19 Films to See This Weekend: Kubrick, Cronenberg, Huston, Altman + More

Sundays may be a “wan, stuff shadow of a robust Saturday” or a day of “forced leisure for folks who have no aptitude for leisure,” but a weekend is still a weekend. We wait for the pleasure of a Friday night, knowing the burdens of the work week have a brief respite, and what better way to indulge than heading to the cinema. And this weekend from BAM and MoMA to The Film Society of Lincoln Center and Nitehawk Cinema, there are more than enough wonderful films showing for you to happily disappear into.

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***FRIDAY, DECEMBER 26***

THE SHINING, Stanley Kubrick
IFC Center

Kubrick meets Stephen King: in the deserted off-season at a massive, isolated resort hotel, new caretaker Jack Nicholson descends into madness, with wife Shelley Duvall and their son the only witnesses. “Critic’s pick! Gloriously diabolical.” – Janet Maslin, The New York Times

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DIE HARD, John McTiernan
IFC Center

“A hi-tech thriller with a human heart, offering slam-bang entertainment on a par with Lethal Weapon or Aliens. On Christmas Eve, visiting New York cop McClane (Bruce Willis) enters the high-rise LA office block where his estranged wife works, not realising that it has already being taken over by sadistic smoothie Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) and his ruthless terrorists. Inside the building, having taken wife (Bonnie Bedelia) and celebrating colleagues hostage, the gang tries to crack open the Nakotomi corporation’s computerised vault; outside, LA cops and FBI agents squabble over jurisdiction, while opportunistic TV reporters gather like jackals; it’s up to McClane, having established a chance radio link with a passing patrolman (Reginald Veljohnson), to use the building’s 39 empty floors, lift shafts, and heating ducts to improvise diversionary tactics. McTiernan excels in the adrenalin-inducing action scenes, staging the murderous mayhem and state-of-the-art violence as if he were born with a camera in one hand and a rocket launcher in the other.” – Time Out (London)

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THE DEAD, John Huston
The Film Society of Lincoln Center

Huston’s health was rapidly deteriorating when, bent on conquering one more allegedly unfilmable literary text, he chose to bring to the screen the magisterial final story in James Joyce’s Dubliners. In The Dead, a middle-aged man (Donal McCann) accompanies his wife (Anjelica Huston) to a lavish dinner party and feels himself stir with desire for her on the long ride back to their hotel. Their night ends—as adapted from one of the most devastating passages in English-language literature—with a confession on her part and a kind of epiphany on his. Huston’s final film is one of the medium’s great swan songs, a work of quiet grandeur and impeccable grace that ends with a valediction to do its source text proud.

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THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER, Ernst Lubitsch
Film Forum

“Psychologically, I’m very confused… But personally, I don’t feel bad at all.” It’s just one big happy family at pre-war Budapest leather goods store Matuschek’s. Every morning, James Stewart’s head salesman Mr. Kralik arrives to unlock the door for Felix Bressart’s friendly family man Pirovitch, Joseph Schildkraut’s dapper Mr. Vadas (just where does he get all that money?), William Tracy’s brash delivery boy Pepi, Sara Haden’s shy Flora, and of course Frank Morgan’s blustery but paternal Matuschek himself. But then Margaret Sullavan’s feisty Miss Novak, turned down for a job by Mr. Kralik, sells a supposedly unsaleable “Ochi Tchornya”-playing cigarette box right out from under his nose, beginning a long war of attrition; but what’s eating Mr. Matuschek? – has he hired a private detective? Oh well, Kralik at least looks forward to rendezvousing with his yet-unseen romantic correspondent… Could this be the great Lubitsch’s greatest? – effortlessly transforming Mister America into a literature-loving European; balancing the warmth with the heat between Stewart and Sullavan; drawing from champion ditherer Morgan (The Wizard of Oz) a rare multi-layered performance, both poignant and moving; making an off-screen suicide attempt both shocking and subtle; all leading to a Christmas Eve dinner that turns from lonely to merry; and perhaps, through this re-creation, returning in his imagination to the forever lost Berlin tailor’s shop of his father and his youth

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STREAMERS, Robert Altman
MoMA

Altman’s powerful adaptation of Rabe’s play revolves around four soldiers awaiting deployment to Vietnam. Suspicions of homosexuality spark heated words and antics in the barracks, as tensions and fears play out over the course of a frenzied evening. The claustrophobic one-room set stands in for postwar American society, where everything from highways to the draft brought people of different backgrounds together more than ever before—not always with harmonious results. Please note this rare 35mm print has foreign language subtitles.

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THIEVES LIKE US, Robert Altman
MoMA

Depression-era Mississippi becomes a textured, vivid character in this portrayal of chain-gang escapees who blunder through another spree of bank hold-ups. When Bowie (Carradine) is injured, he is nursed back to health by the sweet and simple Keechie (Duvall), beginning a tender but doomed romance. From the New Deal speeches and 1930s radio programs that comprise the diagetic score to the ubiquitous Coca-Cola bottles, Thieves like Us presents a poetic regional portrait. Courtesy Park Circus.

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BEAT THE DEVIL, John Huston
The Film Society of Lincoln Center

Called the first camp movie by no less than Roger Ebert,Beat the Devil offers a wry send-up of noir classics, taking special aim at Huston’s own Maltese Falcon (with Bogart and Peter Lorre playing comic variations on their roles andThe African Queen’s Robert Morley subbing for the late Sydney Greenstreet). Huston directed from a script co-written by Truman Capote about a bevy of crooks awaiting passage to Kenya where they hope to cash in on uranium mines. Featuring a show-stealing turn by Jennifer Jones, here liberated by Huston to tap the full range of her gifts as a comedienne.

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THE MALTESE FALCON, John Huston
The Film Society of Lincoln Center

“The stuff that dreams are made of”: Huston’s directorial bow, which cemented Humphrey Bogart’s stardom on the heels of the Huston-scripted High Sierra, was in fact thethird screen treatment of Dashiell Hammett’s hard-boiled novel. Bogart is Sam Spade, the cynical but incorruptible private eye drawn into the search for “the black bird,” a jewel-studded avian statuette of incalculable worth. Rounding out the rogues’ gallery of pursuers are Mary Astor as femme fatale Brigid O’Shaughnessy, Elisha Cook Jr. as “Gunsel” Wilmer, and, in the first of many dastardly pairings, Peter Lorre as the shady Joel Cairo and Sydney Greenstreet, in his screen debut, as “The Fat Man” (a character so instantly iconic that his nickname was lent to the second atomic bomb).

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POPEYE, Robert Altman
MoMA

After a notorious five months on location on the rocky coast of Malta, Altman’s big-budget comic-strip musical was a critical disaster that set his career back for a decade—despite its box-office success. The breezy, off-kilter whimsy of Feiffer’s script is matched by Wolf Kroeger’s exceptional production design and Harry Nilsson’s subtly influential score.

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***SATURDAY, DECEMBER 27***

THE FLY, David Cronenberg
IFC Center

“Cronenberg’s masterful remake of The Fly ranks among the most disgusting films ever made by a major studio—it’s packed with stomach-churning images of a scientist’s slow, excruciating metamorphosis into an insect… Brilliantly played by Jeff Goldblum, who adds great emotional depth to his usual spaced-out otherworldlyness, the character breaks from the protagonist of 1958′s The Fly in that he can articulate the changes in his body right to the very end. Though the film’s famous tagline (‘Be afraid. Be very afraid.’) is spoken by Goldblum’s girlfriend (a science journalist played by Geena Davis), she isn’t as terrified by him as she is concerned about his deteriorating health. Take away all the big shocks and special effects, and The Fly is about nothing more or less sensational than death itself, a process that Cronenberg realizes with excruciating visceral power.” – Scott Tobias, The Onion A.V. Club

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200 CIGARETTES, Risa Bramon Garcia
Nitehawk Cinema

We all know that making the most out of New Year’s Eve is an annual exercise in torment but for the characters in 200 Cigarettes, their NYE is one for the books. Set in New York in 1981, this comedy film highlights all the fears-of-missing-out associated with ringing in the new year: not having a date, not liking the date you have, throwing a party that no one attends, and never finding the party! The film’s laughs and killer soundtrack are the perfect way to relax before your NYE kicks in. Plus, Elvis Costello!

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THE NIGHT OF THE IGUANA, John Huston
The Film Society of Lincoln Center

“Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control,” a conflicted priest reminds himself at the start of this hothouse melodrama. Huston assembled a near-flawless cast to bring Tennessee Williams’s 1961 play to the screen: Richard Burton as a reverend thrown out of his parish for sexual misconduct and sent into exile as a tour guide in Mexico; Sue Lyon as a young woman whose advances further threaten his position; Deborah Kerr as a repressed traveler with whom he fatefully crosses paths; and the great Ava Gardner as the proprietress of the run-down hotel where the characters spends much of the film chipping away at one another’s defenses.

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THERE WILL BE BLOOD, Paul Thomas Anderson
The Film Society of Lincoln Center

Huston’s fingerprints are all over Paul Thomas Anderson’s parable of self-determinism carried to baleful extremes. Most saliently, star Daniel Day-Lewis modeled his character’s speaking voice on Huston’s, and his personage—a California oil tycoon not above siphoning natural resources—can be seen as a forerunner to Chinatown’s Noah Cross. Anderson watched The Treasure of the Sierra Madre each night before bed while writing the script, inspired by the film’s themes of “greed and ambition and paranoia and looking at the worst parts of yourself.” Abundantly deserved Oscars went to Day-Lewis and cinematographer Robert Elswit for the film, and Jonny Greenwood’s eccentric score contributes to its sinister vibe. As intrepid, cerebral, and unsettling as the best of Huston’s work, There Will Be Blood’s central performance captures both his magnetism and his unfathomability.

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WISE BLOOD, John Huston
The Film Society of Lincoln Center

“Where you’re going doesn’t matter,” insists the impassioned young hero of Huston’s deepest, thorniest reflection on religious faith. “And where you are ain’t no good unless you can get away from it.” Brad Dourif gives the performance of his career as Hazel Motes, a recent war veteran who comes to a small Southern town advocating with Pentecostal fervor for the “Church of Christ Without Christ.” Huston fills the fringes of the movie with an indelible cast of American eccentrics, including the great Harry Dean Stanton as a (possibly) blind preacher. Adapted from Flannery O’Connor’s legendary first novel, Wise Bloodis a comic, unsettling parable about, in the novelist Francine Prose’s words, “a Christian in spite of himself.”

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***SUNDAY, DECEMBER 28***

THE UNFORGIVEN, John Huston
The Film Society of Lincoln Center

This Texas-set saga of a frontier family whose adopted daughter (Audrey Hepburn, in her only Western) may possess Native American blood, was Huston’s response to John Ford’s The Searchers. Huston hoped to make a frank statement on racial prejudice in America, and though studio interference blocked him from fully realizing his goal, the finished product is a sober and intelligent film with fine performances, including Audie Murphy as Hepburn’s bigoted brother, Lillian Gish as the family matriarch, and Burt Lancaster as the family’s eldest son whose monomaniacal drive to protect his loved ones rivals that of The Searchers’ Ethan Edwards.

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EASY LIVING, Mitchell Leisen
IFC Center

“A grumpy millionaire (Edward Arnold) throws his wife’s coat out the window, and it lands on the shoulders of a humble working girl (Jean Arthur). As her friends accept the symbol over substance, she steps up the social ladder, and eventually into the arms of Arnold’s son, Ray Milland. Preston Sturges wrote this Depression-era (1937) twist on the Cinderella story, and it acquires an airy grace from the direction of Mitchell Leisen. With Franklin Pangborn and William Demarest. “- Dave Kehr

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THE KREMLIN LETTER, John Huston
The Film Society of Lincoln Center

It’s reported that Jean-Pierre Melville raved over Huston’s grim, fiercely sharp-witted Cold War–era spy thriller, in which a group of American intelligence agents travel undercover to Moscow under the leadership of a deposed officer (Patrick O’Neal). The atmosphere of The Kremlin Letter, like that of Melville’s Army of Shadows, is hushed, wintry, paranoid, somber, and unforgiving, and the movie’s star-studded cast adapt to the surroundings with great poise. Especially notable are Max von Sydow as a Soviet secret police chief, Bibi Andersson as his ill-treated lover, and Orson Welles as his shadowy boss.

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THE LIST OF ADRIAN MESSENGER, John Huston
The Film Society of Lincoln Center

This deft, elusive whodunit takes place in postwar Britain, yet its logic of concealment, mystery, and deception is arguably closer to a 19th-century detective story than a World War II suspense thriller. As a retired intelligence officer enlisted to track down a killer who adopts a new disguise for each of his victims, George C. Scott is plunged into a fog-drenched world of fox hunts, country houses, and hidden bombs. Familiar movie-star faces—including Tony Curtis, Frank Sinatra, Robert Mitchum, and Burt Lancaster—keep popping up on the fringes of the movie hidden behind heavy makeup, until a final round of unmaskings gives up the game.

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THE AFRICAN QUEEN, John Huston
The Film Society of Lincoln Center

Arguably the director’s most popular film pairs Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn as a crude Canadian skipper and the uptight missionary who joins him on the titular supply boat in 1914 German East Africa. When war breaks out, the two disparate personalities must come together to steer the Queen through treacherous rapids and torpedo a German gunboat. Bogart won his only Oscar as Charlie Allnut, whose enthusiasm for liquor may not have been his toughest acting challenge (among the crew, only he and Huston successfully evaded malaria by finding alternatives to the local drinking water). Hepburn was instructed by Huston to pattern her portrayal on Eleanor Roosevelt, adopting her “society smile” when the going gets tough; she later called this “the best piece of direction” she ever heard.

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