Thursday, July 14, 2016

Thursday Movie Picks: Female Ensembles


I got into an argument with my Mom early yesterday morning about some family drama. It seriously ruined my Wednesday. I couldn't even put together this post. I was blocked up, a bit depressed. I couldn't figure out, of all the movies with great female casts, which ones I wanted to highlight. Then, I took a few out of my list and came up with what follows...

...a tribute to a few movies of my childhood, with Female Ensembles, that my Mom LOVED and watched repeatedly, so that she could feel something, empower herself through stories of female empowerment, and, of course, get a good cry.


So, cry with me today, people, on this glorious summer Thursday, another one for Wandering through the Shelves' Thursday Movie Picks.

Here they are:

The Color Purple
dir. Steven Spielberg, 1985


Maybe a bit of a cheat as far as there are several prominent male characters, but this movie belongs to its women, strong Southern Black women...in the most triumphant of ways, as it follows the downtrodden Celie (Whoopi Goldberg), the powerful Miss Sofia (Oprah Winfrey), and the lovely Shug Avery (Margaret Avery), across 40 years in the South. It is Spielberg's first dramatic masterpiece and should be watched by every single person ever...period.

Steel Magnolias
dir. Herbert Ross, 1989


I have no qualms with liking this movie, probably dubbed the quintessential "chick flick" or what they used to call the "women's weepie." I don't care. The biggest reason being the absolute perfection in the way it captures the American South. And the characters! All those memorable female characters, a cast featuring Sally Field, Julia Roberts, Daryll Hannah, Dolly effin Parton, and Shirley Maclaine. It seriously gets no better. And it also helps that the better part of this movie takes place in a Southern beauty shop much like the one my Mom has run in our small Southern town for 25 years now.

Fried Green Tomatoes
dir. Jon Avnet, 1991


An old lady (Jessica Tandy) strikes up a conversation with an unhappy, overweight Southern housewife (Kathy Bates) by chance in the elder's nursing home. She spins a tale of Depression Era Georgia and the lifelong friendship between two women (Mary-Louise Parker and Mary Stuart Masterson) who survive love and death and abuse and motherhood as owners of the Whistle Stop Cafe a.k.a. the restaurant of my dreams.

Here. Have a tissue.

20 comments:

  1. Geez you ain't kidding a crying towel would be required for that trio! But all good films and terrific picks!

    My favorite of the three is Steel Magnolias, which I purposely didn't choose since I was positive it would show up somewhere. The actresses all interact so naturally that they make it constantly entertaining and deeply moving. I saw the original Off-Broadway production which is set entirely in the beauty parlor and it was terrific with a great ensemble. The story is basically the same but the filmmakers did a good job of opening it up for the screen. The big coup at the play was to sit in the proper seat so that when Annelle first comes to Truvy's and goes to wash her hair in the sink and the water would shoot out of the bowl that person would get spritzed. I didn't see the joy of it but the woman who got soaked was delighted!

    Fried Green Tomatoes isn't something I watch often but I really enjoyed it. Kathy Bates rules!! I had a similar reaction to Color Purple which I put off for years since I didn't care much for the book. The film was a big improvement but again not one I return to frequently.

    I'm a huge fan of this particular genre of film and as I warmed to the theme found that it was impossible for me to get down to less than six. And that was with leaving many, many that I love off, so I've split mine into two entries...classic Hollywood and more contemporary.

    Classics first:

    Cry “Havoc” (1943)-As WWII rages in the Philippines a group of women volunteer to help the army nurses in a hospital unit on Bataan. Set mostly in their protective bunker and the switchboard that brings increasingly more dire war news this focuses on the struggles and hardships endured by the women as the front moves ever closer. The cast is comprised almost exclusively of great actresses, Margaret Sullavan, Ann Sothern, Joan Blondell and Fay Bainter among them, with only very brief glimpses of men, including a young Robert Mitchum. A compelling heavy drama leavened by doses of gallows humor.

    Westward the Women (1951)-Unvarnished look at the hard road faced by a group of women settlers on a wagon train to California. Robert Taylor, weathered and hard is the rough but fair wagon master and has the only significant male role. Hope Emerson stands out as a plain speaking, no nonsense traveler but all the performances are very good. The cost of the trip is honestly depicted as heavy with human lives. Written by Frank Capra and directed with an unflinching eye by Wild Bill Wellman, an involving, unusual picture.

    The Doughgirls (1944)-Frenzied comedy with a dated situation, the housing shortage in DC during WWII, and an amazing cast of brilliant actresses. Ann Sheridan, skillful with a quip or a withering look, Jane Wyman, sweet and endearing but a borderline idiot, and an ultra-glamorous Alexis Smith. They’re former chorus girls who all camp out in one of the few available rooms when they find their recent marriages called into question as many colorful characters pass through. They’re delightful but don't stand a chance when Eve Arden swoops in as a Russian commando stealing scenes with undisguised glee tearing into her character with abandon and wiping everybody out of the picture.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. None of these movies are really easy to go back to often. I usually go years between re-watches. The Color Purple takes it out of me for days. So cool you got to see Steel Magnolias performed live.

      I haven't seen any of these, but they all sound great.

      Delete
  2. Then three from more recent years:

    8 Women (2002)-As a wealthy French family, comprised it seems entirely of women, gathers for the holiday the patriarch is murdered off stage and they are trapped by a snowstorm to figure out which of the eight has committed the crime, occasionally bursting into song along the way. Unique, wacky and bizarre semi-musical comic murder mystery set during Christmas is jam packed with great French actresses including Catherine Deneuve, Danielle Darrieux, Fanny Ardant and Isabelle Huppert. They make the often preposterous goings on plausible.

    Come Back to the Five and Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982)-In a dusty Texas town near the location the movie Giant was filmed a devoted group of female James Dean fans reunite 20 years after the film wrapped at the Five & Dime that is was the center of their world. They laugh, argue and reminisce while wondering whether their sole male club member will return. Ultimately long buried secrets are revealed. Highly eclectic cast, Cher, Sandy Dennis, Karen Black and a just starting out Kathy Bates all give excellent idiosyncratic performances. Robert Altman’s filmization of the play he directed on Broadway with the entire cast returning is entertaining and unique.

    Tea with Mussolini (1999)-In 30’s Florence young Luca, motherless and ignored by his father due to his illegitimacy, is taken under the wing of the father’s secretary (Joan Plowright), her group of women friends, somewhat affectionately known as The Scorpioni (including Maggie Smith and Judi Dench), as well as old friends of his mother, Georgie and Elsa (Lily Tomlin and Cher). As Mussolini moves the country progressively towards Hitler’s ideology all their lives are affected but the strength of their spirit and devotion to each other never waver.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. 8 Women popped up quite a bit today. Need to check that one out. I definitely heard of Tea with Mussoliini, but never got to it.

      Delete
  3. Sorry to hear about the family dispute. My mom could really get my buttons going. I love her very much but she knew how to push me. I hope you are feeling better today. I think the Color purple was robbed of Oscar and it is such a great film. Steel Magnolias is very weepy but surprisingly funny and warm even with the Shirley MacLaine character

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. All settled now. Thanks. The Color Purple I think still holds the record for most noms with no wins. Crazy. Spielberg didn't even get nominated, and he did an incredible job.

      Delete
  4. I'm sorry to hear about the argument. I hope things with your mother will work out soon. I've only seen The Color Purple, and it is such a beautiful film.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No biggie. All good now. Thanks. It really is. I hope you'll check the others out someday as well.

      Delete
  5. Sorry to hear about your argument, hopefully you'll patch things up quickly. Sadly, I haven't seen any of your picks (quite surprised I haven't even see The Colour Purple yet).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks. They have already cleared up. See The Color Purple if nothing else for sure.

      Delete
  6. Hope things get ironed out soon between you and Mom. Of your picks, I've seen two. I love The Color Purple. It's a household favorite around these parts. The other, Steel Magnolias, wasn't my cup of tea. I think I saw it too soon, though. Wasn't quite able to appreciate it, yet. Might go back to it one of these days.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Already ironed, man. I just said some shit I shouldn't have. She did the same. And it ruined both of our days. We are all good now. Steel Magnolias is really pretty great. The weepy ending actually sort of hurts it. I mostly laugh watching it, knowing these Southern women so well.

      Delete
  7. Excellent picks - I love it that everyone has chosen very different picks this week.

    The Colour Purple is a brilliant film but its one I can't bring myself to watch again, I'm a bit of a wimp when it comes to depressing films. I've ever read about Steel Magnolias never seen it. Same goes for Fried Green Tomatoes but the latter I've seen bits of and have always meant to finish it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks! Yes. So much to choose from with this category.

      I only watch these movies every 5 years or more. They are too much to watch all the time. Way too much.

      Delete
  8. UGH family drama. It always has a way of just blacking out everything else, doesn't it? That sucks, man. I've been there.

    You know what else sucks? That I haven't seen ANY of these. Oh, they've all been on my list for YEARS, but I still haven't seen them, and I have to say I'm kind of ashamed to admit it!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Heard ya, man. Got some crazies in my fam, for sure. It's already blown over pretty much. We each just said some shit we shouldn't have.

      I am quite shocked you haven't at least seen The Color Purple. It's required, man! Do it ASAP. The others are solid movies, but not particularly GREAT. All three of these are serious weepies. Be ready.

      Delete
  9. Sorry about the family drama. Glad to hear it's ironed out.

    Anyway… I haven't seen any of these movies. I know, shame on me. But I will try to get them soon. I've been really interested in Fried Green Tomatoes lately though.

    The only film I could think of is a film I've mentioned many times before, but it fits this category perfectly: the 1996 British film Secrets & Lies. The cast is wonderfully perfect, especially Brenda Blethyn (who should've won the Oscar for Best Actress that year over Frances McDormand. McDormand was excellent in Fargo, but Blethyn just edges her out), & Marianne Jean-Baptiste (who definitely should've won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress that year over Juliette Binoche. Jean-Baptiste was the lone bright spot in a weak category). You really need to watch it, man.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. All good. It's not really shameful to have not seen these actually, except Color Purple That's Spielberg. A must.

      Delete
  10. I haven't seen any of your picks. I didn't know they used to call it "women's weepie" I guess the "chick flick" of today has evolved from the weepies. Now they're more fun friendship or girl-gets-guy type of flicks rather than weepies.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah. That's what they called the melodramas of the 50s. Something like Sirk's "Imitation of Life" would be a good example.

      Delete