So this is a first for me: a blog post by request. What’s more, a blog post about movies by request. Happy to oblige!
I was recently asked to toss together a top ten list of films I’d recommend viewing. That’s it. That was the request. No criteria, no specifications. Which is simultaneously liberating and daunting! Ten classic films to watch? Sure. Ten favorites from childhood? I can do that. Ten overlooked indies worth checking out? No problem. But just ten films to watch? Where to start!?
In order to narrow it down (and hopefully make this list as watchable as possible for everyone), I’m imposing my own criteria: we’re going with films currently streaming on Netflix. Granted, that doesn’t really narrow things down much either, but it’s a semblance of structure from which to drum up my recommendations.
What follows is an eclectic, entirely personal mix of movies – maybe you’ve seen them, maybe you never will. I provided a quick take on why each made my list, and I’d love to hear what you think as you check them out. In order to avoid any sense of preference, I’ve listed them in alphabetical order.
The Apartment – The first of a couple classics on this list, Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine star in this 1960 dramedy that boasts some of the funniest and tenderest moments of either of their careers. About as perfect an ending as they come, too.
Blackfish – a doc on the Sundance roster when I was there in 2013, this film was a sensation at the festival and remains so a year and a half later. If you’ve ever been to SeaWorld or are planning to take your kids, please watch this doc. Really, if you’re a human being with a heart, watch this doc.
Blue is the Warmest Color – this one’s a commitment, both in running time (nearly 3 hours!) and subject matter/subtitles. But trust me, it’s worth it. Gorgeously presented, the story of a young woman discovering herself and the world around her is truly breathtaking (and yes, at times sexual. We’re all grown ups here, right?).
Friends with Kids – though known by most as Jon Hamm’s other half, if at all, Jennifer Westfeldt is actually an accomplished writer/director/actress in her own right, and her work is worth checking out. Her latest is a fun, sincere take on modern love and relationships with a familiar cast that makes it a joy to watch. Perfect popcorn flick for grown-ups.
How to Marry a Millionaire – Betty Grable, Marilyn Monroe, Lauren Bacall. It doesn’t get more classic than that. Set aside your post-modern feminist and indulge in this 1950s fairy tale that puts three of Hollywood’s best dames in perhaps their best-loved roles as women intent on gaming the marriage system to their benefit.
In the Loop – winner of Most Colorful Language on this list, this 2009 political comedy comes from the writer behind Veep (which is also totally worth watching, btw) and is one of the smartest, most biting satires of recent memory. At the very least, you’ll gain a few great insults to throw at the next person who pisses you off.
Much Ado About Nothing – the story goes that Joss Whedon made this film, rife with a cast culled from his star-studded rolodex, between other films, and did so instead of going on an anniversary trip with his wife (her idea!). What’s a passing fancy for him is one of the best modern Shakespeare adaptations out there. Amy Acker delivers one of the best performances of the year, too.
Pina – I wish I could send you out to see this one on a big screen somewhere, as I worry watching on a TV (or worse, a laptop or – gasp! – a phone) wouldn’t do this masterpiece justice. A documentary unlike any other – on the subject of dance or otherwise – the life and career of Pina Bausch, the world-renowned choreographer, is chronicled alongside stunning dance sequences of her own creation.
Side Effects/Arbitrage – I wanted to include something tense, something a bit dark on this list, and I can’t decide between these two recent dramatic thrillers. The first is a Steven Soderbergh yarn that unravels in twists and turns its best you don’t try to figure out as you go. The second stars Richard Gere as a billionaire businessman who gets himself into some major financial trouble, wrapped in family secrets and murder for good measure.
Sophie’s Choice – though her work continues to be the best in the business, one realizes what all the fuss about Meryl Streep is about after experiencing her performance in this 1982 drama. As a kid, my mom would reference difficult decisions as a “Sophie’s choice.” To her credit, no matter how much I begged to know what exactly that was supposed to mean, she’d just reply “You’ll have to see the movie someday.” So no spoilers here, either, except to say that the fuss is well deserved.
There you have it: ten films to consider checking out sometime soon. There were so many I wanted to include here, narrowing it down took some serious internal debate. There were also a few films that I would’ve liked to recommend – the quirky indie Safety Not Guaranteed, the recent revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Company – that aren’t actually streaming on Netflix anymore (though they are on DVD, if you’ve got that plan). And I even considered adding in a section on films to warn you off of, ones I’ve subjected myself to and would never ask you to do the same. But I suppose that’s an entirely different post.
What have you seen on the list, and would you agree with my recommending them? What would you put on your own list?