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.