Humbugs, MSG, and an ambitious film list for 2015.

The more I read, the more I realize how little I know. Philosophy, history, the arts, sciences, you name it. It’s a humbling experience, losing myself in the pages of great writers. I put down my book about every other paragraph to jot down a sentence that absolutely, positively, cannot, must not be forgotten. For example, this one:

“Success is filled with MSG.” – Amy Poehler, Yes Please

It’s on my fridge, right next to the fortune cookie fortune that tells me I am “the crispy noodle in the vegetarian salad of life.” (Whatever that means.)

It’s not just quotes. References to classical painters, foods I’ve never heard of (thank you, J. K. Rowling, I never would have known that a humbug is edible), medieval medicine (Bile! Bile everywhere!), other prominent novelists, filmmakers … Especially filmmakers.

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Mint humbugs.

I learned about famed Japanese director Yazujiro Ozu from The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. François Truffaut entered by way of Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore (or perhaps I should say the entrance stone?).

It’s funny. I heard of classic French films from a Japanese writer and definitive Japanese works from a French author.

To get to the point. From my recent literary wanderings I have compiled a list of films to watch this year. You are my witnesses.

Floating weeds

Ozu:

  • Floating Weeds
  • Tokyo Story
  • The Munekata Sisters

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Truffaut:

  • The 400 Blows
  • Jules and Jim
  • Shoot the Piano Player

Sunrise-Poster

Other films:

  • Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans
  • Metropolis
  • Vertigo

Random side note: I’ve noticed that a good chunk of works titled after nature elements are 99% sad. Think about it. How Green was My Valley. The Sun Also Rises. The Wind that Shakes the Barley. October Sky. Or films with “happy” or “beautiful.” The Inn of Sixth Happiness. The Pursuit of Happyness. Life is Beautiful. A Beautiful Mind.

So … pass the kleenex, please!

Classic Movie Actor Spotlight: James Stewart

Most people think of James Stewart as the upright, fight-for-your-ideals, invite-to-the barbecue-for-a-beer kind of guy. But the iconic actor did play a villain. Twice. Yes, all of TWO times. Not surprisingly, he played the roles early in his career. The films hit the box office in 1936, two years after his debut in the short Art Trouble. In both, he’s so overshadowed by ridiculously famous on (and off) screen couples that he appears as a mere whisker on the cinematic canvas.

Jeanette MacDonald/Nelson Eddy fans will remember Rose-Marie, in which Eddy plays a dashing Canadian Mountie pursuing MacDonald’s no-good, on-the-lam brother played by – guess who – James Stewart.

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Stewart led in handcuffs by Eddy, who proves that no one looks good in Mountie breeches.

Then there’s After the Thin Man, a William Powell/Myrna Loy collaboration, but I won’t say more about it, given that it’s a mystery film and all …

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Did I say too much?

James Stewart milk After the Thin Man

On the set of After the Thin Man with a tall glass of milk and looking … not quite so villainous.

Now for all his good guy films. Everyone knows about It’s a Wonderful Life, thanks to the film’s copyright issues, or rather, lack of them…

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This is the scene I remember most vividly — when realization sets in and he stares into the camera. Creepy.

That and the pool/ensuing camellia bush (?) scene.

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“I could sell tickets!”

Of course there’s his brilliant work in Hitchcock’s films: Rope (’48), Rear Window (’54), The Man Who Knew Too Much (’56) and Vertigo (’58)

And my favorites, both Capra films co-starring Jean Arthur: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (’39) …

The filibuster scene. Capra was a genius.

… and the screwball You Can’t Take it with You (’38).

You Can't take it with you Stewart

Stewart discussing photosynthesis and the possibility of solar energy (really!) in You Can’t Take it with You.

Stewart also starred in The Shop Around the Corner (’40), on which In the Good Old Summertime (’49) and You’ve Got Mail (’98) were based. I didn’t care much for it. Due to the bickering star couple, cheating spouses and — spoiler alert — an attempted suicide, I found it pretty downbeat (is that a word?) for a romantic comedy.

For big-band lovers like myself, I recommend the delightfully music-saturated film The Glenn Miller Story (’54).

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Stewart accompanied by Louis Armstrong in The Glenn Miller Story.

And Harvey (’50), the hilarious, thought-provoking, poignant film about a rabbit and his visible human companion nominated Stewart for an Oscar (which I think he deserved).

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They had such great chemistry.

As for his personal life, Roger Ebert wrote this tribute on Stewart’s passing in 1997 (Interestingly, Ebert neglected to mention the villainous role in Rose-Marie).

Stewart also starred in a bajillion other movies — including his Oscar-winning film The Philadelphia Story (’40) — of which you and I have neither the time nor patience to read/write about. Suffice it to say, Jimmy Stewart was awesome.