My discussion of The Godfather and the recent production of Pride & Prejudice has gotten me thinking of my very favorite movies. There are only a very few movies that I like to watch over and over again. For me, and probably for most people, a really great movie has to get it all right, every element-- music, costuming, casting, plot, acting, authenticity of time and place, and visual beauty. Authenticity is a biggie for me. If a movie strikes a false note, it's like a terrible scratch on a record. In Pride & Prejudice starring Keira Knightley for example, I was in agony when Mr. Bingley dropped into Jane Bennet's bedroom because I really don't think that during that era a man would have gone into a woman's bedroom when she was sick and in bed. The exception to the authenticity requirement, however, is in the area of musicals, which can have a little bit more theatrical leeway.
So without further ado, here are the movies that I can (and do) watch over and over again.
1. The Godfather. Ah, but of course. Every scene is pretty much perfect, all the characters are wonderful and interesting, and there is authenticity galore. And great music! And the scenes in Sicily are just gorgeous! I could rave on for hours! Best line: "Don't forget the canoli."
2. The Godfather II. I am a little less into Michael in this one, since he has already undergone the transformation which was so fascinating during the first Godfather. My favorite scenes are the Senate hearings and the flashbacks. Also, one can't forget the fabulously romantic moment when the young Vito Corleone (played by Robert DeNiro) leaves a pear on the dining room table as a gift for his wife. (Swoon.) I also love it when Frankie Pantangeli disavows his previous statement to the FBI.
3. The Godfather III. OK, I know, I know. I usually don't watch the whole thing. But I will watch the first party scene and then the ending as the family is leaving the opera. The middle is useless, and as we all know, the problems with this movie are manifold. Sofia Coppola's acting was the least of it. She at least had the right ethnic look for the part (which was important and which Winona Ryder is lacking), and she conveyed the basic idea of the good daughter/Italian-American Princess. A far more serious flaw was that the the whole plot involving the Vatican was just silly. Second, it seems completely unrealistic for Talia Shire's character (Connie) to suddenly be involved in the family business and killing people. (I really don't think a woman of her generation from a traditionalist Italian family would act like this. It's a pity because the first two movies charted a very believable course for her from Daddy's girl to patronized pawn of the men's machinations to embittered but still powerless middle-aged "floozie.") Third, there is absolutely no reason for Bridget Fonda's character.
Nonetheless, I still watch this movie over and over again because the first two Godfathers leave you wanting more, wanting to know what becomes of this family. It is very satisfying to see all the characters back again many years later, even minor characters like the Sicilian bodyguards from the first Godfather, or the bridesmaid Sonny was having sex with at Connie's wedding.
4. Scarface. No, I am not generally into tough guy/shoot 'em up movies, but this one and The Godfather trilogy are so incredibly good. Obviously, I think Al Pacino is fantabulous, but this movie also meets my requirements of apparent authenticity and great music and great ensemble cast. Great script, great sense of time and place, great plot. It has all the elements of a classic story of the American Dream gone terribly awry-- and what a window into the psychology of an overprotective, controlling brother obsessed with his sister's sexual "purity."
My whole family loves this movie in fact. My mother's favorite line is, "Don't get high on your own supply." My husband likes, "This is what a bad guy looks like. Take a look at the bad guy." (Al Pacino making a scene after Michelle Phieffer throws a drink in his face at the hoity-toity restaurant.)
5. Howard's End. I think I saw this four times in the movie theater when it first came out. It was perfect, especially Anthony Hopkins as the somewhat bigoted and obtuse Edwardian robber baron type. And the scene when Emma Thompson breaks down!
6. Jesus Christ Superstar. This is one I have loved all my life, ever since I first saw it in a theater with my parents when I was about four. This movie was in fact my introduction to the Gospels and my main source of information about Christianity for a very long time! While it may look light and silly on the surface, it actually does get the main points across and conveys the complexities of the story rather well. My poor mother was stuck answering constant barrages of questions from me at the time as I puzzled over the story. ("But why did they want to kill him? Why didn't he try to escape? Why wouldn't he let the others fight for him? Why did Judas turn him in? Why why why?") Because it tells the story rather well, I don't actually think that the movie/musical is disrespectful, aside from the passing suggestion that the Apostles may have gotten stoned at the Last Supper (and I suppose the "heretical" suggestion that Jesus may have wanted Judas to betray him).
7. Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet (1968). People have said the acting isn't that great. But I don't care because this version seems to perfectly capture the essence of the play, that springtime feeling of being extremely young and extremely excited about sex and romance. I am glad that Zeffirelli chose actors who were actually the same age as Romeo and Juliet. And as always, he did a bang up job with the costuming and the sets and the casting. Oh, and Michael York was quite good looking back in the day.
8. The Last of the Mohicans. As I think Daniel Day-Lewis observed in an interview, this movie has a melodramatic, pulp fiction feel to it. That's what makes it fun. The one weak moment is when some of the raggedy Militia members start fluently spouting ideas about Natural Law and the rights of man.
9. Chicago. I am sure the MRAs love this movie, since it is all about female murderers skating because of their sex. But it is a good reminder that some of these people whom we think of as "just celebrities" are incredibly talented. Who knew that Richard Gere, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Renee Zellweger had this mastery of musical theater? And how many musicals raise such interesting historical questions about the treatment of women defendants in jazz age Chicago?