Not as jet set as Cannes or hip as Sundance, The Hangover Film Festival offers the following films for a weekend of cinematic bliss: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, To Have And Have Not, Animal House, American Beauty, and Four Weddings And A Funeral. A film should contain substance, tension, and developing characters. Humor is a definite plus. It goes without saying that good acting is critical, as well. And while the average film go-er might not look for brilliant aspects of direction or cinematography, those skills, if present, will make a film “an experience” as opposed to “two hours killed.” In The Hangover’s selections, one will find movies that are fun to watch, but more than that, as well.
Of course, being a low budget operation, The Hangover cannot take over a western mountain town for a weekend or even rent out the local cinema pub. To that end, we have linked the recommended DVDs to Amazon, and you will have to trust your own couch and microwave to deliver comfort and popcorn. (You could also visit your local video rental or Netflix to address your needs). However you choose to do it, a screening of the following should leave your cinematic needs fully satisfied.
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) Directed by John Ford; starring John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Lee Marvin.
Viewed simply as a western, this would be among the genre’s best. But what makes this film so much more is that it addresses nearly every aspect of the formation of the American character. Foremost is the struggle between civilization and the frontier, played out between Jimmy Stewart’s greenhorn lawyer and Lee Marvin’s outlaw, Liberty Valance. John Wayne is the conduit through which the struggle emerges. A battle between monied powerful interests and the common man adds to the tension as the territory considers statehood. There is, of course, a girl–caught between the Wayne and Stewart characters. The importance, power, and responsibilities of a free press are explored, too. This atypical film develops these themes while using the elements found in the typical western: shoot outs, the hired gun, saloons, the stage coach robbery, the dude, the cowboy, the drunk newspaperman, the pretty immigrant girl, and a dusty town called Shinbone.
The acting is phenomenal. John Wayne is, of course, John Wayne. But he is a three-dimensional one who takes his lumps. (His best performance, by far.) Lee Marvin is outstanding as the outlaw Liberty Valance, a menacing presence that holds the screen with Wayne and Stewart. And Stewart is his usual brilliant, perfectly cast as the Easterner who arrives in a wilderness that might as well be another planet. The supporting actors also shine, including Andy Devine, Vera Miles, and Edmund O’Brien.
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is more than just a brilliantly conceived western. It is one of the great American films.
Animal House (1978) Directed by John Landis, Starring John Belushi.
The Hangover believes in certain values: That we must not take ourselves too seriously; that those in power are not necessarily the best and the brightest; that beer and music go well together; and that college isn’t just about studying, but also having fun at a time in life when one is most capable of having said fun. This film extols those virtues fast and furiously. That John Belushi carries this movie while having no more than twenty lines of dialog is an added bonus.
From the opening scenes, Animal House shows us that those who are proper, respected, and envied are often the least deserving to be so. While the “animals” of Delta House are initiated by singing Louie, Louie and drinking beer, in the “best house on campus,” Kevin Bacon’s character is getting spanked with a paddle by a robed and hooded sadist named Neidermeyer. Enough said.
Even though this movie can be taken as an invitation to resist conformity and the status quo, the real reason to watch is it’s as funny as hell. (It also holds up to repeated viewings.) Some may consider toga parties, food fights, and road trips to be boorish and adolescent, but this movie shows us that those would be the people who would benefit most from them. Watch the movie and laugh your ass off, but if you are over the age of 21, do not attempt an imitation of John Belushi imitating a zit with a mouthful of mashed potatoes. Unless you are truly moved to do so.
To Have And Have Not (1944) Directed by Howard Hawk, Starring Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, and Walter Brennan
Although this movie could be called a combination of Casablanca-lite and Hemingway-lite, that still leaves it plenty of room for greatness. Bogart stars as Hemingway’s Captain Harry Morgan, an American individualist who becomes caught up in the WWII intrigue he had tried to ignore. Opposition is provided by the Gestapo-like Renard. As Morgan is pressured by financial needs, his conscience, Lauren Bacall’s character, and the struggle of the French resistance movement, he is pulled into action.
The dialog is quick, edgy, and cutting (James Furthman and William Faulkner co-wrote the screenplay, wisely keeping some dialog from the book and making their own contributions fit seamlessly–yes, that William Faulkner). To Have And Have Notwas Bacall’s first movie and her chemistry with Bogart is sizzling and real. The movie is suspenseful, sardonic, action-packed, and a love story. It has its comic moments, too. What more could one need?
Four Weddings And A Funeral ( 1994) Directed by Mike Newell, starring Hugh Grant and Andie MacDowell. (Nominated for Best Film and Best Screenplay)
This film is blessed with a fanastic ensemble cast with Hugh Grant as its central character. The movie is propelled by situational comedy, but there is plenty of it and the three-dimensional characters take it well beyond standard romance-for-laughs fare. In scene after scene, the movie sends up modern love and its entanglement with the quest to become wed. The characters are individuals and at times wonderfully self-aware. The one funeral adds gravity and sets the stage for character growth. Reversals abound.
The ending does seem a bit overdone, but otherwise there isn’t a missed opportunity in its 117 minutes. There are few more enjoyable ways to be reminded, in the words of Polonius: “This above all: To thine own self be true.”
American Beauty (1999) Directed by Sam Mendes, starring Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening. (Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Director)
This film gracefully exposes the cracked foundations that so many suburban lives are built upon. Narrated by a deceased Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey), the film details how easy it is for a “normal” existence to go askew. Discontent simmers and comes to a boil as Lester is turned on by his daughter’s best friend (Mena Suvari), disillusioned with his wife (Annette Benning portraying a real estate agent that could have been spawned by Martha Stewart), and fed up with the corporate world. Lester decides to step out of the rat race. The results are often humorous and troubling, but ultimately enlightening.
The disillusionment is not limited to Lester. His wife Carolyn is disgusted with her husband’s new attitude. The younger generation portrayed by Suvari, Thora Birch (Jane, the daughter) and Wes Bentley (neighbor boy, Ricky), are even more disconnected from their parents than the adults are from each other.
There are some disturbing moments in this film. Characters make hard decisions. It’s a film that provokes thought and an examination of ones own existence. That makes it worth much more than the price of a rental.