There is a long-held belief among movie goers that there are “chick flicks” and “guy movies”—and never the twain shall meet. However, this doesn’t have to be the case, if you know where to look. This week, I take a look at five “guy movies” that women may like, and five “chick flicks” that men may like—if given a chance. Then I throw in a bonus movie that everyone will like.
Let’s start with films usually reserved for the fellas.
Saying the name “John Wayne” is enough to make many women roll their eyes, but he’s almost George Clooney cool as he makes his first entrance as the Ringo Kid in John Ford’s Stagecoach (1939). It was a star-making moment, the camera tracking in on him as he twirls and cocks his rifle. However, though this is ostensibly story of a stagecoach passing through dangerous Apache territory, the focus is on the characters, notably top-billed Claire Trevor as the fallen prostitute Dallas, Thomas Mitchell as the drunken Doc Boone (he won an Oscar for his performance), and John Carradine as the smooth, snaky Hatfield. Director Ford expertly balances the disparate personalities in the coach, coaxing the viewer to side with the outcasts against the more respectable types.
I Shot Jesse James
The great Samuel Fuller was a soldier, a newspaper reporter, a novelist, and a screenwriter before he made his directorial debut with this super-low budget “B” Western, made for about $100,000. I Shot Jesse James (1949) uses mostly interior locations and doesn’t have much action, but it makes up for this with intense characters, and borderline homoerotic situations: It was called the first “psychological Western.” John Ireland plays Robert Ford, who helps bathe Jesse James (Reed Hadley) before (spoiler) eventually shooting him in the back.
Choreographer Yuen Woo-ping gained fame in the United States after designing the extraordinary fight scenes for The Matrix and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. So Quentin Tarantino and Miramax spruced up Yuen’s own Iron Monkey (1993) and re-released it to theaters in 2001, with subtitles and a fine new score. Not surprisingly, it’s fast-paced, exciting, and far less artsy and more fun than Crouching Tiger—it’s almost like a ballet. The movie partly tells the story of the young Hong Kong folk hero Wong Fei-hung (also portrayed in the Once Upon a Time in China and Drunken Master movies) who teams up with the mysterious title hero to fight an evil governor.
In the 2000s, Stephen Chow was the box office champion in Hong Kong, and his Shaolin Soccer (2001) became the all-time highest grossing film there, topped only by Chow’s next film, Kung Fu Hustle. Chow plays a kung fu master who assembles a bizarre soccer team to play against “Team Evil” in the big game. The visual effects here are both ludicrous and spectacular, and Chow’s direction is unbelievably fast and the humor is outrageous. Miramax released it in 2004 but, sadly, in a dubbed version and with some 23 minutes of footage cut out. Hulu presents the subtitled version, but also the short version.
Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954) was one of the big events in world film. It’s generally ranked among the 10 best films ever made, and yet it’s still a huge crowd-pleaser. Viewers can get a little taste of culture while still drooling over some classic samurai action. At three hours and twenty minutes, though, this movie takes its time. It’s a slow build to the climactic battle as the characters work their way around personal obstacles. A poor farming village, tired of being pillaged by bandits, hires seven ronin (masterless samurai) to defend them. Toshiro Mifune is memorable as the stomping, surly Kikuchiyo, but Takashi Shimura is just as good, thoughtfully rubbing the back of his neck while coming up with a plan.
For the women
And now, the other side of the coin.
Wings of Desire
Now for the women’s films. Director Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire (1987) was shot in both German and English, and both black-and-white and color, telling the quiet, moody, romantic story of an angel (Bruno Ganz) who falls in love with a human trapeze artist (Solveig Dommartin) and must decide whether to give up everything to be with her. Peter Falk is terrific as a human actor who helps out. It’s a remarkably intelligent, deeply-felt movie that avoids most romance clichés. (A poor remake, City of Angels, embraces all those same clichés.) Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds perform on stage in one scene.
The British director Mike Leigh is famous for casting his actors, improvising with them, and then writing the script based on what he finds. This usually results in deep, thoughtful characters and outstanding performances. Sally Hawkins was no exception in Happy-Go-Lucky (2008), an amazingly balanced movie about a kind, cheerful free spirit named Poppy, who decides to take a driving lesson and crosses paths with a cranky driving instructor (Eddie Marsan). Poppy shouldn’t seem realistic, much less likeable, but Hawkins’ portrayal is so beautiful and honest that she becomes irresistible. Leigh, of course, throws in a few dark moments to help.
Mark Herman’s Brassed Off (1996) is another English comedy-drama that did what The Full Monty did, but a year earlier. It takes place in a small English mining town, where the local brass band is a great source of pride. Band leader Danny (Pete Postlethwaite) wants to win a trophy, but the band is distracted with rumors that the mine will be shut down. Pretty, toothy Gloria (Tara Fitzgerald) comes back to town and joins the band, which is a mixed blessing for band member Andy (Ewan McGregor), her former flame. Unfortunately, Gloria has a brutal secret. Herman effectively turns in a feel-good movie without sacrificing grim, realistic drama.
Babette’s Feast (1987) may be the greatest food movie ever made. It even won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film over the more likely candidate, Louis Malle’s Holocaust drama Au Revoir Les Enfants. Directed by Gabriel Axel, the movie is set in 19th century Denmark, where a French refugee, Babette (Stephane Audran) comes to live with two elderly sisters, who gave up romance for a life of piety. When Babette wins a lottery, she decides to prepare an incredible meal for the sisters and their congregation. It’s based on a story by Karen Blixen, who wrote under the penname Isak Dinesen. Warning: This movie will make viewers of both sexes hungry.
Love in the Afternoon
Also known as Chloe in the Afternoon, Eric Rohmer’s Love in the Afternoon (1972) tells the story of a married, bourgeois office manager, Frédéric (Bernard Verley), who meets the flirty, carefree Chloe (Zouzou), and entertains an affair with her, even while his wife is pregnant. Rohmer intelligently focuses on situations of lust and passion, as well as the characters’ intellectual analysis of them. It’s both titillating and fascinating at the same time. The movie is part of Rohmer’s six-film “Moral Tales” series. In real life, Zouzou was known as a model and a groupie who dated rock stars and movie stars. In 2007, Chris Rock wrote and directed a remake called I Think I Love My Wife.
One more thing…
Just because it’s so good, here’s another movie not to miss.
Our bonus movie is Charles Chaplin’s The Kid (1921), one of the most flat-out perfect movies ever made. Moviemakers spent years trying to imitate its flawless combination of laughter and tears. It was Chaplin’s first “feature” film (52 minutes), and he already showed an incredible mastery of the medium. He plays the “tramp” character, who unwittingly rescues an abandoned baby and raises him to be a partner in crime (played as a boy by Jackie Coogan). Unfortunately, the authorities try to take the boy away. Your heart will break, you will laugh, and the movie also contains one of the truly surreal dream sequences in cinema history. After this, Coogan was as famous as Chaplin for a little while. Years later, he played Uncle Fester on TV’s The Addams Family. In 1921, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and film critic Carl Sandburg wrote, “The Kid is a masterpiece and should satisfy either those who want knock down and dragout or something the whole family will enjoy.”