Saturday, January 6, 2018

But I Digress... New Year Nostalgia

By Cat

Happy New Year everyone! 

As I pondered which direction to wander with my first digression of the year, I realized a few things. First, it’s been a while since I’ve given you a holiday-themed list to peruse. Further, we’re only a week into 2018 so the new year is still fresh and shiny (for the most part). Finally, with the crazy winter weather going on across a large swath of the country, quite a few people have extra time on their hands while snowed in or the like. 

Why not take a trip back in time to enjoy some movies released before the turn of the century that either involve or were centered around the New Year’s holiday?! So that’s exactly what I put together for you. 

Breaking from our normal format a bit, I’ve listed these films in chronological order for their year of release. For this reason, it’s not a traditional ‘top ten’ list. The movies all had varying degrees of success – some are considered classics, and others are here for entertainment value. 

That being said, I hope you enjoy! 

1– Holiday Inn (1942)

Viewing Options: Netflix DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube (purchase), iTunes, Vudu
Director: Mark Sandrich
Actors: Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Marjorie Reynolds, Virginia Dale, Walter Abel, Louise Beavers, Irving Bacon, Marek Windheim
Genre:  Romance, Musical Comedy
Rated: Unrated
Length: 101 minutes
More Information Here.

Blurb: At an inn which is only open on holidays, a crooner and a hoofer vie for the affections of a beautiful up-and-coming performer.

TRIGGER WARNING: This trailer contains a segment from the 'Abraham' number performed during the original cut of the movie. Networks generally remove this segment from the film when airing on television due to blackface employed by the performers. does not endorse the use of blackface and has not sourced all online streaming options to determine if they are edited or uncut versions of the film. This was simply the best trailer available.

When thinking of a list of holiday movies, how could I not include THE movie about holidays from the time of the soft-shoeing and silver-tongued crooners? I absolutely adore Bing Crosby (A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, High Society, Stagecoach). His voice was like velvet, and synonymous with the holiday season for me. My very favorite Christmas song is his version of ‘White Christmas.’ I grew up listening to my mom’s Bing Crosby Christmas record every year. 

Of course that’s not the holiday we’re focusing on here – but most of the holidays celebrated year-round in the US are represented here. This film also happens to be the debut of the song. The movie, White Christmas (1954), came later. (Funny enough, they re-used the same set!)
Irving Berlin (This Is the Army, Blue Skies, Annie Get Your Gun) was a musical genius and this soundtrack is one of many that garnered accolades. 

The filming was actually taking place when the bombing of Pearl Harbor happened, and the production modified the movie to even add an extra patriotic number. Fred Astaire’s (Funny Face, Finian's Rainbow, The Towering Inferno) shoes worn during his dance for that number were even auctioned off for over $100k in war bonds, which would have been roughly $1.8 million dollars today.

The movie is great fun, even if you might want to skip the ‘Abraham’ number.

2 – Oceans 11 (1960)

Viewing Options: Netflix DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube (purchase), iTunes, Vudu
Director: Lewis Milestone
Actors: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, Angie Dickinson, Richard Conte, Cesar Romero, Patrice Wymore
Genre:  Comedy, Crime, Music
Rated: Unrated
Length: 127 minutes
More Information Here.

Blurb: Danny Ocean gathers a group of his World War II compatriots to pull off the ultimate Las Vegas heist. Together the eleven friends plan to rob five Las Vegas casinos in one night.

Almost everyone is familiar with the  Ocean's Eleven (2001) trilogy spearheaded by George Clooney (The Men Who Stare at Goats, The Ides of March, Money Monster) and company. There's even an mostly-female lead cast spin-off coming later in 2018 dubbed Ocean's 8 (2018). 

The 2001 movie wasn't an exact recreation but more of a re-imagining of this, the original movie. Only one character's name is utilized in the new one and the timing of the heist is different. The original was set at New Year's, qualifying it for this list. 

Do you really need to have a reason to enjoy one of the Rat Pack classics? Frank Sinatra (From Here to Eternity, Guys and Dolls, Robin and the 7 Hoods), Sammy Davis Jr. (Mod Squad, The Cannonball Run, Tap), Dean Martin (Rio Bravo, Toys in the Attic, Airport) and their famous (infamous?) compatriots are the main draw for me, at least. 

Another big difference between the current era movies and this 'golden age' film is that quite a bit of the lines between the lead cast are improvised. They were so comfortable with each other and knew each other so well that the director just let them go, using the script as a guideline, and their own dialogue was often better than what was on the written page. The modern movies don't seem to have much of that going on, from what I've read. 

There's also something I feel that makes this movie further significant - it helped bust a hole in Las Vegas' 'color barrier' at the time. In spite of performing as a headliner along side Sinatra and Martin at The Sands Hotel, Sammy Davis Jr. was forced to stay at a segregated hotel during a good bit of filming due to the major hotels in Vegas' policies at the time. Sinatra's son revealed in an interview that his father confronted the hotel owners on Davis' behalf in order to get that changed.

3 – Rosemary's Baby (1968)

Viewing Options: Netflix DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube (purchase), iTunes, Vudu, Epix Subscription
Director: Roman Polanski
Actors: Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon, Sidney Blackmer, Maurice Evans, Ralph Bellamy, Elisha Cook Jr., Patsy Kelly
Genre:  Drama, Horror
Rated: R
Length: 137 minutes
More Information Here.

Blurb: A young couple moves in to an apartment only to be surrounded by peculiar neighbors and occurrences. When the wife becomes mysteriously pregnant, paranoia over the safety of her unborn child begins to control her life.

Here we have a classic horror movie with important events set at the turn of the year. It's been called one of the scariest movies of all time, and has had sequels as well as a modern era remake. While I enjoyed the newer version, there's something still to be said for the original. 

The story brought to the screen was an adaptation of a novel, whose author has been quoted saying that this is the only movie based on his books that doesn't make him cringe. Director Roman Polanski (The Tenant, Frantic, The Ninth Gate) wanted to stay true to the nuances of the book with very little modification. Partially, it's said that since this was Polanski's first adaptation film, he hadn't realized at the time how much creative license he could take with the story. It all worked out in the end, it seems.

4 – The Poseidon Adventure (1972)

Viewing Options: Netflix DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube (purchase), iTunes, Vudu, Xfinity Subscription
Directors: Ronald Neame, Irwin Allen
Actors: Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, Shelley Winters, Red Buttons, Carol Lynley, Roddy McDowall, Stella Stevens, Jack Albertson
Genre:  Action, Adventure, Thriller
Rated: PG
Length: 117 minutes
More Information Here.

Blurb: A group of passengers struggle to survive and escape when their ocean liner completely capsizes at sea.

I first watched this movie when I was rather young. It stuck with me for various reasons. The film is both captivating and terrifying. In fact, I'm pretty sure that watching this movie is the primary underlying reason that I feel extremely uneasy at the thought of going on a cruise. Of course, real world issues such as breakouts of illness on cruise ships as well as incidents such as the Concordia running aground keep my aversion alive and well. 

I first watched this film on TV. It caught my attention because of  Ernest Borgnine (The Wild Bunch, McHale's Navy, RED), who I knew best at the time from his role on Airwolf (1984-1986). I absolutely adore him, and was sucked right in. Re-watching in later years hasn't changed my opinion of the movie. It stands up to the test of time rather well. 

I will admit that I haven't seen all the more recent remakes or even the sequels to this film, but I'll get to the newer ones eventually. 

How does this tie in? Guess what holiday the passengers were celebrating before their world gets literally turned upside down? New Year's, of course.

5 – Trading Places (1983)

Viewing Options: Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube (purchase), iTunes, Vudu, Epix Subscription
Director: John Landis
Actors: Dan Aykroyd, Eddie Murphy, Ralph Bellamy, Don Ameche, Denholm Elliott, Kristin Holby, Paul Gleason, Jamie Lee Curtis
Genre:  Comedy
Rated: R
Length: 116 minutes
More Information Here.

Blurb: A snobbish investor and a wily street con artist find their positions reversed as part of a bet by two callous millionaires.

Do I really need to say more than Eddie Murphy (Beverly Hills Cop, Daddy Day Care, Mr. Church) and Dan Aykroyd (Driving Miss Daisy, 50 First Dates, Get on Up) are the leads? Both men excel at comedy - it's always been their bread and butter. Pair the two together, and it's just absolute hilarity. 

This film is often dubbed one of the funniest of all time, and it's certainly earned the moniker. There are scenes that center around our theme holiday. 

If you're stuck inside on a cold dreary day, laughter might be the best medicine to lift your spirits!

6 – Ghostbusters II (1989)

Viewing Options: Netflix DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube (purchase), iTunes, Vudu
Director: Ivan Reitman
Actors: Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver, Harold Ramis, Rick Moranis, Ernie Hudson, Peter MacNicol, David Margulies
Genre:  Action, Comedy, Fantasy
Rated: PG
Length: 108 minutes
More Information Here.

Blurb: The discovery of a massive river of ectoplasm and a resurgence of spectral activity allows the staff of Ghostbusters to revive the business.

By chronological cooincidence, we have another Dan Aykroyd movie on our list. Who can't resist this sequel in the beloved Ghostbusters (1984) franchise? While the movie was received with mixed reactions from audiences and critics, alike; it still gives us a fun spectral romp through New York City. I really appreciated that the production team took into account the wild popularity of the spinoff cartoon series and made some tweaks to keep the sequel somewhat in line with that. I know I was giddy to see Slimer on the screen again. 

Whether or not the film was enhanced or compromised by the special effects taking a more active role, it was still entertaining; and fits right in on this list with the holiday setting.

7 – When Harry Met Sally (1989)

Viewing Options: Netflix DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube (purchase), iTunes, Vudu
Director: Rob Reiner
Actors: Billy Crystal, Meg Ryan, Carrie Fisher, Bruno Kirby, Steven Ford, Lisa Jane Persky, Michelle Nicastro, Harley Jane Kozak
Genre:  Comedy, Romance, Drama
Rated: R
Length: 96 minutes
More Information Here.

Blurb: Harry and Sally have known each other for years, and are very good friends, but they fear sex would ruin the friendship.

Rob Reiner (The Princess Bride, Misery, The Bucket List) is pretty high up in my list of favorite directors. Fun fact: there's a voice from off camera that announces 10 seconds until New Year in the film - that's him. 

Not only is this movie considered one of the best rom-com's of all time, it's also got one of the most quotable movie lines. We all want to have what Meg Ryan (Top Gun, City of Angels, Serious Moonlight) 'was having' during the iconic restaurant scene. 

I've always been a fan of funny-man, Billy Crystal (Mr. Saturday Night, Analyze This, Tooth Fairy). I can't think of a movie I've seen with him in it that I haven't liked. He was also an amazing long-running host of the Oscars. I can't remember why he stopped doing that gig, but I do recall that I was very disappointed and haven't quite enjoyed the broadcasts as much since then. 

But I digress... 

This is a fun movie full of laughs, face-palms, and heart-warming moments; and definitely deserves a place here.

8 – Money Train (1995)

Viewing Options: Netflix DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube (purchase), iTunes, Vudu, Showtime Anytime Subscription
Director: Joseph Ruben
Actors: Wesley Snipes, Woody Harrelson, Jennifer Lopez, Robert Blake, Chris Cooper, Joe Grifasi, Scott Sowers, Skip Sudduth
Genre:  Action, Comedy, Crime
Rated: R
Length: 110 minutes
More Information Here.

Blurb: A vengeful New York transit cop decides to steal a trainload of subway fares; his foster brother, a fellow cop, tries to protect him.

The dynamic between Wesley Snipes (U.S. Marshals, Unstoppable, The Expendables 3) and Woody Harrelson (The Thin Red Line, 2012, Triple 9) is certainly interesting. This wasn't their first movie together, though. I do think that their familiarity with each other did help elevate their roles, considering they were playing brothers. Jennifer Lopez (Maid in Manhattan, Monster-in-Law, Home) was also in a prominent role in this film, relatively early in her big-screen career.

This movie isn't necessarily considered a classic or on any official lists (that I'm aware of) of the greatest films of _____; but it's certainly entertaining. 

I also find it fascinating that due to the logistic impossibilities of filming this movie in the actual New York City subway system, the set was created in California and is among the largest sets ever created. In that, it does own some distinction due to the over 3,000ft long, 20ft high, and 4 railway tracks across setup. The rail cars were also converted to run on propane so that the tracks wouldn't have to be electrified for the safety of cast and crew. 

The film fits into this theme because the best time to conduct the featured movie heist is, of course, New Year's!

9 – Four Rooms (1995)

Viewing Options: Netflix DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube (purchase), iTunes
Directors: Allison Anders, Alexandre Rockwell, Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino
Actors: Tim Roth, Valeria Golino, Jennifer Beals, Antonio Banderas, Quentin Tarantino, Madonna, David Proval, Tamlyn Tomita
Genre:  Comedy
Rated: R
Length: 98 minutes
More Information Here.

Blurb: Four interlocking tales that take place in a fading hotel on New Year's Eve.

Here we have a movie unlike any other on this list - because it's anthology. Each segment happens within its own room in the hotel setting, and is tied together through the bellhop character played by Tim Roth (Rob Roy, The Musketeer, The Hateful Eight). 

I can't tell you how many times I've had to work on a holiday and, while promised an easy shift, find the opposite is what happens. This poor bellhop has one of those nights - on New Year's Eve. Of course, with the widespread desire to party through to the new year, you have to imagine craziness would ensue at a hotel of all places. 

This movie might not be for everyone, but I found it highly entertaining. The different directors' segments mesh well through little connections here and there, and Roth's character is easy to relate to. 

I do feel I need to add an extra parental advisory here. While there are a good number of R-rated films on this list, this one needs a bit of underscoring that it heavily deserves the rating. Other than sexual situations, the final segment, directed by Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Little Nicky, Inglourious Basterds), contains at least 193 confirmed uses of the word 'fuck' or a variant of it. 

I remember there was a big brouhaha when The Big Lebowski (1998) hit theaters for its frequent use of that particular vocabulary word, though its total only came up to 260. It wasn't the film with the most frequent usage, though. That notorious distinction currently belongs to Summer of Sam (1999), which comes in at 435 uses. Fuck. That's a lot of fucks. (I couldn't help it!)

There are quite a few familiar faces sprinkled through Four Rooms, including Antonio Banderas (The 13th Warrior, Puss in Boots, Black Butterfly), Madonna (Body of Evidence, Evita, Die Another Day), Marisa Tomei (My Cousin Vinny, Wild Hogs, The Big Short), and Salma Hayek (Desperado, Grown Ups, Everly). I find the most amusing is Bruce Willis (Sin City, Over the Hedge, Moonrise Kingdom) in Tarantino's segment. He wasn't credited in the movie because of SAG rules - he did the movie just for fun, and didn't take payment. That was a violation of guild rules so that was the compromise - he wasn't listed, even though his stylist was. (This seems to be something he might do on a relatively frequent basis, if the number of uncredited roles on his IMDb listing is any indicator.)

10 – Entrapment (1999)

Viewing Options: Netflix DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube (purchase), iTunes, Vudu, Xfinity Subscription
Director: Jon Amiel
Actors: Sean Connery, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Ving Rhames, Will Patton, Maury Chaykin, William Marsh, Kevin R. McNally, Terry O'Neill
Genre:  Action, Crime, Romance
Rated: PG-13
More Information Here.

Blurb: An insurance agent is sent by her employer to track down and help capture an art thief.

I'm not sure why heist movies like to pick New Year's Eve to stage their capers, but this one falls into that category - and thus lands on our list. 

I enjoyed this movie quite a bit - though, I'll admit I'm a bit biased because I could listen to Sean Connery (Time Bandits, The Hunt for Red October, The Rock) recite a dictionary and be quite happy about it. He was also my favorite bond, and taught us that 'there can only be one.' This role fits right in to his man of international intrigue persona he often played. 

I also like Catherine Zeta-Jones (The Mask of Zorro, Chicago, Rock of Ages) in her role, even if the romance between the two leads was a bit of a stretch for me and left me feeling a bit squirmy. 

It's another film that won't make a list of greatest of all time, likely, but it's high on entertainment value.

But I Digress... is a weekly column for that can't be pinned down to just one thing. It's our celebration of tangents, random references, and general fan geekdom that both intertwines with, revolves around, and diverges from our movie-review core. In homage to the beloved Brit comedians, we want to bring you something completely different!