Donald Sutherland's Best Movies
In this week's Total Recall, we count down the best-reviewed work of the Hunger Games: Catching Fire star.
The Hunger Games franchise belongs to Jennifer Lawrence, but she's hardly alone up there on the screen; in fact, she's surrounded by a fairly incredible supporting cast stocked with talented veteran actors like Philip Seymour Hoffman, Woody Harrelson, and Stanley Tucci. Oh, and Donald Sutherland, who reprises his role as the ruthless President Snow in the latest installment, Catching Fire. Sutherland's suitably icy performance so impressed us that we decided to dedicate this week's feature to some of his finest moments on the big screen. From socially conscious dramas to goofball comedies, Donald's done it all -- and, as our countdown attests, done it brilliantly. It's time for Total Recall!
The horror of South Africa's apartheid regime has inspired a number of upstanding dramas, but only one of them features the combined acting might of Marlon Brando, Susan Sarandon, and our man Donald Sutherland: 1989's A Dry White Season. Starring Sutherland as a teacher who experiences a reluctant awakening to apartheid's injustice, and Brando as the human rights lawyer who helps him seek justice for a murdered employee, Season surges under the power of director Euzhan Palcy's withering rage -- and while polemics don't always make for compelling films, most critics agreed that this was a notable exception. "A Dry White Season bursts through your door and beats you senseless," wrote the Washington Post's Jeanne Cooper. "It seems perverse to question its technique and only days later can you question its logic."
The fascinating story of real-life con artist David Hampton formed the basis for Six Degrees of Separation, adapted from the John Guare play about a smooth-talking young man named Paul (Will Smith) who shows up on the doorstep of a wealthy New York couple (Sutherland and Stockard Channing) and convinces them he's not only friends with their college-age kids, but that he's the son of Sidney Poitier. Before the night is out, he's sleeping in their guest room -- and before the closing credits roll, the extraordinary truth of Paul's story is revealed. While far from a blockbuster on par with Smith's future efforts, Separation earned Channing an Oscar nomination and won praise from critics like About.com's Fred Topel, who called it "a compelling drama" and "Will Smith's greatest performance."
Bitterly divided by the ongoing quagmire in Vietnam, a war-torn nation turned its eyes to Hollywood for insight -- and director Robert Altman responded with 1970's M*A*S*H, a pitch-black ensemble comedy that used the exploits of a ragtag bunch of Korean War medics to offer barbed commentary on American foreign policy while delivering lots of laughs. Featuring a rather incredible cast that included Sutherland, Robert Duvall, Elliott Gould, and Sally Kellerman, the movie racked up more than $80 million at the box office, won an Oscar for Ring Lardner, Jr.'s screenplay, and spawned a hit spinoff TV series that ran for 11 seasons. It was, argued Time Out New York's Joshua Rothkopf, "the first real film of the 1970s."
Movies about the emotional wreckage hidden behind the white picket fences of American suburbia have become kind of played out over the last 20 years or so, but as the 1980s dawned, it was still somewhat new territory -- and as demonstrated by debuting director Robert Redford in 1980's Ordinary People, those themes could be drawn upon to produce one of the young decade's most heart-wrenching (and best-acted) dramas. Led by a cast that included Sutherland and Mary Tyler Moore as the emotionally distant parents of a guilt-stricken teen (Timothy Hutton) who survived a boating accident that left his brother dead, People shone a spotlight on the creeping ennui that would come to help define the decade, winning a Best Picture Oscar in the bargain and earning praise from critics like Vincent Canby of the New York Times, who held it up as "A moving, intelligent and funny film about disasters that are commonplace to everyone except the people who experience them."
He's arguably best remembered today for his many successful dramas, but Donald Sutherland can be a pretty funny guy when he has the right script. Witness National Lampoon's Animal House, in which director John Landis lined up some of the era's most talented comics and character actors in order to tell the wonderfully chaotic tale of the war between a frat full of reprobates and the uptight dean (John Vernon) who wants to force them off campus with the help of a rival fraternity. Led by an unforgettable performance from John Belushi and rounded out by a stellar supporting cast (including Sutherland as a stoned English professor), it went down as one of the decade's most uproarious (and financially successful) comedies -- and although many of the movies it inspired were met with critical derision, most scribes couldn't help but guffaw at what Sky Movies' Domic Bloch later deemed "A masterpiece in anarchy."