Opinion: This year’s great American movie

During long, gray, bleak winters — before the women’s and men’s college basketball tournaments and before baseball’s opening days — I confess to an embarrassing secret: I thoroughly enjoy watching TV- and movie-related awards shows on TV, not just the Oscars but also the Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild Awards and others.

Why? To catch the awkward and unscripted acceptance remarks when there are no cuts or retakes. For example, there was an unforgettable moment at the Emmy Awards more than a decade ago, shortly after Liza Minnelli married for the fourth time. (The 850 guests included Elton John and Donald Trump.) Her unlikely groom in the union, which would not survive to celebrate an anniversary, was David Gest, a music producer and first-time groom who, according to friends, had not dated any woman for three decades before Minnelli and chose Michael Jackson to be his best man, while the eight-times-wed Elizabeth Taylor was maid of honor.

The resourceful Martin Short was hosting the show and also was nominated for a best performer Emmy, which, it was announced, he did not win. After what could have been a bit of a disappointment, an upbeat Short returned to continue his hosting duties and explained his reaction: “As David Gest said to Liza Minnelli on their wedding night, ‘No hard feelings.'”

That brings me to my sadly untelevised but totally deserved award for the Great American Movie of the Year: “Stan & Ollie.” It stars John C. Reilly and Steve Coogan as, respectively, Oliver Hardy and Stan Laurel. They re-create before our eyes the two men who made the most successful double act — forget Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis or Bud Abbott and Lou Costello — in American entertainment history. But first and foremost, this is a story of the friendship, love and caring of these two entirely different men — the British-born Stan, who sailed to the U.S. with Charlie Chaplin, and the Georgia native Ollie — as they, in the twilight of their careers, make, without popular demand, a would-be comeback tour of England and Ireland.

A warning: If your definition of a good movie includes at least one of the following — explosions, car chases, extraterrestrials, serial copulation, murders, incest and natural disaster — forget about “Stan & Ollie.” I have always felt about “poignant” the way Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart wrote about recognizing pornography: “I know it when I see it.” Reilly and Coogan, here at the top of their professional games, have made a movie about two imperfect men that is moving and touching. It is sad, funny and heartwarming.

Please do yourself a genuine favor. Do not walk; run to the closest theater with the good judgment and respect for its audience to be showing “Stan & Ollie.” If, like the case with your writer, running is more of a fond memory, please walk briskly to the theater. I promise you that you will be glad you did.

• Mark Shields is a columnist with Creators Syndicate.


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