Spring is here! We here at The Best Films of Our Lives are celebrating… by watching movies! Yes, you’re not surprised, but you might find a few surprises in our picks for the week.
To be honest, when Ethan suggested our theme for this week, I was confused. What is a spring movie? The adjectives, “light, cheery” and Ethan’s increasingly desperate invocations of “rain, sunshine, and flowers” did not do anything to alleviate my confusion. In typical, contrarian fashion, my brain honed in all the wrong seasons; all I could think of were “Winter’s Bone,” “500 Days of Summer” and “Autumn Sonata”, and I almost got kicked off the blog when I feebly brought up that the Titanic sank in April. Whether this is due to my Californian upbringing, where spring doesn’t really exist, or to my diet of movies about unrequited love and brooding suitors, is a question I’d rather not have answered.
“Singin’ in the Rain” (1952)
Cast: Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Connor, Jean Hagan, Millard Mitchell, Cyd Charisse, Douglas Fowley, Rita Moreno
Available on disc from Netflix, streaming on Amazon Instant and purchase from iTunes.
One of the most unabashedly joyous of all movies, period. There may be no greater summary of that springtime feeling than the image of Gene Kelly, umbrella in hand, swinging from a lamp-post, giddily declaring his love to heaven and earth and anyone else in earshot. It’s a film that feels somehow more free than many of its contemporary big-ticket musicals, perhaps because it was not based on an already successful stage production. Set loose from the expectation of how a movie could “translate” Broadway, Kelly and co-director Stanley Donen chose to celebrate Hollywood, tongue in cheek and light on their feet. “Singin’ in the Rain” deserves to be seen on the biggest screen possible, but it’s the kind of movie that bursts forth from even a laptop.
“Sense and Sensibility” (1995)
Cast: Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant, Kate Winslet, Alan Rickman, Tom Wilkinson, Imelda Staunton, Hugh Laurie
Available on Netflix DVD, iTunes, and Amazon
Jane Austen has the unique misfortune of being so loved that her work suffers constant adaptation. The sheer number of “Pride and Prejudice” variants boggles the mind, but its cousin, “Sense and Sensibility,” has had a somewhat kinder fate, brought to life in this sweet, sweeping movie directed by Ang Lee. After their father’s death, the Dashwood sisters, the reserved Elinor (Emma Thompson) and the passionate Marianne (Kate Winslet), must rely on marriage to save themselves from destitution. What ensues is a story of romance, misunderstanding, money, and awakening, rendered complete by a witty script (written by Emma Thompson), beautiful cinematography, and a most deliciously British cast. Both Thompson and Winslet were nominated for an Oscar for their performances, but Winslet’s balance of strength and fragility, her devotion to love, provide some of the most touching moments in the movie. As rare as it might be, this is one movie that does Jane Austen justice.
“The Stroll” (2003)
Cast: Irina Pegova, Pavel Barshak, Evgeny Tsyganov
Available (with English subtitles) in its entirety on YouTube.
A high-spirited, if somewhat sloppy, mish-mash of “Before Sunrise” and “Jules and Jim,” Aleksei Uchitel’s film is a refreshing little gem of post-Soviet filmmaking. In contrast to the staid, overly formal dramas (the works of Nikita Mikhalkov, Aleksei Balabanov) and breezy wannabe Hollywood romcoms (“Piter FM,” “Plus One”) that dominate most contemporary Russian cinema, “The Stroll” is loose and comfortably inconsequential. Uchitel follows three young 20-somethings with a handheld camera as they wander the streets of St. Petersburg more or less in real time, reveling in the city’s energy and each other’s company. It’s not all fun and games of course, as predictably there’s a love triangle brewing – but even the last-minute swerve toward melancholy drama, as the film itself suggests, isn’t enough to bring down the buoyancy of young romance.