Moonrise Kingdom

Moonrise Kingdom

“I love you, but you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Do you remember the first time you fell in love? That’s the feeling Wes Anderson tried to recreate with Moonrise Kingdom. It’s a story that focuses primarily on two kids—a rarity for Anderson. Even his children’s movie, Fantastic Mr. Fox, focused on the father of the family. The closest he’s come to this before was with Rushmore, which focused on a high school student. Moonrise Kingdom focuses on a pair of 13-year-olds, and it is, appropriately, filled with a sense of wonder and innocence that’s missing in most of his movies, which are more about disenfranchised adults who have trouble with relationships. Those adults are still here, but they’re in the background. The real story is in how these kids come together, although the relationships the adults have serve as a terrific foil for this. I wouldn’t say this is Anderson’s best film, but it’s probably his sweetest and most wholesome, and it absolutely deserves some attention.

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Your Name

Your Name

“The dream I must have had, I can never recall. But… the sensation that I’ve lost something lingers for a long time after I wake up.”

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: I’m typically not a fan of anime, just like I’m typically not a fan of horror movies. But some movies, like Psycho and The Shining, are so good that they rose above the trappings of the horror genre. Your Name is a movie that rises way, way above the trappings of your typical anime. Directed by Makoto Shinkai (The Place Promised in our Early Days, 5 Centimeters per Second), this is the only anime movie to out-gross Spirited Away, which was a classic I’ve reviewed before. It’s one of the best love stories I think I’ve ever seen. There is a touch of the supernatural in this, but rather than that being the focus, it serves to enhance the drama and romance in the film that remain the focal point. This is a beautiful story beautifully told, and the fact that it’s an anime actually makes it better—that format tells the story better than any other would. Anime skeptics take heart: you will probably like this film.

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Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Breakfast at Tiffany's

“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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Secretary

Secretary

“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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Roman Holiday

Roman Holiday

“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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The African Queen

The African Queen

“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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Charade

Charade

“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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Amelie

Amelie

“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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The Princess Bride

The Princess Bride

“Have fun storming the castle!”

The Princess Bride, directed by Rob Reiner (The Wolf of Wall Street, This is Spinal Tap), is a romantic comedy-adventure that’s quite unlike any other movie out there. It’s simultaneously a fairytale and a parody of a fairytale, and it excels at each. While other movies, like Shrek, have tried to walk this line, I can’t think of any that balance the two so expertly as this one.

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Silver Linings Playbook

Silver Linings Playbook

“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.”

This film has been featured on my podcast, Peculiar Picture Show! Listen to this film’s podcast episode here.

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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