83. “A Star is Born”, George Cukor (1954)

Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list.

A Star is Born

dir. George Cukor (1954) scr. Moss Hart based on a story by William A. Wellman and Robert Carson cin. Sam Leavitt with Judy Garland and James Mason

In 100 words: An exuberant, joyous, but surprisingly moving experience, This remake features a shockingly honest treatment of topics that do not always spring to mind when one thinks of a musical: alcoholism, suicide, and emasculation. But Cukor’s exploration of a woman’s rise in Hollywood coinciding with her husband’s downfall is simultaneously sweeping and miniscule; a grand time and a rainy-day weepie at the same time. Songs are perfectly staged to maximize impact, while vivid colors and precise editing keep the experience engaging. All this topped by two of the 50s’ most incredible performances: Garland and Mason’s duet is one for the ages.

Other Movies for Context: Obviously, there are the two other A Star is Born films from the 30s and 70s, with Janet Gaynor and Barbra Streisand respectively in the Judy Garland role. But as far as musicals that were this dark? I think of New York, New York (1977) by Martin Scorsese, starring Garland’s daughter Liza and Meet Me in St. Louis, Vincent Minnelli’s movie musical starring Judy Garland.

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93. “Holiday”, George Cukor (1938)

Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list.

Holiday

Holiday

dir. George Cukor (1938) scr. Donald Ogden Stewart and Sidney Buchman based on the play Holiday (1928) by Philip Barry cin. Franz Planer with. Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant

In 100 words: On the surface, Holiday glows with warmth and effervescence that few films can match. Its cast banters with witty abandon and its magnetic lead stars frolic with acrobatic grace. Its beats may be familiar but the script runs away from the safe and obvious. Yet beneath its joyful exterior, there’s a sad undercurrent nested in its pessimistic view of wealth that makes it different from genre mainstays. Not to mention Cukor directs the hell out of this: precise editing and smart mise en scène reveal characters’ shifting relation to their environment. Hepburn and Grant make a timeless and luminescent couple.

Other Movies for Context: Ah the Golden age of Romantic comedies, back when it was not a toxic genre, was full of interesting films that had something interesting to say about wealth amid the Great Depression. I’m thinking right now of Leo McCarey’s The Awful Truth (1937) and especially Gregory La Cava’s My Man Godfrey (1936). The Hepburn-Grant-Cukor-Barry team will make another film that summons the same magic they cast here: The Philadelphia Story (1941). Grant and Hepburn also teamed up for Howard Hawks’ real oddball Bringing Up Baby (1938) too. Among the modern films, look no further than the essential perfectness of Rob Reiner’s When Harry Met Sally (1989), a film I found difficult to leave off this Top 100 list.