Before going into straight review territory on this blog, I used to spend a lot more of my time making lists; I blame Buzzfeed for taking the joy out of the format. But recently, while I was reading Ben Lindbergh’s recent post at The Ringer about whether or not a movie should be remade, I started thinking about movies that I would like to see given another chance for one reason or another. Lindbergh argues that a film scoring below 100 points shouldn’t be remade, that a film scoring between 100 and 200 points might be good fodder but is being made at the expense of something new and interesting, and anything over 200 points is “ripe” for a remake.
Here’s how this will look. I’ve put these movies through the Lindbergh Necessity Calculations, and in preparation for some of those questions I’ve imagined a director and/or a short list of performers. (This is a fantasy anyway, so hopefully you’ll forgive me for fantasizing.) I’ve also taken the liberty of hypothesizing some differences between the original films and the new.
—Deliverance (-11 points)
New director: Steven Soderbergh.
Negative points look bad. I get it. But Deliverance made more money than any other movie I’m surveying here (in our money, about $175 million), and I think that’s what dragged it this far down. The movie is not as exciting as you remember. Deformed banjo kid, “squeal like a pig,” and Burt Reynolds with a bow aside, there is a lot of dead space in this film. A version with a souped-up plot and a greater focus on the impending destruction of the area to serve corporate interests would do a whole lot for this movie. Is Dwayne Johnson too ripped to be a business executive? Probably, but he might exemplify macho better than any other actor working right now. Put him next to Ryan Gosling in the Jon Voight role and baby, you got a stew goin’. (Jason Bateman would not be a bad choice for the Ronny Cox part.)
—Close Encounters of the Third Kind (154 points)
“New” director: Steven Spielberg
Here’s the thing about Close Encounters, which I’ve written about before: it isn’t actually super good. It’s critically lauded, and of course the last twenty minutes or so are delightful, and the acting is all very good, but it’s sort of a slog to get to the part where the lights blink and the sounds blare. Why not give Spielberg another shot at this? He’s said in the past that Roy would never have left his children behind once Spielberg himself became a dad, and I’m interested to see how the story might change with that calculation to make. Some things can stay the same (we’re replacing Truffaut with Mathieu Kassovitz) while others don’t. Let’s have a more diverse family, helmed by Steve Carell and Kerry Washington. Then we should Washington a part that isn’t as shrill as Teri Garr’s or, heck, we could just as easily make her the star and Carell the parent who doesn’t get the call from the aliens. And of course, there are improved special effects to consider.
—Reservoir Dogs (232 points)
New director: Rian Johnson.
Another movie I’ve reviewed, and while I admire this movie more than I admire, say, Close Encounters, it’s still very much an indie picture. It doesn’t need the full studio gloss by a long shot, but it could stand a little more technical polish than it has. I was surprised that this movie scored as highly as it did – I might be the only person on the planet who thinks that it’s a good idea to remake Reservoir Dogs – but no small piece of that score comes from its low, low initial box office. Everyone’s seen it now, but it’s not because they were all in the theater to do it back in ’92.
This is another movie that could stand to have a more diverse cast than it does; Reservoir Dogs leads the league in “I forgot they used the n-word for no good reason here,” and any excuse to not do that would be great. Los Angeles is a city full of every kind of person you can imagine, and many of them are, in fact, not as white as Steve Buscemi. Buscemi is the best part of the movie, but wouldn’t fit in well. Harvey Keitel might be a nice tie-in as Joe Cabot.
Cheery Disney Movies You Never Knew Existed
A genre of movie that I think we’re starting to miss more and more is the wholesome movie for pre-teens. This is not a demographic which is much loved in Hollywood (and the following movies were designed for ’60s teens, I imagine), but they make for family-friendly entertainment which doesn’t necessarily condescend to its young viewers or leave out its parents. The three best examples are probably 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (action-adventure), The Parent Trap (goofy kids are goofy), and The Love Bug (normal people with a weird supernatural bent), which each have their own flavor and which each have a representative below.
—In Search of the Castaways (154 points)
A surprisingly low point total for this film, which was never a real critical darling, but which had a good release. Like 20,000 Leagues, this is based on a Jules Verne novel. Unlike 20,000 Leagues, this movie is anchored by Maurice Chevalier and Hayley Mills instead of James Mason and Kirk Douglas, and so it lapses into light comedy and the occasional song sometimes. This movie also has some old-fashioned special effects and some, uh, problematic depictions of the Maori. There’s plenty to go on in this film – a girl looks for her missing father thousands of miles away from home and deals with every kind of natural disaster you can think of (including birds) en route to finding him – and it could stand a little bit of dark shading as well as a potential update to make it fit the time period.
—Summer Magic (287 points)
Summer Magic is ripe for an update. For one thing, here’s a song from the movie which, even when it’s trying to be ironic, probably would have sent Emmeline Pankhurst into the ocean with lead shoes:
A woman and her three children who are used to a fairly opulent lifestyle are forced to downgrade significantly (forced, in my version, by the Great Recession), and find that downgrading to the country isn’t so bad after all. They’re helped out by a kindly caretaker (Burl Ives in the original and almost certainly Lin-Manuel Miranda in the remake) who sings songs (like “The Ugly Bug Ball,” which is a jam) and is generally jolly. It’s not until their stuck-up cousin gets sent to live with them that there’s a whole lot of drama. It’s not a classic, but like The Parent Trap, the execution of the movie is so gentle and affirming that it deserves another shot.
—The Misadventures of Merlin Jones (297 points)
Merlin Jones features a college kid who accidentally makes a mind-reading helmet. Hijinks ensue. The possibilities are endless, although Disney seems to have limited itself pretty firmly and pretty unsuccessfully; part of the reason this movie scores as high as it does is because it failed to make much hay at the box office. Put Adam McKay on this one and there’s a ribald college comedy which, hopefully, is smart enough not to be creepy about Merlin’s surprising mental fortitude.
—Phantom of the Opera (131 points)
New director: Joe Wright.
The 2004 movie version is an abomination. Joel Schumacher’s direction is terrible, Gerard Butler writes Russell Crowe a thank-you note weekly (“Thanks to you, I’m no longer the name-brand actor with the worst vocal performance in a beloved musical”), and while Emmy Rossum tried very hard, she doesn’t quite have the pipes for the role. Unfortunately for them, they’re going to have to dig up a new Christine (or Sierra Boggess! Always in favor of more of her). Fortunately for them, Joe Wright is magic with his leading actresses and ridiculously theatrical setups. It seems incredible that anyone could screw this up – Phantom really is the most profitable entertainment venture in human history – but the right director and right Christine go a long way.
—Rent (166 points)
New director: Gus Van Sant
I don’t need to talk about why this movie needs to be rebooted, because I already did. Let Gus Van Sant run this as a period piece about pre-9/11 New York. Re-emphasize the importance of AIDS and homelessness and curb some of the hippy-dippy crap. That means bringing back “Christmas Bells” and for the love of all that’s good, getting rid of “La Vie Boheme.” This means getting young people in. Poach Hamilton alumni Anthony Ramos, Jasmine Cephas Jones, and Philippa Soo. Use husband-wife team Kevin Massey/Kara Lindsay. Ben Fankhauser and Corey Cott are fair game. If you have to cast Anna Kendrick, then I guess you have to. Rub some dirt in the movie’s hair, get a better set, and, most importantly, use “Seasons of Love” in the middle and not at the beginning. Don’t blow all your chips at once.
—Evita (193 points)
New director: Tom Ford
I would stop giving you all Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals to remake if you’d start giving me Sondheim movies at all, so there.
Just don’t cast Anna Kendrick as Evita. This is the best part written for a woman in a musical ever, and coincidentally it happens to be among the most difficult. Madonna’s voice is iconic, but there as much vanity in thinking she could sing the part as there was in making Evita a movie so she could be Eva. I’m a purist who thinks the only person who should play the part is Patti LuPone, but that time, alas, has passed. There are lots of immensely talented young women on Broadway right now. Pick one of them.
The reason this needs to be remade is because if it’s done right, the parallels to Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders between Eva and Che are almost shockingly perfect. I have feelings about Che and Mandy Patinkin like I do about Eva and Patti LuPone, but again, there are talented Broadway folks to fill the role. Use Jeremy Renner as your tentpole playing Peron (Renner can sing more than enough for the role) and let Tom Ford do his work. I trust him to make Eva irresistible, to make Che dashing, to make Peron handsome and stern, and to create a sexy, stylish, foreboding ’40s Buenos Aires.
I didn’t go into this thinking to myself that we should remake all of Otto Preminger’s movies. However, I did come up with Anatomy of a Murder and Advise and Consent organically before deciding to throw Laura in for good measure. I’m a big Preminger fan; his films are characterized by a willingness to take huge risks given the mores of the time and brilliant performances by his actors. Anyone who takes up the remake on any of these three is picking up one of the absolute classics of American film.
—Anatomy of a Murder
New director: Paul Thomas Anderson.
In Anderson’s hands, the setting may be forced to move from Michigan to the San Fernando Valley, but the story probably stays about the same. A lawyer gone to seed takes a case for a soldier who killed a man he accuses of raping his wife. There was no rape; the idea for the defense comes from the lawyer. Jimmy Stewart, in my favorite performance of his, plays the lawyer. George C. Scott, in my favorite performance of his, plays the hotshot prosecutor. Besides being a touch overlong, Anatomy of a Murder has no real flaws.
Why remake it, then? Because I trust Anderson with actors more than any other director on the planet, and this is the story of the back and forth between legal teams and the white trash couple which has caused all the fuss. I like Rooney Mara in the Lee Remick part. Although Anderson appears to have found a sweet spot with Joaquin Phoenix, I don’t know that his low-energy vibe fits this movie super well. I very much like the idea of Daniel Day-Lewis in the Stewart role (although Hollywood’s Michael Keaton kick would work out here too); as his opposite number, someone like Mahershala Ali, Adam Driver, or Michael Fassbender would provide the requisite intensity.
—Advise and Consent
New director: Kenneth Branagh
Advise and Consent really fills in all of the bubbles for ahead-of-its-time-socially-conscious filmmaking. The president, played by Franchot Tone (Franchot Tone, of all people!) is sick and getting sicker. He wants a new, lefty Secretary of State before he dies. By the end of the film, Franchot Tone is dead and so is a senator whose tryst with another man in Hawaii has been exposed. This is in 1962, when the third season of Mad Men starts. Partly, this works against the remade film; I took points off because the Cold War setting is a seeming necessity. However, there are ways to introduce more temporally appropriate taboos; the fight between liberalism and conservatism will go on with its cycling bugbears with whatever ridiculous norms it chooses to indulge in, and Advise and Consent does not pretend to care very much about the issues. A good deal of what makes Advise and Consent watchable is salacious content, and that part is played off by strong performances. Cooley, the rebel senator played by Charles Laughton in his final role, could be approximated by the inimitable John Goodman. Leo DiCaprio or Jake Gyllenhaal would be excellent in the Don Murray part. I could see Branagh directing himself as Leffingwell, the nominee, although the closest thing to Henry Fonda we have is Tom Hanks.
New director: Joel and Ethan Coen
An updated noir? With the Coens? Yes, please. With Jennifer Lawrence playing the title role? I can see that working out just fine. The inimitably named “Waldo Lydecker” is, spoiler, the villain of this piece, and Steve Buscemi is the right man to play him. Even though Laura is one of the founding members of the noir family, released in the same year as Double Indemnity, it lacks the grime that so often accompanies the genre. Gene Tierney was too beautiful, perhaps, or maybe the thunderstorm washes most of the mess away. In any event, I am totally confident in the Coens’ ability to marry the grotesque with the classic elements of a film which, today, is underseen.
Foreign Language Films
The LNC favors foreign movies, especially ones in black and white, and so these films have a score which is out of all proportion, I think, to how good a remake they’d be. I also don’t have an explanation as to why two of the three movies I’ve chosen have one-letter titles.
New director: Oliver Stone
Z put Costa-Gavras on the map. It’s the story of how a rightist police state (Greece) cements its rise through the badly executed assassination of a threatening leftist. Costa-Gavras remains one of the great explicitly political directors of all time directing a masterpiece of a political thriller, and it would be a shame to keep the story of Z in this time and place for that reason. Enter Stone, who’s made a brand of a similar political mindset and has experience directing conspiracy theories about charismatic politicians murdered at the height of their powers. Salvador also proved that he has the chops to discuss Latin America, and for that reason I envision the new Z as a scathing critique of American involvement in that region. Just about any of the million invasions would do for me, though certainly Iran-Contra would give us enough material for the sections of the movie about right-wing morons.
New director: Ava DuVernay
In French, it’s Cache, but en anglais we say Hidden. A upper-middle-class French couple starts receiving video of their house for hours on end. Juliette Binoche seems weirded out by it, though Daniel Auteuil does his best to be dismissive…until things begin to escalate and Auteuil has to reckon with the way he treated the Algerian boy his parents fostered. There are a million ways to adapt this story about race for an American audience. DuVernay isn’t the director that Michael Haneke is, but there may not be another director in America who I trust more on the topic of race. 13th is the most can’t-look-away documentary I’ve ever seen, and her prowess with actors and fact alike could provide an American Cache that lights the theater on fire.
New director: Ang Lee
When Ben Lindbergh came up with this system, I don’t think he reckoned on the German Expressionists. A movie like M – black and white, foreign, subtitles, old, dead actors, critical acclaim, virtually no box office records – is the perfect film to rack up the points for this kind of exercise. (Incredibly, this movie lost fifty points for how important the Weimar setting is to the original.)
Ang Lee is one of the most versatile directors in the world, someone whose command of images is occasionally breathtaking. In a contemporary remake of M, which could of course be set literally anywhere, his ability to shock viewers with his command of visual setpieces would be invaluable. Pick your favorite character actor, male or female, to fill the Peter Lorre role; personally I’m fond of John Hawkes in this spot, but I’d hear nominations for Paul Dano or Saiorse Ronan as well. The story of a child killer whose entire community rises up to destroy him and who is constantly forced to face his own reflection, to look back at himself, is so ahead of its time it’s hard to believe Fritz Lang ever got to make the film. Wind this one up and let the Oscar nominations pour in.
Fabulous Old Movies the Average Moviegoer Has Never Seen
The Adventures of Robin Hood
New directors: Phil Lord and Christopher Miller
“We just had a Robin Hood!” I can hear you saying. “Oscar Isaac was in it before we knew who he was! And there was that ad that popped up every ten minutes where he screamed, ‘I declare him! To be an outLLLEEEEAWWWWW!'” That movie was awful. It wasn’t fun. The point of Robin Hood is that the dude is fun. Go back and read the Howard Pyle sometime; there is a total of one gritty element, and that’s any part with Guy of Gisbourne. Everything else, given the atmosphere of “poverty” and “social decline” and “tyranny,” is surprisingly lighthearted. The 1938 Michael Curtiz Robin Hood, starring Errol Morris at his most Tasmanian and Olivia de Havilland at her most covered by a sheet, is a delight. Swordfights! Repartee! Bright colors! Dashing escapades! I have no problem with updating these kind of ahistorical dramas, especially when they give women something more to do than looking pretty and being swept around by their beaux, but I am aghast at how many people think these should be dark and gritty.
Enter Lord and Miller, who churn out fun movies at speed, and who feel like a great team to tackle a latter-day Robin Hood who can smile a little too. What an opportunity for a Chris-ly Trinity to play Robin Hood (Pine), Little John (Hemsworth), and Will Scarlett (Evans). Bring in a Marian like Emma Stone or Gina Rodriguez or Brie Larson who can crack jokes, get the better of the Merry Men, and be surprisingly good at firing a crossbow. The Anatomy of a Murder remake is the one I’d personally be most excited for, but I would absolutely throw my money at this installment.
New director: Richard Linklater
If Gone with the Wind never existed, we’d probably all be better people, but we also would call Jezebel the most important and enduring movie from the 1930s about a spoiled Southern belle who wears a red dress at the worst possible time. This is one of the great Bette Davis roles, and while I’m not exactly sure that this is the most feminist movie I’ve ever run into, it is as much a part of the “woman’s film” subgenre as any other.
So why is Linklater directing this? Because when we update the setting to deal with some of the more difficult issues of having an antebellum setting (e.g., “you’re gonna need a bigger budget,” “you’re really not going to talk about slavery, are you,” “no one cares about the 1850s”), it’s going to be important to have someone at the helm who has experience and know-how depicting how social groups order their members and how to give us good romances on screen. Linklater has ample experience in both camps and, of course, just enough weird in his DNA to throw us for a loop when he wants to. Throw Chloe Grace Moretz into the leading role as the ingenue who was never all that innocent and watch the sparks fly.
New director: David Cronenberg
Reunite Cronenberg and Keira Knightley from A Dangerous Method and tell the story of Sister Clodagh and her fellow nuns as they put themselves into a situation they are fundamentally unable to handle. Typically a suggestion to remake a Powell and Pressburger classic would force me to challenge you to a duel, but for Black Narcissus I am very okay with the idea for two reasons. First, much of Black Narcissus‘ Indian mountain setting is provided by paintings and models, and while I understand that an on-site production would be an unmitigated disaster, there has to be a more modern way. Second, Black Narcissus is really old-school racist, and we have got to find a way to cast a beautiful young Indian woman as an Indian woman instead of Jean Simmons as a beautiful young Indian woman. Tell Cronenberg he has to read Said and Spivak before he starts doing anything, and let the repressed sexual urges run wild.