Want to give your movie-loving relative or friend a special treat for Christmas? Try one of these treasures:
NOTORIOUS, 1946. Hitchcock's best film from the 1940's features brilliant direction, beautifully designed black and white photography, and, of course, the stars. Cary Grant is a suave U.S. agent who enlists Ingrid Bergman, the daughter of a traitor and a "notorious" party girl, to spy on Nazi-sympathizers in Rio just after WWII. As he trains her, they fall madly in love. Her job forces her to marry wealthy industrialist Claude Rains and leads her into life-threatening danger. The famous key sequence that leads to deadly discoveries is the highlight of this suspense classic.
BLACK NARCISSUS, 1947 . Directed by Michael Powell and Emereck Pressburger, this fever-pitched drama about English nuns alone in a mountainous northern Indian province, provides Deborah Kerr one of her greatest roles. As Sister Clodagh, Kerr must control not only her high-strung sisters but also her own conflict between her faith and her simmering desire for a rough adventurer. This is a role she would enlarge on in HEAVEN KNOWS, MR. ALLISON, 1957. The stunning color photography by Jack Cardiff won the Oscar for Best Cinematography, and Kerr won the New York Critics Award for Best Actress. Kerr would be nominated for 6 Best Actress awards, but BLACK NARCISSUS remains her finest performance.
MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS, 1944. Vincente Minnelli's gingerbread dream of America in 1904 as the World's Fair approached starred Judy Garland in one of her signature roles, Esther Smith, an idealistic, romantic girl who falls in love with "The Boy Next Store." This rose-colored valentine to Americana featured Garland belting "The Trolley Song" and giving "Have Yourself a Merry, Little Christmas" its most tremulous, personal interpretation. Filmed in MGM's vivid storybook colors, MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS remains one of the great musicals of all time.
BEST IN SHOW, 2000. One of the funniest satires ever made, this Christopher Guest-directed farce takes a close and scathing look at the dog show buisness. The cast of clueless owners includes ventriloquist and good ole boy (director Guest) and his bloodhound Hubert; a tacky but lovable couple (Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara), who seem to run into her former conquests at every turn, and their Norwich Terrier Winky; an obnoxious yuppie couple (Parker Posey and Michael Hitchcock), who personify status-climbing, and their neurotic Weimaraner; Sheri Ann Cabot (Jennifer Coolidge), a bosomy blonde based on Anna Nicole Smith), her barely alive sugar daddy, her standard Poodle Rhapsody in White, and her trainer Christie Cummings (Jane Lynch); and a campy gay couple played by John Michael Higgins and Michael McKean. It's amazing how many of these folks can be seen when you watch the annual Westminister Dog Show.