Sunday, November 8, 2009

A Night at the Movies (or Some Movies I Love)

A couple of nights ago, I was in the company of some friends discussing our favorite movies. Someone would name a genre, such as romance, or thriller, and we would each take turns naming our favorite movies. Me, being the dunce that I am, couldn't remember what my favorite films were, and I am sure I ended up giving mediocre answers.

A couple of years ago, I emailed a list of suggestions to my friend Kelli. Below is that (much expanded upon) list. I love pretty films, foreign films, period films, films that make me think (by revealing some essential truth), and films that make me feel (also by touching on some essential truth).

Here, then, are some movies that I REALLY love. If you check any out, let me know what you think.

The Movie: PANDORA'S BOX (1929)
The Director: G.W. PABST

If you watch one silent film, this ought to be it. I am definitely biased towards Louise Brooks, the quirky star of this film, but I'm pretty sure you will be as well after you see her in action. The movie was a bit slow (in truth, it took a couple of sittings to get through this), but it's worth the effort as Brooks is sublime, the 1920s fashion is great, and the plot is not bad.

The Movie: THE THIN MAN (1934)
The Director: W.S. Van Dyke
William Powell, Myrna Loy

There are a whole slew of Thin Man movies out there (this first one was such a success that it spawned sequels and even a television series), but this one is the essential one to see. The stars of the show are Nick and Nora Charles, a rich socialite couple (and, of course, their terrier, Asta, who steals every scene he is in), who somehow get drawn into a murder case. The story is based on a Dashiell Hammett story, so you know it's a great whodunit. But, what I especially love is the palpable chemistry between Powell and Loy in their respective roles, and the witty dialogue that characterizes the series.

The Movie: GONE WITH THE WIND (1939)
The Director: Victor Fleming
Vivien Leigh, Lesley Howard, Olivia da Havilland, Clark Gable

As a gal growing up in the south, the daughter of Southern parents (with my mom being named after Melanie), you can be sure we watched
Gone With the Wind every chance we got. My sister and I would pop this in on sick days, kick back, and watch silly Scarlet debate between the emasculated Ashley and the infinitely preferable Rhett Butler. The movie is epic, a snapshot on a lost time in the American south.

The Movie: REBECCA (1940)
The Director:
Alfred Hitchcock
Joan Fontaine, Laurence Olivier

"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley..." thus begins both the novel by Daphne du Maurier and this film adaptation. This black and white film is shrouded in mystery. It starts out innocently enough as a love story, with the narrator (Ms. Fontaine) meeting and marrying the dashing widower, Maxim de Winter. From there, though, it's all downhill. She quickly finds that everything revolves around "Rebecca," the deceased first wife of Maxim. It's a Hitchcock film, so you can be sure there are twists and turns, and nothing gets resolved until the very end. Also, if you're interested, the book is a great read as well. Incidentally, Joan Fontaine is the estranged real life sister of Olivia da Havilland, who plays Melanie in
Gone With the Wind.

The Director:
Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Jeanne Crain, Linda Darnell, Ann Sothern, Kirk Douglas

One morning, three friends receive a letter from another woman telling them that she has run away with one of their husbands. They spend the day agonizing over which husband it is, each remembering reasons why their own husband would have been likely to stray. I love the overall style and feel of this movie-- the trio of actresses are great!

The Movie: LE NOTTI BIANCHE (1957)
The Director:
Luchino Visconti
Marcello Mastroianni

Based on a short story by Fyodor Dostoevsky (White Nights), this moody, black-and-white film follows the narrator as we wanders around the empty streets of a town. He eventually encounters a lonely girl and the two of them begin wandering together, drawn together in sadness. I haven't watched this movie in ages, but something about it still resonates with me. It's also a depressing love story (you'll note a theme as you go along).

The Movie: BLACK ORPHEUS (1959)
The Director: Marcel Camus
Breno Mello, Marpessa Dawn

This film is a modern day retelling of the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice. It's probably helpful to know that before you watch the film, as it has several references to that legend. This movie is really FUN-- it's set during the time of Carnival in Rio de Janiero. What that means is that there is GREAT music (bossa novas) throughout the course of the film, and an energy that carries you throughout. You get a great sense of the Brazilian zest for life, and it makes me want to get up and dance.

The Movie: CHARADE (1963)
The Director:
Stanley Donen
Starring: Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Walter Matthau, James Coburn

It has been called the best Hitchcock film that Hitchcock never made. A woman's husband has been murdered and several men are after her in an attempt to find money he had stolen. Whom should she trust? The combination of suspense, comedy, and romance make this a winner for everybody. I always loved watching Grant and Hepburn and the way they play off of each other in this movie. Also, this movie is
in the public domain because of some silly copyright laws, so you have no excuse to miss this gem.

The Movie: TWO FOR THE ROAD (1967)
The Director: Stanley Donen
Starring: Albert Finney, Audrey Hepburn

This is my favorite movie ever. It is the one film that I have seen umpteen times, and am always up for watching again. I must be a sucker for tormented love stories (see Wuthering Heights, below), but there is something that rings true about them to me. This story follows Joanna and Mark Wallace from their first meeting, to marriage, several infidelities, and onward. I love how the story is presented in a series of snapshots, and that it shows another side to marriage than happily ever after. Audrey and Albert are great, as are the European settings, and to top it all off, Henry Mancini creates a beautiful score to set it all off quite nicely.

The Movie: HAROLD AND MAUDE (1971)
The Director:
Hal Ashby
Ruth Gordon, Bud Cort

My sister and I stumbled upon this movie sometime during our teenage years. He's morbid, contrary and obsessed with death. She's old and has a different way of looking at life. Together, they make a great pair. This movie is pretty dark, but also hilarious, and definitely worth your time.

The Movie: DAYS OF HEAVEN (1978)
The Director: Terrence Malick
Richard Gere, Brooke Adams, Sam Shepard, Linda Manz

I have to resist the urge to keep writing, "I love this film!!!" That's what I wanted to write, but then I realized that I love all of these movies, hence this list. But this one especially. My heart just aches watching it. Yes, it's slow, but it has the quality of a painting. It is really one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen. It's about three drifters who start working on a farm in the early 1900s. Sounds fascinating, I know. Just watch it.

The Movie: LADY JANE (1986)
The Director:
Trevor Nunn
Starring: Cary Elwes, Helena Bonham-Carter

Cary Elwes, check. Helena Bonham-Carter, check. Historical drama, check. Yep, I am a sucker for these kinds of movies. It might be a little know fact among Americans (I wonder how much the general English population knows about her?), but beside the King Henrys and Queen Elizabeths of British history, there was once a poor sixteen year old who reigned as Queen of England for a precious nine days before being dethroned (and beheaded) by her cousin, (Bloody) Mary Tudor. Yes, I'm sure the movie gets it wrong, as they so often do, but I do love this version of the tale. She's young, brilliant, and innocent. He's worldly, and a rogue, but her love changes him. In the end, she is martyred for her faith, and we are all moved by it.

The Movie: 84 CHARING CROSS ROAD (1987)
The Director: David Hugh Jones
Anne Bancroft, Anthony Hopkins, Judi Dench

I'm a book lover (which is probably why I should be doing this list about books, not movies). This movie, about a Brookynite in 1940s who strikes up a transatlantic correspondence with an English bookseller. She contacts him because she is trying to find rare books, and he discovers a kindred spirit. The two never meet, remaining pen pals for their lives, but their friendship is very real. If you're a book lover, I dare you not to like this film.

The Movie: CINEMA PARADISO (1988)
The Director: Giuseppe Tornatore
Starring: Phillipe Noiret, Jacques Perrin, Salvatore Cascio

Just like 84 Charing Cross Road is a movie for people who love books, Cinema Paradiso is a movie for people who love movies. It is an Italian film (it took home the Oscar) and it follows the relationship of a young boy and the old man who runs the film projector at the local cinema. There are a lot of nuances to it, and I love the sequence at the end with all of the kissing scenes.

The Director: Peter Kosminsky
Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Juliette Binoche

Simone de Beauvoir claimed that Catherine Earnshaw's cry of "I AM HEATHCLIFF!" is the cry of every woman in love. I'm not sure if that is true (although I've had moments where I completely identify with that sentiment), but this film does show two people who are completely obsessed with each other to the point of destroying not only their own lives, but everyone around them. I'm partial to the movie, as the book is my favorites, but it's also the film that introduced Mr. Fiennes to the world, and he has been smoldering ever since.

The Movie: IL POSTINO (1994)
The Director: Michael Radford
Starring: Massimo Troisi, Philippe Noiret

I imagine this was the first foreign language film that I ever saw. My nose probably wrinkled in disgust at the suggestion (we even saw it in the theater), but I'm thankful I had friends who possessed more class than I did, as the film has spawned a lifelong love of foreign films. This film is set in a picturesque island in Italy, and features a mostly illiterate postman who falls in love with the village beauty. More than love, though, this film is about his relationship with Pablo Neruda, the famous Chilean poet, who inspires him through poetry. It's a lovely film-- I can still hear the soundtrack in my head, as well as Neruda's poetry. Oh, and to lend poignancy to this sweet little film, the star, Massimo Troisi, died twelve hours after shooting concluded.

The Director: Simon Langton
Starring: Colin Firth, Jennifer Ehle

Yes, I'm one of those girls who swoon over Mr. Darcy. I'll take him in either incarnation (as portrayed by Colin Firth or, as in the 2005 film, Matthew Macfadyen), but I have to say that the BBC miniseries (i.e., this one) is the quintessential version of Ms. Austen's beloved book. I think happiness is a full day watching this, preferably with someone else who appreciates this as much as I do.

The Director: Nicholas Renton
Starring: Justine Waddell, Bill Paterson, Anthony Howell

True story: In high school, I stumbled upon the novel, Wives and Daughters, by Elizabeth Gaskell, a contemporary of Charles Dickens. I loved the book, and decided that I would one day write a screenplay for it (oh, the dreams of teenagers!). A couple of years later, the BBC made this version, and I was ecstatic. I'm so happy that Gaskell's masterpiece has been brought to life via film. It is a mini-series, lucky us, so there are hours of enjoyment to be had watching this!

The Movie: SPIRITED AWAY (2001)
The Director: Hayao Miyazaki

This is quite possibly my favorite animated film. It's the story of a young girl who is whisked into a land of spirits and monsters and must use her wits, courage, and resolve to escape. This movie is magical, the anime is gorgeous, and the plot is totally unexpected (at least to Western audiences). The original version is in Japanese with English subtitles, while there is another that has been dubbed in English. I recommend both!

The Director: Sylvain Chomet
Starring: Michèle Caucheteux, Jean-Claude Donda, Michel Robin, Monica Viegas

This movie is in French, but there's not much spoken dialogue, so you probably won't notice. I was drawn in by the style of illustration (yes, it is animated!). It is a charming film, and the delightful music (in a 1920s style a la Django Reinhardt and Charles Trenet) means you should sit right back and enjoy this feast for the eyes and ears.

The Movie: ALL THE REAL GIRLS (2003)
The Director: David Gordon Green
Starring: Paul Schneider, Zooey Deschanel, Shea Whigham, Patricia Clarkson

Another story about relationships that rings true in my experience. This was the movie where I "discovered" Zooey Deschanel, and I have been infatuated ever since. He's a cad, she's virginal, you'll see how it all plays out.

I hope you enjoy some of my suggestions. I'd love to hear what some of your favorites are-- especially if you think I'd enjoy them too!!



Jay said...

I feel ridiculously uncultured, not having seen a single one your favourite films. I've never even seen any of the various TV adaptations of Pride & Prejudice, nor The Postman, which is shameful considering my love of Neruda.

I'm much too self conscious to share most of my favourite films now, but just to try and redeem myself I am a big, big fan of Pedro Almodóvar's films (especially "Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!" and "Volver"), I also rate Robert Rodriguez "Mariarchi" trilogy, but mainly for "El Mariarchi".

Among films that aren't in Spanish, I love "The Big Lebowski" (partly because I love Raymond Chandler's book "The Big Sleep") and "Jaws".

I think you'd like the Spanish films.

Phil said...

I'm really surprised 'Shag' isn't on your list!

elventryst said...

I really love Pedro Almodovar's films as well. Volver is great-- I don't think I've seen Tie me up tie me down. The Big Lebowski is on my list of films to see-- if only because everyone is always referencing it.

Tom said...

These are all great movies! I just saw Pandora's Box last month and reviewed it on my blog. It really impressed me, and I agree with you that it certainly is one must-see silent film. The musical score of Cinema Paradiso is one of my favorites. Very nice blog! - Tom