Among the more inspired bits in Ben Stiller’s extremely funny 2008 Hollywood satire “Tropic Thunder” were these fake ads / movie trailers starring the film’s lead characters that came before “Thunder” started. Not safe for work. “I’ve been a bad, bad boy, Father.”
“Ordinary People” winning the Best Picture Oscar over “Raging Bull” in 1980 is considered one of the biggest cinematic crimes of all time by many. I’m not one of those people. “Raging Bull” is, indeed, the better film, but “Ordinary People” is a really good movie and much better than its reputation would have you believe. (Funny, but no one complains that “Coal Miner’s Daughter” got robbed that year … which is one of THE best biopics of all time … but I digress).
“Ordinary People” is often dismissed as the type of middlebrow melodrama that philistines give points to because it displays such “good taste.” That’s not entirely unfair, but “Ordinary People” has a lot of virtues. It contains a great script by Alvin Sargent, admirable (albeit non-flashy) directing by Redford, and best of all, solid acting performances by Donald Sutherland (arguably his best performance … and one that is severely underrated), Mary Tyler Moore, Judd Hirsch, Elizabeth McGovern (who is receiving a well-deserved career resurgence on “Downton Abbey,”) … and Timothy Hutton.
Timothy Hutton won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor that year for this film, but he’s actually the lead. He should have been a contender for Best Actor, but considering his competition that year included Robert DeNiro for “Raging Bull,” Peter O’Toole for “The Stuntman,” John Hurt for “The Elephant Man,” and Robert Duvall for “The Great Santini,” putting Hutton in the Supporting Actor category was probably a shrewder move. His character is the center of the film and Hutton’s extremely rich performance is the emotional core.
Hutton’s performance is so raw, so wounded, so ferocious, it’s one of the best performances I’ve ever seen by any actor. It is the equivalent of James Dean’s performance in “Rebel Without a Cause,” only without the method actor baggage that Dean brings to “Rebel.” It’s an incredibly intense performance that’s neither mannered or pretentious. As much as I love Sean Penn, many of his performances ultimately seem like acting. Hutton’s portrayal of a teenager trying to come to grips with his brother’s death, his own suicide attempt (due to guilt over his brother’s death), and the fact that his mother may not love him seems heartbreakingly real.
Hutton seemed poised to become one of the best and most successful actors of his generation. But fate had a different idea in mind. What’s sad is that Hutton didn’t piss away his talent with bad choices or bad movies … at least not in the beginning. With the exception of “Taps” (which was a hit), none of his follow-up performances achieved the popular or critical success of “Ordinary People.” And all of these follow-up performances were perfectly admirable choices: “Taps,” Sidney Lumet’s “Daniel,” John Schlesinger’s “The Falcon and the Snowman,” and Fred Schepisi’s “Iceman.” All of these films were among the best, if not underrated films, of the first half of the 1980s. This was an era before young actors were seeking out their “franchise” to bank $100 million before they got relegated to character roles. Hutton has stayed employed over the years and it’s always a joy to see him on screen. But Hutton should have had the career Sean Penn had (though please note, I am in no way saying Penn doesn’t richly deserve the great success he’s obtained). If anyone deserves a Robert Downey Jr.-style comeback, it’s Hutton. He’s the real deal.
Robert Downey Jr.’s father Robert Downey Sr. is one of the best and most subversive filmmakers of the last 50 years. “Putney Swope” is considered his masterpiece and it’s an extremely funny (albeit very odd) satire on race relations, the media, and the world of advertising.
When a CEO for a large advertising firm dies from a heart attack, the sole African-American member of the board, Putney Swope (played by Arnold Johnson) gets accidentally elected CEO unanimously by the other board members. This is due to the white board members voting for Swope as a tactic to prevent one of their rivals from getting elected, not realizing that everyone else is doing the same thing. As soon as Swope gets elected, he fires everyone and changes the name of the company to Truth and Soul. The commercials Swope’s new company produces are a huge success, mainly due to their frequent profanity and nudity. However, despite the new changes and Swope’s promises to do things with more honesty and integrity, he turns out to be just as corrupt as his predecessors.
The tone of the film is very bizarre and when you first watch it, it will take a while to get used to it. However, once you do, you’re in for quite a ride. No matter what you hold sacred, this is a film WILL offend you, even though you’ll probably find yourself in hysterics. It’s a film that never fails to make me nearly piss my pants laughing. A subversive comedy masterpiece
P.T. Anderson is a huge Downey Sr. fan, not only hiring Downey for a small, but pivotal role in “Boogie Nights” (the recording studio owner who says “YP” and “MP”), but also naming Don Cheadle’s character “Swope” and having a character randomly throwing firecrackers in the air for no reason.
In this clip, the man in the Arabian headdress is none other than Antonio (Huggy Bear) Fargas.
This clip shows two of Swope’s commercials. The first one is not safe for work due to some brief nudity. The second one features actress Martha Plimpton’s mom (Shelley Plimpton) in a politically incorrect singing duet with her African-American boyfriend, played by 70s pop star Ronnie Dyson (“Why Can’t I Touch You?”).
My favorite film of 1993 (aside from Tony Scott’s Quentin Tarantino-scripted “True Romance), was Robert Altman’s “Short Cuts.” “Short Cuts” is a devastating 3 hour-plus epic about the damaged lives of multiple souls in the “City of Angels,” circa 1993. The movie complies several short stories by Raymond Carver and intersects the stories, so that the characters of each story interact with each other at various times for various reasons. It shows the randomness of life and how all of our actions (no matter how small) can have an impact on the world around us. Seeing it during a not-so-great point in my life, the film hit me like a brick to the face and I was shaken for days. This is not to say the film lacks humor. The movie is oftentimes hysterically funny, albeit in a very dark way. It also features brilliant performances by a diverse, all-star cast, including Tim Robbins, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Robert Downey Jr., Chris Penn, Fred Ward, Tom Waits, Anne Archer, Madeline Stowe, Jack Lemmon, Andie McDowell, Lily Tomlin, Lili Taylor, Frances McDormand, Buck Henry, Annie Ross, Lori Singer, Matthew Modine, Julianne Moore, and several others.
“Short Cuts” was Altman’s ultra-ambitious follow-up to his 1992 comeback film “The Player.” However, unlike “The Player,” “Short Cuts” didn’t fare too well at the box office. Despite this, “Short Cuts” was on many Top 10 lists and Altman was nominated for an Oscar for Best Director. While I enjoy “The Player,” “Short Cuts” is a far better film and its influence has grown tremendously over the years and its format about multiple characters/stories intersecting has resulted in some great films (P.T. Anderson’s “Magnolia”) and not-so-great (Paul Haggis’s “Crash”). An underrated masterpiece and my all-time favorite Robert Altman film.