The Last Picture Show (15)

Starring: Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges, Ellen Burstyn
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The Independent Culture

Peter Bogdanovich's 1971 movie is a coming-of-age story, a portrait of small-town Texas, and one of the all-time great American elegies.

Set in the early 1950s, it takes on significant themes – frustration and longing, youth and age, memory and mortality – but in a quiet, modest way, and its humility becomes extraordinarily affecting. Timothy Bottoms and Jeff Bridges play the central friends, two undistinguished high-school athletes who loaf about their windblown, one-horse town and wonder about their future: the only fun to be had is in the decrepit pool hall and the old cinema, both run by the benign, mysterious Sam (Ben Johnson) whose haunting presence is the film's beating heart. Cybill Shepherd, as the girl both boys fall for, is at her most beautiful and spoilt – a heartless Texan temptress – though it's the older women who really come through: Ellen Burstyn as Shepherd's mother, Eileen Brennan as the wise waitress, and, heart-breakingly, Cloris Leachman as the older woman desperate for love (she and Johnson both deservedly won Best Supporting Oscars). Bogdanovich directs them all beautifully (in black and white), gives everything its proper weight, and speaks profoundly of loss, leave-taking, last things.

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