‘S Wonderful

Funny Face is the first Audrey Hepburn musical and one of the last to feature Fred Astaire. Both are screen legends with a serious age gap. Since Hepburn was just getting started, most of her romantic co-stars were a lot older than her. Funny Face is actually based on a 1927 Broadway musical starring Astaire and his sister. The movie has almost nothing to do with the original show. Aside from Gershwin music and Astaire in a different role. Singin’ in the Rain director Stanley Donen turned Funny Face into a colorful affair filmed in VistaVision.

The titular “funny face” is an intelligent bookworm named Jo Stockton. Hepburn is as beautiful and elegant as ever, so I’m not sure what it is about her face. Funny Face isn’t particularly deep apart from all of Jo’s talk about philosophy and empathy. Overbearing fashion designer Maggie Prescott takes Jo upon her photographer’s suggestion, and molds her into a model. Eloise creator Kay Thompson makes a rare on-screen appearance as Maggie.

Jo falls for her photographer Dick Avery during their stay in Paris. Although her interest in philosophy doesn’t go away, Jo does come to love her many costumes and themes. Funny Face was nominated for 4 Academy Awards, but it wasn’t a financial success. Only after My Fair Lady did it get the appreciation it deserved. Songs like the titular “Funny Face” or “‘S Wonderful” are upbeat and dances have plenty of energy. Though the most memorable dance actually comes from Hepburn in an iconic all-black beatnick ensemble. Funny Face is ‘s wonderful.

Funny Face

Maggie examines Jo’s funny face

The Princess and the Peck

Roman Holiday is the original “Princess fleeing from her royal duties and falling in love” story. I’ve seen this kind of story before, but Roman Holiday is the romantic comedy that perfected it. It’s one of the few Oscar nominated William Wyler films that I most wanted to see. How could I pass up the chance to see Atticus Finch and Holly Golightly fall in love. Roman Holiday is responsible for the American debut of the incomparable Audrey Hepburn. Hepburn’s beauty and elegance was perfectly suited for the European Princess Ann. Ann is so desperate to escape her responsibilities that she leaves her embassy while sedated. It’s on a bench that she encounters Gregory Peck as reporter Joe Bradley.

Their pairing reminded me of It Happened One Night, right down to both of them spending the night together. Though not as scandalous as it sounds. Joe actually seizes the opportunity to write an exclusive about the Princess. They do what she always wanted to do around Rome. Including getting her hair cut into her classic pixie look, touring the Colosseum, smoking a cigarette, eating gelato, and riding a Vespa. Hepburn balances Ann’s regal demeanor, childlike wonder, and conflicted emotions so well that she won an Oscar for Best Actress. Peck wasn’t nominated, but his co-star Eddie Albert was nominated for playing Joe’s bumbling news partner.

Roman Holiday was intended to be shot in color, but it was too expensive. Black & white didn’t stop it from being nominated for Best Picture (and From Here to Eternity ended up winning anyway). Edith Head won one of her many Oscars for Best Costume Design, but Dalton Trumbo was a more controversial win for Best Story. Since he was blacklisted, he couldn’t accept the award in person. Luckily that was cleared up decades later. The slowly blossoming romance is very well written. The ending reminded me of Casablanca since it doesn’t exactly end up happily ever after. Roman Holiday is a day and movie I will never forgotten.

Roman Holiday

Princess Ann rides a Vespa with Joe

I Got Rhythm

An American in Paris is the first technicolor film to win Best Picture since Gone with the Wind. At this point in 1951, color was slowly becoming more common. Black & white features continued to thrive, but An American in Paris was a colorful production that deserved to win big at the Academy Awards. Awards like Best Art Direction, Cinematography, and Costume Design were all won in the color specific categories. Vincente Minnelli failed to win Best Director, but Best Screenplay and Scoring were equally worthy wins. An American in Paris is just a lot of fun to watch and dance along to. None of the cast was nominated, but Gene Kelly received a much deserved Honorary Oscar for being the triple threat that he was.

Not only does Kelly sing, dance, and star, he also choreographed the whole picture. As the title suggests, Jerry Mulligan is an American ex-GI living in Paris, France as a happy-go-lucky painter. All of his songs are upbeat and filled with infectious tap dancing energy. Jerry lives a bohemian lifestyle alongside his failed musician neighbor Adam Cook played by real life concert pianist Oscar Levant. Georges Guétary plays their mutual friend Henri “Hank” Baurel, a more successful French singer who shares an awkward connection with Jerry. Since Paris is the city of love, there’s bound to be romance.

Jerry is first pursued by Nina Foch as wealthy heiress Milo Roberts. She promises fame in exchange for love, but Jerry only has eyes for Lise Bouvier (who happens to be with Hank). Jerry is a little persistent in his conquest, but luckily Kelly has amazing chemistry with newcomer Leslie Caron. The French actress is a natural dancer with expert ballet skills. In fact, Caron’s chair dance was so steamy that the Hays Code nearly had it cut. Although Jerry and Lise’s love is complicated by their respective relationships, they manage to live happily ever after in the end. But not before an extended 17 minute stage number set to George Gershwin’s original An American in Paris orchestral piece. It’s a long time to go without talking, but sets are so colorful and the dancing is the best that Hollywood had to offer. An American in Paris is magnifique.

An American in Paris

Jerry dances with Lise

Would You Like to Swing on a Star

Going My Way is the right way to go. Singer Bing Crosby was a big star in the 1940’s with hits like Holiday Inn. Not only did Going My Way win Best Picture, Crosby also won Best Actor for his portrayal of Father Chuck O’Malley. The charming young priest was practically tailor-made for Crosby. Father O’Malley is an unconventional priest who plays golf, attends sporting events, and sings his own songs. “Going my way” is his motto for bringing joyful noise to the gospel. Going My Way centers around Father O’Malley joining a struggling parish and having a positive effect on the people around him.

Though most of the subplots feel disconnected until the end. His primary relationship is between the much older church pastor Father Fitzgibbon. O’Malley and Fitzgibbon couldn’t be more different, but they develop a mutual understanding. Barry Fitzgerald is arguably a co-lead, but in the end he’s more of a supporting player. The Academy didn’t see it that way since he was both nominated for Best Actor and won Best Supporting Actor. Leo McCarey did win multiple awards for Best Director and Best Original Motion Picture Story on top of Best Picture.

O’Malley’s other relationships include his equally laid back colleague Father O’Dowd, opera singing former flame Jenny, young aspiring singer Carol, father & son mortgage handlers, and a group of troubled youths that he transforms into a boys choir. Going My Way won Best Screenplay, but it’s the music that stands out. Crosby’s smooth crooning vocals are great for familiar songs and originals like “The Day After Forever,” the titular “Going My Way,” and catchy Best Original Song winning “Swinging on a Star.” Father O’Malley leaves when his job is done, but his mission continues in The Bells of St. Mary’s. I’ll look at the sequel at a later date since I had no idea it existed despite its equal acclaim. Going My Way is just a bit more worthy of praise.

Going My Way

“Would you like to swing on a star”

Followed by: The Bells of St. Mary’s

Fight for this Lost Cause

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is perhaps the most invested I’ve ever been in politics. Director Frank Capra has a way of making even the most boring topic interesting. My only familiarity with the story was from various Simpsons parodies. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington was originally meant as a sequel to previous Capra film Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. After the Best Picture winning success of You Can’t Take it with You, the movie turned into a starring vehicle for James Stewart and Jean Arthur. I immediately recognized Mr. Smith Goes to Washington as one of the all time greats, but it only won one of its 11 Oscar nominations. Only Best Writing, Original Story because 1939 was a very tight Best Picture race. My heart says The Wizard of Oz should’ve won, but I know nothing could compete with Gone with the Wind.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is based on an unpublished story titled “The Gentleman from Montana.” Jefferson Smith is a man of the people with no political experience. He becomes Junior Senator when boys from the Boy Rangers put his name in the ring. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is a political drama, but there is a lot of humorous satire. Stewart’s performance is brilliant as he truly believes in American ideals. Arthur’s performance as Saunders is just as engrossing with her contrasting belief that the system is flawed. Of course the movie was a little controversial for its portrayal of the Senate. Claude Rains is Senator Paine, a more sympathetic monster who bows down to the corrupt Jim Taylor and his political machine. Now Edward Arnold plays Stewart’s enemy instead of his father.

Both Taylor and Paine expect Smith to be too naïve to ask questions, but all that changes when Jefferson establishes a bill to create a national boys camp where a dam was supposed to go. Although he has Saunders and the Boy Rangers on his side, Smith is just one man against the entire Senate. The Senate President played by Harry Carey may also be on his side since he allows him to plead his case. Jefferson launches a filibuster where he must keep standing and talking until he yields the floor. It’s a truly captivating scene and I was hanging on every word. Even in the face of lies and corruption, it’s inspiring to see Mr. Smith continue to fight for a lost cause until he collapses. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is a people’s favorite.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Jefferson Smith reads falsified documents

Culture Clash

You Can’t Take it with You, but you can enjoy it all the same. This was Frank Capra’s second Best Picture winner after It Happened One Night, and his third Best Director win after Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. I haven’t seen the latter, but at this point I know to expect feel good fare from the filmmaker. You Can’t Take it with You is another rom-com with screwball themes like It Happened One Night. The difference is the focus on family. Since You Can’t Take it with You is based on a play, it only has so many characters and locations.

Tony Kirby and Alice Sycamore are your classic young couple in love. Tony comes from a rich family of bankers and Alice comes from a working class family of eccentric oddballs. They’re brought together through a marriage proposal and the possibility of selling their house. The Kirby’s consist of Tony’s money driven father and snobby mother. The much larger Sycamore’s consist of the wise Grandpa Vanderhof, Alice’s hobby loving mother Penny, firework shooting father Paul, dancing sister Essie, and her simple husband Ed. There’s also assistant DePinna, black servants Rheb, Donald, Essie’s cooky Russian dance instructor Kolenkhov, and wide-eyed toy maker Poppins.

You can imagine the madness and hilarity that ensues when these opposing families come together. You Can’t Take it with You is full of great performances. This was the earliest I’ve seen James Stewart and he leaves an impression. Jean Arthur is a likeable everygirl who stands her ground. Lionel Barrymore tells off another cold businessman just like he did in Grand Hotel. The title refers to money and a lesson in friendship is exactly what Mr. Kirby needs to hear. Edward Arnold has the best arc, but it was Spring Byington who got nominated. Though the ending is sentimental, You Can’t Take it with You earns its heartwarming reputation.

You Can't Take it with You

Alice and Tony embrace with their families

Dancing Cheek to Cheek

Top Hat is a good old fashioned excuse to sing and dance. After the success of The Gay Divorcee and Roberta, Top Hat was written especially for Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. It’s arguably their most well known pairing and it’s the film I wanted to see the most. Even though it’s very similar to The Gay Divorcee, Top Hat was a Best Picture nominee with a rare 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. The director Mark Sandrich, almost the entire cast, and the general theme is the same as The Gay Divorcee.

Top Hat is also about a misunderstanding between dancer Jerry Travers and the mysterious Dale Tremont. This time Rogers’ character mistakes Astaire’s character for the husband of her older friend Madge. If Alice Brady played Madge instead of Helen Broderick, then the entire Gay Divorcee cast would be complete. Edward Everett Horton plays Madge’s mixed up producer husband, Erik Rhodes plays Dale’s fool hardy Italian fashion designer, and Eric Blore plays the hilariously incompetent valet. It’s another fine screwball romance that works itself out in the end.

Song and dance are very much the star of the musical with catchy songs from Irving Berlin and showstopping dance numbers. Truly a winning combination. The relationship only takes off when Jerry taps above Dale. Astaire is a high energy acrobat, but Rogers keeps up very well in heels no less. “Isn’t This a Lovely Day?” puts them on equal footing and “Top Hat, White Tie and Tails” gives Astaire time to shine in his titular top hat. The most classic number will always be the joy filled “Cheek to Cheek” recognized for Rogers’ feather dress and the lyric “Heaven, I’m in Heaven.” Top Hat is top notch entertainment.

Top Hat

Jerry dances with Dale

Chance is the Fool’s Name for Fate

The Gay Divorcee is a gay old time. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers were the biggest dancing duo in the Golden Age of Hollywood. They danced together in over 10 different musicals, but this was only their second time sharing the screen and dance floor. After Flying Down to Rio, a Broadway musical titled Gay Divorce was the next project with them in mind. Since the Hays Code was implemented at the time, the original title became controversial.

Not for the word “gay,” which meant happy or joyful at the time. Calling a divorce gay was controversial since it was disparaging marriage. A gay divorcee on the other hand is perfectly fine. Ginger Rogers is said gay divorcee who’s more bitter than gay in the beginning. Mimi is seeking a divorce from her absentee husband in England. Fred Astaire is a famous dancer who falls madly in love the moment they meet. Guy Holden almost obsessively searches for Mimi, but they conveniently wind up staying at the same continental hotel.

Together they team up with Alice Brady as Mimi’s chatty aunt, Edward Everett Horton as their confused lawyer, Erik Rhodes as a bumbling Italian co-respondent, and Eric Blore as a half witted waiter. They all end up sharing a connection through a series of ironic misunderstandings. The romance is swell and the comedy is fun, but it’s obvious the entire movie centers around song and dance numbers. “Night and Day” is a great song for the couple’s first dance, but “The Continental” was the first song to win Best Original Song. The 17 minute long sequence is a major production that gives The Gay Divorcee its pep.

The Gay Divorcee

Guy dances with Mimi

I Am for Making Friends

Ron’s Gone Wrong got it right. The moment I saw the trailer for Ron’s Gone Wrong, I thought it was a rip-off of The Mitchells vs. the Machines. I know that’s impossible, but they are very similar. Both are computer animated 2021 movies about the dangers of technology and social media obsession. It can’t be a coincidence that Olivia Colman also happens to voice a character in both films. Even the young black tech creator is basically the same. The difference is B-bots. B-bots are sleek spherical smartphones that make friends for kids and have no plans of overthrowing humanity. The villain is actually an evil corporate businessman trying to cover up a glitch in the system.

While The Mitchells vs. the Machines won me over immediately, I was a little more hesitant of Ron’s Gone Wrong. It’s technically a Disney movie, since 20th Century Studios made it with a new animation studio called Locksmith Animation. Although it looked harmless, I wasn’t sure about the crude animation reminiscent of Arthur Christmas. Ron’s Gone Wrong is similar to other “boy and his robot” movies, but its message is universal. Barney is a socially awkward rock loving middle schooler voiced by Jack Dylan Grazer at the height of his fame. He’s the only kid without a B-bot, but all that changes when his old fashioned father and cooky grandmother from the old country get him one for his birthday.

Ron is a typical defective robot voiced by Zach Galifianakis. Ron’s Gone Wrong is immediately funny the moment he’s on screen. What makes Ron stand out are his computing errors, violent tendencies, and ability to buy alcohol. Surprisingly adult for a kids movie. Barney learns to appreciate Ron’s differences and they eventually grow together as friends. Even Ron’s vlogger crush Savannah and prankster bully Rich learn the value of friendship. Ron’s Gone Wrong doesn’t shy away from the dangers to technology, but there’s a good compromise in the end.

Ron's Gone Wrong

Barney hangs out with Ron

Connected

The Mitchells vs. the Machines is your typical family road trip that happens to include a robot apocalypse. Sony Animation is still very hit or miss, but The Mitchells vs. the Machines is a hit that deserves way more attention. It’s got Gravity Falls writer Mike Rianda as the director, The LEGO Movie directors Phil Lord & Christopher Miller as producers, an all-star comedic cast, and the unique animation of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. The latter was apparent the moment I saw the first trailer with the painfully generic title Connected.

The Mitchells vs. the Machines is a much better title that reflects the film’s creativity. I knew Into the Spider-Verse would inspire similar animated movies, but the comic book style only works for superhero movies. So the animation is more so inspired by internet memes, doodles, pop art, and even a little live action. It’s another heavily detailed work of art that should’ve been on the big screen. Unfortunately, the Pandemic led to its eventual release on Netflix…

The Mitchells vs. the Machines

The Mitchells drive away from the robot apocalypse

The Mitchells vs. the Machines is a perfect combination of original and familiar that feels like it was made especially for me. And not just cause it features songs from random YouTube videos of the 2000’s like “Nyan Cat” or “Numa Numa.” Like me and my family, the Mitchells are weird and quirky. Katie is a college bound teenager who loves niche movies, making funny videos, and wants to go to film school. Abbi Jacobson is similar to her Disenchantment character Princess Bean since both her and Katie are ambiguously queer.

I’m glad the movie doesn’t call attention to it, because the theme can be interpreted multiple ways. Katie and her dad begin to drift apart due to her unusual interests. Rick is her father who hates technology and loves nature. Danny McBride is funny, but he has a lot of range in the more emotional scenes. The movie is mostly about their relationship, but the rest of the family helps them open up. Linda is a supportive mother who encourages everyone with gold stars. I already know what to expect from Maya Rudolph. Linda is also jealous of her seemingly perfect neighbors voiced by real life married couple John Legend and Chrissy Teigen.

Aaron is an awkward kid with an obsessive love of dinosaurs. My only nitpick is Aaron’s distracting grown up voice provided by the director himself. Aside from the strong bound he has with his older sister, Aaron also develops a back and forth crush on their neighbors daughter who also loves dinosaurs. Monchi is the weird cross eyed dog who completes the Mitchell family. Unlike most animated movies, Monchi is voiced by the real life Doug the Pug. The road trip is supposed to strengthen the families relationship, but a robot uprising seems to come out of nowhere. Eric André voices your typical hip young tech company owner responsible for a device that everybody owns.

PAL is like Siri or Alexa if she turned on mankind. Olivia Colman has the right kind of trusting British voice for the AI. PAL Max robots are like giant smartphones with a sleek design and the ability to trap people in a force field. The Mitchells are humanity’s last hope as they avoid detection in their broken down station wagon while searching for a kill code. The action is a lot of fun, but the comedy is literally laugh out loud hilarious. Abrupt cutaway gags are hysterical and jokes about tech obsession are both funny and relatable.

There’s also a particularly humorous scene involving feral Furby’s. The funniest characters are a couple of malfunctioning PAL Max robots named Eric and Deborahbot 5000 who side with the Mitchells. Though the movie is longer than most animated movies, it’s all worth it to bring the Mitchells together in the end. The Mitchells vs. the Machines should’ve won Best Animated Feature, but the Academy Awards are still fixated on Disney. Luckily Sony managed to sweep most other major award shows. The Mitchells vs. the Machines is weird in the best possible way.

The Mitchells vs. the Machines 2

The Mitchells walk away from an explosion