New Orleans is silent. There’s not one horn blowing in the French Quarter. Like most of the country, we’re staying home to help prevent the spread of the corona virus. Since there are no festivals happening, no free concerts or Pelicans games, etc., I have no events to blog about. Like many, we hunkered down for a weekend of “Netflix and chill.”
My industry is shut down. There’s no traffic in L.A. But our movies will help get the world through this. I decided to share a list of some of the movies that have shaped me as an actor/filmmaker and as a person – starting with comedies. I’m starting here because these movies were always there for me when I needed a laugh and some relief from my worries.
If I could only pick one favorite, it would be What’s Up, Doc? starring Ryan O’Neal and Barbra Streisand and introducing Madeline Kahn – who steals every scene she’s in out from the 2 biggest stars of the moment. The doorway scene is next level. O’Neal had just done Love Story and was a mega-heartthrob. He plays a nerdy rock expert (as in geology, not rock and roll). Looking her most Jennifer Aniston-ish, Streisand is hilarious as the reckless perpetual-student who inserts herself into his world. I’ve watched this movie dozens of times so when I lived in L.A., I made a point of befriending the cinematographer, Lazlo Kovacs (genius), and having lunch with Buck Henry, the writer.
First up – road trip comedies. This is a rich category but I’m starting with the bachelor-party-aftermath retracing-of-steps journey of The Hangover. I don’t always enjoy such crude humor, but I laughed from the opening credits through the whole dang thing when I saw it with an audience in a theatre.
Girl’s Trip is a girl-posse-reunion visit to New Orleans that also gets crude and hilarious. Tiffany Haddish kills it and Queen Sugar‘s Kofi Siriboe has a priceless nude scene. I’ve recurred on the show and worked with Kofi the day after seeing the movie. It was hard not to giggle.
Fandango is another bro-trip starring Kevin Costner, Judd Nelson and Sam Robards. Friends from U.T., they reunite for one last good time before going off to Vietnam and adult life. Sometimes meaningful, it’s also a gut-busting odyssey of absurdity. The airplane scene…
Rat Race stars Cuba Gooding Jr., Whoopi Goldberg, Seth Green, Rowan Atkinson, John Cleese, Kathy Najimy and more. It’s a supremely silly race to $2 million with no rules, where anything could happen and often does. The truck being pulled scene…
Little Miss Sunshine is a darkish comedy about a dysfunctional family’s journey to a kiddie pageant. Abigail Breslin’s family includes Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette, Steve Carell, Paul Dano, and scene stealer Alan Arkin as the drug-addicted grandfather.
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is the story of 2 drag queens and a trans woman trekking the Australian desert performing elaborately-costumed cabaret shows to confused Outback crowds. It stars Guy Pearce, The Matrix‘s Hugo Weaving, and scene-stealer, Terence Stamp.
Of my own movies, Django Unchained might qualify as both a comedy and a road trip movie. A German bounty hunter helps a freed slave find his enslaved wife and save her from Leonardo DiCaprio, my character’s brother. Also stars Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Samuel L. Jackson, Walton Goggins, Kerry Washington and many more.
I’m calling the next category Zen. My favorite of these is The Big Lebowski, the Coen brothers’ ode to my friend, Jeff “The Dude” Dowd. My husband and I had The Dude ordained so he could marry us so I’m probably biased, but the film’s story of a Holy Fool seeking reimbursement for his ruined rug is a trippy journey through kidnapping and characters. Stars include Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Sam Elliott, Julianne Moore, John Turturro and more.
Created by Beevis and Butthead’s Mike Judge, Office Space is what happens when one employee gets hypnotized into not stressing out about work. The cast includes Ron Livingston, Jennifer Aniston, Gary Cole, and a scene-stealing Stephen Root as the stapler guy. The office printer scene…
I first saw The Gods Must Be Crazy when it came out in 1980 and still remember it’s twisted take on civilization from the point of view of a Bushman in the Kalahari desert. Someone litters a Coke bottle from a plane and the Bushman assumes it has come from the heavens, sending him on a series of adventures.
I love the category of spoofs – movies that both celebrate and lampoon their topics. This Is Spinal Tap was Rob Reiner’s directorial debut (1984) and still defines the subgenre of mockumentary. The behind-the-scenes look at a hair band on tour stars Reiner as the filmmaker along with Michael McKean, Harry Shearer and Christopher Guest – who would go on to make his own hilarious mockumentaries. like Best in Show. The Stonehenge scene… Also – “Mine goes to eleven.”
Tropic Thunder is a giant action comedy about shooting a giant action movie that turns into a real war. Despite it being a very silly comedy, Robert Downey Jr. was nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of the blonde Aussie method actor who permanently dyes his skin black. Ben Stiller and Jack Black are among the terrific comedic actors , but Tom Cruise is the scene stealer.
Black Dynamite is the brainchild of Michael Jai White – the guy Salt-N-Pepa must’ve been singing about who has “a body like Arnold with a Denzel face.” Since he’s a master in several disciplines, he also does his own martial arts. (Full disclosure, we’ve been friends since ’93). This laugh-from-opening-to-closing-credits spoof of Blaxploitation films also stars Bokeem Woodbine, Mykelti Williamson, Arsenio Hall, Tommy Davidson, Nicole Ari Parker and more. The boom mic scene…
I’ve already collected several more categories including more comedies and TV comedies. For now, I leave you with a book recommendation from my own library of titles. For this category, I chose Know Small Parts: An Actor’s Guide to Turning Minutes into Moments and Moments into a Career because many of these movies made me love movies. And because many of these actors and filmmakers became part of my own journey including Kevin Costner who endorsed the book. Available at Amazon. Signed copies at Garden District Book Shop with free shipping on orders over $25 during this crisis.