friends with money

Four friends, three with money, one without struggle with relationships and fulfillment in modern-day L.A. The ease and chemistry of this phenomenal cast (Jennifer Aniston, Joan Cusack, Catherine Keener, Frances McDormand) makes the movie feel like your best (and worst) girlfriends riffing on a Saturday afternoon. The film focuses on Jennifer Aniston’s character, a loser who smokes a lot of pot to make it through her days as a housecleaner. The others both condescend and try to help, while ignoring their own issues. [us, 2006]

being julia

In Being Juila, Annette Bening, like her character aging 1930′s theatre star Julia Lambert, is a clever, witty, beautiful tour de force. Not content with quietly approaching the “age where there are no good roles for women” Julia creates her own: randy lover, adoring and concerned mother, and thoughtful mentor, without ever relinquishing the role of super star. This sparkling film gallops along like a 1930′s jalopy, and Bening (who gloriously looks her age) is a delight to watch from beginning to end. [UK/US, 2004]

funny girl

We follow Fanny Brice from teenage chorus girl wannabe in pre-depression Vaudeville to the top of the 1930′s show biz heap, the Ziegfeld Follies. A mother’s love shepherds the ugly duckling girl prodigy past the jeers and digs of the neighborhood coffee klatch to give young Fanny the drive and chutzpah to elbow her way into the theatre and onto the stage. Omar Sharif plays her worldly gambler husband, Nicky Arnstein. Sometimes charming, sometimes schlocky musical numbers, the kind you’ll have stuck in your head for days! A young, young Barbara Streisand is fun to watch. [usa, 1968 ] ~ reviewed by nancy brown

desk set

It’s 1957 and the patriarchy is in full thrust at the swank Manhattan offices of the Federal Broadcasting Corporation. Information wonk, classy dame and all around dynamo Bunny Watson (Katharine Hepburn) runs the Reference Department like a Swiss watch, only more fun. At FBC, all of the indignities suffered by women in the 1950s workplace are played out for us; today’s sexual harassment laws are shattered, but the girls triumph in the end by employing that timeless gem of truth that empowers still: don’t make yourself too available. A visual feast for retro lovers. Great fun. [usa, 1957] ~ reviewed by nancy brown

babette’s feast

A group of religious zealots living in an aging and isolated community discovers a lesson of love and forgiveness when a quiet maid prepares a lavish and extravagant feast for them. The stark, barren landscape, and puritan houses provide bas relief to Babette’s earthy and sensual banquet. 1987 Academy Award winner for best foreign film. [denmark, 1987]

eight women

See the grande dames of French cinema let loose in this cheeky homage to vintage thrillers, musicals, and soap operas. Of note are Catherine Deneuve and Danielle Darrieux as the matriarchs, Emmanuelle Bйart as the maid, Fanny Ardant as the outsider, and Isabelle Huppert as an absurdly uptight aunt. When the patriarch of the home is mysteriously murdered, the octet find themselves trapped in a country house suspecting each other of the deed. Features dark secrets, glamorous outfits, bitchy backstabbing, lesbian subtext, and campy song-and-dance numbers. [france, 2002]

sunset boulevard

This classic tale of Norma Desmond, darling of the silent screen, who clings to the idea of a comeback, features the classic line “I’m ready for my close-up Mr. DeMille.” Gloria Swanson made this picture her own, portraying the fine line between beloved star and pitiful has-been. This film is fascinating for its contrast of the possibilities for men and women in the film industry—De Mille (played by himself) is the most powerful man in Hollywood while well into his seventies, while Norma is a washed up pariah while only in her fifties because she doesn’t want to fade into the woodwork. And don’t get us started on William Holden’s character… [us, 1950]

corrina, corrina

Whoopi Goldberg stars in this quiet story of a university-educated 1950′s housekeeper who falls in love with her employer and his young daughter. Issues of race are dealt with not as monumental social events but as they pertain to the leads. Ultimately, relationships and family are more important than “what the neighbours think.” This occasionally slow moving film, is always good-hearted and although she’s considerably toned-down, Goldberg is amusing. [us, 1994]

school of flesh

A May/December role reversal, French style. She has polish, financial power, and social standing. He has youth, looks, and a troubled past. Flesh stands out for placing a fortysomething woman, Dominique, at the heart of this story about a muted obsession with a much younger bartender. Despite the slightly twisted nature of the affair and her obvious despair, she never gets trapped or buried by it. Low on action and fireworks, it’s a nuanced dissection of an unconventional relationship. [france, 1998]

the spitfire grill

Perry, an ex-con, becomes the subject of much speculation and gossip when she takes a job at a small grill in an even smaller town. Tough cookie, Hannah runs the grill, and isn’t worried about Perry’s past, but local busybody/businessman Nahum Goddard sends his wife (played by Marsha Gay Harden) in to keep an eye on Perry. As expected, strong bonds form between the three women. Excellent performances by the female leads keep this emotional drama from becoming maudlin. [us, 1996]