(Photo by Courtesy the Everett Collection)
Our new Classic Film Catch-Up feature connects you with classic films to put on your watchlist – beloved favorites and hidden gems alike. With more time at home, there’s no better opportunity to finally watch these titles that helped define cinema as we know it.
The current situation of social distancing has many of us thinking of ways to maximize the time we spend at home. We’re also eating several times a day and annoying our pets, but being productive does cross our minds from time to time. Puzzles, long-abandoned books, craft projects, and New Year’s resolutions have suddenly jumped to the top of our to-do lists. In the RT comments, many of you have shared how you’re catching up on classic films, and here at RT, we happen to agree that now is the perfect time to increase your classic film viewing.
Concentrating on films released before 1980 (both well-known titles and hidden gems), we’re producing new guides to essential classic films curated by theme, filmmaker, actor, genre, or style – all for your classic catch-up needs. Want to see our picks for the best French farces? How about a curated list of Fresh picks from Alfred Hitchcock, Peter Sellers, or Billy Wilder? As well as curating watchlists, we’re breaking down the films, telling you where you can watch them, and giving you some more recent and/or well-known films the classics might remind you of so you can gauge which movies are right for you.
And the movies are more accessible than ever. Turner Classic Movies may have had to cancel their annual classic film festival this year, and 2018 saw the demise of their classic film app, FilmStruck, but between the newly launched The Criterion Channel streaming app and other streaming services, movie fans still have access to thousands of old Hollywood masterworks.
Read below for our list of seminal classic quirky romantic comedies you need to see or revisit. More than simple boy-meets-girl tales, these love stories go far beyond the typical “meet-cute” and in many cases reflect unique moments in film history.
Got other quirky rom-coms you’d add to our list? Have a suggestion for a future theme or classic film to feature in the column? Let us know in the comments.
(Photo by Courtesy of Columbia Pictures)
What is it? Married couple Bob (Robert Culp) and Carol (Natalie Wood) attend a life-changing workshop and swiftly adopt the practices they learned, much to the distress of their best friends Ted (Elliott Gould) and Alice (Dyan Cannon). The workshop and its aftermath profoundly change the couples’ marriages and their feelings for one another.
Why you need to see it: Prior to the repeal of the Hays Code – the moral production code that regulated what could be shown on screen – most films could not overtly reference sex. This need to edit out the explicit content was one driver of the tongue-in-cheek sexual innuendo of 1940s and 1950s romantic comedies. After the Hays Code was officially abandoned in 1968, a new wave of sexually explicit comedies flooded cinemas. Bob & Carol Ted & Alice is one of the first sex comedies and one of the best. No longer did screenwriters have to dance around the subject; director and co-writer Paul Mazursky could, in fact, address the elephant in the room. Funnily enough, having your first film score four Oscar nods and make bank at the box office ruins Hollywood, according to Mazursky; the director joked later that the film was almost too perfect, and therefore its success could never be replicated.
What is it? An heiress on the run (Claudette Colbert) joins forces with a man she meets, but little does she know he is actually a reporter in need of a story.
Why you need to see it: One of only three films to ever pull a clean sweep of the five major Oscar categories (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actor, Best Actress), It Happened One Night is one of the truly great romantic comedies. The movie combines Clark Gable’s undeniable charm, Claudette Colbert’s comedic timing, and the feel-good filmmaking of Frank Capra. Our only question is, what has taken you so long to see it?
What is it? Sabrina (Audrey Hepburn) is a lovestruck chauffeur’s daughter who nurses an impossible crush for David (William Holden), the youngest son of the family that employs her father. When Sabrina returns home after years in Paris, the newly engaged David is suddenly ready to romance her and dump his fiancée – something that David’s older brother Linus (Humphrey Bogart) is determined to prevent.
Why you need to see it: This is a must-watch because of Bogie, Hepburn, Holden, and writer-director Billy Wilder. Audrey Hepburn was the perfect choice for the stylish Cinderella love interest and rightfully earned the Best Actress nomination she received for the film. Nominated for six Oscars and taking home the prize for Best Costumes, Sabrina is an early example of a film whose cast was fleshed out with A-list talent and Oscar winners. Bogart, who replaced Wilder’s first choice of Cary Grant, was arguably one of the biggest stars on the planet, and here he was cast alongside Hepburn and Holden, both of whom had taken home Best Acting Oscars in 1953. This was the kind of dream-team casting not often replicated. Bogart was never sure he was the right choice for Linus, but his put-off posturing both on and off set served his performance well.
What is it? Marriage-minded interior decorator Jan Morrow (Doris Day) must share a phone line with her playboy neighbor, Brad Allen (Rock Hudson). When Brad sees the beauty on the other end of his line he decides to woo Jan under a false identity and inadvertently falls in love during the process.
Why you need to see it: Pillow Talk was a risqué project for the squeaky clean Doris Day and Rock Hudson, but turned out to be the first of several successful films the pair made together. The clever innuendos peppered throughout the Oscar-winning script were, in fact, scandalous by 1950s film standards; it was testament to the large screenwriting team that they got past the censor board with the hilarity still intact. Compare it to Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, and you can acutely appreciate how much progress was made in just one decade. Watching it with a modern eye is a bit like watching classic anti-drug films like Reefer Madness.
(Photo by Courtesy of Columbia Pictures)
What is it? A playboy hairdresser (Warren Beatty) enlists the husband of one of his rich female lovers/clients when he seeks a loan for his salon. A series of events then ensue that places the hairdresser at a party with his girlfriend, her husband, and several ex-lovers – including “the one that got away.”
Why you need to see it: The Owl and the Pussycat and Bob & Carole & Ted & Alice loosened the cap off cinematic sexual oppression, but after the success of X-rated films like Deep Throat and Midnight Cowboy, the initial “shock of sex” had lost its luster by the 1970s. In 1975, a fresh approach was needed to wow audiences, and Warren Beatty provided it with his satirical sex comedy Shampoo – though many at the time did not appreciate it. A sex comedy where nothing happens and *spoiler alert* no one falls in love? It is easy to understand why audiences and many contemporary critics dismissed the film. “The laughs are tempered by bleakness and the film ends up saddened by its characters’ awkwardness,” wrote Time Out London. However, on a second look, you can appreciate how George’s womanizing ways were a direct product of the 1960s’ free love movement, and the film offered a clever depiction of the 1970s hangover that much of America was suffering after all of that ’60s excess. Beatty’s script, which he co-wrote with Robert Towne, acutely understood the character of George and his sexual apathy.
What is it? No-nonsense news editor Walter Burns (Cary Grant) has only a few hours to prevent his star reporter – and ex-wife – Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) from quitting the paper to marry a simple-minded insurance salesman she met on vacation. After a convicted murderer escapes from jail, Burns is thrust into a race against time to stop Hildy – and secure the exclusive story.
Why you need to see it: If Capra’s It Happened One Night firmly established the fast-talking screwball comedy, His Girl Friday might have perfected it. It Happened One Night is a near-perfect romantic comedy, but director Howard Hawks took over-talking and quick dialogue to new heights with His Girl Friday, establishing a style that has been replicated everywhere from the Gilmore Girls to Glengarry Glen Ross. “You don’t know whether you have been laughing or having your ears boxed,” wrote New York Times film critic Frank S. Nugent at the time of its release.
(Photo by Courtesy of Criterion Collection.)
What is it? An exotic dancer wants a child and her current lover is not willing – but his best friend might be tempted to fill in for him.
Why you need to see it: We could go on and on about how A Woman is a Woman is a clever rebuttal to the American musical comedy. We could talk about Jean-Luc Godard and his visionary camera work and shooting style. We could talk about French New Wave or French sex comedies. But the best reason to see the film is a woman, and that woman is the incomparable Anna Karina. Just gaze into her eyes and let her performance hypnotize you.
What is it? A conservative attorney (Robert Redford) rushes into marriage with a carefree woman (Jane Fonda). Realizing they are very different people, the young couple struggle to stay in love and avoid divorce.
Why you need to see it: It would be criminal not include a Neil Simon film on any list of great classic romantic comedies. Writer of The Goodbye Girl, The Heartbreak Kid, and Seems Like Old Times, Simon was a master of opposites-attract love stories. Jane Fonda plays the free-spirited Corie to seductive perfection, and Robert Redford manages to stifle all his natural charms to embody the stuffed shirt, Paul. It’s a love story where the question is never, “Will these two fall in love?” The only question in Barefoot in Park is, “Can they stay together?” The film was not universally loved upon release, but we tend to agree with Time Magazine, which wrote at the time: “Simon has taken a plot as bland as a potato, sliced it into thin bits – and made it as hard to resist as potato chips.”
It’s a light week for home video entertainment, but never fear — RT on DVD is here! We’ll kick things off with the biggest title of the week: Frank Miller’s The Spirit, which had fans drooling with anticipation…until the stylized comic strip adaptation hit theaters. Better reviewed, but nonetheless controversial in its own right, is Kate Winslet’s The Reader, which nabbed the British actress her first Academy Award but also drew the ire of critics thanks to its sensitive subject material. Horror fans will get a pleasant surprise with an indie creature feature (Splinter), while ’80s enthusiasts should embrace a new eight-DVD set that combines the star power of Whoopi Goldberg, Drew Barrymore, and Jon Cryer (The Lost Collection). Fans of director Michel Gondry should check out his latest compilation of music videos and short films (Michel Gondry 2: More Videos). Finally, see if an overlooked science fiction flick holds up in High Def (The 13th Floor on Blu-ray).
Frank Miller‘s first solo effort as a director (after co-directing Sin City with Robert Rodriguez) had fans both curious and hopeful, since the adaptation of the 1940s-era comic strip would mesh the celebrated style of Miller’s mentor, Will Eisner, with his own. Unfortunately for everyone involved, Miller’s treatment of the crime fighter known as The Spirit was widely panned by critics, who blasted its unintelligible plotting and ridiculous dialogue. That’s too bad, since The Spirit — like Sin City and 300 before it — is a daring effort, setting a cast of real-life players against largely computer-generated environments to create a unique world, half-real and half-imagined; sadly, it’s a brave choice that couldn’t quite balance a hammy, atonal script. Give it a chance this week on DVD (or in glorious High Def on Blu-ray), if only to witness Miller’s stylistic flair caress each and every one of his femme fatales (including Scarlett Johansson, Eva Mendes, Paz Vega, Sarah Paulson, and Jaime King). Below, watch an exclusive excerpt from the DVD feature “Miller on Miller,” in which Frank Miller explains his attraction to black and white animation and noir storytelling.
Next: Kate Winslet in The Reader
“It’s not a Holocaust movie,” argues director Stephen Daldry, who all but invited controversy with this drama about a German woman named Hanna Schmitz hiding her past as a Nazi prison guard. Hence, critics were split on whether or not the tale, told from the perspective of Hanna’s former lover, Michael Berg (Ralph Fiennes), was told in poor taste. Rife with literary references — Hanna asks her then-15 year old lover to read aloud to her between lovemaking sessions — The Reader is adapted from Bernhard Schlink’s semi-autobiographical novel of the same name. While the film does curry some sympathy for the culpable Schmitz (thanks in large part to Kate Winslet‘s Oscar-winning performance), the bigger questions are posed to Fiennes’ character, who represents a generation of Germans still dealing with post-war guilt. Deleted scenes and making-of featurettes accompany the DVD, along with segments with director Daldry and actor David Kross, Kate Winslet, and up-and-coming composer Nico Muhly.
Next: Michel Gondry is back with More Videos
If you already own director Michel Gondry‘s Director’s Label compilation of music videos and shorts, then you’re going to want to add this new volume to your DVD collection. Like that previous release, Michel Gondry 2: More Videos assembles an assortment of delightful short films and music videos, all of them Gondrian to the core (read: handcrafted, fresh visuals from Hollywood’s most offbeat and crafty filmmaker). Included in this go-around are music videos for Bjork (“Declare Independence”), Paul McCartney (“Dance Tonight”), Michael Andrews featuring Gary Jules (“Mad World”), Stereogram (“Walkie Talkie Man”), The White Stripes (“The Denial Twist”), Beck (“Cellphone’s Dead”) and more, including his “Knives Out” video for Radiohead, which the band notoriously hated and never used.
The single-disc release also includes a handful of shorts, including Gondry’s infamous Rubik’s Cube video (in which he solves the mindbender with his feet), a response video entitled “Jack Black Beats Michel Gondry With His Rubik’s Cube,” and “How To Blow Up A Helicopter (Ayako’s Story),” featuring actress Ayako Fujitani (who starred in Gondry’s segment of the film Tokyo! and who happens to also be the daughter of Steven Seagal). Find Michel Gondry 2: More Videos available at his official site, www.michelgondry.com beginning April 14.
Next: Spiky horrors in Splinter
“Sharply-directed” and “amusing” aren’t the words one might expect from low-budget horror these days, but the critics agree that Splinter, which debuted on HDNet and in limited release last October, delivers. The plot: a couple and their carjackers become trapped in an abandoned gas station by a parasite that turns animals (and people) into porcupine-like flesh eaters. Director Toby Wilkins paces his creature feature well, drawing comparisons to such classic monster flicks as The Thing and Tremors; hear all about how Wilkins pulled it off in two audio commentaries (one with him and the cast, the other with him and his crew), making-of featurettes, and more.
Next: Science, tragedy, and Meryl Streep in Dark Matter
The crossroads between genius and insanity have been addressed before in films like A Beautiful Mind, but in Dark Matter, that theme takes a, well, darker turn. Helmed by Chinese opera director Chen Shi-zheng, the drama — based loosely on a 1991 campus tragedy at the University of Iowa — follows brilliant Chinese doctoral student Liu Xing (Ye Liu), who comes to America to study physics and pursue the American Dream. But when his dissertation on dark matter, the unseen elements of the universe, contradicts the theories of his advisor (Aidan Quinn), Xing loses everything, and is set on a path toward a violent mental breakdown. Critics praised Dark Matter for its sensitive portrayal of the American immigrant experience, but bemoaned the inert journey it takes to get to its shocking conclusion. Meryl Streep co-stars.
Next: HBO’s The House of Saddam
BBC and HBO Films teamed up to produce this four-hour mini-series about the rise and fall of Saddam Hussein, the notorious Iraqi dictator who was executed in 2006. Spread over two discs, The House of Saddam chronicles the 27-year reign of Iraq’s fifth President (Munich‘s Yigal Naor) in spectacularly terrifying fashion; part soap opera, part historical document, the series has drawn comparisons to The Sopranos in part because it not only weaves together Hussein’s personal and political lives, but peels back the layers on members of his inner circle.
Next: Pillow Talk 50th Anniversary Edition
Bring home this romantic comedy classic about the epic battle of the sexes between an independent Manhattan gal (Doris Day) and a songwriting playboy who lives in her building (Rock Hudson). Nominated for five Oscars (it won for Best Screenplay), Pillow Talk marked the beginning of a fruitful on-screen partnership between singer-turned-studio starlet Day and Hudson, who would go on to star together in the lesser known rom-coms Lover Come Back and Send Me No Flowers. The 50th Anniversary edition, however, leaves something to be desired, as it includes only three bonus features (commentary by film historians, a feature on the Day-Hudson partnership, and one on the success of the 1959 film) and trailers.
Next: Turn back to the ’80s with The Lost Collection
When it comes to nostalgia for the ’80s, perhaps some things are better left in the past… Not! Lionsgate certainly doesn’t think so, as they’re releasing eight films under the banner “The Lost Collection,” which run the gamut from horror to high school comedies to, yes, the saddest comedy of the entire decade: Irreconcilable Differences. Within the set you’ll also find the teen slasher Slaughter High, the Leslie Nielsen spoof Repossessed! (which co-stars Linda Blair in a parody of her Exorcist role), and the Keanu Reeves vehicle The Night Before, which plays like an ’80s version of Dude, Where’s My Car? Also included in the Lost Collection are the Robert Sean Leonard bloodsucker comedy, My Best Friend is a Vampire, and the unforgettable buddy pic Homer & Eddie, in which James Belushi endures a road trip with BFF Whoopi Goldberg! We can’t quite decide what’s worse, between that match up and the inclusion of not one, but two Jon Cryer flicks (the back to school yukfest Hiding Out and Morgan Stewart’s Coming Home). Naturally, each film comes with its own “I Love the ’80s”-style pop up trivia.
Next: The Thirteenth Floor hits Blu-ray
By the time The 13th Floor debuted in the summer of 1999, Hollywood was jam-packed with science-fiction films about virtual reality and technology (see Dark City, eXistenZ, and the mother of them all, The Matrix). Now that it’s gotten some distance from those comparisons, The 13th Floor might finally get a fair shake on Blu-ray. The time-jumping story of virtual reality tech Douglas Hall (Craig Bierko) begins in the 1990s and travels (via simulation game) to 1937 Los Angeles, where Hall learns that an artificially-created character within the game has figured out the truth — and may be killing other people. Gretchen Mol co-stars in this existential thriller, which looks sumptuous on Blu-Ray but lacks substantial bonus features.
Until next week, happy renting!
The first month of 2007 wraps up with four eclectic releases, featuring hitmen ("Smokin’ Aces", starring Ryan Reynolds, Jeremy Piven, and a million other hip thespians), sad people ("Catch and Release", starring Jennifer Garner and a hatless Kevin Smith), werewolves ("Blood and Chocolate" with Agnes Bruckner), and the almighty Crispin Glover ("Epic Movie"). What do the critics have to say?
In "Smokin’ Aces," Jeremy Piven plays a soon-to-be government snitch, leading a cavalcade of seedy characters who’ve been sent in to kill, or save him. Or maybe just settle with killing each other. This overstuffed movie features a huge list of cool people doing cool action scenes, but fails to give anybody any semblence of identity. It’s one vapid, bloody sequence after another, though critics are distressed over how long the movie takes to set up the convulted plot and action. At 28 percent Tomatometer, "Aces" may be smokin’, but it’s not on fire.
Kevin Smith is certainly full of surprises. First the rumor he’ll do a scary flick, and now his apperance in "Catch and Release", a gooey romantic dramadey starring Jennifer Garner as a woman coping with a close death. Kevin Smith is the goofy yet lovable lug, the comic relief in a movie where everyone plays some kind of stock character. It’s a shallow, contrived treatment of a serious subject and with 24 percent on the Tomatometer, "Catch and Release" isn’t reeling in the critcs.
We’re going to have you work overtime for this week’s Guess That Tomatometer game. "Epic Movie," which somehow confuses Paris Hilton and "Borat" as part of the genre, is the latest of those spoof movies and the latest movie to not be critic screened.
Whenever I hear "Blood and Chocolate", it makes me think Elvis Costello, not babes and werewolves. Maybe the title’s signifcance is explained somewhere in the movie, but it’s hard to tell right now since "Blood and Chocolate" also isn’t being screened for critics. Guess those Tomatometers.
Speaking of guessing Tomatometers, congratulations to mizzoucritic for coming closest last week to guessing the Tomatometer of "The Hitcher."