5. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson, 2014)
A number of Wes Anderson’s films fit well with this list, but none more so than his masterpiece, The Grand Budapest Hotel. This bittersweet tale of quirky characters moving through perfectly symmetrical environments has everything you love about Anderson, including his uncanny ability to direct visual comedy, with the added bonus of a heartbreaking story.
Budapest is about the end of an era, really. Set between the First and Second World Wars, the film recounts and portrays Gustave’s (the stunning, hysterical, moving Ralph Fiennes) antics with nostalgia, a sense of innocence and freedom lost. With its striking ending, Anderson’s film sticks with the spectator for way longer than any of his previous efforts.
4. Inside Out (Pete Docter/Ronnie Del Carmen, 2015)
It’s true that more that a handful of Pixar films share the same ability to make you laugh and cry, but it’s also fitting that Inside Out is the most emotional of them – it is a film about emotions running rampant in the mind of a pre-teen girl, after all. As usual, Pixar’s sensitivity and stunningly created universe creates humor because it’s so relatable in such smart ways, but never has it been so in such sad ways too.
Appropriately for its premise, Inside Out is a colorful, exuberant film, but it hides a lot of angst and melancholy underneath its life lessons, which are way more complex and truthful than usual here. While adults have the benefit of hindsight, Inside Out is not one of those films made to be understood in two levels – it’s an emotional, earned experience no matter how old you are.
3. The Big Sick (Michael Showalter, 2017)
As it was widely publicized during the awards season, The Big Sick is the real story of couple Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, which they adapted themselves into the script that Michael Showalter directed. Nanjiani plays himself, while Gordon chose to stay behind the scenes and make way for the always wonderful Zoe Kazan.
As it navigates the story of this interracial couple, untangling the difficulties of a relationship like this one nowadays, it serves us with a generous dose of heart and reality while turning in brilliant dialogue (the 9/11 joke is a favorite) and hilarious performances by seasoned pros Holly Hunter (who should’ve gotten an Oscar nod out of this) and Ray Romano. It’s a rare delight of a film, and it should be cherished like so.
2. Lady Bird (Greta Gerwig, 2017)
The other award season dramedy of 2017, Lady Bird is such a bittersweet precious pearl because of Greta Gerwig’s unique and wonderful point of view as she tells what’s essentially her life story as a teenage girl growing up in Sacramento, California, while avoiding all the self-obsessed pitfalls of autobiographical scriptwriting. Long story short: this is not a film about her, but about us.
Lady Bird reflects on our inability to “shake off” aspects of our life we don’t like and/or didn’t chose, and how our attitude towards them change through time. As Lady Bird (the wonderful Saoirse Ronan) learns to love the parts of herself she can’t herself create and decide, we see our own journey towards that point on our own lives. Of course, plenty of teenage awkwardness lies in the path there.
1. Little Miss Sunshine (Jonathan Dayton/Valerie Faris, 2006)
The Hoovers are a very funny family. Darkly funny, yes, but still funny. Failed motivational speaker and self-help author Richard (Greg Kinnear) and understandably neurotic stay-at-home mom Sheryl (Toni Collette) have two children: Dwayne (Paul Dano), a teenager who’s a Nietzsche fan and took a vow of silence; and Olive (Abigail Bresling), a young girl who’s obsessed with winning a local beauty pageant. To boot, they’re joined by drug-addicted grandpa Edwin (Alan Arkin) and suicidal gay uncle Frank (Steve Carell).
Of course that, when this family takes the road in a yellow VW bus, hysterical antics ensue. As Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris’ film plucks along nicely in the comedy department, is in its drama and heartbreak that it earns the public’s respect and attention.
That somewhat bizarre collection of characters is used to illuminate points on the American attitude towards failure, and what’s even the Western definition of that; and Little Miss Sunshine turns into an enchanting dramedy about celebrating underdogs and one’s own uniqueness.