by John Farr
Be John’s Valentine and revisit his great date picks.
The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
When Klara Novak (Margaret Sullavan) uses her wily sales technique to impress Hugo (Frank Morgan), a Budapest gift-store owner, she is hired to work alongside clerk Alfred Kralik (James Stewart), but the two don’t hit it off. No matter: Alfred is secretly hoping to meet a woman with whom he’s had a promising written correspondence via the personals. Klara, meanwhile, begins to fall for an anonymous man she’s been writing to as well. So it’s a big surprise-to them, not us-when they discover the true identities of their respective pen-pals.
WHY I LOVE IT:
They don’t make romantic comedies like they used to, and no one made them quite like director Ernst Lubitsch, whose famed “touch” lights this wry, poignant, perennially charming film. Veteran players Stewart and Sullavan are a perfect match as comically antagonistic lonelyhearts, conveying their characters’ vulnerabilities with a delicacy too often missing from the tepid Hanks-Ryan remake, “You’ve Got Mail”. Rich subplots involving the wonderful Frank Morgan and Joseph Schildkraut, who plays a scheming, boastful employee, let Lubitsch impart further nuance to this modest but wholly pleasing tale. A delight from start to finish, this is one “Shop” you’ll want to dally in.
Harold and Maude (1971)
A comedy about the unlikeliest of May-December romances: Harold (Bud Cort) is a bright, eccentric nineteen year old fixated on death, Maude a 79 year old free spirit whose singular obsession remains the wonder of life and living. This movie traces how these two unlikely characters connect and form a loving relationship.
WHY I LOVE IT:
A warm and quirky comic gem that’s built a sizable cult following over the years. Director Hal Ashby’s second feature boasts inspired casting, with veteran stage actress Ruth Gordon irresistible as Maude and Bud Cort so ideal for Harold that the young actor was forever typecast as a weirdo, as mentor Robert Altman had sagely predicted. Fabulous soundtrack from Cat Stevens.
Pulp Fiction (1994)
Ground-breaking film tracks various Los Angeles lowlifes-including two hit men, Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and Jules Winfield (Samuel L. Jackson)-whose fates are entwined with fading boxer Butch (Bruce Willis), underworld boss Marsellus (Ving Rhames), and his wife Mia (Uma Thurman), a gorgeous moll with a nose for trouble.
WHY I LOVE IT:
A genre-twisting, savagely funny tour de force, with vignettes of bantering hit-men, crooked boxers, petty thieves, and an alluring gangster’s wife, all cutting back and forth in time. With its exhilarating, entertaining stew of pop-culture references courtesy of director/screenwriter Tarantino and co-writer Roger Avary, “Pulp” earns its status as one of the most influential films of the ’90s. For those able to tolerate its blend of pitch-black comedy and brutal violence (it’s not for everyone), it’s a must-see film. Famous as John Travolta’s comeback vehicle.