Friday, November 1, 2013

1. The Philadelphia Story

1940; dir. George Cukor; starring Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, James Stewart
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

2. Clue

1985; dir. Jonathan Lynn; starring Eileen Brennan, Tim Curry, Madeline Kahn, Christopher Lloyd, Michael McKean, Martin Mull, Lesley Ann Warren
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

3. Singin' in the Rain

1952; dir. Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly; starring Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor, Debbie Reynolds
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

4. Top Hat

1935; dir. Mark Sandrich; starring Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers
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

5. The Princess Diaries

2001; dir. Garry Marshall; starring Anne Hathaway, Julie Andrews, Heather Matarazzo, Robert Schwartzman
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

6. My Man Godfrey

1936; dir. Gregory La Cava; starring Carole Lombard, William Powell, Alice Brady, Gail Patrick, Eugene Pallette
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

7. Pride and Prejudice

1995; dir. Simon Langton; starring Jennifer Ehle, Colin Firth
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.

Friday, June 7, 2013

8. The Sure Thing

1985; dir. Rob Reiner; starring John Cusack and Daphne Zuniga
My views: 19

This is another movie my mom had to talk me into watching.  I really had no interest in seeing it, but she got it from the library in 2004 and convinced me to sit through it.  And, like almost all the movies my mom talks me into watching, I fell in love with it.  In 2006 alone I watched it 8 times, I've now seen it a total of 20 times (because I've watched it once this year), and I haven't gotten tired of it yet.  I truly think it's the best teen/young adult movie ever made, and I'm constantly surprised at how few people have even heard of it.

The script is brilliant.  Is it just me, or do all Rob Reiner films have great lines?  From "Get Cowboy Guy a beer" and "I bought some of those hangers you like so much" to "Who invented liquid soap and why?" this movie is full of quotes that I can always use to crack myself up while other people stare at me because for some unfathomable reason, no one has seen this movie.  I guess they don't have moms who talk them into watching it.  Beyond the fantastic script, there's the remarkable chemistry between the two young (at the time) stars.  At first they hate each other as they seem to have nothing in common, but as they get to know each other better they start falling for one another in spite of themselves.  It's a plot that's been done a million times, but very rarely is it done this well.  John Cusack and Daphne Zuniga play off each other wonderfully, and both demonstrate flawless comedic timing, particularly in the scene where they're stranded in the middle of nowhere in the rain with no money trying to break into a deserted trailer, and Daphne Zuniga's character, Alison, suddenly remembers that she has a credit card.  "Credit cards work on a completely different kind of lock!" "I don't think you understand. I have a credit card!" Then her face falls. "Oh. My dad told me specifically that I could only use it in case of an emergency."  And with rain dripping down his whole body, he looks at her with a completely straight face and says, "Well, maybe one will come up."

I also love how the two completely different characters manage to bring out the best in each other, and how he prompts her to become a little more laid back while she prompts him to be a little more self-disciplined, without either of them really trying to change the other.  But honestly, one of my favorite things about this movie, and the reason I think everyone needs to watch it at some point, is because it has a message which I think is far too often overlooked in our society: namely, that having casual sex with as many people as possible is not the be all and end all of human existence.  This is contrary to what many TV shows and movies and books tell us, and certainly contrary to what John Cusack's character, Gib, believes at the beginning of this movie.  After all, it's called The Sure Thing because he's traveling across the country to sleep with a girl he's never met because his best friend from high school promises that she's a sure thing: no questions asked, no strings attached, no guilt involved.  But on his way there, through all of his adventures with Alison, he starts to realize that there's more to life than one-night stands.  The way he goes through this journey, and the way the movie portrays this without shoving any message down our throats, is kind of incredible.  When I talked about Beauty and the Beast I said I liked movies where the characters get to know each other before falling in love, and this film emphasizes the importance of that even more.

I'm not even kidding, if you haven't seen this movie, track it down and watch it immediately, particularly if you are a teenager or college student.  You won't be disappointed.  If you are, you can leave an angry comment, but you won't be.  And stay tuned for my top 7 most-watched movies, all of which I saw at least 20 times from 2003-2012.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

9. Beauty and the Beast

1991; dir. Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise; starring Paige O'Hara, Robby Benson, Angela Lansbury, Jerry Orbach, David Ogden Stiers
My views: 18

I can't remember not having seen this movie, so I guess for me it really is a tale as old as time.  It's pretty much always been one of my favorite movies, and it's one of only three that I watched at least once every year from 2003-2012 (the other two are numbers 1 and 2 on the list).  In fact, Beauty and the Beast is so near and dear to me that it's quite difficult for me to even know how to begin talking about it.  I know I won't be able to do justice to the effect it's had on me, but I'm going to try.

First of all, I absolutely love the characters.  They're all unique and well-developed and complicated, despite the seemingly simple story they're in.  I've always been particularly fond of the servants-turned-household-objects, like Lumiere, Cogsworth, Mrs. Potts, and Chip.  Obviously, the focus of the story is Belle and the Beast, but the supporting characters are all extremely important.  I find the fact that the servants are still able to put on a happy face, despite the stress they must experience as their hopes of becoming human again have almost completely faded and are suddenly restored if only their master will pull through for them, endlessly fascinating.  I also think Gaston makes a terrifying villain, simply because of how normal he is.  Most of the Disney villains either have evil magical powers, like Maleficent and the Wicked Queen, are over-the-top ridiculous, like Cruella De Vil and Captain Hook, or a combination of the two, like Ursula and Hades.  Gaston is not the brightest person in the world, and yes, he is a bit eccentric, but basically he's just a normal, handsome guy, except for the fact that he's a total jerk.  He's the exact opposite of the Beast, and I think the juxtaposition of their characters is quite well done and interesting.

Then there's the music.  I can't even express how much I love the music of Beauty and the Beast.  Seriously, I'm pretty sure the soundtrack is my all-time favorite album.  The lyrics are at times moving, as in the title song and "Something There", and at times just plain clever.  My personal favorite lyric is "When I was a lad I ate four dozen eggs every morning to help me get large./ And now that I'm grown I eat five dozen eggs, so I'm roughly the size of a barge!"  How do you even come up with something like that?  Howard Ashman was a lyrical genius.  It's one of the great injustices of this world that he didn't live to see this film released, although I think the fact that he was sick while writing these songs makes his feat even more impressive.  And then there's the score, haunting and uplifting and sad all at once.  I still get chills from the opening notes of the Prologue, which I listen to all the time because it's on the soundtrack.  The music in this film is Alan Menken at his best, and I'm pretty sure Alan Menken at his worst is better than most people (see Newsies).  Somehow, every song in Beauty and the Beast is incredibly familiar, yet still new and fresh every time I listen to it.  It's like magic.

I also love the messages in this movie, particularly that looks aren't everything.  Oddly enough, it's the villagers who point this out first, in the opening number when they sing, "She's a beauty, but a funny girl."  Just because someone fits society's idea of beauty does not mean that person will conform to society's ideas of what beautiful people should act like.  I have always looked up to Belle precisely for this reason.  She doesn't care what the villagers say, she's going to keep reading all the time because that's what makes her happy.  Following her example, I've always tried to remain true to myself even when it wasn't popular.  While I know that my peers often ridiculed me for it, like Belle who remains engrossed in her book while the villagers sing about her, I was often too busy to notice.  It's always encouraged me that Belle's refusal to conform really works to everyone's advantage, as she and the Beast end up first bonding over her love of books when he shows her his library.  In the special edition, there's also a really great scene where she starts helping him re-learn to read.  Another thing I love about this is that, unlike in most Disney princess films, the hero and heroine actually get to know each other before they fall in love.  Not that I don't believe in love at first sight, but I don't think everyone who falls in love does so at first sight, so I think it's grossly over-represented in Disney movies.  One could argue that if the prince wasn't disguised as a beast in this story, Belle would have fallen for him at once, but I don't think so.  If that were true, she would have married Gaston, but as she explains to her father, "He's handsome all right, and rude and conceited..."  Belle doesn't like the Beast at first because he acts like the monster he looks like, and it's only when he starts trying to be nice to her that she starts to like him.  I also think it's interesting that the Beast doesn't really fall in love with Belle right away either; it happens gradually until he lets her go.  Love is more than just physical attraction or necessity and it doesn't always happen instantaneously, and I really like the way this movie portrays that.

These are just some of the many reasons why this has always been, and probably will always be, one of my favorite movies.  Of course, I don't think I analyzed it this deeply when I was little, but therein lies the brilliance of good Disney films: thoroughly enjoyable to both children and adults.  It probably helps that I grew up with it, so it's kind of my childhood, but it's also my adolescence and adulthood.  I think everyone needs a movie or two like that.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

10. It's a Wonderful Life

1946; dir. Frank Capra; starring James Stewart, Donna Reed, Henry Travers, Lionel Barrymore
My views: 16

I think this may have been the very first "old movie" I ever saw - not counting animated films like Pinocchio and Snow White that I had no idea how old they were - because I remember being confused as to why it was in black and white.  My family and I used to watch this on TV pretty much every Christmas, and one year we taped it, so we watched the taped version for a while until we finally got it on DVD.  Now we watch it at least once every Christmas season and often at Thanksgiving as well.

Even though I've watched and loved this movie for most of my life, it's only been in the last 5 years or so that I've really gotten it.  When I was little, I thought it would be cool to have an angel come down and show you how good your life is, but I have to admit that my favorite part was the beginning because I had a huge crush on young George Bailey.  I now have a pretty big crush on Jimmy Stewart, so I guess some things never change.  Anyway, back then, once he grew up, it got kind of boring until Clarence finally came down and showed him what the world would be like without him.  I hate to make the generalization that kids can't fully appreciate this movie until they grow up, but that's what happened to me.  The year I graduated from high school is the year I watched this movie the most.

When you graduate from high school, everybody tells you to follow your dreams and reach for the stars and all that good stuff.  George Bailey had big dreams of travelling the world and becoming a famous architect, but in the whole movie he never leaves Bedford Falls.  He gives up his dreams of college to take over the family business and let his brother play football, he gives up his dreams of independence to marry the woman he loves, and he passes up the opportunity of getting rich to stand up to a scumbag.  Watching this when I was little, I wondered why he couldn't see how much his life was worth, but when I grew up I realized that he has every reason to think his life sucks.  Nothing went the way he planned.  But I bet if he had gone to college and not married Mary and gone to work for Potter, nobody would have shown up at his house to help him out.  I'm not saying we shouldn't have dreams or plans, but it's kind of true that when things don't go as planned, they end up way better than they would have been otherwise.  I also think that too often in our society, we are told to act in our own best interest first.  George spends his whole life doing things for others.  It's not that he never thinks of himself, because he obviously does, but he helps other people first, and that's what saves him in the end.  From the very beginning, Mary sees that and loves him for it, while George compares his lack of money to Potter's abundant wealth and becomes blind to his own worth.  Maybe this sounds sappy to other people, but to me this film gets at real, deep life issues in a way that very few others do.  And that is why, of all the movies I've seen, this is the one that makes me cry the most.  Well, I did cry all the way through Les Miserables, so I guess second most.  Anyway, I've cried at different parts during different viewings of It's a Wonderful Life, but without fail, I always cry during the "Mr. Gower, you put something wrong in those capsules" scene (because even twelve-year-old George helped people, despite getting slapped in the sore ear for his trouble), and when Harry Bailey - the college football star, the war hero, the success of the family by any normal standards -  raises his glass and toasts, "To my big brother George, the richest man in town."

I think it's interesting that this film is tied with Ishtar (I put this one higher since I know I saw it multiple times before 2003) because Ishtar always makes me think of my mom and It's a Wonderful Life always makes me think of my dad.  For as long as I can remember I've thought of this as my dad's favorite movie.  He was always the family member who was the most excited to watch it at Christmastime and quoted it the most enthusiastically.  Even more than that, though, I've always thought of my dad as being kind of like George Bailey.  It doesn't hurt that they're both deaf in their left ear, but I think there are a lot of deeper similarities as well.  My dad usually puts other people's interests over his own, and in so doing often doesn't realize the tremendous impact he has.  But when he was in the hospital a year ago, the people in his life showed such an outpouring of love and support that it really reminded me of the scene at the end of It's a Wonderful Life when the whole town comes to help George.

I could go on and on forever about this movie, but I'll stop now because this post has already gotten plenty long.  I will warn you, though, that now that we've gotten into the top 10, I'm going to have a lot to say about these films because they've all had a tremendous impact on my life.  Conciseness has never been my strong suit, particularly in topics I'm passionate about.  So be prepared for some long and I hope not too boring posts.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

11. Ishtar

1987; dir. Elaine May; starring Warren Beatty, Dustin Hoffman, Isabelle Adjani, Charles Grodin
My views: 16

This inspirational film about two aspiring songwriters, Lyle Rogers and Chuck Clarke, who pursue their dreams despite many obstacles, the most glaring of which being their complete lack of talent, is often - unfairly, in my opinion - cited as one of the worst films ever made.  I'm sure that many serious film buffs would be very upset to know that a blogger who calls herself bestpicturewatcher has seen Ishtar 16 times.  If there are any still reading this after Ella Enchanted made the list I don't know what to say to them, except that as far as I can see, there are only two reasons people could hate this film: they don't understand it or they've never seen it.

I'm pretty sure I'd heard my mom talk about this movie before, but we didn't get it from the library until May of 2006.  I remember sitting down to watch it with my parents and my dad telling me that he thought it would probably become one of my favorite movies because my mom loved it so much.  That was when I found out that my dad could predict the future.  I ended up watching it three times in that month alone, the following month we bought it for $3 from the video store that was getting rid of its video tapes, and by the end of the year I'd seen it a total of 8 times.  I'm pretty sure it's still the most entertaining film I've ever seen in my life.  The songs are so hilariously bad that they're good, and it became my greatest ambition to own the soundtrack, until I found out that, despite what the credits say, one was never released.  Still, my friend found a few of the songs and song clips on the internet and burned them onto a CD for me, so I've gotten as close to owning the soundtrack as possible, and I kind of listen to it all the time.  "Tellin' the truth can be dangerous business: honest and popular don't go hand-in-hand.  If you admit that you can play the accordion, no one will hire you in a rock-and-roll band!"

While the songs are definitely my favorite aspect of the film, they are by no means the only thing I love about it.  The songwriters get a booking in Morocco, where they are caught up in all kinds of political conflict, torn between Isabelle Adjani and Charles Grodin, who do not get enough credit for their ability to keep straight faces in this movie.  But Rogers and Clarke have about as much political know-how as songwriting talent, and they have no idea what's going on, which only adds to the hilarity.  I know that this movie had a huge budget and doesn't really look like a big-budget film, but between the songs, the performances, and the brilliant script, it's priceless.  Seriously, some of my favorite quotes are in this movie, from "You say you'd rather have nothing than settle for less" to "The dome of the Emir's palace in Ishtar is gold, and the people have never seen a refrigerator."  Tell me this isn't brilliant.

I think the main reason I've seen Ishtar so many times is it's like they combined my mom's and my sense of humor and made it into a movie.  I know I've been talking about my mom a lot on this blog, but of all the movies we've watched together I really consider Ishtar to be "our movie".  Sometimes my dad watches it with us, and I've shown it to at least one of my friends, but I don't think either of my siblings has ever seen the whole thing.  This is what my mom and I usually pick when we're alone and feel like watching a movie together.  I don't think either of us would call it our favorite movie, and certainly not the best movie ever made, and there are definitely things about it we don't like, but it just clicks with us.  We use it as a reminder not to take life or ourselves too seriously.  So now, as Mother's Day approaches, I would like to take this opportunity to thank my mom for giving me her sense of humor and love of movies.  I don't care if other people hate it: to me, Ishtar will always be something special that my mom and I share.

Monday, May 6, 2013

12. The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer

1947; dir. Irving Reis; starring Cary Grant, Myrna Loy, Shirley Temple
My views: 14

I feel like for some reason the rest of my family watched this without me before I'd seen it.  I can't remember if I had to do something else or I just didn't feel like watching a movie or what, but I think it's interesting to note that this is yet another film I was initially hesitant to watch that became one of my favorites.  But once I did see it, I loved it.  I think the first time I saw it must have been 2002 because I remember being really obsessed with it in 7th grade (which would have been the 2002-2003 school year).  I was particularly fond of the "you remind me of a man" routine (You remind me of a man. What man? The man with the power. What power? The power of hoodoo. Hoodoo? You do. Do what? Remind me of a man. What man? etc), which I taught to anyone who would listen and recited ad nauseum. I remember one day my best friend and I kept it going all the way through lunch, much to the annoyance of the people sitting around us.  We were in a writing class together that year and one of the assignments was to write a play with a partner, and our play included the "remind me of a man thing".  Like I said, I was obsessed.

Of course, this film has a lot more to recommend it than one clever comedy routine.  I mean, for one thing, it has Cary Grant, in all his ridiculously attractive, talented glory.  And Myrna Loy is, as always, simply marvelous.  I can't believe she didn't make it into more films on this blog because I love her sophisticated wit, and I particularly enjoy seeing her and Cary Grant play off each other (I watched Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House 9 times in those 10 years).  With Cary Grant and Myrna Loy together, you can't go wrong.  But I actually think one of the best aspects of this movie is getting to see Shirley Temple all grown up.

My grandma, who doesn't particularly like movies in general, loves Shirley Temple, and I remember watching films like Bright Eyes and The Little Princess at my grandparents' house when I was little.  This was probably her last good film, and she retired from movies soon after.  It makes me sad that filmmakers couldn't figure out what to do with her when she was no longer a cute little child because I'm pretty sure this is my favorite Shirley Temple movie.  She is so perfect in this role, and I wouldn't want to watch it with anyone else as Susan Turner.  I think it's interesting that in this, like many if not most of her earlier films, she again plays an orphan, since she was always good at eliciting sympathy from the audience in such roles.  But the way she fawns over Cary Grant's character is what really makes this movie stand out for me.  She is the perfect embodiment of a fangirl, living out every fangirl's dream: namely, being ordered by the court to date the object of your affections.  The moment this movie became one of my absolute favorites was the moment I realized that I kind of was Shirley Temple's character: in love with Cary Grant despite our age difference, which, considering that Shirley Temple is old enough to be my grandmother and he's too old for her, is quite significant.  This was the first time I had ever related to Shirley Temple, since straight-haired, completely uncoordinated child me never saw anything of myself in the curly-topped dancing wonder on my grandparents' screen.  Whenever I watch this, for an hour and a half, I can live vicariously through her, pretending it's me who gets to fawn over Cary Grant in shining armor.

But that's only part of the story.  Shirley Temple's character learns that just because you find someone attractive doesn't mean you're going to end up together, nor should you, particularly if he's much better suited to your older sister.  There is nothing inherently wrong with her crush on the attractive older artist, until she starts taking it too seriously, which is when everything falls apart.  So I think this film serves as a good reminder to people who are harboring celebrity crushes not to let their fantasies get in the way of real life.  I, of course, always follow this advice.  Well, usually.  Sometimes.

Friday, May 3, 2013

13. The Major and the Minor

1942; dir. Billy Wilder; starring Ginger Rogers and Ray Milland
My views: 13

This was one of the first "old movies" my mom got from the library to watch with me, and is one of the major reasons why I fell in love with them (pun slightly intended).  It was also the first film I wrote down in 2003 (although I'd seen it before then, and I also probably saw a few movies earlier in 2003 and forgot to write them down), so in a way it's the movie that's most responsible for this blog.  It's also one of the main reasons I'm such a huge Ginger Rogers fan.  So The Major and the Minor is kind of a big deal to me.

It was the second Ginger Rogers movie I ever saw.  The first was the 1965 TV version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella, which my grandparents had on VHS and I watched throughout my childhood.  I remember one viewing in particular when we got to the part when Cinderella and the prince are off dancing together, and the king turns to the queen and says, "May I have this dance, Your Majesty?" and she replies, "I was wondering when you were ever going to ask me, Your Majesty!"  As they stepped out onto the dance floor this particular time, my mom turned to me and said, "They put that in there to be funny because that actress was a famous dancer."  I have no idea why this stuck with me because at the time I had no clue who Ginger Rogers was or that she would one day become one of my all-time favorite actresses.  Anyway, I kind of like that my first introductions to her were outside the context of Fred Astaire's dance partner because, while she did that indescribably well, she was so much more than that.  The Major and the Minor in particular, in addition to Monkey Business and Stage Door, helps demonstrate her incredible comedic talent.  I've read reviews saying she was miscast in this movie because she doesn't look 12 at all.  I would agree with those people if she was playing a 12-year-old, but she's not: she's playing a 30-year-old character who's kind of failing at pretending to be 12.  Then later in the film, she's playing a 30-year-old pretending to be the 40-year-old mother of the 12-year-old she was pretending to be earlier.  In my opinion, she pulls all this off flawlessly.  The audience is never supposed to think she's 12, and they're supposed to think it's ridiculous that other people believe that she is.  And, like I said in my Monkey Business post, Ginger Rogers is hilarious at playing a grown up child, so if nothing else it would be fun to watch from that standpoint alone.  But it's more than that.  In Monkey Business she plays a character who, at given times, truly thinks she is a child.  In The Major and the Minor, her character's always perfectly conscious of how ridiculous her situation is, and that is conveyed to the audience through subtle facial expressions and mannerisms that are missed by the other characters.  The two main things I love about this film are: first, it was one of the first to show me how awesome movies from the 1940's were; and second, it gives Ginger Rogers a chance to demonstrate her acting talents in a way that few of her roles permitted.

Yes, on the surface, it's a totally ridiculous story.  A woman can't afford her train ticket home so she disguises herself as a 12-year-old so she can pay half fare, and ends up running into a military academy instructor and having to go with him to prove to his fiancée that she's a little kid and not some woman he's having an affair with.  Confused yet?  Anyway, in the hands of a lesser director, it might have been a silly, semi-entertaining yet forgettable film.  But this is Billy Wilder we're talking about.  He knew what he was doing.  Like most good comedies there's deeper meaning behind the silliness.  To me, especially watching when I was 12, it's always been kind of sad to see how out of touch with childhood adults can become.  Susan Applegate has no idea how to act like a 12-year-old, but it doesn't matter because most of the other adults she comes across don't question it.  The only person who figures it out is an actual 12-year-old girl, who quips, "You're not 12 just because you're acting like 6."  I know that this is an extreme example, and in reality this sort of thing probably wouldn't happen, but there's an element of truth behind this exaggeration.  Adults can forget what it was like to be a kid.  From the first time I saw this movie, I vowed I wouldn't let that happen to me.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

14. North by Northwest

1959; dir. Alfred Hitchcock; starring Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint
My views: 13

This was the first Hitchcock movie I ever saw, and I wasn't quite sure what to expect.  I'd heard that he directed scary movies, which I've never been particularly fond of, but my mom said she thought I'd like this one, and I think I was getting into my Cary Grant phase, so I decided to watch it.  That was in 2004.  By the end of 2012 I had seen 37 different Hitchcock films a total of 92 times, so while this is the only one to make it on this blog, I think it's fair to say that I'm a pretty big fan.  No, I still don't enjoy horror films, but there's a big difference between horror and suspense.  And Hitchcock isn't called the Master of Suspense for nothing.

Of all the Hitchcock films I've seen, this is by far my favorite.  And it's not just because of Cary Grant, although he is a big part of it.  I love everything about his performance in this movie.  I love how he manages to look like he has no idea what's going on but still has everything under control.  I love how nonchalant he is about having to run for his life.  And I love that you can tell he's doing pretty much all of his own stunts.  He's like, "Yes, I'm 55 years old, excuse me while I outrun an airplane, scurry up the side of a building, and climb down Mount Rushmore."  I'm not trying to make a disparaging remark about people in their 50s, but I'm less than half the age he was then, and I wish I was in half as good of shape as he was in this movie.  I guess all that acrobatic training paid off.  Anyway, we all know what I think of Cary Grant, so I don't need to go on, and he's not the only reason I love this movie.  Eva Marie Saint is pretty fabulous, too.  Hitchcock's female characters are usually a lot more than the male character's love interest, and this film is no exception.  Eve Kendall is mysterious, and the audience's opinion of her is constantly changing as the camera chooses to reveal her character a little bit at a time.  In the hands of a lesser actress, or a lesser director, the character would either be too confusing or too obvious, but Eva Marie Saint's portrayal of the might-be-good, might-be-bad double (triple? quadruple?) agent is as close to flawless as possible.

Then there's the story, which, while far-fetched, is certainly fascinating and unfolds beautifully, with just the right number of twists and turns.  I like how the characters go on a physical journey as the story progresses, and it makes me so happy that the climax occurs on Mount Rushmore.  My family likes to go on road trips, mostly to sort of middle-of-nowhere places, so we've ended up in South Dakota a few times, and you can't go to South Dakota without stopping at Mount Rushmore.  I know they obviously didn't film them climbing on the actual monument, but I always feel more connected to movies if I've been to the places where they're set.  For me, Mount Rushmore is associated with happy memories of summer vacations, and it's not prominently featured in too many films, so that's another one of the many reasons to recommend this movie.

I think for a lot of Hitchcock films, the perfect number of views is around two or three.  The first time you watch it you have no idea where it's going to end up, so you're completely at its mercy.  Then you need to watch it once or twice more when you know what's coming to appreciate how perfectly orchestrated the plot is.  But after that, it's harder to appreciate the suspense when you know exactly what to expect, and it starts to feel like it's dragging.  This isn't true for all of them, of course, but my point is that it especially isn't true for North by Northwest.  I know it backwards and forwards, and I still never get tired of watching it.  And that's why it's the only Hitchcock movie on this blog.

Monday, April 22, 2013

15. The Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl


2003: dir. Gore Verbinski; starring Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Geoffrey Rush
My views: 13

My love of this movie has a lot to do with my love of Disneyland, which I'm now going to attempt to explain as briefly as possible.  My grandparents live in Southern California, and even though I don't, I'm very close to them and have gone to visit them a lot with my family.  They love having us stay with them, but I think we can be a bit overwhelming to have around, so usually we give them a few days' break from us by spending some time in the Happiest Place on Earth.  I have so many fabulous memories of Disneyland, from the days of Rocket Rods and no FastPasses to this past summer.  I could go on for a long time about Disneyland, but the point I'm trying to make here is that I was excited, yet apprehensive, when I found out they were making a movie based on one of my favorite rides.  As you can probably tell from the films that I've talked about so far, I'm not a big action/adventure fan, and I feared that a movie about pirates would be mostly fighting and explosions without much plot or character development.  I have never been so happily wrong in my entire life.

Of course, I was delighted with the references to the ride, like the dog with the prison key, the skeleton drinking rum, and the song.  But to my immense surprise, I found that it also had fantastic character development and an engaging plot.  And lo and behold, there was even an interesting, well-developed female character! Granted, there's really only one (okay, possibly two), but that's infinitely more than I initially expected.  Naturally, Captain Jack Sparrow steals the show, but there are several other characters who put up a good fight.

This movie is also a bit like Chicago for me from a moral ambiguity standpoint.  I feel I can relate a lot to Will Turner as he struggles with the question of whether it's possible for his father (or, heaven forbid, Jack Sparrow himself) to be a pirate and a good man.  It shows that there's good and bad in everyone, but some people let the bad take over and vice versa.  I didn't really like pirates that much prior to seeing this (besides on the ride), but I kind of loved the ones in this movie, so when Facebook started offering Pirate, I changed my language settings and never looked back.

There was a time when pretty much all of my friends were obsessed with this movie, so I ended up watching it at lots of gatherings.  I think part of the reason this happened is it was one of the few films other people my age liked that I didn't object to.  In addition to having good characters and plot, the script is also incredible and quite quotable, and includes one of my all-time favorite movie lines: "Do you like pain?  Try wearing a corset."  Like The Princess Bride and Monty Python and the Holy Grail, this was a movie I could reference without people looking at me like I was crazy.

By now, the Pirates of the Caribbean craze has faded.  Part of the problem was they insisted on making horrible sequels.  Since everyone loved Johnny Depp in this, I'm pretty sure the filmmakers thought that he was their only selling point and decided to put absolutely no effort into all of the other aspects that make this movie so wonderful.  I could only sit through the second and third ones once each, and didn't even bother seeing the fourth one.  But I keep watching this for many reasons, one of which is Disneyland.  Now that they've changed the ride to include Captain Jack Sparrow and excerpts from the film soundtrack, the movie reminds me even more of Disneyland, and is always willing to transport me there for a couple of hours when I'm feeling sad.  I also try to watch it on September 19 every year for Talk Like a Pirate Day.  We're devils and black sheep and really bad eggs, drink up, me hearties, yo ho!

Monday, April 15, 2013

16. The Lion King

1994; dir. Roger Allers, Rob Minkoff; starring Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Matthew Broderick, James Earl Jones, Jeremy Irons, Nathan Lane, Ernie Sabella
My views: 12

My aunt took me to see this in a theater when I was 4.  I was so enthralled that I begged my mom to let me see it again almost as soon as I got back.  So I saw it in theaters a second time with my mom and my sister, who was 2, and who I'm pretty sure hadn't ever been to a movie theater before.  And for many years to come, apart from a brief obsession with Pocahontas, The Lion King was my all-time favorite movie.

If this was a blog about the movies I'd seen the most from 1993-2002, I'm pretty sure The Lion King would be number 1, or at least number 2.  In fact, this was the first movie I ever kept track of.  As I'm sure I've mentioned, my family didn't have a VCR or DVD player for a long time when I was growing up - which I think has probably helped me appreciate movies more than I would have otherwise - but my grandparents did, so whenever I'd visit them I would watch this movie.  My grandma, who refuses to re-watch a film she saw once 40 years ago, was greatly amused by my ability to watch this over and over, so she'd always ask me, "How many times have you seen it now?"  And for a while, I could answer her precisely.  But I didn't write it down, so I lost track around 10 or 11, and honestly, I think that's part of the reason I eventually started writing down the movies I watched.  Anyway, although the way I'm doing this blog dictates that I report only the 12 views that took place from 2003-2012, I feel the need to point out that I've actually seen it at least 22 times in my life.

I love pretty much everything about this movie.  When I was little it was mostly about the talking animals and the songs, but as I got older I started to notice the important life lessons incorporated into it, lessons about friendship and courage and responsibility.  Now, I mainly watch it because it reminds me of my childhood, in a bittersweet way.  My aunt, who first took me to see this, as well as Mulan and Tarzan and several other Disney films, died of cancer in 2002, and this film still reminds me of her.  It also reminds me of my grandparents' old house, which they have since had to sell.  These are happy memories, but also somewhat sad because they're gone.  But, as Rafiki says, "The past can hurt, but the way I see it, you can either run from it, or learn from it."  Simba lets his painful past drive him away, which is partly good because otherwise we never would get to meet Timon and Pumbaa, but definitely doesn't solve his problems.  Ultimately, he still has to face his past and his responsibilities, no matter how painfully difficult it is.  And in a way, that's life in a nutshell.

Friday, April 12, 2013

17. Monkey Business

1952; dir. Howard Hawks; starring Cary Grant, Ginger Rogers, Marilyn Monroe
My views: 12

One fateful day in the summer of 2003, my mom noticed that this movie was going to be on TV.  I don't know if she'd seen it before or if she just saw who was in it and instantly thought of me, but we ended up watching it with my brother.  My sister was at camp at the time, and I distinctly remember including in a letter I wrote to her that I had just seen one of the funniest movies ever.  Mostly, though, like Bringing Up Baby, this became a movie I watched and recited with my brother.

We were both kind of upset when we got the DVD and found only Marilyn Monroe's picture on the case because, while she is good in this film, she's not really that important.  For us, by far the best aspect of this film (okay, besides Cary Grant's Cary Grantness) is Ginger Rogers.  She is absolutely hysterical as an adult playing a child (which I'll get to talk more about in a future post), and I think our favorite parts have pretty much always been when her character is under the influence of the formula.  Cary Grant's quite convincing at it as well, and the main reason I kept watching this, especially from 2003-2005, is that the two of them are so fun to watch.  My brother and I also constantly amused ourselves by imitating them, particularly Ginger Rogers's "Barney, I'm so happy!" [breaks down crying].

By the end of 2005, however, when I'd seen it 8 times, I started to think this movie was kind of lame.  It has a totally ridiculous premise and some of the acting, while fun, is equally ridiculous.  I didn't see it again until 2009, and I'm pretty sure at that point I wondered why I'd ever liked this film.  But then, the following year I gave it another chance, and I discovered something.  While on the surface it's a silly film about a chimpanzee discovering the secret of youth, there's a lot more to it than that, and it's definitely ridiculous on purpose.  The characters initially feel that people need to discover the secret to staying young because youth=happiness.  Then it's discovered by accident, and everything starts falling apart.  Ginger Rogers and Cary Grant both almost kill themselves from carelessness, and their marriage almost breaks up, not to mention all the property that gets destroyed.  I'm not saying this is a 100% accurate view of what youth is like, but the point is that we can't live life backwards.  Everyone has to grow up.  If we spend all our time trying to stay young, all we end up doing is wasting our lives, and looking pretty silly in the process.

Honestly, I think this message is part of the reason I stopped liking this movie in my late teens.  I didn't want to hear it.  I had no desire to grow up, and I wanted to return to my childhood when everything made sense, not move forward into the terrifying unknown.  To a certain extent, I still feel that way, but this movie reminds me that I'm probably better off this way than having a formula that erases everything I've learned since I was younger.  I think we as adults idealize our youth because it meant innocence and simplicity, but we forget that with those things we also had ignorance.  And that's why adults acting like children looks ridiculous.  So while I must admit that I still primarily watch this movie for its entertainment value and my love of its stars, I can also say that it has definitely helped me view growing up more as a privilege and less of a burden than I used to.

Monday, April 8, 2013

18. Stage Door

1937; dir. Gregory La Cava; starring Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, Adolphe Menjou
My views: 12

Of the 35 films that I watched at least 10 times from 2003 through 2012, Stage Door is the only one that my family still doesn't own. This means that I can't provide you with the usual picture of a DVD or VHS case propped against a stair.  It also means that all 12 times I watched it, I had to go out of my way to track it down first, which usually meant putting it on hold at the library.  I must digress for a moment and thank my county library system for being awesome because without it I would never have been introduced to a significant proportion of my favorite films.

There are several reasons that I bothered to track this movie down 12 times.  First of all, Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers are two of my all-time favorite actresses, and despite their completely different styles, they play off each other remarkably well in Stage Door.  Then there's the fabulous supporting cast, which includes Gail Patrick, Andrea Leeds, Eve Arden, young Lucille Ball, and freaking fourteen-year-old Ann Miller (what am I doing with my life?).  This spectacular cast is combined with some of the most snappy, witty dialogue ever written, and that, in a nutshell, is what I love about this film.

Actually it goes even deeper than that.  Most of the characters in the film are long-out-of-work actresses who use their witty comebacks, clever insults, and wisecracks as a defense mechanism against discouragement and despair.  And in a way it works.  I don't think it's a coincidence that the one who jokes around the least is the one who doesn't make it.  Even Katharine Hepburn's character, at first so disdainful of the way the others laugh through their lives, eventually turns into one of them.  She realizes that sometimes all we can do is laugh at ourselves, which I think was a good reminder to audiences during the Great Depression, and is no less relevant today.  No matter how serious life gets, it's important not to take everything too seriously.  I'm pretty sure that I've inadvertently adapted this as my unofficial motto for the last few years, and it works surprisingly well.  Despite all the crappy things that have happened, I always try to find something to laugh about because it's better than the alternative.

Friday, April 5, 2013

19. Freaky Friday

2003; dir. Mark Waters; starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan
My views: 12

For Christmas of 2003, my family finally got a DVD player.  Well, okay, technically we had one before that, since there was one with the computer in my parents' bedroom, but that was when we first got one for the TV in the living room.  We also got several DVDs to go with it that Christmas, and one of them was Freaky Friday.  Since we didn't have many DVDs at that time, we watched the ones we did have over and over throughout the end of 2003 and beginning of 2004.  So despite the numerous times I've watched it since then, Freaky Friday will always take me back to that winter and how excited I was to experience these movies and their special features with my family.

Of the movies we got that Christmas, I'm pretty sure this is the only one to make the list, so I obviously kept watching it for reasons other than that it was one of the few DVDs available.  I don't think I'll ever get tired of revisiting it.  The acting is simply phenomenal.  Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan are so good at playing each other that they almost have me convinced, and even after seeing it a dozen times, I still have to remind myself that no one actually switches bodies.  I also really like the story and message.  In the beginning, neither Tess nor Anna was actively trying to be selfish, but they had kind of started taking each other for granted, which can lead to all sorts of misunderstandings and fights.  We can't physically switch bodies with other people when we get frustrated with them, but we can make a little more effort to imagine what it might be like in their skin.

I think this is one of the first films that actually made me cry.  Oh, I had come close to tearing up watching movies before, like when Mufasa died, but I used to be pretty good about keeping my eyes dry.  But during the band competition when they're both on stage helping each other out, and later during the toast at the rehearsal dinner, I pretty much always shed a few tears.  This movie makes me so emotional, which is a bit unexpected since on the surface it's a lighthearted family comedy.  It really manages to get at deep issues about relationships, particularly between family members.  Yes, there are a lot of funny things that come out of the switch, but the whole selfless love part is what really matters, and that's what I get out of this movie.  Too often, people forget that unconditional, selfless love is what family is meant to be all about.  I think whenever two family members get into a huge fight with each other, they should be required to sit down and watch Freaky Friday together.  It may be naive to imply that this would solve all the world's problems, but it might solve a few, and that's all you can ask from any movie.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

20. Ella Enchanted

2004; dir. Tommy O'Haver; starring Anne Hathaway, Hugh Dancy
My views: 12

I will be the first person to admit that this movie really isn't that good.  I mean, not only does it have practically nothing to do with the wonderful book by Gail Carson Levine that it's supposedly based on, but it's also super cheesy and ridiculous.  In fact, while I'm being completely honest, I'll admit that I almost didn't do this blog because I knew this was going to be on it.  Not that it's the worst movie ever made or anything.  It's entertaining, which I think is the point.  It's just hard for me to publicly own Ella Enchanted as one of my top movies of the last 10 years.  But I'm going for it anyway because there are several reasons why this film made the list, and I want to talk about them.

First of all, this movie will always make me think of my brother.  When he was little, he would find a movie he liked and watch it over and over again for a week or two, then switch to another one.  Ella Enchanted was one such movie.  Unfortunately, I can't blame my brother for making me watch this with him, because he didn't.  Usually when he was in one of his phases, he'd watch the movie in question by himself.  If I happened to walk in the room, I'd generally just think, "Oh he's watching The Aristocats/Sky High/The Incredibles/whatever again" and then leave.  But I always watched this with him because I kind of liked it too.  I've been a pretty big Anne Hathaway fan ever since The Princess Diaries (more on that later), and if nothing else, this movie demonstrated that she could sing.  I probably would have been happy just watching the "Somebody to Love" scene over and over again, but I have a really hard time just watching bits and pieces of movies (with the sole exception of Newsies), so I often ended up watching the whole thing just for that one scene.  However, even my love of Anne Hathaway and my brother's series of movie obsessions combined wouldn't have been enough to get me to watch this 12 times.

One time when my siblings and I were watching Holes, my sister accidentally pressed a button on the remote, and suddenly the actors were talking to us about making the movie.  Thus we discovered audio commentary.  We eagerly gathered the other DVDs we had and watched as many as possible with the audio commentary turned on.  It wasn't long before we discovered to our immense disappointment that, in general, watching movies with commentary is incredibly boring compared to watching them without commentary.  Ella Enchanted is a very important exception.  The audio commentary is hilarious.  The movie becomes at least ten times better with audio commentary.  I really wish I'd kept track of whether I was watching it with commentary or not when I was counting my movies because now I don't remember for sure, but I'm virtually positive that at least half of my 12 views of this were with the commentary turned on.  This is the only movie for which my brother and I quote the commentary more than the actual script.  Whenever we're feeling sad or tired of life, my brother will inevitably suggest, "Let's watch Ella Enchanted with commentary!"  To which I usually reply, "My satchel!" and he responds with, "Annie, ya look possessed."  And no one else knows what we're talking about because normal people don't watch bad movies with commentary over and over again.  But who wants to be normal anyway?

Monday, April 1, 2013

21. A Mighty Wind

2003; dir. Christopher Guest; starring Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara, Jane Lynch, and a bunch of other incredibly talented people
My views: 12

When my parents first saw this together, my mom loved it and my dad didn't.  He bought it for her on VHS soon afterwards, but we didn't watch it for a very long time.  I remember having no idea what it was, but thinking it looked really boring.  It wasn't until May of 2007 that my mom finally talked me into watching it, and I ended up seeing it a total of five times that year alone, making this yet another of my favorite films that my mom had to initially talk me into watching.  My dad also liked it a lot better the second time, and this has since become one of our family's favorites, both to watch and to recite.

This was my first Chris Guest mocumentary, and I'd never seen anything like it before.  I was completely unprepared for what I was about to experience, and A Mighty Wind completely blew me away (pardon the pun).  I already knew that I was a huge fan of ensemble films, but I had no idea they could be done so well.  In this, as in the other Chris Guest mocumentaries, even the people who are only in a few scenes get a chance to shine.  This cast is overflowing with talent, both comedic and musical, and it becomes even greater as they play off each other.  I still can't believe that it's possible to say some of their lines with a straight face.  Even after watching this as many times as I have, I still burst out laughing when Chris Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer start talking about the record with no hole, Jane Lynch describes Witches in Nature's Colors, and Catherine O'Hara sings about Sure-Flo.  I also love that, even though they're making fun of folk music, they actually bothered to write quality folk songs for the soundtrack (which I'm of course listening to as I write this), and that they sing them well.  This movie reinforced my belief that it's okay to like something both ironically and un-ironically at the same time, which is good because I do that a lot.

Not long after watching this film, I got the other films like it from the library.  While I really enjoyed all of them, I didn't think any of them could quite compare to A Mighty Wind.  Perhaps it's because I saw this one first, but I find it more charming and less inappropriate than the others.  I'm still incredibly happy that this genre exists, and that I can watch other films with basically the same cast in completely different roles.  Christopher Guest might be the most versatile actor on the planet, and the rest of the cast runs a close second.  When I'm having a bad day, reminding myself that these people exist always makes me feel better.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

22. Enchanted

2007; dir. Kevin Lima; starring Amy Adams, Patrick Dempsey, James Marsden
My views: 12

As I mentioned in my first post, I grew up loving Disney.  I've spent hours of my life analyzing the movies and  their characters, and my brother and I wrote several stories combining Disney characters from different films in alternate universes.  So when I found out that they were making a film that was basically a conglomeration of all the Disney princess films as if they took place in the real world, I was a little disappointed because I'd hoped to make that movie myself someday.  But I'm no filmmaker, and my film wouldn't have been nearly as wonderful as this.

This movie is like a big reunion for Disney movie characters and plot points.  A wicked royal stepmother, a handsome prince, a beautiful not-quite-princess, animals to help with the chores, a poisoned apple, a villain who turns into a dragon, true love's kiss...the list goes on and on.  I also love how many people that were involved in previous Disney films are in this.  My brother was quick to spot Jodi Benson, the voice of Ariel in The Little Mermaid, as Patrick Dempsey's secretary.  I noticed Paige O'Hara (the voice of Belle)'s name in the credits, but it took me a really long time to find her (she's in the soap opera Nathaniel watches in the motel room).  I thought it was quite fitting when I heard the unmistakable voice of Julie Andrews as the narrator.  I learned from the special features of the DVD that she wasn't the only Mary Poppins cast member to put in an appearance: one of the chimney sweeps is in the "That's How You Know" number, which is probably my all-time favorite on-screen musical number ever.  It's also one of the most-played songs on my ipod, which brings me to Alan Menken, the man who, as my sister pointed out the other day, "kind of saved Disney," and who quite appropriately composed this film's incredible songs and score.  I think it's his contribution more than anything else (with the possible exception of Amy Adams, who makes a fabulously convincing real-life Disney princess) that brings such an enchanting, Disney-esque feel to this film.

While this movie borrows a lot from other Disney films, it's still very much its own.  It took a story I thought I knew backwards and forwards and turned it upside down.  The beautiful not-quite-princess is transported from her fairy tale land of Andalasia into a dreadful place known as Reality.  At first she looks quite ridiculous, having no idea how to behave in the real world, but it doesn't take her long to figure out that she's a lot better suited for it than she could ever have imagined.  Enchanted came out when I was a senior in high school, and the timing couldn't have been more perfect.  I was terrified to grow up and face the world of adulthood, but if Giselle could make it in New York City, then maybe, just maybe, I could make it as an adult.