Top 5 movies to watch when no one’s watching

I’m not a Friends fanatic or anything, but there are a few moments from that show that are so spot-on awesome. One of these is when the pals play a trivia game based on (what else?) themselves. Through their game show-like line of questioning we come to learn that Chandler’s TV Guide arrives addressed to Chanandler Bong (hilarious) but more to the point of this piece, this interchange takes place:

Ross: Rachel claims this is her favorite movie…
Chandler: Dangerous Liasons.
Ross: Correct. Her actual favorite movie is?
Joey: Weekend at Bernies!

Oh, how I love this game and this information and Rachel’s reaction to the exposure of her not-as-secret-as-she-thought guilty pleasures. The whole shebang is, as they say, funny because it’s true.

Like Ms. Green I have cinematic pretensions. I’m aware of what I’m supposed to like, what’s considered high culture. And sure, I’m capable of watching a 4 hour snail-paced epic masterwork devoted to the horrors of capitalism and played out in shadow puppets, but are you going to catch me viewing such a flick on a regular weekend? No to the way.

Here are a few of the films you will find me parked in front of quite frequently, fingers inked in so many particles of Cheeto dust.

  1. High Fidelity (2000)

    Number one with a bullet, High Fidelity tops the charts as my favorite “comfort movie.” The time period of the film is right there in the sweet spot of my nostalgic longings — I was starting college and the majority of my friends were just like the crew in the movie. Everyone knew what music was good, right. They scoffed and guffawed if you ridiculously admitted that you did not know that it was The Rentals playing on the stereo. They expertly crafted mix tapes that on the one hand, superciliously nudged you toward the good music, (geez, Ana, come on, don’t make us have to fire you from our friendship!) and on the other hand, carefully guided your ear to the sweetest sounds you never knew existed (Ana, I know you, I like you, and I want you to meet me on the bridge of this next song).

    High Fidelity takes me to a world of everyday people, geniuses in their own minds, lonely and beautiful dreamers hiding beneath the harsh and critical skins of their insecurities. It reminds me of myself and the sweet funny people with whom I tend to surround myself, but ultimately, it’s about love. Love of music that knows how twisted and complex people are with their selfish punk rock anger, their velvety Motown desires. Delicate love that grows from sweet puppy stages, outlasts the sexy lingerie, and finally, hopefully, finds itself capable of appreciating the music of the other with gentle respect, even as it asks, “but wait, have you heard…?” Loathing, longing, listing — it’s got it all.

  2. When Harry Met Sally (1989)

    With this one, I know that intellectually I’m supposed to like Annie Hall (1977) better. With its anxiety, psychoanalytic drama and trauma, the Woody Allen classic better reflects the pleasure, pain and hilarity of being with the opposite sex. However, Allen’s isn’t the film I turn to over and over again. Nope, it’s the more mainstream and archetypal romantic comedy I reach for in times of need. For one, this movie leaves me happy at the end — our title characters finally get together after years and years of friendship and intimate connection. I get to dive into all the misery of relationships and then emerge cleansed. With Annie Hall, you’re left fraught with the bittersweetness of having loved and lost, the kind of stuff that leaves Allen and gals like me sadly sputtering on the therapist’s couch. So, when I’m feeling low, like say every New Year’s Eve, I opt for Harry and Sally.

    Everything that Billy Crystal throws down in this movie is so relateable. For the most part I identify with him more than Sally. The way he reads the end of the book first in case he dies before finishing it, the karaoked phone messages he leaves for Sally on her answering machine (“don’t be afraid to just caaaall me, call me and I’ll be arouuuund”), his constant smartassed quips and digs — I love it all. And we all know that Meg Ryan is no slouch. She is probably the best comedic cryer in the world and her preoccupations are so particular and ridiculous and perfectly feminine in the best of ways. The tiniest looks of shock and disgust and disdain round out her perfectly played high maintenance (but thinks she’s low maintenance) character.

    As a duo, they create something that’s just plain romantic in a way that doesn’t feel saccharine, just lovely. Both of them watching Casablanca together-but-separate, split screen, over the phone is probably the most romantic threesome I can imagine — the TV being the beloved third.

    Oh… and…

    The old people! The glorious old people! I am not a Maxine kind of lady, I am more the kind of lady who, with age, will be good at squeezing melons at the store. So, of course, I adore this.

  3. Legally Blonde (2001)

    I first saw this movie with my best friend Aaron at the $1 theater in Albuquerque. We were a little embarrassed that we wanted to watch the movie at all, so we waited until it was a dollar to save some money and face — we didn’t want to look too eager. Important side note: the title on our tickets was abbreviated to LEGALLY BLO. We found this detail endlessly hilarious. Anywho, we expected the flick to be pink and Valley Girly and silly, but what we didn’t expect was that we’d end up laughing really genuinely hard and finding that the movie was worth way more than a dollar.

    Since then, Legally Blonde has been on TV quite a bit and I must say I tend to watch it whenever I stumble upon it. I know the movie looks incredibly stupid, but it actually has a lot of heart and some great jokes. Elle Woods and her chihuahua Bruiser are way more than just a couple of Gemini vegetarians and if you judge them that way, without even trying to get to know them, then you’re no better than the (ahem, poorly dressed) villains in this flick. As a woman, and a feminist, I appreciate that this movie shows us that woman power can come in many shapes, sizes, and fabric colors; even that one superficial Barbie-shape we often criticize as incapable of growth, meaning, or worth can be our well-rounded heroine. I like that Elle knows a lot about fashion and socializing and working out and that she uses these “empty” kinds of knowledge to transition to and ultimately succeed at Harvard Law. Her literacies may not be the designer academic brand, but the movie shows how you can use your strengths to master your weaknesses. Elle may start out going to Harvard to chase her should-be fiance, but she ends up dropping the dope, making friends with both her male and female colleagues, and securing a hard won, but deserved degree.

    When I can feel people eyeballing me for buying and wearing platform sandals and caring about celebrity gossip, and they try to shame me into boring, neutral colored, comfortable shoed submission, hanging out with Elle and Bruiser is just the right medicine. They remind me that, duh!, I don’t get dumber just because I look hot! And maybe those sad people judging me are just lonely and grumpy and need a muffin basket, or a costume party mixer. How could anyone object?

  4. Fight Club (1999)

    Don’t get it twisted — I can analyze the shit out of this movie with all its phallogocentric, woe-is-me, it’s hard out there for a white guy obsessing. “A generation of men raised by women?” Funny, Edward Norton, you say that like it’s a bad thing. But beyond the tired retelling of the collapse of the male ego, I love this movie for it’s outright fear/celebration of the societal id. Brad Pitt wearing a fucking fur coat that tickles his abs of rock. The smudge-eyed dream that is Helena Bonham Carter scurrying around in a thrift store dress looking like a dreary charcoal drawing that somebody crumpled up and threw away. The way each frame of the film looks like its been drenched in dirty water.

    Sometimes when I’m sad I don’t want a movie that will make me happy or make me cry; sometimes I need something that draws blood. Something that goes wild. Sometimes you need to do more than break the rules, you need to bend them back until you feel them yield, hear them crack. This desire isn’t a man or woman thing — it’s a human thing. Fight Club helps me channel it without actually having to punch someone as hard as I can.

  5. Superstar (1999)

    Okay, yes this movie is a weirdy, but each time I watch it I grow to love it’s unique oddities more and more. Here, SNL’s Molly Shannon fleshes out her Mary Katherine Gallagher Catholic schoolgirl sketch if not with amazing plot or continuity, then with passionate devotion to character. Gallagher is clearly an outcast divorced from the typical folkways of the hierarchical high school structure. Rather than interpreting the real world around her, she understands it (often mistakenly and melodramatically) by comparing it to the made-for-TV movies she’s poured over and memorized line by outrageous line. Discomfiting if not disgusting at times, Mary Katherine is a caricature of adolescence — all flailing body and hormones, she’s a sweaty, horny mess that explodes all over the confining of spaces of her Catholic school. I love how Mary Katherine reminds us that girls, even the strange ones, are sexual beings. Gallagher is always itching to be a sexy grown up with a slutty monologue and not having a boyfriend won’t stop her from practicing her make out moves — that’s why God put trees on this earth after all. I get that this is considered a two-star or lower ranked movie by most, but how could I turn away from Will Ferrell as cool teenager AND hippy Jesus? How could this pop culture queen not see the greatness exuding from the bespectacled nerd orating televisionary monologues? To me Mary Katherine Gallagher lives up to her title — SUPERSTAR!

Ana Holguin writes PopHeart for The Idler.

2 Responses to “Top 5 movies to watch when no one’s watching”
  1. Adam says:

    I dont understand how you see fight club as a ‘guilty pleasure’ its a brilliant film and stays fantastically true to the novel and i dont know anyone who would be embarrassed to be caught watching it, at no point in the article do you actually explain why you count it as a guilty pleasure so i was hoping you maybe could clear that up for me?

    • Ana Holguin says:

      Well, I guess because even though it’s very self-aware to begin with, the issues it critiques collapse in on themselves. I think a lot of people love Fight Club for all it’s radicalism but then feel content to simply quote Fight Club and reference their knowledge of the film to brand themselves as edgy and counterculture. That’s pretty much the same kind of contented laziness we’re supposed to hate according to the movie’s logic. Beyond that, I think just the fact that it’s uber violent and male-centered makes me feel like it’s a guilty pleasure. I’ve written about the film and book quite a bit in grad school and I always always get questioned about “how can you like this with it’s view toward women or lack of women?” I’ve also been questioned about it’s literary quality–like it’s not lit enough for English study. I don’t necessarily agree with the assumptions behind those questions, but they make me feel guilty that I love the film so much. Hope that answers your question.

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