Friday, November 1, 2013
My views: 36
Here it is: my number 1 most watched movie from 2003 to 2012. You'll notice that I watched it 11 more times than Clue, which is number 2. Honestly, it doesn't feel like I've seen it that many times. I think I could probably watch this movie every day for the rest of my life without getting tired of it. The Philadelphia Story is, without question, my favorite movie of all time. It's funny because when I tell people that, I almost always get the response, "Oh, you mean the Tom Hanks movie about AIDS?" No, that's Philadelphia, and when I say it's an old movie, I mean a lot older than 1993. Occasionally I'll come across someone who's seen The Philadelphia Story, but often they say something like, "Yeah, it was okay, but I didn't like it that much." And I smile and nod while a part of my soul dies. But seriously, I understand why people, especially modern audiences, wouldn't fully appreciate this movie. I'm sure I didn't when I first watched it.
As is the case with so many of the films on this blog, my acquaintance with this film began when my mom got it from the library. All I remember from that first viewing is Jimmy Stewart saying, "Will you marry me?" and me responding with, "Okay." Clearly this was before I had developed my undying love for Cary Grant. Not that it mattered, anyway, since they were both interested in Katharine Hepburn. That's right: Jimmy Stewart, Cary Grant, and Katharine Hepburn. Just the presence of those three in the same movie was enough to ensure multiple viewings on my part, although I saw this early enough in my foray into Old Hollywood that I'm never sure if I love this movie because of its stars or if I love the stars because they're in this movie. Either way, this movie gets full points for casting. The three stars are all at their best. Jimmy Stewart won an Oscar, Katharine Hepburn was nominated for an Oscar (I would be sad she didn't win if I wasn't so happy that Ginger Rogers won that year), and Cary Grant was completely overlooked as usual, which I think is especially unfair in this case because C.K. Dexter Haven is a very important, many-layered character who could easily ruin the whole story if played the wrong way. Also, let's not forget the supporting cast, particularly Ruth Hussey and Virginia Weidler, without whom this movie would merely be one of my favorites, rather than the favorite.
The dialogue and character development are superb, which I think has a lot to do with the cast, and of course the expert direction of George Cukor. I love the lines, but more than that I love the way they all say their lines. This is exemplified in one of my favorite scenes, in which Katharine Hepburn and Virginia Weidler know that Jimmy Stewart and Ruth Hussey, who think that their own identities are secret, are reporters and decide to mess with them. Their exaggeratedly regal, almost serious tone of voice as they either say ridiculous things or seemingly unintentionally insult the others never fails to crack me up. This scene also utilizes the most subtle form of physical comedy I've ever seen. It took me several viewings to even notice it. Usually I'm not a huge fan of physical comedy, but the way Katharine Hepburn pushes Jimmy Stewart and Ruth Hussey together or starts to offer him a cigarette and takes the case away before he has time to grab one, all while talking a mile a minute, are so well done that throughout that scene I never know if I'm laughing more for the dialogue or the actions.
So it's a hilarious movie with a fabulous cast, but that's not nearly the whole story. This movie deals with several of life's important issues: love, betrayal, prejudice, empathy, and perhaps most importantly, forgiveness. The movie opens with pain and bitterness, and most of that goes away when the characters get over themselves and learn to repent and forgive each other in turn. It took me an embarrassingly long time to understand this. I have to admit that most of my early views of this movie were for the comedy and the stars. But I realized as I got older how vitally important the message is. Katharine Hepburn's character, Tracy, holds herself and everyone else to very high standards. She knows how to behave, and very rarely messes up, so she dismisses other people when they make mistakes. For the record, I think she was right to divorce Dexter, since he was definitely abusive, but I also think he deserves a second chance because he gave up drinking. Anyway, Tracy learns throughout the course of the movie to have "some regard for human frailty." In other words, people mess up, it's what makes them human, and you can either choose to hold that against them, or you can embrace it, realize that you mess up, too, and know when to give them another chance. The Philadelphia Story exemplifies this simple truth so beautifully that it couldn't not be my favorite movie.
So there you have it: all 35 movies I watched more than 10 times from 2003 to 2012. It's by no means an exhaustive list of my favorite movies, but it's a pretty decent sample. So if you ever want to have a long, spirited conversation with me, all you have to do is bring up one of the movies on this blog, although I'd steer clear of Clue and The Philadelphia Story if you don't want it to go on for several days.
Thursday, September 5, 2013
My views: 25
My family loves board games. Almost as soon as I could read fluently, I learned how to play Clue, and a little later, the slightly more challenging Master Detective version, which quickly became my favorite game. I remember one time we were playing and my parents mentioned that there was a movie based on Clue that they had seen in a theater before I was born. When they told me it had three possible endings, I was confused: how could the clues in the film point to three different killers? Either it was Mrs. White with the knife in the kitchen or it was Mr. Green with the revolver in the hall: how could it be both?
Eventually my questions were answered when I was about 10 and Clue was on TV. I didn't really get it the first time I saw it, and I actually thought it was rather scary. It was hard for me to get past the fact that in the movie, it's not one but six murders - seven in one ending - which I found quite disturbing. And yet something about it intrigued me the first time I watched it. I still haven't quite figured out what it was, especially since it's not nearly as good on TV because they cut out a lot of important parts. But for whatever reason, we started renting it a lot and eventually bought it. Before 2003, I already had the script pretty much memorized. I don't know how many times I saw it, but I think it's safe to assume that if I had started keeping track of my movies a year or two sooner, Clue would be number 1.
This movie is a brilliant comedic gem that went almost unnoticed when it was released - apparently my parents were in the minority when they saw it in theaters - but ultimately became a cult classic as it should be. All of these actors are absolutely hysterical, and the script is incredible. Though I missed it the first time I watched Clue, I realized quickly enough that it's not really about the murders; it's about how ridiculous people are. And rejoicing in the ridiculous is one of my favorite pastimes.
My brother was quite young when we started watching this movie obsessively, but he still thoroughly enjoyed it. He didn't really understand all the stuff about blackmail, but he couldn't stop laughing when Mrs. Peacock beat up a pipe or when Mrs. White described how much she hated Yvette - the latter of which is one of the greatest moments in film history. The two of us started reciting this movie constantly. The rest of our family also enjoyed it, though perhaps not quite as much as we did, and the result is that we reference this movie all the time. Instead of, "I wasn't talking to you," we say, "I was asking Miss Scarlet." If anyone can't find his or her key, someone has to say, "Never mind about the key, unlock the door!" If someone says, "Maybe..." dramatically with a pause, the sentence is finished with, "Mr. Boddy killed the cook!" And, "Oh, who cares?" is always followed by, "That guy doesn't matter! Let him stay locked up for another half an hour. The police will be here by then, and there are TWO DEAD BODIES IN THE STUDY!!!"
In middle school, I recited this movie all the time in conversations with my friends and they got kind of annoyed, so later I learned to keep my Clue references in my head. When I recite other movies, I think of a line or two and that's it, but because I have all of this movie memorized, I end up reciting whole scenes. I often find the movie going through my head with no idea of what started it. I realized just how much this movie had penetrated my brain when I learned about communism in school and all I could think of was, "red herring." Recently, my sister and I had a conversation in which a line from Clue came up, and we ended up reciting the whole scene, after which my sister remarked, "Well, that was strangely involuntary." So I guess I'm not the only one who recites Clue without realizing it. One might think that because I have it memorized, I no longer need to actually sit down and watch the movie anymore, but while I do watch it less often now than I used to, I still find it worth watching. Sometimes I watch it because it's appropriate - it makes a good Halloween movie, and I pulled it out this summer the second I learned that Eileen Brennan had passed away - but sometimes for no reason at all.
The thing I love most about Clue is how all the characters are together most of the time. Since they are all played by such amazing talents, it's quite entertaining to watch them both in the background and in the foreground. This is one of the main reasons I've watched this movie so many times: so I can focus on different aspects of each scene. It still kind of surprises me how unbothered I am by all the inconsistencies I've discovered through my many viewings. Usually I get really annoyed when movies don't make sense, and Clue makes practically no sense but is still one of my favorites. But the acting, directing, and script are so amazing and the idea so original that I find myself loving it not only in spite of its flaws, but also to a certain extent because of them. I think of Clue kind of like an old friend: I don't care that it's not perfect; I'm comfortable with it, it's around when I need it, and even though I've heard all its jokes a hundred times, I still laugh at them. Maybe this makes me sound really pathetic, but I truly believe that everyone needs a movie or two like that.
Now I only have my most-watched movie left, and if you know me at all or follow me on tumblr you can probably guess what it is, but I'll keep you in suspense a little while longer while I try to figure out how to write about it.
Wednesday, August 28, 2013
My views: 24
This was the movie that started it all. Before seeing this, my only exposure to old Hollywood was It's a Wonderful Life, some Disney films, and a few Shirley Temple movies. But when I was 11 or 12 my mom saw that Singin' in the Rain was showing at a nearby theater and decided to take me to it. She told me later that she remembers wondering if I would like it. I don't think she had any idea how much of an understatement "like" would turn out to be.
From that first viewing in a theater, I fell in love with this movie. I had never seen anything like it before. It wasn't until much later that I realized the irony of this: there is really very little that is original about this film. It's basically a conglomeration of a bunch of older musicals, but in my opinion that's part of what makes it so wonderful. They took all the best parts of earlier musicals and combined them into one film. And the result is beautiful.
The stars are magnificent at both dancing and comedic timing. I'm always mesmerized by the dance numbers, particularly "Good Morning," "Moses," and of course "Singin' in the Rain," but I'm also a big fan of the non-dancing parts and am constantly reciting the dialogue. Oddly enough, Lina Lamont is probably my favorite character, and I definitely think Jean Hagen should have won that Oscar she was nominated for. She is absolutely hilarious. I remember being shocked the first time I heard her speak in the movie: "Fah heaven's sake, WHATZA big idea?" I had no idea she was going to sound like that, and I still love the way her voice is revealed so long after we first see her.
This was my #1 most watched movie for the first three years that I kept track. I simply couldn't get enough of it. When I wasn't watching it, I was usually reciting it, singing songs from it, or analyzing it. I also looked up a lot of facts about it, which turned out to be kind of a mistake. On the one hand, I was impressed that Gene Kelly danced to "Singin' in the Rain" with a 103 degree fever, but learning how mean he was to Debbie Reynolds during the making of the movie kind of put a damper on my enthusiasm. Despite this, I still really do love this film, if not quite as much as I did at first. I try to watch it every year on March 24 in honor of Don Lockwood's lucky day. Someday I'm going to time it so that I get to that scene at exactly 1:30 a.m. on March 24 and it's going to make me extremely happy.
I will always be indebted to Singin' in the Rain because after my mom saw my reaction to it she started putting a bunch of other old movies on hold at the library, and thus began my obsession. So if I hadn't seen and loved this movie I might never have discovered many of my other favorites, and my life would be incredibly different.
Saturday, August 10, 2013
My views: 22
This was the very first Fred and Ginger movie I ever saw. After watching and admiring all nine others, I still think Top Hat is the best. I don't remember exactly what I thought the first time I watched it, but I know that in seventh grade I considered it my favorite movie, and it's been near the top of my list ever since. I still can't get over how magical Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers are together. It makes me very sad how many people in my generation have never heard of them because as far as I'm concerned, they're the best onscreen couple in Hollywood history. Fred is so good at falling for her, and Ginger is so good at resisting...until he gets her on the dance floor. And that's when the world stops and perfection takes over. This movie may be predictable and a little ridiculous - which, I must admit, is part of the reason I love it so much - but it's absolutely worth watching for the dance numbers alone, especially "Isn't This a Lovely Day (to be Caught in the Rain)" and "Cheek to Cheek," as well as Fred's solo to the title song. I've never been a particular fan of dance, mostly because I'm really bad at it myself, but the word "dancing" does not even begin to describe what Fred and Ginger do.
Though I love Ginger and Fred more than words can express, I can't talk about this movie without raving about the supporting cast. Top Hat wouldn't be Top Hat without Edward Everett Horton's masterful double takes, Helen Broderick's dry wit, Erik Rhodes's outrageous Italian accent, or Eric Blore's "plural personality." Each of these talented character actors worked with Astaire and Rogers at least one other time, and Eric Blore was in half of their films, but Top Hat is the only Fred and Ginger film that has all four of them. This is one of the main reasons Top Hat is my favorite. They're all so fun to watch, and they play off each other and the stars beautifully. And really, the best song in the movie is Erik Rhodes's character's serenade to himself: "Oh, Alberto, you're a fine fellow, oh Alberto Beddini, I'm so glad you're not skinny."
All of the cast members seem like they're having a really good time, which makes the movie a lot of fun for the audience as well. I know that the dance numbers were a lot of work to pull off, especially since there are very few cuts in them, but Fred and Ginger make them look so effortless, and they look like they want nothing more than to be in each other's arms. The non-dancing part of the film is mostly made up of really fun, clever lines and a series of hilarious misunderstandings that ultimately lead to happiness for all, and of course, more dancing. This film was clearly made to help people temporarily forget about the Great Depression, and I think it must have worked. It certainly helps me forget about my problems for a little while. No matter how many times I watch it, the jokes are still funny, and the dancing is still magical.
Thursday, August 1, 2013
My views: 20
My sister and my mom saw this when it was in theaters, and I remember them coming home and raving about it. They kept saying things like "Goodbye, trolley people," so I thought it was probably the weirdest movie I'd ever heard of. When I finally watched it a few months later, however, it instantly rose to near the top of my list of favorite films, and has remained there ever since. I have so many great memories associated with watching this film now, since we always seemed to watch it on road trips. I would also really recommend watching it with audio commentary, especially if you have any doubts about how much Julie Andrews loves tea. But unlike Ella Enchanted, this movie is amazing even without commentary.
The script is hilarious, and the trolley people part has become one of my favorite movie scenes ever, but I honestly think that it's the cast that really makes this film. In the hands of lesser actors, this movie would be kind of ridiculous. But they're all so perfect in their roles that it becomes moving and believable in addition to entertaining. I don't know who in their right mind could read about mean-spirited, eyeliner-tattoed Grandmère and think Julie Andrews, but since they decided to almost completely disregard Meg Cabot's books, she's perfect for the character the filmmakers created. Prior to this I had seen and loved Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music, and I remember watching My Fair Lady and my mom telling me that Mary Poppins had played the original Eliza Doolittle, but it wasn't until I saw The Princess Diaries that my love of Julie Andrews was truly solidified. She is my favorite thing about this movie, from "We don't schlump like this" to "Goodbye trolley people" to "Have you ever experienced that instant headache when you eat ice too quickly?" She is so fabulous I can hardly stand it. It was not long after seeing this that I started obsessively listening to every soundtrack she was part of, which I still do all these years later. I actually got to meet her a little over a year ago when she was doing a book signing tour, and I'm pretty sure I came across like Mrs. Gupta in this movie: "What's it like in Genovia? Do people just fawn over you?" Except I wasn't nearly that coherent. It was not one of my shining moments. But when she asked how I was and I stammered out that I was amazing, she said, "Yes, you are." So I can always say that Julie Andrews has told me that I was amazing. And it was this movie that started my journey to that moment.
Only slightly less incredible than Julie Andrews's performance in this movie is that of the previously unknown teenage actress named after Shakespeare's wife. Anne Hathaway brings so much depth and such a sense of reality to Mia that I felt like she was someone I actually knew. I could really relate to her, as I was terrible in gym class (although I would have loved to have a teacher like hers) and sometimes felt like I was invisible. But it's all the little silly things that she does in the film, like when she accidentally breaks the statue or talks with her retainer in or unintentionally falls over and keeps the scene going, that make Mia seem more like a real person than a character. I'm sure a lot of these were in the script, but it's Anne Hathaway that makes them work.
It's not just Anne Hathaway and Julie Andrews who have great little moments in this film though: let's not forget Heather Matarazzo's "Wait up! Wait for me! Not you, I don't even know you!" which still cracks me up every time. And then there are all the random background characters who get one or two hilarious lines, like String Cheese Lady and Umbrella Woman. It's all the fun little moments like these that got The Princess Diaries onto my Top 5 Most Watched list. Yes, it's a film that tells a great story about finding one's true identity and true love, but there are so many of those. I'm pretty sure this is the only one with a character named Mr. Robutusen.
Thursday, July 11, 2013
My views: 20
Even though they have essentially nothing to do with each other, My Man Godfrey and The Major and the Minor will always be linked in my brain. They were two of the first old movies my mom got from the library to watch with me, they were the first two movies I counted in 2003, and they were the two movies I showed at my birthday party that year. While my friends really enjoyed The Major and the Minor, none of them got into My Man Godfrey. In their defense, we were watching a particularly bad VHS copy so it was pretty hard to hear the dialogue, but I also think that it takes several viewings to fully appreciate this film because it has so many layers.
Of course, the first thing I loved about this movie was the screwball comedy element. I hadn't really been exposed to that genre much before, and this is one of the best, so it was a good place to start. The entire cast is perfect, and I love the chemistry between Carole Lombard and William Powell (which I'd think would be awkward for them considering they were divorced in real life), but Alice Brady in particular is hilarious. I always seem to bring up my brother when talking about screwball comedies, since he's the only person I know who appreciates them more than I do, and this is no exception because when I first became obsessed with this movie, he became obsessed with Angelica Bullock. At six years old, he did a flawless Alice Brady impression and was particularly fond of quoting her line about gentlemen's underwear. There was a period when it seemed like the two of us were reciting this movie constantly. I think a huge part of the reason I was so delighted with this film has to do with what my mom calls "snappy patter," which is basically the dialogue, but even more than that, it's the perfectly timed way the dialogue is spoken. A lot of the movies I've seen at least ten times have this, particularly His Girl Friday, Stage Door, and Bringing Up Baby, and it's always one of my favorite things about those movies. It's particularly prevalent in movies from the 1930s and has since mostly faded from the screen, but there have been some recent attempts at bringing it back, perhaps the best effort being the show Gilmore Girls. But anyway, when I first saw My Man Godfrey I didn't know that snappy patter was a thing; I just knew that I loved the way these characters talked and that I wanted to talk like them. Many important plot points occur off-screen, which would probably be annoying to a lot of modern-day movie-goers who are used to seeing everything, but is one of the main things that drew me to this film and others like it. I don't need a lot of action to keep me interested in a film, provided the dialogue is clever enough, and in My Man Godfrey it certainly is.
It wasn't until I'd seen this movie enough times to have it memorized that I realized how much more there is to it than comedic dialogue. In addition to being a story about a wacky rich family with servant problems, it's a story about helping people and finding help in unexpected places. It's a story about love and struggling to find one's place in the world. All of these deeper themes and messages really started to resonate with me as I grew into my later teens, which is one of the main reasons I kept watching this even when I started getting tired of screwball comedies and kind of took a break from them. This film's perfect combination of humor and seriousness is what has secured its place on this list and what I'm sure will keep me revisiting it for many years to come.
Monday, June 17, 2013
My views: 20
Yes, I know, technically this is a mini-series and not a movie, but I made the executive decision to count mini-series as movies when I was keeping track, and this is too fabulous to be omitted from the blog on a technicality. This is basically perfection in six 50-minute episodes. That means I spent 100 of the hours from 2003 to 2012 watching Pride and Prejudice, which might sound excessive to some, but I would gladly devote another 100 hours of my life to it. By the end of this post, I hope you will have some idea as to why, but the best way to understand is to just go and watch it.
Funnily enough, the first thing I ever knew about Pride and Prejudice was that my dad really liked it. He and my mom taped it and talked about it a lot, but I didn't get it at all. I remember trying to watch it with them when I was younger, but always falling asleep in the middle without really knowing what was going on. I didn't actually sit through the whole thing until 2005, but once I did, I was hooked. I was enchanted by the story, the character development, and the dialogue. And before I knew it, this had essentially become my family's theme movie. We're all completely obsessed with it, and we now own 3 copies on DVD in addition to the video taped copy so that my sister and I could each take a DVD with us to college while still leaving one for everyone else.
I know that Pride and Prejudice is one of the most beloved stories ever written, but I always feel like it belongs to my family and me. Perhaps other people feel this way as well, and that's part of the reason it's become such a popular story. Anyway, I've always thought of myself as Jane Bennet, partly because I'm the oldest child and because my given name happens to be Jane, but also because I usually think the best of people and give them the benefit of the doubt. I'm not quite as good at this as Miss Bennet is, but in my defense, she is a fictional character. I've also always thought of my sister as Elizabeth Bennet because she's awesome and has definite opinions about people and things, but isn't afraid to admit it when she misjudges them. The close relationship I share with my sister is also reflected in the conversations between Jane and Lizzy in Pride and Prejudice, although I do think that I'll be the one teaching her 10 children to embroider cushions and play their instruments very ill, but no analogy is perfect. We named our dogs Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy, and Bingley seems to prefer me while Darcy prefers my sister, so that further enforces our perceived roles. Fitting our brother into the story is a little more difficult, since if the Bennets had a brother a lot of their problems would be solved, but I kind of think of him as Lydia, since he's the youngest and the most lively and outgoing. However, if we're honest with ourselves, I think we're all more a combination of Mary and Kitty than anything else. Our parents are thankfully nothing like Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, but they like to pretend they are sometimes, so whenever I'm going anywhere my mom says, "Take every opportunity of enjoying yourself," and whenever anyone mentions lace my dad has to strenuously object.
But it's not just my parents trying to be Mr. and Mrs. Bennet; we all recite this mini-series constantly. There are so many incredible lines, and they apply remarkably frequently. I'm pretty sure Mrs. Philips is the character we quote the most, between "Oh, now I understand!" and "Hearts, Mr. Collins, hearts!" but we reference them all a lot. It's particularly amusing when my dad does his Lady Catherine impression: "She would be in nobody's way in that part of the house." I think we all really appreciate good dialogue, and even beyond that, all of the actors read their lines with such perfect expression that it's extremely fun to imitate them, particularly the more melodramatic characters.
That's one of the main reasons I prefer this version of Pride and Prejudice to the others that I've seen: the casting is flawless. Jennifer Ehle is Elizabeth Bennet. Colin Firth is Mr. Darcy. Crispin Bonham-Carter is Mr. Bingley, and by far the most likable version of Mr. Bingley I've ever encountered on screen, which I love because the book Mr. Bingley is supposed to be likable, and a lot of times he's portrayed in films as kind of a doofus. Alison Steadman is Mrs. Bennet. David Bamber is Mr. Collins. I could go on, but it's kind of a big cast, and you get the point. They all adapt the perfect mannerisms and expressions to fit the characters that Jane Austen created. I'm also a huge fan of the supporting characters. Most other film versions cut out a lot of the minor characters, often because they don't want to be this long, but I love that this version chooses to leave them in and develop them. That's part of the reason I can watch it so many times and never get bored: there is so much background character development going on that I missed the first few times I watched it. I especially like what they did with Mr. Hearst, Maria Lucas, and my personal favorite: Mary's crush on Mr. Collins. This brings me to the flawless editing, which allows the audience to see the background stories unfold as well as the main stories, and clearly shows us each relevant character's reaction to every important development for just the right amount of time.
Finally, I'm pretty sure that this is the best film adaptation of a book that I've ever seen. In my experience, when books are adapted to the screen, it is almost always the case that the film comes out lacking. Often important character development is sacrificed in favor of action scenes, as in the - in my opinion - highly disappointing Harry Potter films. Occasionally, apart from character names and a vaguely similar plot, the book and the film are barely recognizable as the same story. I understand that films are different from books, but have always wondered why people who make films based on books can't take the spirit of the original story and transfer it to film. Granted, I didn't read Pride and Prejudice until after I had seen this, so perhaps my opinion is biased, but I think the people who made this mini-series finally accomplished what I'd always wanted filmmakers to do: stay true to the story without feeling like they couldn't change anything about it. Many if not most of the lines in this mini-series are direct word-for-word quotes from the book, which is fabulous, but the other lines are all in the spirit of the book, which is even better. A few scenes were added and changed, but all for a very good reason, and all allowing the characters to remain true to their original counterparts. The reason for this, of course, is that the filmmakers were very devoted to the original story, which hardly ever happens. I'm extremely glad it did in this case.