Many pictures that win the Oscar don't have the resonance of a doorbell. Once their title is called at the podium, they set off no echoes in the culture. The Best Years of Our Lives, William Wyler's tough-minded, poignant chronicle of three World War II veterans coming home, mattered mightily as social commentary in 1946 - and matters just as much as history right now.
Lance Morrow's new book, subtitled Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon in 1948: Learning the Secrets of Power, takes place two years later, but he gives it the main title, The Best Years of Their Lives, and he uses Wyler's film to capture a complex postwar mood, not of triumph but "of anger, of self-pity."
To Morrow, The Best Years of Our Lives expresses the fear that "America had bitten a very dangerous apple. The Great Victory was also, in some sense, a fall." He links Wyler's panoramic social drama with hard-bitten films noir like Double Indemnity, The Postman Always Rings Twice and The Blue Dahlia.
"All the films feature betrayal, secret lives, unreadable motives, and hidden selves. The essential perception is that people are not as they seem, but may conceal a capacity for viciousness, even for evil, that the prewar, conventional American mind, which practiced a religion of sentimentality, did not suspect."
Beyond all that, it's an engrossing, superbly crafted movie, with a cast including Myrna Loy, Fredric March, Dana Andrews, Hoagy Carmichael, Harold Russell (in his art-imitates-life role as a sailor who lost his arms), and two supporting actresses who died recently - the peerlessly blowsy Virginia Mayo and American sweetheart Teresa Wright.
The Best Years of Our Lives plays tomorrow at noon, Monday at 7 p.m. and Thursday at 9 p.m. For more information, call 410-727-FILM or go to www.the charles.com.
Depp and Waters
Johnny Depp signaled that he wasn't going to be your average idol when he chose John Waters' Cry-Baby as his first movie after three years as a TV sensation on 21 Jump Street (1987-1990). Waters' 1990 musical, set in Baltimore in 1954, features Depp as a rockabilly juvenile delinquent in love with a good girl (Amy Locane).
A stage musical has been in the works for a couple of years; you can see the original Wednesday at 8 p.m. at Creative Alliance. The screening takes place at the restored Patterson Theatre, 3134 Eastern Ave. Tickets are $5, with free popcorn for members; the doors and bar open at 7 p.m., the movie starts at 8 p.m. Call 410-276-1651 or visit www.creativealliance.org.
The spring series of Cinema Sundays at the Charles kicks off with Rebecca Miller's The Ballad of Jack and Rose.
It stars Daniel Day-Lewis as Jack, the last hold-out on a counter-cultural island commune, and Camilla Belle as Rose, his 16-year-old daughter, who freaks out when Jack invites his on-and-off girlfriend (Catherine Keener) and her two sons to live with them.
Cultural journalist and critic Geoffrey Himes is this week's guest speaker, and Cinema Sundays regular Mike Giuliano will serve as host.
For series membership information, e-mail Karen@ci nemasundays.com. Individual tickets are $15 and can be applied to membership. Bagels and coffee: 9:45 a.m. Showtime: 10:35 a.m.
For details, visit cinemasundays.com.
Hopkins film fest
The Johns Hopkins Film Festival begins Thursday with restored 35 mm prints of Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar Wai's 1991 Days of Being Wild ( 8 p.m.).
The film is about a slyly handsome Asian cousin of Alfie who learns the truth about his alcoholic "mother."
Federico Fellini's Juliet of the Spirits (10 p.m.), the Maestro's controversial 1965 phantasmagoria with Giulietta Masina getting unhinged after learning that her husband is cheating on her.
The screenings are in Shriver Hall on the Homewood campus, 3400 N. Charles St. Tickets: $3 for individual shows, $5 for day passes, and $15 for festival passes. Call 410-340-4703, or visit http://hopkinsfilm fest.com.
Barbecue: A Texas Love Story, a 40-minute documentary about the Lone Star state's passion for cooking meat over open flames, serves as the centerpiece for Wednesday's installment of the Independent Film Screening series at Maryland Hall (801 Chase St., Annapolis) co-sponsored by the Annapolis Film Festival and the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts.
Also playing are On Six Mile Pond, a 20-minute chronicle of the sporting life of Florida Mudboggers, and Snack-O-Rama, an animated short about a balky vending machine.
Showtime is 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $10. Call 410-263-5544 or visit www.marylandhall.com.