I know a quirky but endearing lady who can’t stand historical dramas. It makes no difference if the film is brand new. She’ll turn it off if the time period is the 1940s. And I’m referring to any period pieces, period or otherwise. She won’t be tuning in if it’s set in the future. When it comes to her favorite actress, she’s lately come to an impasse because Angelina Jolie stars in the Prohibition-era thriller, Changeling. She has told me she would have to force herself to watch it, just to catch up on Mrs. Pitt’s latest antics, and she’s not sure she has the stomach for it. She doesn’t mind black-and-white or foreign films, as long as they’re modern. However, the more she sees of those ’80s flicks, the more annoyed she becomes.
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The following is a list of other Prohibition-era films I hope she will never see, in honor of this strange but endearing lady.
My favorite film on this list is this one. Miller’s Crossing is one of my favorite books. When compared to a typical gangster film, Barry Sonnenfeld’s cinematography stands out. Carter Burwell’s glorious score will never leave my head and that’s a good thing. Nor will that great “Danny Boy”-Tommy Gun sequence. The acting across the board is top-notch, filled with Coen-brothers regulars. But what I’m actually in love with is the dialogue. It crackles, snaps, and pops. Like a thousand Rice Krispies and several hundred gallons of milk, it’s an enormous amount of food This is a movie that I can listen to or watch whenever the mood strikes me.
One of the last truly great films that Brian De Palma has done may be his take on the Elliot Ness-Al Capone story in Carlito’s Way. Since then, I’ve grown fond of a few of his other entries. I enjoyed the original Mission: Impossible film. If you’re willing to play along, Femme Fatale is a twisted, intriguing adventure. However, The Black Dahlia has dominated the headlines. Yeesh. During his “Could Do No Wrong” period, Costner appeared in this film. Every scene that doesn’t involve Sean Connery’s Malone is dominated by Robert De Niro. De Palma’s train station sequences and David Mamet’s witty lines are enough to make this a winner. De Palma’s films are known for their dated and ludicrous moments, but this is unquestionably one of his best.
Road to Perdition
Most underestimated film of the last six years, by a wide margin. Once again, I’m compelled to discuss the filmmaking. This was Conrad Hall’s final appearance, and he certainly made a splash! In the gloom of a rain-soaked street, there’s a scene like this: From the shadows, a hail of Tommy-gun fire erupts. Sound has been almost totally omitted from director Sam Mendes’ film. When Paul Newman responds, “I’m glad it was you,” the music by Thomas Newman begins to simmer. I’m like a piece of putty in this movie as soon as the music starts to build. Toward the end of the film, Conrad Hall shoots a scene in a beach home that I’ve never seen before. Yes, this is one of my favorites.
The Thin Man
It is impossible for me to remember whether or not the film takes place during or after Prohibition. There was a scenario set in a speakeasy that comes to mind. However, the constant consumption of martinis makes it difficult to make any sort of judgments. When it comes to the amount of alcohol Nick and Nora Charles like to consume, the film does a better job than the novel by Dashiell Hammett (which took place during Prohibition). Although this is a comedy about intoxicated detectives, I’m not sure if a modern version would work as well. Robert Downey Jr. and Cate Blanchett might play Nick and Nora in a remake of The Thin Man if Hollywood decides to do so. William Powell and Myrna Loy will never be replaced, but those two could surely give it a whirl.
Once Upon a Time in America
Thanks to director Sergio Leone’s unique storytelling tactics and the film’s puzzling conclusion, this is one of the greatest and most peculiar gangster epics ever made. Depending on who you ask, the whole thing is either a shambles or a masterpiece. At least four hours of your time may be better spent with one of cinema’s greatest storytellers, and this is a good place to start. Then again, unless, of course, you’re that weird girl I talked about previously. Missy, this is not something you’d support.