the extreme violence in this film was shocking. And when similar attacks took place in England, Kubrick asked that the movie be pulled from theaters. It was a huge box office hit and so the studio lost a lot of money. No other director would have enough influence to get their movie pulled in the middle of a theatrical run. And the fact that he did it shows that he does feel responsibility for his work’s influence on others.
“A Clockwork Orange” is a shocking film. It’s depiction of “ultra-violence” and breaking into homes of innocent people definitely makes audiences uncomfortable. It’s contrasted with music by Beethoven, a favorite of the protagonist Alex (played by Malcolm McDowell) who called it, “the Ludwig Van.” It’s full of Kubrick-esque imagery. Close ups. Intricate costumes. Unique backgrounds, colors and props. It’s very stylistic.
It’s influenced several modern horror films like Michael Haneke’s “Funny Games” or “The Purge” series.
The second half of the movie is the most interesting to me. I am fascinated by Kubrick’s commentary on reforming criminals and the psychology of morals. The scene where Alex is brainwashed with his eyes forced open has been parodied many times and there’s some dark humor in “A Clockwork Orange” as well. Kubrick eventually makes you care and root for this despicable protagonist by the end of the movie.
Kubrick’s first two movies used narration in a somewhat lazy fashion (although that was common in film noir movies of that day). In “A Clockwork Orange” the narration is effective in letting you inside the brain of this sociopath.
Kubrick uses a wide-angle lense to distort images in a way that makes the whole thing feel like it’s happening inside the brain of Alex.
Some said this movie was dangerous but that’s because it’s so intriguing and effective.
The movie received an X rating upon release and it still pushes the envelope nearly 50 years later.

3 — Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Kubrick’s first masterpiece doesn’t neatly fit into a genre. It’s a dark comedy and a political satire, but it’s not the most hilarious movie ever made. It’s not sentimental or dramatic. It’s just smart and biting. And it shows the ridiculousness of war contrasted with a pie fight of all scenes.
Peter Sellers gives one of the best performances in movie history, playing three very different roles. George C. Scott also shines.
So many political satires owe their pedigree to “Dr. Strangelove,” even the comical way in which the situation room was designed. I can’t watch the TV show “Veep” without thinking of this movie.
It’s beautifully shot in black and white with sharp contrast and shadows. The scene of Slim Pickens riding the bomb is one of the most iconic in movie history.
It’s full of amazing memorable quotes like: “Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room!”
The amazing (and scary thing) about this movie is how close to reality it actually is. It’s a farce, but military journalists say that it actually was a chaotic mess back then.

2 — The Shining

I haven’t been shy about declaring that “The Shining” is one of my favorite movies of all time. Kubrick creates one of the most iconic settings in movie history in the Overlook Hotel. It’s a large, empty, expansive building but it also feels small and claustrophobic and filled with doom and terror. A lot of times it’s a cliche to say the setting is a character in and of itself but in this case it’s really true. Every detail stands out. I can see that carpet print in my head when I close my eyes. And Kubrick truly explores the space with a revolutionary use of the new SteadiCam technology, which had only been used on three other films prior to “The Shining.” He uses it to glide seamlessly between spaces with a ghost-like effect, most notable with Danny Torrance rides his tricycle through the halls.
Production was difficult on “The Shining” as it is with most Kubrick films. There were hundreds of takes and Kubrick was so cruel to Shelley Duvall (who legitimately is a bad actress) that her hair started to fall out. Kubrick was creeping into David O. Russell territory with his mistreatment of her, but I like to think it was actually similar to Alfred Hitchcock’s process on “The Birds.” He terrorized the actress to get the frightened performance out of her.
Jack Nicholson was easier to work with and he ended up throwing away his scripts because they would change all of the time. He ended up ad-libbing, which Kubrick loved and the famous line, “Here’s Johnny!” wasn’t in the script.
Kubrick’s interest all started when he was immersed in Stephen King’s 1977 novel and decided to adapt it. Kubrick liked to base his movies on books so he had a source material to work from and then he liked to “improve upon it.” Generally the books he picked weren’t bestsellers. But “The Shining” was different. It had a following. And as a result some people — including King himself — weren’t happy with the major changes he made from the book. King even decided to make the movie himself many years later as a made-for-TV miniseries starring Steven Weber (a step down from Jack Nicholson).
King felt that Kubrick missed the point of the book. And maybe he did. King’s book is about how alcoholism can destroy a family and in the book the ghosts in the Overlook Hotel are literally real. Kubrick’s movie is about the evil that lurks inside all men and how that can be awakened (whether by alcoholism or cabin fever). The ghosts in his movie are open to interpretation. Are they real or are they part of Jack Torrance’s madness? One interesting thing to note is every time Jack sees a ghost there’s a mirror or reflective surface nearby, which shows he’s looking into his own soul.
King thought that Nicholson was wrong for the part since he just played a mad man in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” King believed they should cast an ordinary nice guy so the descent into madness and the transformation is more pronounced.
I love the book and I love the movie, but they’re different animals. The movie is great because it’s so ambiguous, although that lack of clarity confounded and angered critics immediately after its release. It was even nominated for two Razzies. Kubrick and actress Shelley Duvall both received nominations. No Oscar nominations came.
Despite being released the same weekend as “The Empire Strikes Back,” the movie went out to make a lot of money for the studio. Although Kubrick liked to have film production stretch on for more than a year with so many takes, he had a skeleton crew and so daily costs were lower.
Forty years later, film buffs are still analyzing what “The Shining” is all about. Some have crazy theories that it’s about how Kubrick faked the moon landing. (I kid you not. Someone made a whole documentary about it.) Some think it’s about the massacre of the Native Americans. Some think it’s about World War II. Again, I think it’s more about the evil inside all people and what it takes to awaken that. Is it supernatural forces or psychological? It’s up to the viewer to decide.
Besides perhaps “2001: A Space Odyssey,” it’s the Kubrick film that can be analyzed most. There are so many clues to pick up on. What does the photograph at the end of the movie mean? Some have theorized that it means that Jack Torrance has been absorbed by the hotel, but Kubrick himself said it means some version of him has been reincarnated, which harkens back to Jack’s conversation with Grady about how he’s “always been the caretaker.”
Every time I watch this movie I pick up on something new that I had not noticed before. That’s the mark of a great movie.

1 — 2001: A Space Odyssey

How much would we appreciate La Gioconda today if Leonardo had written at the bottom of the canvas: “This lady is smiling slightly because she has rotten teeth” — or “because she’s hiding a secret from her lover”? It would shut off the viewer’s appreciation and shackle him to a reality other than his own. I don’t want that to happen to 2001.
— Stanley Kubrick, Playboy interview 1968

This is in my top 10 films ever made. It connects with you visually and musically and I believe it makes you feel a truth rather than know one.
The ambiguity of the movie is what divides people. It’s vague and nonverbal. There are long stretches without any dialogue or narration. It doesn’t explain itself. But I think when you are tackling a subject like the vastness of outer space, the existence of aliens and man’s connection to God and the Universe, ambiguity and mystery are not only understandable but required. This movie would not have worked if it explained itself.
In essence, I believe the film is about evolution both physically and spiritually. In the novel that accompanied the movie (which differs from the screenplay, so I wouldn’t say it’s a complete skeleton key to deciphering the movie’s code), it’s explained that the monolith is an alien tool that helps lesser beings evolve onto a higher plane. That’s why it’s seen at the dawn of man and that’s why it’s seen at the end before the Star Child emerges and brings the viewer to a new form of Heaven.
Hal 9000, the artificial intelligence captain, is a perfect example of the next form of evolution beyond human life, into a robotic form. The Star Gate sequence, in which the character travels into a colorful dimension (they used slit-scan photography to achieve this effect) visualizes for the viewer what it would feel like to move on into a higher plane of existence.
The movie itself was a technical breakthrough and Kubrick earned his only Oscar win ever for this film for its special effects. Similar to Hitchcock, Kubrick didn’t earn the Academy Awards he deserved (Hitchcock was nominated for Best Director five times, but never won. The Academy did give him the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award, but that’s technically not an Oscar).
“2001: A Space Odyssey” made a ton of money at the box office ($60 million then, or $400 million if you adjust for inflation). Without its box office success, who knows if “Star Wars” would have been made. It certainly did change movies.
The special effects in “2001: A Space Odyssey” actually do hold up today. The rotating centrifuge used to film zero-gravity is ingenious and the models used to film outer space look fantastic on film.
I can watch this movie again and again and interpret it different ways. And it’s fitting that the final line of the movie is: “Its origin and purpose still a total mystery.”
That kind of sums of many of Kubrick’s movies … in a good way.

Best Picture Catchup: The Best Years of Our Lives, An American in Paris, Around the World in 80 Days

Recently I decided to try to catch up and see all of the Best Picture winners at the Academy Awards that I had never seen before.

I decided at first to narrow the mission to just winners since 1950 since some of the older movies are harder to find, even with streaming services. Although, as I near the end of that goal, I’ve decided I might try to watch all of the them if possible. I’ll still try to knock out the post-1950s ones first since I only have a few left but I’ve already started on a few earlier pictures.

I had a strong start to my mission, having seen 44 out of the 70 Best Picture winners going back to 1950 and I had not missed a winner going back until 1997.

I recently watched six Best Picture winners from the ceremonies of 1967, 1964, 1958, 1957, 1952 and 1947.

I only have 7 left to watch post-1950 (“The English Patient,” “Ben-Hur,” “Gigi, “My Fair Lady,” “All The Kings Men,” “The Greatest Show on Eart” and “All About Eve” and 15 to watch going back to 1929 (basically everything except the ones I’ve seen: “Casablanca,” “The Lost Weekend,” “Gone With the Wind,” “The Best Years of Our Lives,” “You Can’t Take it With You” and “It Happened One Night.”).

Without further ado, here’s three more entries to cross off my list.

THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (1946)

I was interested in watching this movie after I saw its inclusion in the American Film Institute’s top 100 movies of all time and honestly I had never even heard of this movie.
It’s directed by Wiliam Wyler, who might be the most underrated director in movie history. Recently, many of my Facebook friends were posting about their favorite directors ever and Wyler did not make anyone’s list.
But here are the numbers.
He has been nominated for Best Director at the Oscars a record 12 times, winning three times. Only Frank Capra has three Best Director wins and John Ford has four wins.
He’s the only person to have directed three Best Picture winners. He directed “Ben-Hur,” “The Best Years of Our Lives,” and “Mrs. Miniver.” He directed 13 movies that were nominated for Best Picture, another record.
And — and this record is interesting — he directed more actors/actresses to Oscar-nominated and Oscar winning performances than anyone else. His casts earned 36 acting nominations and 14 wins, both are records.
In “The Best Years of Our Lives,” he tackles a subject that was taboo in 1946, shortly after World War II ended (the Japanese formally surrendered on September 2, 1945): what happens to the military when they come home? Sure, the soldiers get parades but the emotional baggage that they take home wasn’t really explored back then.
In this movie, he explores the stories of three very different veterans who return from WWII.
One man married his girlfriend (that he wasn’t dating for very long) right before he went off to war, a practice that was quite common in order to ensure the women would get war widow benefits if he died. When he returns home, he barely knows his wife and the quick marriage isn’t as strong as he’d expect and he finds himself attracted to another woman. His wife loves the idea of bragging to her friends about her war hero husband but she’s frustrated that he can’t find a high-paying job when he returns home. He’s now working at the same grocery store from before he left, only now he’s an underling to his former assistant.
Another older veteran returns to the bank where he once worked, only now he’s asked to deny loans to veterans who ask for money. The bank wants to use his military background as a sensitive way to politely turn down the loan requests and he doesn’t feel comfortable doing that. On top of things, his children are now all grown up and he’s having trouble sleeping due to PTSD from the war.
And finally, another solider comes home disabled. He’s lost both hands and now has hooks in place. He’s played by Harold Russell, who became one of only two non-professional actors to win an Academy Award for acting. He was an actual veteran who came home from the war and Wyler decided to cast him in the movie. After his Oscar win (he actually won an Honorary Oscar for bravery that same night) he had trouble getting other acting roles and ended up selling his statuette at an auction. His character feels depressed about his hooks and is reluctant to marry his longtime sweetheart, even though she doesn’t care about his disability. There are some beautifully poignant scenes involving his characters. There’s one scene where children are peaking at him through a window and he shouts, “Did you come here to see the freak?!” He tries to open the door to yell at them and show them his hooks but he can’t twist the door knob so he smashes both hooks through the window, saying, “Here! Now you can see them!” There’s also a sad scene where he explains to his fiancee the process he has to go through in order to get dressed or undressed every day.
I was pretty blown away by this movie. Every character is nuanced and realistic and the film beautifully illustrates how some casualties of war actually come home. I highly recommend this one.
It did beat one other amazing movie to win Best Picture: “It’s a Wonderful Life.” I’d probably rank “It’s a Wonderful Life” higher on my list of best movies of all time, but “The Best Years of Our Lives” is still a worthy choice for Best Picture that year.

AN AMERICAN IN PARIS (1951)

Vincente Minnelli, father to Liza Minnelli and one-time husband to Judy Garland, had the distinction of directing two Best Picture winner: “Gigi” and “An American in Paris.” The latter is probably one of the most famous musical movies of all time is often lumped in with “Singin’ In the Rain” another musical movie starring Gene Kelly that won Best Picture.
I had never seen this movie before but I’ve had it on my list for a while. Despite never seeing this one, I have a personal connection to this movie. My wife and I had our wedding reception inside The Palladium in Carmel and the room in which we ate and danced there’s a giant poster on the wall for this movie. Michael Feinstein, famed singer and artistic director for The Palladium, had the original billboard-sized poster as part of his personal collection (he’s an expert in the Great American Songbook) and he donated it as a decoration for the building.
The movie itself utilizes several existing songs by George Gershwin but brings them to live with new arrangements and thrilling dance numbers. Yes, it’s Gene Kelly so there’s a lot of tap dancing.
The movie is filled with bright technicolor hues and the set pieces — obviously filmed at a sound stage and not actually in Paris — are full of color and character. It’s almost like a dreamlike vision of Paris rather than a realistic authentic portrayal.
If you’ve seen the movie “La La Land” then you’ll see that it borrows heavily from “An American in Paris,” from the lighting and colors to the dance numbers. It straight up steals from it at times.
The highlight of the movie is a 17-minute dance number that is incredibly impressive but does grow a little tedious after the 10-minute mark. You can have too much of a good thing and it’s like watching a 30-minute battle/fight scene in an action movie. It’s great but you can only be on the edge of your seat for so long.
“An American in Paris” is a feast for the eyes and it hold up in many ways. But it’s an interesting contrast to its chief competition for Best Picture that year, which was “A Streetcar Named Desire.” You couldn’t find two more opposite movies. “A Streetcar Named Desire” was directed by auteur Elia Kazan and was based on a play. There’s no showy cinematography and it’s filmed in black and white. It boasted nominees in all four acting categories, winning three. Marlon Brando lost to Humphrey Bogart in “The African Queen” for Best Actor, but that seems to have been a “make-up Oscar” for Bogey since he had never won before and was getting up in years. Bogart died five years later.
“A Streetcar Named Desire” was a tour-de-force for acting while “An American in Paris” received no acting nominations. “An American in Paris” is beautifully shot in bright color while “A Streetcar Named Desire” is drab and simple. Two very different movies.
The plot of “An American in Paris” is pretty simple and it kind of just ends without really resolving anything. My wife was frustrated with the idea that Gene Kelly’s character snubbed the older rich lady, who was actually quite nice, for a very young girl he meets at a club. She didn’t think that reflected well on his character. I’d tend to agree. The connection between the two leads is mostly for their dancing, not their acting.
I don’t know which movie I prefer: “A Streetcar Named Desire” or “An American in Paris” but they’re both great.
There are images and scenes in “An American in Paris” that I’ll remember for a long time. The shot of him picking up the bright red rose and standing up is iconic to me.

AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS (1956)

Finally, we end with a little bit of a dud.
“Around the World in 80 Days” is not a bad movie. It’s funny. It’s fast-paced. It’s well shot and has colorful costumes and fun action scenes.
It’s just not an Oscar-worthy movie.
It feels like the old Disney family movies in the 1950s and 1960s. Nothing wrong with those, but just empty fun, not really award worthy.
It’s often referred to as the worst Best Picture winner ever. That’s not really fair. Maybe it doesn’t fit with the idea of what a Best Picture winner should be, but it’s still a well-crafted fun movie that I enjoyed. Other films that have that pedigree of “heaviness” or “gravitas” are sometimes just not enjoyable. I’m thinking of “Tom Jones” or “Out of Africa.”
“Around the World in 80 Days” is dumb fun. It’s not a technical marvel. It’s not groundbreaking. But it’s enjoyable.
It’s the 1950s equivalent of “The Hunger Games” winning Best Picture.
The biggest flaw in “Around the World in 80 Days” is it’s length. It’s three hours long which is OK for an epic like “Lawrence of Arabia.” It feels excessive for a silly comedy.
The opening intro about Jules Verne seemed unnecessary and as I understand it that was cut when the movie was broadcast on TV.
I didn’t really care about any of the side characters and I didn’t pay much attention to the plot because it didn’t seem to matter. The entire movie is a vehicle to explore different international settings and basically show the cultural stereotype of each country. It’s not offensive but it definitely paints in broad strokes.
David Niven stars as British adventurer Phileas Fogg but he’s overshadowed by Cantinflas who plays his assistant Passepartout. Cantinflas, the one-named stage name for hispanic actor Mario Moreno, is often called “Charlie Chaplin of Mexico” and he received top-billing in some countries when promoting this film. Indeed, he steals the show in this light-hearted travel film and is the source of most of the humor.
Is there another movie that should have won Best Picture instead? You could make an argument for “The Ten Commandments,” “The King and I” or “Giant.” The last one would have been my choice, having earned a Best Director Oscar for George Stevens (who previously won for “A Place in the Sun” and was also nominated later on for “The Diary of Anne Frank.”)

Best Picture Catchup: A Man For All Seasons, The Bridge on the River Kwai, Tom Jones

Recently I decided to try to catch up and see all of the Best Picture winners at the Academy Awards that I had never seen before.

I decided at first to narrow the mission to just winners since 1950 since some of the older movies are harder to find, even with streaming services. Although, as I near the end of that goal, I’ve decided I might try to watch all of the them, if possible. I’ll still try to knock out the post-1950s ones first since I only have a few left but I’ve already started on a few earlier pictures. 

I had a strong start to my mission, having seen 44 out of the 70 Best Picture winners going back to 1950 and I had not missed a winner going back until 1997.

I recently watched six Best Picture winners from the ceremonies of 1967, 1964, 1958, 1957, 1952 and 1947. 

I only have 7 left to watch post-1950 (“The English Patient,” “Ben-Hur,” “Gigi, “My Fair Lady,” “All The Kings Men,” “The Greatest Show on Earth” and “All About Eve” and 15 to watch going back to 1929 (basically everything except the ones I’ve seen: “Casablanca,” “The Lost Weekend,” “Gone With the Wind,” “The Best Years of Our Lives,” “You Can’t Take it With You” and “It Happened One Night.”).

Without further ado, here’s three more entries to cross off my list.

A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS (1966)

This didn’t look like a film that would interest me. A dry period-piece about religion and royalty. No battle scenes and the star actor is someone I’ve never heard of. But “A Man for All Seasons” really does hold up with great performances from Paul Scofield, Orson Welles, John Hurt and Robert Shaw. It tells the story of Sir Thomas More, a 16th-century Lord Chancellor who refused both to sign a letter asking Pope Clement VII to annul Henry VIII’s marriage so he could marry his mistress Anne Boleyn and have a son. He also wouldn’t take an oath and declare the king the head of the newly created Church of England (a move he made when the Vatican wouldn’t annul his marriage). 

Sir Thomas More is a man of principle and everybody pleads with him to just give in and take the oath, sign the papers and “go along to get along.” He sticks with his morals and principles, even though it leads to a tragic ending for him. It kind of reminded me of “The Crucible” in that vein. I love seeing stories about characters with strong moral compasses and this one is filled with quotable lines to use in any situation in which you might doubt yourself. 

One of my favorite lines that More says is: “When statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their own public duties they lead their country by a short route to chaos.” There’s a lot of truth in that. 

I also loved a line he says after he finds out he’s betrayed by a young colleague who now was appointed to a prime position in Wales.

“It profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world … but for Wales?” he exclaims.

Scofield deserved his Best Actor Oscar and I can see why this film took the top prize. Although you could make an argument for two other Best Picture nominated films that year: “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” which was nominated in all four acting categories and won two, and “Alfie,” a Michael Caine-starring vehicle that I absolutely adore (even if it drags toward the end.).

TOM JONES (1963)

So this might be my least favorite Best Picture winner I’ve ever seen. There are other winners that are just undeserving compared to the movies they beat, such as “Shakespeare in Love” beating “Saving Private Ryan” or “Crash” beating “Brokeback Mountain” or “Green Book” over “A Star is Born.” But those winners are still good movies that I enjoy. I didn’t enjoy “Tom Jones” and while other Best Picture winners like “Out of Africa” or “Chariots of Fire” might have been slow and kind of boring, I felt “Tom Jones” was just soul-crushingly pretentious. 

I have no problem with period piece movies. I just praised “A Man for All Seasons.” I’m OK with slow-burn movies that linger in silence. I loved the long patient scenes in “Lawrence of Arabia.” But “Tom Jones” doesn’t seem worth the pay off. It’s billed as a comedy. I did not laugh.

I really, really wanted to like this movie. I think Albert Finney is a great actor and “Tom Jones” is one of the lesser known Best Picture winners, so there was a desire in me to like this film. I like telling people about a great movie that most haven’t seen or have overlooked. But this one is tough. 

If you look on Rotten Tomatoes, critics loved this movie, making it 86 percent fresh. Audiences aren’t as kind, only giving it a 58 percent score. Every review written in the last 20 years looking back on this picture admits that it hasn’t aged well. 

It’s a bawdy sex comedy with British humor that perhaps doesn’t translate well to American audiences. Although, I like Monty Python and Benny Hill and Fawlty Towers. I keep trying to find a reason that I should like this movie that others love.

I know the humor is subtle, but it’s so subtle, I’m not even sure it’s there. It’s like putting only the tiniest dash of salt on a dish and then being surprised when someone calls it bland tasting.

I felt like I was dumb for not enjoying this movie but whatever: It’s as bland as his name.

I think Fellini’s “8 1/2” should have won, although it wasn’t nominated for Best Picture (only Best Director). You can also make an argument that “Cleopatra,” “How the West Was Won” or “Hud” would have been more deserving winners.

THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI (1957)

A nice palate cleanser after that suspense-less period piece, this is a film that I immediately loved.

William Holden is becoming one of my favorite actors of all time. I’ve always loved “Sunset Boulevard” and I rewatched it recently and loved it even more. The same can be said for “Network” which I also rewatched. Both of those films are top 100 of all time for me. I recently checked out his Western film “The Wild Bunch” and while I didn’t love it as much as critics (they ranked it in the American Film Institute’s top 100 movies ever) I appreciated Holden’s performance. 

This movie is masterfully directed by David Lean, who would win Best Director and would later direct another Best Picture winner in “Lawrence of Arabia.”

It’s a big beautiful war movie about prisoners of war in a Japanese labor camp that are being forced to construct a bridge. Alec Guinness, best known as Obi Wan Kenobi, gives a fantastic performance as Lieutenant Colonel Nicholson, a man who follows the rules to a fault, even if it isn’t in the best interest of his soldiers. He resists escape and instead begins to take pride in building the bridge for his captors, saying that decades from now people will see the bridge and know it was built by British soldiers. The Japanese commandant, Colonel Saito, is a man who is so insecure that he can’t figure out how to build the bridge that he resents the soldiers for their success. And Holden plays Lieutenant Commander Shears, an American who is reluctant to help and seems to really only care about his own personal safety. There’s no real hero in this piece.

I loved it because of its moral complexity. It asks difficult questions and doesn’t give easy answers. Even the final line of “Madness,” can be interpreted many ways. It would be overly simplified to say this film is just about “the violence of war.”

I recently watched Spike Lee’s masterpiece “Do the Right Thing” and what I love about that movie is that it’s hard to tell which character did the right thing. Every character has good points and bad points. It’s the same with “The Bridge on the River Kwai.” So much to analyze and deconstruct.

And yet it’s not just a psychological drama. There’s action. There’s suspense. There are big epic set pieces. It’s a long movie that never drags. That’s not an easy feat.

One of my colleagues said it’s the number one movie of all time. I wouldn’t go so far, especially since I just watched it for the first time. But I already know this film will earn a spot in my top 100 movies ever made. 

Artemis Fowl

When COVID-19 hit and movie theaters shut down, studios had to make a decision about what to do with movies that were scheduled for summer release. Disney decided to push back several of their theatrical releases including “Black Widow” and “Soul.”

They did announce that one large-budget movie — costing $125 million to make — would be not be released in theaters and instead would come straight to their streaming platform Disney+. Studio acted like they were being gracious by releasing “Artemis Foul” online to stream, especially considering the new service has been light on new, exclusive, original content. “The Mandalorian” is great but the rest of the original content on the site is quickly thrown together reality-based shows and docu-series.

Turns out Disney wasn’t doing us a favor by releasing “Artemis Fowl” on their streaming service. They were dumping a stinker to avoid the embarrassment of a box office dud. Even if there were no virus to harm movie theater sales, “Artemis Fowl” is a disaster of a franchise starter. A joyless CGI-spectacle that crams an entire sci-fi/fantasy novel into 90 minutes, leaving us with a very confusing plot and characters we just don’t care about.

It would be a cliche “dad joke” to say in jest that: “‘Artemis Fowl’ is truly fowl” but this movie is so bad that it deserves such an unoriginal insult. A lazy insult for a lazy movie.

“Artemis Fowl” is based on a 2001 young adult novel by an Irish author and was immediately optioned to become a film series, likely another “Harry Potter” but with a mix of sci-fi and fantasy. It tells the story of a 12-year-old criminal mastermind who kidnaps a fairy.

The movie was in production hell and kept changing writers and directors. Eventually Kenneth Branagh, the acclaimed Shakespearean actor/director took a stab at it, following up his other big CGI productions such as “Thor” and “Cinderella.” (He’s much better at Shakespeare, by the way).

Now I haven’t read the books (I was a senior in high school when this came out) but apparently this film version is not very faithful, turning Artemis Fowl from a criminal mastermind to just a really smart kid who wants to save his dad. They removed any anti-hero element in this adaptation. Colin Ferrell plays his father and apparently he was just added in reshoots and they completely changed the plot.

I don’t like to criticize child actors but Ferdia Shaw doesn’t come off as promising, but it’s not really his fault given the awful screenplay. Josh Gad, more of a veteran of Disney fare such as “Frozen” and the “Beauty and the Beast” live action remake, does a better job at elevating a weak script and provides some mild comedic relief (although he’s not in it enough). Judi Dench looks like David Bowie with a strange hairstyle in the movie.

The story itself is pretty nonsensical and they try to help you follow along with endless exposition and characters repeating things that were just said. It’s as if the focus group told people they found the story confusing so they just added bad writing.

I think the real problem with the plot is that the movie is only an hour and a half long and that might seem merciful for such a bad movie, but perhaps a few extra minutes to build the world and flesh out the characters would have helped. Maybe. I’m not sure, but it’s possible.

Here’s the thing: I didn’t have to drive a pack of kids to the movie theater and pay an insane amount of money to sit through this stinker. I watched it at home while I did other things. My investment is low and so the bar was set pretty low. But even then I really can’t say I enjoyed watching this one. If it’s just to entertain the kids for 90 minutes, you can put on a much better that you all can enjoy (try “Onward”). If you’re just putting on background noise while you organize your sock drawer, then just watch that episode of “The Office” for the umpteenth time. If you were a huge fan of the books, my guess you’ll be disappointed. It’s not the worst movie ever made but just one you don’t need to waste your time watching.

Who knows. Maybe “Artemis Fowl” will follow the path of “The Golden Compass,” “Lemony Snicket” or “Percy Jackson” and earn a streaming-platform reboot in the form of a TV series rather than a movie (“Percy Jackson” series was announced for Disney+ after the two failed film adaptations).

In the end, “Artemis Fowl” joins a long list of failed YA-novel adaptations that were trying to be the next “Harry Potter” or “Hunger Games” or “The Hobbit.” It joins the likes of the three I already mentioned, along with “Ender’s Game,” “Mortal Instruments” and “Beautiful Creatures.” Even the franchises of “Divergent” and “The Chronicles of Narnia” started to lose their appeal in later entries.

There are nine books to mine material from and so this is a movie yearning for a sequel. But to do that would truly be fowl (sorry).

The Lost Weekend (1945)

For today’s audiences, a story about an every-day man struggling with alcoholism might feel like an after school special. It’s a subplot in a network soap opera, not meaty enough to carry an entire film script.

But in 1945, the issue of alcohol addiction had not truly been explored on screen in an honest way. Director Billy Wilder, known for films like “Double Indemnity,” “Sunset Boulevard,” “The Apartment,” “Sabrina,” and “Some Like it Hot,” was inspired to adapt Charles R. Jackson’s novel after Wilder’s co-writer on “Double Indemnity” began drinking heavily during the work on that film.

Wilder wanted to make a realistic movie that didn’t exaggerate but also didn’t downplay the dangers of alcoholism. He wanted almost a documentary feel and insisted that the movie be shot on locations instead of built sets in order to add realism. He actually filmed inside the Bellevue Hospital which was never allowed before or since.

The movie’s story revolves around a writer played by Ray Milland, who won Best Actor for his performance. He’s supposed to go away for a long weekend with his brother to celebrate his ten days sobriety. He convinces his brother and girlfriend to go see a concert together while he relaxes by himself and writes. He promises he’ll make their 6 p.m. train. They search his apartment for booze and find none and they know he has no money so they agree to the deal. He finds $10 hidden in a tea pot that was meant for the housekeeper and he snatches it to buy two pints of rye whiskey and uses the change to buy a few shots at the local bar. Even the bartender knows he needs to slow down his drinking. His plan is to bring the bottles on the trip, not that he actually needs them but having them nearby makes him feel safe and secure.

Well, obviously he gets wasted out of his mind and misses the 6 p.m. train and the weekend turns into a sloppy drunk blackout. He begins to recall how he met his girlfriend, played by Jane Wyman, who was once married to Ronald Reagan in real life, and the movie goes back and forth between flashbacks and current day. By Saturday, he’s broke and begging for booze. By Sunday, he wakes up in rehab and the staff informs him he’s going to get the DT’s and see little animals as hallucinations.

“You know that stuff about pink elephants? That’s the bunk,” the orderly tells him. “It’s little animals! Little tiny turkeys in straw hats. Midget monkeys coming through the keyholes. See that guy over there? With him it’s beetles. Come the night, he sees beetles crawling all over him.”

I don’t want to spoil the ending but it’s pretty powerful.

The musical score by Miklós Rózsa makes extensive use of the theremin, an instrument that gives that eerie, wobbly sound that you might have heard in “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” Throughout his career, Rózsa earned 17 Oscar nominations and won three times for Spellbound (the same year as “The Lost Weekend”), “A Double Life” in 1947 and Ben-Hur in 1959.

“The Lost Weekend” is also famous for being the first movie to show the montage of a man walking slowly toward the camera as neon-signs float eerily around him to show that he’s been wandering the streets for bar after bar. That’s been parodied many times (see the “Futurama” image below) and it started with this movie. That’s where it comes from.

Interesting enough, the liquor industry at the time launched a campaign to undermine the film even before its release, even hiring mobster Frank Costello to offer to buy the movie for $5 million to burn the prints. The industry claimed that the movie would hurt sales of alcohol or could even lead to calls to bring back prohibition.

All in all, “The Lost Weekend” is a historic film and — when watched by today’s audiences — a very good movie but maybe not a great one. It hasn’t aged as well as Wilder’s other classics. The screenplay is top notch with witty dialogue and great quotable lines. Milland doesn’t have the charisma of William Holden or Jack Lemmon but he’s capable in the role. The story itself meanders and stretches believability at times. It seems to repeat itself without reaching a proper boil at the right time. But despite these minor criticisms it’s still very good. Maybe not in my top 200 movies of all time, but I can’t quibble with its win for Best Picture in 1945.

Sunset Boulevard (1950)

“I am big, it’s the pictures that got small!” — Norma Desmond

Right now, the movie industry might be undergoing a metamorphosis. Due to COVID-19, the theater-going experience is endangered and more and more movies will go straight to streaming services and rentals from home. Sitting in a theater on opening night as a crowd of people laugh and cheer might become a thing of the past.

Hollywood has seen seismic shifts before and every time there’s always a relic of the past that gets left behind. A part of the world that is unable to adapt to changing times.

Maybe the biggest change came with the invention of “talkies.” Silent film stars who made obscene fortunes on a weekly basis were suddenly out of work. Some adapted. Charlie Chaplin made a few sound films and was even nominated for an Oscar. Others became reclusive. They became hermits, alcoholics and addicts. Some had mental health problems and some committed suicide.

They love you one day. The next day you’re forgotten. That’s Hollywood.

No movie has captured this reality truer than Billy Wilder’s 1950 masterpiece “Sunset Boulevard.”

This film noir classic tells the story of an out-of-work screenwriter played by William Holden who stumbles upon the mansion of Norma Desmond, a long forgotten silent film star that is in such denial about the world passing her by. Silent film actress Gloria Swanson — who had a similar stint of fame but actually handled the transition well by just moving to TV shows and plays — creates one of the most fascinating characters in movie history. She’s almost a monster with her clingy behavior and treatments meant to keep her looking young. When Holden enters her gothic mansion, which has been quiet for some years, Desmond is almost like Dracula, a seductive parasite who plans to suck the youth of this unsuspecting chap. “Sunset Boulevard” is not just a film noir classic, but it’s also a horror film and, at times, a dark comedy.

Billy Wilder is one of my favorite directors and he certainly is underrated. He won Best Director and Best Picture twice for “The Long Weekend” and “The Apartment,” along with several awards for screenwriting. He also made “Double Indemnity,” “Some Like it Hot,” “Sabrina,” “Stalag 17,” “The Seven-Year Itch” and “The Fortune Cookie.” He eschewed the visual flair of Orson Welles or Alfred Hitchcock and the politics of Frank Capra. Instead he was interested in human emotions. He wasn’t afraid to cast against type, giving lovable TV star (and the Absent-Minded Professor) Fred MacMurray the chance to play despicable characters. Most of all, he was a witty writer who know how to craft some of the most famous lines in cinematic history.

“Sunset Boulevard” ends with one of the most famous quotes in all of movies: “All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.” In case you haven’t seen this one, I don’t want to give too much context to spoil the ending. But it’s the perfect way to finish the movie.

Setting is important to Wilder in “Sunset Boulevard.” He takes sunny Los Angeles and still gives it the grim look of a film noir classic and obviously you can see how David Lynch was inspired for his own movie “Mulholland Drive.” Norma Desmond’s mansion is perfectly ugly inside and every detail has been considered.

Wilder nails the casting too. He wanted an actual silent film star for the role and he considered Greta Garbo and Mae West. Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift were considered for Holden’s part.

Some turned down the role because they were offended by a romantic relationship between an older woman with a man half her age. Others thought it made Hollywood look bad.

Gloria Swanson didn’t want to submit to a screen test, saying she had “made 20 films for Paramount. Why do they want me to audition?” They worked that into the movie and Norma Desmond says, “Without me there wouldn’t be any Paramount.”

Holden was fairly unknown, having just served in World War II. After the movie, he teamed up with Wilder again for “Stalag 17” and won a Best Actor award.

Erich von Stroheim, who actually directed Swanson in some silent films, plays her loving man-servant Max. His Austrian accent makes him seem like the Igor to her monster. He slinks around the shadows like The Phantom of the Opera.

“Sunset Boulevard” is pretty dark when you consider when it came out. It hold the mirror up to Hollywood in a gruesome way that still packs a punch 70 years later.

“Sunset Boulevard” ranked 16th in the American Film Institute’s 100 greatest movies ever and it certainly deserves it. It’s available to stream for free if you have an Amazon Prime subscription.

Best Picture Catchup: Marty, In The Heat Of The Night, Terms of Endearment, The Last Emperor

Recently I decided to try to catch up and see all of the Best Picture winners at the Academy Awards that I had never seen before.

I decided to narrow the mission to just winners since 1950 since some of the older movies are harder to find, even with streaming services.

I had a strong start to my mission, having seen 44 out of the 70 Best Picture winners and I had not missed a winner going back until 1997. After four weeks, I’ve added 16 movies to my list, making my new count 60 out of 70 movies.

I think I’ve added a new favorite movie this week and I discovered that 1967 might have been the best year for movies ever. Enjoy!

Marty (1955)

I understand why I didn’t see “Marty” before I did. Ernest Borgnine is not an actor with star power among today’s audiences. The movie poster looks corny (he’s smoking a cigarette and has a smile like Groucho Marx). And it’s not a movie that most people talk about or reference. It’s not like other older movies like “Casablanca” or “Citizen Kane” where the imprint on cultural consciousness has been made.
But what “Marty” lacks in fame it makes up for in emotion and true acting. It’s a sad but sweet story of a lonely man played by Borgnine in a role that won him the Oscar. He’s in his mid thirties and he lives with his mother still. His brothers and sisters have gotten married but he hasn’t met the right girl and he starts to wonder if he’ll ever meet her. His mom keeps asking, “When are you going to get married?” to the point where he responds in angry tears that he’s an ugly man and no woman wants to date him. While watching this, my heart sank. We’re so used to seeing confident leading men in old movies, so to see someone with their insecurities laid bare like that took me by surprise. Borgnine’s character goes out with his friends one night and he meets a shy plain jane named Clara. She’s a girl who doesn’t consider herself attractive (and Marty’s friends don’t think so either) but he’s smitten with her. She’s nice and smart and sensitive and she believes in him when he talks about his dream to buy his boss’s butcher shop. Marty is on cloud nine and you think they’re going to race toward a happy ending until Marty’s traditional Italian mother starts to worry about her son leaving her and she begins to guilt him and try to break up his relationship. His friends — jealous that he wasn’t hanging out with them — start to trash the girl too. Although, his friends are pretty terrible to him and only seem to use him as a wingman to occupy the female friends of their dates so they can try to get some action themselves.
In the end, Marty stands up for himself and it reminded me of one of my favorite movies of all time, another Best Picture winner five years later: Billy Wilder’s “The Apartment.” In that story, Jack Lemmon plays a lonely bachelor who keeps getting kicked around in life and is unlucky in love. Finally, he stands up for himself and takes control of his life.
I don’t want to get too personal, but I’m going to share a little about my own life and why I really connected to both “Marty” and “The Apartment.”
I’m now 36 years old and I’ll have been married for three years when Labor Day weekend rolls around. My wife and I dated for a year before getting married, so I was in my early 30s when I found the right girl. Now, that doesn’t seem too late in life, but I will say dating in your late twenties is not as fun as dating in your early twenties. You start to get frustrated at the bad dates. You start to get down on yourself. You see all of your friends get married and have kids and you wonder if it’s just luck or if you’re doing something wrong. In the movie, when Marty kept being asked by his family or friends when he was going to get married, any single person in their 30s knows what that feels like. It gets annoying.

Here’s the dialogue between Marty and his mother that just broke my heart and I think won Borgnine the Oscar.

“Marty: Ma, sooner or later, there comes a point in a man’s life when he’s gotta face some facts. And one fact I gotta face is that, whatever it is that women like, I ain’t got it. I chased after enough girls in my life. I-I went to enough dances. I got hurt enough. I don’t wanna get hurt no more. I just called up a girl this afternoon, and I got a real brush-off, boy! I figured I was past the point of being hurt, but that hurt. Some stupid woman who I didn’t even want to call up. She gave me the brush. No, Ma, I don’t wanna go to Stardust Ballroom because all that ever happened to me there was girls made me feel like I was a-a-a bug. I got feelings, you know. I-I had enough pain. No thanks, Ma!
Mrs. Pilletti: You’re gonna die without a son.
Marty: So I’ll die without a son.
Mrs. Pilletti: Marty, put on the blue suit, huh?
Marty: Blue suit, gray suit, I’m just a fat, little man. A fat ugly man.
Mrs. Pilletti: You not ugly.
Marty: I’m ugly, I’m ugly, I’m ugly!
Mrs. Pilletti: Marty –
Marty: Ma, leave me alone. Ma, whaddaya want from me? Whaddaya want from me? I’m miserable enough as it is. All right, so I’ll go to the Stardust Ballroom. I’ll put on a blue suit, and I’ll go. And you know what I’m gonna get for my trouble? Heartache. A big night of heartache.”

If you wondered who wrote this great script it’s Paddy Chayefsky, the playwright and screenwriter who is responsible for one of the best movie scripts ever: “Network.” This movie started off as a made for TV movie but was redid for theaters with a new cast.
The female lead is an actress you might not have seen before. Betsy Blair was married to famed dancer/actor Gene Kelly but her acting career was stalled when she was blacklisted for holding left wing views and attempting to join the Communist Party. She was only cast in “Marty” — for which she earned an Oscar nomination — because her husband threatened the studio that he wouldn’t appear in the film “It’s Always Fair Weather.” I wonder about all of the great acting performances we missed out on due to the Hollywood Blacklist.
It’s hard to say if “Marty” deserved to win Best Picture that year because, if I’m being honest, I have not seen any of the other films I noticed were nominated. The other Best Picture nominees were “Love is a Many-Splendored Thing,” “Mister Roberts,” “Picnic” and “The Rose Tattoo.” Honestly, I had not even heard of these movies before. Perusing the movies that came out that year, I suppose “East of Eden,” “Rebel Without a Cause,” “The Man With the Golden Arm” or “Blackboard Jungle” could have been contenders. My favorite movie that came out in 1955 was “To Catch a Thief,” a terrific Alfred Hitchock movie. But my guess is “Marty” was the best choice.

In the Heat of the Night (1967)

This is a great movie, but let’s get this out of the way: I’m not sure it should have won Best Picture that year. “In the Heat of the Night” is a tense crime thriller with great performances by Rod Steiger and Sidney Poitier but the 40th Academy Awards might go down as one of the best years in movie history. Here were the other nominees for Best Picture that year: “The Graduate,” “Bonnie & Clyde,” “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” and “Doctor Dolittle.” Disregard that last nomination for a minute (I’m not a big musical person) and that’s a list of some of the best movies ever made. In addition, there were some other awesome movies that did not get Best Picture nominations that year: “Cool Hand Luke,” “In Cold Blood,” “The Dirty Dozen” and “Barefoot in the Park.” So to say that “In the Heat of the Night” isn’t as good as some of those other movies is no knock against it. That’s a killer year for movies.
If you aren’t familiar with the flick, “In the Heat of the Night” is the story of a black homicide detective who helps a slightly prejudiced small town Southern police officer solve a mysterious murder. It has one of the most famous lines in movie history when Poitier exclaims, “They call me Mister Tibbs!” and that actually became the name for a sequel they made. The crime itself is pretty much by the numbers and the mystery unravels like an episode of “Columbo.” It feels like a TV procedural at times which is why it isn’t surprising that it did become a TV series in the 1980s. But what makes this movie excel is the acting of Rod Steiger and Sidney Poitier. Steiger won the Oscar for Best Actor that year and Poitier, surprisingly, was not nominated for this movie or “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” that year. Kind of a snub, but at least he had already become the first black male actor to win an Oscar back in 1963 with “Lilies of the Field.” If you’re going to make a list of the best actors of all time, Poitier makes that list. If you make a list of best black actors ever, he’s at the very top. No competition. Maybe Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, Mahersala Ali and Viola Davis make the top five, but Poitier is at the very top.
My favorite scene in “In the Heat of the Night,” might be toward the end when the two men are drinking scotch and talking to each other honestly and candidly about their lives. They say so much with just their facial expressions and pauses between words. It elevates the entire preceding movies.
Interesting cameo in this move: Scott Wilson, who you might recognize as a old man Hershel Greene in “The Walking Dead” TV series (he passed away two years ago in real life), plays a man who was initially suspected of the murder. It’s weird to see him as a young man but the voice is unmistakable.

The Last Emperor (1987)

Right before I watched “The Last Emperor” for the first time, I watched another one of director Bernardo Bertolucci’s movies for the first time as well: “Last Tango in Paris.” It’s a controversial art film in mostly French starring Marlon Brando as a widower who has a purely carnal relationship with a woman he barely knows. It’s sexual and disturbing at times (I wouldn’t want to hear the words, “Pass the butter” after this movie) but Brando’s acting and Bertolucci’s direction turned it into a masterpiece of sorts. More than a decade later, the Italian director won an Oscar for “The Last Emperor” an epic historic biopic that still feels artistic and intimate even with its grand scale.
It’s the story of the last emperor of China based on his book and after reading the Wikipedia entry about him he’s certainly worth a movie. He became emperor at an insanely young age and was isolated from the world. He breast fed until he was eight years old and they had to force his wet nurse out of the Forbidden City. He adored Western culture and his tutor (played by Peter O’Toole in the movie) opens his eyes to the rest of the world. He talks about running away and going to Oxford. Eventually, China becomes a republic and the emperor is no more. Despite never wanting to be emperor originally, he begins to miss the power and he gets into bed with Japan who manipulates him and installs him as a puppet emperor of Manchuria. Eventually he serves 10 years in a prison camp for war crimes and the movie jumps back and forth a bit.
It’s a beautifully shot movie with great acting and impressive sets. It really was shot in the Forbidden City in China and it was the first Western movie to do so. The first 90 minutes is filled with gorgeous shots of the palace and the movie begins to drag when it leaves the city. I’m amazed at the access that the Chinese government gave this filmmaker, especially when you consider this is not a propaganda piece for the Chinese. It shares the good and the bad about Chinese history. It doesn’t smear Mao or the emperor but it shares some truths. Some things are cleaned up though. The emperor was cruel and sadistic as a youth, forcing the eunuchs in his palace to be flogged for his amusement. The movie touches on that when he asks a eunuch to drink ink for his entertainment but it’s downplayed quite a bit. The producer recalled the approval process for the screenplay with the Chinese government: “It was less difficult than working with the studio system. They made script notes and made references to change some of the names, then the stamp went on and the door opened and we came.”
It’s an amazing achievement for film and I think it was deserving of the Best Picture. The other nominees were “Fatal Attraction,” “Broadcast News,” “Hope & Glory” and “Moonstruck.” Given those choices, they made the right decision. Although it wasn’t nominated for Best Picture, my choice for that year would have been Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket.”

Terms of Endearment (1983)

I wasn’t a big fan of this one. I like Shirley MacLaine a lot. Like I said before, I love the movie “The Apartment” and she’s the female lead in that one and she’s settled nicely into a sassy old lady role. She was great in Richard Linklater’s “Bernie” and her appearance on “Downton Abbey.” Jack Nicholson might be in my top 5 favorite actors of all time and he oozes charisma in this movie. Both of them won Oscars deservedly for this movie and John Lithgow earns a nomination too (I’ve been a fan of his for years as well). I think my problem is with Debra Winger. She’s a good actress, but I just don’t like her. Apparently her directors and co-stars feel the same way and she’s a difficult actress to work with which is why despite two Oscar nominations in the 1980s her career sputtered to a stop. Her character isn’t extremely likable and she doesn’t help the cause much. What’s interesting is the amazing chemistry between her and MacLaine despite the fact that they hated each other in real life (MacLaine seemed to love the fact that she took the Best Actress Oscar from Winger who was also nominated).
There’s some good things about this movie. The scenes between MacLaine and Nicholson are classic and you almost wish there were more of them in the movie. The ending is a cliche tear jerker but it’s effective.
I think my problem with this movie is that it’s just an adequately made romantic comedy with a cancer twist at the end (I’m sorry to spoil it for anyone). It just feels like the Oscar bait moments are shoved in at the end and it doesn’t earn its pathos.
I also got annoyed at how repetitive the score was. The same music played over and over in every scene I felt like I fell asleep with the DVD menu on and the music was on a loop.
I have to admit that I’m not a fan of the film work of James L. Brooks who won Best Director for this one. He is a TV pioneer, having created the “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Rhoda,” “Lou Grant” and “Taxi” and being a founding producer on “The Simpsons.” But when it comes to films he can’t seem to break from the romantic comedies. I genuinely like “As Good as it Gets” but I’m in the minority it seems when it comes to not caring for “Spanglish.”
I didn’t hate “Terms of Endearment” but it’s not one of my favorite movies. Should it have won Best Picture? I might have picked “The Right Stuff” that year.

Best Picture Catchup: The French Connection, Ordinary People, Chariots of Fire, Out of Africa

Recently I decided to try to catch up and see all of the Best Picture winners at the Academy Awards that I had never seen before.

I decided to narrow the mission to just winners since 1950 since some of the older movies are harder to find, even with streaming services.

I had a strong start to my mission, having seen 44 out of the 70 Best Picture winners and I had not missed a winner going back until 1997. In my first installment, I watched and reviewed “Braveheart,” “Patton,” “Unforgiven” and “Lawrence of Arabia.” Now I tackled four more, bringing my total to 52 out of 70 movies.

The four in this installment were a little disappointing. Two movies I liked but would not list among my favorite movies ever. The other two movies I found to be particularly dull.

THE FRENCH CONNECTION (1971)

Along with Francis Ford Coppola and Peter Bogdanovich, director William Friedkin was considered one of the premier directors of New Hollywood in the 1970s. Friedkin directed one of my favorite movies of all time in “The Exorcist” so I was interested in watching “The French Connection,” a true-crime movie that he won Best Director for. “The French Connection” might not thrill today’s audiences but it’s certainly more engaging or suspenseful than “Bullitt” or other 1970s crime movies. It has one of the greatest car chases of all time. “The French Connection” won Best Picture over two movies that I greatly prefer “A Clockwork Orange” and “The Last Picture Show” but that shouldn’t take away from “The French Connection’s” achievement. While it’s certainly a genre movie — and maybe not as amazing as those other two movies — it’s bolstered by stellar performances by Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider. Hackman won an Oscar, which might seem odd since the role doesn’t require much heavy lifting, but he was very good. I really enjoyed “The French Connection” and maybe I’d put it in my top 50 crime/action movies of all time.

ORDINARY PEOPLE (1980)

Robert Redford makes his debut as a director and ends up winning Best Director at the Oscars for this drama about grief, family dynamics and mental health. It might feel a little dated 40 years later but at the time it was an honest and eye-opening look at mental health issues that were not often discussed. It features some awesome performances. Mary Tyler Moore, best known for playing bubbly lovable strong women such as Laura Petrie on “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and, of course, Mary Richard on her own starring sitcom “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” “Ordinary People” gave her a chance to breakout of her typecast and play an unlikable role and she was rewarded with a Best Actress nomination. I think her character was a little one-dimensional and unfairly villainous but there were hints at depth that she brought out. Judd Hirsch, another performer known more for a TV role (“Taxi”), earned an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for playing the psychiatrist and his portrayal earned praise from the psychiatric community. Hirsch ended up losing to his co-star Timothy Hutton, who really had a lead role. At age 20, Hutton became the youngest winner of the Best Supporting Actor and he hold that record to this day. The youngest nominee was 8-year-old Justin Henry in “Kramer vs. Kramer.” Hutton earned some starring roles after his win, most notably in “Taps” in 1981. He never solidified himself as one of the best actors in Hollywood and today’s audiences really only know him from the formulaic TNT drama “Leverage.” The one main star who didn’t receive an Oscar nomination was Donald Sutherland (President Snow of “Hunger Games” for today’s audiences) who did an amazing job as the father in “Ordinary People.” Entertainment Weekly called it one of the biggest awards snubs in history and interesting enough Sutherland has never been nominated for an Oscar to this day. I think he’s one of the best actors of all time without a single Oscar nomination, joining Martin Sheen, Alfred Molina, Danny Glover, Steve Buscemi, John Goodman, Jeff Daniels and Ewan McGregor. “Ordinary People” is a great movie that I really enjoyed but interestingly enough it beat out a much better movie for Best Picture that year: “Raging Bull.” I had a few friends who said they like “Ordinary People” better than “Raging Bull” but in my mind that’s just incorrect. “Raging Bull” is one of the best movies ever made and in 1990, it became the first film to be selected for preservation in the National Film Registry in its first year of eligibility. When the American Film Institute released its list of 100 greatest movies of all time to celebrate its 100th anniversary, “Raging Bull” ranked 24th of all time. When they updated the list 10 years later, “Raging Bull” shot up to fourth on the list. To me, there’s no real comparison between the two.

C

CHARIOTS OF FIRE (1981)

Now we’re entering territory of Best Pictures that make me scratch my head. I always had an interest in seeing “Chariots of Fire” because I was so familiar with the iconic music. The piano you hear when they run in slow motion at the beginning of movie is famous and it’s been parodied so many times. Just think of Will Ferrell running in “Old School.” I knew it because my dad is really into 1970s/1980s progressive rock and composer Vangelis, who wrote this score (he also did the music for the movie “Blade Runner”), has teamed up with prog rock icons like John Anderson of Yes. So I’ve heard Vangelis many times before when my dad has played it in the kitchen of the restaurant we own. Unfortunately, that music is the best part of a dull movie. It’s a true story about Olympic runners but there’s no real stakes. One character is a very faithful Catholic and the other is jewish and faces anti-semitism. That’s it. I’m not downplaying their struggle, but it’s hardly losing a leg! (Although, I’m not sure we want a movie on an Olympic runner who lost a leg. The Oscar Pistorius story might not be so feel-good). “Chariots of Fire” beat “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Reds” and “On Golden Pond” that year. Heck, I might even say that “Arthur,” released that year but not nominated for Best Picture, was a better movie than “Chariots of Fire.” One list called this one of the biggest surprise Best Picture winners of all time, along with “Crash” upsetting “Brokeback Mountain.” Many people thought that it was a two-movie race between “On Golden Pond,” which won Best Actor and Best Actress for Henry Fonda and Katherine Hepburn, and “Reds,” which earned Warren Beatty the Best Director award while securing nominations for Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress. “Reds” was the last film to gain nominations in all four acting categories until “Silver Linings Playbook” matched that feat in 2013.

OUT OF AFRICA (1985)

One of my least favorite Best Picture winners that I’ve seen. It’s an epic love story set in Africa in the time of World War One. Meryl Streep gives an amazing performance but Robert Redford seems to be mailing it in. It’s not the longest movie to win Best Picture. It’s only two and half hours long. But it feels really long since there’s just not enough meat on the bone to justify this length. Basically it’s the story of rich white people who fall in love and every once and a while they help some tribal Africans. Oh and there are a few lions. The lions are the best part. But nobody gets mauled. Unfortunately. It’s really hard to care about any of these characters and I would struggle to call this a good movie, let alone of one of the best movies put out in a year. One film critic, James Berardinelli, checked this movie out in 2009 and agrees with my assessment: “Watching Out of Africa a quarter of a century after its release, it’s almost impossible to guess how it won the Oscar for Best Picture … the lazy story is little more than an ordinary melodrama that simmers without ever reaching a boil.” “Out of Africa” beat “Witness,” “The Color Purple,” “Prizzi’s Honor” and “Kiss of the Spider Woman” to win Best Picture. None of those movies are favorites of mine, but they’re all better films. Probably the two movies of that year that I’d really think should have been nominated are “Ran” by Akira Kurosawa or “Cocoon” by Ron Howard. We all know the best movie to be eligible for the Oscars that year was “Back to the Future” but oh well. Interesting side note: I was skimming through the Wikipedia page of the Oscars that year and “Return to Oz” was nominated for best special effects that year. What?!! Have you seen those special effects?! Maybe they were good for that day (I can’t imagine they were ever good) but they have not aged well. Revisit the freaky film “Return to Oz” if you want to be weirded out.

Dueling Reviews: The Wrong Missy

Alec Toombs’ Take:

★1/2

I’ve had a rough go of it with my movie selections of late. In the past three days I’ve watched my three least favorite films of 2020 thus far – “John Henry” (available on Netflix), “Capone” (available on VOD) and now “The Wrong Missy,” which dropped on Netflix Wednesday, May 13.

“The Wrong Missy” is the latest in a long line of Happy Madison productions where Adam Sandler is not only kind enough to keep his friends and family employed, but he also sends them on vacation. “50 First Dates,” “Grown Ups,” “Grown Ups 2,” “Just Go With It,” “Jack and Jill,” “Blended,” “The Do-Over” and “Murder Mystery” all fall into this subgenre of schlock too. Sandler seems like a good guy and I can appreciate him looking out for his people, but the creative output often leaves much to be desired. I want less stuff like this and more works along the lines of the quarantine music videos Sandler’s done solo and with Pete Davidson on “Saturday Night Live,” his inspired 2019 Netflix comedy special “100% Fresh” and worthwhile movies such as “The Meyerowitz Stories” and “Uncut Gems.”

David Spade stars as Tim Morris, an unlucky in love banking executive whose fiancée, Julia (Sarah Chalke of “Scrubs”), has left him for their co-worker, Rich (Chris Witaske). Tim’s Grandma sets him up on a blind date with Missy (gifted comedienne Lauren Lapkus), which goes horribly awry. Soon thereafter, Tim meets the girl of his dreams, Melissa (model-turned-actress Molly Sims), at the airport. The two are a perfect match – neither of them drink, they’re reading the same James Patterson novel, they have the same carry-on luggage and they’ve both been recently cheated on. They wind up snogging in a janitor’s closet, but the make out sesh is cut short when Melissa has to bail to catch her flight. Tim gets Melissa’s number before parting ways. There’s a snag however – Melissa’s nickname is Missy, which is how she enters her contact info into Tim’s phone.

The bank Tim works for has been bought by Jack Winstone (Geoff Pierson, forever the Dad from The WB’s “Unhappily Ever After”), who takes his employees to a Hawaiian resort for team building activities where Tim will have to compete with Jess AKA The Barracuda (Jackie Sandler, Adam’s Mrs.) for a highly coveted promotion. Tim’s overreaching Human Resources buddy, Nate (Nick Swardson, looking like he’s trying to fill out to such an extent that he can be another Chris Farley to Spade), takes it upon himself to invite Missy along. Unfortunately, for all parties involved, he invites “The Wrong Missy.” Chaos ensues.

Spade can be genuinely funny when given the right material. I enjoyed him in “PCU,” “Tommy Boy,” “Black Sheep” and “Joe Dirt.” He plays the straight man here and he’s fine at it I suppose, but the dude’s look seriously bothers me. He looks like Ellen DeGeneres’ stunt double. Also, what’s up with his hair? Is it a crappy wig or a worse haircut? Lapkus seems like a nice lady who I’ve dug on countless podcasts, but she’s annoying as all hell here. The worst actor of the bunch amid this motley crew is Jackie Sandler. She makes Tara Reid look like Meryl Streep. I found Denise Richards more convincing as a nuclear physicist in “The World is Not Enough” than I do Sandler as a businesswoman in “The Wrong Missy.” Nepotism thy name is Jackie Sandler.

“The Wrong Missy” is directed by Tyler Spindel, a Harvard University graduate who previously directed Spade in former Happy Madison/Netflix collaboration, “Father of the Year.” That movie was much better than this one, but his filmmaking overall seems to suggest Trump University more than the Ivy Leagues. The flick was co-written by Kevin Barnett, one of the army of screenwriters who penned the 2007 remake of “The Heartbreak Kid,” for which this feels like a lame-brained rehash. There’s little to recommend in “The Wrong Missy” other than a coupla cool needle drops including Elle King’s cover of Khia’s “My Neck, My Back” and Vampire Weekend’s “This Life,” which despite being a good tune is kinda played out with its omnipresence in ads for TBS’ “Miracle Workers: Dark Ages” and “Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway.” The biggest and almost only laughs come courtesy of John Farley, Chris’ younger brother. Nepotism rears its ugly head again.

Adam Aasen’s Take:

★★

Sometimes your enjoyment of a movie really depends on your expectations.

If you get really excited to see a new movie in theaters. You shell out the money. Get a babysitter. Buy popcorn and expensive snacks. And the movie isn’t as good as you hoped… you’re somewhat disappointed.

When you watch a movie on an airplane, flip around on HBO on a lazy Saturday afternoon or watch something mindless on Netflix by yourself, the expectations are much lower. The lower bar leads to much more enjoyment.

After a string of terrible movies, Adam Sandler’s productions company Happy Madison has lowered the bar sufficiently.

The Sandler-starring theatrical offerings include some real stinkers such as “Jack and Jill,” “That’s My Boy,” “Don’t Mess With the Zohan” and “Grown Ups.”

At least those movies have the charm and charisma of Sandler.

The Happy Madison movies that he merely produces but doesn’t act in? If the bar were any lower you’d have to dig a hole in the floor.

Needless to say, I’m not a Happy Madison aficionado. I’ve steered clear of the “straight to Netflix” movies that have been lazily churned out.

But there was something that intrigued me by his latest streaming comedy starring David Spade called “The Wrong Missy.” And that’s the female co-lead Lauren Lapkus.

Lapkus is an underrated comic talent that started off doing improv at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater. I first discovered her playing characters on a podcast called “Comedy Bang Bang!” Eventually I saw her pop up in small roles. She was a corrections officer on the Netflix series “Orange is the New Black” and she played a cheating wife in the HBO series “Crashing.” Most people know her from her brief role in “Jurassic World” as a tech operator or from playing the girlfriend of the comic book guy on “The Big Bang Theory.”

The premise of the movie is David Spade, playing the straight man, goes on an awful blind date with Lapkus. Months later, he runs into his dream girl played by model Molly Sims. They exchange numbers but she has the same name — Melissa — and so he mistakenly starts texting the crazy girl from the blind date instead of his dream girl. He invites her to a work retreat on a tropical island and is shocked when “The Wrong Missy” shows up. She’s loud. She vulgarly talks about sex. She gets drunk. She embarrasses him and he’s too meek to tell her the truth.

The humor in the movie is certainly hit or miss. There’s a mean spirited — almost misogynistic — veil over how they treat Missy’s character. When she decides to have sex with Spade’s character when he’s not completely willing, well, it was uncomfortable. (But as much as Isla Fisher’s similar scene in “Wedding Crashers.”)

“The Wrong Missy” definitely isn’t for kids but it has childish humor. It’s got a lot of swearing and sex jokes. Plenty of prat falls and slapstick humor. There’s a three-way sex scene with some physical comedy that will make you cringe because it’s so bad.

Spade is obviously mailing it in. He’s the straight man so he doesn’t have to do the heavy lifting but some of his line reading seems like he just wants to get out of there.

One actress was so bad in her line reading I had to look her up to see how she got into this movie. Even for a Happy Madison movie she was bad. Turns out she’s Adam Sandler’s wife. Makes sense.

Still a few actors throw themselves into their roles with reckless abandon. Geoff Pierson, who often plays politicians on TV, is mildly amusing as the boss. Nick Swardson and Rob Schneider might not be your thing but they give their full effort in their cameos. And Lapkus brings a zany energy to her role that reminds you of Jim Carrey in “The Cable Guy.” It’s a shame her co-stars and the screenwriter didn’t put in the same effort that she did. My guess is her commitment stems from her improv background where you don’t second guess but rather say “yes and..” while fully committing to any comic premise. Her energy is contagious.

The screenplay is as lazy as some of the acting. Predictably Spade’s character starts to fall for the crazy Missy but the transformation is forced and seems to be predicated on the fact that she helps him get a promotion at work. At the end, the movie half-heartedly attempts to be a romantic comedy but there’s no teary-eyed moment like “The Wedding Singer” or “50 First Dates.” It limps toward the finish line.

I had really low expectations so I mildly enjoyed this one. I would never have seen it in a theater or paid to rent it even. But it was worth 90 minutes of my time. Barely.

I did not hate this movie. I laughed more than a handful of times. I liked Lapkus. But I can’t in good conscience give this movie a high grade. It’s a bad movie you might enjoy depending on your tastes.

The opening scene showing the blind date is particularly funny and showcases the talent of Lapkus. If you aren’t interested or amused by the opening scene, just turn it off because it’s pretty much more of the same. In fact, it kind of goes downhill from there.

Bull

★★★1/2

Rob Morgan isn’t a name most people know.

He’s a mild mannered actor who often plays stoic and subtle roles and hasn’t really been a leading man.

He’s 70 years old and his first credit in film or TV, according to my quick Web search, was in 2006.

For years, he played roles such as “cab driver” or “guy in the crowd” before becoming somewhat better known for a recurring character on the Netflix series “Daredevil” and the spinoff shows. Still, nobody really knew his name.

He gained more attention playing the father opposite Mary J. Blige in Netflix’s “Mudbound” and playing a death-row inmate in “Just Mercy.” He also appeared in a movie that I loved that not many people saw in “The Last Black Man in San Francisco.”

Some felt he should have received a Best Supporting Actor nomination for “Just Mercy” and that’s when I started to remember his name.

Morgan now gives the kind of role that should earn him industry-wide acclaim in “Bull,” an indie film about a battered former bull rider who befriends a troubled 14-year-old girl who trashes his home.

Morgan plays Abe, who deals with constant pain from his years as a bull rider. Now he’s more a of wrangler who trains others and he’s reluctant to help Kris, his neighbor who has a mother in prison and is being raised by her grandmother. Kris gets drunk with some friends and rebelliously damages his property and he allows her to help him around the house rather than pressing criminal charges.

At first glance, this appears to be another indie film about a cranky older neighbor helping a troubled youth. They’re both broken and they help each other and become friends. Yada yada yada. It’s been done before. Another “unlikely friendship” movie.

But what makes “Bull” stand out is two things: it’s keen sense of place and a career-defining performance by Morgan.

Director Annie Silverstein, a relative newcomer, spent 10 years as a youth worker before enrolling in film school and it shows in her treatment of Kris in this movie. She gives us a window into the lives of those struggling in America and how mass incarceration (or poor parenting) can affect at-risk youth. She shows us a look at what it’s like to be a fearsome warrior like a bull rider who now is past his prime and doesn’t know what life is worth anymore. She gives us an authentic look at the marginalized in economically-hit Texas and you feel like you’re there. This film has a message on the social-economic dynamics but it doesn’t hit you over the head with it. Instead, it focuses on the compassionate friendship between these two amid a sea of societal apathy.

Of course, none of this would work without Morgan. Amber Havard is satisfactory as Kris, but she’s hardly a star. She’s young so I’m not being critical. She gives a restrained, realistic performance as a troubled youth. Morgan, on the other hand, gives a fantastically nuanced performance that will likely stand out among the best in 2020 for those that see this movie. You feel his pain and his nonverbal acting is palpable. He shows you what’s on his mind without saying a word.

“Bull” is not a perfect movie. It drags at times. Some acting is better than others in this film. It lacks any action or excitement. The story itself has been done before. But for a debut feature, Silverstein has done an impressive job and it does for the world of rodeos what “The Wrestler” did for pro wrestling.

I’d compare “Bull” to two indie movies released in 2017 that were slower paced, character-driven and animal-themed: “Lean on Pete” and “The Rider.” If you loved those movies, give “Bull” a stream.