Dave’s 5 Films He Would Choose if He Were Asked by Robert Osborne to Program a Selection on Turner Classic Movies

The scenario … You have been selected by Robert Osborne at Turner Classic Movies to program 5 movies and introduce your selections before they begin on TCM. You could obviously choose your 5 favorite films of all-time. Or … you could see this as an opportunity to showcase 5 favorite films that not many people know about but should. I am providing my 5 choices below. Again, while they rank among my favorite films, they are not necessarily my all-time 5 favorite movies. They’re just the ones that people need to know more about. Feel free to discuss, debate … or even better … present your 5 in the comments section. I’m curious to hear what you have to say.

1. “Nobody’s Fool” (1994) dir. Robert Benton
My favorite film of 1994 (aside from “Ed Wood” and “Pulp Fiction”), based on Pulitzer Prize winning author Richard Russo’s 1993 novel. Paul Newman plays Donald Sullivan, a sometime-construction worker who has a lifetime of mistakes and screw-ups in his history. When his son and grandson come back into his life, he has a chance at redemption. It’s a movie I always put on when I’m in a foul or depressed mood, because all of the characters (with one or two exceptions) are fundamentally decent people, deeply flawed as they are. This is one of Newman’s five best performances and the supporting cast, from Bruce Willis to Melanie Griffith to Jessica Tandy to even Philip Seymour Hoffman in an early role, are terrific.

I loved this movie when I saw it in January of 1995, but “Nobody’s Fool” has gained special resonance for me over the years, because I wound up living in the village where this movie took place (renamed North Bath for the film) for 8 years. I didn’t even realize this until a year after I moved there, but everything about the look of this film and town positively nails the quirky, but memorable upstate NY place I once called home.

2. “Auto Focus” (2002) dir. Paul Schrader

One of the funniest and creepiest movies of the 2000s is Paul Schrader’s corrosive biopic of the late “Hogan’s Heroes” star Bob Crane. Crane was what we would now describe as a “sex addict,” whose obsession and weird friendship with a man who shared that lifestyle with him (as the film alleges) ultimately killed Crane. What’s interesting about “Auto Focus” is how director Schrader so accurately depicts a man with absolutely zero self-awareness. As Schrader put it in a terrific interview with Uju Asika on Salon.com when the movie was released: “… when I’ve dealt with characters like this before, these existential loners, they tend to be introspective. They don’t get it, but they’re trying to figure out how to get it. The interesting thing to me about Crane was that he was not only clueless, he was clueless about being clueless. And I think his greatest flaw wasn’t sex, it was selfishness. Hence the title. I don’t think he understood or appreciated how his actions affected other people. It was just sort of blithe egoism. So the challenge then was to try to make a film about a superficial character that wasn’t a superficial film.” He also described Crane and his partner-in-crime John Carpenter: “You take these kind of Rat Pack guys who have to trade in their narrow ties for beads and bell bottoms in order to score chicks. But of course they remain the same sexist jerks they always were. It’s a fascinating period in American male sexual identity.” In my opinion, Schrader’s best film as a director, slightly edging out 1978’s “Blue Collar” and 1979’s “Hardcore.”

3. “The Falcon and the Snowman” (1985) dir. John Schlesinger

One of my favorite films from the 1980s (and one of the most sadly forgotten/neglected) is John Schlesinger’s nail-biting account of two young American friends during the 1970s (one an idealistic communications worker, the other a drug dealer) who decide to sell information to the KGB. Based on the true story about Christopher Boyce and Daulton Lee’s descent into treason, it’s extremely well-acted, well-written, well-directed. This is the kind of film that would have won multiple Oscars during the 1970s, but was dumped into theaters January 1985, the traditional no-man’s land for films studios are looking to give a token release to before writing them off as losses on their annual reports. It’s a real shame, because this deserved much better. Timothy Hutton and Sean Penn are incredible in this film as Boyce and Lee.

4. “Hopscotch” (1980) dir. Ronald Neame

Is there any cooler actor than Walter Matthau? OK, maybe there a few that are cooler … or maybe several. Who cares, allright? As one gets older, one begins to appreciate the laconic, laid-back, sardonic charm of the ultimate intelligent curmudgeon. It’s hard to pick a favorite Matthau film, but “Hopscotch” is my favorite. This is completely fun from start to finish, and if you’re a fan of “Fletch,” “Hopscotch” is one of the best smart-ass dialogue films of all time. Many people thought this was an odd choice for The Criterion Collection, but I don’t. It’s been a favorite of mine ever since my Mom took me to see it when I was 10, which was especially cool due its R-rating and multiple “F-bombs” throughout.

5. “Last Night at the Alamo” (1984) dir. Eagle Pennell

Before “Eastbound and Down” and the rest of Jody Hill’s brilliantly dark and funny oeuvre of delusional losers, there was Eagle Pennell’s funny and sad “Last Night at the Alamo.” Written by Kim Henkel, the man who wrote the original screenplay for “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” and one of the best truly indie movies of all time, “Last Night at the Alamo” tells the tale of the Alamo (a Houston dive bar) last night in business. The regulars are an interesting bunch: William (aka Ichabod) is a hot-headed, but dim young man in his early 20s; Claude is a man whose blue collar world is threatened when his wife insists they move the suburbs and she subsequently throws him out for drinking too much; and then there’s Cowboy, the legendary BMOC at the bar, who has a big plan to save the bar … or go to Hollywood to become a cowboy actor. There’s other regulars too, as well as assorted bartenders, girlfriends, wives, and former lovers, who fade in and out of the scenery, as the night continues.

The Alamo’s closing represents more than the closing of their favorite watering hole. This is a place where all the men go to be big shots after difficult days on the job or in their lives. It’s obvious the men feel small outside the Alamo, because they strut around and pathetically act like badasses within its confines. The Alamo’s closing means that these men will now be reduced the lives they lead … with their favorite escape hatch closing behind them.

The film has some serious moments, but it’s also hysterically and profanely funny. One of the best scenes in the film is the very first one, where William drives to the Alamo after work with his girlfriend and he rants and screams about everything from having to borrow an undesirable vehicle because his regular ride needs repair to his girlfriend complaining about his cursing and drinking, etc. If the opening scene doesn’t grab you, the rest of the film won’t.

If you’re at all a fan of Jody Hill or Danny McBride, “Last Night at the Alamo” is an absolute must-see.

“Look Away” (1996) by Iggy Pop

This rare ballad from Iggy Pop, from his 1996 album “Naughty Little Doggie,” is a profoundly sad song about Johnny Thunders, doomed lead guitarist for the New York Dolls and his own band The Heartbreakers, and their mutual girlfriend, the infamous 1970s groupie Sable Starr.  The lyrics are matter-of-fact, but melancholy and sad. It’s laced with the kind of regret only a long-term survivor of bad habits can describe.  Iggy is not taking blame for what befell Thunders and Starr, but importantly, doesn’t deny his complicity in some of the sad things that occurred in all of their lives. It’s just the bad s–t that happens when three people suffering from addiction interact with each other on occasion.  Still, I find this song incredibly moving.

“Now Thunder and me did not part friends
What we did once I wouldn’t do again
So he stayed with the pure dream and followed the moon
‘Til the drugs in his body made his mind a cartoon

Look away Look away

So a few years later Thunder died broke
Sable had a baby back at her folks
Me I went straight and serious too
There wasn’t much else that I could do

Look away Look away

So now that I’m straight I’m settled too
I eat and I sleep and I work like you
I got lots of feelings but I hold them down
That’s a way I cope with this s–tty town

Look away Look away”

“Velvet Underground” by Jonathan Richman

Just heard this song for the first time on an old episode of Penn Jillette’s podcast (“Penn’s Sunday School”), the one Penn recorded on the day it was announced Lou Reed passed away in 2013. Reed was a huge influence on Richman and this is a wonderful tribute song that not only gives high praise to the Velvet Underground and sounds like them, but allows for a completely charming “Sister Ray” cover during the middle 1/3 of this song.  This is from Richman’s 1992 album “I, Jonathan.”  If you’re not sure on who Richman is, he was the singing troubadour from the 1998 blockbuster hit comedy “There’s Something About Mary.”

Penn was very good friends with Reed for many years during the 1980s and 1990s and if you’re a fan of Reed’s, I encourage you to either stream or download the episode from the link below (Episode 89 from October 27, 2013).  There’s lots of wonderful anecdotes and stories about Reed that’s nearly two hours long.  Re: this song, Penn actually took Reed to see Richman in concert, where he performed this song, avoiding eye contact with Reed because he was such in awe of Reed.  Reed had difficulty making out one of the lyrics, which Penn explained to Reed was “America at it’s best,” meaning Reed’s first band.  Reed paused and said “Yeah, that’s pretty accurate.”

http://pennsundayschool.com/episodes/

An Interview with Chip Chipperson by Jennifer Carmody (from the Carmody Central Podcast), April 15, 2014

Aside from Doug Stanhope, there’s no living comedian that’s more painfully honest than Jim Norton.  To say Norton is an open book is an understatement.  He frequently discusses his sex addiction, his numerous encounters with prostitutes, etc. without batting an eye.  And doesn’t care what you think … at all.  In fact, one of his stand-up specials was called “Please Be Offended” and one of his books was titled “I Hate Your Guts.”  Many people are put-off by Norton’s willingness to delve into the darkest parts of his life so openly, but I find him extremely funny and refreshing.  I don’t always agree with him politically, but I appreciate his honesty and his disdain for anyone who isn’t equally as forthright about their dark side.  In a world where pious and sanctimonious bulls–t is increasingly praised, we need more artists like Norton.

Having said all this, my favorite part of Norton’s comedy is his pathetic, creepy, deluded, and brain-damaged alter-ego Chip Chipperson.  Chipperson is a masterpiece of anti-comedy, the equal of anything Andy Kaufman or Sacha Baron Cohen has ever done, if not any character Phil Hendrie has conceived.  But many people, including some Norton fans, HATE Chip.  And I can’t blame them.  Seriously, Chip is THAT f–king annoying and repulsive.  But to appreciate Chip is to love him.  Jennifer Carmody interviewed Chip for her podcast and for Chip fans, this is pure, undiluted Chip at his finest … or worst … I realize it’s hard to tell the difference.

If you’re even remotely sensitive, please don’t listen to this.  The language is beyond not safe for work.  The first 2/3 of this are gold.  However, in the last 1/3, Norton goes into some of his other disturbing alter-egos and while funny, is uneven and isn’t quite as good as the first 2/3.  But if you’re a fan of anti-comedy, strap in.

“Long Long Time” by Linda Rondstadt (1969)

Holy s–t!  I remember hearing this song a lot  when my Mom played a constant rotation of Linda Rondstadt, Roberta Flack, Rita Coolidge, and Crystal Gayle back in the 1970s.  However, I completely forgot about this song until today, when I listened to Adam Carolla’s podcast and a caller asked Carolla if there’s a song that made him weep.  Carolla rose to the challenge and said, in so many words, “Oh, I’ve got one for you!”  Apparently, he heard this for the first time in 1981 after a painful breakup when he was listening to the radio in his Dad’s driveway.   And damn, is this song the absolute LAST song you want to hear when someone has dumped you.  OK, maybe This Mortal Coil’s “Song to the Siren” may be worse, but this is first runner-up.  Damn.  Completely devastating lyrics, an arrangement that guarantees buckets of tears, and Rondstadt’s non-Auto tuned voice … sweet Lord … it will put a shiv in your heart.  Devastating stuff.  You are warned.

“Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” by Jackie DeShannon (1963)

Just discovered this gem of a Bob Dylan cover by one of my favorite singers of all-time, Jackie DeShannon.  DeShannon was/is the complete package: smart, tough, beautiful, sexy, and soulful.  She does a remarkable job on this Dylan cover from her debut album in 1963.  All I can say is “Damn!”

“That One Night” – The Hunted (from the US version of “The Office) (2008)

To identify the most cringe-worthy moment of one of the most crigne-worthy episodes of the US version “The Office” is, I realize, a bold task.  But this song, written for Michael Scott’s girlfriend / ex-boss Jan Levinson by her former assistant, is beyond creepy … and funny.   We first see Levinson’s assistant Hunter on the episode where Jan is getting fired (“The Job”), and as she hugs Hunter, tells him “”Good luck with your band,” adding “Don’t let them change you.”  Well, this is the payback … a song dedicated to the night where Jan allegedly made Hunter a man.  The fact that Jan plays this song wistfully in front of her current boyfriend (Michael) while trying to dance with another man is an extremely queasy and funny moment.   The fact that Hunter named his band “The Hunted” speaks volumes.

Dave’s Top 100 Desert Island Films

These may not be the 100 “best” films I’ve ever seen … though most of them are.  However, if I’m going to be alone somewhere with only 100 films, these are the ones that will either put a smile on my face or give me lots to think about.  It’s a combination of the highest cinematic art and the most delicious cinematic junk food.  Of course, I reserve the option to revisit / revise this list in another year.

Aliens
Almost Famous
American Psycho
At Close Range
Bad Timing: A Sensual Obsession
Badlands
Bamboozled
Being John Malkovich
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls
Big Lebowski, The
Blue Velvet
Boogie Nights
Boyhood
Brazil
Breaking the Waves
Bully (2001) dir. Larry Clark
Capturing the Friedmans
Carrie
Casino
Clockwork Orange, A
Coal Miner’s Daughter
Crimes and Misdemeanors
Crumb
Dazed and Confused
Deer Hunter, The
E.T. The Extra Terrestrial
Ed Wood
Escape from New York
Face in the Crowd, A
Falcon and the Snowman, The
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Female Trouble
Fight Club
Fourth Man, The
Ghost World
Godfather, The
Goodfellas
Great Santini, The
Happiness
Hard Boiled
Hardcore
High Fidelity
Hollywood Knights, The
Hopscotch
Hot Tub Time Machine
Husbands and Wives
Inglourious Basterds
Inside Out
Irreversible
King of Comedy
L.A. Confidential
Love Actually
M*A*S*H
Mad Max
Mad Max Fury Road
Magnolia
Malcolm X
Miller’s Crossing
Mulholland Dr.
Nashville
Nobody’s Fool (1994) dir. Robert Benton
North Dallas Forty
Out of Sight
Out of the Blue (1980) dir. Dennis Hopper
Over the Edge
Performance
Pink Floyd The Wall
Pulp Fiction
Putney Swope
Quadrophenia
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Repo Man
Reservoir Dogs
Robocop
Royal Tenenbaums, The
Salvador
Scarface
Searchers, The
Serious Man, A
Seven Beauties
Short Cuts
Slap Shot
Sorcerer
Straw Dogs
Stuntman, The
Summer of Sam
Talk Radio
Taxi Driver
Thief
This is 40
This is Spinal Tap
True Romance
Usual Suspects, The
Velvet Goldmine
Videodrome
Wanderers, The
Wolf of Wall Street
Wonderland (2003) dir. James Cox
Z
Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession

“Don’t Let Us Get Sick” (2001) by Warren Zevon

If you’ve been in a multi-year relationship with someone that’s still intact (either in marriage or not), you’ve hopefully learned to appreciate what you have, but also realize that you can never take your good status for granted.  Real life has an uncanny ability to test the stability of your relationship in terms of issues that never get adequately addressed or discussed, psychological quirks on both sides, or just plain bad luck.

This beautiful song by Warren Zevon, from his stellar 2001 album “Life’ll Kill Ya,” is a modest plea from one person to their significant other to value what they share, no matter what may happen around them or to them.   With all the flowery prose that have been thrown about in the support of love over the years in songs, Zevon’s simple words in this song are, in my opinion, the most meaningful:

“Don’t let us get sick
Don’t let us get old
Don’t let us get stupid, all right?
Just make us be brave
And make us play nice
And let us be together tonight”