The West Wing remains my favorite of Aaron Sorkin’s creations on the big screen or small. It stands, especially in these times, as an idealistic vision of what government could and should be. It’s populated by wonderfully developed eccentric devoted public servants, each of which is so fully-realized and distinct from each other that they feel like old friends more than characters on the screen. This same treatment is extended to even minor characters and, in the show’s first two seasons, no minor character was as much fun as Mrs. Landingham (Kathryn Joosten), President Bartlet’s wonderfully cryptic and acerbic assistant, gatekeeper, and confidante.
In the show’s first Christmas episode, “In Excelsis Deo”, the show takes two characters, Mrs. Landingham and Richard Schiff’s Toby Ziegler, and has them deal with the ghosts of the Vietnam War while the rest of The White House prepares for Christmas festivities. The two stories come together in a stunningly powerful final scene for the episode: one of the best Christmas episodes in dramatic television.
While I have no more cowbell for you (pause for sighs and boos), I do have more awesome movie scenes. “My Favorite Scene” is the oldest column in the nearly five-year history of Killing Time. I’ve written over 240 of them, but I haven’t even scratched the surface of the movies I want to take a look at. For Tuesday’s column, I try to pick a movie that has some relevance to a star or a film coming out that weekend. This keeps the films pretty much in the 5-10 year past ballpark. That’s fine, but I never get to go back further and that’s what the Saturday installments will largely do: examine great scenes from films a little further back. I’ve already plotted out 2018’s entries, and I’m really excited about the line-up of films we’ll hopefully get some discussion started on. Some of these I’ve examined in my every-other-month IMDB TOP 250 columns, but those films can’t get enough revisiting. The first Saturday entry, The Shawshank Redemption,is already up!
By turns brutal and beautiful; crude yet wise in a way few pieces of art ever attain, The Shawshank Redemption has grown and grown in popularity since it’s release over 20 years ago. When it was released in 1994, it was overshadowed for recognition by “Gumpmania” as Forrest Gump took most of the glory that year, but over time the film has grown so in stature that it is now the highest rated film of all-time by users on the IMDB’s Top 250 Films (click here for a more in-depth look at the film).
The parole hearings were a recurring plot device to show both the changes that Otis “Red” Redding (Morgan Freeman) underwent in his decades in prison and the passage of time. This occurs at the very end of the film when a weary Red is dragged one more time in front of the parole board and with withering weariness delivers one of the best monologues Freeman’s ever gotten. It’s the tired wisdom of an old man desperate to speak sense to his younger self, bereft of the hope that a future is possible. Whatever Red says the final time, it sets him free and on a path to Mexico and a reunion with his best friend.
I’m a born and bred space nerd, so any movie that tells me a story I don’t already know about NASA’s golden age already has me at hello. Hidden Figures wasn’t as good a film as it was hyped to be, but that doesn’t mean it still wasn’t a great story told exceptionally well with a fantastic ensemble. It’s a both sad and practical problem that there have been so many films about discrimination that it’s sometimes hard to hammer home the vicious indignity of it without borrowing from previous efforts.
What Hidden Figures did so well was to take an everyday reality for every person on the planet-using the restroom-and make it the film’s most poignant moment of the maddening unfairness of segregation. Kevin Costner and Taraji Henson both give fantastic performances in this film, and Henson’s quiet character finally losing her mind over the ridiculousness of having to run 30 minutes to find a “colored restroom” is a wonderfully written and performed monologue. Costner’s response has a lot fewer words in it, but then he got to do his talking with a crowbar.
If you’re not a baseball fan and you’ve never watched Moneyball because of that, here’s a great piece of news: it’s not really a baseball film; it’s a film about economics. Wait. No. That doesn’t make it sound more exciting. Moneyball by Michael Lewis is a book that changed the way baseball is viewed by fans and baseball personnel. It attempted to explain how the Oakland A’s, a team with a payroll a fraction of the size of, say, the Yankees, Red Sox, or Dodgers, is consistently in contention for a spot in the World Series. The answer is: they don’t sign players or people; they sign numbers.
The Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane became the disciple of a formula that looks for players who simply get on base. Getting on base produces runs; runs produce wins. Moneyball is the story of his crusade to change how baseball is run, and only Michael Lewis, who is the best writer on economic matters to people who have no understanding of economics (hi), and Aaron Sorkin, who can make any subject compelling and fun, could have put together a movie version of that crusade that is riveting. It’s one of Brad Pitt’s best performances, as Beane fighting the entirety of the A’s to make his vision work, and one of the film’s best scenes comes before things start to click and he stumbles upon an upbeat locker room after another loss that Beane knows he’s going to have to answer for to everyone.