There are numerous great movies I have little desire to rewatch, but some I keep going back to time and again.
Thus, my favorites tend to be upbeat or at least emotionally satisfying films, with a leaning towards romantic comedies and related genres.
Notice the almost forty-year gap between the Golden Age of Hollywood (1932-1950s) and the Golden Age of Miramax (1992-2000s).
Trouble in Paradise
A gentleman thief and a lady pickpocket join forces to con a beautiful perfume company owner. Romantic entanglements and jealousies confuse the scheme. (83 mins.)
“ I adore Lubitsch because he was (with the possible exception of Presston Sturges) the only director of the Golden Age of Hollywood who didn't treat his audience like idiots. There's nothing magical about his famed "touch": he simply understood better than anyone else how much the audience needed to know and stopped there. ” - clevecheng
The Shop Around the Corner
Two employees at a gift shop can barely stand one another, without realizing that they're falling in love through the post as each other's anonymous pen pal. (99 mins.)
“ Jimmy Stewart is perfectly cast in this part, but it's Margaret Sullavan that sets the tone. Despite Lubitsch's usual skill, without Sullavan this (like its various remakes) might've been just another rom com. Her performance is the greatest in the history of the Romantic Comedy, and that includes Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday and Audrey Tautou in Amélie. ” - clevecheng
To Be or Not to Be
During the Nazi occupation of Poland, an acting troupe becomes embroiled in a Polish soldier's efforts to track down a German spy. (99 mins.)
“ Completing the Lubitsch trifecta is one of the least subtle of the Lubitsch comedies - and yet, partly because of its audacity in making light of what was not then a laughing matter, it is the funniest.
A "topper" is a joke that builds on a previous joke, hopefully getting a bigger laugh each time. The entire structure of To Be or Not to Be is toppers upon toppers - a masterpiece of comedic architecture. ” - clevecheng
In Casablanca, Morocco in December 1941, a cynical American expatriate meets a former lover, with unforeseen complications. (102 mins.)
“ When Casablanca was filmed, For Whom the Bell Tolls was still a new novel - so fresh that the filming of the Hollywood adaptation (also starring Bergman) overlapped with the filming of Casablanca. I see Casablanca as a sequel of sorts: what if Robert Jordan survived and made his way to Paris?
It may be propaganda, but propaganda of the most effective sort. Rather than waving flags (well, not the American flag but they do sing La Marseillaise), Casablanca tells the story of a man who lost his cause, then his soulmate - and with them his soul - but upon regaining that soulmate realizes that the only way to regain his soul is by regaining his faith - his faith that one man has the power to change the world. ” - clevecheng
A jaded former jockey helps a young girl prepare a wild but gifted horse for England's Grand National Sweepstakes. (123 mins.)
“ The greatest family film ever made, it's a superlative coming-of-age story and a stand-up-and-cheer sports film wrapped up in one. ” - clevecheng
It's a Wonderful Life
An angel helps a compassionate but despairingly frustrated businessman by showing what life would have been like if he never existed. (130 mins.)
“ If Casablanca showed us how to fight, It's a Wonderful Life told us what we fought for. ” - clevecheng
A bored and sheltered princess escapes her guardians and falls in love with an American newsman in Rome. (118 mins.)
“ Barely eight years after the U.S. Army marched into Rome, filming had begun on Roman Holiday, and with its release Americans were back to fantasizing about the glamour of Old Europe. It was Audrey Hepburn we were fantasizing about. ” - clevecheng
A poor village under attack by bandits recruits seven unemployed samurai to help them defend themselves. (207 mins.)
“ By contemporary (say nothing of current) Hollywood standards, it was a low-budget affair, unpolished and provincial. But this very rustic quality fit the period setting and the mythic level of the story.
I like the movie because it is a great story well told. But its importance in the development of the revisionist Western (which genre, despite the movie's specificity to Japanese culture, it most certainly is a part of) should not be overlooked. ” - clevecheng
A maverick dancer risks his career by performing an unusual routine and sets out to succeed with a new partner. (94 mins.)
“ Working on his first film with one lead who couldn't act, another who couldn't dance (Fred and Ginger anyone?), and an utterly provincial story, Baz Luhrmann created the most involving and accessible of all dance films. ” - clevecheng
A weatherman finds himself living the same day over and over again. (101 mins.)
“ If I ever teach a screenwriting class, this is going to be the first assignment. When they first saw it I'm sure everybody in Hollywood thought, "Why didn't I think of that?" ” - clevecheng
Léon: The Professional
Mathilda, a 12-year-old girl, is reluctantly taken in by Léon, a professional assassin, after her family is murdered. Léon and Mathilda form an unusual relationship, as she becomes his protégée and learns the assassin's trade. (110 mins.)
“ Natalie Portman crying out in the hallway is one of the ten greatest moments in cinematic history. Even a cold-blooded killer would buy into the film at that point. ” - clevecheng
Whisper of the Heart
A love story between a girl who loves reading books, and the boy who has previously checked out all of the library books she chooses. (111 mins.)
“ While it has some of the Euro-fantasy elements common to Studio Ghibli films, Whisper of the Heart is one of their most down-to-earth, centering on the everyday life of kids in contemporary suburban Tokyo. Taking a page from Totoro, Kondo's film de-emphasizes the dream and concentrates on the life of the dreamer, and thus is more successful than other Ghibli films at connecting the dreamers on both sides of the screen. ” - clevecheng
In rural 1800s England things go bad for a young matchmaker after she finds a man for another woman. (120 mins.)
“ Okay, the movie is not exactly a classic. It is, however my favorite adaptation of my favorite novel - and I have seen five adaptations. This is the most playful of the five, and Gwyneth Paltrow has that blend of statuesque beauty, gentleness, and hint of vulnerability that perfectly complements the character. Romola Garai comes close, but is too vivacious for the part.
But what really makes this film is Sophie Thompson's utterly perfect performance as Miss Bates in the pivotal scene. ” - clevecheng
A computer hacker learns from mysterious rebels about the true nature of his reality and his role in the war against its controllers. (136 mins.)
“ Deeply flawed, corny at times, and with some mediocre performances, this is the spiritual successor to Star Wars - although The Matrix is far better in every way, and easily the best sci-fi action flick evah. ” - clevecheng
You Can Count on Me
A single mother's life is thrown into turmoil after her struggling, rarely-seen younger brother returns to town. (111 mins.)
“ Nothing about this movie stands out, but the movie itself has stuck with me like few other small films have. Just excellent work all around - a perfect little movie. ” - clevecheng
When a Roman general is betrayed and his family murdered by an emperor's corrupt son, he comes to Rome as a gladiator to seek revenge. (155 mins.)
“ Not just the greatest sword-and-sandals flick, the greatest work by Ridley Scott, Joaquin Phoenix, Russell Crowe, and Connie Nielsen, and the greatest revenge story of all time, but the definitive depiction of the gory glory that was Rome. ” - clevecheng
Amélie is an innocent and naive girl in Paris with her own sense of justice. She decides to help those around her and, along the way, discovers love. (122 mins.)
“ I've seen this movie so often I've started watching it without subtitles. I don't know French, but I almost know the film by heart. ” - clevecheng
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
When their relationship turns sour, a couple undergoes a procedure to have each other erased from their memories. But it is only through the process of loss that they discover what they had to begin with. (108 mins.)
“ While I liked Kirsten Dunst and Mark Ruffalo, and was indifferent to Kate Winslet, I had outright dismissed Michel Gondry, Charlie Kaufmann, Elijah Wood, and Jim Carrey as hopeless cases. I was wrong. Maybe just for the span of one movie, but that movie is unforgettable. ” - clevecheng
(2002 TV Series)
Five hundred years in the future, a renegade crew aboard a small spacecraft tries to survive as they travel the unknown parts of the galaxy and evade warring factions as well as authority agents out to get them. (44 mins.)
“ Brief as its run was (barely half a season), Firefly puts all other science-fiction series to shame - especially Star Trek and Star Wars. From the brilliant concept, through Whedon's thoughtfully-constructed world, appealing characters, brilliant writing and camerawork, to some hilarious performances by Nathan Fillion and Adam Baldwin, Firefly is beyond perfect. ” - clevecheng
(2003 TV Series)
Level-headed son Michael Bluth takes over family affairs after his father is imprisoned. But the rest of his spoiled, dysfunctional family are making his job unbearable. (22 mins.)
“ Three years of non-stop laughter. Maybe I like it because it lampoons everything I always hated about Southern California culture, but I suspect the writing is just objectively without equal. What happened to these writers, and why is no other show half this funny? ” - clevecheng