Friday, March 30, 2007
It's hard to believe it but Warren Beatty is turning seventy today. He remains, 45 years after making his feature film debut in Elia Kazan's SPLENDOUR IN THE GRASS, one of our most iconic and great actors. He is also a fine director, solid writer and an influential producer. I thought to celebrate the man's birthday I would count down my ten favorite Beatty films. I haven't seen all of them but I have seen the majority and a handful rank among my favorite American films.
So to Warren who's lived a fuller life than most of us could even imagine, happy 70th.
10. LILITH: Robert Rossen's strange and effective film gave Beatty one of his finest early roles and pared him up with Jean Seberg (who gives possibly her finest performance).
9. BULWORTH: Beatty write, directs and stars in this brutally funny political satire about a politician who walks up to the edge and then slips right over it. Morricone did the score and it remains one of the most biting political commentaries of the past decade.
8. HEAVEN CAN WAIT: Beatty again directs himself and stars with Julie Christie in this remake of the classic 1940's film. He received Oscar nominations for directing, acting and producing for this very funny and at times moving film, his last of the seventies.
7. MICKEY ONE: Arthur Penn tips his hat to the French new wave with this sharp and very cool flick from 1965. Beatty gives a solid, understated reading in the role of Mickey and this film is screaming for a Dvd release.
6. REDS: Beatty won the oscar for this brave and unusual epic that he again wrote, directed and starred in. This has recently been released as a fine deluxe dvd with the notoriously interview shy Beatty providing some very rare and valuable insights.
5. PARALLAX VIEW: One of the great classics of Seventies paranoia and one of Alan Pakula's finest films. This eerie 1975 feature has Beatty giving one of his best and most complex performances. Makes a great double feature with THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR.
4. SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS: Has their ever been a couple lovelier than Warren Beatty and Natalie Wood? Kazan's 1961 film still packs a major punch as one of the great stories of young love. Beatty in his scenes with Pat Hingle as his father has never been better. Natalie Wood is unbelievably moving in this film and the final scene between her and Beatty is one of the sixties finest moments.
3. McCABE and MRS MILLER: My favorite Altman film is one of the most unique and haunting I have ever seen. A bearded, sad and weary Beatty exclaims at one point to Julie Christie that he has poetry in him and it's a line that neatly sums up his entire career.
2. BONNIE AND CLYDE: Arthur Penn's legendary film did as much to change American cinema as an other in its history. Beatty is jaw-droppingly good as the Clyde Barrow and I still find it hard to grasp that he didn't win an oscar for this performance. It remains one of the most astonishing films ever made and features Faye Dunaway and Gene Hackman giving two of their greatest earliest performances.
1. SHAMPOO: Hal Ashby's masterpiece gives Beatty his greatest role as the swinging playboy hairdresser who can only bring himself to give just so much was written by Beatty with legendary screen writer Robert Towne. Julie Christie, Goldie Hawn and Lee Grant all give great performances but the film belongs to Warren. One of the most perfect films of the seventies and against heavy competition my favorite Warren Beatty film. The closing shot of Beatty set to Paul Simon's subtle score is a scene that I play over and over in my head. Funny, moving and one of the best American films ever made.
Beatty hasn't made a film since 2001's disappointing TOWN AND COUNTRY. I think the man has a couple of more jewels left for us though and I'll gladly follow him in whatever he chooses to give us. He is one of the great and mostly uniquely American icons we have and my love affair with sixties and seventies cinema would have been lessened without his work...all of this and he also played Milton Armitage on tvs THE MANY LOVES OF DOBIE GILLIS.