April 22, 2024 #1 Local News, Information and Event Source for the Century City/Westwood areas.

A FILM FAN’S FAVORITES

More Mysterious than Kids

With back-to-school looming we are reminded that there is nothing more mysterious than the younger generation, whose language, dress, culture and behavior have baffled adults through the ages.

For those who seek a simpler challenge, here are 10 films that you can rent. You may not be able to figure out these mysteries either, but at least you’ll be entertained!

1. THE USUAL SUSPECTS (1995)–27 bodies in San Pedro Harbor in the opener, followed by wonderful performances, can’t prepare you for the GREAT ending. Watching it for the first time leaves one wanting to see it again–right away. Academy Awards for Supporting Actor (Kevin Spacey) and Script (Christopher McQuarrie).

2. CHARADE (1963)–Hard to say who’s better looking–Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn or the city of Paris. Add Walter Matthau, James Coburn and George Kennedy, stir in romance, humor and crooks looking for missing WWII loot, memorable music, and voila–great entertainment, in Stanley Donen’s stylish thriller.

3. THE THIRD MAN (1949)–Intrigue abounds, as Allies pursue black marketeers. Orson Welles, Joseph Cotton, Trevor Howard head an excellent cast, but the real stars are Post-War Vienna, haunting zither music, black and white cinematography and sharp editing. Carol Reed directed; Graham Green wrote; David O. Selznick produced. No mystery why this is a classic.

4. THE LAST OF SHEILA (1973)–Written by Anthony Perkins and Stephen Sondheim, this is that rare mystery; clues are available for an alert audience, but so are red herrings. James Coburn, Richard Benjamin, Raquel Welch, Dyan Cannon, Joan Hackett are jet-set guests on a yacht.

5. AND THEN THERE WERE NONE (1945)–Rene Clair directing an Agatha Christie thriller. An all-star cast on a secluded estate are being killed off one by one, until…  This is the best example of that classic formula; don’t go for the remakes (Ten Little Indians).

6. SPELLBOUND (1945)–Psychiatrists Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman meet, fall in love, and then both realize he is not the man they thought. An Alfred Hitchcock classic, mixing mystery and romance, with theremin music (think Brian Wilson on Good Vibrations) and Salvadore Dali dreamscapes. The scene when Bergman climbs the stairs to Peck should be required viewing for all film students, as cinematography communicates what words could never do.

7. STALAG 17 (1953)–OK, it’s not a pure mystery, but it is pure entertainment. Drama, humor and intrigue in a WWII prisoner of war camp. If Best Actor William Holden is not the barracks traitor, who is? Otto Preminger, Harvey Lembeck, and especially Robert Strauss are wonderful, but this is a Billy Wilder film, winning him one of seven Academy Awards among his 20 nominations!

8. WILD THINGS (1998)–Teacher Matt Dillon is accused of rape by students Denise Richards and Neve Campbell in sultry Florida.  Twists follow twists, as Kevin Bacon, R. J. Wagner, Teresa Russell, Carrie Snodgrass and Bill Murray try to keep up. Who’s doing what, to whom? Clever plot and exceptional end credits fill in gaps.

9. THE THIN MAN (1934)–Debonair socialites Nick and Nora Charles (William Powell and Myrna Loy) stop trading wisecracks long enough to solve a murder. This inspired five sequels and countless more imitations. Based on a Dashiell Hammett novel, the real appeal is the chemistry between the leads, who went on to do 12 more movies together. I had the privilege of sitting next to Miss Loy at dinner at Sardi’s in the 1970’s, following the Broadway opening of Henry Fonda’s one-man play. “Will you be going to the Oscars this year?†I asked. “No,†she replied wistfully. They don’t invite me anymore.†Too bad.

10. SLEUTH (1972)–Michael Caine and Laurence Olivier were each nominated for Best Actor, while Joseph Mankiewicz picked up a Best Director nomination. Based on Anthony Shaffer’s smash play, wonderful art direction invigorates the action. Caine has been pursuing Olivier’s wife, and the two leads start playing a deadly game of make believe.
    
There are a lot of other great films with unexpected surprises, stunning endings and the like, but often they are simply good scripting of another genre. Nevertheless, for those who like to substitute suspense for mystery, consider these:

SILENCE OF THE LAMBS earned Oscars for Best Picture, Actor (Anthony Hopkins), Actress (Jodie Foster), and Director (Jonathan Demme). She’s a young FBI agent; he’s a deranged killer behind bars—for now.
    
SIXTH SENSE has one of the best twists. Bruce Willis is a child psychologist tending to Haley Joel Osment, who sees “dead people†, after his personal life is shattered. I only know one person who claims to have anticipated the twist–and I don’t believe her.

PSYCHO is on a very short list of the most suspenseful movies ever made. Alfred Hitchcock had been called The Master of Suspense, but Henri-Georges Cluzot made two 1955 heart-stopping masterpieces that had people rethinking that title. The first was WAGES OF FEAR, about desperate men in the Venezuelan jungle transporting volatile nitroglycerin. The same year, he did DIABOLIQUE, the story of a wife and mistress murdering the husband. After those two, Hitch set out to claim the title–once and for all. PSYCHO was the result. If you’ve never seen it, do so – during the day, with plenty of people around.

Those are my choices. What do you think? Write me at davidmeister@westsidetoday.com

David Meister has been a passionate moviegoer since his childhood, reared on Saturday afternoon double features and 25¢ popcorn. He was a top executive at HBO, where he also launched Cinemax, was president of Time-Life Films and later created The Sundance Channel for Robert Redford.
He lives in Pacific Palisades where he has conducted a family Academy Award pool since the 1970’s, which his wife Joan claims he has never won.

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