The Shoes of the Fisherman (1968) Anthony Quinn, Sir Laurence Olivier. This beautifully-filmed drama focuses on the relevancy of the Catholic Church in turbulent, modern times - specifically, in 1968, just three years after the final convening of the Second Vatican Council in Rome. Though confusing to those unfamiliar with Roman Catholic doctrine, policy, and tradition (as well as to those to whom the Chinese-Soviet feud that escalates in one of the film's many sub-plots is foreign), it is nevertheless a typically outstanding performance by lead Anthony Quinn, full of the rich scenery of the Vatican and Saint Peter's basilica and rife with tension as we witness the selection of a new pope. The struggles, the questions, the self-doubts and the loneliness of the men of the cloth are artfully presented here, humanizing them to a degree that makes their unshakeable faith even more poignant and beautiful. I particularly appreciated the scenes depicting the preparation, funeral, and burial of the dead pontiff, as some traditions and customs which shroud the innerworkings of the papacy are as old and curious as the crown itself - and certainly not made public to even the most faithful of followers. As honest and critical as the film's stance on organized religion aims to be, the beauty of the faith that is highlighted here still burns at the film's core, carrying it to epic status. Don't pass up the chance to see this movie.
Swing Time (1936) Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers. The lightness, the music, and that unmistakable allure of "Fred and Ginger" really surprised me - Astaire is a charming crooner; Rogers is sweet, quick-witted and beautiful. Watching them dance and romance together is a true delight, and hey, for being 70 years old, this movie is still truly funny (I never envisioned a "pants theft" as part of a Fred Astaire film, but wow).
The Pride of the Yankees (1942) Gary Cooper, Teresa Wright. Director Sam Wood (Natalie's surname-sake) has been quoted as underestimating Cooper's subtle, low-key method of acting while filming Pride, only to be subsequently blown away by the larger-than-life performance that comes across onscreen. I found Cooper absolutely charming as legend Lou Gehrig, from his start as the child of hardworking immigrants, through 2,130 games in a row with the Yanks, all the way until that unforgettable speech. Sure, it doesn't delve into the true Gehrig the way I would have liked, but Coop's kinda handsome, no? A good film nonetheless.