Sleepless in Seattle (1993)

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Those were the days when people knew how to be in love. Jeff Arch’s story was a meta discourse about people’s views of love and relationships being mediated by the movies. Nora Ephron turned it into a valentine to An Affair to Remember, a 1957 movie starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. Together with her sister Delia it became as much com as rom, but it still has a baseline of melancholy and that killer feeling, bittersweet. Sam (Tom Hanks) is the widowed architect whose son Jonah (Ross Malinger) wants him to find The One so he can have a mother again. They live in Seattle. Annie (Meg Ryan) is the very proper journalist in Baltimore who gets engaged to the allergy-afflicted Walter (Bill Pullman).  She hears Jonah on a late night radio phone-in and stops at a diner where the waitresses talk of nothing else but this sweet  guy whose son wants him to remarry. She thinks there’s a story there but there’s more, as her friend Becky (Rosie O’Donnell) figures when her newly affianced friend is so distracted.  While she vaguely plans to hunt down Sam and carry out some friendly stalking, he starts to date again and his son is disgusted by his choice, one of his co-workers. Sam and Annie see each other across a crowded road when she nearly gets hit by a couple of trucks. Her letter to him asks him to meet at the top of the Empire State building on Valentine’s Day a la Cary and Deborah and it’s sent by Becky without her knowledge.  Things pick up when Jonah flies to NYC to keep the date and she’s there having dinner with Walter during a romantic weekend at The Plaza … The tropes from When Harry Met Sally are here – the mirroring conversations, the advice from friends, the movie references, and even that film’s director Rob Reiner plays Sam’s friend and even though she’ d already made a movie this was what really made Nora Ephron as an auteur. It’s a clever premise, discursive as well as fairytale, positing the idea that even though they’re a country apart a pair of compatible people are destined to meet. Eventually. Isn’t that wild? Separating a romantic couple until the very last five minutes of a film?! What a risk! With a helping hand from fate, a kid and a dream of finding love on Valentine’s Day, it helps that this hits three holiday celebrations including Christmas and New Year’s.  It shouldn’t work but it does, helped with some tart lines about men and women and what people settle for as opposed to what everyone really wants. What a dream team, boosted by some wonderful songs. Irresistible.

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Home for the Holidays (1995)

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The holiday movie is a game of two halves: go for comedy and you’re swerving from true sentimental meaning;  go for drama and you’re avoiding the utterly futile fun of bringing (invariably dysfunctional) families together. So the comedy-drama is the middle road of choice and that’s what director Jodie Foster steers through here with a script by the fascinating and wayward WD Richter (adapted from a short story by Chris Radant). Newly fired Holly Hunter is the divorced mother of a teenage girl who flies to Baltimore for the Thanksgiving gathering back home with her folks Anne Bancroft and Charles Durning: her awful sister Cynthia Stevenson has already arrived complete with husband Steve Guttenberg and teenage children;  her gay brother Robert Downey Jr shows up with his new friend, Dylan McDermott, which is a mystery since he’s in a long-term relationship; and there is (of course) an eccentric aunt, Geraldine Chaplin. The situation descends into the anticipated back-biting, blame and viciousness while it becomes clear that Downey  has actually married his boyfriend and McDermott is there to be introduced to Hunter. The great cast (including my beloved Austin Pendleton!) works as an insurance policy against the predictability:  when Foster was given the script which she then produced through her own company as her sophomore outing she and Richter worked on the material to more closely reflect her own experiences. What is it Tolstoy said about families? “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”. A lot of turkey was eaten during this production and quite a bit of it winds up onscreen. Happy Thanksgiving!

Enemy of the State (1998)

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Director Tony Scott revolutionised cinema – he literally changed the way we perceive images onscreen, for better or worse. This was his masterpiece, in my humble opinion. Working from a screenplay by David Marconi, it tackles the surveillance society head-on in what might be perceived (and confirmed in its casting of Gene Hackman as Brill) as a continuation of issues Coppola was raising in The Conversation (1974). Will Smith is the labour lawyer whose usual difficulties arise from mob infiltration but now has to deal with the might of the all-seeing National Security Agency. It’s non-stop action, threats, violence, fear and of course surveillance in a thrill-a-minute, thoughtful blockbuster. This is how we live now. Tony Scott RIP.