TV Party is a Friday feature in which Film Editors Dominick Mayer and Justin Gerber alongside Editor-in-Chief Michael Roffman suggest one movie apiece to enjoy over the weekend. Joining them each week will be two rotating film staff writers to help round out the selections. Seek out any of the films via Netflix, Amazon, Redbox, Hulu, OnDemand, or abandoned Blockbuster and Hollywood Video stores — however you crazy kids watch movies these days! Enjoy ’em for the first time, a second, or maybe a redemptive third.
A Serious Man
While it might seem a little pre-emptive to consider a film from six years ago “passed over,” it’s hard to deny that already the Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man hasn’t received the same overwhelming love as some of their other recent offerings, from No Country For Old Men to True Grit. In reception it fared better than the equally masterful Inside Llewyn Davis, but for a Best Picture nominee, the Coens’ story of an embattled Minnesota college professor (Michael Stuhlbarg) circa 1967, whose life collapses around him for seemingly no reason at all, the film still doesn’t get the reception it deserves, as one of the brothers’ truly great works.
As Larry Gopnik, Stuhlbarg delivers a master class in understated comedy. Surrounded by a town exclusively full of the sort of distinctive weirdoes the Coens tend to favor, Larry has to weather everything from his wife leaving him for his arch-rival to a disgruntled student who threatens to destroy his chances of tenure to his neurotic, troubled brother (Richard Kind), all while searching for answers in both the everyday and the divine. A Serious Man deliberately wanders and misdirects, all with the constant threat of violence and punishment hanging overhead, but it’s either the most or least pious film you’ve ever seen. As suggested by the many parables Larry’s offered in an effort to bring him comfort, it’s all really a matter of perspective.
The Oscar nominees for Best Picture in 1941 were full of classics, including John Ford’s Grapes of Wrath, Charlie Chaplin’s controversial The Great Dictator, and George Cukor’s comedy The Philadelphia Story (back when the Academy had a sense of humor). Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca ended up winning, but did you know the Master of Suspense had not one but two movies in the running that year? If I told you the second movie was Foreign Correspondent, would you believe me? Hell, have you ever heard of it?
In many ways Foreign Correspondent is a precursor to Hitch’s North by Northwest — it has a great sense of humor, an engaging romance, and features a man on the run in foreign correspondent Johnny Jones, pen name “Huntley Haverstock” (Joel McCrea). He’s sent to get the scoop on what’s really going on in the UK during Hitler’s rise to power in Germany, inevitably getting swept up in murder, political intrigue, and a plane crash that rivals anything you’ll see on the big screen today. George Sanders as British reporter Scott Ffolliott (last name explained in the movie) is a standout as the most proper smartass to ever appear in a Hitchcock film, and that’s saying something.