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All Movie Talk

Welcome to All Movie Talk! In this audio podcast, Samuel Stoddard and Stephen Keller talk about old and new movies, famous directors, historical film movements, movie trivia, and more.

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Top 6 Word: Baby

Only one of the best "baby" movies is about an actual baby. The others are mostly childlike adults and sweethearts, but there is a leopard in there to keep you on your toes.

Just missing the cut is the Edgar Wright film Baby Driver (2017), a fresh, exhilarating masterpiece up until the final act, where it loses its way -- but not to the point where it isn't still a good movie, something you'd be harder pressed to say about his more recent Last Night In Soho, which suffers from a more severe case of the same problem.

My Top 6 "baby" movies are:

6. Million Dollar Baby (2004)

It's one of Clint Eastwood's best films...and the one I'm least likely to revisit in the future. The first half of Million Dollar Baby look like you might be in for a female Rocky story, but this isn't that kind of movie. The rest of it is gutwrenching.

5. Baby Face (1933)

The Pre-Code Hollywood era refers to the period up until 1934 when the Hays Office cracked down on mature content in movies. Ironically, the self-censorship of the next 30 years resulted in some of the greatest films ever made, many dealing with mature subject matter by insinuation, often to greater effect, but in the pre-code era filmmakers were freer to tackle a broader range of subjects directly, though the culture of the day handled them less crudely, shall we say, than after the Hays Code broke down in the 60s. Anyway, that means there are a whole slew of movies in the early sound era telling shocking stories of gangsters, deliquents, temptresses, and more.

One of the best of these is Baby Face, which solidified Barbara Stanwyck as an acting force of nature. Her performance as the hard, embittered title character seizes the screen and never lets it go. But she's never merely "tough," in contrast to a lot of female roles written today. Stanwyck was always able to suggest depth, motivation, and complexity in her characters even when the script did not. Baby Face, however, is terrifically well-written, developing a fascinating character with a tragic story she's more than capable of overcoming, one way or another, if not without scars.

4. What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? (1962)

By the time they were cast in their only film together, What Ever Happened To Baby Jane, the infamous feud between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford was already almost three decades old and still had decades more to go. The psychological horror story about a deranged woman terrorizing her disabled sister was oddly reflective of their real-life rivalry. It was a crowning achievement amongst many great films from director Robert Aldrich, who in films like The Dirty Dozen, The Flight of the Phoenix, and Kiss Me Deadly, built suspense through gritty realism.

3. Gone Baby Gone (2007)

By 2007, expectations were not high for Ben Affleck's directorial debut, but Gone Baby Gone turned out to be one of 2007's best films. The story is a dark web of kidnapping, murder, and drug smuggling, but it's not properly about any of those things. Rather, it's about the people caught up in them and what they are driven to. It's a powerful film that elicits powerful emotions, few of them uncomplicated. Amidst an ensemble of excellent performances, Amy Ryan's stands out and earned her a well-deserved Oscar nomination.

2. Baby Doll (1956)

In the 50s and 60s, quite a number of excellent heavy dramas were made about the down and out. Usually they were adapted from plays by Tennessee Williams or Arthur Miller and directed by people like Elia Kazan, Mike Nichols, and John Huston. The characters in such stories were literate and expressive and so overflowing with emotions and urges that you never knew when they might suddenly erupt in a passionate fury of kisses or killings or both. Examples include A Streetcar Named Desire, The Misfits, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, A Raisin in the Sun, A Face In the Crowd, The Night of the Iguana, Hud, Reflections In a Golden Eye, On the Waterfront, Lilies of the Field, and one of the most intense of them, Baby Doll, written by Williams and directed by Kazan. Baby Doll has all the tensions and barely sublimated passions of the genre cranked to the max, with stars Karl Malden, Carroll Baker, and Eli Wallach giving unforgettable performances. The noirish cinematography, which perfectly compliments the material, captures every nuance of their faces, every drop of sweat on their foreheads, every lustful gleam in their eyes. The film pushed the boundaries of the day to the point of protest and threats of being banned over issues of decency, but its comparative restraint by today's standards is what makes it work: we imagine far worse than whatever it might have shown us.

1. Bringing Up Baby (1938)

Here it is, the best screwball comedy and one of the funniest films ever made. Cary Grant plays against type as a perpetually bewildered scientist who runs across the fast-talking Katharine Hepburn and for the life of him can't disentangle himself from her. The plot plays out logically from one moment to the next, yet by the end it has escalated to outlandish and hilarious extremes. Along the way is a broad cast of scene-stealing supporting characters. One of the secrets of the film's success is that despite the rapid fire of jokes, the characters are never in on them. Another is that the film uses instantly recognizable stock character types (thereby eliminating the need to bog the pace down with character building) but never relegates them to caricatures. There are smarter screwball comedies (The Awful Truth) and faster ones (His Girl Friday) more outrageous ones (Arsenic and Old Lace), but this one is smart, fast, and outrageous. For my money, it is also the funniest.

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