James Stewart

The 50+ Films of Christmas (Part 10)

The 50+ Films of Christmas

Follow me as I watch 50+ of the best (and worst) holiday films! I will blog mini-reviews as I go and then rank them when I’m done watching them all.

6 Meet Me in St. Louis

Meet Me in St. Louis

There are few things more in the spirit of the season than Judy Garland singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” to her baby sister.

That being said, I found very little in this film that I could relate to. It isn’t that the movie is not entertaining. It is. But it acted as more of a curiosity to me than anything. I had a lot of trouble sympathizing with the characters or their trials.

“Meet Me in St. Louis” follows four beautiful sisters. There’s the boy crazy older pair (Judy Garland, “The Wizard of Oz,” “A Star is Born;” Lucille Bremer, “Ziegfeld Follies”) and younger tomboys (Joan Carroll, “The Bells of St Mary;” and Margaret O’Brien, “Little Women,” “Jane Eyre”). They look forward to the upcoming World’s Fair, seek out Victorian style engagements, and fret over leaving the family home for dad’s promotion.

It’s all really much ado about nothing. The writing is clever, but the plot is dull. And the characters spend most of their time crying over one tiny crisis or another.

Certainly, there is nostalgia for those childhood and teenage years, but the traditions that this film show are somewhat foreign to a modern audience. In fact, the Halloween scenes are almost completely unrecognizable. It’s more like a film about another country than one about the Gateway to the American West.

Certainly there are people to whom this film will speak to more than myself, and for those I can say just one thing. Have yourself a merry little Christmas.


8 Christmas in Connecticut

Christmas in Connecticut

When this film was made, Barbara Stanwyck (“Double Indemnity,” “The Lady Eve”) was the most wealthy woman in America. She was talented, beautiful, and rich, and this film represents the pinnacle of her talents and career.

Dennis Morgan (“Kitty Foyle”) is a WWII soldier that was stranded on a raft. He spent that time dreaming of food. A nurse at his hospital and an enterprising newspaper man (Sydney Greenstreet, “Casablanca,” “The Maltese Falcon”) cook up a great plan for charity and publicity.

Barbara Stanwyck’s character is supposed to be a cross between Emily Post and Martha Stewart. Well, she’s supposed to be. That what she tells her readers. She lives on a farm, has a loving husband and an infant, and can whip up gourmet meals in the kitchen. The reality, however, is that she’s a single lady in the city that gets recipes from her favorite restaurateur (S.Z. Sakall, “Ball of Fire,” “Yankee Doodle Dandy”). When she is all but forced to host a Christmas party on her imaginary farm, she has to agree to marry a wealthy friend (Reginald Gardiner, “The Great Dictator,” “The Flying Deuces”) and create a series of elaborate lies.

The charade is the fun of this film. As the holiday lies spin more and more elaborate webs, Stanwyck gets entangled more and more. She’s also falling deeper in deeper in a kind of love those lies will only prevent.

What’s more festive than lying to those you care about?

When seeking out a fun and witty way to spend the holidays, perhaps you should consider spending Christmas in Connecticut.


8.5 The Holiday

The Holiday

When two strangers who were recently involved in horrible break-ups decide to trade spaces for Christmas, a Londoner finds herself in Beverly Hills and the Hollywood blond goes to a tiny, frozen cottage.  A mere whim of heartbreak and the blowing Santa Annas promise to change both of their lives with holiday magic.

Cameron Diaz (“There’s Something About Mary,” “Shrek”) is the film industry’s hottest cutter of trailers, which is a fun device as she occasionally imagines her life in those terms.  Kate Winslet (“Titanic,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”) writes wedding announcements for the paper but suffers from unrequited love.  When they swap lives for two weeks, they each find love in unexpected places.  Cameron hooks a serial one-night-stander (Jude Law, “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” “Sherlock Holmes”).  Kate flirts with a guy that scores movies (Jack Black, “School of Rock,” “Bernie”).  The love stories follow the standard formula and are rather predictable, but both unwind their yarns with fun, well-acted scenes that effectively demonstrate the transcendent power of love.

Honestly, if this film simply told the pair of love stories, it would have been satisfactory, but there is another story line that demonstrates non-romantic love in a gentle and very entertaining way.  Eli Wallach (“The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” “The Magnificent Seven”) plays Cameron – err, Kate’s next door neighbor.  He’s an aging man that can’t walk on his own power, and for that reason, he keeps blowing off the Writing Guild’s invitation to pay tribute to his work.  Winslet and Black find the wily older man and his pals to be charming and decide to offer him a hand.

A lot has been made of “Love Actually,” but if you ask me, the superior romantic Christmas movie is “The Holiday.”


9 The Shop Around the Corner

The Shop Around the Corner

Before the internet, before eHarmony.com and speed dating, the concept of anonymous courtship still existed.  In Budapest, Hungary in 1940 when a person wanted to meet a potential mate, they could go to the dance halls or they could respond to personal ads in the newspaper for a pen pal.

That’s just what Alfred Kralik (James Stewart, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”) has done.  The lead salesman at Matuschek and Company has found passion in the words of a stranger, and he has no idea that his anonymous amor is actually the new salesgirl, Klara Novak (Margaret Sullavan, “The Mortal Storm,” “Three Comrads”).  In their letters, they find love, but on the sales floor, they find nothing but disagreement and discord.

Director Ernst Lubitsch (“To Be or Not to Be,” “Ninotchka,” “Trouble in Paradise”) calls “The Little Shop Around the Corner” his greatest comedy, and it’s not simply because of the playful romance.  This film will find a special place in the heart of anyone who has worked retail.

Matuschek and Company is a place that is both foreign and incredibly familiar.  Who in sales hasn’t had someone ask a question like, “How much is that belt in the window, the one that says ‘2.95?'”  No matter where you are in the world, this little store could be the shop around the corner.  All the characters from the sensitive manager (Frank Morgan, “The Wizard of Oz,” “The Great Ziegfeld”) to the older and wiser salesman (Joseph Schildkraut, “The Diary of Anne Frank,” “Orphans of the Storm”) to the style-obsessed upstart (Felix Bressart, “To Be or Not to Be,” “Ninotchka”) are remarkably like people that I’ve worked with.  They’re realistic and endlessly entertaining.  I particularly enjoyed the story of the errand boy, Pepi (William Tracy, “Angels with Dirty Faces,” “Mr. & Mrs. Smith”).

With all of your Christmas shopping this year, you really ought to see if there’s something you might like at “The Little Shop Around the Corner.”


4 Silent Night, Deadly Night

Silent Night, Deadly Night

A boy is traumatized when his parents are murdered by a man dressed as Santa Claus.  He is raised in an orphanage run by a nun that punishes naughty wards with brutality.  As a man, he is given the job of being a toy store Santa, and the terrible flashbacks and an incident of witnessed workplace harassment makes him snap.  This year, Santa is bringing more than lumps of coal to the bad little boys and girls.

Just like most horror flicks of the 1980’s, “Silent Night, Deadly Night” is a gimmicky romp.  It follows all of the required rules.  There’s a harbinger, a set of bare breasts about every twenty minutes, and a creatively dispatched body count that rises into the double digits.  The writers could have used some clever puns, and the deaths aren’t particularly holiday themed.  But if you need a Christmas horror movie, you’re choices are pretty much just limited to this one anyway.

Well, this and its four sequels.



The 50+ Films of Christmas (Part 9)

The 50+ Films of Christmas

Follow me as I watch 50+ of the best (and worst) holiday films! I will blog mini-reviews as I go and then rank them when I’m done watching them all.

8 We're No Angels

We’re No Angels

Imagine that The Three Stooges were lowlife criminals and quite a bit smarter. Now replace Moe with Humphrey Bogart (“Casablanca,” “The African Queen”), Larry with Peter Ustinov (“Spartacus,” “Death on the Nile”), and Curly with Aldo Ray (“The Green Berets,” “Pat and Mike”). Okay, that’s not easy to imagine; I realize that. But it might pique your curiosity enough to check into this little gem.

The three gentlemen are escaped cons on Devil’s Island. They want off the island to live a free life in Paris, so they’re looking for easy money. That lands them on the roof of a struggling shopkeeper and his family, and that changes their plans. Slightly.

Using their enterprising criminal minds, they descend from the roof like angels and begin performing little Christmas miracles for the family. Their hi-jinks and shenanigans are a lot of fun to watch, dark though they might be, and the chemistry between these three is fantastic.

The film is based on the play “My Three Angels” by Samuel and Bella Spewack, which was based on the French play “La Cuisine Des Anges” by Albert Husson. The film feels like a filmed play, and for the most part it works well. However, sometimes in the theater unwieldy exposition flies whereas it does not in the movies. This movie starts off with quite a lot of clumsy exposition, including the line, “Don’t you know, me, dad? It’s me. Your daughter.” And if you don’t know that these guys are criminals at the very start, don’t worry. They will tell you over and over again.

This is a light Christmas tale with a dark underbelly, and it’s a real treat for classic movie fans.


8.5 Arthur Christmas

Arthur Christmas

Are you looking for an animated Christmas film with a twist of Monty Python flavor? “Arthur Christmas” features the voice talent of some Britain’s biggest talents and has a dark streak that runs right through it.

Arthur (James McAvoy, “X-Men: First Class,” “The Last King of Scotland”) is the youngest son of Santa (Jim Broadbent, “Moulin Rouge,” “Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince”). His older brother Steve (Hugh Laurie, “House M.D.,” “Stuart Little”) is the next one in line, and his grandfather (Bill Nighy, “Shawn of the Dead,” “Love Actually”) is the former Santa. Of course that makes his mother (Imelda Staunton, “Vera Drake,” “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”) Mrs. Santa.

Steve is all about the future with his tech-based approach to the logistics of Christmas with just one Santa and about a billion kids. Grandsanta is still clinging on to the classics, real reindeer and lead based paint. Santa is caught up in the glory of being the top man and isn’t ready to relegate his throne quite yet, even though he’s become forgetful. Meanwhile, Arthur thinks the most important part about Christmas is that every child gets a present from Santa. When one gift goes undelivered, the race is on to get it under the tree, and everyone has their own motive.

This is a rare animated film that delivers on the promise of creating a satisfying story for both children and adults equally. The humor that is aimed at the children works with the big kids, and the adult humor is neither inappropriate or juvenile. Every note hits its mark with perfect pitch.

“Arthur Christmas” delivers., and everyone gets a gift from Santa.


8.5 Elf


Buddy the “elf” (Will Ferrell, Anchorman,” “Step Brothers”) is the first human to ever be at the North Pole. In fact, he was accidentally picked up from an orphanage by Santa (Edward Asner, “Up,” “Mary Tyler Moore”) and adopted by an older elf that never found time for kids of his own (Bob Newhart, “Newhart,” “The Bob Newhart Show”). When he discovers the secret that he isn’t just a very, very tall elf, he makes a journey through the seven levels of the Candy Cane forest, through the sea of swirly twirly gum drops, and then through the Lincoln Tunnel to meet his real father (James Caan, “The Godfather,” “Misery”), his wife (Mary Steenburgen, “Step Brothers,” “Back to the Future III”), and his young son.

Of course Buddy knows nothing of the world outside of the “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” inspire North Pole. He doesn’t know it makes him seem odd when he eats spaghetti with syrup, makes toys out of furniture, or beats up the Gimble’s Santa for impersonating the real Santa. And he can’t understand why his dad keeps calling the police every time he shows up.

Buddy meets a girl (Zooey Deschanel, “Yes Man,” “New Girl”), falls in love, and tries to work his way through the walls she’s put up with a wide-eyed innocence only Will Ferrell could deliver.

This is a sweet movie about a very kind and compassionate man who is seeking a place where he feels he can belong. It’s about family. It’s about love. And it’s about finding the Christmas spirit in a world that is not as gentle as Santa’s workshop.

Who wouldn’t want to take a sleigh ride brought to you by the director of “Iron Man,” Jon Favreau?


10 It's a Wonderful Life

It’s a Wonderful Life

This film has become a Christmas staple for two reasons:

1) It bombed at the box office, drove the studio out of business, put its famed director out of a job, and eventually became public domain property, thus was free to be broadcast on television every Christmas for free.

2) It is a perfect movie.

Frank Capra is one of Hollywood’s greatest directors.  He is responsible for dozens of classics like “It Happened One Night,” “Arsenic and Old Lace,” and “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town.”  James “Jimmy” Stewart is one of the biggest stars of the silver screen, turning in a lifetime of great work in films like “The Philadelphia Story,” “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” and “Rear Window.”  These two together had already created “You Can’t Take It With You” and “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” to great success, and while Stewart was reluctant to return to films so soon after returning from serving in the war, he trusted Capra.

What they got for their final collaboration was powerful.  The shot of George Bailey (Stewart’s character) sitting at the bar, weeping, and begging God for a miracle was so rich with real emotional turmoil that Capra blew up the image to make it a closer cut.  This is a movie about the ultimate “every man” and how much of an impact he is capable of making.

The film begins with a collage of voices in prayer, asking for God to please help poor George out in his time of need.  We are introduced to the wingless angel, Clarence (Henry Travers, “The Bells of St. Mary,” “The Invisible Man”), who will be trying to earn his wings by helping George.  As Clarence learns about his client, we see the life of George unfold.

George Bailey is a man with large dreams.  He wants to build skyscrapers and see the world.  He wants to shake the dust of the crummy little town of Bedford Falls off of his shoes.  He wants to be important.  But complications with his family, community responsibilities, a local love interest (Donna Reed, “From Here to Eternity,” “The Donna Reed Show”), and a miserly old man (Lionell Barrymore, “Key Largo,” “Captain Courageous”) have kept him from every realizing his dreams.  All through the years – the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression, World War II – George has raised up a family, run his buildings and loan, and fought Old Man Potter.  But due to a financial disaster he had no control over, his life is falling apart.  And that’s when George Bailey wishes he had never been born.

It has moments of melodrama and moments of saccharine sweetness, but they both work perfectly well in the context of this heart-warming tale of drama, comedy, and thrills.

A neat little piece of trivia: Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer is the boy that gets jilted by George and Mary at the school dance and opens up the dance floor.  This isn’t the only Christmas classic he makes a cameo appearance in.  He’s also the freckled-faced older brother of The Haynes Sisters in “White Christmas.”


8.5 Home Alone

Home Alone

This movie is one of the top grossing comedies of all time, which easily makes it writer John Hughes’s most successful film.  This is the guy behind the Brat Pack films, “Christmas Vacation,” and the updated “Miracle on 34th Street.”  To a lot of people, this fact was a mystery to some people back when the movie came out in 1990, but never to me.

“Home Alone” centers around an actor that may possibly be the biggest child star since Shirley Temple, Macaulay Culkin (“My Girl,” “Uncle Buck”).  He is accidentally left home alone by his parents (Catherine O’Hara, “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” “Surviving Christmas,” “Best in Show” and John Heard, “Big,” “Awakenings”).  He has to survive on his own and defend his house from two deranged thieves (Joe Pesci, “Goodfellas,” “Lethal Weapon 2” and Daniel Stern, “City Slickers,” “The Wonder Years”).

There are essentially two different movies here.  The first is about a boy that learns to act like an adult when the family he wishes weren’t there aren’t.  He does all his own shopping, seeks a toothbrush that’s approved by the American Dental Association, applies aftershave, and then runs around the house screaming from the pain of applying aftershave.  Then there’s the second film.  The one where the boy uses his childish ingenuity to clobber, burn, tar and feather, and maim the bad guys.

The real reason that this movie works so well is Culkin.  He’s sweet, cute, clever, has great delivery, and is believable even when he’s using words he’s probably too young to use.

What’s not to love?  The film has heart and it has very violent slapstick.


Jimmy and Geena, Two of My Favorites

James Stewart

James Stewart

I have an irrational fear of watching my favorite actors’ Oscar winning roles (unless, of course, I watched it before they win!).

I guess it’s not TOTALLY without merit.  Too often the performance they are most decorated for is not the role they were the best in.  Think “Training Day” and “Malcolm X.”  Denzel was good in the former, but spectacular in the latter.  But since Al Pacino hadn’t won his golden boy for his multitude of amazing parts, they gave him a make-good for his underwhelming, almost parody performance in “Scent of a Woman.”  Thus, the make-good with “Training Day” on a year when perhaps Will Smith gave the performance of HIS career.

It can be kind of a let down!!

Today, I finally watched “The Philadelphia Story,” the film for which my absolute favorite actor of all time, Jimmy Stewart, earned his Academy Award.

It’s not my favorite performance from him.  That would be in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” “Rear Window,” or “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”  (My least favorite, for those who are curious, is his final role, Wiley Burp in “An American Tale: Feivel Goes West,” which, aside from the final speech, isn’t exactly befitting a last appearance.)

I do, however, see his role in “The Philadelphia Story” as an important one.  It’s a step between the straight forward aw-shucks everyman he was known for in his early career and the psychologically interesting man-who-knew-too-much man of his later career.  And it’s a lot of fun to watch!

I especially like when he’s playing off of Carey Grant, who really yields his scenes to the other actors in a way most gigantic stars would be too vain to do.  The drunk scene, where Jimmy’s got the hiccups, is pure gold.  Especially when you know that the whole hiccuping bit was an adlib from Mr. Stewart.  One which Mr. Grant plays off of without missing a beat.  And then watch them both smile but not lose it.  That’s perfect!!

So today, we toast to Brigadier General James Stewart, the richest man in town!

Geena Davis

Geena Davis

This woman started off her career as a model. She made her debut in the same film that finally gave Bill Murray credibility at the box office, “Tootsie.” She hit it big with “Thelma and Louise” and won an Oscar for “The Accidental Tourist.”

She has a career that I’ve always taken great interest in, but in my opinion, it was all but snubbed out by the mere fact that she was way ahead of her time.

You see, Geena saw a hole in Hollywood and did her best to fill it. There were simply no female action stars. None. And it really didn’t make a whole lot of sense. I mean, in 1991, Linda Hamilton was an incredibly bad@$$ hero in “Terminator 2: Judgement Day.”

Geena made two films with a goal of breaking the rules and changing the face of movies forever. The first was “Cutthroat Island” in 1995, and it was considered a flop. A major flop, actually. Her director/husband, Renny Harlin, brought a bit of a track record with him, having previously made “Die Hard 2” and “Cliffhanger,” but perhaps this movie was a bit too ambitious.

The second movie was “The Long Kiss Goodnight,” and this time Shane Black had written the script. You’ll know his work, because he’s a pioneer in the action genre. He wrote the first two “Lethal Weapon” flicks, and more recently, he penned the incredible “Iron Man 3” screenplay. I personally feel like the writing in this film is solid, the acting is solid, and Harlin replicated his formula for a 90’s action movie with gusto. But it bombed too.

And then in 2001 and 2002, Geena’s vision for female action heroes was finally realized, with the release of “Tomb Raider” and “Resident Evil.” Now, here’s the part that has haunted me. These movies are not very good. Even given the argument that “Cutthroat Island” did not work the way it was meant to (the pirate adventure film took until 2003’s “Pirates of the Carribean” to really click), and even admitting that the visuals of the 1990s were in a state of morphing into the digital empire that the 2000s became – for right or for wrong – I think the real reason those two movies made so much money was due to the licensing tie-ins.

Okay, so whether those movies were any good or not, things finally changed in Hollywood, and now a strong female and a wimpy male sidekick is even its own big thing! And I think it’s time we take a look back at the daring move that Geena took.

So go check out “The Long Kiss Goodnight.” It co-stars Samuel L. Jackson right when his career was at full lift-off, and he’s got a ton of great lines in this. I’m pretty sure you can instant stream it on Netflix.

And then let’s cruise through her library of awesome performances. In addition to “Tootsie,” “Thelma and Louise,” and “The Accidental Tourist,” I recommend watching “The Fly,” “Beetlejuice,” “A League of Their Own,” “Hero,” “Angie,” “Speechless,” and my personal favorite “Quick Change.”

And to answer your question before you ask it, yes, I am too scared to watch “The Accidental Tourist.”


The Greatest Depictions of Single-Minded Emotion

Seeking out the perfect representation of simple emotion in the arts.  This is one man’s opinion. . .


Kratos (God of War)

  • The team that worked on his design and animations put in every effort to make Kratos seem ticked off.  From his hunched walk to his snarling voice, it doesn’t take long to realize that the gods of Olympus are in for some hurting.
  • Honorable Mention: Mel Gibson (William Wallace in “Braveheart”)


Mickey Mouse

  • There’s a reason Walt Disney’s theme parks are often cited as “the happiest place on earth” despite the fact their really just a gimmick to get you to stand in lines all day and fork out loads of cash.  It’s because of the lovable animated mouse that hopped down from the cartoonist’s pen and came to life in the hearts and minds of every child.


Curly Howard (The Three Stooges)

  • With a shrieking “mmmmmmmm!!!” and a double slap to the face, Curly communicated frustration in a way that surpassed any language barrier.  You know it’s an effective interpretation when you start doing the same thing in your everyday life.


Shemp Howard (The Three Stooges)

  • The general Stooge “Gnaaah!!” is pretty much what I do when I’m scared, but it’s the addition of Shemp’s “me me me me me” and crazy noises that takes the fear to terror.
  • Honorable Mention: Lou Costello (Abbott and Costello) for his trying-to-whistle/trying-to-cry-out-for-help bit.  However, the fact that he was mugging a bit too much toward the forth wall gave Shemp the easy edge.
  • Additional Honorable Mention: Bruce Campbell (Evil Dead)


Michael Richards (Kramer on “Seinfeld”)

  • Each time he walked through a door, it seemed that Kramer was surprised by what he found inside the room, but it was the moments when his mind was blown that he truly excelled in being the embodiment of happy, frightened, or excited surprise.


Harold Lloyd (“Safety Last”)

  • Running out of time.  Running out of space.  Harold Lloyd is literally hanging for his life on the revolving arms of a clock, perilously five or six stories above rush hour traffic.
  • Honorable Mention: Christopher Lloyd (“Back to the Future”) for going for the same gag.


Oliver Hardy (Laurel and Hardy)

  • When Stan messes things up, Ollie – as one of the greatest straight men in history – didn’t just do a double take or slap the man-child, his reaction shot was the punchline to a mousetrap of a set up.



Jim Carey (“Liar Liar”)

  • I think it’s the revulsion followed immediately by the gag reflex that does it for me.  And that he seems to be clearing his palette after throwing up in his mouth a little is just the cherry on top.
  • Honorable Mention: Jim Varney (“Ernest Goes to Camp”) when he’s cleaning the toilet in the opening credits.


Gloria Swanson (Norma Desmond in “Sunset Boulevard”)

  • The entire movie is a study in madness and delusion, but the “I’m ready for my close-up” scene is pure movie magic.  It’s incredible that a film about aging silent movie actors still feels as fresh and relevant today as it did then.  The funeral for the chimp companion has shadows of Michael Jackson and Bubbles, and the struggles to feel special and unique are something more and more people can relate to in the Twitter era.
  • Honorable Mention: Jack Nicholson (Jack Torrance in “The Shining)


Alfalfa (Our Gang, Little Rascals)

  • How do you define love?  Well, since we’re doing lust as a separate emotion here, let’s presume it is innocent.  It’s eager to please, yearning, awkward, bold.  When Alfalfa croons, he is the embodiment of all these things.
  • Honorable Mention: Ingrid Bergman (“Casablanca”)


Benny Hill (“The Benny Hill Show”)

  • Forget the tender empathy of love.  Lust is all about wanting the object of your desire, and Benny Hill not only projects that outward yearning on his face, he chases after crowds of beautiful women to “Yakety Sax!”
  • Honorable Mention: Tex Avery’s Wolf


Stan Laurel (Laurel and Hardy)

  • Stan Laurel may have gotten himself and his pal into many a fine mess, but he was too darned lovable to stay mad at for long.  His total lack of ego may have been the only thing keeping him from being ripped limb from limb by an indignant Hardy.


Norman Rockwell (Of the Problem We All Live With)

  • Ruby Bridges walking to a newly desegregated classroom, surrounded by a mob of racists was an act of absolute bravery, and this painting captures the moment with clarity and a boldness of it’s own.  Norman Rockwell is America’s great painter, and this is one of his finest works.
  • Honorable Mention: Norman Rockwell (Murder in Mississippi – Southern Justice) is a very close second, but the fact that the subject is not a child and that the emotions are more complicated lost the edge.


Christian Bale (Patrick Bateman in “American Psycho”)

  • It’s rare for a drama or thriller to give you protagonist without layers, but Patrick Bateman’s subtext is that he’s even more shallow than he seems on the surface.  That’s what makes it such great satire and a roasting look at society in the 1980’s.


Bill Murray (Frank Cross in “Scrooged”)

  • This is particularly subjective, I realize.  For a lot of people, the ending of this movie dragged on way longer than it should have, and perhaps they’re right when judging the film solely as a comedy.  For me, however, this scene was absolutely necessary for us to see and feel the redemption of a Christmas miracle.  And more importantly, this was the moment that I realized that one of my favorite actors of all time was actually one hell of an actor.


Ricky Scroder

Ricky Schroeder (“The Champ”)

  • This one was easy.  There was an actual scientific study to find the saddest scene in history, and the kid from “Silver Spoons” won it hands down.  While they don’t have an animated .gif of this iconic moment (I mean, who would spend their time making such a thing of something so sad), you can view the three minute scene here.



James Stewart (“It’s a Wonderful Life”)

  • The scene where George Bailey is praying at the bar was one of the first shots Jimmy Stewart did coming out of the war.  He had told Frank Capra, the director, that he wasn’t ready to make a movie, that he was still recoiling from the psychological effects of combat.  Mr. Capra got this shot and actually scanned the image to get closer than the original frame.
  • Honorable Mention: Aleksey Kravchenko (Florya Gaishun in “Come and See” – “Idi i Smotri”) showed incredible range and depth in his first acting role.  The moment he literally sticks his head in the mud to block out what he is seeing is riveting and will stay with you forever.  It kind of comes as no surprise that in the director’s commentary, Elem Klimov reveals he was afraid this scene had “driven the boy mad.”


Lucille Ball (“I Love Lucy”)

  • Lucy would do anything to get into Ricky’s show.  She’d step over people and on toes, and it would end in disaster.  But she loved the people that she embarrassed or hurt, and she genuinely felt ashamed.  Thus, she’d burst out into her famous “Wah!!”  The picture here is not perfect, but you can see what I mean here.  (It’s a fan-made music video of a song produced by “Weird Al,” but it shows you what I mean if you if you don’t already know.)


Jim Varney (Ernest P. Worrell)

  • Jim Varney’s rubbery face could project many emotions, but what the slapstick maestro excelled the most at was showing pain.  I feel he especially excelled at exaggerating the little injuries that we are all familiar with, such as slamming his fingers in a door.


Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean in “Falling Asleep in Church”)

  • This entire five and a half minute sketch is pretty much Mr. Bean just trying to stay awake through the sermon at his church.  And it’s perfectly riveting.  Check it out right here.



Charlie Chaplin (The Tramp in many films, but especially “Gold Rush”)

  • For one of the richest men ever to grace the silver screen, Charlie Chaplin sure understood hunger.  The Tramp was an outcast who couldn’t hold down a job, keep a girl, or get a decent meal.  The most compelling imagery for hunger is in “Gold Rush,” where Mr. Chaplin invented the man-turning-to-food-hallucination gag, which you can watch here.



Live (Lightning Crashes)

  • Music has a way of crawling under your skin and haunting you.  This song about simultaneous death and birth reminds me of driving lonely roads miles from home in the middle of the night.  It’s melancholy without being so sappy it doesn’t leave you completely cold.  You can watch the music video here.
  • Honorable Mention: No Doubt (Don’t Speak) is the song I listen to in a dark room when I need to cry for a scene.   Don’t judge me!


The whole town (“It’s a Wonderful Life”)

  • As you can see above, this film was cited as having the quintessential moment of anxiety, which makes this ending all the sweeter.  It is at the precise moment that this line is spoken by George’s kid brother, the war hero Harry Bailey, that the realization that no man is a failure who has friends really sinks in.


Groucho Marx (The Marx Brothers)

  • I don’t know about you, but whenever I want to get away with insulting someone, I pretend to be ashing a cigar, stoop down a little, and say whatever quip I have in mind in the voice of Groucho Marx.  The greatest compliment in the world was an insult from the man with the painted on mustache and eyebrows!



Buster Keaton

  • The king of deadpan comedy, Buster could have a house fall down around him, and he would take it all in stride.  In fact, he did.  You can see that here.  Oh!  And here.



Norman Rockwell’s “Freedom from Want”

  • This singular image not only represents contentment within the American ideology, but it calms you as you look at it.  Rockwell created the history of our country on his canvas and told – not an idealized version since he was not afraid to tackle the hard issues (see Bravery above) – but a version that is complete and immediately accessible.

What do you think?  I’d love to hear your picks in the comments.  Did I miss an emotion?  Or perhaps a great masterwork?

Some of you may be wondering why there’s so much slapstick comedy on this list.  Well, for two reasons:
1. Slapstick boils down complex emotions into simple, single-minded reactions better than any other art form.
2. I have a deep appreciation for classic comedy.

Okay.  That’s it.  Go on home.  Nothing more to see here.