Daily Double Feature

Daily suggestions for movie combinations. Nothing blatantly obvious that you've seen a million times (unless it matches with something in an enlightening way).

Loss of a Child

The Sweet Hereafter (1997):  The residents of a small town in Canada hire a lawyer to find out who is to blame for the tragic bus accident that kills most of the town’s children. 

Blue (1993):  The sad film in Kieslowski’s Three Colors trilogy stars Juliette Binoche as a woman who loses her husband and child in a car accident.

Kurosawa’s Hollywood Downfall and Resurrection

Runaway Train (1985):  Akira Kurosawa came to Hollywood in 1966 and his first project was to be Runaway Train, but the production ended up being cancelled.  Almost 20 years later, Russian filmmaker Andrei Konchalovsky would take Kurosawa’s screenplay and make a pretty good action movie.

Kagemusha (1980):  Kurosawa’s only other attempt to work within the Hollywood system was 1970’s subpar Pearl Harbor spectacle Tora! Tora! Tora!, which he was fired from after only two weeks of shooting.  After returning to Japan and only making two films over the next 10 years, Kurosawa was unsure if he would ever make another film.  Then, superfans George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola would step in with their newfound Hollywood clout to help get the phenomenal Kagemusha off the ground. 

Miscarriages of Justice

The Thin Blue Line (1988):  Errol Morris’s breakthrough documentary about a man wrongfully imprisoned for murder led to the man’s eventual release.

Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (2008):  Not really up to snuff on the filmmaking end (the editing style is over-the-top and thoroughly annoying), but the story told here will boil your blood. 

The Compulsives of Paul Schrader Films

Affliction (1997):  Paul Scrader made a bit of a comeback with this dark film about two generations of alcoholics in New Hampshire.  James Coburn plays the surly father to Nolte’s sad sack cop character.

Auto Focus (2002):  Another dark film from Schrader, this one telling the story of Hogan’s Heroes actor Bob Crane’s sex addiction.

May-December Romance

Harold and Maude (1971):  Everybody loves this comedy about a young suicidal man, Harold, who falls for the septuagenarian Maude.

Ali:  Fear Eats the Soul (1974):  Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s powerful story about a Moroccan immigrant’s turbulent relationship with an older German woman was modeled after the melodramas of Douglas Sirk.

Wildly Different Movies with the Same Title (part 2)

Spellbound (1945):  Alfred Hitchcock’s collaboration with Salvador Dali is a dated, but enjoyable thriller.

Spellbound (2002):  A fascinating look at the world of the National Spelling Bee.

Wildly Different Movies with the Same Title

Election (1999): Alexander Payne’s comedy about Machiavellian tactics at work in a Nebraska high school.  

Election (2005):  Johnnie To’s crime drama about Machiavellian tactics at work in a Hong Kong triad.

Lighthearted Thrillers

Charade (1963): A lighter-than-air romantic comedy with a fun caper plot.

Family Plot (1976):  Alfred Hitchcock’s swan song is not in the same league with his classics, but it’s got a goofy charm to it.

Madness

La Moustache (2005):  Emmanuel Carrere’s adaptation of his own novel has a setup that almost reads like a wacky satire: a man shaves off the mustache he’s worn his entire adult life and no one notices.  This isn’t a funny film though. The newly shaved protagonist is driven mad by the fact that no one remembers his facial hair.  It’s a really interesting, ambiguous film. 

Take Shelter (2011):  Michael Shannon plays a man with a family history of schizophrenia who starts to have visions of an apocalyptic storm.  He loses his job and alienates his family as he becomes obsessed with building a fallout shelter in the backyard.

Underrated Coen Brothers Films

A Serious Man (2009): While not underrated critically, I think this one flew under the radar or over the head of a lot people.  It’s an unconventional film with no recognizable actors and a strange, ambiguous ending.  It’s also brilliant and features some of their most virtuosic filmmaking. 

Burn After Reading (2008):  This came out right after No Country for Old Men and I think the shift in style was too much for a lot of people.  They went from violent, ponderous western-noir to goofy screwball comedy.  So, I think the sequencing colored people’s views of this film, but it’s a pretty fun comedy.  They’ve always had a fondness for the screwball comedies of Preston Sturges, but where in the past they’ve failed by mimicking the style too closely (see: Intolerable Cruelty), in this one they’ve made it their own.

Road Movies About Old Midwesterners

About Schmidt (2002): Jack Nicholson’s bored retiree/widower heads out on a Winnebago adventure to try to rescue his daughter from her impending marriage to a scumbag.  Alexander Payne seems to be returning to similar subject matter in his new film Nebraska, another one that appears to be about a midwesterner searching for meaning in his later years.

The Straight Story (1999): A very strange film in David Lynch’s catalog considering that it isn’t really very strange (although it does have its moments.)  It’s based on the true story of a man who drove across Iowa and Wisconsin in his lawnmower to make amends with his ailing brother.  Richard Farnsworth gives a powerful final performance, especially during a scene where he reflects on his WWII experiences.

Moral Panic

Capturing the Friedmans (2003):  Andrew Jarecki’s documentary focuses on the the hysteria-fueled investigation of child abuse charges against a Long Island man, Arnold Friedman, and his son, Jesse. 

Paradise Lost:  The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996): In 1990’s West Memphis, Arkansas you could be convicted of murder for wearing a Metallica t-shirt.  This is the first in a trilogy of films that details the disturbing and frustrating legal proceedings of the West Memphis Three. 

Falling

The Falling Man (2006):  This documentary about the iconic and controversial 9/11 photograph of a man falling from the World Trade Center is a morbid, but fascinating, film that forces you to contemplate the horrifying final moments of those people trapped in the towers.

The Bridge (2006):  To continue with the morbid and controversial, this documentary production put camera operators on the Golden Gate Bridge every day for a year and captured a number of people jumping to their deaths (the crew was instructed to intervene when they suspected a jumper and saved at least 6 people during the year.)  Murky ethics aside, the film is a moving examination of suicide.

1970’s Paranoid Thrillers

Marathon Man (1976):  John Schlesinger’s terrific “wrong man” thriller follows Dustin Hoffman as the titular runner who gets involved in a plot by a former Nazi torturer to retrieve a collection of diamonds in New York.  While famous for the “Is it safe?” dentistry scene, it’s got a number of equally intense scenes and some excellent cinematography from the always great Conrad Hall.

The Parallax View (1974):  The definition of a paranoid thriller.  Warren Beatty plays a reporter who discovers a corporation whose secret business is recruiting and training political assassins.

Star Wars and Its Inspiration

Star Wars (1977):  You might have already seen this.

The Hidden Fortress (1958): George Lucas borrowed pretty liberally from this Akira Kurosawa classic. He took the basic plot, the wipe transitions, and the R2D2 and C3PO characters (who were obviously based on the the two peasant characters.)  If only he’d kept stealing from Kurosawa for the prequels…