Monday, March 23, 2009

Movie List: By any other name...

From time to time, here on the blog, I'm going to come up with some fun themed movie lists for you all. I mean, it's not as if I'm doing anything else of value with my MA in Film Studies. These lists will draw from movies you'll probably know, movies you probably won't, good movies, bad movies, and everything in between. Hopefully you'll leave with a few films to add to your Netflix queue.

Our inaugural list was inspired by a brief conversation I had with Rebecca and Josh at a recent movie night. Today, we're going to look at movies whose titles are women's names! The only requirement: The titles can contain ONLY one woman's first or first and last names.

  • Rebecca (1940, dir. Alfred Hitchcock)
    This film, based on a Daphne du Maurier novel, is the only Hitchcock film to win Best Picture at the Oscars. In this case, the titular Rebecca is the late first wife of Laurence Olivier's Maxim de Winter, whose lingering presence troubles the unnamed second Mrs. de Winter (Joan Fontaine). Despite the spooky, haunted tone, Rebecca plays well for even a skeptical audience, since the story and film emphasize the psychological side of this "haunting." Judith Anderson and George Sanders provide great supporting turns, as well.

  • Laura (1944, dir. Otto Preminger)
    Another movie about our obsession with the dead, Laura is about detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) who, through the course of investigating the murder of a bright, successful woman (Gene Tierney), begins to fall in love with the object of his investigation. Preminger navigates the film's complex script, immersing us in both the mystery and in McPherson's love for Laura. This is a film that rewards a good attention span, but anyone will enjoy the performances of the leads and of Clifton Webb as the writer Waldo Lydecker.

  • Annie Hall (1977, dir. Woody Allen)
    Instead of a dead woman, Allen's most well-known film centers on a dead relationship. Alvy Singer (Allen) takes us on an occasionally surreal trip through his life before and after meeting the free-spirited Annie (Diane Keaton, who won the Best Actress Oscar for the role). Allen combines animation, flashbacks, and repeated breaks of the fourth wall, accompanying it all with his customary wit and word play. This was the first film where Woody coupled his schlemiel shtick with genuine, realistic emotions, and the final scene is pitch-perfect as a result.

  • Mildred Pierce (1945, dir. Michael Curtiz)
    Michael Curtiz, who also directed Casablanca, is one of the highest profile directors whose name is not generally known today, on a par with Victor Fleming (the director of Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz). It's a shame, too, because Curtiz consistently came out with tight, well-made films. Mildred is about Joan Crawford's titular character, a strong-willed wife and mother who picks herself up after getting divorced, but winds up in a noirish murder mystery when her second husband is killed. Curtiz leads us through the plot's twists and turns, and although Mildred alternately confounds and conforms to the era's norms, Crawford's performance makes her stand out as an early feminist screen icon.

  • Viridiana (1961, dir. Luis Buñuel)
    Luis Buñuel's cinematic career was built on surreal, anarchic, darkly comical movies that showed little to no respect for the political, socio-economic, and religious institutions of the day. In this film, Viridiana (Silvia Pinal) is a novitiate nun who visits the estate of her lascivious uncle (frequent Buñuel collaborator Fernando Rey). Her resemblance to his dead wife leads to some disturbing encounters, but it's Viridiana's naivete and repression which ultimately dominates the film. The moment when the beggars freeze-frame in the pose of Da Vinci's Last Supper is among the most notorious in Buñuel's canon.

I could go on and on in this vein, but instead I'll leave you with a less-detailed supplemental list to check out as well. Either I felt these were too obvious, or I haven't seen them and can only recommend them by reputation.

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