These days, a lot of people worldwide are watching a certain sport’s championship tournament on television. So am I. Every game has a ‘Half-Time Report’ between its two periods of play. Analysts use it to reflect on what’s happened so far. Some film critics do a movie version halfway into the year, presenting ‘half-time highlights’ after 6 months of screenings. I’m doing one here. I can’t create a top ten only made up of movies because I haven’t seen enough that meet my standards for such a list. I’m mixing movies with performers instead.
Favourite Movies: “The Prize” and “The Richest Girl in the World” are not the best movies I’ve seen this year…just two that made me happier than most. “The Prize” reminded me of some movies I love and felt fresh at the same time. Paul Newman is ingratiating as a mellow, lazy, and witty drunk who becomes a sincere and desperate hero. I was pleased to see Edward G. Robinson in an important small role, making a smart career choice long after his ‘glory years’.
“The Richest Girl in the World” gave me something I’ve been wishing for ever since I saw “Trouble in Paradise” two years ago –
a funny and touching movie with Miriam Hopkins in the lead role, showing off all the personality traits that made me love her in that movie. She brings her endearing nervous energy, insecurity, and stubbornness to the part of a wealthy, romantic idealist in love.
Favourite Performances By An Actor: I’ve liked Gary Cooper and his acting in the past. A Cooper performance had never made me emotional until I saw “Pride of the Yankees” and “Sergeant York”. Coop plays passionate characters more subtly than many actors, not ever talking loud and fast or having wild facial expressions and body movements. He suggests deep feeling with calm dignity. He can express and inspire emotion while being fun too. I love his playful courtship of Teresa Wright in “Pride of the Yankees” and pious, polite manner with a cute Southern accent in “Sergeant York”.
Favourite Performances By An Actress: In “The Great Lie”, Mary Astor is fussy, self-absorbed, and egotistical. In “Dodsworth”, she is full of kindness, sympathy, and generosity. To look at the two performances is to see the breadth of her range as an actress. I’ll never forget her most dramatic scene in “The Great Lie”. I think it’s best described as ‘ferocious’. I love that word. I so rarely get to use it in a sentence. I wish Astor had more screen time in “Dodsworth”. She makes every minute precious, especially at the end. Her presence and performance are key to its impact. I’ve seen more movies starring Mary Astor than most people will ever see starring anyone. I can’t get enough of them. If she’d changed her name to ‘Mary Awesome’, it wouldn’t be arrogant…it would be accurate!
Favourite Adolescent Performance: In my eyes, no movie teenager has ever grown up as movingly as Anne Shirley in 1934’s “Anne of Green Gables”. The evolution of her “Steamboat ‘Round the Bend” character is even more uplifting because she starts out so hateful. Shirley often conveys this character’s vulnerability with hands. Her fingers bend and clutch with eager longing in lovely, melancholy body language. Twice this year, Miss Shirley has captivated me through delicate portrayal of a naive, reckless child who overcomes humble beginnings and blossoms into a sweet, sensitive young lady.
Favourite ‘New Discovery’ Actor: “International House” features a huge cast of big personalities. When W.C. Fields shows up, he surpasses everyone in bravado. His scenes made me immediately want to see the mercurial loudmouth in his own movie. I started with “It’s A Gift”. This movie shows that in addition to ‘life of the party guy’, Fields could also play a simultaneously grumpy and likable regular fella. Watching him deal with a nagging wife, selfish kids, and obnoxious neighbours, I realized something. Even though W.C. Fields has an Old Hollywood look, his comedic attitude and perspective are as relevant today as they were 80 years ago.
Favourite ‘New Discovery’ Actress: In “Mexican Spitfire” and “Mexican Spitfire’s Blessed Event”, Lupe Velez is a true screwball original. She kept me on her side at all times, despite being shrill and petulant like a spoiled brat. Her manic antics made me laugh harder and more often than any other actress I’ve watched this year. A woman who constantly argues, deceives, and bosses others around to get her way sounds like a nightmare. The energetic Velez made these actions adorable to me. She giggles, shouts, winks, and runs around through two righteously wacky performances. They made her my favourite actress of those I’d never seen before 2014.
For me, movie watching is sometimes similar to playing a sport, except without physical exercise (unfortunately)! I can win or lose, winning when I like a movie, and losing when I don’t. I also think of myself like a coach hoping to find new players for my ‘dream team’. I find new all-stars every time I’m exposed to the work of actors and actresses like those I wrote about above. If I find more, perhaps I’ll expand my 2014 dream team in December. I need to see more silver screen players in action before I ‘draft’ again. Until then, stay tuned…and thanks for reading! Now…back to the game in progress!