6/25/2010

Top 6 Words: Grand

Posted in Top 6 Words at 5:00 am by Sam

“Grand” is the word for this entry in the Top 6 Words series. My favorite movies with the word “grand” in the title follow the jump, but try thinking up some “grand” titles on your own before peeking. Chime in with your own list in the comments section.

Good though it may be, John Ford’s Rio Grande does not qualify. Nor does Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino. Deduct a point from yourself if you picked either.

6. Pooh’s Grand Adventure: The Search For Christopher Robin (1997)

The new wave of Winnie the Pooh has produced some reasonably entertaining animation, though none nearly as wonderful as the shorts from the 70s (stitched together into the feature film The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh). This one is a mix of good and bad extremes. The good part is a minor miracle: the film actually manages to recapture that endearing charm and elegant simplicity that makes the characters and the original film so delightful. The bad part is an unusually heavy quotient of insufferably bland songs and heavy-handed moral lessons.

Does the good outweigh the bad? Your mileage will vary. I found it fun despite its shortcomings but would probably not ever seek a repeat viewing.

5. A Grand Day Out (1991)

Claymated characters Wallace and Gromit’s first short features the subtle charm and humor that made them famous. The quality of the work is a little rougher and more primitive than it would become, and the relationship between the characters, explored in great depth in The Wrong Trousers (1993) is only given a cursory glance here. Still, this is a creative, detailed work and a fine piece of entertainment.

4. Grand Slam (1967)

This latter day Edward G. Robinson heist flick is yet another testament to how unique and great Robinson really was. He’s famous for his tough gangsters, as in Little Caesar, but then he could turn around and do something like The Woman In the Window, where he creates one of the most fragile and sympathetic movie characters of all time.

It is that very duality that gives depth and nuance to his role in Grand Slam, where he masterminds an ingenious heist. The complexity is unnecessary — these movies are more about logistics than character — but very welcome, as the humanity Robinson brings to the character adds weight to the proceedings.

The other distinguishing characteristic of the film is its exotic setting, specifically Rio de Janeiro. The film does a wonderful job capturing the feel of the city and its inhabitants.

3. Grand Hotel (1932)

We’ve talked a lot on All Movie Talk about hyperlink movies. The strain we know today was more or less invented by Robert Altman with Nashville and, later, Short Cuts. But this was the original: a series of interlocking stories that all take place in a ritzy hotel in Berlin. In the words of one of the characters: “People come, people go. Nothing ever happens.”

Actually, a lot happens. What he means is that what happens doesn’t amount to much in the grand scheme of things. The movie shows us how important the details of our lives are. Yes, the world will keep on moving, and nothing that happens in Grand Hotel will change that. But it is the nature of the human condition to care more than anything about the course of our individual lives, regardless of the fact that they seldom have broad ramifications.

True to the spirit of the genre it created, Grand Hotel has a huge cast of supporting characters in lieu of any main characters. They are played by such luminaries of the day as Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, Lionel Barrymore, Joan Crawford, and Wallace Beery — all great personalities that deserve to be better known today.

The film won the Best Picture Oscar for 1932 without so much as a nomination in any other category. Other aspects of the film were worthy of recognition, such as the screenplay and art direction, but never mind: the award shows how a film can be more than the sum of its parts. What makes the movie great is how all the different pieces, strong as they may be on their own, fit together into a better whole.

2. Grand Canyon (1991)

In most movies, characters don’t think. Not even the smart ones. They don’t have to — the screenwriter has done all the thinking for them. In Grand Canyon, directed by Lawrence Kasdan and written by him as his wife Meg Kasdan, the characters are always thinking. That may seem like a small thing, but it’s not. I recognized aspects of myself in the Kevin Kline character, for instance, that I’ve never seen in any other movie character: in particular how he second-guesses himself in social situations but has learned, through past failures, to speak up about potential misunderstandings and ask for clarifications, lest an awkward moment pass him by and leave him wondering if he had offended someone, or if his interference in someone else’s life had truly left that person better off. He’s always thinking about his responsibility toward people, too. If his actions result in a radical alteration of the course of someone’s life, how much responsibility does he bear for that?

But now I am making this film sound heavy and ponderous, I’m sure. I was expecting the film to be, just from what I’d heard about it: a disparate group of people in L.A. at critical times in their lives, which cause them to wonder about their place in the world, and what kind of shambles that world has become. I know, I know: this doesn’t sound like a movie to see so much as a movie to run from.

But from the very first major scene, I was riveted. I cared about these characters. I loved listening to what they had to say. In that first scene, Kline breaks down in a bad part of the city. A gang of kids arrives. It’s tense. I won’t say what happens, but notice how the scene works on the visceral level of a great urban thriller while also provoking thought about the themes of the film: Why is the world like this? It’s one of the best written movie scenes I’d seen in a long time, and the movie was only just getting started.

Throughout the film, the threat of tragedy looms. Because I loved the characters so much, I desperately did not want it to strike, and even simple scenes like a driving lesson take on a level of suspense normally reserved for thrillers. But whether tragedy strikes or not is not the point. The point is that it could, and that possibility, which the various characters in the film come to recognize, asks them to live their lives more thoughtfully. Despite that, so much of Grand Canyon is hopeful. Yes, the world is broken, but it is nevertheless a world of great possibilities.

1. Grand Illusion (1937)

Jean Renoir’s Grand Illusion is the granddaddy of all POW films. Stalag 17, The Great Escape, and even Hogan’s Heroes owe their existence to it. But Grand Illusion, inasmuch as it works entirely as a genre POW movie and a chronicle of an ingenious and suspenseful escape, is more besides. It’s the story of a changing world. The class system is in its death throes. Men are abandoning the old codes of honor. On both sides of the war, there are men who can make that transition and men who cannot. The prisoners of war seek escape or liberation, whichever comes first. Some get out, only to find they don’t have a place in the new world.

Although most of the films Grand Illusion inspired are set during World War II, Grand Illusion is inextricably grounded in World War I, a very different war that people on both sides felt very differently about. Grand Illusion captures the complexities of those feelings in a way no other film ever has. Yet it was made when World War II was on the horizon and has thoughts — or perhaps more accurately feelings — to express about that.

The Nazis weren’t so keen on what the movie had to say. It was confiscated when they occupied France, and the original negative was thought to be lost for decades. After a complicated move to Germany, then Russia, then back to France, we now have a pristine DVD transfer of this great treasure.

3 Comments »

  1. ThePhan (128) said,

    June 26, 2010 at 2:20 pm

    I was rather surprised to find that the ONLY movie I’d seen with “grand” in the title was the Wallace and Gromit one. Somehow it feels like I should have seen more…

  2. Nyperold (116) said,

    June 26, 2010 at 11:24 pm

    Seen:
    A Grand Day Out

    …and that’s it.

    If I had only seen Brighty of the Grand Canyon, since we do have that…

    Okay, way too many of those TV Movies were about the Grand Prix.

    Best title:
    The Greatest Musical Ever Made (For Under 10 Grand)

  3. joem18b (231) said,

    June 28, 2010 at 1:17 am

    A “grand” movie that I’d recommend to all is “Le grand voyage” (2004), in which a young man drives his father from France to Mecca for the old man’s pilgrimage.

    I get Le Mans (1971) and Grand Prix (1966) mixed up; all I remember for sure is that I liked Winning (1969) better than either of them, and that either Le Mans or Grand Prix seemed like an awful wide movie.

    If you happen to live in a French-speaking country, you might enjoy these entries on my “grand” list:

    6. Le grand jeu (aka The Full Monty) (1997)

    5. Le grand saut (The Hudsucker Proxy) (1994)

    4. South Park, le film - Plus long, plus grand et pas coupé (aka South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut) (1999)

    3. Le grand défi (Hoosiers) (1986)

    2. Le grand Lebowski (aka The Big Lebowski) (1998)

    1. Le grand sommeil (aka The Big Sleep) (1946)

    Worth a mention:

    Le grand chantage (Sweet Smell of Success) (1957)

    Le grand frisson (High Anxiety) (1977)

    Le grand National (National Velvet) (1944)

    Le plus grand spectacle du monde (The Greatest Show on Earth) (1952)

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