Today in Movie History: December 8

We’re going to start with Ang Lee, the only non-white to win more than one Best Director Oscar and whose vision continues to expand with every film he makes. Among his very best is Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, a love letter to the wuxia films of his youth that manages to elevate the genre to masterpiece status. A sumptuous adventure, a tragic love story and an ode to the ways that the movies can move us, you won’t see a better kung fu movie ever. Crouching Tiger arrived on U.S. screens today in 2000.

Staying in the realm of foreign language films, we find Costa-Gavras’s Z, a semi-satirical political thriller loosely based on the real-life assassination of Greek politician Grigoris Labrakis. Among its other achievements, it was the first movie to be nominated for both Best Foreign Language Film and Best Picture. (A number of others have come along since then… including Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.) Z opened today in 1969.

Closer to home, there’s On the Town, based on the successful stage musical about a trio of sailors in New York on shore leave. Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra star as two of the three (Broadway actor Jules Munshin served as their third musketeer). Kelly himself directed the dance sequences, and with music by Leonard Bernstein, among others, it’s a fine treat from a day when musicals were Hollywood’s bread and butter. It opened today in 1949.

For old-school movie stars at the top of their game, check out Paul Newman putting the justice system on trial in The Verdict. It marks another high point in his amazing career — playing a washed-up lawyer given a shot at redemption by a singular case — and under the sharp direction of Sidney Lumet, earned him an Academy Award nomination in the process. (He lost to Ben Kingsley in Gandhi, and we’re not too bent out of shape by that one.) It opened 35 years ago today in 1982.

Newman was an established legend by the time he made The Verdict. Another big star, Eddie Murphy, hadn’t even made a motion picture before appearing in 48 HRS, which partnered him with Nick Nolte solely on the strength of his phenomenal presence of Saturday Night Live. The move was a huge smash, establishing the parameters of the buddy-cop movie and turning Murphy into a superstar almost overnight. It also opened 35 years ago today in 1982.

Finally, today saw the release of the underrated WWII romp Force 10 from Navarone, featuring Robert Shaw, Carl Weathers and a post-Han, pre-Indy Harrison Ford kicking some Nazi ass. It’s pulp, to be sure, but certainly fun pulp… and Shaw’s final speech is not to be missed. (Plus, all the cool kids are punching Nazis these days.) Force 10 opened today in 1979.

 

Today in Movie History: April 11

There’s good musicals, there’s great musicals… and then there’s Singin’ in the Rain. Stanley Donan’s ode to the Golden Age of Hollywood and the hilarity that ensues when a silent movie studio makes the transition to sound stands as a testament to everything the genre should be. Gene Kelly received co-director credit for choreographing the dance scenes — topped by the title number which he famously performed with a raging fever — and co-stars Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor both hit career highs. It opened today in 1952.

Generation X never had a better spokesperson than John Cusack, and Cusack’s essential Gen-X-ness was never on better display than in Grosse Pointe Blank a romantic comedy about a successful hitman (yes, really) who returns home for his high school reunion in hopes of finding his soul again. The disparate elements come together beautifully (Dan Aykroyd gives his best performance in years), and for those of us of a certain age, the goggle-eyed disbelief with which Cusack approaches the world here looks painfully familiar. It opened today in 1997.