This is the next entry in my ongoing 100 Essential Films series. If you missed the first one, you can find the explanation for what I’m doing here. Film number five is the romantic comedy It Happened One Night from 1934. Many hail the picture as the first screwball comedy ever made – although 1933’s Bombshell might have a little something to say about that. Class commentary and romance are the chief preoccupations of both the genre and It Happened One Night. I first saw the movie in college, about 800 years ago, so it’s technically a revisit, but this go-round was almost like seeing it for the first time. In fact, I might have slept through part of it in college; those 8 am classes were a killer… Just like the other films in the series, I borrowed a Blu-ray through intralibrary loan. The disc was produced in 2014 by the Criterion Collection, and although the majority of the film looks sparkling, there are a few shots that show how challenging the 4K restoration must have been.
Viewing entries in
Yesterday set itself a pretty low entertainment bar to clear with its premise. “You mean I’ll get to sit and listen to Beatles tunes for two hours? Yeah, where do I sign?” Screenwriter Richard Curtis – he of Love Actually fame – and director Danny Boyle have crafted a movie that feels slight, yes, but one that is also infectiously charming and just a plain damn good time at the movies. It might not contain the deep and meaningful qualities with which we’ve all imbued the music at its center, but it brought a big, fat smile to my face while I was watching it. On this occasion, and in these bleak times, that was more than enough.
If you have, or want to have, children, and you think that there is something wrong with any grown person who isn’t interested in doing the same, then Juliet, Naked is the movie for you. Of course, that’s not a ground breaking or particularly challenging stance for a movie to take. There is an overabundance of movies (and books, and magazine articles, etc., etc.) that reinforces the idea that becoming a parent is the pinnacle of maturity.
Movies about the subject – an overwhelming majority of which are romantic comedies – have thoroughly exhausted one particular “becoming a parent” subgenre. It’s what I’ll call “The Man-child Matures” subgenre. Knocked Up, Nine Months, and About a Boy all focus on emotionally stunted men who grow into responsible adults only when they realize that, yes, becoming a parent is what they really wanted all along. Having parenthood thrust upon them makes them finally grow up.
Simon Spier has “one huge-ass secret.” The high school student with a loving family and great friends is gay, but he’s terrified to let anyone know it. He fears that his family and friends won’t be able to accept this aspect of his identity. Getting through high school is hard enough, and Simon sees every day just how close-minded people can be. He sees some of his fellow students taunt Ethan, an openly gay classmate. Love, Simon deals with the struggles of its titular character with empathy and humor. The movie is essentially a coming out romantic comedy. It’s a heartwarming antidote to cynicism and pessimism, two qualities in which the world is currently inundated.
What feels so fresh about Love, Simon is that it operates like so many other high school first love movies, only from a perspective that mainstream Hollywood has until now never embraced. Other critics have compared it to the teen-angst filled work of John Hughes. Besides his huge secret, Simon is your ordinary, everyday teenager. He tells us early in the film in voice-over that he hangs out with his friends, watches bad 90s movies, and drinks way too much iced coffee. He also does things like help his clueless dad fix a terrible homemade anniversary video.
The Big Sick isn’t just the best romantic comedy since Annie Hall, it’s also trying to teach us how to live in the fractured world in which we find ourselves. Okay, maybe not. It’s probably just trying to be a heartfelt, funny, and entertaining depiction of how star and cowriter Kumail Nanjiani met and fell in love with his real-life wife, Emily Gordon. But inspiration is where you find it, as the saying goes, and The Big Sick offers up a wealth of it. This movie is full-to-bursting with ideas on unconditional love, grace, connecting with people not only, but especially, when it’s hard, and how we can all work together to make life a little easier for our fellow humans. Oh yeah, and it’s also incredibly funny.
There’s a rhythm to the romantic dramedy The Lovers that’s as unique as its quirky characters. If you can hook into that rhythm, the film will take you to some unexpected emotional places. The premise is a slight twist on the familiar story of married couples who rekindle their love after years of neglecting each other. The charm and sparkle of The Lovers is in the way writer/director Azazel Jacobs infuses a sense of magical realism into the tale of his married couple Mary and Michael. When it comes to the actors portraying them, Debra Winger and Tracy Letts, it’s just plain magic.
Do you know someone who insists that there’s no such thing as an original idea in movies anymore? It’s just the same six or so stories that they tell over and over, they say. If you do, look that person straight in the eye and tell them that they are dead wrong. Because The Lobster exists. This is a movie that almost defies explanation. The way it improbably blends romance, the blackest of comedy, and existential horror is spectacularly original. The Lobster is as haunting as it is unique, and it’s a film that won’t be easy for me to shake any time soon.
Set in either a dystopian future or simply a world wholly different from our own, the society in this story finds loneliness abhorrent. Anyone not in a committed relationship must check into a resort where they have 45 days to either find a partner or be turned into the animal of their choosing. It’s a delightfully absurd premise, which writer-director Yorgos Lanthimos sadistically uses to lull his audience into a false sense of security during the first act of the picture.
I feel it in my fingers, I feel it in my toes… when the month of December rolls around, the need to watch Love Actually is a feeling that grows. I’ve watched the movie at least a dozen times since friends introduced it to me seven or eight years ago. It delivers on that harmless popcorn flick level that never disappoints regardless of how many times you watch it. It’s endlessly quotable, and never fails to get laughs in all the right spots, despite year after year of viewing.
The first scene of the movie, when washed-up rock star Billy Mack attempts a comeback with a yule-themed reworking of The Trogg’s 60s hit Love is All Around, never fails to bring a smile to my face. Most of that joy is created by actor Bill Nighy’s gleefully mischievous performance as Mack. Nighy sinks his teeth into the persona of the has-been rock god like he’s biting into a thick medium-rare steak. I have to wonder if he didn’t serve as an example to the rest of the cast. Everyone involved in Love Actually takes the material they’re given – which is by turns cheesy, silly, funny, and depressing – and together they deliver an unabashedly heartfelt piece of entertainment that doesn’t have a cynical bone in its body. When the film leaves Nighy as he hilariously struggles to shoehorn the correct Christmas references into the song, composer Craig Armstrong transforms the melody into a sweeping orchestral piece as we meet the rest of the characters. The joy of that opening montage is infectious, and if you let it work its magic, you realize that love actually is all around.
Director Richard Curtis set out to make the definitive romantic comedy, so he wrote this tale of nine intersecting stories about the trials and tribulations of love set in the month leading up to Christmas. Based on how many knock-offs have come in the dozen years since Love Actually was released, it’s obvious quite a few screenwriters thought Curtis was on to something. From Valentine’s Day to New Year’s Eve to He’s Just Not that Into You, the formula has been copied, but not as successfully as in Love Actually. Most of that success is thanks to the cast taking Curtis’ over the top situations and creating unforgettable moments with their performances.