“It’s better to look at the sky than live there. Such an empty place; so vague. Just a country where the thunder goes and things disappear.”
Have you ever seen something that seemed to say one thing at first glance, but upon further inspection actually says the exact opposite? I think Breakfast at Tiffany’s fits that pattern. Directed by Blake Edwards (The Party, The Pink Panther) and starring Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard, this film is often lifted up as a fun example of 60s style and culture—particularly Hepburn’s character Holly Golightly. But dig a little deeper and there’s a darkness just underneath the surface that takes a hard look at the cultural revolution of the 60s—why it existed and where it was going. This is fun to watch whether you understand the cultural context or not, but understanding it opens up a whole new plane of understanding for the film.
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“Who’s to say that love needs to be soft and gentle?”
BDSM used to be a pretty taboo topic—until the godawful Fifty Shades of Grey exploited it as an artless debacle. But back in 2002, it was a pretty foreign topic in cinema, often used as a raunchy joke if it appeared at all. Secretary, directed by Steven Shainberg (Rupture, Hit Me) and starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader, could have been either a sermonizing condemnation of the subject matter or a gratuitous exploitation of it; but the way the movie respects the relationship it portrays elevates this from the drivel that usually surrounds the topic. And with great writing and great performances from both leads, this is a fascinating portrait of how a real relationship with BDSM aspects could develop.
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“Rome! By all means, Rome. I will cherish my visit here in memory as long as I live.”
Though there are a lot of great older movies, the term “classic film” evokes some very specific feelings. Classic films show characters dealing with complicated and timeless emotions and situations. They’re fun and memorable without being overly sentimental. They transport you to another world that may or may not be based on reality, but is nonetheless fantastic. They have a sense of class and elegance that’s just missing in today’s movies. In my opinion, no movie is more classic than Roman Holiday. Directed by William Wyler (Ben Hur, The Best Years of our Lives) and starring Gregory Peck and, for her first major movie ever, Audrey Hepburn, this is a movie that, for me, is the quintessential classic film and will always be one of my favorites.
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“Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put on this earth to rise above.”
In the classic era of cinema, female characters had an interesting but disappointing trait: they relied on the male characters to move the plot along. Though there were some strong female characters in the 30s and 40s, they were usually portrayed as less capable than the males, and the plot usually didn’t go anywhere until the males got involved. In most movies of that era, the females were also very dependent on the males. (I know there will undoubtedly be some exceptions, but this was the norm.) This era started to die off in the 50s (although traces of it can still be seen today), and for that, we owe a huge debt of gratitude to the 1951 movie The African Queen. Directed by John Huston (The Maltese Falcon, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre) and starring Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart, this is a movie that not only defined the romantic adventure genre (Romancing the Stone and Pirates of the Caribbean are modern derivatives), but it also showed that a female lead who is in every way her male co-star’s equal can make for a successful film.
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“I’m sorry I thought you were the murderer. But how was I to know he was as big a liar as you are?”
Describing a Hitchcockian mystery-thriller as “fun” may seem ridiculous, but that’s the first word that comes to mind for Charade. Directed by Stanley Donen (Singin’ in the Rain, Funny Face) and starring Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant, this movie is equal parts comedy, mystery, and romance. Many of the lines and situations are genuinely funny, even silly, but it’s still a very competent mystery with plenty of twists and danger around every corner. As you can imagine, trying to build a romance through all of that also proves challenging for the characters, but that’s enjoyable too. Overall, this is a highly entertaining movie that’s a joy to watch.
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“Times are hard for dreamers.”
You know Revenge of the Nerds? Amelie is Revenge of the Emotional Introverts. Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Delicatessen, The City of Lost Children) and starring Audrey Tatou and Mathieu Kassovitz, it’s a film of immense beauty and feeling, and the story it tells gratifies the soul. The movie, like the title character, fixates on the little things that bring people joy and seeks to bring joy to everyone. It’s definitely more of a feeling movie than a thinking movie, but it’s done so masterfully that it brings out the romantic in everyone.
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“This is what I learned at the hospital. You have to do everything you can, you have to work your hardest, and if you do, if you stay positive, you have a shot at a silver lining.”
Silver Linings Playbook, directed by David O. Russell (American Hustle, I Heart Huckabees) and starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, is a surprisingly traditional romantic comedy with very unconventional lead characters. I’ll admit, I’m usually not big on romance movies and sports analogies, so I put this one off for a while before watching it. It definitely transcends any stereotypes or conventions set by any of its trappings, though, and was thoroughly enjoyable for me because of the charming and complex characters.
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“Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.”
Casablanca, directed by Michael Curtiz (White Christmas, The Adventures of Robin Hood) and starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, and Paul Henreid, is widely considered to be one of the best films ever made. I put this movie off for years before finally giving it a shot. I can’t believe I waited this long. This movie has stood the test of time better than most classic movies and is still interesting and accessible today while many classic movies are harder to watch. This movie has earned its spot at the top of the list and will likely be there for decades to come.
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