Authors most often associated with Memphis and the Mississippi Delta are an interesting assortment of people. There's Civil War historian Shelby Foote, of course, and literary heavyweight William Faulkner, whose stories of the people and characters of a segregated South are indelibly etched in American pop culture. The great playwright Tennessee Williams also spent formative years in Memphis, and he wrote and produced early works here. But let's face it: No other writer put Memphis on the pop-culture map in a bigger way than John Grisham did in the 1990s.
The former Memphis-area attorney wrote a string of best-selling legal thrillers, including The Firm. When Tom Cruise (and then-wife Nicole Kidman, who now calls Nashville home with country-singer hubby Keith Urban) came to Memphis to star in the book's film version, directed by Sydney Pollack, the city was completely star struck. Screaming fans waited on street corners for a glimpse of the famous actor. Locales featured in some of the movie's scenes became tourist hot spots, and a cottage industry sprang up to promote the city's association with the Memphis-area film shoots that followed.
Among the many Grisham films, some are more memorable than others. Susan Sarandon was terrific in The Client. Joel Schumacher directed that film, which co-starred Mary Louise Parker and Tommy Lee Jones. Matt Damon and Danny DeVito did star turns in The Rainmaker, and Matthew McConaughey became an overnight sensation after his first big starring role in A Time to Kill. Less commercially and critically successful was The Chamber, with Gene Hackman playing a death-row inmate.
In non-Grisham movies, there have been several significant offerings. European filmmaker Milos Forman chose to film The People Vs. Larry Flynt in Memphis. Needless to say, co-stars Woody Harrelson and Courtney Love provided loads of gossipy fodder during their days on location shooting this biopic about the porn pioneer's court cases.
More recently, filmmakers have continued to find inspiration in Memphis. Sean Penn and Naomi Watts came to town for the gritty drama 21 Grams. And director Craig Brewer's Hustle and Flow, about an aspiring rapper played by Terrence Howard, drew rave reviews -- and even nabbed an Academy Award for local rappers Three 6 Mafia, who were featured in the film's soundtrack. Brewer's follow-up, Black Snake Moan, didn't rise to the same level of acclaim as Hustle and Flow, however. The sultry drama is one for the collective Memphis scrapbook. It features Samuel L. Jackson, Christina Ricci, and another local musician-turned-superstar, Justin Timberlake, who is cultivating an acting career.
The Blind Side: A Memphis Movie -- Despite being filmed in Georgia rather than in Tennessee, the blockbuster 2009 movie The Blind Side, starring Sandra Bullock (who won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress) and Nashville country singer Tim McGraw, is based on a heart-warming, real-life story from Memphis. Movie fans, of course, know the plot: Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy, a well-to-do suburban white couple, adopted Michael Oher, a 300-pound, homeless, black teenager from the projects.
Against all odds, Oher became a football star at Memphis's elite Briarcrest Christian School, before going on to play at Ole Miss (the University of Mississippi). In 2009, he was a first-round draft pick of the NFL's Baltimore Ravens, signing a contract worth more than $13 million. He started every game of his rookie season on the Ravens' offensive line.
The Blind Side, now available on DVD, also stars Academy Award-winning actress (and former Memphis resident) Kathy Bates as Oher's tutor, Miss Sue. The movie was produced by FedEx founder Fred Smith's Alcon Entertainment company, with daughter Molly Smith as an executive producer. Their company also produced the 2010 Denzel Washington hit, The Book of Eli.
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