| Anyone who reads How to Save the World knows that my aesthetic tastes are a bit eclectic, perhaps even a trace bizarre. That applies equally to my taste in film, which tends towards quirky romantic films. Herewith, in no particular order, ten of my favourite examples of the genre:
- Heureux Qui Comme Ulysse (1970) – A farmhand, played by the French master Fernandel, learns that one of the farm owner’s old horses is to be sold to a bullfight operator, to be sacrificed to the bull as a preamble to a bullfight. Fernandel sneaks out and takes the old nag on a long adventurous journey to set him free in Camargue National Park to live out his life in peace. Extraordinary, funny, touching acting, and if you can keep from crying at the end you must be made of stone.
- The Neon Ceiling (1971) – Gig Young’s last film before his suicide, an amazing made-for-TV movie shot almost entirely in a roadhouse, where owner Young’s hobby is putting neon sculptures on the ceiling. He’s visited by Lee Grant, a housewife fleeing her boring life, who brings along her daughter, and the movie slowly reveals their characters in brilliant and bitter dialogue. Wonderful writing, excellent chemistry between the actors.
- The King of Hearts (1967) – de Broca film stars Alan Bates and a cast of European heavyweights. A hilarious and heartwarming allegory about an explosives expert during WWI who sets the abandoned inmates of a French insane asylum free, so they can escape the advancing German army, but since they’re too frightened to flee, they instead occupy the deserted town nearby and act out the occupations of the townspeople as the Germans arrive.
- Innocent Lies (1995) – Moody mystery/thriller set in pre-WWII France starring Gabrielle Anwar and Stephen Dorff. Hated by critics and the movie-going public alike. Horribly confusing plot, which I haven’t figured out even after watching it three times. But the acting is mesmerizing and the photography is sumptuous.
- Mindwalk (1990) – A politician (Sam Waterston), a poet (John Heard) and a scientist (Liv Ullman), happen to meet in Mont St. Michel, and share philosophies of life. Brilliantly written, with understated acting that serves to highlight the dialogue and the extraordinary beauty of the setting, which are what the movie is really all about.
- Brother From Another Planet (1984) – John Sayles film stars Joe Morton as a mute alien with special healing powers who crash-lands in New York City. Morton is amazing at conveying the richness of emotion and culture shock without saying a word, and the ‘brothers’ who accept him as one of their own, send up various New York cultures in outrageous, wry fashion.
- To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday (1996) – Peter Gallagher mourns his dead wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) so much he’s become a dysfunctional father to his daughter (Claire Danes) and a social invalid among his friends (an amazing ensemble supporting cast). A wonderful story of dealing with loss and what might have been, and how friends can, and can’t help.
- First Monday in October (1981) – Walter Matthau as a liberal Supreme Court judge spars with new, first woman nominee Jill Clayburgh as an improbable arch-conservative. Funny, playful, clever, politically astute dialogue as the two trade barbs until they finally reach a rapprochement . If only the judges on the real court were this bright.
- Stealing Beauty (1996) – Bertolucci’s film starring Liv Tyler in a stunningly beautiful Italian setting, searching for answers about a past love, her mother’s recent suicide, and the true identity of her father. The other characters of the villa she is visiting are uniformly artistic, eccentric, hedonistic, and lovely to behold. An arousing masterpiece for the eyes, so much that you don’t really care that the plot is silly.
- French Kiss (1995) – Kevin Kline in an acting tour de force as a French thief who ends up sitting beside Meg Ryan on a flight to Paris where she’s headed to win back her lost boyfriend. Kline is perfectly over-the-top both in his accent and mannerisms, and the plot is light and charming and everyone ends up living happily ever after. Just plain fun.