In the days before video, film repertory houses used to program double features—two movies for the price of one—and the creativity that went into selecting those pairs was sometimes better than the movies themselves. The double feature may be a lost art in theaters, but it doesn’t have to be one at home. The latest batch of new-to-streaming movies on Netflix have bundled up nicely into five double features. Just picture them on a huge, lit-up marquee sign as you pop your popcorn and curl up on the couch for a night of movie goodness.
Two Audrey Hepburns
After a couple of bit parts, Audrey Hepburn made her breakthrough with the part of a lifetime in Roman Holiday (1953). A fresh, bright gamine, she seemed to actually be a princess, rather than just playing one. Right out of the gate, she won a Best Actress Oscar for her performance. (She received four more nominations over the next 15 years.) Her Princess Ann is tired of her royal duties, and makes her escape while in Rome, meeting an American newspaperman, Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck), along the way. (Peck was 13 years her senior, but Hepburn was simply too sophisticated for boys her own age.) There’s some silliness about the princess trying to disguise her identity, and the newspaperman trying to disguise the fact that he wants a story out of it, before they fall wonderfully in love.
Director William Wyler makes the movie into a glittering black-and-white jewel, reveling in Rome locations, but keeping it all lush and comfy. Eddie Albert plays Joe’s photographer. The blacklisted Dalton Trumbo wrote the screenplay, but won an Oscar for his original story. Edith Head also won for her costume design.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) is probably Hepburn’s most iconic part: Her hairstyles and outfits from this movie are still emulated, and even her name, Holly Golightly, conjures up a certain tingle. But fans of Truman Capote’s original novel say that the movie softens the material, and then there’s the troubling aspect of Mickey Rooney’s outrageously stereotypical Japanese landlord character. But aside from all that, it’s a hugely charming movie with many moments of carefree loveliness and sweet, sad music (Henry Mancini’s “Moon River”). George Peppard (later a lead on The A-Team) co-stars as Paul Varjak, a writer who loves Holly, but who serves as a “kept boy” for an older lady (Patricia Neal). Buddy Ebsen (later a lead on The Beverly Hillbillies) plays a man from Holly’s past. Blake Edwards directed.
Two Oscar winners
Silver Linings Playbook
Overrated, and ridiculous in spots, David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook (2012) is still decent, feel-good entertainment if you don’t think about it too much or take it too seriously. The story about two psychologically damaged souls (Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence) trying to recover while living with their parents is silly, but Russell’s nervous, darting camerawork help set the tone of anxiety and struggle. The movie settles into a comfortable third act, with a big, climactic dance-off and a huge bet on a football game, but once again, Russell’s jittery editing comes into play.
It’s a nice combination of the lunatic films that Russell once made (Three Kings, I Heart Huckabees), with something that goes down much easier and is much more friendly to Oscar voters. The movie received eight nominations, but won only one award, Best Actress for Jennifer Lawrence, and much deserved. At the tender age of 22, she alone knew how to insert moments of pain and truth into the cracks in her character and came out more sympathetic and real than anything around her.
Christopher Plummer has been acting since 1953, most famously in The Sound of Music, but it wasn’t until recently that he became a recognizable character actor. He picked up his first Oscar nomination for The Last Station (2009) and won his first Oscar two years later for Beginners (2011). He plays a gay character dying of cancer, which sounds fairly typical of the Oscars, except that it’s a joyous performance in a movie that deftly balances sentiment and warm humor within its clever structure.
The focus is on Oliver (Ewan McGregor, also in a fine performance), who falls in love with Ana (Melanie Laurent), even though he is convinced their relationship is doomed. In flashback, he learns about his father not only being gay and having a younger lover, but also dying of cancer. In both time periods, Oliver attempts to reconcile love and cope with loss, but with moments of whimsy, aided by his adorable talking dog Arthur (the dog simply looks at someone and subtitles convey his “words”). Former music video maker Mike Mills directs.
Fred Zinnemann’s High Noon (1952) was one of the films that made the Western acceptable for the elite awards establishment. It’s an Oscar-winner, a consistent choice of the American Film Institute on their many Top 100 lists, and it’s even the favorite film of several U.S. presidents. But while it’s well-made and with many great moments and characters, it’s not really as much fun as some of its more rambunctious counterparts (Rio Bravo, for example).
Yet its message is subtle enough to be interpreted in many ways: It can be seen as a parable about McCarthyism and Communism, or even about the Korean War. Aided by Floyd Crosby’s hard, black-and-white cinematography, the movie takes place in something close to real time, in the 90 minutes before noon, when marshal Will Kane (Gary Cooper) must meet Frank Miller (Ian MacDonald) on the street, with no one to help him. Lon Chaney Jr. is especially memorable as Kane’s wise old mentor, but the movie is also lucky enough to have Grace Kelly as Kane’s Quaker wife, Katy Jurado, Lloyd Bridges, Thomas Mitchell, Otto Kruger, Harry Morgan, Lee Van Cleef, an uncredited Jack Elam, and even singer Sheb Wooley (“The Purple People Eater”).
True Grit (1969)
The flavorful dialogue in the great Charles Portis novel seemed more suited to the Coen brothers in their 2010 remake, but it’s hard to find fault with either John Wayne as U.S. marshal Rooster Cogburn, or Kim Darby as Mattie Ross in the original True Grit (1969). The young, upright, responsible Mattie, with her boy’s haircut, wishes to hire someone to track down her father’s murderer, and winds up with the ornery Cogburn. It’s the ultimate odd couple, made even odder with the addition of Texas Ranger La Boeuf (pronounced “Le Beef”) and played by country singer Glen Campbell (Campbell also sings the title song).
The direction by Henry Hathaway is rather slack—not nearly as tight and crystalline as the Coens’—but there’s little doubt that under his watch, Wayne gave a stupendous bear-hug of a performance, and even if it’s not his most subtle, it was the one that finally won him an Oscar. His climactic ride is still the stuff of cinema legend.
Your Sister’s Sister
Writer/director Lynn Shelton created this three-character drama, set over the course of a weekend in a rural cabin, with a special kind of looseness. Your Sister’s Sister (2012) incorporates the rustic setting without ever feeling too constrained or theatrical.
On the anniversary of his brother’s death Jack (Mark Duplass) makes a scene at a party. His best friend Iris (Emily Blunt) lets him use her family cabin for some time away to reflect. When he gets there, he discovers Iris’s lesbian sister, Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt), already there, recovering from a breakup. After a night of drinking, the two tumble into bed together, making for a terribly awkward situation in the morning when Iris shows up. The combination of scripted and improvised dialogue tends to let characters joke around and get close to the heart of their feelings, rather than launching into a broad comedy-of-errors. Comedian Mike Birbiglia appears in the opening scene.
All Is Lost
Writer and director J.C. Chandor made a monumental debut with the brilliant, wordy, Wall Street multi-character piece Margin Call (2011), and then followed it up with its polar opposite. All Is Lost (2013) has maybe a page of spoken dialogue and only one actor onscreen. Robert Redford’s character doesn’t even have a name. The credits list him as “our man,” who is very simply lost at sea for 105 minutes (his yacht crashed into a shipping container full of shoes). He patches the hole, but eventually must take to his life raft and head for a shipping zone, hoping for someone to pick him up. It’s an enormously skilled movie, and quite powerful, even if it seems to be all business and no thrills.
The movie’s ending, combined with comparisons to Life of Pi and Gravity, left it a bit stranded at the box office, and Redford’s commanding, physically demanding performance didn’t even earn an Oscar nomination. But it’s one of those movies for those that grumble about how Hollywood doesn’t take any risks anymore.
Two guilty pleasures
Philip Kaufman was once one of the best and most respected directors in America, having made things like Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), The Wanderers (1979), The Right Stuff (1983), and The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988). But when he made a little film noir in his hometown of San Francisco called Twisted (2004), it was just savaged. Absolutely savaged. It currently holds a 1 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with 135 reviews tallied. (This, in a year that also gave us the infinitely worse Van Helsing.)
One reason for this could be the fact that the main character, Jessica Shepard (Ashley Judd), has a sex drive that may have turned off many viewers. She likes to pick up anonymous lovers, have sex, and then go home and drink until she blacks out. Unfortunately, these lovers begin turning up dead, and Shepard can’t remember where she was. Samuel L. Jackson, Andy Garcia, David Strathairn, and Camryn Manheim co-star, as do some of the finest of San Francisco shooting locations. It’s not exactly without fault, and it’s probably not Kaufman’s best, but it’s a great, late-night San Francisco “B” noir that could be paired with Dark Passage, Thieves’ Highway, and The Lineup.
Tom Shadyac made his directorial debut with Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, and it just goes on from there. In short, he made a lot of money without ever making anything lasting. At some point he had a bicycle accident and suffered a concussion that would not go away. The ringing in his ears began to drive him crazy. All his money could not help. He was about to end it when he began thinking about life and asking questions. Then the pain went away, and he began to ask more questions.
That resulted in I Am (2011), a slight, cluttered, uneven, but heartfelt documentary that probably has as many detractors as it does fans (the critics hated it, but the public seemed to enjoy it). Shadyac interviewed many of the world’s great thinkers, including Noam Chomsky and Desmond Tutu, and came to the rough conclusion that humans are more hard-wired for cooperation than for competition, and that everything wrong in the world stems from too much of one and not enough of the other. Pretty simple, but nice to hear.