Today in Movie History: December 10

There are good films, there are great films and then there are films that ennoble the medium by their very existence. Lawrence of Arabia is such a movie: a singular towering achievement that made full use of director David Lean’s incomparable sense of the epic. Peter O’Toole launched his career as the titular British soldier, whose campaign against the Turks in World War I is equal parts genius and madness, and the film’s seven Oscars only begin to touch on its impact.

While not quite in the same league,Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s Sleuth is a fine film in its own right: pairing Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine as a pair of rivals engaged in a unique game of cat-and-mouse. It was released today in 1972, and while it has the air of canned theater to it, watching these two actors square off with dialogue this sharp is a singular joy.

Finally, Wayne’s World 2 was released today in 1993. We know, guys, we know. You’re not worthy. But we like you, so we’ll let you soar with these eagles for a bit. You irresistibly goof bastards, you.

 

 

 

Today in Movie History: May 2

We’ve got a big one today, and it’s hard to know where to start. In all honesty, though, there’s no getting around the pop culture gorilla in the room. Since The Mummy unofficially pushed the start of blockbuster season from Memorial Day to the start of May, this week on the calendar has been dominated by Marvel movies. In fact, the three biggest individual Marvel franchises all have entries that opened today.

We’ll start with the biggest: Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, which opened ten years ago today in 2008. It’s easy to forget how surprisingly good this movie was, turning Tony Stark from a second-tier superhero to one of the most recognized in the world. Robert Downey Jr.’s now-iconic turn as the character resurrected his career, and of course, the film’s success opened the gates of  the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Five years earlier to the day, Bryan Singer’s X2: X-Men United helped lay the groundwork for the MCU by proving that superheroes not named Superman or Batman could still support a successful franchise. In fact, it ranks as one of the best X-Men films to date, and us old-school fans got to weep with joy as Alan Cumming’s Nightcrawler — who we never expected to even SEE in an A-list movie — took apart that White House security team as only he could.

The runt of the Marvel litter today was The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which open today in 2014. Though it underperformed at the box office and was justly criticized for its ham-handed effort to jump-start a new franchise, it earns props for Andrew Garfield’s fantastic Peter Parker, and Emma Stone’s spot-on performance as the doomed Gwen Stacey.

Another big anniversary today comes much earlier… and with a much different film. Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple was already a huge hit on Broadway when director Gene Saks successfully adapted it to the big screen. Walter Matthau reprised his Broadway turn as the slovenly Oscar Madison, with Jack Lemmon taking over from Art Carney as the fussy Felix Unger. the results were magical and turned the film into a massive hit. It opened 50 years ago today in 1968.

If you love franchises and superheroes aren’t your thing, there’s always The Curse of Frankenstein, which opened today in 1957. Peter Cushing’s truly diabolical doctor was strong enough to support another half-dozen sequels, and his lengthy partnership with Christopher Lee found one of many, many high notes here. (Lee plays a mute, murderous version of the monster.)

Want more? We got it! How about the noir classic The Postman Always Rings  Twice, which opened today in 1946? Or the original Miracle on 34th Street, which was released exactly one year later? (If it sounds weird to release a Christmas movie in May, keep in mind that national releases were all but unheard of in the 1940s. Instead, films would open slowly in different regions over time… helping to build word of mouth that would give the film a big boost over the holidays.)

We’ll even include the original Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery — released today in 1997 — because it’s freaking Austin Powers and leaving it off would just be wrong.

Whew!

 

Today in Movie History: February 14

Because nothing says “I love you” more than serial killers who wear their victims’ skin…

Before Silence of the Lambs opened, it looked shaky in the extreme. The source material — a bestselling potboiler by Thomas Harris — was terrible, Jodie Foster got the female lead only after fighting like mad for it, and Anthony Hopkins was still largely considered a stage actor without much currency in Hollywood. We all know what happened next. The film turned into a classic, as well as sweeping the “Big Five” Oscars for only the third time in the Academy’s history and becoming the only horror film to date to win Best Picture. (We’ll see what Get Out does in a few days.) Hopkins became a household name, Foster waltzed off with her second Oscar, and their performances are now considered two of the greatest ever put on screen. The Silence of the Lambs opened today in 1991.

If that’s a bit intense for you and your paramour, there’s always Wayne’s World a seeming throwaway effort to catch one of Saturday Night Live’s patented flashes in the pan that actually turned into an evergreen delight. Mike Myers and Dana Carvey play best buds whose basement-run public access show earns the attention of some heavy hitters, and zany mayhem ensues. It opened today in 1992, and after The Blues Brothers, remains the best of the admittedly less-than-brilliant batch of SNL-based comedies.