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Archive for February, 2010

I’m dedicating this February to counting down the 100 greatest love stories of all time. I’ll be posting five films every day, Monday through Friday.

Disclaimer: Any film list is fairly subjective, but I think putting together one person’s idea of romances or love stories might be the most subjective list of all. What one person considers powerful, another considers depressing; what someone thinks is sigh-inducingly romantic, someone else thinks is tooth-decayingly sappy. Any interesting list is bound to create comment and controversy and that’s okay. This is my personal list of 100 films. I picked them from a larger list of 300 movies. Once I have completed the top 100, I’ll post the entire list of 300. Perhaps one of your favorites that didn’t make the final cut was there…or maybe not.

5. Romeo and Juliet (1968): Most cineastes point to one film that they claim changed their lives. This one is mine. I first saw it when I was ten years old and it left me with a lifelong love of Shakespeare. It was the first movie to shake me up and make me recognize it as something beyond a pleasant entertainment. The music of the score, as well as the lyricism of the poetry, wound its way into my heart in such a way that they’ve never left.

4. Casablanca (1942): Is there anything left to be said about this most famous of all movies? We all remember this, whether or not we’ve actually seen the movie – like Shakespeare’s Hamlet this is one of the most quoted works in our culture. Humphrey Bogart was never as romantic, Ingrid Bergman never so radiant. The characterizations ring so true that the movie seems timeless not dated. This was AFI’s pick for the most romantic movie of all time and it’s easy to see why.

3. Notorious (1946): It’s a hard decision, but I think this is Hitchcock’s most romantic film. It raised eyebrows at the time for the length of the love scene where Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman kiss, mumble a few words, kiss some more, talk, lather, rinse and repeat. That’s a great scene, but for me the most memorable kiss is the one later when they are about to be discovered by Claude Rains. The kiss is to mask the fact that Bergman is actually reporting to Grant about Rains’s actions as a Nazi agent. The tension that has built up between these two estranged lovers pops in that scene. The most romantic scene, though, is at the end. Hitchcock masterfully draws out the tension in every scene whether it’s the dysfunctional romantic relationship between Grant and Bergman or Bergman’s investigations as a spy. (This film has been remade and copied many times, both in television and the movies. Mission Impossible 2 was a thinly veiled remake, but nowhere near as good.)

2. Bringing Up Baby (1938): This is one of my favorite movies of all time. As mentioned earlier it defines the term “screwball comedy” but in its day it was considered a complete failure, resulting in Katharine Hepburn being labeled “box office poison.” May we all make such mistakes! Grant and Hepburn, who made four films together, were never so wickedly comical as here and their chemistry was never so combustible. Both stars play against type with the dashing Grant portraying an absent-minded paleontologist and the intellectual Hepburn playing the ditzy mad-cap heiress. Sheer screwball perfection.

1. Shakespeare in Love (1999): It was very hard to choose what I thought number one on my list should be. Any of the top five have equal rights to be here, and Bringing Up Baby very nearly won.

The deciding factors were these:

1)      There’s more Shakespeare.  Obviously, I have a weak spot for Romeo and Juliet, but in this film we get several performances of that play.

2)      The romantic lead was Shakespeare himself. This is irresistible for me.

3)      It skillfully balances drama and comedy. This is a hilarious movie, but I’d hesitate to completely label it a comedy. There are many serious scenes, and it does not have a traditional “happy ever after” romantic comedy ending.

4)      It’s inspirational. Many people might see the ending as being depressing, but I’ve never thought so. Every single time I watch this film, I walk away on a cloud. I’m filled to the brim with the desire to write, to create, to sing songs, to tell tales. The story is about the birth of inspiration and in turn it inspires.

So, that’s the end of my list. Next week, I will post the 300 films I chose this list from. I will also start getting back to my regular reviews with a delayed look at The Hurt Locker (and if the weather cooperates, perhaps a review of Shutter Island). Thanks for your interest!

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I’m dedicating this February to counting down the 100 greatest love stories of all time. I’ll be posting five films every day, Monday through Friday.

Disclaimer: Any film list is fairly subjective, but I think putting together one person’s idea of romances or love stories might be the most subjective list of all. What one person considers powerful, another considers depressing; what someone thinks is sigh-inducingly romantic, someone else thinks is tooth-decayingly sappy. Any interesting list is bound to create comment and controversy and that’s okay. This is my personal list of 100 films. I picked them from a larger list of 300 movies. Once I have completed the top 100, I’ll post the entire list of 300. Perhaps one of your favorites that didn’t make the final cut was there…or maybe not.

10. Brokeback Mountain (2005): Yes, I think Brokeback should have won Best Picture instead of Crash, but at least Ang Lee won Best Director. Heath Ledger won a posthumous Oscar for his unnerving turn in The Dark Knight, but I think his work here is just as good, if not better. It’s a subtle, nuanced performance giving us a man who is extremely guarded with his entire life, including his words, but beneath the surface feels deeply. Jake Gyllanhaal is also excellent. These characters became live flesh and blood human beings for me and my heart hurt for all of their sorrows. Ang Lee specializes in stories with star-crossed lovers. His films are full of deeply felt but understated longing and this may be the saddest.

9. The Fountain (2006): This film notoriously split critics right down the center with 50% panning and 50% praising. It seems to be a love it or hate kind of movie. Obviously, I love it. The viewer is presented with three different storylines occurring at three different time periods with different characters, but the main characters in each are played by Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz. I have my own theory(ies) about how to interpret the film, but part of the appeal is deciding for yourself what is going on. The middle story line involving a husband’s frantic search for a cure for his wife’s cancer is the emotional touchstone. This is Hugh Jackman’s finest performance so far. We understand that his deep love for his wife is driving his obsession, but also recognize that in choosing to pursue this path he is denying himself precious time with her. His grief is gut-wrenching. Rachel Weisz is absolutely transcendent. Her character has accepted that she is dying, and her spirit is at peace. Her only concern is the effect of her passing on her husband. This movie is not easy, but it is beautiful.

8. The Lady Eve (1941): Once again great character actors enhance the antics of the romantic couple at the center. This is not your typical romantic comedy, however. It possesses a bit of a dark side. The heroine, Barbara Stanwyck, is a con artist, but when she actually falls for her mark (Henry Fonda) only to have him reject her, she concocts the most hilarious revenge scheme. Who can forget her line, “I need him like the axe needs the turkey.” Yet, the movie manages to stay light-spirited. It never feels mean or depressing. It takes a writer/director like Preston Sturges to pull off that sleight of hand and stars like Stanwyck and Fonda. This might be Stanwyck’s best performance in a career full of astounding parts.

7. The Thin Man (1934): If you ever go looking for the coolest married couple in the movies, you wouldn’t have to look any farther than Nick and Nora Charles as portrayed by William Powell and Myrna Loy. Their repartee, their affection, and their respect for each other make them timeless. The way they make each other laugh is very sexy. Asta, the dog, tries to steal all of his scenes, but our attention always comes back to Nick and Nora.

6. Top Hat (1935): Although I love the dancing in Swing Time, I think Top Hat is, overall, the better movie. I show this film to my Introduction to Film class every year. Several of them groan at the beginning because they don’t think they’ll like a black and white musical. Most of them change their minds by the end. They are constantly surprised by how funny the movie is. It is a musical, but it is also a screwball comedy. The character actors are Edward Everett Horton, Eric Blore, Helen Broderick and Erik Rhodes – the familiar crew for Astaire-Rogers films, although they weren’t in every one. Fred and Ginger’s chemistry is as potent as ever, and we have two of the best partnered dances on celluloid: “Isn’t It a Lovely Day to Be Caught in the Rain?” and “Cheek to Cheek.” “Cheek to Cheek” is the one most often remembered, and it is as lovely and unabashedly romantic as ever. “Isn’t It a Lovely Day” is a marvelous work: Astaire and Rogers work as true partners. From her riding outfit with its trousers to the two of them paralleling each other’s moves, even a throw, this is a dance of equals.

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I’m dedicating this February to counting down the 100 greatest love stories of all time. I’ll be posting five films every day, Monday through Friday.

Disclaimer: Any film list is fairly subjective, but I think putting together one person’s idea of romances or love stories might be the most subjective list of all. What one person considers powerful, another considers depressing; what someone thinks is sigh-inducingly romantic, someone else thinks is tooth-decayingly sappy. Any interesting list is bound to create comment and controversy and that’s okay. This is my personal list of 100 films. I picked them from a larger list of 300 movies. Once I have completed the top 100, I’ll post the entire list of 300. Perhaps one of your favorites that didn’t make the final cut was there…or maybe not.

15. Out of Africa (1985): This life of Karen Blixen, or as she’s better known Isak Dinesen, taught me to truly value the word “storyteller.” Coming from a culture that has a long oral tradition, I think that to call someone a good storyteller is one of the highest compliments. One of my favorite scenes in this film, therefore, is when Karen spends the night telling Denys Finch-Hatton and Barkeley Cole a story that she made up using a few prompts that Denys threw out. Karen’s writing is wonderful, which is a legacy that I enjoyed after watching and loving this film. The relationship between Karen and Denys is powerful but quite complex. Neither of them were easy people, but with the help of Sydney Pollack’s direction and John Barry’s beautiful score, Meryl Streep and Robert Redford help us to understand Karen and Denys a little and appreciate them even more.

14. Ball of Fire (1942): This film is Billy Wilder’s homage to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Barbara Stanwyck plays Sugarpuss O’Shea, a nightclub singer who takes refuge with seven isolated professors working on an encyclopedia. Gary Cooper plays Bertram Potts, the youngest of the professors. He is first drawn to Sugarpuss because of her colorful language, but sparks soon fly. This is a sweet, funny romantic comedy. Barbara Stanwyck is glorious as a woman hoist on her own petard. The other professors are played by some of the best character actors in the business and they are expert in stealing scenes. If you’ve only known Stanwyck as a femme fatale, be sure to check her out here and in The Lady Eve. She is wonderful in comedies.

13. Spellbound (1945): Ingrid Bergman seems to have inspired romantic impulses in Alfred Hitchcock because he made two of his most romantic with her: Spellbound and Notorious. Spellbound teams her with Gregory Peck. Peck has lost his memory and may or may not be a murderer. Bergman is a psychiatrist who works with Peck to regain his memory. She famously interprets one of his dreams, a sequence which was designed by Salvador Dali. As is usual in a Hitchcock picture, the score is also quite memorable, with one of Miklos Rosza’s best.

12. The English Patient (1996): Detractors of this film think it long and boring. I find it hypnotic and beautiful. Ralph Fiennes and Kristin Scott-Thomas are quite good as the doomed lovers at the center of the story, but Juliette Binoche and Naveen Andrews are also charming as the second romantic couple, Hana and Kip. Colin Firth went through a period of playing the other man, but his Geoffrey is the most sympathetic of these. John Seale’s cinematography is lyric – the opening shot of the plane flying over the desert is pure visual poetry. Gabriel Yared’s score is the perfect accompaniment.

11. The Awful Truth (1937): There are certain films that define the screwball comedy: It Happened One Night and Bringing Up Baby certainly come to mind. This is one of those movies as well. Cary Grant and Irene Dunne spark off each other as the wittiest, most urbane of divorced couples. Their banter and their antics are irresistible as they make themselves laugh just as much as they make us.

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I’m dedicating this February to counting down the 100 greatest love stories of all time. I’ll be posting five films every day, Monday through Friday.

Disclaimer: Any film list is fairly subjective, but I think putting together one person’s idea of romances or love stories might be the most subjective list of all. What one person considers powerful, another considers depressing; what someone thinks is sigh-inducingly romantic, someone else thinks is tooth-decayingly sappy. Any interesting list is bound to create comment and controversy and that’s okay. This is my personal list of 100 films. I picked them from a larger list of 300 movies. Once I have completed the top 100, I’ll post the entire list of 300. Perhaps one of your favorites that didn’t make the final cut was there…or maybe not.

20. The Constant Gardener (2005): Ralph Fiennes plays a man who is forced to reevaluate his life and his relationship with his wife after her death. The things he learns about her surprise him. Rachel Weisz won an Academy Award for her portrayal of the wife, and she is marvelous. Her character is tenacious, exuberant and enigmatic. We grieve with her husband at losing such a free spirit.

19. Swing Time (1936): “Never Gonna Dance” is one of the most sublime dances ever put on screen. Ironically, it’s a failed seduction. Ginger Rogers’s character walks away from Fred Astaire at the end of it. During the course of it, though, the heightened emotion is extraordinary. Swing Time contains several of Fred and Ginger’s best moments. Their first dance to “Pick Yourself Up” is sheer fun and perfection wrapped up in one package. “Waltz in Swingtime” is bubbly and energetic. “The Way You Look Tonight” won an Academy Award. “A Fine Romance” is one of the funniest, most sarcastic love songs ever written. That leads us to “Never Gonna Dance” which is dreamy, bittersweet and longing.

18. Walk the Line (2005): What separates this 2005 biopic from the rest of the pack is the strength of its real life love story. Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon do their own singing which adds to the authenticity, and Witherspoon in particular is marvelous. It’s easy to understand the devotion that Johnny felt towards June made even more poignant by the knowledge that he only outlived her by a matter of months.

17. Persuasion (1995): I have a special fondness for this Jane Austen novel, and this is a very good adaptation. Anne is a very Cinderella-like character. She was encouraged by her family and friends to break off an engagement with a man she loved. Instead, she spends her days doing everything that her family wants. They take her generosity and kind spirit for granted. Amanda Root brings Anne’s quiet demeanor and loving heart straight to our own hearts. Ciaran Hinds is the captain that she loved who suddenly returns to her life.

16. Pride and Prejudice (1940, 1995, 2005): There are three extraordinary productions of Jane Austen’s most famous work. The first stars Greer Garson and Lawrence Olivier, the second Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth and the last Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyn. The second is technically a miniseries and not a feature film, and yet when I re-read the novel this month I kept envisioning Ehle and Firth as Elizabeth and Darcy. The other two are wonderful, and yet somehow the mini-series is the first that I see in my mind’s eye. Elizabeth Bennett is so popular because she is such a modern character. She is independent, spirited and fairly direct in speech (although witty). Mr. Darcy’s appeal as one of the most beloved of all romantic leading men is well documented.

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I’m dedicating this February to counting down the 100 greatest love stories of all time. I’ll be posting five films every day, Monday through Friday.

Disclaimer: Any film list is fairly subjective, but I think putting together one person’s idea of romances or love stories might be the most subjective list of all. What one person considers powerful, another considers depressing; what someone thinks is sigh-inducingly romantic, someone else thinks is tooth-decayingly sappy. Any interesting list is bound to create comment and controversy and that’s okay. This is my personal list of 100 films. I picked them from a larger list of 300 movies. Once I have completed the top 100, I’ll post the entire list of 300. Perhaps one of your favorites that didn’t make the final cut was there…or maybe not.

25. Charade (1963): This was Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn’s only film together…more’s the pity. It’s startling to read the myth about this movie, propagated by Audrey herself, that she and Cary never kiss. I hate to contradict a wonderful lady but in fact they kiss several times. In fact, one of Charade’s best exchanges occurs between lip-locks: “Well, when you come on, you really come on.” “Well, come on.”

24. A Room With a View (1986): This is Merchant-Ivory’s adaptation of E. M. Forster’s famous novel. Howard’s End is, perhaps, more celebrated these days, but I prefer this earlier film. Florence is one of my favorite cities in the world and it is caught in all of its romantic glory here. Helena Bonham Carter is delightful as Lucy Honeychurch (which is a bonus because Lucy can be a little annoying in her stubborn obtuseness at examining her own heart) and Julian Sands is appropriately brooding and passionate as George Emerson. Daniel Day-Lewis is also present as Lucy’s stuffy fiancé, Cecil Vyse. He’s practically unrecognizable and quite different from the performance he gives in the next film on the list…a consummate actor’s actor.

23. The Last of the Mohicans (1992): Here Daniel Day-Lewis is at his most romantic playing Hawkeye, a white man adopted by a Mohican. He travels with his foster father, Chingachgook, and brother, Uncas. The love story that plays out between Hawkeye and Cora (Madeleine Stowe) is passionate and suspenseful as they deal with the complications of the French and Indian War. The film is also notable for its prominent use of Native American actors in important roles, including a subplot with Uncas and Alice. Adding considerably to the atmosphere is the beautiful score by Trevor Jones and Randy Edelman.

22. Dead Again (1991): This movie is in many ways, director/star Kenneth Branagh’s homage to classic Hollywood. Flashbacks are filmed in a gorgeous black and white film noir style while the present scenes all take place in L. A. Branagh plays Mike Church, a cynical P. I. who specializes in missing persons cases. Emma Thompson is a mysterious woman who is mute and has amnesia although her night terrors cause her to scream out from her sleep every night. To say much more might ruin a genuinely intriguing plot. The supporting cast, including Derek Jacobi, Andy Garcia and Robin Williams, are just as good as you would imagine and once again Patrick Doyle lends a dramatic, atmospheric score.

21. Summertime (1955): Ah, Venice! That beautiful city is the heart and soul of David Lean’s Summertime. Katharine Hepburn plays a middle-aged spinster who goes to Italy on vacation. Rossano Brazi plays the Venetian merchant she falls in love with. Hepburn’s character blossoms in this movie. She is forced out of her comfort zones into taking uncharacteristic risks. By the end of the movie, she glows. It might be Hepburn’s most unabashedly romantic character.

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I’m dedicating this February to counting down the 100 greatest love stories of all time. I’ll be posting five films every day, Monday through Friday.

Disclaimer: Any film list is fairly subjective, but I think putting together one person’s idea of romances or love stories might be the most subjective list of all. What one person considers powerful, another considers depressing; what someone thinks is sigh-inducingly romantic, someone else thinks is tooth-decayingly sappy. Any interesting list is bound to create comment and controversy and that’s okay. This is my personal list of 100 films. I picked them from a larger list of 300 movies. Once I have completed the top 100, I’ll post the entire list of 300. Perhaps one of your favorites that didn’t make the final cut was there…or maybe not.

30. The Princess Bride (1987): If I were to attempt to quote my favorite lines from this film, I’d end up typing up the whole script. This movie is simply wonderful. It is funny, romantic, exciting and moving. It works as both a parody and a celebration of fairy tales and swashbuckling adventure stories. It has one of the best (and funniest) sword fights in movie history. Part of the reason it works so well has to do with its framework. A young boy is sick in bed and very bored. His grandfather comes to visit and to read him the book that has been read on such occasions for three generations. The young boy sighs petulantly and inquires, “Does it have any sports in it?” “Are you kidding?” the grandfather replies. “Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles…” “It doesn’t sound too bad,” the boy decides, “I’ll try to stay awake.”

29. To Catch a Thief (1955): This is another film that I could quote multiple lines from. It taught me quite a lot about double entendres and how important the delivery of a line could be. This is a Hitchcock film, but it’s a lighthearted one. There’s Cary Grant, Grace Kelly and the French Riviera. Once again, as in most Hitchcock films, the romance is ambiguous. Cary Grant is pursued and enjoys it, but isn’t sure he really wants to be caught either by the police or by Grace Kelly.

28. 10 Things I Hate About You (1999): 10 Things is smart, funny and touching. It respects its source material (Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew”) without being slavish. It also hits on a lot of a teen’s insecurities while managing to be tons of fun. Julia Stiles and Heath Ledger have a lot of chemistry together, and I love Julia’s Kat who is strong and vulnerable at the same time. Heath Ledger is a revelation: charming, funny with effortless charisma. This was his breakout role, which brings a bittersweet edge to the film today.

27. Much Ado About Nothing (1993): “We are too wise to woo peaceably,” Benedick tells Beatrice, and that’s precisely why we love them so much. Shakespeare was the original purveyor of banter and it never gets better than his bickering couple here. Beatrice is such a wonderful character. She’s intelligent, independent, witty, and wise. It’s no wonder that the Prince proposes to her, but her answer is perfectly in character: “No, my lord, unless I might have another for working days. Your Grace is too costly to wear everyday.” Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh are perfectly cast here and as the production was filmed on location in Tuscany the scenery is gorgeous…all topped with Patrick Doyle’s lovely, lively score.

26. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004): This is a science fiction love story, and as such has interesting things to say about love and memory. Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet stare as a mismatched pair of lovers. She is a free-wheeling extrovert and he is the opposite. She decides to break up, and when next they meet she literally doesn’t recognize him. He discovers that she has had him wiped from her memory. In a fit of pique, he decides to retaliate, only to realize as his memories are being extracted that he doesn’t want to forget her. This is one of the most thought-provoking love stories I’ve ever seen. It addresses how important our memories are, good and bad, and poses a question: if we remove the painful memories from our lives, aren’t we diminished? Pain is as important to life as pleasure. Even more importantly, some of our most painful memories are actually, ironically, also the most pleasant. Painful because the person is no longer in our life, but joyful as they occurred. Is it worth losing the pain to forget the joy? Jim Carrey has his most rewarding and challenging role here. Kate Winslet is glorious and the supporting cast is excellent: Elijah Wood, Mark Ruffalo, Kirsten Dunst and Tom Wilkinson. This is an unusual love story, but very moving.

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I’m dedicating this February to counting down the 100 greatest love stories of all time. I’ll be posting five films every day, Monday through Friday.

Disclaimer: Any film list is fairly subjective, but I think putting together one person’s idea of romances or love stories might be the most subjective list of all. What one person considers powerful, another considers depressing; what someone thinks is sigh-inducingly romantic, someone else thinks is tooth-decayingly sappy. Any interesting list is bound to create comment and controversy and that’s okay. This is my personal list of 100 films. I picked them from a larger list of 300 movies. Once I have completed the top 100, I’ll post the entire list of 300. Perhaps one of your favorites that didn’t make the final cut was there…or maybe not.

35. The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947): This is the grandfather of the Patrick Swayze/Demi Moore hit Ghost, and I much prefer it. Gene Tierney plays Mrs. Muir, a young widow with a child, who moves into a cottage haunted by the ghost of a sea captain played with panache by Rex Harrison. The captain first tries to scare Mrs. Muir into leaving, but quickly learns to respect her spunky pluck. He dictates his memoirs to her, which she gets published as a very successful novel that provides for herself and her son. The movie keeps sentimentality in check, so that the emotion lays right under the surface not blatantly in your face. This is easily one of the best supernatural romances.

34. An Affair to Remember (1957): One of the tests of a movie’s greatness has to do with its impact. Once seen, very few people (especially women as shown in Sleepless in Seattle) ever forget it. Although a remake of an earlier film (Love Affair with Irene Dunne), this is the version that endures the most. The first half is quite funny and the end is a tearjerker. Cary Grant is at his most debonair and Deborah Kerr is the epitome of a lovely leading lady.

33. Rear Window (1954): This is one of Hitchcock’s masterpieces. The plot is engrossing, the suspense taut and the romance both engaging and ambiguous. James Stewart is at his “everyman” best, and Grace Kelly is positively luminous as she pursues him. A young Raymond Burr plays the salesman across the street who may or may not be a murderer, and Thelma Ritter steals every scene she’s in.

32. Two for the Road (1967): Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney play a married couple. Despite being over forty years old, the film doesn’t feel dated in its look at married life. The structure of the film shows us events out of order: courtship, honeymoon stage, parenthood, and ennui are all jumbled up. Hepburn and Finney play well against each other, and this remains an interesting, fairly honest, examination of domesticity.

31. The Age of Innocence (1993): Sigh. My favorite novel by my favorite novelist brought to life by two of my favorite actors: Daniel Day-Lewis and Michelle Pfeiffer. Martin Scorsese pays meticulous attention to the setting of turn of the century New York City. The production is gorgeous, the acting is fantastic (including a memorable turn by Winona Ryder as May Welland) and the ending both poignant and perfect if you understand Newland Archer’s character. An exploration of honor for a time that could stand a little more of it, this movie is scrumptious.

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