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Annie B’s Sleeper Movies

Annie B’s Sleeper Movies



ANNE BERNAYS is an author, journalist, and educator.  She is also a movie aficionado and will be reviewing “Sleeper Movies” for ArtSpeak – movies that have gone unnoticed for one reason or another, but which have struck her as worth writing about.  Look for new reviews every fortnight (or so).


BUT FIRST . . . 


The Movies


By Anne Bernays


Something disheartening happened when motion pictures came to be known as “films” and their directors (men!), until then largely unnoticed and certainly unnamed, became “auteurs” (note its similarity to the word “author”).

This relabeling began shortly after World War Two when several, mainly Italian moviemakers, produced work that not only tugged at your heartstrings but proved there were more roles available than being slapstick clowns and more set options than penthouses.

The shift in nomenclature revealed a wish to be taken seriously as an art form. “We’re not just clowns in cars—we’re artists!”

But there was no need for this sort of chip-on-the-shoulder redefinition: movies had been amazing all along and needed no verbal improvising of the sort that insists on calling the garbage man a “sanitary engineer.” Spurred on by fancy critics who wanted to see something more cerebral than the usual fare, Hollywood gave us a great many movies in which long silences, deep gazes, people asleep or taking forever to wake fully up, and landscapes that may have an artful shape but contributed nothing to the narrative for which they were backdrop. You can’t make movies more “serious” by slowing down or stopping the action.  Instead of true action—we writers refer to this as “plot” — they made the camera hover over extended scenes of eating, screwing, even going to the bathroom or running through the woods at midnight, substituting physical activity for  productive narrative.

I have loved the movies ever since I saw my first one in 1936. It was “Shall We Dance,” with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers floating across a deserted dance floor.

My taste—and, thank goodness, that of my husband– never fell into a particular category. It’s been idiosyncratic and, to be honest, hungry for the sort of pleasure only movies provide. Staring at a huge screen in the dark, surrounded by shadowy others can be thrilling, terrifying, suspenseful , tear-producing,  hilarious, witty, sexy. There’s nothing else remotely like it for total immersion, not even live theater.

I refuse to offer anything theoretical or abstract in this attempt to write about movies that work. I’m talking about a kind of magic, not usually associated with more than one person at a time—i.e. The Artist. Or The Writer.  Making a movie means having to hire a small army of technicians to help you do it,


The following is a list of ten of my favorite movies, not in any particular order. Generally, it’s their truth, honesty, architecture, and pace (especially pace), but sometimes it’s the acting that propels them onto this list.


The African Queen. 1951. The acting, direction, story line, setting, pace, and tone elevate this adaptation of a novel by C.S. Forester into to “Best Everland.”


Tender Mercies. 1983. An unabashedly simple story about a washed-up, alcoholic, country singer who finds love and redemption with the owner  of a roadside motel and gas station in the flatlands of Texas.  In this case it’s the actor, Robert Duvall, who keeps the movie from sliding into sentimentality, delivering on a far deeper and satisfying level.


Notorious: 1946. Alfred Hitchcock was a genius. Here, the story is so carefully, artfully constructed, that one event causes the next in a delicious cascade of the unexpected. The penultimate scene makes you want to scream. Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergmann are perfect as a pair of uneasy lovers.


Misery. 1990. A Stephen King adaptation whose horror is delivered in beautifully measured and controlled drops as a madwoman (played with panache by Kathy Bates) imprisons her favorite, recently crippled writer whom she has rescued from a car crash in the wilderness. There’s a lot about the craft of writing in this movie, all of it delivered gently. James Caan is surprisingly convincing as the hapless novelist.


Laura. 1944. I’m a little embarrassed by including this movie because it may seem dated and thus uncool. But this story of the murder of a young professional woman, her snooty friends, and a rugged detective is so tightly crafted and compelling (I watched it again just to make sure) that you can’t look away.


A Fish Called Wanda. 1988. One crazy scene after another, with John Cleese and Kevin Klein outdoing each other in subtle and not-so subtle comedy. The cast is mainly Monte Python alums.


The Silence of the Lambs. 2001. Terrifying from the first moment on.  Anthony Hopkins is slyly brilliant as a homicidal maniac who exhibits moments of dazzling clarity.


Burn After Reading.  2008.  Blessed with an impressive cast, this Cohen Brothers flick tells  the satiric  story of several men and women who have taken or are about to take a wrong turn in life.  Set in D.C. the unlikely plot gives Brad Pitt a chance to show off his comedic gifts. The last scene –between two CIA officials –is dazzling.


Cookie’s Fortune. 1999. Almost everything that happens in this early Robert Altmann movie is a surprise.  That fact alone puts it on my list.  Glenn Close is amazing as an ageing Southern Belle. A movie that makes the improbable seem inevitable.


The Money Pit. 1986.  Supposedly a remake of a 1940’s movie called “Mr. Blandings Builds his Dreamhouse,” this is a spoof on how to –and how not to—spend money. Tom Hanks carries this movie, which I’ve included because of a scene straight out of the silent movie era, a slapstick tours de force.


I’ll stop at ten and submit a list of runners-up: “The Philadelphia Story;”  “Casablanca;” “Double Indemnity;” “All the President’s Men;” “Best In Show;” “Young Frankenstein;” “The Firm.”


You have probably noticed that none of my choices are recently released movies. The only recent screen production remotely like the best of those on my list is an English series that ran for three years in England and then on Netflix: “After Life,” written, directed, and starring Ricky Gervais whom I had always considered a smart aleck. And maybe he was, but in this he demonstrates the deft touch of someone very much in control and very sympathetic. Here he plays it more or less straight in the funny, sharp, sad, moving, and eloquent portrait of a contemporary English village and its  citizens.