Billy Wilder

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The best movie culture writing from around the internet-o-sphere. There will be a quiz later. Just leave a tab open for us, will ya?

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Ace in the Hole Movie Newspaper

Some movies, no matter how old they are, never age a day. Their situations and themes remain as relevant now as when they were first released. Watching them today, they reflect and comment on our present in ways they couldn’t possibly have anticipated. Every month we’re going to pick a movie from the past that does just that, and explore what it has to say about the here and now. Today, Billy Wilder’s entertainingly cynical 1951 film, Ace in the Hole, gets a gorgeous Blu-Ray treatment from Criterion, and it’s a perfect movie to start this column with. In it, a down-on-his-luck reporter, Chuck Tatum (Kirk Douglas) stumbles upon a story about a man, Leo (Richard Benedict), trapped in a mountain tunnel. Tatum decides to sensationalize, exploit, and manipulate Leo’s misfortune into a media frenzy to help resurrect his career. While the kind of print journalism we see in Wilder’s film may be dying, its representation of media and its consumers translates perfectly to our age of pay walls, YouTube and digital subscriptions. Here are five ways Ace in the Hole evokes not only its own time, but ours.

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Some Like It Hot

Looking for any excuse, Landon Palmer and Scott Beggs are using the 2012 Sight & Sound poll results as a reason to take different angles on the best movies of all time. Every week, they’ll discuss another entry in the list, dissecting old favorites from odd angles, discovering movies they haven’t seen before and asking you to join in on the conversation. Of course it helps if you’ve seen the movie because there will be plenty of spoilers. This week, they think subversively about Billy Wilder‘s men-in-dresses comedy Some Like It Hot since everything seems to have a “secret gay agenda” these days. And because you can’t bend genders without making romance a little interesting. In the #43 (tied) movie on the list, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon play musicians who foolishly witness the Valentine’s Day Massacre. Trying to hide out, they get into drag to join an all-female band traveling to sunny Miami where they both court love with Marilyn Monroe and Joe Brown. But why is it one of the best movies of all time?

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trading places curtis new year

There are so many movies with New Year’s Eve scenes that we might be able to make a list of 2,013 of them. Especially if we separate each scene from movies completely set on the night, such as New Year’s Eve, 200 Cigarettes and the Assault on Precinct 13 remake. But we’re going to keep it simple and exclude 2000 of those to share only 13 favorite moments of movie characters ringing in the new year. None of them are from those three aforementioned films, by the way. And since we’ve obviously left a bunch of scenes out, at some point before you go out to party or get situated on your couch ready to watch the ball drop, do tell us which New Year’s Eve scenes you love. Oh, and merry new year!

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Culture Warrior

Tomorrow, the Sacha Baron Cohen-starring, Larry Charles-directed The Dictator opens. Unlike the previous two docu-prank collaborations between Charles and Cohen, the humor of the fully staged Dictator doesn’t so much rely on the reactions of ‘real people’ to an idiosyncratic foreigner as it uses its fish-out-of-water arc to chronicle the pseudo-enlightened changes that its eponymous character experiences (this is all based on the film’s advertising – I have yet to see it). With its riches-to-rags narrative, The Dictator seems to be the newest iteration of a long tradition in Hollywood comedy: the story of the redeemable asshole. It’s rather appropriate that the teaser trailer for Anchorman 2 will be premiering in front of The Dictator.  Will Ferrell has made the redeemable asshole into something of an art form in his collaborations with Adam McKay. Ferrell’s often narcissistic, privileged, ignorant, and empathy-challenged creations should, by any measure of any other genre (audiences are far less tolerant of asshole protags in, say, dramedys) be reviled by audiences. But we ultimately find something redeemable, even lovable, in Ferrell’s jerks, even if this surface-level redemption overshadows the fact that they never quite achieve the level of self-awareness that would actually redeem one from assholedom. These are characters we would likely avoid in nearly any real-life circumstance, but yet we go see movies about them learning life lessons which add up to little more than common knowledge for the rest of us. The redeemable asshole is often a white male who is conniving, manipulative, entitled, […]

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There are few directors that had a career like Billy Wilder‘s. There are probably none that reached his level of skill and notability while staying as diverse as a storyteller. The man did drama and comedy with equal acuity, but his dominance of filmmaking almost didn’t happen. Born in what is now present-day Poland, Wilder left for Paris during the initial rise of the Nazi party in Germany and soon left for the States. He got out early, yes, but it’s difficult to think about the magic he’s delivered without being reminded that but for a few years he may have found himself a victim of the fear-mongering and murder that befell European Jews at the height of Hitler. Fortunately, he did get out and did go on to craft some of the best scripts and movies of the era (and, you know, of all time). His breakout was writing the hilarious Best Picture nominee Ninotchka; success he translated into a fruitful writing/directing career which produced a truckload of notable classics like Double Indemnity, A Foreign Affair, Lost Weekend, Sunset Blvd., Stalag 17, Some Like It Hot, The Seven Year Itch, The Apartment, Witness for the Prosecution, Sabrina and more. The man was seriously prolific. With six Oscars and a ridiculous list of incredible films under his belt, he’s a perfect director to take a few tips from. So here it is, a bit of free film school (for filmmakers and fans alike) from a legend.

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Recently, Flavorwire got a kick out of a post from Slacktory where they used that ever-present man behind the curtain called Google to see what our internet age connects with celebrities. Then, we got a kick out of Flavorwire’s answer which involved 25 famous authors and what the search engine had to say. The experiment is simple. Type a name into Google Image Search, and the program automagically suggests more words to narrow down your search. Judging from entries like “white people problems” for J.D. Salinger and “death, oven, daddy” for Sylvia Plath, it seems like Google might be kinder to famous movie directors. Some of the responses fully encapsulate the person’s artistic output while others push toward the fringe, but all are shaped by what we’re searching for. Here’s a few things Google thinks you should add to the names of some of your favorite filmmakers.

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Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean

What is Movie News After Dark? It’s messing with the bull, and ain’t scared of the horns. We begin tonight with a look at Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean in Les Miserables. He tweeted the picture himself, which is the hip new way to get first looks at new films out into the world. Which sucks, because now I have to follow him on Twitter and sift through what Hugh Jackman ate for breakfast just to see what he looks like with a convict beard. My life is so hard, you guys.

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Every year, the National Film Registry announces 25 films that it will toss gently into its vault for safe keeping. This year, they’ve chosen a hell of a list, but (like every year), the movies saved act as a reminder that even in a digital world where it seems unfathomable that we’d lose art, we’re still losing art. The task of actively preserving films is an honorable, laudable one, and it’s in all of our best interests to see movies like these kept safe so that future generations (and those attending Butt-Numb-a-Thon 55) will be able to screen them as they were meant to be seen. So what 25 movies made the cut this year? Let’s explore:

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Over Under: A New Perspective on Films New and Old

Billy Wilder’s career is a lengthy one, full of highly acclaimed features. But out of all the great films that he made over the course of forty some years, Some Like It Hot may be the most famous. And when you talk about what his masterpiece was creatively, it’s often mentioned right up there with movies like Sunset Boulevard and The Apartment. But I guess that’s no surprise, it’s got Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis acting like ladies and Marilyn Monroe slinking around in cocktail dresses. That’s memorable stuff. Ted Kotcheff’s career was a lengthy but unspectacular one. He mostly did TV work and is probably best known for being the guy who directed the original Rambo film First Blood. But what I best remember him for is a movie about two guys and a dead dude called Weekend at Bernie’s. I must have watched it about a million times on HBO when I was growing up. These days, when you mention it, people talk about it like it’s a joke; but I guess that’s because Jonathan Silverman and Andrew McCarthy didn’t quite become Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis, and Terry Kiser is no Marilyn Monroe.

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While some lucky individuals have already had the chance to see Simon Curtis’ peek into the life of a sex icon My Week with Marilyn at the New York Film Festival, the rest of us plebeians have to wait until November for our own chance. Now, early buzz for the Michelle Williams (Marilyn Monroe) vehicle has been favorable, however that is not what’s piquing my interest in the project. Rather I’m curious to see the maudlin-looking Williams’ embodiment of the sexpot. Williams is of course a stunning actress when she’s dressed for award season, but we rarely see that beauty on screen as she tends to embrace homely, makeup free characters. Clearly she will add an intriguing element of wistful sadness to the woman many of us wish to be.

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There are few figures as frightening as Gloria Swanson‘s Norma Desmond in Sunset Blvd. Freddy? Jason? Leatherface? All of them cower in fear as she walks down the staircase. It was the capstone to her career, and a meta experience in more ways than one, but on a simpler level, it was nominated for an unbelievable 11 Oscars (and won 3 of them). What apparently deserved awards for Best Music, Best Black and White Art Direction, and Best Writing became an enduring force of a film that still thrills to this day. Fortunately, this trailer is just as ethereal and mysterious as the movie itself.

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Every week, Landon Palmer and Cole Abaius log on to their favorite chat client of 1996 as MrSmith1939 and 2BorNot2B in order to discuss some topical topic of interest. This week, the two daydream the ultimate reboot – an entire era of filmmaking brought back to life through the lens of modern directors. What styles should we bring back and homage? It is a good idea to let nostalgia drive us artistically? Will people in 30 years be harkening back to the Abramsian style?

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Your weekly fix of great movies made before you were born that you should check out before you die. An aging actress of another era wastes away in her mansion on Sunset Blvd. It’s by chance alone that a young writer stumbles upon her dreary existence and is pulled deep down into her madness alongside her. That young writer is now floating face down in a beautiful pool. A classic, a must-see, a brilliant film, Sunset Blvd. succeeds on every level no matter how desensitized by the past 60 years of filmmaking we’ve been.

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Your weekly fix of great movies made before you were born that you should check out before you die. Last month we celebrated Bette Davis, and this week, it’s time to celebrate the anniversary of another star’s birthday. Audrey Hepburn needs no introduction, but Sabrina gave her a second one. After Roman Holiday, she became a bona fide star, and her follow-up saw her playing romantically confused with William Holden and Humphrey Bogart. It’s an example of all the wrong pieces coming together to make a sweet, romantic, funny film. Hepburn wasn’t nearly as prolific as other actors, but she managed to find projects that either worked perfectly or were made perfect by her huge brown eyes and powerful innocence. This movie is no different, and it carries all the romanticism of Roman Holiday without ever having to leave the country.

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Criterion Files

Welcome to the fourth and penultimate installment of Guest Author month at Criterion Files: a month devoted to important classic and contemporary bloggers. This week, Matthew Dessem, who keeps himself quite busy writing his way through every single title in the Criterion Collection at The Criterion Contraption, takes on Billy Wilder’s oft-overlooked masterpiece Ace in the Hole (1951). Tune in next week for an analysis of a different title from a new author, and you can take a look at the previous entries from guest contributors here. We all know the story: deep underground, there’s been a terrible accident. Lives hang in the balance! Time is of the essence! But if everybody pulls together, if we all really believe, there’s a chance we can bring the lost back, blinking, into the sunlight. The important thing—whether we’re talking about Floyd Collins, Kathy Fiscus, or Jessica McClure—is to pay attention. We all know the story—and apparently we love it. The Wikipedia article about last year’s Copiapó Mining Disaster is 10,500 words long. William Shakespeare only rates 6,800. What on earth is going on? In his breathtakingly cynical masterpiece, Ace in the Hole, Billy Wilder suggests some answers—but you’re not going to like them.

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Have you ever sat at coffee shop, minding your own business and munching on a tasty croissant, when pleasantly and unexpectedly a handsome man or beautiful lady sits down across from you? If life were a movie, one of you would drop something, reach to pick it up at the same time, and charmingly knock heads. Engaging conversation would ensue, you’d fall madly in love, music would swell, and credits would roll like the tears down your movie-self’s cheek. Le sigh and scene. But like movies are oft to show, so much sexual passion can just as easily bring out the evil in characters as it does the good. Movie love can be so intense it borders on destructive, and a budding couple’s sanity can unravel before the audience’s eyes as the story reaches its climax. Sex unites the couple and keeps them together longer than it rationally should, until both partners become weaved so heavily in a tangle of sex-caused insanity neither can see where reality and delusion lie.

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All month long we celebrate Best Picture Nominees that didn’t win. This week we take a look at a doomed production that churned out a brilliant film.

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oam-somelikeithot

Joe and Jerry are two musicians who see a mob murder and decide to go into hiding in an all-female band. The gorgeous Sugar Kane Kowalcyk is part of the troupe, which might just be two good reasons to stay in hiding.

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oam-theapartment

Much like the great prognosticator of trends that he always was, Billy Wilder drew from the past and anticipated the future by creating a hilarious movie that also happens to deal realistically with infidelity, occupational depression, and suicide.

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