Orrin's Picks 21-30:
21. Airport (1970) 22. Charade (1963) 23. Royal Tenenbaums (2001) 24. A Face in the Crowd (1957) 25. All About Eve (1950) 26. Inherit the Wind (1960) 27. Stagecoach (1939) 28. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) 29. American Hustle (2013) 30. Love and Mercy (2015)
I need to admit I have not seen Airport, and mostly know it for inspiring Airplane. Impressive cast, with Helen Hayes winning an Oscar, although it was generally considered to be more of a lifetime achievement one. It’s hard to think of anyone besides Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn in Charade, but Walter Matthau showed his range playing the villain. By the same logic, while Bette Davis fills up the screen in what became her signature role All About Eve, the work of her supporting cast is very underrated, including Anne Baxter, Gary Merrill, Celeste Holm and an up-and-coming Marilyn Monroe. But the two who really add spice to the movie are George Sanders and the great Thelma Ritter. Both could deliver a snarky one-liner like few else. Ritter in particular somehow was always the one who would say what the audience was thinking.
|Photo Source: Rotten Tomatoes|
Numbers 27 and 28 on your list both feature one of the most unsung character actors from the studio era, Thomas Mitchell. He never had the looks to become a star in the 30s, 40s and 50s, but always worked well playing off stars including John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Clark Gable, Cary Grant and Gary Cooper. Like Ritter, he was someone audiences could identify with. He won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Stagecoach and could have just as easily been nominated for many other films. Just look at his filmography. Mitchell is the perfect example of the actor you need to have a stellar ensemble, a versatile performer who could create memorable characters while allowing those around him to shine.
To think of Airport solely as “the film where Helen Hayes won an Oscar” is a gross disservice to the variety and caliber of performances in this great disaster film. I remember having a discussion on a message board over which of the four leading ladies of this film—Jacqueline Bisset as a pregnant stewardess in peril, Maureen Stapleton, as a worried housewife, Jean Seberg as a level-headed executive assistant or Hayes—deserved Oscar nominations and everyone had different answers. Personally, I think Seberg was the stand-out. Her sly face-off against Hayes’ character showed a quiet don’t-mess-with-me demeanor and her undefined thing for hard-nosed superior Burt Lancaster reminds me of the Betty Hutton-Charlton Heston romance in Greatest Show on Earth. Throw in Dean Martin as a dashing pilot, George Kennedy as a blue collar fix-it- man, and Oscar-winning actor Van Heflin as an especially unhinged passenger, and this is a great cast.
I’m surprised you praise the supporting work of Charade without mentioning the best part: George Kennedy, James Coburn, and Ned Glass as the deliciously mismatched trio of ex-GIs trying to extort Audrey Hepburn out of her late husband’s war loot. One’s bulky and physically imposing; one’s wiry and slick; one’s nebbishy and prone to sneezing fits: Those three are like the living embodiment of those Interpol cops (editorial note: it was extremely hard to find an online image of the three cops from that 1986 DOS game but take my word, they looked like the three guys in Charade) that used to run across the screen chasing Carmen Sandiego in my old 8-bit computer game. But yes, it’s also tempting to mark the pairing of the king and queen of the romantic comedy (even though their self-referenced age difference on screen is indicative that they were of two different eras) with an inclusion on my list.
|Photo Source: DoctorMacro.com|
Orrin's turn at bat: Goodfellas is a solid choice. Ray Liotta is the audience surrogate, Pesci is the stand-out performance, and DeNiro is the glue. Loretta Brasci is understated here. I noticed as I was writing this that when comparing a simple film like Goodfellas to Scorsese’s 21st century films that his later casts are often bloated by a number of superfluous characters. In The Departed, doesn’t Mark Wahlberg make Alec Baldwin’s character obsolete? Did Wolf of Wall Street require a banker character that has one scene to be played by Jean DuJardin and was Jon Favreau really necessary? Does anyone remember what Patricia Clarkson or Emily Mortimer did in Shutter Island (the screen credits certainly don’t)? What was all the hype about for Jude Law as Errol Flynn in Aviator if he was on screen for 10 seconds? Perhaps as Scorsese has become such a bona fide legend and his releases have been more hyped, he (or his producers) have responded by thinking that more marquee names in the cast is better.
With The Manchurian Candidate, it can be hard to look past Lansbury’s perfect embodiment of motherly evil. But look deeper and you will see James Gregory as Sen. Iselin, the pompous send-up of Joe McCarthy. Gregory works well with Lansbury, as Ms. Iselin lets the Senator think he is in charge when it’s her plan all along. You will also find Henry Silva as Chunjin, who opposite Frank Sinatra, had one of the more underrated fight scenes. Finally, there’s Khigh Dhiegh as the head brainwasher, who has such fun with the role that you almost don’t mind all of the horrible acts his character does.
We disagree about Spotlight. Michael Keaton’s performance is so low-key compared to his other work, but it fits his role as a veteran reporter, always observing and building the story in his head. He feigns detachment, but slowly lets you see the determination underneath. His cool helps further emphasizes the fire that Mark Ruffalo brings. Re-watch the scene where Ruffalo’s character argues for running the story immediately, while Keaton calmly explains that the paper will run it when it’s ready. Also, think about the actors playing the abuse victims. Those roles can easily come off as forced or melodramatic, but they never do.
Eve’s Bayou is so stunning visually that you can almost overlook the fine performances. Samuel J. Jackson is the headliner as the patriarch of a wealthy Louisiana family, but he is used sparingly. In the title role Jurnee Smolett who, at 10 years old, had more talent and depth than most older actors. The chemistry between her and other actors, in particular Meagan Good as Eve’s sister and Debbi Morgan as her aunt, make the film work. Lynn Whitfield, Diahann Carroll, and Vondie Curtis-Hall also distinguish themselves.