Continuing our list of a dozen movies and TV shows to help you skip the holiday cheer.
Christmas is just three days away, and we’re still not feeling it. Just the same, or maybe because of it, here’s the rest of the dozen movies and gone-too-soon television shows that we recommend as smart, funny, honest, and wickedly creative – in other words, everything the holiday season is not. They’re all available on DVD, and they all make perfect ways to escape from holiday celebrations into something that better fits a sour mood
A couple of days ago we published the first half of the list here, but the total listing remains (as always) in no particular order of importance. Where possible, we’ve included video that was available on YouTube when we looked for it.
Thank You For Smoking (2005) – Smug, blithely amoral tobacco industry lobbyist Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhardt, never better) juggles raising his tween son (Cameron Bright) with romancing a journalist (Katie Holmes) and pitching cigarette product placement into Hollywood films. Opposing him are a yokely U.S. Senator (William H. Macy) and… well, pretty much the entire world.
Writer-director Jason Reitman (Up In The Air) adapts Christopher Buckley’s novel with fierce comic wit and timing, and the leads get a giant boost from a supporting cast full of ringers – Macy, the great J.K. Simmons, Maria Bello, David Koechner, among others. It’s the kind of film that at first you think you shouldn’t laugh at, then admit you can’t help yourself.
The Sweet Smell of Success (1957) – Struggling, bottom-feeding New York press agent Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis) lives at the beck and call of cynical, world-loathing newspaper columnist J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster). Hunsecker, who despises Falco and the whole world besides, can make or break Falco’s clients – and, by extension, Falco too. Hunsecker offers him the chance to get his clients real publicity, but only if Falco will sabotage the jazz guitarist (Martin Milner) currently romancing his sister (Susan Harrison).
By and large, the mainstream films of the 1950s aren’t known for their character depth or social commentary, but like Elia Kazan’s A Face In The Crowd (released the same year) Alexander Mackendrick’s film has dozens of barbed comments to make on the media, public image, and moral hypocrisy; consider it Mad Men from the time of Mad Men.
Gone Baby Gone (2007) – Ben Affleck’s directing debut adapts Dennis Lehane’s novel about a pair of romantically attached detectives (Casey Affleck and Michelle Monaghan) pulled into helping the search for a young girl kidnapped from a poor neighborhood. But the investigation ends unhappily, and the couple drifts apart. Months later, a second kidnapping raises nagging questions about the first, complicated by police treachery and the girl’s own conniving, possibly complicit mother (the superb Amy Ryan, in an Oscar-nominated performance.)
This was one of the first films SBR reviewed, and it still holds a warm, if dark, place in our film memory. Read our complete review here.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) – A film lover’s dream movie, George Roy Hill’s loose, self-assured take on the two real-life train robbers still sets the bar for all things masculine cool. Pursued by a crack team of investigators to the remote hills of Bolivia, Butch (Paul Newman) and Sundance (Robert Redford) continue their life of crime even though the stakes are higher and the authorities deadlier. Times’s running out for the two gentlemen bandits, largely because their era of frontier freedom is ending.
In the meantime the pacing is sharp and the performances perfect, as in this following scene where Butch confronts a mutinous member of his Hole In The Wall Gang (Ted Cassidy.)
Point Blank (1967) – You always hear about how the 1960s was a decade of change yet Lee Marvin remained the biggest badass on the planet throughout, as this John Boorman (Deliverance) pseudo-homage to French New Wave proves again and again. Here he’s cast as Walker, a thief and enforcer double-crossed and left for dead by both his partner (John Vernon) and wife (Sharon Acker).
But he recovers, and with help from a mysterious benefactor (Keenan Wynn) begins to take apart the criminal syndicate that his ex-partner now represents. Walker wants revenge and no more, no less than the $93,000 that was his take of their last heist. He’s helped, in her kitten-with-a-whip Sixties way, by his wife’s sister (Angie Dickinson). If any of this sounds familiar, Mel Gibson remade the film with 1999′s much weaker Payback.
Arrested Development (2003) – We’re still parsing out how good this dark comedy actually was, seven years after its debut. A labyrinth of in-jokes, meta-humor, recurring gags and brilliant character beats formed the structure of the Bluth family’s saga in Orange County, as storylines of infidelity, coming of age, treason, and so much else moved them from episode to interconnected episode.
The show nominally centered on straight-laced son Michael (Jason Bateman, kicking off his career comeback) but included more than a dozen regular and recurring performers including Portia de Rossi, Jeffrey Tambor, Will Arnett, Michael Cera and David Cross. All three seasons are on DVD, and lately IFC has put reruns heavily into its nightly schedule.
Happy holidays. We’ll return once next week, to close out the year with its last installment of Miscellaneous Debris. Be safe on the roads and take care.
- Michael Kabel