Sometimes a comedian comes around that just takes you by surprise. For me, that happened with Fred Armisen. Now, to be fair, Fred has been around as a comedian and a musician for a long time, but for some reason, he was not on my radar…he doesn’t seem to jump out at you like some of the other people that have come from Saturday Night Live. Whereas, Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy would be the Hot Dog– Fred Armisen would be the condiment, to use a metaphor from my favorite food…for most people, Fred would be the mustard. He just makes the Hot Dog that much better.
My first experience with Fred was very very recent. It was while watching the Netflix special, Fred Armisen: Stand Up For Drummers…and I was mildly entertained for the first 15 minutes or so…quietly enjoying the fact that he’s so unassuming. He comes across as very comfortable and nice and amusing. And then he got to the part where he explains accents and dialects from all around the United States while pointing to a blue map of the US…and he blew me away! He is a MASTER at accents from all around the world, really, I was to learn later. I haven’t ever seen anything quite like it.
Not only can he nail any accent, but he does it down to the city or even suburb… even describing the slight differences in regions of the same place…it’s amazing. what I love most is that these are not parodies of the accents…but the actual understated minute-detailed versions of the accents. I saw a couple of Interviews pulled from Youtube later that showed when an accent got to be from a certain place that was very big or showy– that he would get uncomfortable doing the accent as it would come across as racist or rude…like when he’s asked to do a Jamaican or Vietnamese accent.
He reminds me of Peter Sellers in his ability to do just about any accent as if it was his natural accent. And it becomes that much more hilarious– because the accent is so real instead of outrageously phony. My train of thought brought me back to the old Pink Panther and the Inspector cartoons of the sixties and I remember the Inspector’s sidekick being a Spanish gendarme who does not comprehend the intricacies of the French language… a Sergeant Deux-Deux, who is diminutive, soft-spoken, timid yet low-key and seldom wide-eyed. Now, I wish Fred was around when the Pink Panther movies were being shot, because they could have easily slipped Fred in as Sergeant Deux-Deux.
One of the studio directors that didn’t ever seem to have just one genre or style, would be the wonderful George Stevens. If he had a style, I would venture to say it was great lighting…but he worked through so many genres comfortably. He was just a very, very good director. His body of work boggles the mind. As a cinematographer at Hal Roach Studios, he is credited with saving the film career of a young British comic by the name of Stan Laurel! Laurel’s pale blue eyes would register as an unnatural white on orthochromatic film, the standard film in use at that time. Stevens knew of panchromatic film and was able to get a supply of it from Chicago. This film was sensitive to blue so that Laurel’s eyes would photograph more naturally. Laurel would use Stevens for his short films at Roach. When Stan Laurel was teamed up with Oliver Hardy, the team make Stevens their cameraman of choice. He would move to features eventually and never look back, making a slew of truly classic films, getting nominated 5 times for an Academy Award and winning twice. Here are my favorite 15 films directed by George Stevens:
15 – Penny Serenade (1941)
I’ll be honest up front and say this particular film is very hard for me to watch because it plays a little too close to home for my comfort, but is a very good film. Written by one of my all-time favorite screenwriters, Morrie Ryskind, the story is about a married couple (Cary Grant and Irene Dunne) and their ups and downs as they try and have a child. In real life, Cary Grant, himself, wouldn’t become a parent until 1966 when he was 62. Irene Dunne often said that this was her favorite film because it reminded her of her own adopted daughter. George Stevens once said about Dunne, “If a director is lucky enough to work with Irene Dunne, his worries disappear. Every scene she’s in matches; she’s the film editor’s delight.”
14 – Vigil in the Night (1940)
Nurse Anne Lee blames herself for a fatal mistake of her sister Lucy, who also is a nurse. Anne loses her job, and gets a new one at a poorly equipped country hospital. There she falls in love with Dr. Prescott, who is battling with Mr. Bowly, the chairman of the local hospital board, who also makes Anne’s life miserable. But then a virulent epidemic begins…Nurse Anne Lee is played beautifully by Carole Lombard but was held up several weeks when Carole Lombard was admitted to the hospital after suffering a miscarriage. The press dubbed it an ‘appendectomy’ to cover up. She would die tragically only 2 years later in a plane crash at only age 33. This film shows sparks of what she could have become if she continued acting, as she was already brilliant. My favorite Lombard movie would be her last, the incredibly To Be or Not To Be, although My Man Godfrey is fantastic too, also written by none other than…Morrie Ryskind.
13 – A Place in the Sun (1951)
A poor boy gets a job working for his rich uncle and ends up falling in love with two women. Another actor I find to be really under-rated, Montgomery Cliff…if you’ve seen Judgment At Nuremberg, you’ll know what I mean. He silently steals the show in just about every thing he’s in. Another actor who died way too young at only 45. In her autobiography, Shelley Winters described George Stevens’ way of working: “He would discuss the scene, but not the lines, and would photograph the second or third rehearsal so the scene had an almost improvisational quality. Stevens would print the first take, then spend the next three hours minutely rehearsing the scene, then film it again. He explained to me that in this way he often got actors’ unplanned reactions that were spontaneous and human and often exactly right. And often when actors over-intellectualize or plan their reactions, they aren’t as good.” George Stevens was also a firm believer in running rushes at night, and having the actors in attendance. As Shelley Winters said, “Stevens would print several takes of each scene and then explain to us why one was better than the other. The whole experience was a joy.”
12 – Talk of the Town (1942)
An escaped prisoner (Cary Grant) and a stuffy law professor (Ronald Colman) vie for the hand of a spirited schoolteacher (Jean Arthur). Stevens would say of Arthur, “One of the greatest comediennes the screen has ever seen. When she works, she gives everything that’s in her, and she studies her roles more than most of the actresses I’ve known.” The studio considered filming two different endings, with Jean Arthur pairing off with Cary Grant in one, and with Ronald Colman in the other, and letting the audience decide by voting in sneak previews which one they preferred. However, in the papers of director George Stevens, all the screenplay drafts contained the current ending. I won’t tell you who she ends up with.
11 – Alice Adams (1935)
The misadventures of two social-climbing women in small town America. Katharine Hepburn always viewed Alice as one of her personal favorite roles. Katharine Hepburn credits director George Stevens for her change in the public’s perception, by helping her, in “Alice Adams”, portray more warmth and vulnerability than she had ever shown previously. The original script ending followed the ending of the novel, in which Alice grows up and gets a job – she does not get Arthur in the end. Katharine Hepburn and George Stevens both much preferred this ending, but the studio made Stevens film a happier ending in which Alice and Arthur end up together, which is seen in the final cut. I have to say, I’m so glad they did this, as I’m a romantic at heart and love the ending as it stands.
10 – Vivacious Lady (1938)
A professor (James Stewart) marries a nightclub singer (Ginger Rogers), much to the consternation of his family and friends back home. Ginger Rogers recommended Jimmy Stewart for this film, even though they had not worked on a film together previously. The two were dating at the time, and with Rogers being one of RKO’s biggest stars, she got her way. Rogers worked with Stevens previously, two years earlier on Swing Time (1936).
9 – A Damsel in Distress (1937)
Lady Alyce Marshmorton (Joan Fontaine) must marry soon, and the staff of Tottney Castle have laid bets on who she’ll choose, with young Albert wagering on “Mr. X.” After Alyce goes to London to meet a beau (bumping into dancer Jerry Halliday – Fred Astaire – instead), she is restricted to the castle to curb her scandalous behavior. Albert then summons Jerry to Alyce’s aid in order to “protect his investment.” This movie is especially good because of the co-stars, George Burns and Gracie Allen! After learning that Fred Astaire wanted Burns and Allen to audition for him, George Burns hired a vaudeville dancer he knew to choreograph a complex routine with whisk brooms. Astaire enjoyed the performance by George and Gracie so much that he insisted on working it into the film!
8 – Greatest Story Ever Told (1965)
Director George Stevens shot The Greatest Story Ever Told in the American Southwest, in Arizona, California, Nevada and Utah. Pyramid Lake in Nevada represented the Sea of Galilee, Lake Moab in Utah was used to film the Sermon on the Mount, and California’s Death Valley was the setting of Jesus’ 40-day journey into the wilderness. Stevens explained his decision to use the United States rather than in the Middle East or Europe in 1962. “I wanted to get an effect of grandeur as a background to Christ, and none of the Holy Land areas shape up with the excitement of the American Southwest,” he said. “I know that Colorado is not the Jordan, nor is Southern Utah Palestine. But our intention is to romanticize the area and it can be done better here.” Forty-seven sets were constructed, on location and in Hollywood studios, to accommodate Stevens’ vision.
7 – More the Merrier (1943)
During the World War II housing shortage in Washington, two men (Charles Coburn and Joel McCrae) and a woman (Jean Arthur) share a single apartment and the older man plays Cupid to the other two. Jean Arthur was getting into trouble with Columbia Pictures because she kept turning down roles. Rather embarrassed about this, she contacted her friend Garson Kanin and asked him to pen her something that she could take to the studio. Kanin was out of work at the time and readily accepted her proposal which Arthur ended up paying for out of her own pocket. Joel McCrea didn’t originally think he was right for the part of Joe and thought Cary Grant would have been better suited. Ironically, Grant would appear in the remake, Walk Don’t Run (1966), albeit in the Charles Coburn role. This was George Stevens’ last picture for Columbia before he joined the Army as chief of the combat photographic unit, where he shot several films for the US war effort.
6 – Gunga Din (1939)
I’ve written about this film before. I love the story about the three soldiers but am not thrilled that they cast a middle-aged white guy in the kid’s role, Gunga Din. In 19th century India, three British soldiers and a native waterbearer must stop a secret mass revival of the murderous Thuggee cult before it can rampage across the land. Sabu was first choice to play Gunga Din, he would have been great; when it became clear he was unavailable, Sam Jaffe was hired in his place. At the time he was playing water-boy Gunga Din, Sam Jaffe was 47 years old. In an interview years later, Jaffe (a Jewish Russian-American) was asked how he was able to play an Indian Muslim. Jaffe replied he kept telling himself to “Think Sabu.” Other than this, it is a great film. And it was very popular, it was second only to Gone with the Wind (1939) as the biggest money-maker of 1939.
5 – Diary of Anne Frank (1959)
Harrowing story of a young Jewish girl who, with her family and their friends, is forced into hiding in an attic in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam. The second of three George Stevens films in which Shelley Winters starred. The others are A Place in the Sun and The Greatest Story Ever Told. She received Oscar nominations for both A Place in the Sun and The Diary of Anne Frank, winning the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for the latter. Shelley Winters donated the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award she won for the role of Mrs. Van Daan to the Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam, after promising Otto Frank that she would do so if she were to win the award. It remains on permanent display in the museum to this day.
4 – Swing Time (1936)
My favorite Fred and Ginger movie! A performer and gambler travels to New York City to raise the $25,000 he needs to marry his fiancée, only to become entangled with a beautiful aspiring dancer. Ginger Rogers would go on to say, “I adore the man. I always have adored him. It was the most fortunate thing that ever happened to me, being teamed with Fred: he was everything a little starry-eyed girl from a small town ever dreamed of.” Then, when asked about Ginger, Fred would return the compliment, “Excuse me, I must say Ginger was certainly the one. You know the most effective partner I ever had. Everyone knows. That was a whole other thing what we did…I just want to pay a tribute to Ginger because we did so many pictures together and believe me it was a value to have that girl…she had it. She was just great!”. This was Ginger Rogers’ favorite of her films with Fred Astaire.
3 – Giant (1956)
Arguably, the best of James Dean’s 3 films. Sprawling epic covering the life of a Texas cattle rancher (Rock Hudson) and his family and associates. When Rock Hudson was cast, director George Stevens asked him whom he preferred as his leading lady, Grace Kelly or Elizabeth Taylor. Hudson picked Taylor, who was cast and ended up becoming lifelong friends with Hudson. James Dean called the shooting style of director George Stevens the “around the clock” method, because Stevens would film a scene from as many different angles as possible, which made everything seem to take longer to do. James Dean finished principal photography on Friday September 23, 1955. He died in a car crash a week later.
2 – Woman of the Year (1942)
What a great movie, rival reporters Sam (Spencer Tracy) and Tess (Katherine Hepburn) fall in love and get married, only to find their relationship strained when Sam comes to resent Tess’ hectic lifestyle. As Katharine Hepburn’s close friend and frequent director, George Cukor was a natural choice to direct, but for her first film with Spencer Tracy, Hepburn wanted Tracy to be as comfortable as possible, so as a quasi-producer, she hired George Stevens, who had directed her in Alice Adams. As Hepburn said, “I just thought he (Tracy) should have a big, manly man on his team – someone who could talk about baseball.” Cukor (who was openly gay and known for his friendships with actresses) would later become a good friend of Tracy and would direct both actors in Keeper of the Flame (1942), Adam’s Rib (1949) and Pat and Mike (1952).
1 – Shane (1953)
A weary gunfighter (Alan Ladd) attempts to settle down with a homestead family, but a smoldering settler/rancher conflict forces him to act. This film is always in the top ten of any list about the best westerns ever filmed. Ranked #3 on the American Film Institute’s list of the 10 greatest films in the genre “Western” in June 2008. Jean Arthur, then aged 50, came out of semi-retirement to play Marian Starrett, largely as a favor to her friend, director George Stevens. She would retire completely from the film business after this picture. Having witnessed during his WW2 service the profound effects a bullet could have on a man, realism was important to George Stevens during the making of the film. This therefore is one of the first movies to use stunt wires to pull the actors or stuntmen backwards to simulate when they’ve been shot. George Stevens referred to this film as being his war movie.
Over the years, I’ve been a big fan of Luc Besson. Not only has he been a fantastic director, but a great writer and producer as well. I can really appreciate that kind of career, he’s got his hands on so many projects. He is amazing at developing interesting projects. Sometimes the ideas are originated by him and then handed off to other filmmakers, sometimes he takes them all the way through till release and he’s never one to turn away a great project that needs him to just produce. Here are my top 15 favorites that he’s had a hand in creating:
15 – Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)
OK, Ok, this hasn’t come out yet, but I just know it’s going to hit my list. It’s the original inspiration for Star Wars and The Fifth Element, so I know I’m going to like it. This film is based on a French sci-fi comic book series created in 1967 by writer Pierre Christin and artist Jean-Claude Mezieres. Mezieres was also involved in creating visuals for Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element.
14 – Lucy (2014)
Many of his best stuff lay in 2 genres; Science Fiction and Action. This one film combines both aspects very well. In an interview on March 8, 2014, Besson said that this project took ten years to become a reality. Also, he admitted that he knew that some scientific assumptions were erroneous, ie; that humans use only ten percent of their brains. Nonetheless, he said that “(such an assumption) would be a great start for a sci-fi movie”. A woman, (Scarlett Johansson) accidentally caught in a dark deal, turns the tables on her captors and transforms into a merciless warrior evolved beyond human logic.
13 – 3 Days to Kill (2014)
Here’s one that Besson wrote but didn’t direct. It was directed by McG. A dying CIA agent (Kevin Costner) trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter is offered an experimental drug that could save his life in exchange for one last assignment. The meaning and relevance of the film’s title is that it refers to the estimate number of days that Ethan Renner (Costner) has to complete his mission prior to facing death from terminal brain cancer. Reminds me a great deal of a great film noir movie called DOA (Dead on Arrival) about a man who has been lethally poisoned and has to solve his own murder before he dies.
12 – Lockout (2012)
If you can excuse the main character’s dive out of a spaceship and not burn up on re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere and sky dive to a city below, then this is a pretty dang good flick. It totally would have made a fantastic “Escape From…number 3″ with Snake Plissken, but only because of Guy Pearce. He’s great. The plot totally reads like a Snake Plissken movie: A man wrongly convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage against the U.S. (Guy Pearce) is offered his freedom if he can rescue the president’s daughter from an outer space prison taken over by violent inmates. Call it Escape From Outer Space. Besson came up with the original idea and even wrote a draft of the screenplay.
11 – Colombiana (2011)
Zoe Saldana is great, I did a blog about her a while back called Zoe Saldana Takes Over the World. Here’s a starring vehicle with her as an assassin, kind of a reoccurring theme with Besson, just look at Leon and Nikita. It’s no wonder as this film was originally supposed to be Leon part 2. The film was based off a script that was set to be a sequel for Leon: The Professional. The story was set to follow Natalie Portman’s character Mathilda as she tracked down and killed characters that had wronged her and Leon. Portman’s success kept her from availability and the script was eventually re-written into Colombiana and cast with Saldana.
10 – From Paris With Love (2010)
In Paris, a young employee (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) in the office of the US Ambassador hooks up with an American spy (John Travolta)looking to stop a terrorist attack in the city. John Travolta is the real reason to watch this film, he just crackles with electricity. When Caroline enters James’s apartment you can clearly see the book ‘Nikita’ which was written and directed by Besson, who wrote “From Paris with Love”. This is a spy genre film and it is interesting to note that the title of the earlier film To Paris with Love (1955) is said to have been the inspiration for James Bond creator Ian Fleming for the title of his 1957 James Bond spy novel, From Russia With Love which was later made into the 007 movie.
9 – District 13: Ultimatum (2009)
This is a sequel to one of my all-time-favorite stunt movies, District B13. Follows up with great stunts and action with Cyril Raffaelli and David Belle. For those of you that like the Daredevil series on Netflix, you’ll recognize Elodie Yung (Elektra) in the film. Cyril is a great stunt coordinator and he choreographed all the fight scenes in the movie and David, who invented Parkour, did all of his own stunts, without practice ahead of time. Most of the ones that you see in the film were of him performing the stunt for the first time.
8 – Tell No One (2006)
Luc Besson was lucky this project crossed his path. He was one of the Executive Producers on the film and it’s based on a fantastic book by Harlan Corben. Police find two bodies at an old murder scene and evidence to suggest the first victim’s husband is a murderer. The husband receives clues suggesting his deceased wife is actually alive and begins to investigate. This film is definitely worth finding, but it is in English subtitles, as it’s a French-language film. Originally, author Harlan Coben had optioned off his novel to Hollywood, with director Michael Apted attached. During this time, director Guillaume Canet, who had loved the novel, had been calling up Coben with his take on the novel. Coben was immediately impressed with Canet’s passion for the story, and his vision, stating that Canet understood that the novel was a love story first, and a thriller second, which Hollywood never got. When the option with Hollywood fell through, Coben contacted Canet and decided to give him a chance.
7 – Bandidas (2006)
In turn-of-the-century Mexico, two very different women (Salma Hayek, Penelope Cruz) become a bank-robbing duo in an effort to combat a ruthless enforcer terrorizing their town. This is directed byJoachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, who are coming out with Disney’s Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Men Tell No Tales later this year. Steve Zahn also plays a character in the film, and it’s good to see Penelope and Steve back together again.
6 – Leon: The Professional (1994)
Mathilda (Natalie Portman), a 12-year-old girl, is reluctantly taken in by Léon, a professional assassin (Jean Reno), after her family is murdered. Léon and Mathilda form an unusual relationship, as she becomes his protégée and learns the assassin’s trade. Luc Besson got the idea of doing this movie while working on his previous movie, La Femme Nikita (1990). In that film’s third act, Victor the Cleaner appears to deal with the aftermath of Nikita’s botched mission. Realizing the potential of the character was underused in that movie, Besson decided to create a story that focused on the activities of such a character. Both Victor and Leon appear dressed in a long wool coat, sunglasses and a knit cap. Both are played by Jean Reno. The film’s working title was “The Cleaner”.
5 – The Big Blue (1988)
The rivalry between Enzo and Jacques, two childhood friends and now world-renowned free divers, becomes a beautiful and perilous journey into oneself and the unknown. This film was such a hit in France that it played for over a year in theatres. The most financially successful French film of the 1980s. This film was probably the closest to Besson’s own upbringing. “I was never polluted by the world of cinema. I didn’t even have a TV until I was 16. My expression is a reflection of the world I have seen, and in that world everyone was barefoot in bathing suits, following the order of the sea, the natural order of sunrise and sunset. I never went to the cinémathèque. I didn’t know much about the masters of world cinema,” Besson has said.
4 – La Femme Nikita (1990)
Convicted felon Nikita (Anne Parillaud), instead of going to jail, is given a new identity and trained, stylishly, as a top secret spy/assassin. Luc Besson had Anne Parillaud train extensively with guns so that she would be completely at ease with them. Parillaud took to practicing loading and unloading a fake gun in her car which led to her being pulled over by the police and having their guns drawn on her in traffic one day as they thought her weapon was real.
3 – District B13 (2004)
I wrote about this great stunt film in my blog: David Belle and District B13. Set in the ghettos of Paris in 2010, an undercover cop and ex-thug try to infiltrate a gang in order to defuse a neutron bomb.
2 – The Fifth Element (1997)
I just love this film, although, I would have to admit that Chris Tucker has ruined it for me over the years. He’s so obnoxious in the film that he virtually makes it impossible to re-watch the film. Other than that, fantastic film. I was so upset after the film was released that no toys followed the film, as I wanted to buy all the action figures after I saw it. They could have really sold a lot of toys if they had this prepped like the Star Wars films. Another film that I loved enough to write a whole blog about; Fifth Element.
1 – Taken (2008)This film proves that Luc Besson has a magic touch. Again, he just wrote and produced this one but was genius when he hired Pierre Morel to direct as he was perfect for the job. It also gave Liam Neeson new life as an action star. Liam Neeson initially expected the film to bomb, but he signed on, in order spend four months in Paris, and learn karate, while playing the kind of role he had rarely been offered in the past. Ironically, not only was the film a massive hit, but created a new on-screen image for Neeson, as an action hero. Liam Neeson performs a good amount of his own stunts. Over the course of the movie, Bryan kills 35 people in order to get to his daughter.
Here’s another fine actress, that transitioned well from child star to great adult actress. A Disney player of the 70’s who managed to make intriguing and emotional role choices over the years and won an Academy award for her efforts. I loved her early Disney movies and respected her choices later on; easily as comfortable in a drama as a thriller or a comedy. Like all of my favorites, she’s versatile and adept at all genres. Here’s a list of my top 15 favorite Jodie Foster films:
15 – Taxi Driver (1976)
Jodie Foster has chosen some gritty roles over the years, not one to shy away from an uncomfortable role by any means. She seemed to do this early on in her career, trying as hard as possible to stretch herself as an actress, beyond her comfort zone. This is one of those roles. It’s interesting to me that she chose to do this role of a teenage prostitute in the midst of her popularity as a Disney star. Dangerous move, but one that ultimately proved to the Industry, at least, that she was an Academy Award caliber actress. I personally drift to her more funny or light-hearted movies, but there certainly is no denying her talent and ability to master any role and genre. This was her first nomination for an Oscar. Tough subject matter.
14 – One Little Indian (1973)
Now this Disney film was pretty neat because it’s the first time that James Garner and Jodie Foster would work together and when they worked together again it was over 20 years later, for Maverick (1994). Pretty typical fare overall, and similar to her other Disney work at this time, she was gearing up to be the star, even then you can see she was something more than a supporting actress.
13 – The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane (1976)
I put this film on the list because I think it’s pretty scary, although I haven’t seen it in 20 years, it spooked me pretty bad. To be fair, in interviews, Jodie Foster usually refrains from saying which of her films are her least favorites, but she has let it slip that this movie isn’t one she is fond of, explaining, “When people are there to simply do a job they don’t have any passion for, those are nearly always bad films.” It was first top-billed lead role in a major motion picture for Jodie. 1976 was definitely her breakout year, although from the 5 movies she did that year I prefer the Disney film, Freaky Friday, the most.
12 – Inside Man (2006)
Jodie, being fluent in French, dubbed herself in the French version. Jodie filmed her part in three weeks, and it’s a very different part for her, but as always she’s very good. It’s a pretty fun heist movie and my favorite Spike Lee film. Denzel Washington and the cast was allowed to ad-lib at times, he just seemed especially adept at it. The scene in the coffee shop was improvised. On the DVD commentary, Spike states that when Denzel ad-libbed the line, “I’ll bet you can get a cab though,” he nearly ruined the take by laughing really loud.
11 – The Brave One (2007)
Interesting to note, Nicole Kidman was originally cast as Erica. Jodie would be cast when Nicole dropped the project. Jodie also took over Kidman’s role in Panic Room (2002). It was Jodie’s idea for Erica to record sounds of the city for her radio show. Foster walked for miles all around Manhattan with headphones on to prepare for the role. The movie is like the female version of Death Wish, with Jodie playing the Charles Bronson role.
10 – Flight Plan (2005)
Jodie Foster’s role was originally written for Sean Penn. The original character’s name of “Kyle” was even kept. Coincidentally, Penn’s role in The Game (1997) was originally intended for Jodie Foster. A bereaved woman and her daughter are flying home from Berlin to America. At 30,000 feet, the child vanishes, and nobody will admit she was ever on the plane. It’s Lady Vanishes, on a plane!
9 – The Accused (1988)
Probably the most brutal role for any actress ever. What she has to go through to even film this is unfathomable. The movie is based on a real-life gang rape that occurred on 6 March 1983 at Big Dan’s Bar in New Bedford, Massachusetts. The bar lost its liquor license the very next day. Upon seeing a pre-screening of the film, Jodie Foster thought her performance as Sarah Tobias was so awful that she immediately began preparing for and taking the GRE’s for graduate school. She was prepared to leave her film career behind and focus on academia…until she won the Academy Award for her performance.
8 – Stealing Home (1988)
This is one of those rare movies that no one seems to know about, but that I love. I tell people about it all the time and convince them to watch it and they usually thank me for it later. Mark Harmon plays a washed-up baseball player who is called back home to handle the ashes of his childhood sweetheart/ first love (Jodie) who had committed suicide. As he searches for what to do with them, he remembers the past and the relationship they had. In doing so he finds himself again. This movie was reportedly based on the real-life experiences of its writers, former Second City troupe members and WKRP in Cincinnati writers Steven Kampmann and William Porter. The two lead actors (Jodie and Mark) never even have a scene together.
7 – Panic Room (2002)
Another one of her great thrillers. This one is top notch, great cast, great crew all around. A divorced woman and her diabetic daughter take refuge in their newly-purchased house’s safe room, when three men break-in, searching for a missing fortune. As I stated earlier, Nicole Kidman was originally cast in the role of Meg Altman. Then, only eighteen days into filming, Kidman had to leave the film as well, due to a recurring knee injury, suffered during the filming of Moulin Rouge! (2001). David Fincher suggested that the studio close the production and collect the insurance, but the studio decided to go on. Jodie Foster was offered the role. She was due to be the president of the Cannes Film Festival jury but withdrew to work with Fincher, with whom she was originally supposed to work on The Game (1997) in the role now played by Sean Penn. Foster had only nine days to prepare for the role. Kidman left a small mark in the film nevertheless, however, as the voice of the girlfriend of Foster’s husband in the movie, heard answering the phone when Foster’s character calls him in a desperate attempt for help.
6 – Sommersby (1993)
An example that she can do it all, this is a great romantic film. A farmer’s wife begins to suspect that the man in her bed is an impostor after he returns home from the Civil War, based on the French film, The Return of Martin Guerre. Steven Reuther, one of the producers behind the project commented about the casting of Gere and Foster: “A lot of people questioned us about this coupling. And it was a gamble, because there are the obvious romantic leading females, and Jodie really is not one of them. Also, I don’t think anyone had ever seen Jodie in a period costume. But once we got her in the period clothes and the hair, it was like, ‘How could there have been a question?’ I think that part of why she was attracted to the character was because it was something she had never done before.”
5 – Candleshoe (1977)
I love this movie, which is kind of an alternate telling of the story of Anastasia but with a treasure hunt mixed in. Helen Hayes and David Niven are just fantastic in it as well as Foster. It’s the last of three theatrical movies that actress Helen Hayes made for the Walt Disney Pictures studios during the 1970s. The earlier films were Herbie Rides Again (1974) and One of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing (1975). Screenwriter David Swift, who in the early 1960s directed Pollyanna (1960) and The Parent Trap (1961) for Walt Disney, developed this project for the company and was set to direct it. However, he felt Jodie Foster (then one of the most popular teenage actresses in the country) was all wrong for the part of Casey and stepped down. Boy, was he wrong, she is really great in this.
4 – Freaky Friday (1976)
The most popular of Jodie’s Walt Disney films, it’s a really fun movie and still holds up today, even with all the period clothes. The only time I can remember Jodie singing for a film, the title song “I’d Like to be You for a Day” is sung by Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster. Both Jodie Foster and Barbara Harris were nominated for Best Actress – Musical or Comedy at the 1977 Golden Globes for this film. Technically, as they also played each other’s characters, they were both nominated for playing the same characters. Jodie Foster said of the film whilst doing press publicity for the picture around the time the movie first launched: “I think it’s important for my career that I make all different kinds of films. I’m proud that I made Freaky Friday. And I thought the idea was terrific. A lot of my friends think it’s my best picture. I really like working for Disney”. The date of the “Freaky Friday” in the movie’s story-line was a Friday the 13th.
3 – Silence of the Lambs (1991)
This is the movie that comes up generally as the best of Jodie’s films, and I do love it, but it’s not my favorite. It is Jodie’s 2nd Academy Award win after The Accused. Anthony Hopkins won as well for his portrayal of Hannibal Lecter. Jodie Foster claims that during the first meeting between Lecter and Starling, Anthony Hopkins’s mocking of her southern accent was improvised on the spot. Foster’s horrified reaction was genuine; she felt personally attacked. She later thanked Hopkins for generating such an honest reaction. Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster only share four scenes throughout the course of the film. With 24 minutes and 52 seconds of screen time, Anthony Hopkins’s performance in this movie is the 2nd shortest to ever win an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role, with David Niven in ‘Separate Tables‘ beating him at 23 minutes and 39 seconds. Clarice Starling was chosen by the American Film Institution as the sixth greatest film hero (out of fifty), the highest ranked female on the list; Hannibal Lecter was chosen as the #1 greatest film villain (also out of fifty).
2 – Maverick (1994)
This film is just really great fun. Not only does Jodie get to work with one of her favorite actors, Mel Gibson, but she was reunited with James Garner again after 20 years when working with him when she was a child. They all have some funny stuff in this. Jodie Foster’s character’s gracelessness in the film stems from the first scene she shot, when she waited for Mel Gibson to help her down from the stagecoach. Instead, he took her parasol and walked away. She tried to get down alone and flopped to the ground. Director Richard Donner liked it so much he kept the shot in the film, and staged more scenes of Foster stumbling, being dumped through windows, etc. In the stagecoach chase sequence, stuntman Mic Rodgers (doubling for Mel Gibson) had to go under the coach and get up at the back. This is a direct nod to legendary stuntman Yakima Canutt’s similar stunt in Stagecoach (1939). By coincidence, second-unit director Terry Leonard, a former stuntman himself, performed this same stunt in the truck chase in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). I specifically talk about the stunt in the blog post, http://brothers-ink.com/2015/09/stagecoach-and-zorros-fighting-legion/ and again for the Indiana Jones stunt in the blog post http://brothers-ink.com/2015/12/stunt-team-for-raiders-of-the-lost-ark/
1 – Contact (1997)
This is one of the finest films, in what is a library of marvelous films by director Robert Zemeckis. It’s got one of the most remarkable tracking shots I’ve ever seen for any film. Ask my wife, I have literally watched and rewound this shot a hundred times trying to figure it out. Apparently, I learned later, this impossible shot, the long shot of Ellie as a child running up the stairs to get medicine, was actually filmed as a normal shot would have been and then flipped and placed in the mirror which, at the time of shooting was a blue screen placement in the cabinet. Any way you look at it, it’s a thing of beauty. Sorry, back to Jodie…Jodie Foster was interested in this movie as early as 1995. After initially deciding to drop out, her interest was resparked by a new revision of the script. Her character, Ellie is based partly on real radio astronomy pioneers and extra-terrestrial intelligence researchers. There’s also some Carl Sagan in her. He wanted a female hero to inspire girls to pursue science. Jodie really connected with that, being an academic herself. So much so that in 2011, Jodie was part of a group of private donors that saved SETI’s telescope array in California.
Looking for a good one-hour TV show to binge watch this coming weekend? Look no further, here are my favorites:
15 Legion (2017)
On it’s first season on the FX Network, it’s just barely getting started, so it almost didn’t make my list, but the reason it did is because it’s a VERY strong beginning! The real reason it is so good is because of Noah Hawley, who created the last 2 season of FX’s Fargo. He’s just brilliant. It’s a Marvel Comics creation and the characters fill the same universe as the X-Men. The title of the show is based on David Haller’s (main character) code name in the X-Men Comics. David acquired the code name “Legion” due to having hundreds of multiple personalities each with his own mutant power. Essentially making him a one man army.
14 House of Cards (2013-Present)
This is widely considered to be one of the 1st shows that inspired the Binge-watch culture we enjoy today. Thanks Netflix. Netflix won the bidding war between the rest of the networks to produce the show because they committed to do two seasons directly. It’s about the Underwoods, a ruthless couple, working hard to attain and maintain the Oval Office. Director list in the first 3 seasons includes famous names such as David Fincher, Joel Schumacher, Jodie Foster and actress Robin Wright, who plays Claire Underwood.
13 Bosch (2014-Present)
Based on the Hieronymous “Harry” Bosch Detective novels by Michael Connelly, this series features the excellent Titus Welliver as Bosch. In the literary world, Bosch is the half brother of Michael (Mickey) Haller from The Lincoln Lawyer (2011). They have same father; also a lawyer named Michael Haller. Michael Jr is the legitimate son, while Harry Bosch is illegitimate. By the way, Michael Connelly is one of my all-time favorite writers. No one can put together a crime story as good as he can.
12 Dexter (2006-2013)
Dexter Morgan is a Forensics Expert, but that’s what he seems to be, as that’s not what he really is. Dexter is a serial killer that hunts other serial killers. This series is also based on a popular book series, but my favorite thing about the series would have to be Dexter himself, Michael C. Hall. He’s fantastic in this.
11 Boston Legal (2004-2008)
David E. Kelly’s best legal series. Features the classic law firm of Crane, Poole and Schmidt, with the fantastic William Shatner playing Denny Crane. The real brilliance comes in the form of James Spader as Alan Shore, who can fly through a 5 page closing monologue like a cheetah through a 30-yard dash! Watching these two and a slew of the best character actors as guest stars on this show was a real pleasure!
10 Stranger Things (2016-Present)
In a small town where everyone knows everyone, a peculiar incident starts a chain of events that leads to the disappearance of a child – which begins to tear at the fabric of an otherwise peaceful community. Dark government agencies and seemingly malevolent supernatural forces converge on the town while a few locals begin to understand that there’s more going on than meets the eye. The Duffer Brothers originally wanted to make a remake of Stephen King’s It, but were turned down. The series’s logo resembles the font used on the covers for the original 1980s editions of Stephen King novels, notably Cujo and Christine. Of the many nods to Stephen King in this series, one of the most obvious is in episode 4 (“The Body”) when the kids travel a significant stretch along the railroad tracks. Much of the story in the film “Stand By Me” (and in the novella it is based on, titled “The Body”), includes kids traveling along railroad tracks.
9 Newsroom (2012-2014)
This show by Aaron Sorkin is just about the perfect 3 act season TV Show that you can find. It feels like the perfect beginning, middle and ending that could be possible. I can’t recommend this series enough. Incredible cast all around. It’s about a newsroom, that undergoes some changes in its workings and morals as a new team is brought in, bringing unexpected results for its existing news anchor, played by Jeff Daniels.
8 Longmire (2012-Present)
Walt Longmire is the dedicated and unflappable sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyoming. Widowed only a year, he is a man in psychic repair but buries his pain behind his brave face, unassuming grin and dry wit. Great mystery show, based on another popular thriller series. On its premiere in June 2012, the series became A&E TV’s most watched original series launch of all time with 4.1 million total viewers. Regardless of it’s great viewing numbers, A&E announced that they would only be concentrating on their own original series and cancelled the show after the third season. A few months later Netflix picked the show back up for its fourth and fifth seasons. Robert Taylor, who plays Walt, bases his performance of Walt Longmire largely on Indiana Jones and several of Clint Eastwood’s Western personas.
7 Prison Break (2005-2009) (2017)
Due to a political conspiracy, an innocent man is sent to death row and his only hope is his brother, who makes it his mission to deliberately get himself sent to the same prison in order to break the both of them out, from the inside. Great series, and it’s coming back for another season, after having been cancelled in 2009! I can’t wait! Paul Scheuring had said that the initial concept for the series (a man deliberately getting himself sent to prison in order to break out again) was suggested to him by a female colleague of his (Dawn Parouse). He thought it was a great idea, but was initially stumped as to why someone would embark on such a strange mission or how he could stretch the idea out long enough for a TV show. He later came up with the idea of the wrongfully accused brother, and the conspiracy subplot. He then started work on writing the pilot script for the show. Wentworth Miller was a last minute casting choice. He started filming about a week after auditioning/being cast.
6 Alias (2001-2006)
Sydney Bristow, Jennifer Garner, is an international spy recruited out of college and trained for espionage and self-defense. Created by the amazing JJ Abrams. Jennifer Garner and Victor Garber (Sydney’s Father) were the only two stars to appear in every episode. Right behind them is Ron Rifkin (Sydney’s Boss) who only missed 2 out of 105. For those of you that are Bradley Cooper fans, he’s prominently featured in 4 of the 5 seasons as Sydney’s best friend, Will Tippin.
5 Game of Thrones (2011-Present)
Nine noble families fight for control over the mythical lands of Westeros; A forgotten race returns after being dormant for thousands of years. Executive Producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss said the production of the show is a massive undertaking. It lasts the entire year and they shoot the show like a ten-hour movie. Season 5 alone was shot in five countries, on 151 sets, for 240 days, having 166 cast members, over 1,000 crew members and over 5,000 extras. George R.R. Martin once cited The Golden Compass (2007), the failed film adaptation of Philip Pullman’s novel “Northern Lights”, as one of the reasons he wanted his books to be made as a television series rather than being turned into movies. George R.R. Martin has stated that the infamous “Red Wedding” was the hardest chapter for him to write in “A Storm of Swords.” He was so emotionally attached to the characters that he actually wrote the rest of the book first, then that chapter last. Executive Producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, upon reading it, declared it was one of the major reasons they decided to option the books for a TV series.
4 Downton Abbey (2010-2015)
A chronicle of the lives of the British aristocratic Crawley family and their servants in the early 20th Century. This show has a great cast. According to Julian Fellowes, the parts played by Hugh Bonneville, Brendan Coyle and Maggie Smith were written for the actors that played them. All the scenes shot in the servants quarters are shot on a soundstage as the actual quarters at Highclere Castle, the filming location for Downton Abbey, are badly damaged. The TV series was inspired by the movie Gosford Park (2001), also written by Julian Fellowes, where Maggie Smith, Jeremy Swift, and Richard E. Grant also appeared. Maggie Smith and Jeremy Swift have similar roles in both.
3 Daredevil (2015- Present)
Matt Murdock, with his other senses superhumanly enhanced, fights crime as a blind lawyer by day, and vigilante by night. WAY WAY WAY better than the Daredevil movie with Ben Affleck! This show, along with other Netflix series Iron Fist (2017), Luke Cage (2016) and Jessica Jones (2015), exist in the same continuity with one another and within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. All of them are pretty good and worth binge-watching, but this one is by far the best. All of the four main characters will be coming together to make the series, The Defenders and aired on Netflix, hopefully in 2018. It’s also rumored that The Punisher will have his own Netflix series after having appeared in season 2 of Daredevil.
2 Fargo (2015-Present)
BEST series on TV right now. Great stuff. Every season is a stand alone story set within the world of the Fargo movie by the Coen Brothers. Various chronicles of deception, intrigue and murder in and around frozen Minnesota. Yet all of these tales mysteriously lead back one way or another to Fargo, ND. There are some reoccurring characters, so far, at least in season 1 and 2. The second season is kind of a prequel to the first season. Expanding on the Solversons’ family and their story, and Molly Solverson is seen as a young girl.
1 Justified (2010-2015)
If you haven’t seen this show, you just haven’t seen what is quite possibly the best show of the last 10 years. Some guest actors have said that the working environment on the show was very different from other shows, because the writers were really open to suggestions from the cast, even while shooting scenes, to the point of stopping shooting for a while and sitting around to discuss the scene if there was room for improvement. Walton Goggins, who was born in Alabama and grew up in Georgia, originally declined the role of Boyd Crowder out of concern that the character would portray a negative stereotype of Southerners. He changed his mind and did the pilot as a favor to Timothy Olyphant, whom he knew through friends. It was supposed to be one episode only; Boyd originally died at the end of the pilot, as he did in the novel the show was based on. However, when the character scored well with test audiences, it was decided to reshoot the ending of the pilot to allow Boyd to return as a recurring character. It was this relationship throughout the series, between Boyd and the lead character Raylan Givens, that makes me love this series so much. The character Raylan Givens was created by novelist Elmore Leonard, and has appeared in two of his novels, “Pronto” (filmed as Pronto (1997)) and “Riding the Rap“. Givens also appeared in Leonard’s short story “Fire in the Hole“, which was the basis of the pilot episode of this series.
The original story is the brainstorm of director Leo McCarey, who directed the first version and the second version of the screenplay, only 18 years apart. The first version with Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer, called Love Affair (1939) and the second version with Deborah Kerr and Cary Grant called An Affair To Remember (1957). He would hire screenwriters Mildred Cram, Delmer Daves and one of my favorites, Donald Ogden Stewart.
It’s a rare story when it becomes a favorite of almost everyone involved. The original was a favorite movie of both Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer and Leo McCarey liked it so much that years later when he had a chance to remake one of his previous films, he chose this one. The film is about a handsome playboy (Cary/Charles) who falls in love with American Terry McKay on board a transatlantic cruise ship. They arrange to reunite some time later, after (Charles/Cary) has had a chance to earn a decent living, only to have Terry not show up. They learn later that Terry has had a tragic accident, and can no longer walk. The character name for Charles and Cary are different, so that’s why I mention them instead of the character name whereas the name of the character for Irene Dunne and Deborah Kerr is the same, Terry McKay.
The scripts were the same for each movie, but in the second version, Cary and Deborah were given the opportunity to improvise and so several of these moments made the final cut. Interesting to note, the year before this film was made, Kerr played Anna Leonowens in The King and I (1956), also a role that had previously been played by Irene Dunne in the black-and-white classic Anna and the King of Siam (1946). “The King and I” is a musical based on the same book.
Now, An Affair to Remember was voted number 5 for Greatest Love Stories of all Time by the American Film Institute, but neither the original nor the 1994 version of Love Affair, made with Warren Beatty and Annette Benning, made the top 100 list. In my opinion, this is the way it should be, as the Warren Beatty version is awful. Although, a film that was inspired by An Affair to Remember, Sleepless in Seattle (1993) which was voted 45th on that list (but it ended up as #10 on the list of Romantic Comedies), I think is the best film of all four. I love that film as it really shows why An Affair to Remember holds up so well and is so beloved by so many people. So, as a perfect tandem, I would suggest seeing a Double Feature of An Affair To Remember 1st and then follow it up with Sleepless in Seattle. That is a perfect date night!
The first Academy Awards Ceremony on Thursday May 16, 1929, lasted only 15 minutes and honored only silent films. It was the last Academy Awards to do so as the invent of the talkies had just hit in a very big way. The big subject of the night was talking pictures. This was the last ceremony to include silent films exclusively.
The talking picture development, begun with the Jazz Singer’s famous line “You Ain’t Heard Nothin’ Yet”, was about to revolutionize the industry, which had been in decline. The Jazz Singer, released during the award season (made in 1927, released in 1928), had not been allowed to compete for best picture because the Academy decided it was unfair to let movies with sound compete with silent films. It was a travesty, as it probably would have swept the awards that year.
When a film comes around that is this revolutionary, it should be allowed to compete, not be excluded, just because it was so far ahead of it’s time.
That first best picture winner went to Wings, a tale of World War One pilots directed by William Wellman, which at $2million was the most expensive movie of its time. A great film in it’s own right, with some of the best aerial photography ever filmed. We talk about it at length in our blog post, called Dick Grace and Wings.
Also, just a side note, much of the chatter at the ceremony also included how Buster Keaton’s now classic silent film The General had been snubbed.
The original Jazz Singer was a Broadway hit, which opened at the Fulton Theater on Sunday, September 14th, 1925 and ran for 303 performances. The play starred George Jessel (who was asked to star in the movie, but declined!). Also in the cast were Phoebe Foster as Mary Dale, Arthur Stuart Hull as Harry Lee, Sam Jaffe as Yudelson and Howard Lang as The Cantor.
Al Jolson, the star of The Jazz Singer, was directed by Alan Crosland.
Finding just 15 movies to highlight from someone with a career like Katharine Hepburns is just literally insane…as she has well over 15 movies worth highlighting. She’s amazing, and quite possibly my favorite actress. So I’ve narrowed the list down the only which way I could…I simply list my favorites. All of her films are worth watching, but if you’ve never seen any of them yet, here’s a good start:
15 – Summertime (1955)
David Lean is famous for his grand epics, but it’s fun to highlight an intimate film like this for both Katharine Hepburn and David Lean. Katharine Hepburn was more than impressed with her experience working with David Lean. She even asked to sit in on the editing sessions with him to watch him at work. In her autobiography, she wrote, “[Summertime] was told with great simplicity in the streets, in the Piazza San Marco. We would shoot in tiny streets only a few feet wide. The sun would come and go in a matter of minutes. It was a very emotional part, and I tell you I had to be on my toes to give David enough of what he wanted practically on call. But it was thrilling… He seemed to me to simply absorb Venice. It was his. He had a real photographic gift. He thought in a descriptive way. His shots tell the story. He was capable of a sort of super concentration. It made a very deep and definite impression on me, and he was one of the most interesting directors I ever worked with. Wasn’t I lucky to work with him?”
This material is well within Hepburn’s wheelhouse but is very different for Lean. What I find to be of great interest with the material is that Hepburn had a great eye for stage plays and especially ones that would make fine transitions over to the big screen. Many of her success came from turning great plays into marvelous movies. The writer is Arthur Laurents who wrote the plays Home of the Brave, Gypsy and West Side Story.
14 – Stage Door (1937)
Another play (you’ll find that most of this list started out as plays), but this one is even more interesting, as it’s about the behind-the-scenes drama of actresses trying to make it big on Broadway. Originally, the writer of the stage play, George S. Kaufman, upset and bemused by the way the screenwriters had substantially changed the play, suggested that the title also be changed, to “Screen Door”. The screenplay was considerably altered from the hit stage play. Director Gregory La Cava was particularly gifted working with actresses. For two weeks prior to filming, he had his cast improvise in the boarding house set as if they were actually rooming together, and had a script girl take down all their interchanges. Most of the dialog you hear in the boarding house is extemporaneous ad-libs by the actresses during rehearsals. Just as an example of how much the play had been rewritten, Adolphe Menjou’s character was not in the original stage play at all.
Katharine Hepburn was in discussions to star in the original Broadway stage production of “Stage Door”, but Broadway producer Leland Hayward, reportedly jealous of her deepening friendship with noted film director John Ford, cast his then-girlfriend Margaret Sullavan in the leading role. Hayward and Sullavan married one month after the stage play opened. Margaret Sullavan was considered for the film version but became pregnant with their first child, and the part went to Katharine Hepburn.
13 – Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner (1967)
Worth mentioning in this film is one of three of the finest speeches I’ve ever seen written for Spencer Tracy at the end of a film. The others being in State of the Union and Judgment at Nuremberg. Now particularly, in this film during this scene, Katharine Hepburn doesn’t have a single line and yet she speaks VOLUMES. The brilliant decision to have Tracy stand up and then move back to where Hepburn is sitting so that the camera has her in view as he gives the speech about their love, is simply a work of genius. I get choked up every time I see it, as the emotion erupting from both of them is palpable. It’s also important to note that this is their last film together and Tracy’s final film before he died. He would die a few weeks later, and I can’t help but think he was expressing how he really felt about her for all of us to see.
Hepburn would win one of her four Academy Awards from her performance in this movie and it’s not hard to see why, from a single scene where she doesn’t even speak. She’s that good. Ironically, Tracy and Hepburn would do a total of nine movies together but this film was the only one where they were both nominated for Academy Awards, but Tracy would lose out to Rod Steiger, for Heat of the Night, a film also starring Sydney Poitier. Both Tracy and Poitier had won Oscars previously, for other films.
12 – The African Queen (1951)
There are two movies on this list where Hepburn is stuck on a raft or a boat going downstream with a gruff character, this one with Humphrey Bogart and Rooster Cogburn with John Wayne. The movie was directed by Bogart favorite, Walter Huston. In both movies, she plays a christian, a missionary in one and the minister’s daughter in the other. She took her part quite seriously in African Queen, according to Katharine Hepburn’s autobiography, John Huston initially found her performance to be too serious-minded. One day, he visited her hut and suggested that she model her performance on Eleanor Roosevelt; putting on her “society smile” in the face of all adversity. After Huston left, Hepburn sat for a moment before deciding, “That is the best piece of direction I have ever heard.” Lauren Bacall famously ventured along for the filming in Africa to be with husband Humphrey Bogart. She played den mother during the trip, making camp and cooking. This also marked the beginning of her life-long friendship with Katharine Hepburn.
11 – State of the Union (1948)
What I love about Katharine Hepburn’s performances most is that she plays some incredibly strong women characters but in vulnerable ways. She lets little cracks come through, we see her characters doubt at times, even as she tries to keep her chin up and fight through. This one is directed by my favorite director, Frank Capra. This was a political film, and pride runs strong with Capra and most of it’s cast, but the country was going through some turmoil over what would be known as the Hollywood Blacklist. There was tension on the set between the strongly conservative Adolphe Menjou and liberal thinking Katharine Hepburn, who had recently made a public speech against America’s anticommunist hysteria and was facing a backlash as a result. Adolphe Menjou was a hard-line political conservative who had willingly co-operated with the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and named names. Katharine Hepburn was decidedly more liberal and had been an outspoken critic of the blacklist. When Hepburn learned Menjou had worked with HUAC, she refused to speak to or have anything to do with him unless they were filming a scene. Once the cameras were off, she kept her distance. They had previously worked together in two other films (Stage Door and Morning Glory) and had no problems those times. Perhaps the familiarity between the two had caused some deep disappointment in each other’s hard stand.
10 – Holiday (1938)
This is the first of three films on this list with her other frequent collaborator, Cary Grant. They are magic together. I love all the movies she does with Tracy, they seem like the perfect pair, but quite possibly what I love about Hepburn matched up with Grant is that they seemed like the perfect foes. They’re completely at odds with each other but Grant is not quite her equal, she’s a queen he keeps trying to knock off of her pedestal, whereas with Tracy they seem to be equals. This one was written by one of Katharine Hepburn’s favorite writers, Donald Ogden Stewart, who also wrote her other films, The Philadelphia Story, Keeper of the Flame, and uncredited work on Summertime. He was uncredited in many of his later screenplays as he was one of the writers that were eventually blacklisted by the (HUAC) House Un-American Activities Committee.
9 – Rooster Cogburn (1975)
This is the latest movie on the list, and even though I liked her work in On Golden Pond in 1981, it didn’t quite make the list. This one was a follow-up to John Wayne’s Academy Award winning turn as Rooster Cogburn in True Grit. She enjoyed working with the Duke very much because they were both spitfires! Katharine Hepburn was bemused by co-star John Wayne’s tendency to argue with everybody, especially the director, during filming. At the party to celebrate the last day of filming she told him, “I’m glad I didn’t know you when you had two lungs, you must have been a real bastard. Losing a hip has mellowed me, but you!” The film received terrible reviews on release. Many critics felt that it was too obviously derived from The African Queen, and that both John Wayne and Katharine Hepburn were too old for their parts, but I really love seeing these two veteran actors going head-to-head. John Wayne and Katharine Hepburn were born a mere two weeks apart (Wayne being the eldest), and their careers paralleled each other, yet this film marked the only time the Hollywood veterans appeared together onscreen.
8 – Bringing Up Baby (1938)
Holiday, Bringing Up Baby and The Philadelphia Story all make my list as well for the Top 15 Cary Grant Movies, you can see the blog post here to see where they wind up on that list. I also talk about this movie in a blog post about What’s Up, Doc?, you can read that one here if you’re interested. Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant frequently socialized off the set, double-dating with their respective steadies at the time, Howard Hughes and Phyllis Brooks. They loved working on the film so much that they frequently arrived early. Since Howard Hawks was usually late, they spent their time working out new bits of comic business. Hawks and Hepburn started out a little rough at the beginning of shooting. After the bad start, Hawks grew to respect Hepburn tremendously for her comic timing, ad-libbing skills and physical control. He would tell the press, “She has an amazing body – like a boxer. It’s hard for her to make a wrong turn. She’s always in perfect balance. She has that beautiful coordination that allows you to stop and make a turn and never fall off balance. This gives her an amazing sense of timing. I’ve never seen a girl that had that odd rhythm and control.” I talk a little more about this film in a blog post about the Top 15 Films Directed By Howard Hawks.
7 – Desk Set (1957)
This one was written by Phoebe Ephron and Henry Ephron, the mother and father of Nora Ephron! Great writing runs in the family! I love this movie as an older couple meet and fall in love. It’s also got some very interesting research details and a fun computer bit. The computer dates the film however because it’s so big and blinky.
6 – Alice Adams (1935)
George Stevens directed Hepburn in Alice Adams and Woman of the Year. Both films make my list but her character is so starkly different! The first one is about a young woman trying to break through certain social circles, very unsure of herself and naive and the second is a very strong reporter trying to make it in a man’s world, very secure and confident. She enjoyed working with him but he really pushed her to be a better version of herself. She was having problems with her public persona, which was of a cold woman. She credits Stevens for her change in the public’s perception, by helping her, in “Alice Adams”, portray more warmth and vulnerability than she had ever shown previously. For example, there was a disagreement among Hepburn and Stevens about the post-party scene. The script called for Hepburn to fall onto the bed and break into sobs, but Stevens wanted her to walk to the window and cry, with the rain falling outside. Hepburn could not produce the tears required, so she asked Stevens if she could do the scene as scripted. Stevens yelled furiously at Hepburn, which did the trick and the scene was filmed Stevens’ way, and Hepburn’s tears are real. I think this scene is dead right the way Stevens has created and set the mood.
5 – Lion in Winter (1968)
Katharine thought very highly of Peter O’Toole. She thought he could do anything, strong but kind, funny but dramatic…she really admired him. Although Hepburn was a great admirer of his work, she had no intention of putting up with the rather bad habits he often exhibited on his productions. “You’re known to be late,” she told him on the first day of work. “I intend for you to be on time. I hear you stay out at night. You’d better be rested in the morning if you’re going to work with me!” O’Toole meekly obliged when she told him “Peter, stop towering over me. Come and sit down and try to look respectable.” O’Toole readily admitted in her presence that she reduced him “to a shadow of my former gay-dog self.” “She is terrifying. It is sheer masochism working with her. She has been sent by some dark fate to nag and torment me.” Her reply: “Don’t be so silly. We are going to get on very well. You are Irish and you make me laugh. In any case, I am on to you and you to me.” In spite of her stern warnings, she enjoyed O’Toole tremendously. She said his vigour and energy helped restore her own vitality at a time when she really needed it.
This film is also the first film for Timothy Dalton and Anthony Hopkins. Timothy Dalton was hugely impressed by Katharine Hepburn, particularly when she came in to shoot reverse shots with him on her day off from filming.
4 – Little Women (1933)
She got the coveted iconic role in this one and runs away with the film. It helped to cement a long relationship with director George Cukor, who would go on to direct her in Sylvia Scarlett, Holiday, The Philadelphia Story, Keeper of the Flame, Pat and Mike, and Adam’s Rib. Katharine Hepburn wrote in her autobiography, “This picture was heaven to do – George Cukor perfect. He really caught the atmosphere. It was to me my youth!” The third screen adaptation of the novel, following silent versions in 1917 and 1918. Little Women would be filmed a total of 8 times for film and several more times as TV shows and a couple mini-series!
3 – Woman of the Year (1942)
This is the first of nine films Hepburn and Tracy would do together. She was unaware of how they would do together onscreen for the first time and wondered if they had the right chemistry. The first scene shot was the characters’ first date, in a bar. Hepburn was so nervous she spilled her drink, but Tracy just handed her a handkerchief and kept going. Hepburn proceeded to clean up the spill as they played the scene. When the drink dripped through to the floor, she tried to throw Tracy off by going under the table, but he stayed in character, with the cameras rolling the entire time. After this she knew the two of them would be golden as they became so comfortable together, she knew it was magic. As Hepburn’s close friend and frequent director, George Cukor was a natural choice to direct, but for her first film with Tracy, Hepburn wanted Tracy to be as comfortable as possible, so as a quasi-producer, she hired George Stevens, who had directed her in Alice Adams. As Hepburn said, “I just thought he (Tracy) should have a big, manly man on his team – someone who could talk about baseball.” Cukor (who was openly gay and known for his friendships with actresses) would later become a good friend of Tracy and would direct both actors in 3 more movies.
2 – The Philadelphia Story (1940)
Grant trying to knock Queen Hepburn off her pedestal is never more evident than in this movie. He even calls her a Queen and mocks he high and mightiness, in a marvelous duel of words between exes that were never more in love than when they were fighting. To get back at him she falls off the pedestal for short time and lands in Jimmy Stewart’s arms. James Stewart never felt he deserved the Best Actor Oscar for his performance in this film, especially since he had initially felt miscast. He always maintained that Henry Fonda should have won instead for The Grapes of Wrath (1940), and that the award was probably “deferred payment for my work on Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)”, but I thought he was great in this one as well.
1 – Adam’s Rib (1949)
I wrote about how gracious Hepburn was with co-star Judy Holliday in this film, in a blog post you can read here. What I didn’t talk about in that post was how great she is in the movie, on her own right. Written by husband and wife Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin, they would become lifelong friends of Hepburn and Tracy and Kanin would also go on to write an intimate biography on Hepburn and Tracy.
Interesting bit of trivia, in the memorable Tracy-Hepburn massage scene, a radio plays Frank Sinatra singing Cole Porter’s “Farewell, Amanda,” a gift to Amanda Bonner (played by Hepburn) from her songwriter-neighbor, Kip Lurie (played by David Wayne) who, earlier in the picture, had crooned the ditty, accompanying himself on the Bonners’ piano. While Adam Bonner (played by Tracy) is massaging his wife, he abruptly shuts off the radio. Sinatra is again heard when a record is accidentally started in a later scene. This prerecording of “Farewell, Amanda” is lost.
I was waiting, along with 500 attorneys for the keynote speaker at an ABA Solo event(American Bar Association) in Boston, during lunch last year (September 2015), when we were told that he would be unable to make it due to a medical emergency the night before. He was in the hospital. They told us that they reached out to a Senior Fellow at Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center For Ethics, and he agreed last minute to fill in and speak with us. I thought then, “How good can this be, he’s filling in at keynote last minute…”. Pretty lofty if you think about it, for even the best speakers, even if they do talk regularly in front of students every week. 500 lawyers. An educated room. Try engaging that group and keep their attention longer than 5 minutes. In my head I was thinking he had 3 minutes tops before half the room was looking up their email on their cell phones.
They announced him as Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Ron Suskind. “Pulitzer Prize…that’s interesting, let’s see what he’s got, ” I thought. I consider myself as somewhat of a writer as well, no where in his sphere, but decent and work-able in my own interests…so I found some common ground to give him some, if not all of my attention, (at least until my phone sounds off letting me know I have email) for the sake of supporting a fellow writer. A small man in his fifties in a blue suit made it to the stage. First thing he did was curious, he took the mike off the podium and then he stepped to the side. He made some kind of joke about his stature and being hid by the podium. I had a feeling that he was going to be interesting, if not unconventional, right from the start.
Now, he gave us his background briefly; he attended University of Virginia, graduated and then a master’s degree at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, straight to the Wall Street Journal where he became senior national affairs reporter, wrote 4 books about presidential power (a few fun stories about the Clintons), and then won a Pulitzer Prize for two articles he wrote about Cedric Jennings a student at inner-city Ballou High School in Washington D.C. who wanted to attend MIT. Now, it’s here when he started talking about Cedric where he really grabbed the attention of the room. He talked about how he was able to gain the trust of this poor under-served teenager and to write about his journey. This is where the story of his life changed.
He started to talk about his autistic son, Owen. Here was a highly educated man, who communicated for a living both as a speaker and a writer…he never found it hard reaching an audience and communicating ideas. But he couldn’t reach his son. He couldn’t communicate to Owen. His wife, Cornelia, his oldest son, Walt, and himself, found themselves in a daily existence where words failed them. They sought out answers from all different sources, experts, and establishments designed to help families with autistic children. Nothing helped and they grew frustrated and desperate. Then one day, they had a breakthrough from a very unusual source. Through Disney animated movies. They found that Owen had a voice and that they could communicate through the dialogue of an animated film. You see, Owen’s past-time over the last several years was watching Disney movies. It’s the only thing they could do to keep him occupied. And by accident, they realized that they could actually talk to him and he would understand and talk back by using the voices and dialogue from the Disney films. Because he knew them by heart.
About here is when I realized that over an hour had gone by, probably closer to 2…and the room was still rapt. He had us completely enthralled by his story…his journey over the last 10 years with his family. No one had ever reached for a single phone… email, work and everything completely forgotten to hear a story about what mattered most to all of us; personal relationships and how we can go about communicating and finding common ground. His next book about this experience was called Life, Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes, and Autism. Now a New York Times Bestseller. He has since spoken to audiences at the United Nations; testified in front of the United States Congress; and appeared on numerous TV and radio shows, including ABC’s Good Morning America, NBC’s Nightly News with Brian Williams, CBS’s Sunday Morning, NPR and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
A documentary film has been produced and directed by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Roger Ross Williams and is already winning awards all across the country. Now, you have a list of to-do items; read the book, watch the documentary, communicate with your kids. Also, if you get a chance to see Ron Suskind speak…by all means and whatever it takes…DO IT! He’s amazing and well worth the few hours you spend with him and the 100’s of hours after that you will spend thinking about it later. I’m not one to usually ask for a picture with celebrities, politicians or influencers…but in this case, I couldn’t help myself, he was that good. I am privileged to have been in the room that day and encouraged to spread the word.
ITV and BBC as a whole release some of the finest TV movies and TV Shows that I have ever seen. At times, the channels have felt like old time studios as the talent they hire and cultivate keeps popping up from show to show and movie to movie and the directors, writers and actors just keep getting stronger and stronger. Their track record with quality is unmatched even in Hollywood circles. I can mention several shows and movies from ITV that I have loved in recent years including Endeavor and Downton Abbey...and another one that is continually on the top of my list is Foyle’s War.
Created by an amazing writer by the name of Anthony Horowitz, who has written several books, TV Shows and movies including Sherlock Holmes (The House of Silk) and James Bond (Trigger Mortis) novels and the popular young adult series, Alex Rider (Stormbreaker…). The show is a period mystery series set first in World War II and then continues after the war, between the years 1940 to 1947. Technically, the series has 8 seasons and the first six seasons are set in Hastings, Sussex, England, where Detective Chief Superintendent Christopher Foyle (Michael Kitchen) attempts to catch criminals who are taking advantage of the confusion the war has created. He is assisted by his driver Samantha “Sam” Stewart (Honeysuckle Weeks) and Detective Sergeant Paul Milner (Anthony Howell). For seasons 7 and 8, it sees a retired Foyle working for MI5, navigating the world of Cold War espionage.
In the United States, each of the episodes filmed would be considered a TV Movie, as the episodes run from 90 to 110 minutes and take about 5 weeks to shoot each of them. My favorite actors in the shows would have to be Michael Kitchen, who plays Foyle and Honeysuckle Weeks, who plays his driver Sam. They are the backbone of the series. The series is notable for its attention to historical detail, and the drama is frequently moved along by historical events of the Second World War. Creator Anthony Horowitz considered that to honor the veterans of the war it was important to get the details correct.As the series progressed, Horowitz became more interested in the “murder mystery” format than the portrayal of history and exploration of the Home Front.
Normally how the series has been packaged from the original run in the UK and then for the US airings later have been completely different. Upon the first viewings in the US, they would add a Historian introducing the episode about to be aired. Michael Kitchen especially liked these as he said later, “When the series first went out in the States, for example, at the front of each episode a rather eminent historian spent a couple of minutes on camera explaining how that episode related to the period of war it’s set in, what actual incidents have inspired it along with various things to look out for during the course of the programme. I think it’s a great shame something similar doesn’t happen when the series is screened in the UK. It undeniably adds another level and depth to the programme, not to mention the success this sort of prologue or introduction has had in the past – the Alfred Hitchcock series for example.”