Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
November 20
Ordinary People September 19, 1980
Ordinary People released

The star of such films as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Way We Were, and The Great Waldo Pepper, Redford, with his iconic, particularly American good looks, was actor, matinee idol, and social activist throughout the 1960s and '70s. In 1980, he added "director" to his resume with Ordinary People, a searing drama of familial discontent for which he won Oscars for both Best Picture and Best Director. Based on the novel by Judith Guest, Ordinary People wasn't the usual sort of actor's directing debut. For one, Redford didn't appear in the film. It also wasn't something handed to him by an awed studio executive. Redford optioned the novel and developed the screenplay himself, working with screenwriter Alvin Sargeant. The film tells the story of a husband (Donald Sutherland), wife (Mary Tyler Moore) and son (Timothy Hutton) in the days following the son's failed suicide attempt. The son tries to work through his emotional turmoil -- caused in part by his guilt over a sailing accident that claimed the life of his older brother -- with a sensitive psychiatrist, played by Judd Hirsch. Seen now, 30 years later, it's amazing how influential the film has been. Its traces can be seen in films as diverse as American Beauty, The Ice Storm, and this season's Rabbit Hole. Wrote Roger Ebert of its nuanced look at suburban tragedy, "Director Redford places all these events in a suburban world that is seen with an understated matter-of-factness. There are no cheap shots against suburban lifestyles or affluence or mannerisms: The problems of the people in this movie aren't caused by their milieu, but grow out of themselves. And, like it or not, the participants have to deal with them. That's what sets the film apart from the sophisticated suburban soap opera it could easily have become."


More Flashbacks
Robert Altman November 20, 2006
Robert Altman dies

On this day in 2006, the legendary film director Robert Altman passed away at the age of 81 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

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Nov. 20, 1992
Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant opens

The unlikeliest franchise was born on November 20, 1992, when Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant opened in New York City. Produced by Ed Pressman, written by Zoe Lund and Paul Calderon, and starring Harvey Keitel, Bad Lieutenant boldly yoked a tale of a distraught Catholic cop seeking redemption by pursuing the rapists of a nun to a sordid, walk-on-the-wild side panorama of downtown New York in the early '90s.

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November 20, 1981
Ragtime Starts Up

Released on November 20, 1981, Milos Forman's Ragtime presented a sweeping picture of America at the beginning of the 20th century. While based on E.L. Doctorow’s sprawling novel, the film centers on the story of Coalhouse Walker Jr (Howard E. Rollins Jr.), a young black pianist who fights to have his honor restored after being abused by racist volunteer firemen. For Forman, the film’s story of oppression connected to his own struggle in Communist Czechoslovakia. For others, the story was a reflection of America’s own new Gilded Age, especially as the holiday season approached. But all saw the 155-minute spectacle, with a massive cast that included actors and celebrities like James Cagney, Donald O’Connor, Pat O’Brien, Elizabeth McGovern, Norman Mailer, Mandy Patinkin, and many more, as a movie event. It took an impressive $17 million and was nominated for 8 Academy Awards, and even spawned a Broadway musical; today, however, Ragtime, a historical epic to remind of past excesses, has sadly been all but forgotten.

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