The Sting: written by David S. Ward; directed by George Roy Hill; starring Paul Newman (Henry Gondorff), Robert Redford (Johnny Hooker), Robert Shaw (Doyle Lonnegan), Charles Durning (Lt. Snyder), Ray Walston (Singleton), Eileen Brennan (Billie), and Harold Gould (Kid Twist) (1973): The Sting won 7 Oscars including Best Picture and Best Director, while also making a ton of money (domestically and adjusted for inflation to 2015, it sits $100 million or more ($2015) above The Dark Knight and Jurassic World as of August 2015). A twisty caper/scam comedy pits grifters Robert Redford and Paul Newman against New York mobster Robert Shaw in a complicated con game involving race tracks, gambling, poker, Western Union, assassins, and vengeance.
The actors are all terrific from the leads to all the fine character actors like Eileen Brennan, Ray Walston, and Charles Durning who fill out the roster. They don’t really make Hollywood blockbusters with clever scripts like this any more — it’s a relic of a more elegant age, the early 1970’s… Highly recommended.
Groundhog Day: written by Danny Rubin and Harold Ramis; directed by Harold Ramis; starring Bill Murray (Phil), Andie MacDowell (Rita), and Chris Elliott (Larry) (1993): One of the more philosophically interesting of all comedies past or present, and a fantasy-comedy bracingly buttressed with despair and existential anomie. Of all the great comedies Harold Ramis wrote, co-wrote, and/or directed, this is probably the greatest. That Bill Murray didn’t get a sniff of a Best Actor Oscar is yet another example of the ridiculous lack of respect the Academy has for comedy. Highly recommended.
Mad Dog and Glory: written by Richard Price; directed by John McNaughton; starring Robert De Niro (Wayne ‘Mad Dog’ Dobie), Uma Thurman (Glory), Bill Murray (Frank Milo), David Caruso (Mike), and Mike Starr (Harold ) (1993): Enjoyable dramedy sees introverted, lonely police photographer Robert De Niro save gangster Bill Murray’s life and in return receive Uma Thurman as a “friend” from Murray for a week. Richard Price’s screenplay is surprisingly pungent yet humane (which sounds like the description for the worst wine ever made).
Murray conveys a fair bit of menace in his handful of scenes as a mob guy who dreams of being a stand-up comic. De Niro is painfully withdrawn, and Thurman charming. The movie doesn’t avoid the tougher issues raised by its premise, though it does sugarcoat them — and anyone tired of the massive age gaps between male and female leads in Hollywood movies could use this one as Exhibit A. Recommended.
St. Vincent: written and directed by Theodore Melfi; starring Bill Murray (Vincent), Melissa McCarthy (Maggie), Maomi Watts (Daka), Chris O’Dowd (Brother Geraghty), Terrence Howard (Zucko), and Jaeden Lieberher (Oliver) (2014): One can see how this movie won the People’s Choice Award at the 2014 Toronto Film Festival. It’s a crowd-pleasing dramedy with a fine performance by Bill Murray as the grumpy Vincent of the title, a hard-drinking retiree who’s just been either blessed or cursed with new next-door neighbours for his Brooklyn home, Melissa McCarthy as newly divorced Maggie and 12-year-old Jaeden Lieberher as Oliver.
Everything stays just enough on the comedy side of things to forgive the movie some of its improbabilities, not to mention its occasional resemblance to Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino. The leads are all winning. Murray is irascible but occasionally serious and haunted. McCarthy seems to be relieved to be playing an actual sympathetic character instead of a caricature. Jaeden Lieberher is extraordinarily good as the small but feisty Oliver — it’s a totally non-annoying kid performance. Hallelujah! Naomi Watts is funny in the somewhat thankless role of a wacky, malaprop-spewing, pregnant Russian prostitute with a heart of, perhaps, copper. You’ll see most of the prop beats coming, but they are well-handled, and Murray’s character is never forced to undergo a complete domestication of his often unlikable character. Recommended.
Manhattan Murder Mystery: written by Woody Allen and Marshall Brickman; directed by Woody Allen; starring Woody Allen (Larry Lipton), Diane Keaton (Carol Lipton), Jerry Adler (Paul House), Alan Alda (Ted), and Anjelica Huston (Marcia Fox) (1993): Amiable, somewhat overlong mid-career Allen comedy sees bored married couple Woody and Diane Keaton fall into investigating what Keaton believes to be the murder of one of their Manhattan apartment neighbours. Happily, pursuing a murderer spices up their marriage. The narrative spins its wheels a lot for the first 45 minutes before getting traction, at which point it becomes something of a romp recalling Allen’s earlier, funnier work. Alan Alda and Anjelica Huston offer humourous supporting work. Recommended.