I rewatched Jacques Demy’s The Young Girls of Rochefort the other day and spent the entire thing with a stupid giddy grin on my face. It got me thinking about films that just plain and simple make me happy. So here are ten films that make me ridiculously happy, from the moment the credits start until the final fade-out. Initially, it was going to be the top ten that do, but I ended up with a shortlist of around twenty-five, and choosing which ones made it in ended up being kind of arbitrary (except for the top three or four). So it’s just ten.
Why they make me happy is kind of arbitrary, too – some of them are because I love them so much and know them so well that rewatching them is like coming home. Others are ones I grew up with and have a nostalgic association bolstering the quality of the actual film. There are a number of musicals, because I like them. However, films that I love and think are fantastic but don’t really make me HAPPY are not included – like, say, Mulholland Drive. Love it to pieces, but happy’s not really a word I’d use to describe my reaction to it. So it’s not here.
So what about you? What are those films that you come back to again and again, that never fail to pull you out of a bad mood, and that always put a smile on your face?
See my list after the cut.
10. Young Frankenstein
1974 USA. Director: Mel Brooks. Starring: Gene Wilder, Peter Boyle, Teri Garr, Marty Feldman, Cloris Leachman
From the first time Wilder exasperatedly declares his name to be “FRANKENSHTEEN” (and impales himself with a fork) through the stupid joke on Frau Blücher’s name to the monster’s song & dance routine, there’s not a thing in this film I don’t love. It’s the epitome of what an homage/spoof film should be, and I go into full-on quote-all-the-lines mode as soon as it starts.
9. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
1953 USA. Director: Howard Hawks. Starring: Jane Russell, Marilyn Monroe, Charles Coburn
I couldn’t begin to guess how many times my best friend and I watched this film when we were growing up. Certainly has to be in double-digits. Russell and Monroe are the perfect foils for each other – one tough-smart, the other not as dumb as she seems. The frothy story of “stolen” jewelry is perfectly sufficient to not distract from La Monroe in one of her finest hours, and the musical numbers range from enjoyably silly to iconic (“Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend”). And the moment when Russell impersonates Monroe? Priceless. Also, Howard Hawks proves once again that he can excel at any genre.
8. Raiders of the Lost Ark
1981 USA. Director: Steven Spielberg. Starring: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, John Rhys-Davies
Oh, come on. Who doesn’t get a huge grin on their face as soon as the Raiders theme music comes up? It’s the perfect adventure film, with thrills, scares, humor, and romance, all combined for the maximum amount of enjoyment. My mood just improved while even thinking about this film.
7. O Brother Where Art Thou
2000 USA. Directors: Joel & Ethan Coen. Starring: George Clooney, Holly Hunter, John Turturro.
O Brother and No Country battle it out frequently for the title of my favorite Coen Brothers film, but when it comes down to which one makes me happier, there’s no question. Their nearly absurdist homage to both Depression-era films and the Depression era itself (by the unlikely way of The Odyssey) is always just teetering on the edge of manic, but never loses itself. It’s darkly funny throughout, but I’m pretty much sublimely happy as soon as the washed out cinematography pops onscreen.
6. Rear Window
1954 USA. Director: Alfred Hitchcock. Starring: James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Raymond Burr, Thelma Ritter.
Now, this one may be more in the category of films that I’ve seen so many times that I know every beat by heart and still find new things to love about it every time – it’s not comedic or frothy or blatantly happy-making like most of the others on this list. But when the shot of the apartment courtyard comes up and the jazz score starts playing, I’m about as content as I could ever be. Even the tense parts don’t break my mood – I know them so well they’re more a master class in classic Hollywood narrative-building and pacing than actually suspenseful, and that sort of cinematic mastery also makes me giddy.
5. Swing Time
1936 USA. Director: George Stevens. Starring: Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Victor Moore, Helen Broderick.
Here’s a tip: If I’m ever in a bad mood and you need to get me out quickly, send me a YouTube clip of “Pick Yourself Up” from this film. Works every time. There are a few parts that get a bit shrill for me (depending on my mood), but the dancing in this is so sublime, and the Jerome Kern music is so lovely that I couldn’t not have it on the list. I fall in love with the 1930s and with Fred and Ginger again every time I see it.
4. Une femme est une femme
1961 France. Director: Jean-Luc Godard. Starring: Anna Karina, Claude Brassuer, Jean-Paul Belmondo.
There are many Godard films that are better than this slight comedy, and many I’d even say I like better. But for sheer, unadulterated absurd fun, this one can’t be beat. Anna wants a baby, her boyfriend Claude doesn’t, so she briefly considers an affair with Jean-Paul, their best friend who’s madly in love with her. They break out into random song more than in any of Godard’s other movies, a sure-fire way to gain my love, plus there’s this part where Karina and Brasseur have a fight using only the titles of books lying around their apartment that’s so utterly adorable I could hardly stand it.
3. Kill Bill Vol. 1
2003 USA. Director: Quentin Tarantino. Starring: Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, John Carradine, Daryl Hannah
Blood, carnage, mayhem, and non-stop violence has never been so much fun – add in Tarantino’s gleeful homage to spaghetti westerns, samurai films, anime, Hong Kong action, and revenge-sploitation, and I’m pretty much set. I appreciate Vol. 2 as well, and like its addition of film noir and kung fu to the cinematic hodgepodge, but for pure adrenaline-pumping, grin-inducing fun, Vol. 1 has it hands down.
2. Singin’ in the Rain
1952 USA. Directors: Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly. Starring: Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Connor, Jean Hagen.
I’ve already admitted to being a sucker for musicals, and this is probably the best of the best. Everything about this movie makes me happy, from the vintage Arthur Freed songs evoking early Hollywood to Gene Kelly hamming it up as a hammy silent actor to the brilliant story satirizing Hollywood’s attempts to move into the sound era to the pitch-perfect supporting cast (yes, I used the term “pitch-perfect” on purpose) to the never-beaten dance numbers from Kelly, O’Connor, and Cyd Charisse.
1. The Young Girls of Rochefort
1967 France. Director: Jacques Demy. Starring: Catherine Deneuve, Françoise Dorléac, Gene Kelly, George Chakiris.
I started this post thinking about The Young Girls of Rochefort, so it only makes sense to end with it. Jacques Demy’s sunny musical follows a traveling fair, two sisters dreaming of Paris, an idealistic painter, and other characters populating the southern French town of Rochefort. With Michel Legrand’s music behind a predictable but satisfying plot, this film has me grinning so hard it hurts from start to finish. I can’t imagine being in a bad mood if Rochefort is on screen. Sorry about the aspect ratio in the clip. Sometime I’ll rip my own and get some better versions out there.
(honorable mentions: Top Hat, Bringing Up Baby, The Woman (1939), The Lady Eve, Oklahoma!, Some Like It Hot, Charade, Band of Outsiders, That’s Entertainment!, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Star Wars, The Princess Bride, Bring It On, The Incredibles, Bride and Prejudice [standing in for all Bollywood, really], Hot Fuzz)
the recovering academic