I’ve always had my Top Three Movies. Not top five, not top ten. To me, there is only three. Though they’re familiar to me now, I rarely think about why I love these movies. I do not love blindly, though it would be hard for another film to knock one of these movies off my list. (Warning: Possible spoilers.) Please share your top three movies by commenting!
This wasn’t the first movie I loved. That honor goes to The Little Mermaid, but The Godfather was the first movie that made me stop and think. Initially I loved it because I considered myself Italian American, which is still technically true, but I’ve been to Italy, and I am definitely American.
The Godfather is one of my dad’s favorite movies, and he would tell me stories about when the movie first came out in the theaters. This story is unconfirmed, but supposedly one of my uncles would stuff cotton balls in his mouth and imitate Vito Corleone.
When I was a teenager, I romanticized the film and said things like, “I want to be a mobster’s wife!” Which was odd, because at that point I hadn’t planned on being anyone’s wife. Now when I watch the film, I see the complexity of all the characters. How Michael will never be happy and how he will never live up to his father’s legacy.
The characters are flawed and rather unloveable. By the end of the film, Michael Corleone’s family is hanging by a thread and it’s pretty much all his fault. He will never be a good man and he will never fix his family. And maybe that’s why I’m captivated by this film.
The Royal Tenenbaums
The story of the dysfunctional Tenenbaum family grabbed my attention and has held it for a decade. At first I related to Margot’s story, which is one of being an awkward outsider to the family. However, the most fascinating thing about this movie is that each character is developed and progresses as the film goes on. You can watch The Royal Tenenbaums twenty different times, put yourself in the shoes of each character and still enjoy the film. To date, I have yet to stumble upon another film that accomplishes this feat.
I have the Criterion Collection version of the film, which comes with a second disc that includes commentary from director Wes Anderson. This made the film all the more interesting once you hear how much detail Anderson focused on from the wallpaper in the house to the BB gun bullet in Chaz’s hand. Needless to say, The Royal Tenenbaums is one of those movies I can watch so many times and still notice new things.
I first saw The Departed while studying abroad in Italy in 2006. I actually ended up seeing this film twice in the theater, much to my host family’s confusion.
The reason why I connected with The Departed was because of Leonardo DiCaprio, who plays Frank, a lonely undercover cop. He has no family, no friends, no significant other. At the time, I was going through a very difficult point in my life including a faux-breakup (you know, when you’re 19 and dating but not really together) that left me feeling more alone than ever in a strange country with no friends and no family. I related to Frank’s feeling of isolation and depression that, much like The Godfather, never gets resolved.
I always get a feeling of sadness when I re-watch this film, because inevitably I remember how I felt when I sat alone in the Italian theater. But, I also enjoy The Departed due to its complicated storyline. Seriously, if you miss ten minutes of this film, you might as well start over from the beginning.
Pulling it All Together
I’ve seen so many movies, and yet these three remain my Top Three. I find it interesting that the list includes no female-centric films. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that none of them have female protagonists except maybe The Royal Tenenbaums. Overall, I appreciate good storytelling and includes complicated relationships and plot twists. But the characters have to be complex and realistic, and, yes, that seems to mean lonely, depressed and isolated.
Part of why I love these films is because they leave most of their issues unresolved. There’s nothing I hate more than a story that ends wrapped up with marriage, babies and happy characters, because that’s usually not what life is like. Life is dirty and complicated. People’s motives aren’t always clear and you never know when someone might whack you. OK, in fairness, that would only happen in The Departed and The Godfather. If this was a Royal Tenenbaums ending, we’d all be walking out to a perfect soundtrack, feeling oddly resolved yet still very unsure.
And, yep, that’s probably what life is like.