this is what happens when you have seen way too many movies

okay, so a few weeks ago i wrote a brief entry about a list of romantic movies which i found to be substandard. and anna and i were talking then about how we could come up with our own list that would, of course, be way better.

and then we realised we had implicitly dared ourselves.

1. love, actually

h: duh. also, it has to be one of the top ten handiest movies for playing ‘six degrees–‘ ’cause everybody is in it.
a: beyond “duh,” this is also one of the few movies in which the deleted scenes actually contain some really sweet moments. you won’t regret making the time to watch them.

2. chocolat
h: there’s johnny depp, juliette binoche, and a truly ungodly amount of chocolate. how could this be improved? oh, well, you could add lena olin and peter stormare and alfred molina and–oh. they did. 🙂 it could have been cloying and over-sweet and…really, like a poor chocolate bar (no pun intended) very easily, but it wasn’t and it manages to make a believably content, if not outright happy, ending for just about everyone. including the kangaroo.
a: and it has (as, of course does, love actually) a really great soundtrack.

3. out of africa.
h: my mother read the book and i remember she was very excited when the movie came out in the mid-1980s. my father and i didn’t go with her to see it because the book — as you know if you’ve read it — is really quite bloody. karen blixen was in africa during some really deeply unpleasant things including world war i and the possibility for the movie just being a bloodbath was quite high. my mom went to see it on her own and, for many years afterwards, she said she regretted that kevin and i didn’t come with her. last summer, the coolidge corner theatre ran out of africa as part of its rescreened classics series and i had to go see it. particularly since sydney pollack, the director, had died the previous week, it seemed appropriate somehow. the first long pans of the african grasslands as the train moves across provoked a communal sigh from the audience…
a: it was quite incredible on the big screen. amazing soundtrack too. and although i’ve never really had a thing for either lead (sorry redford and streep!), i’d forgotten michael kitchen does a sweet and sad turn as redford’s pal and fellow colonial who is dying of blackwater fever and refuses to leave kenya and his un-recognized relationship with an african woman.

4. kinky boots.
h: watch this and four brothers back to back and enjoy your head exploding. 🙂 no, seriously, this is an excellent movie. it isn’t coy, it isn’t saccharine, there isn’t a simple happy ending — although the ending is highly satisfying — and just remember: the sex is in the heel. oh, and red is not burgundy.
a: you and i have also talked about how this is such an intrinsically british movie in that it manages to tell a story about cross-dressing that isn’t a story about cross-dressing. instead it’s actually a story about work and creative inspiration and human relationships. and much the better for it.

5. stranger than fiction.
h: cute. odd.
a: there are several layers of love story in this film, all playing with the idea that letting a little chaos into your life might also make room for human connection. while the relationship between will farrell and maggie gyllenhaal is the central romance (love the scene with the guitar), emma thompson’s relationship with will farrell as her created character is also worth watching with love (if not necessarily romance) in mind.

6. normal.
h: quiet little under-rated movie with tom wilkinson, jessica lange, clancy brown, hayden panettiere. and the young man who plays the son whose name i never knew but who was really good! somehow i think this should be watched along with transamerica, but i’m not quite sure why since they’re very different approaches to the same topic. it’s really sweet and a little sad — all about deciding why it is you love someone.
a: i haven’t seen this yet, but now of course it’s on “the list.”

7. state and main.
h: haven’t seen it; can’t comment.
a: david mamet’s acerbic script and stellar cast lampoons the classic movie trope of big-city sell-outs rediscovering their integrity in an idyllic small town, while simultaneously telling a story about a young screen-writer who re-discovers his integrity while on location in a seemingly-idyllic small town. god, i love rebecca pidgeon. and she’s just one in a great ensemble cast including william h. macy, philip seymour hoffman, julia styles, sara jessica parker, and alec baldwin. go you huskies!

h: *ahem* — julia stiles. 

8. desk set.
h: it’s awesome. c’mon!
a: what she said. books. librarians. hepburn and tracy.

9. the crow.
a: hanna gets the stage for this one; haven’t seen it yet.

h: okay, so this was my pick, therefore i’m responsible for it and it isn’t, technically, a romantic film. i mean — there aren’t hearts — unless you count the ones being stabbed; there aren’t flowers — except for some dead ones; and there definitely is no candy — although there is a hotdog, lots of clear liquids, approximately ten ton of cigarettes, cocaine, heroin, and some beer. but the whole point of the movie is the “hero” coming back to avenge something terrible that’s been done to his fiancee. (this concept has subsequently been dragged into a whole franchise of crow films and the sequels i have seen are nowhere near as good as the original. stop at number 1 is my advice.)

10. sexy beast.
h: hm. this is… a strange movie. it’s rather like lock, stock, and two smoking barrels or layer cake, if you’ve seen either of those. it’s got that kind of ‘british rock video/we are guy ritchie’s bitches’ thing going on, but it goes a few steps beyond that into something very…elegantly filmed and fairly disturbing. a lot of the trailers and a few of the posters made it look like a comedy. it isn’t. really, it isn’t. there are funny bits — (“what’s that?” “it’s a goat, don.” “why’s it starin’ at me?”) — but it is not a funny movie. if you’re not hooked by the restaurant scene, then i don’t know how to help you.
a: what she said.

11. mostly martha.
h: don’t know it; couldn’t get into the german misery.
a: well, you don’t know it because you turned it off before you got to the romance! you at least have to hang in their for the scene with the soup. while the ending of this film is pretty happily-ever-after, i think it’s up in the air whether the central love story in the film is between martha and her fellow chef mario or martha and her neice, lina, whom martha is asked to take in after lina’s mother dies in a car accident.

12. brokeback mountain.
h: beautiful. heartbreaking. saw it once. never want to see it again.
a: ditto. another one of those films (see #21) in which the tragedy stems from a chronic failure of the main characters to articulate their needs and desires.

13. the mummy.
h: a model for the good action/fantasy/romance, much like the first indy movie.
a: sexy librarians rock.

14. french kiss.
h: a traditional romantic comedy. excellent soundtrack, good chemistry between the leads, good supporting cast, beautiful scenery.
a: i’m letting hanna take the lead here, ’cause it was her pick and i haven’t seen it in so long; all i can truly remember is meg ryan getting sick eating cheese on the train. and the scenery — i can vouch for the scenery being memorable!

15. corpse bride.
h: it’s so sweet. and i really wish he had gotten together with the bride in the end although i realise this probably makes me weird and i don’t dislike victoria, i really don’t. oh, and i love that the piano he’s playing is a ‘harryhausen.’

a: anyone who says cartoon characters can’t convince us they’re in love, and make us care, are idiots.

16. nightmare before christmas.
a: hanna gets to annotate this one because i am a loser and have never seen it.
h: this is a remarkable movie on so many levels that it’s kind of hard to pick one and be brief about it. there’s good music, amazing visuals, and jack and sally are just so perfectly right to be together that by the time you get to the song redux and the closing scenes it’s just entirely satisfying as an ending. plus there’s all sorts of good stuff about boogie-men and fear and trusting difference and being yourself in there, too.

17. the station agent.
a: peter dinklage, patricia clarkson, bobby cannavale and michelle williams make this film what it is. and what they make of it is good.
h: never saw it. meant to — really did, but…fail.
a: life isn’t over yet! and there’s even a librarian in it.

18. the full monty.
a: i really can’t describe why this is on the list, but i know it has to be here.
h: “but who’d want to watch this dance?” “me, dave. i would.” two tissues, right there. and i never cry at movies. there are people in multiple states who will vouch for this fact.
a: there. hanna did it better than i ever could.

19. wall-e.
a: i struggle with whether to classify the love between wall-e and eve in this film as romantic or familial, since wall-e’s desperation to please eve often comes across as that of a child longing for adult attention and affection. but i think that sort of longing — to be noticed and cared for — is at the heart of adult love relationships as well, and in the end wall-e and eve have developed a true partnership.
h: i bought this and wanted on the same day — what does that say about me? anyway — the more i re-watch wall-e the more am completely blown away by the fact that the film is more or less dialogue-less for the first half. in the theatre, when we finally got to humans and there were, y’know, people talking — i was almost disappointed. it had become so much fun to work out wall-e and eve’s idiosyncratic method of communication and to follow a character who had such trust that everything was wonderful if you only looked at it right — i mean, he saved a spork! and one of those terrifying bobblehead dogs. and, while i’m totally delighted it won best animated feature, it really deserved a best picture nomination.

20. strictly ballroom.
a: okay, this sort of snuck on the list despite fran’s textbook transformation from bespectacled wallflower to Hot Latin Dancer, but despite the schmaltzy moments, this remains my favorite baz luhrman film, and the family drama in which the romance plays out has some teeth. not to mention the dancing.
h: this is pretty much “the ugly duckling” with a better soundtrack but it’s got that slightly cracked out, late ’90s australian thing going on and the dancing is just amazing. and i love fran’s grandmother. watching her take down the pretty boy dancer leader — whose name i totally forget — and then teach him how to do the dance for real is awesome.
a: his name is — damn. scott. that was it. scott.

h: no wonder i blocked it out. 😉

21. notes on a scandal.
a: any list of romances worth their salt has to contain at least one romance-that-isn’t. judi dench and cate blanchett star in this incredible film about two lonely school teachers and the destructive nature of their passionate, obsessive fantasies.
h: okay, yes, all those fancy things anna says up there and then also watch it to see bill nighy melt down. and judi dench. and about obsession. it’s all about obsession, really. and lack of communication. and who gets second chances.

22. the girl in the cafe.
a: anyone who needs convincing that bill nighy can do sweet as well as campy (see #1) should see this quiet story of a relationship that blossoms against the backdrop of a global economic summit.
h: quiet. very calm. very sad. but i’d like to think that the characters end up somewhere better as a result of what happens. (and billy mack isn’t that campy. he’s very genuine — he’s just…developed a really theatrical way of going about it.)

23. the dresser.
a: have been forbidden from seeing this until i brush up on lear.
h: this is a movie based on a stage play — like the more recent the history boys (about which there was some debate as to whether or not it should be on the list; i think it ended up at first alternate), most of the stage cast made the transition to film cast, including the two leads, albert finney (“sir”) and tom courtenay (“norman”). my father showed me this, as he has so many other excellent movies, and until about half an hour, forty minutes in, i thought it was going to be a comedy. there are some amazingly funny bits — just wait until they have to make “the storm” or the actors bitching at each other while they make up in the dressing room — but it isn’t a comedy. it’s really about devotion and wasted chances and the terrible things we can do to each other without ever really knowing it. having said that, i can’t see why anyone would want to watch it now but it’s wonderful, i promise.

24. lars and the real girl.
a: i admit i was skeptical when my parents first urged me to watch this quirky romance about a young man who falls in love with an inflatable sex doll he orders online. but somehow it works. due, in no small part, to a great ensemble cast including ryan gosling (lars), emily mortimer, paul schneider, and patricia clarkson. again: i challenge you to decide which romance in the film ends up being the best love story.
h: haven’t seen it; another fail!

25. murphy’s romance.
h: i can’t remember the first time i saw this movie, it’s so far back there in the memory. it’s really sweet without being saccharine; you don’t feel that any character in it is pretending to be anything other than themselves in order to get someone else’s attention.
a: there’s something really breath-of-fresh-air about early post-“women’s lib” romantic comedies in which working women (in this case a working single mom) fall in love because they want to, and not because their character would be either a wibbling mess or an uptight bitch without a man. sally field pulls it off in norma rae (1979) and again here in murphy’s romance, with james garner.

26. fire.
a: the first in deepa mehta’s elements trilogy (fire, earth, and water), fire is the story of a young woman who enters into an arranged marriage in present-day india and unexpectedly falls in love with her sister-in-law. of course it has its political dimension, and sparked protests in india when it came out in the mid-1990s, but politics aside i was incredibly moved by the way these two women created an intimate, shared world together even within the confines of a fairly omni-present family life.
h: don’t know it. see above.

27. 84 charing cross road.
h: it isn’t quite a romance. it’s more like — a not-quite-there-romance. but there’s anthony hopkins and judi dench and anne bancroft and lots and lots of books. the original book on which the movie is based is good, too.
a: where would a list like this be without at least one epistolary (not quite) romance? and it is also responsible for my purchase of a volume of yeats poetry many years ago (sorry, hanna) because of the scene in which anthony hopkins quotes ‘he wishes for the cloths of heaven.’: “. . . i have spread my dreams under your feet; tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”
h: despite the fact that i am currently in a loathing relationship with yeats because he appears absolutely everywhere in my thesis reading (whether he’s relevant or not!) i have to agree.


28. it happened one night.
h: often credited as the original screwball romantic comedy, so if you want to blame someone or something for the genre, you might start here. but why would you want to blame this movie for anything when, after 70+ years, it’s still charming and energetic and fresh? clark gable and claudette colbert are just amazing to watch — just wait for the bit in the roadside camp hotel when they’re trying to doubletalk the detectives!
a: haven’t seen it. *headhang*

29. saving grace. only last on the list because we nearly forgot (!) it.
a: even sans the influence of grace’s ‘lovely, lovely tea’ (*coughcough*weed*coughcough*) this is the hilarious story of a widow who discovers her husband left her in debt, and manages to save her house through, shall we say, unconventional methods . . . and a little bit of romance with a dodgy, drug-dealing bloke.
h: the dodgy drug-dealer, by the way, is also one of the hunters from the bear, but he’s much nicer in this. and worth watching if for no other reason than to admire the cornish landscape. and, i have to say, to watch brenda blethyn and diana quick bounce off each other in their first scene together in grace’s kitchen. there’s lots of other good stuff, too, of course, but that scene is marvellous.


please note: this list is in no order discernible to the human or non-human eye, other than it being the order in which our collective brain thought of them ;).
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9 thoughts on “this is what happens when you have seen way too many movies

  1. I’m gonna need to go ahead an correct you on something. The life size sex doll in Lars and the Real Girl is not inflatable. If you ever want to freak yourself out, spend some time at the Real Doll website. Before you judge me for referring you to such a site, it’s NPR’s fault I know about this phenomenon at all. Anyway: such a good movie! To this fantastic list I would add His Girl Friday and Secretary.

  2. <>his girl friday<> should absolutely be on the list — my fault that it isn’t. i plumped for <>it happened…<> instead! (haven’t seen <>secretary<> so can’t comment).

  3. I will take Cynthia’s gracious correction, go do my homework on the Real Girl website, and instruct my web goddess / fellow blogger to amend the post accordingly ;). Since Hanna takes responsibility for the absence of <>His Girl Friday<> (which I haven’t seen; *duck*), I will shoulder all responsibility for <>Secretary<> which is hands-down what made me a lifelong fan of Maggie Gyllenhaal. I guess we’re already getting started on Best Romantic Movies ver. 2.0 . . .

  4. Hi. Love the post. 🙂 I would add have to add <>10 Things I Hate about You<>–great cast, awesome soundtrack and one of the best, if not the best, teen flick made. I love the fact that the heroine is still quirky and independent at the end of the movie. There’s others that could go on the list too, but my brain is in a fog at the moment due to a cold, so I’m going to bed instead of writing more in this comment.

  5. <>10 things…<> was second on the alternates list for all the reasons you mentioned! although it makes me a little sad to watch now. and we missed <>lion in winter<>, too, now i think of it—not a teen flick by any means, but i just happened to think of it.

  6. Now I am making another comment. Thoughts on Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind as a romance? I’ve seen it listed as “an awesome date movie” a couple times, and my reaction has always been “O HELL NO.”

  7. @ cynthia: i have seen <>eternal sunshine…<> but only from about 20 minutes in, approximately six years ago, and in company with my ex, so the memory is slightly tainted. from what i do remember, i can’t imagine it leaping straight to the top of my “here’s a great date movie” list. more like “here’s something to watch if you wish to be enjoyably puzzled and look at kate winslet” list.@homeopath: thanks!

  8. Re: <>eternal sunshine<>. My memory of this movie is so hazy I even got the leads wrong when Hanna asked me about it . . . I was thinking Clare Danes, but realized later I momentarily confused it Winslet’s Clementine with Dane’s Sookie in <>igby goes down<> which is another quirky sort-of romance film. What can I say: they both had weird names. I remember <>sunshine<> being a fun time-bendy puzzle; kind of sad. My brother introduced me to it, and he’s into stuff like <>memento<> and <>primer<>, so I was watching it with that in mind. Tom Wilkinson is creepy as the doctor doing the mind-wiping. I’d have to watch it again with the “date movie?” question in mind to offer any more pertinent reactions :).

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