Taking a detour from the world of theatre, I wanted to discuss how much films have had an impact on my life. In many ways, the film industry was my first love before ended up truly falling for live theatre…and I think that while the theatre industry is facing various issues with commercialized products like jukebox musicals and an overflow of musicals based on films, there are a wealth of intriguing plays being produced off-Broadway and around the world…and sometimes, those even get a chance to move to Broadway.
The film industry, however, has been mostly erratic for me. There are certainly films that have come out that I do love in recent years but the big money always seems to go towards such high-powered action films like those based around the Marvel Superhero comic books. I was never drawn to those kinds of movies and while I may have enjoyed such selections for various reasons (THE DARK KNIGHT, IRON MAN, BLANK PANTHER), I do tend to enjoy movies that seem to be geared towards “Awards Bait” fare…and some people have labeled me as a snob for that reason.
I don’t necessarily deny that title…but I also feel like I like enough movies that are certainly what one would consider “frivolous” and “stupid”….and I don’t know if the following list will really convey the “guilty pleasure” aspect, but it is going to be a list of 30 of my favorite movies. Much like my lists for plays and musicals, the key word will be “favorite” rather than “best”…however; I do feel a good majority of these films would also pop up on my list of greatest films ever made depending on how vast that list was. Just because I don’t know if I want to deal with sorting out a numbered list, I am going to list the following 30 films in alphabetical order and I definitely want to try my best to represent all genres on this list as well.
8 ½ (1963) Directed by Federico Fellini
-This will be one of three Foreign Language films on my list…and it is also a film that would rank very high if I were come up with a list of what I consider to be the greatest films ever made. Fellini’s opus revolves around a famed Italian film director named Guido Anselmi, played by Marcello Mastroianni. Guido is currently in mid-life crisis mode while he is being consumed mentally and emotionally by issues with the women in his life and it is causing him to suffer from a creative block while he preps to direct a big Science Fiction film. Italian film critic Alberto Moravia once described the character of Guido as a man “obsessed by eroticism, a sadist, a masochist, a self-mythologizer, an adulterer, a clown, a liar, and a cheat…and afraid of life…wanting to return to his mother’s womb”. In many ways, 8 ½ has the same massive Freudian touches as that of the relationship between Norman and his mother in PSYCHO…only 8 ½ is definitely of the art-house/Avant-garde variety. The film would end up becoming the basis of a 1982 Broadway musical adaptation called NINE in which composer Maury Yeston along with writers Mario Fratti and Arthur Kopit, would meld the film for the stage. One major change was that the show removed any men from the piece aside from Guido and his young child counterpart (the original production also included a couple of other younger boys to act as young Guido’s friends) and thus, Guido was surrounded by 21 women the entire musical…and it actually worked marvelously well. Sure, NINE may have been satisfying as its own being onstage, but it certainly pales next to its film counterpart.
AIRPLANE! (1980) Directed by: David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, Jerry Zucker
-And now for something completely different….and this goes to show you how off-the-wall this list is going to be when I am going from an artsy Italian film to a film that gave us such exchanges as “Have you ever seen a grown man naked?” or “Don’t call me Shirley”. The truth is that I consider AIRPLANE to be a masterwork when it comes to rapid-fire comedy one-liners, plus a lot of the brilliance comes from the performances, most of them done in such an earnest way that it only makes the film much funnier. While Robert Stack and Lloyd Bridges excel at this tremendously, it was Leslie Nielsen whose career was changed forever as he had been known as a serious character actor and once he played the droll doctor aboard this doomed flight, he became one of the premiere comic actors of his time, following this movie most famously with his Det. Drebin character from POLICE SQUAD and THE NAKED GUN series. I feel like even though I have seen the film too many times to actually laugh out loud much at all, I do still highly enjoy it and think everyone should see it.
AMADEUS (1984) Dir. By: Milos Forman
-Adapted from a fantastic play by Peter Shaffer, AMADEUS is based around the legend of one possible theory on how the famed composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart passed away…and the one that is focused upon is that fellow composer Antonio Salieri, consumed with bitter envy towards Mozart’s success, sought ways to drive him crazy and eventually worked him so hard during a time of high stress and ill health that he ended up dying. It is told from the perspective of Salieri many years later after he attempts suicide and is confined in an insane asylum. While it is a shame that the original Broadway cast didn’t get a chance to reprise their roles (Ian McKellan as Salieri and Tim Curry as Mozart), they certainly did quite well with the casting of Theatre actor F. Murray Abraham as Salieri, who won a well-deserved Oscar for his performance; and Tom Hulce as Mozart, who got a very well-deserved nomination and, much like his co-star, turned his sights more towards working in the theatre following this film. Considering the Academy’s tendencies to lavish their attention on period piece/costume epics at that time that often don’t hold up years later, I am glad that they singled out this one and that it holds up remarkably well…and I did just revisit it a month or so ago and was quite pleased.
BEAUTY & THE BEAST (1991) Dir. By: Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise
-I wanted to include some animation on this list, and this will be one of two selections. BEAUTY & THE BEAST will go down in history as being the first animated film to ever be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars…and when you read articles or watch interviews or even the actual Oscar ceremony from that year, it amazing how many comments were made by actors who actually looked down on the film and didn’t want its success to mean more and more films would be done as animation because, as Billy Crystal joked, actors “would be out of a job”…which…correct me if I am wrong…but don’t they need actors to VOICE the characters? Also, when presented a clip of the film during the ceremony, Sally Field made a passing snide comment (said with a smile at least) that she hoped this “wouldn’t become a trend”. Well, lucky for them, BEAUTY & THE BEAST may have been a key factor in the Renaissance of Disney Studios but it still remains the only animated film to be nominated for Best Picture while the maximum nomination tally was 5…and even when it recently got increased in 2009, only two have managed to make it in: TOY STORY 3 and UP. Even though I would’ve voted for the film that did actually win that year over BEAUTY (and it is coming up on this list), I still think BEAUTY would have been a deserving groundbreaking winner in its own right…and also, it has such a fantastic Menken/Ashman score.
BLUE VELVET (1986) Dir. By: David Lynch
-Few films have had a profound effect on me in addition to shaping my passion and desire for filmmaking as an art than that of BLUE VELVET. I saw this film at a VERY young age: 13…way too young for a film like this…and I watched it with my grandmother…which is also quite awkward…but she left the room in disgust even before the worst stuff happened. The simultaneously dreamy and nightmarish world created by Lynch was instantly alluring and appealing and scary all at once…and I was drawn to the work based on my then-recent discovery of him via TWIN PEAKS and his release of MULHOLLAND DRIVE. Considered a mystery/neo-noir film, it revolves around a college student named Jeffrey Beaumont who returns to his hometown of Lumberton, NC when his father suffers a stroke. Not long after his arrival, he stumbles across a severed human ear in a field and becomes obsessed with trying to figure out why it was there and whose it is. I don’t want to say much else about the plot because I do think the film is worth seeing, but it must be said that the film is often incredibly uncomfortable and, lastly, the performance by Dennis Hopper as Frank Booth is one of the greatest ever and he portrays one of the most despicable villains you can imagine.
CASABLANCA (1942) Dir. By: Michael Curtiz
-Has there ever been a more quotable movie to have come out of Hollywood? Even more crazy is this was a movie that was sort of made without much expectation or excitement from basically everyone involved and somehow…this came out…and it is my favorite of the Classic Hollywood movie system when it comes to those that are often put on the GREATEST OF ALL TIME lists. It may not have been the best work of Humphrey Bogart or Ingrid Bergman or Claude Rains, but they work perfectly in this film and the results are truly enchanting. Here’s looking at you, CASABLANCA!
A CHRISTMAS STORY (1983) Dir. By: Bob Clark
-Much like IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE before it, A CHRISTMAS STORY was not exactly a success when it was first released but frequent persistent airings on TV during the holidays led it to being considered a modern classic…and even 20+ years since they originally began doing so, TBS and/or TNT air A CHRISTMAS STORY 12 times over the course of Christmas Eve/Day and it often serves as frequent background noise during the holiday if I am not playing Christmas music. A big favorite of my grandmother, I often would watch the movie with her as a young kid so there is a definite nostalgia factor to my love for the film, but also, as anyone that knows me is well aware of, I ADORE the Christmas season so it is no surprise that I got drawn to this film and I still consider it my favorite of the holidays…although another Christmas film had an even bigger impact on me as a young child and that will be coming up soon.
CITY LIGHTS (1931) Dir. By: Charlie Chaplin
-Silent films can often be remarkably and surprisingly good…and this particular film was made at a time when the art form was on its way out the door in favor of “the talkies”…even though Chaplin considered talkies a fad and didn’t understand that they would never go away, he spent a lot of time perfecting this film, which I consider to be to epitome of a realistic fairytale romance…but with the slapstick flair that Chaplin always brilliantly provided. The basic premise revolves around a blind flower girl who is convinced that Chaplin’s Tramp character is actually a wealthy man, and after The Tramp befriends a drunken rich man, he uses that “friendship” to try to woo the blind girl by constantly buying flowers from her. For many years, critics often considered CITY LIGHTS to be in contention for the title of BEST FILM EVER until the defactoanswer became CITIZEN KANE…I will go ahead and tell you right now that while I HIGHLY RESPECT many things about CITIZEN KANE, I have never truly loved or enjoyed the movie as a whole. CITY LIGHTS, on the other hand, is a masterpiece that wowed me in ways I didn’t expect.
A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971) Dir. By: Stanley Kubrick
-The greatest American director, in my opinion, was Stanley Kubrick…and his stretch of films represents the finest and strongest body of work of pretty much any director I’ve come across…especially American directors. While some of his films are better in terms of concept and artistic vision like 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY or more entertaining while being incredibly well done like THE SHINING, I feel like the best of both worlds were truly combined with this 1971 effort that was darkly quirky and, as the trailer described it, “sardonic”. Based on the novel by Anthony Burgess, it was a futuristic tale set in 1995 (ha..ha..) that revolved around a gang known as the Droods, and they specialize in “ultra-violence” which includes tying up, raping, beating people…but the story mostly revolves around their leader Alex, played by an incredibly charismatic Malcolm McDowell, and how he is eventually caught and an experiment is performed upon him in hopes to change him for the better. Extremely controversial at the time of its release, even getting an X rating (the closest equivalent to NC-17 at that time), it still managed to become the second X rated film to get a Best Picture nomination (the first, MIDNIGHT COWBOY, actually WON the award two years prior).
DIE HARD (1988) Dir. By: John McTiernan
-I mentioned earlier that another Christmas movie would be coming up that had a big effect on me as a kid…that was not this film, even though I love it (it is being mentioned here after all), but I do like to think of DIE HARD as a film that can serve both as a Christmas film and a film you can watch whenever you want….but of course, you can watch whatever movie whenever you want but I am stickler in this case. As for DIE HARD, I have always considered it the best of the full-on Action genre. I am not sure why I love it as much as I do, especially considering I am not normally one for action films…but I do appreciate the characters in the film, the one-liners and catchphrases, and one of the greatest and charismatic villain performances ever: Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber…in what was his first major film and I honestly think he was Oscar worthy for it. A movie like this is a prime example of how something you may not typically go for can actually be something that you end up liking a lot…it CAN happen…not always, but it can.
FARGO (1996) Dir. By: Joel Coen
-They may have made quite a few amazing films, but I would say their masterwork was this darkly cold but humorous take on a crime gone wrong…and there was also the added dose of humor that they tried to fool people into thinking it was based on a true story. William H. Macy, who is so freaking good in this, plays a car salesman named Jerry Lundegaard who is desperate for money. In order to get this without resorting to asking for help, he hires two men to kidnap his wife and then her father, a rather wealthy man, would front the ransom money which Jerry would give part of to his two goons along with a new car from his lot. As the crime becomes more convoluted than expected, local Police chief Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand in her first Oscar winning performance) begins investigating all the weird events. If you haven’t seen FARGO, I highly recommend it…and it does take some twists in the story that are unexpected but the mixed tones are very well executed and it is a shame that it lost Best Picture to a movie like THE ENGLISH PATIENT.
GOODFELLAS (1990) Dir. By: Martin Scorsese
-While THE GODFATHER I and II are the greatest mob films ever made, I would say GOODFELLAS is the most entertaining…and another case of how the Academy backed a lesser film and director (DANCES WITH WOLVES/Kevin Costner) in favor of the film that managed to both stand the test of time and truly win the admiration of most film fanatics. The film is based on the true story of Henry Hill, a young Irish/Italian guy played by Ray Liotta, who actively seeks to join the mafia in NY. The film also gives us some insight into the thoughts of his eventual wife Karen, played by the wonderful Lorraine Bracco, and that element is something I’ve always loved. The film, however, is stolen by Joe Pesci, who had a big year playing a more bumbling villain in HOME ALONE and in this film, a truly despicable and unbalanced mobster who seems to have no shame or fear in challenging or destroying anyone in his path. His Oscar win, which was actually something of a mild upset at the time, was richly deserved. It is truly a shame though that Martin Scorsese lost this Oscar for Directing; that scene at the Copacabana was worthy of the award by itself.
THE GRADUATE (1967) Dir. By: Mike Nichols
–Only the second theatrical feature for its director Mike Nichols (his first will actually show up on this list later) and also the film debut for eventual film legend Dustin Hoffman, THE GRADUATE became one of the most iconic films of all time thanks to its score by Simon & Garfunkel, the performances of its cast, the fantastic screenplay by Buck Henry and Calder Willingham, and a lot of the more erratic visual flair staged by Nichols and Cinematogrpaher Robert Surtees. Most people remember “Mrs. Robinson” as the main plot point of THE GRADUATE as she is the older woman who seduces Benjamin, a recent college grad who originally plans to attend Graduate School but as the movie progresses, his feeling of being lost eventually leads him to not obtaining a Doctorate and he begins an affair with Mrs. Robinson only to eventually fall for her daughter Elaine. I feel like THE GRADUATE is one of those films everyone needs to see because, despite not fully embracing most of the issues happening in the world at the time (like Vietnam), it is a near-perfect film that still crackles after several viewings.
GROUNDHOG DAY (1993) Dir. By: Harold Ramis
-This is one of those films that did modestly enough at the time of its release but grew to be incredibly beloved over time…but for me, GROUNDHOG DAY is another film that I find to be practically perfect. Its screenplay is absolutely phenomenal and they couldn’t have found a better Phil Connors than that of Bill Murray, the King of Dry Dead Pan and Disdain. Phil Connors is a Pittsburgh News Weatherman who has to do a task he loathes to do every year: drive up to Punxsutawney to do a report at Gobbler’s Knob to see if Phil the Groundhog will or will not see his shadow. Much to his chagrin, he must stay an extra night at the charming Bed and Breakfast he was put up in when a snow storm (that he originally told viewers would bypass the area) traps him in town. Then…the following morning, he wakes up to find it is Groundhog Day all over again. A lot of people have suspected as to how long he remained trapped in the film. It is never explicitly said but the film has a representation of roughly a month’s worth of days but a lot of what occurs with Phil couldn’t happen that fast…and some have speculated that he was trapped in this same day for as long as 10 years and some have joked maybe 1,000 years. Regardless though, the movie’s cynicism is so apparent that even when the film goes for more heart, it feels earned and you really appreciate watching the relationship build between Phil and his producer Rita, played by Andie MacDowell.
HOME ALONE (1990) Dir. By: Christopher Columbus
-And here we are…in my childhood, no movie (although its sequel played a huge factor in being my earliest indicator that I would become obsessed with New York City) compared to that of HOME ALONE. I would watch it or its sequel on a DAILY BASIS. I am not kidding…my parents and sister and any other immediate family members can attest to this. I was IN LOVE with these movies…and I think I had a crush on Macaulay Culkin before I even truly knew what I was feeling or even that liking boys could be a thing. I feel like I don’t have to go in depth with the plot of this movie, but all I will say it is that this movie (along with its ridiculous sequel) will always have a special place on my movie-going shelf…and it will remain a guilty pleasure for life.
MONTY PYTHON’S THE LIFE OF BRIAN (1979) Dir. By: Terry Jones
-John Cleese always said that he noticed Americans tend to prefer HOLY GRAIL while the Brits tend to prefer THE LIFE OF BRIAN…and MEANING OF LIFE is just kind of the other one, even though it’s good too. I have always preferred LIFE OF BRIAN for its brave tackling of setting itself during the times of the Bible and the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. However, the film never makes of fun of Jesus or even Christianity that much…and that is something that most of the films detractors, not surprisingly, chose never to examine. Instead, the film was more a critique on organized religion as a whole and how people can be easily manipulated when it comes to following and being converted into a new religion. From its opening scene where we see Brian is born next door to Jesus and the theme song which parodies that of an old-time James Bond tune to the end where Eric Idle leads all of the crucified men in a round of Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”, we are witnessing a group of genius men creating one of the smartest and most brilliant comedies we will ever see.
MOONLIGHT (2016) Dir. By: Barry Jenkins
-I wanted to include a more recent movie on this list and it was a pretty easy choice. My favorite movie of the last decade has been MOONLIGHT, a movie that focuses on Chiron, a young black boy at three various stages of his life: childhood, teenager, and young adult. He is often bullied and called a “faggot” by his peers until one day, he is randomly found by a drug dealer named Juan (Mahershala Ali) who becomes something of a father figure to him as Chiron’s father is gone and his mother is a drug addict. The journey Chiron makes is one that is somewhat tragic, but by the end, you are left with a moment that could lead you to believe he may have found a brief (or maybe longer) moment of sunshine in his life. MOONLIGHT was highly praised when it was released but many expected LA LA LAND to take the prize for Best Picture…and it briefly did, until it was announced that the wrong envelope was given to presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway and that MOONLIGHT managed to pull off an upset…but it was the most deserved Picture win in ages, not to mention the first winner to contain an all-black cast and have an LGBT theme at its center. Please, please, please watch this film if you haven’t….it is a truly beautiful work of art.
ORDINARY PEOPLE (1980) Dir. By: Robert Redford
-This is a movie that is often blasted by many film buffs for being the movie that beat RAGING BULL at the Oscars. RAGING BULL is a well-made movie with fantastic performances, but ORDINARY PEOPLE, which the same could be said about it, just packs a more intense emotional punch that spoke to me on a more significant level when I first saw it and even on repeated viewings, I find it to be stunning…and I did recently rewatch it earlier this month and was not let down. Actor turned director Robert Redford did a good job on this film and his choice of cast was, at first glance, odd but surprisingly effective. Even if I would’ve given the Director Oscar to either Scorsese for RAGING BULL or David Lynch for THE ELEPHANT MAN, I commend his work on this film and for his brave and unique casting choices. First of all, casting Mary Tyler Moore, whom had primarily been known for her work on her titular sitcom and THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW as the cold and emotionally drained mother Beth was a stroke of genius and Judd Hirsch was the star of the sitcom TAXI but Redford cast him as the Psychiatrist that our protagonist Conrad visits. We also get Donald Sutherland as the father Calvin, who is definitely more eager to try to help out his son than his mother, and then there is Timothy Hutton as Conrad, one of the best film debuts you can possibly imagine as a teenager coping with the loss of his older brother in a boating accident for which he was there to witness. When it comes to the “kitchen sink” drama genre, it is hard to top ORDINARY PEOPLE.
PAN’S LABYRINTH (2006) Dir. By: Guillermo del Toro
-When I first saw trailers/clips of this film, I assumed it was a children’s movie…so imagine my surprise when I discovered it was an absolutely brutal R-rated one. On top of that, its fantasy angle didn’t appeal to me as it was never a genre I was drawn to…but if there was ever a movie that exceeded my expectations and made me feel stupid for judging it so fast, it was this one. PAN’S LABYRINTH was one of, if not THE, greatest film to come out in the 2000s, which was a rather lackluster decade for film…and also, it came out specifically in 2006, which was easily the best year for film in that sorry decade. I’ve only sat through the film twice and each time (though more so the first) it left me feeling so much by the end of it. I feel like going into it without knowing as much is certainly the best way to go, but it definitely acts as a more gruesome and dark version of ALICE IN WONDERLAND.
PSYCHO (1960) Dir. By: Alfred Hitchcock
-At his most minimalistic and lack of budget, Hitchcock created what could quite possibly be his most iconic film. Even those who haven’t seen PSYCHO tend to know about the shrieking violin score or have heard the name Norman Bates (and I am sure the TV series BATES MOTEL also helped in recent years) and I would hope that a lot of those people eventually sought the movie out. PSYCHO is one of those movies where I saw it young but still pretty much knew the plot and all of its twists (including the shower scene)…and it didn’t affect the experience negatively in the slightest. It was smart of Hitchcock to shoot this in black & white because that helps the atmosphere tremendously plus it does reduce the gore output whenever we do see it…and we also get the iconic chilling performance of Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates, a performance that sadly pigeonholed and typecast him in a way that he never really recovered in his career after the fact.
THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO (1985) Dir. By: Woody Allen
-By this point in his career, Woody Allen not only wrote/directed all of his films but he starred in them too. Aside from 1978’s INTERIORS, this was the second film he devised in which he didn’t appear at all. While at this stage having Allen in a film was certainly not a bad thing, it ends up being kind of a refreshing change of pace for this particular film. Set in a small NJ town in 1935, a waitress named Cecilia played by his then-partner and frequent muse Mia Farrow, is in somewhat of an abusive and unhappy marriage and she takes solace in going to the movies. One particular movie, that is titled THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO, comes to town and she ends up seeing it several times to the point where one of its supporting characters notices her frequent attendance and actually STEPS OFF THE SCREEN to meet her. In terms of whimsy and romance, it is certainly Allen in top form…but there is a lot more to the film than meets the eye, especially as the story progresses. I was actually unaware of how the movie ended when I first saw it…and I am so glad I wasn’t aware because the feeling it gave me was…I actually don’t want to say…but I couldn’t believe what it made me feel and I was actually grateful other people had the same response.
SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE (1974) Dir. By: Ingmar Bergman
–When asked who my favorite director is, I usually consider Bergman to be the greatest director to have ever lived. His films aren’t necessarily what I tend to revisit frequently but in terms of his artistic vision and the atmosphere he always creates, he was so distinctive and powerful. The sad thing about SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE is that it got no major awards attention in America because it got its starts as a Television Miniseries in Sweden, which was then cut to shreds to serve as an appropriate length for a feature film. While that cut is certainly great, I cheat a little bit and consider the full 6-hour miniseries to be the true work of art in which we see this marriage fall apart in front of our eyes at a time when divorce was a word that most people didn’t even want to say out loud and the act itself was incredibly frowned upon….plus, I am just a sucker for domestic dramas.
THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991) Dir. By: Jonathan Demme
-The Academy, and pretty much any award show voting body for that matter, typically frown upon genre pictures like horror, action, fantasy, or animated films but in 1991, the Academy nominated not only the first animated film ever (the previously mentioned BEAUTY & THE BEAST) but also nominated THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, which was certainly more of a crime/suspense thriller but it had horror-like elements thanks to the fact that it dealt with not one but TWO serial killers. LAMBS became the first film of its kind to win BEST PICTURE and as of 2019; it is the only film of its style to do so. It has become a truly iconic film thanks to the performances of Jodie Foster as feminist icon Clarice Starling and the sinister work of Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter. It is hard to believe that a film like this that was released over a year before it actually won the Oscar even won the Oscar in the first place!
TAXI DRIVER (1976) Dir. By: Martin Scorsese
–After making movies like MEAN STREETS and ALICE DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE, it was really TAXI DRIVER that cemented Scorsese as a masterful filmmaker…although at the time, it was more overshadowed by movies like NETWORK (which I also love), ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN (a film I like a lot but am not super crazy about), and ROCKY (a movie I barely even tolerate). Also, I have always greatly appreciated TAXI DRIVER, but it is one of those movies where I have grown to love it more over time and find myself thinking about it a lot more than I ever expected to. It captures to the true grit and grime that NYC was drowning in during the 70s and in many ways, seemed more realistic than the genteel feel that Woody Allen films often gave NYC, even if that was truly his world and how he saw the city. You can’t go wrong with Robert DeNiro and he is truly fantastic in this as our anti-hero Travis Bickle, not to mention a great ensemble that includes a stellar young Jodie Foster, Harvey Keitel, Albert Brooks, Cybill Shepard, and Peter Boyle…oh yes, and Bernard Herrmann’s score which he composed right before he died is a jazzy bluesy masterpiece.
TOOTSIE (1982) Dir. By: Sydney Pollack
–This may be hyperbolic, but whatever…I think TOOTSIE is close to perfect and I can’t think of many things I would change, if any…and in fact, I would gladly keep watching the movie had it gone on an hour longer just to see more of the fall out that Michael Dorsey faces when he reveals himself to be Dorothy Michaels. So, for a quick synopsis, Dustin Hoffman plays Michael Dorsey, a very talented but stubborn and opinionated actor who is having problems finding work due to that stubborn, opinionated attitude. Thanks to indirectly hearing about a part on a soap that his friend (Teri Garr in a brilliant comedic/neurotic performance) tried to audition for but wasn’t even seen…and feeling challenged by his agent (director Sydney Pollack who is quite wonderful in this role), Michael decides to go for the ultimate challenge: going to the audition in drag and he ends up winning the part of Emily Kimberly, the new hospital administrator on the daytime soap opera SOUTHWEST GENERAL, an obvious homage to the likes of GENERAL HOSPITAL. Michael ends up becoming a rousing success acting as his female counterpart Dorothy Michaels, but things get more complicated when he finds himself starting to fall for his female co-star Julie Nichols (played by Jessica Lange, who won her first Oscar for this performance). TOOTSIE is just a film that I have always been drawn to and I always enjoy it no matter how many times I sit through it…and it must be said: the movie’s love theme It Might Be You has got to be one of the sweetest and most underrated movie songs of all time.
TOY STORY 3 (2010) Dir. By: Lee Unkrich
-The funny thing about the TOY STORY series is that I think I appreciate it much more as an adult than when I was a child…and needless to say, I was HIGHLY skeptical when TOY STORY 3 was first announced as I figured it couldn’t possibly be worth our time. I WAS SO WRONG! When I first read the reviews, I was floored at how rapturous they were and soon became incredibly excited to see it. All I will say is that the film was incredibly heartwarming, very funny, and surprising at nearly every turn…and the ending…my god…I have now sat through the film about six times and each time, it makes me cry…and I don’t mean misty eyed crying, I mean tears strolling down my cheeks kind of crying. The timeline of the films are a little wonky but in terms of age range, I was starting my senior year of college whereas Andy was heading off to college for the first time (though the first film, released in 1995, had me roughly around my actual age but whatever)…and the ending almost felt like a passing of the torch from old to young…and it was perfectly executed. TOY STORY 3 was easily one of the biggest surprises and one of the most satisfying experiences I’ve had going to the movies.
VERTIGO (1958) Dir. By: Alfred Hitchcock
-The Master of Suspense gave us his best film with VERTIGO, which wasn’t exactly scary, but it felt like a sensual romantic suspense thriller about a man whose obsession with a woman leads him to basically trying to recreate her when he finds another woman who bears a striking resemblance to her. The lush colors combined with the fantastic Bernard Herrmann score made for such an unbelievably dreamlike environment and it also helped that Hitchcock adored San Francisco, which he considered America’s Paris, and he films it in such a way that it feels like a love letter to the city. Once again, at the time of its release, it was a film that was sort of liked but not overly praised…and now, it is often considered one of the 10 best films ever made…and even more shockingly (though to my personal joy), it unseated CITIZEN KANE as the greatest film ever made in the 2012 Sight and Sound Poll; a title it held for each poll made since 1962. It is another example of how much time can affect the feeling towards a movie.
WHEN HARRY MET SALLY (1989) Dir. By: Rob Reiner
-In the world of RomComs, I would say that WHEN HARRY MET SALLY is probably my favorite of the last 30-40 years. It is quite possibly Nora Ephron at her finest in terms of her writing and this was also a time when Rob Reiner was actually a legit good filmmaker who had an impressive string of successes before he basically crashed and burned (THIS IS SPINAL TAP, THE SURE THING, STAND BY ME, THE PRINCESS BRIDE, WHEN HARRY MET SALLY, MISERY, A FEW GOOD MEN…that is a very eclectic list. Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan continue that great tradition of love/hate relationships that we watch grow over time…and in this case, YEARS. While other films that came out in 1989 would probably get more notice from me on an artistic level (DO THE RIGHT THING for example), there is a charm and whimsy to this RomCom that made me feel like it needed to be mentioned here.
WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? (1966) Dir. By: Mike Nichols
-This is often the movie I cite as my personal favorite of all time and a lot of that has to do with the fact Nichols was about to get a fantastic performance out of Elizabeth Taylor as Martha who was definitely much too young for the role and having her be backed up by a stellar ensemble that included her then-husband Richard Burton as George, Sandy Dennis as Honey, and George Segal as Nick. The other thing about the movie is that the screenwriter, Ernest Lehmann, wisely stuck to most of the Edward Albee text…and it certainly didn’t hurt since I consider the play to be my favorite play ever. It simply feels like a piece of work that just came together so perfectly to the point where I have never fully understood what drew me to it. I was still pretty young when I saw it (13 or 14) and it was, at its most basic core, a story of one couple’s drunken downfall being witnessed by a younger unassuming couple who wanted nothing more than an evening of cocktails and conversation. My only complaint about the piece, and that obviously goes for the play too, is I have never really liked the ending….and I don’t mean the whole scene, I just mean the final line…but it wasn’t enough to truly tarnish the entire work.
THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939) Dir. By: Victor Fleming
Judy Garland. The songs. The story. The rest of the cast. The great lines. That’s all.