The Grifters (free)

  • Vilas Hall 821 University Avenue Madison, WI, 53706 United States

Perhaps there's no such thing as a “conventional” family, but whatever your idea of one is, the mother-and-son unit in Stephen Frears’ 1990 film The Grifters (which wraps up UW Cinematheque’s superb series exploring films related to writer Donald Westlake) is that notion’s opposite number. Anjelica Huston and John Cusack play Lilly and Roy, the pair bound in this bleakly comic film not just by matrilineage, but also by a dedication to the dark arts of confidence games, emotionally dodging their marks as well as each other. Roy’s new girlfriend, Myra, played by Annette Bening, adds an extra layer of tension to the already fraught mother-son dynamic. The film earned a grip of Oscar nominations including Director, and both Leading and Supporting Actress, but most notably it landed Westlake his sole nod as screenwriter for adapting it from the novel by Jim Thompson. —Chris Lay