Not yet familiar with the films of Albert Brooks? Seems impossible but lucky for you, this latest installment of our Lock Yourself in Weekend series will help get you caught up with the rest of us. Find yourself a free weekend with nothing to do, and rent or buy these great films from Netflix, Itunes, Amazon Instant or anywhere you get movies. Then let us know what you thought. The Interrobang Presents: Lock Yourself in with Albert Brooks.
How do you create a great comedic filmmaker and actor? Start with an actress (Thelma Ritter), add a generous helping of a Greek Dialect Comedian (Parkyakarkas), a dash of the last name Einstein with a side of naming him Albert. Grow him in Beverly Hills amongst Carl Reiner, Rob Reiner and Carrie Fisher, and then set him free to do unforgettable standup (if you’ve forgotten it here’s a reminder), Carson spots (you can see them here) and short films (watch them here ) in the 1970s. You could spend months getting to know all of the Albert Brooks that’s worth knowing, but we’re going to give you the tip of the iceberg here– the cream of the crop. Come to think of it, we’ll throw in a few extras and you can make it two weekends.
1. Modern Romance
Katherine Heigl and Jennifer Aniston and their peers have made us forget what true great romantic comedy looks like. If that’s all you’ve seen throw out all your ideas of what a romantic comedy even is. Modern Romance is the film that wrote the book on the romantic comedy. The kind of realistic romantic comedy that shows the obsession and jealousy that can permeate an on-again, off-again, on-again relationship. Driving around and around the person’s block, starting a new vitamin regimen, taking up jogging and ruining a date with a new person are all made hilarious by Brooks’ commitment to realism in love. Plus, there’ s a 20-minute scene of Albert alone after taking a few ludes that is worth the price of admission.
2. Real Life
Long before The Real World or any of The Real Housewives, there was Real Life. A prophetic mockumentary of not just a family, but of the documentary crew sent to film that family. Brooks plays “Albert Brooks” as a self-involved, egotistical director who is more concerned about how fatigued he may look on camera than he is with the disintegration of the family he his filming. Again, long before Larry David was even bald, let alone a bald asshole on Curb, Albert fearlessly played himself as a shmuck.
3. Lost in America
With Easy Rider as their inspiration, a couple quit their jobs and hit the road to learn how to really live. After losing all their money, though, they learn that living actually does require money. This hysterical discourse on the yuppie lifestyle features one of the greatest Vegas sequences ever, with Albert trying to get back the “nest egg” money his wife lost gambling. Never forget, The Desert Inn Has Heart.
4. Defending Your Life
What really happens after you die? According to Albert, you go a place called Judgment City where you are placed on trial for how well you managed your fears when you were on earth. Such a simple, but brilliant, concept. Plus, you get to eat all you want and never gain weight. Meryl Streep shows she really is a master by uncharacteristically playing the light comedy with flair, while at the same time playing the “perfect woman” without seeming obnoxious.
5. Broadcast News
Albert didn’t write or direct Broadcast News, but it feels like he could have, what with the witty dialogue and realistic feel to what it’s like in a Washington-based newsroom. He plays one third of a love triangle – the intelligent, thoughtful, extremely moral third who is hopelessly in love with his friend. She, of course, is attracted to the handsome, dim and dull newsman. A treatise on the idea of style over substance, this one scored Albert a well-deserved Best Supporting Actor Academy Award nomination.
Albert plays completely against type in this stylish modern-day film noir, as a second-rate “thug” who used to be a film producer. See it for Albert’s performance, but stay for the plot turns and unique filmmaking. The film is always one step ahead of you, and you can never guess where things are going next.
Already Seen Those? Go Deeper with These Great Brooks Films
7. My First Mister
A very sweet film about the connection (not love affair) between a teenage girl and a middle-aged man. It sounds like it could be creepy (which is addressed in the film), but there is nothing sexual between them. Just two lost souls on the highway of life who find comfort and friendship in one another. Albert again shows his acting chops as a closed-off, phobic man who doesn’t even know how much he’s missing in his life until he meets Leelee Sobieski’s character. A little gem that didn’t get any attention because it came out around the time of 9/11, but worth a look.
8. I’ll Do Anything
Originally conceived and shot as a musical, James L. Brooks unfortunately listened to test audiences and cut the music. Now Prince (who wrote the score) won’t give the songs back to him for a dvd release. But forget all of that. And forget about the cutesy, annoying little kid in the movie and see this one for Albert’s turn as a “Joel Silver”-type producer who couldn’t care less how good an actor is, but is only interested in whether his leading men and women are “fuckable”.
Whether it’s the backhanded compliments, the outright criticisms, or the craziness when it comes to money or food – everyone who grew up with a mother will find something to relate to in this movie. Albert plays a writer who moves back in with his mother after his second divorce, in order to find out why he can’t make things work w ith the women in his life. Loads of family issues are dissected in this one – sibling rivalry, jealousy, and on and on. Debbie Reynolds plays Albert’s mother to such perfection, it’s hard to believe they aren’t really related. Then again, since she’s the mother of one of his friends from his high school days, they practically are.
You are officially dared to find Albert in Critical Care. Not because his part is so small, mind you, but because it’s difficult to make him out underneath all of the makeup and true acting technique it took to turn him into an 80-something year old doctor who runs a hospital that cares more about insurance than it does its patients. Another prophetic film, this time about the world of health care and the direction it’s taken, directed by Sidney Lumet.
The first part of the list is dead on perfect...almost. You gotta add The Muse. Yes its a strange-ass movie, but its hilarious and gets funnier every time you see it. Brooks is a screenwriter with writer's block. Sharon Stone is the pain in the ass/demanding muse who he hopes will help him. Jeff Bridges, Andie MacDowell and a ton of great cameos.
Finding comedy in everything and everything in comedy.
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