Written by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne in July 1945, during a heat wave, no less:
1. Frank Sinatra – “Let It Snow”
A call-and-response duet, in which the male singer tries to convince the female to stay at home for a romantic evening, because the weather is so fierce:
2. Ray Charles and Betty Carter – “Baby It’s Cold Outside”
What with two (plus) feet on the white stuff en route, oh yes, we will all assuredly be “blue”:
3. Muddy Waters – “Cold Weather Blues”
The 1933 song was featured in the 1943 movie of the same name:
4. Etta James – “Stormy Weather”
From a master of cool jazz for a cold day:
5. Gerry Mulligan and Paul Desmond – “Wintersong”
Editor’s Note: This is an expansion of Kyle Smith’s list of the 10 best films of the 2000s published here in July 2014. I’ve asked Kyle to expand his series as PJ Lifestyle begins offering more lists, articles, essays, and blog posts exploring culture, art, technology, and history by decade. Recently he expanded his ’80s list to a top 20 here, his ’70s list here, his ’60s list here, his ’50s list here, his ’90s list here, and his ’40s list here. Do you disagree with Kyle’s choices? Do you have your own ideas for lists of movies or other cultural subjects? Which years and what subjects would you most like to see covered at PJ Lifestyle? Email: DaveSwindlePJM [@] gmail.com. Also check out Kyle’s top 10 movie picks for the ‘30s before he expands them to a top 20 too, completing the series. Click here to read “What Makes a Great Movie?,” Kyle’s essay explaining his criteria for these lists.
20. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
A glorious union of Eastern martial arts and Hollywood production values, Ang Lee’s timeless 18th century story is magical, exciting, romantic and sweeping, one of the most beautiful and bewitching action films ever made.
You’ve seen the superhero movies, but what about all the great films that didn’t have $50 million marketing budgets or didn’t attract much of an audience? There were plenty of sleepers in 2014, and many of them are now available on home video or on streaming services such as Netflix. Here are some don’t-miss films.
Chris Pine isn’t much of an actor to play the Tom Clancy take on James Bond, but in this origins story Pine isn’t expected to be Harrison Ford but merely the fresh-faced, slightly nervous young recruit just gaining his footing. A careful, methodical spy thriller that puts story over cheap thrills, Kenneth Branagh’s film features an able supporting cast including Kevin Costner as the mentor, Keira Knightley as a wily girlfriend and Branagh himself as a Russian terrorist with a plan to kneecap the U.S. economy.
The conservative movement faces many challenges as we turn the calendar to 2015. There are ongoing battles with those on the left who think we are stupid or evil (or both) and with those in the Republican Party who find more in common with the big-government Democrats than with those on the right who favor smaller government and traditional values. As we look forward to a new year, it’s a good time for all of us to consider how we can be more effective activists, so I offer a list of some areas for improvement. This is in no way an indictment of the entire conservative movement or an attempt to stereotype anyone — I am fully aware that most movement conservatives already do these things. But I’ve needed to work on all of them at one time or another (and need to do so on a continuing basis) and so I thought perhaps they might inspire you to set some new goals for 2015.
1. Talk to People with Whom You Disagree
It’s tempting to think of people on the other side of the political spectrum — both those in the other party and those within our own party — as enemies. And while it’s true that there are some extremists who are literally trying to destroy this country from the top down (and the bottom up), the vast majority of people we have disagreements with are really decent people who see the world differently than we do. They have children and families and go to work every day and really do want to make the world a better place, however misguided their efforts may be.
The truth is we have very deep divides in this country and they’re not going to be healed if we demonize our opponents and shun dialogue, so let’s resolve to have more meaningful conversations with those on the other side of the political spectrum in 2015.
Editor’s Note: This article was first published as “Essential Christmas: The 10 Best Holiday Specials And Movies” in 2011 and is now resurrected and republished as part of today and tomorrow’s Ghost-Lists of Christmas Past Series.
In a day when parents and children rarely watch the same TV shows, Christmas TV specials and holiday movies still somehow manage to continue to bring families together.
These days it’s even easier than it used to be to share these traditions. ABC Family has made an art out of holiday programming with their “25 Days of Christmas” programming blocs that package specials throughout the month of December. Home video and streaming services also allow families to watch programs whenever they want.
In the spirit of Christmas, I’m offering to you this list of the ten most essential specials and movies of the season.
We’ll start with a pair of very different types of animation from a production company synonymous with Christmas specials…
Arthur Rankin and Jules Bass are synonymous with their stop-motion Christmas specials of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Viewers not familiar with their names will recognize their unmistakable round-headed characters, candy-colored landscapes, and softly falling snow. A few of their specials are on this list, starting with The Year Without A Santa Claus.
In this 1974 special, Mrs. Claus (voiced by Shirley Booth) tells the story of the year Santa (voiced by Mickey Rooney) decides — on doctor’s orders — to take a vacation. Two of his elves and the young reindeer Vixen take a trip to find enough Christmas spirit to cheer Santa up. Along their way, the elves battle the Heat Miser and Snow Miser and visit Southtown, USA, where they get lost. Santa journeys south to find Vixen and discovers that the children of the world need him. He can’t skip Christmas.
The Year Without A Santa Claus is a clever story with some memorable scenes and catchy songs, including those involving the villains.
It’s not as ubiquitous as Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer or Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, but The Year Without A Santa Claus is trippy holiday fun.
An Irving Berlin song about an old, traditional Christmas, this was one of the wonderful songs featured in the 1942 film Holiday Inn. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, this is the number one hit single of all time, with over 50 million copies of the Bing Crosby version sold, and over 100 million counting all of the remakes.
1. Bing Crosby – “White Christmas”
Australian by birth, Tal Wilkenfeld began playing guitar at age 14. Two years later, feeling “this just isn’t going to work out for me,” she dropped out of high school and emigrated to the United states. A year later, having changed her instrument to bass guitar, she graduated in 2004 from the prestigious Los Angeles Music Academy College of Music.
That same year, she moved to New York City, and began performing with numerous greats – as a guest with the Allman Brothers, then with Chick Corea, Jeff Beck, Wayne Krantz, Herbie Hancock, Eric Clapton, and many others. As the lead for her own act, she has earned critical acclaim as one of the most exciting new artists of recent memory.
1. Tal Wilkenfeld – “Serendipity Live”
5. Life is Beautiful: Dr. Who
Before they brought Holmes and Watson into the 20th century in the excellent personages of Benedict Cumberbach and Martin Freeman, the Sherlock team first produced this marvelous update of the ultimate geek cult classic, Dr. Who.
For the uninitiated, The Doctor is a time-traveling alien, last of his species which was known as Time Lords, who generally is incarnated with some sort of accent from the British Isles, and travels through time and space in a blue time capsule that looks like a blue British police call box circa 1963 (when the series debuted on the BBC.)
The Doctor is of an undetermined age, and regenerates every so often with a new body and slightly different personality. This season, he is played by Peter Capaldi and is, to his initial consternation, an older and grouchier, Scotsman. In the most recent seasons he has been played to great effect by Christopher Eccleson, David Tennant and Matt Smith.
The Doctor travels with an appealing and adventurous sidekick, generally a young and pretty British woman.
Like The Doctor himself, this show has heart to spare, generally with the characters saving some civilization from extinction. While Dr. Who is consistently life-affirming, the show recently aired one of the most blatantly pro-life episodes in the history of television.
Forget wondering if a baby might ruin one’s career, in this case, the dilemma was whether to kill the last of an alien species in utero, even if letting it hatch meant risking the future of Earth itself.
Utterly whimsical and completely addictive, Dr. Who has a sense of wonder and humanity that is unique in modern television.
Editor’s Note: This is an expansion of Kyle Smith’s list of the 10 best films of the 1990s published here in June. I’ve asked Kyle to expand his series as PJ Lifestyle begins offering more lists, articles, essays, and blog posts exploring culture, art, technology, and history by decade. Recently he expanded his ’80s list to a top 20 here, his ’70s list here, his ’60s list here, his ’50s list here, and his ’40s list here. Do you disagree with Kyle’s choices? Do you have your own ideas for lists of movies or other cultural subjects? Which years and what subjects would you most like to see covered at PJ Lifestyle? Email: DaveSwindlePJM [@] gmail.com. Also check out Kyle’s top 10 movie picks for the ‘30s and the ’00s before he expands them to top 20s. Click here to read “What Makes a Great Movie?,” Kyle’s essay explaining his criteria for these lists.
20. Braveheart (1995)
Mel Gibson’s stirring, vigorous historical epic about Scottish nationalists taking on the more powerful English is a throwback to ’50s filmmaking – big battles, yes, but also attentive to the love scenes and most of all to the sense that heroic individuals shape history, even if they lose, because they’re so inspiring to others long after they fall.
It’s a cold, windy, rainy, crappy weather day outside here. I don’t know about you, but at the moment I could use something to listen to, a reminder of summer. (Stepping into that pothole full of icy water earlier didn’t help matters much.) It’s a long haul until then, but winter makes us appreciate summer, doesn’t it?
If anyone could make you want to give it all up, move to Brazil, and spend your days walking barefoot on the beach, it would be Bebel.
1. Bebel Gilberto – So Nice (Summer Samba)
You know who they are.
You’ve seen them in movies you really wanted to like only to have the film taken down a peg, maybe two, by those annoying, bothersome supporting characters who, for some reason, writers, producers, or some studio suit considered indispensable. Sometimes they’re sidekicks, sometimes comedy relief, sometimes they’re kids, and sometimes they’re just plain head scratchers. But in every case, they stick out like sore thumbs, dragging down the quality of otherwise decent pictures or films that could have been great but fell short due to bad casting.
We speak of the mysterious extra punch that movie makers throughout cinema history have at one time or another considered indispensable to the success of a film. Often such instincts have proven on the money (literally!) as endless numbers of Gene Autry and Roy Rogers films can attest! And in case modern audiences have become too smug in their belief that today’s filmmakers are way too sophisticated to fall back on such dubious casting, they’re asked to look no farther than the string of Star Wars movies, blockbusters all!
But even as we disparage their use, there has been a method to filmmakers’ madness in casting such annoying characters. Often they’re used to keep the stars from getting too full of themselves — taking the air out of their sails when it threatens to carry them away. Other times, it’s to inject some needed comedy relief in tense situations. In still others, it might be to inject some pearls of wisdom or unconscious bits of philosophical truth to the goings on. Sometimes they might be allowed to display certain kinds of emotions such as fright or sentimentality not allowed the hero lest he seem less heroic. Sometimes he might even play cupid, maneuvering the hero and his romantic interest into each other’s arms. Which is to say, under the proper circumstances, the supporting character can work, but when they don’t, movie buffs end up with Supporting Characters Who Spoiled Their Movies!
10) Alan Hale
Perhaps in love with the jovial nature he projected on film, producers in the golden age of Hollywood seemed to have high regard for Alan Hale, Sr., who appeared in countless films from the silent era until his death in 1950. Although Hale worked in many of his parts, his oft-repeated role as comedy relief for Errol Flynn managed to take such films as The Adventures of Robin Hood, Desperate Journey, and The Sea Hawk down a notch or two from perfection.
Editor’s Note: See James Jay Carafano’s article from yesterday for the opposite of the films on this list: 10 Tinseltown Turkeys That Make Real Men Choke.
10. Straw Dogs (1971)
Dustin Hoffman made his bones as a misfit Hollywood Holden Caulfield in The Graduate (1967). Who would have thought of him as an action hero? “Bloody Sam” Peckinpah, that’s who. The director of the Wild West’s wildest tough guy movie, The Wild Bunch (1969), followed up with a controversial film starring Hoffman as a meek math professor on sabbatical in rural Cornwall. When a bunch of rowdy locals storm his home, Hoffman goes all Rambo proving his “manhood” in an orgy of violence. Even Hoffman’s character can’t believe what happens. “Jesus, I got ‘em all,” he mumbles at the end of the movie. This film cemented Peckinpah’s place as the king of his generation’s tough guy moviemakers. For some unfathomable reason, the movie was remade in 2011. Stick to the original.
Let’s look back at 10 of the best money-losing movies over the last couple of decades.
1. The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)
Joel and Ethan Coen’s fond sendup of 1930s screwball comedies was an ingeniously plotted story of a neophyte businessman (Tim Robbins) charged with becoming the puppet leader of a corporation that wants to depress the stock price. Instead, he turns out to be an entrepreneurial visionary who invents the hula hoop. An irascible Paul Newman is hilarious as the scheming board member frustrated by the simple honesty of the Robbins character. The movie deserves the cult success that later attached to The Big Lebowski.
Sometimes Hollywood serves up some pretty indigestible fare. Some films, such as Howard the Duck (1986), are impossible to swallow—so terrible they become synonymous with “bad cinema.” (Who can forget Gary Larson’s The Far Side cartoon depicting “Hell’s Video Store,” its shelves stocked solely with copies of Ishtar (1987)?)
But not every bomb reaches such heights of notoriety. Here’s a list of movies that are every bit as bad—and leave “real men” with extra heartburn. They degrade the genres that “real men” love best.
10. Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)
All right, this utterly dreadful sci-fi schlock is, admittedly, no stranger to lists of worst movies ever. And justifiably so. Written, directed and produced by the world’s least talented filmmaker, Edward D. Wood, it’s a bijou of awfulness. What twists the knife in this celluloid sacrilege is the sight of Bela Lugosi, one of Hollywood’s greatest horror stars, shambling through what was to be his last appearance on the silver screen. Rather than try to sit through this sad excuse for a film, better to watch Tim Burton’s engaging biopic Ed Wood (1994), which tells the story behind the movie.
Once again, my thanks for all of the great suggestions. You keep ‘em coming, I’ll keep posting them up. And once again, the standard disclaimer – I can only post so many songs per/article, so if I did not (yet) post someone you feel is relevant and a great percussionist, please make a suggestion in the comments. This is one of several open-ended series of articles, and there are hundreds of great drummers out there, so please be patient.
Peart joined Rush in 1974, just two weeks before the beginning of a major tour, and just four months after their self-titled debut album.
1. Neil Peart – (with Rush) – “Tom Sawyer“
Editor’s Note: This is an expansion of Kyle Smith’s list of the 10 best films of the 1970s published here in June. I’ve asked Kyle to expand his series as PJ Lifestyle begins offering more lists, articles, essays, and blog posts exploring culture, art, technology, and history by decade. Recently he expanded his ’80s list to a top 20 here, his ’60s list here, his ’50s list here, and his ’40s list here. Do you disagree with Kyle’s choices? Do you have your own ideas for lists of movies or other cultural subjects? Which years and what subjects would you most like to see covered at PJ Lifestyle? Email: DaveSwindlePJM [@] gmail.com. Also check out Kyle’s top 10 movie picks for the ‘30s, ’90s, and the ’00s before he expands them to top 20s. Click here to read “What Makes a Great Movie?,” Kyle’s essay explaining his criteria for these lists.
20. The Way We Were (1973)
Mistakenly confused in the memory with the sentimental theme song, the film is actually a barbed character study that explores how politics can become a kind of obsession that in this case drives a wedge between a happy-go-lucky, apolitical screenwriter (Robert Redford) and his stridently leftist wife (Barbara Streisand) during the McCarthy period.
Most Hollywood science fiction isn’t really all that “out there.” Take the computers on the original Star Trek. They operated a lot more like creaky 1960s IBM mainframes than 21st century iPads. Nevertheless, Hollywood has often been the inspiration for how militaries think about future wars. Here are 10 films that impress by their ability to presage the next weapons of war.
1. The Fabulous World of Jules Verne (1961)
The 19th century novelist pretty much single-handedly invented science fiction—and in the process he forecast military weapons from submarines to super bombs. The single best effort to bring his imagination to the screen was a 1958 Czech film, later released in the U.S. and dubbed in English. What makes this film so engaging is a unique visual style called “Mystimation” which combined flats that looked like Victorian engravings with live actors.
Among musicians are the rare few who are known as “guitar masters,” those who take the instrument to an entirely new level, which is what I hope to highlight for you here – the best of the best. These picks are not ranked in any particular order; they are entirely subjective and simply for your aural pleasure.
And so, another installment of Guitar Masters. As promised, many of your past suggestions are included here. Enjoy!
Rolling Stone magazine has rated Cooder as the 8th greatest guitarist of all time. The man can sure play the slide guitar, whatever his ranking.
1. Ry Cooder – “The Slide Man”
Editor’s Note: This is an expansion of Kyle Smith’s list of the 10 best films of the 1940s published here in July. I’ve asked Kyle to expand his series as PJ Lifestyle begins offering more lists, articles, essays, and blog posts exploring culture, art, technology, and history by decade. Last month he expanded his ’80s list to a top 20 here, his ’60s list here, and his ’50s list here. Do you disagree with Kyle’s choices? Do you have your own ideas for lists of movies or other cultural subjects? Which years and what subjects would you most like to see covered at PJ Lifestyle? Email: DaveSwindlePJM [@] gmail.com. Also check out Kyle’s top 10 movie picks for the ‘30s, ‘70s, ’90s, and the ’00s before he expands them to top 20s. Click here to read “What Makes a Great Movie?,” Kyle’s essay explaining his criteria for these lists.
In the 1940s, patriotic films meant to rally the nation competed for attention with escapist fare and wonderfully felt nostalgia, but some of the best films of the decade are the uncharacteristically dark ones that were far ahead of their time. Here’s one critic’s expanded list of the 20 best films of the decade.
20. Red River (1948)
An ambitious rancher (John Wayne) and the boy (Montgomery Clift) he adopts and turns into his heir clash on a massive cattle drive north on the Chisholm Trail. Howard Hawks’s film is a rambling, broad-shouldered Western that captures the courage, resourcefulness, self-sacrifice and the sometimes extreme measures involved in the building of great American fortunes. Wayne’s thorny, complicated hero give the lie to those who would claim his performances lacked depth.
New Line Cinema is known as “The House That Freddy Built”, and rightfully so. The A Nightmare on Elm Street films were slow but steady in permeating America’s wider pop-culture, making child-murderer and punster Freddy Krueger into a household name. Freddy is a horror legend, and one of the “Big 3” of the slasher genre along with Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers. While having fewer films than those two, Freddy arguably has the best track record for being entertaining, if not actually being imaginative and scary. What follows is a look at the A Nightmare on Elm Street films, going from horror classics to diminishing returns.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors
Dream Warriors beats out the original film largely because it’s one of the few to have Freddy hit that sweet spot between horror and ham without diminishing either. The cannon fodder is probably the most likable cast in horror movie history, and that adds to the terror and the sadness when any of them get offed by Freddy.
Speaking of, Freddy isn’t as on his A-game with the nightmare settings when he goes to work on his victims, but his subtle manipulations of the environment to get at them has never been better. The paranoia invoked by this creative decision masterfully displays the dream logic of the scenes in which Krueger appears, and makes them that much more terrifyingly plausible as a result. Freddy takes out his victims methodically and with a twinge of dark humor that makes their deaths that much more disturbing, instead of the punchline they would later become.
We also get the return of Heather Langenkamp as Nancy, now older, wiser, and more prepared to deal with Freddy once she unintentionally finds herself back in his sights with the new teens. The film has been compared to Jason and the Argonauts, but I prefer Freddy Vs. X-Men. Dream Warriors succeeds as both horror and adventure, and it’s arguably the best performance Robert Englund gave as Krueger.
On Soul Train, no less!
3. The O’Jays – “Back Stabbers” (1972)
A bonus track from Prager University on similar subject matter:
Editor’s Note: Over the spring and summer we launched the PJ Lifestyle Music at Midnight feature, highlighting reader suggestions for great songs worth featuring. One contributor’s infectious enthusiasm and good nature won us over. He’s since expanded his music recommendations to a series of list-article-mix tapes. Now in this daily feature we’re going to start drawing from his lists (and growing an archive of them) to discuss the songs and artists included. Who should be included next? What ideas do you have for music or other culture or lifestyle ideas you’d like to see discussed at PJ Lifestyle? Get in touch DaveSwindlePJM AT gmail.com or @DaveSwindle on Twitter. Here’s Allston’s archive so far that will launch this feature, but he’s got more list-mix-tapes in the works:
For every Justin Bieber (shudder) “discovered” on Youtube, there are others who are so good at their music, it would be impossible to ignore them unless you’re tone-deaf. Lindsey Stirling is one such and deserves recognition and all of accolades you can name. Dubstep violin? You go girl!
1. Lindsey Stirling – “Crystallize”
Editor’s Note: This is the second pre-Halloween list this year. The first was “The 10 Worst Horror Films on Netflix: Drinking Game Edition.” What would you like to see next in this series before Halloween next week?
As it is with art or humor, horror is subjective. What might frighten one person might do nothing for another. And especially today, when there are so many things in our modern world that are scary, fright has been parsed virtually to its constituent components.
What scares modern audiences is more likely to be found in threats that grow directly from real life. Thus, films of past decades, whose themes may have just rolled off the backs of viewers like water off a duck, now resonate with renewed discomfort.
A new uncertainty has gripped modern society as it struggles to meet a rising restlessness. New monsters represent the looming chaos that threatens to overturn our heretofore predictable and comfortable lives. We can sit before our theater-sized TV screens in our cozy McMansions snug in our gated communities and pretend the rising chaos of the outside world won’t effect us, but in the back of our minds we know that isn’t true. That when our leaders take their hands off the tiller, or drop the reins, control is lost and confusion ensues followed by a metaphoric zombie apocalypse. Thus, perhaps, watching our monsters where they remain safely imprisoned behind the television or movie screen, we can pretend all is fantasy and that really, there’s nothing to worry about…until the schools close due to an Ebola scare, or there’s a run at the supermarket when the power fails, or a riot breaks out at a pumpkin festival, or a bomb explodes at a marathon event…
A relative latecomer to the monster sweepstakes, the creature from the film Alien (1979) definitely deserves a place of honor among the best of all time. In a single move, the alien creature (not to be confused with Universal’s Gill Man) brought the haunted house genre into the 21st century and created a horrific being perfectly suited to an age where technology and science was reaching its apogee, threatening to get out of control on any number of fronts!