Have you ever looked at a film’s cast list on paper and wondered if some studio assistant made a mistake in the press release? Clicked through the IMDB page and just been at a total loss to picture how two actors could mesh together on the screen? It’s not even necessarily a negative reaction, nor ultimately a judgment on the movie itself – there are some savvy casting directors out there in the industry that can find fruitful collaborations in the most unlikely of places. But this week at The Best Films of Our Lives we’re celebrating that fleeting moment of uncertainty, that perverse moment of defied expectations (before we all go on Twitter to bitch and moan a bit). For this weekend’s viewing, here are some on-screen pairings that made us, at least initially, think nothing but, “huh….that’s weird.”
“Harold and Maude” (1971)
Streaming on Netflix and Amazon Instant
Cast: Bud Cort, Ruth Gordon, Vivian Pickles
This might be cheating the spirit of this column a bit, since much of the point of Hal Ashby’s cult film is the apparent mismatch between its romantic leads, young Harold (Bud Cort) and the 79-year-old Maude (Ruth Gordon). But even taking into account the intentional eccentricities and subversiveness of writer Colin Higgins’ scenario, it’s easy to forget how peculiar the specific casting was. Cort had been plucked out a revue show only a few years earlier by Robert Altman, and his only previous film role of note was the title role in Altman’s “Brewster McCloud,” a generally ridiculed flop at the time (it’s since gained something of its own cult following). Gordon, meanwhile, though an accomplished stage actress, had mostly made her Hollywood career in screenwriting, receiving Oscar nominations for “A Double Life” and the Tracy/Hepburn classics “Adam’s Rib” and “Pat and Mike;” it wasn’t until she was in her 70s that she gained widespread fame as the satanic busybody of “Rosemary’s Baby.” Together they made the most perverse combination of obscurity and broken expectations, and it ended up making Ashby’s black comedy all the more bizarrely poignant.
“Take This Waltz” (2011)
Cast: Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen, Luke Kirby, Sarah Silverman
Streaming on Netflix
Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen make a pretty weird couple, but “Take This Waltz,” a sad, sweet story about an affair, pivots upon this clumsy but endearing pairing. Margot (Williams) loves Lou (Rogen), and in many ways, they fit well together. But as it always is in these kinds of stories, there’s that inexplicable something missing. That something seems to appear in the form of Daniel (Luke Kirby), a handsome, artistic man who lives across the street. In this beautifully directed film by Sarah Polley, Margot’s face is often inscrutable, her motives baffling, but the movie is not interested in understanding why a marriage falls apart. Rather, it seeks to document the process of falling in love, out of love, and maybe landing somewhere in between. Williams inhabits her character so fully that we feel the weight of Margot’s life, the ennui and the frustration, the intimacy she seeks, and the mistakes she carries with her as lightly and yet as permanently as if they were within her beige tote bag.
“Only Lovers Left Alive” (2014)
In theaters today (limited release)
Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Anton Yelchin, Mia Wasikowska, Jeffrey Wright
If ever there was a weird couple, then Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston take the cake. Playing vampire lovers who have spent their centuries inspiring artists as varied as Lord Byron and Schubert—and hanging out with the undead Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt)—Hiddleston and Swinton grace the silver screen across America this weekend. Twilight and True Blood fans need not apply here. Plot is irrelevant to “Only Lovers”—which is not to say that nothing happens—but this moody, atmospheric movie, which takes place entirely at night, looks to be a visual treat: an artist’s stylized meditation on love and art. Besides, who doesn’t want to be cool with Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton for two hours?