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.