If you’re a fan of fine cinema, summer, with most theatrical releases easy to ignore, is a good time to catch up on older films you may have missed or might want to view again. Many films from decades past (or beyond) are joys to see, either for the first time or because it’s been too long since you last viewed them. So, with the caveat that not all of these are certifiably great films, here are twelve that make our list of “highly recommended” if you haven’t seen them and “worth another viewing” if you have.
“American Graffiti” (1973) – Now a classic coming-of-age tale, this highly entertaining film marked the debut of Richard Dreyfuss as a major star and George Lucas as a major director. Set in 1962 in Modesto, the story focuses on one night of cruising the main drag in town as Dreyfuss and Ron Howard work out their teenage angst. It is full of humor with just a little pathos thrown in for good measure.
“Children of Heaven (1997-Iranian) – This lovely “small” film tells the tale of an eight-year-old boy desperately trying to replace the single pair of his sister’s shoes that he caused to be lost. It touches on the values of family and perseverance and integrity and will resonate with anyone who has ever been a child.
“David and Lisa” (1962) – A film about disturbed teens who want to be freed of their afflictions might not sound like an uplifting experience, but this gem is that and more. Marked by beautiful portrayals of the two key youths (Keir Dullea and Janet Margolin) and their committed shrink (Howard da Silva), this Frank Perry film will touch you if you have even a very small heart.
“Dinner at Eight” (1933) – George Cukor directed an all-star cast (including John and Lionel Barrymore, Jean Harlow, Marie Dressler, Billie Burke and Wallace Beery) in this delightfully entertaining tale about a hostess’s need to fill out a formal dinner table and the lives of the folks who are potential invitees.
“Fargo” (1996) – We haven’t seen the new hit TV series (on the fx network), but if it is anywhere near as good as this masterpiece by the Coen Brothers, it must be terrific. The film made stars of William H. Macy and Steve Buscemi, who play a pair of losers who concoct and try to carry out a lame-brained kidnapping with hilariously disastrous results. The film is violent and bloody, but you’ll chuckle throughout.
“Lilies of the Field” (1963) – Another “small” film that is too easy to overlook, this one got Sidney Poitier his well-deserved best acting Oscar. In it he plays Homer Smith, an itinerant traveling handyman who happens upon a group of nuns (immigrants from Germany) who are intent on building a chapel in the New Mexico desert. Homer gets drafted as the contractor to get the job done. Wondrous consequences ensue.
“Marty” (1954) – This Paddy Chayefsky script gave Ernest Borgnine an Oscar and won the best picture nod as well. It’s a film for the ordinary people of the world, which is to say, all of us. In it, Borgnine finds love and then struggles with peer pressure and self-doubt. In an age of hooking up and e-dating, the film holds up remarkably well.
“The Secret of Santa Vittoria (1969) – Anthony Quinn stars as the mayor of a small Italian town that needs to hide its cache of a million bottles of wine from the occupying German army during World War II. Can the townspeople join forces to outsmart the Nazis? And where do you hide that much wine? Anna Magnani is Quinn’s wife, and Virna Lisi is the town’s seductive distraction for the German top brass.
“Secrets and Lies” (1996) – Mike Leigh’s film offers an upbeat look at how ordinary people can find new outlooks from extraordinary events in their lives. It’s a film that moves subtly from being emotionally heart-wrenching to being surprisingly funny. In other words, you’ll laugh and you’ll cry. Brenda Blethyn and Timothy Spall lead a fine cast.
“The Seven-Per-Cent Solution” (1976) – Contemplate this story: Sherlock Holmes is tricked by Dr. Watson into meeting Sigmund Freud so Freud can cure Holmes of his cocaine addiction. But Holmes quickly becomes embroiled in a mystery that Freud must help him solve. A great cast includes Alan Arkin (Freud), Nicol Williamson (Holmes), Robert Duvall (Watson), and Laurence Olivier (Moriarity).
“The Sweet Hereafter” (1997) – Atom Egoyan’s masterpiece is a dark, haunting tale that focuses on an attorney who seeks clients in a town that has been devastated by a horrific school bus accident that has killed most of the town’s children. The film touches on many aspects of the human condition and is hard to shake. This one isn’t for everyone but has rewards for those who like to ponder metaphysical issues.
“Women in Love” (1969) – Ken Russell’s take on D. H. Lawrence’s novel stars Alan Bates, Glenda Jackson, Oliver Reed and Jennie Linden as lovers in pre-World War I England. The film was controversial when it premiered (primarily for the nude wrestling scene between Bates and Reed), but it fully captures the mood of the novel and still resonates today.
All twelve of these films are readily available through all the usual access channels and on-line centers. Enjoy!