This post originally appeared online at MediaBlvd Magazine.
For my first post on MediaBlvd, I wanted to come up with a list of my top ten favorite movies of all time. Now obviously lists like these are terribly flawed, and they can never adequately convey what the list maker is really like. There are surely hundreds of wonderful movies that I just haven’t seen yet, and there are some which I have, but that I couldn’t consider favorite movies, happy to pop into the DVD player at any given time. Then there are the guilty pleasure movies, which always delight the viewer, but would be embarrassing to include on any self-respecting film lover’s list of favorites.
So I’ve decided to try to narrow it down to a list of ten movies that I love, which I could watch any time and be happy. These are the staples which I’ll watch if ever they’re on TV, which I get moods for and watch repeatedly on DVD, and which make me feel something every time I watch them, even if it’s not the same feeling I had after my first viewing. I will have to include the disclaimer, which is that this list omits gems like Independence Day, Air Force One, and Junior, which certainly fit the above description, but which I chose to skip in favor of some actual high-quality storytelling.
The 10 Movies I Love the Most (in no particular order):
Roman Holiday (William Wyler, 1953)
A royal falls in love with a commoner. This old trope is made magical by the earthy, beautiful backdrop of Rome, Gregory Peck’s charm, Audrey Hepburn’s vivacity, and the audaciously bittersweet ending. Roman Holiday was one of my first introductions to the notion that fairytale romances don’t always pan out the way that Disney movies tell you they will when you’re a little girl. And I loved that; I was so grateful for that message. This movie has real human emotion against a wildly unrelatable backdrop, and every time I watch it I can imagine running away and falling in love with a devastatingly handsome reporter in Italy. Roman Holiday won the Academy Awards for Writing, Best Actress, and Best Costume Design (for Edith Head, who would later dress Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina and Funny Face, bringing Audrey’s iconic Givenchy look to the silver screen).
The Best Years of Our Lives (William Wyler, 1946)
While there have been plenty of films examining the toll of combat on veterans, many were made in the post-Vietnam era. Whenever World War II is portrayed in film, it is often with a reverent sense of glory. A sense that war may be ugly and gritty, but the Greatest Generation served with a purpose we can all see writ in the sepia-toned stories of our grandfathers. Wyler’s film, about three servicemen returning home to the same city after fighting abroad, was released only one year after the war’s end, and portrays the men struggling to adjust to daily life, at odds with their families, with traumas unhealed by distance. The poor man became a decorated captain in the war, the wealthy man was in the infantry, and the Navy man lost both arms without ever seeing combat. Struggling with making ends meet, alcoholism, finding love, infidelity – the three have only each other to commiserate with. It’s a beautifully told story, made all the more impressive by the time in which it was made. Non-professional actor and double-amputee Harold Russell won both an Honorary Academy Award for the role, as well as the Best Supporting Actor Oscar.
A League of Their Own (Penny Marshall, 1992)
My decade-older sister got the athletic gene. She was a star softball player, and loved soccer, football, and all manner of other sports. I, on the other hand, was relegated to deep right-field during my few years on a T-Ball team, standing with my glove on my head and wiping snot on my sleeve. We watched League together so many times when I was a little kid that it has become emblematic of quality time spent with my cool teenaged sister. It was the mid-‘90s and I had this “riot grrl” big sis who loved baseball, and watching this movie with her taught me about feminism, and Madonna, and led to a lifetime of conversing in movie quotations. (“What do you suggest?” “A lot of night games.”) I don’t think I’ve watched this movie all the way through without laughing, crying, and singing along to the All-American league song. Plus, my dad looked just like Jon Lovitz did in the movie, which still cracks me up almost twenty years later.
Boogie Nights (Paul Thomas Anderson, 1997)
It’s hard for me to choose between this and PTA’s Magnolia, both of which I will watch all the way through despite their lengthy run times, but Boogie Nights is probably an easier movie to watch. Remember all those fun parts, with Mark Wahlberg looking forward to his future as a big, bright, shining star, and the pool parties, and the cocaine before it gets cut with meth? That’s the peppy late ‘70s spoonful of sugar before the downward spiral of the ‘80s crashes in, carried on the awkward shoulders of William H. Macy and Philip Seymour Hoffman’s characters. It’s also a movie about family, and how love can overcome a lot of hurdles when you’re building one. It’s also a movie about porn.
Back to the Future trilogy (Robert Zemeckis, 1985, 1989, 1990)
My love affair with Michael J. Fox blossomed during an early childhood medley of Family Ties reruns, the BTTF trilogy, and wishing I could grow up to be Boof from Teen Wolf. In the years since, I have wept watching his departure from Spin City, and have read two of his autobiographies. The third is on my Kindle waiting for me. I have spent countless hours on the dearly departed Back to the Future attraction at Universal Studios. And you’re kidding yourself if you think you can change the channel when Back to the Future parts 1 or 2 come on TV. Part 3 is best appreciated after a marathon of the first two. Fox, Lea Thompson, and Crispin Glover are sweetly funny and loveable in their iconic roles.
Center Stage (Nicholas Hytner, 2000)
It was between this, Dirty Dancing, and 10 Things I Hate About You for the guilty pleasure pick on this list, but I decided I had to pick the one with the least amount of lasting merit. I mean, Dirty Dancing is a truly classic ‘80s movie, and 10 Things has Heath Ledger and Joseph Gordon-Levitt before they reached their sexiest. Center Stage is terribly acted, even by the cast members who weren’t professional dancers, and the story lines are so maudlin and predictable. But the dancing is wonderful, and the cheesiness of the performances really only adds to my love for the movie. Plus Peter Gallagher’s eyebrows are always so…hypnotic.
Once (John Carney, 2007)
This is probably an outlier on a top 10 films list, as so much of the power of this movie is its soundtrack, created and performed by its stars, non-professional actors Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, who make up the act The Swell Season. But the movie is the perfect vehicle for their musical talents, showcasing them against a Dublin that seems tailor-made for the buskers that inhabit it. While I’ve listened to the soundtrack endlessly, and have seen The Swell Season perform live whenever possible, there’s a different energy to the music when observed again through the movie. It has that same type of perfect ending as Roman Holiday, leaving the audience satisfied with the brief glimpse they got into the characters’ lives.
Marty (Delbert Mann, 1955)
This sort-of dreary movie about a lonely butcher who lives with his mother, who can never escape the doldrums of his tired social life in an effort to find a nice girl to settle down with, seems like a strange choice for a movie that one could watch over and over. But it’s the incredible acting of Ernest Borgnine and Betsy Blair as sad but earnest ugly ducklings crossing paths in a ballroom crowded with those more confident and pretty people who never have problems getting a date, that makes this movie evergreen. I feel like people are often trained to be dissatisfied, and both Marty and Clara are shot down whenever they try to carve out the lives that they want, which makes their defiance so resonant. Marty won the Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay.
Cinema Paradiso (Giuseppe Tornatore, 1988)
This is it for me. I think that if I were asked at gunpoint to narrow it down to one ultimate picture, one film to take with me to the deserted island, it would have to be this one. While the tale of a boy’s teenage love, and his relationship with his mentor Alfredo, the local projectionist, is heartbreaking in its own right, this is a film about why movies are important. There are so many great movies about filmmaking – too many even to list here – but I have yet to see one that surpasses Cinema Paradiso in its portrayal of how movies can affect people, give structure to communities, and foster relationships among those who love them. The final montage, a pastiche of scenes from other movies that fits so perfectly into the story told over the previous acts, moves me to tears every time.