It’s finally here, the top ten list you’ve all been waiting for! No? Well, here it is anyway. I agonized over each choice, and can’t seem to figure out how to write a “short blurb,” but please enjoy all the same and know that if you like any of these, by default we are friends. (And by the same token, if you loathe any of them…)
Little Women: Little Women is my life, by which I mean I have three sisters, and three out of the four of us have eerie similarities to our Little Women-counterparts, even down to the professions they choose and the relationships between the sisters. I, of course, am the “Jo” character, and have always felt a kinship with her fierce love of writing, independence, wanting to keep her family together, and always wanting to do what the boys were doing. Also, did I mention that I wrote about ten terrible plays or so when I was a teenager and coerced my siblings into performing them with me? HOW LITTLE WOMEN IS THAT? Though the first link is to the book, which is wonderful and delightful and should be read by everyone (little or not; woman or not), I also have to recommend all three film versions that I’ve seen:
Watership Down: My childhood and teenage years were somewhat lonely, growing up homeschooled in a rural area and then moving 2000 miles away to a state where we knew nobody. I got into the habit of making connections with animals rather than people, and have always identified as an animal-lover, particularly animals with well-developed histories, feelings, and personalities. Of all the many, many books and movies I devoured relating to the lives and adventures of animals, this one stood out. I love hearing about the mythology of El-ahrairah and feeling part of a larger, more complex story as the rabbits travel to a new warren, encountering new adventures, dangers, and hardship along the way. I love the close kinship between the various rabbits, getting to know the personalities, strengths, and weaknesses of each, and exploring the intimacy and epicness of their journey. This book has far more insights and powerful, thought-provoking moments than I expected from its synopsis, and it never fails to deliver more.
Pride & Prejudice: Of all Jane Austen’s works, Persuasion is my favorite to read. However, Pride and Prejudice is my favorite to watch, and of all the versions I’ve seen (at least six), this one is my very most absolute all-time favorite. I decided to watch just a snippet from it before writing this, to see if it really held up to my memory of it, and the next thing you know, I watched the entire thing from beginning to end and was immediately and blissfully swept up in the story, the characters, the dialogue. There is so much I love about this version: the bright, cheerful, yet dramatic and romantic music; the beautiful outdoor cinematography; the inclusion of so many witty, memorable, and quotable lines from the book; Mr. Collins, who is perfect in every way; Lady Catherine de Bourgh, equally perfect as she delivers a die-for performance in what I would argue is the most exciting, high-stakes confrontational scene in the whole show; and of course, the unparalleled chemistry between Darcy and Lizzy, which is communicated so subtly and through looks, gestures, and pauses just as much as through words. Every time I watch it, it is just as uplifting, relatable, and delightful as it was the time before, if not more so.
Princess Mononoke: This wasn’t the first Miyazaki film I saw, but it was the first one I fell in love with and that truly “converted” me into a Miyazaki fan. The story revolves around Prince Ashitaka’s involvement in a conflict between the villagers and the gods (and demons) of the forest. He also meets Mononoke, a human raised by the wolves, and together they must work to bring balance and harmony to the forest. The darker themes, intense scenes, and heavy emotions running through this story never fail to resonate with me. There is always more to think about and connect to in this film, and it will always be favorite Miyazaki experience.
Noah: Have I ever mentioned that I have an enormous crush on Russell Crowe? No? Well, I do. Not as a person, but as an actor. Handsome? Check. Clever? Check. Swordfighting skills? Check. But besides all of that, he just has a lot of presence and charisma – it really fills the screen and brings passion, urgency, and believability to every role I’ve seen him in. But back to the film of Noah itself. I LOVE this film. There’s been a lot of debate over the film’s treatment of the Biblical text, but I saw it as a beautiful, spiritual, serious homage to a difficult story which brought sympathy, purpose, and clarity to the character of Noah without condoning or condemning his behavior. It’s a heart-wrenching film at times, with things turning out differently and sometimes horribly differently from how I wish they would be, but it has so much of worth and truth to share about communication between divinity and humanity, the ties between family and what holds us together, and our purpose on Earth. I cry every time I watch it, and still I can’t stop watching it.
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor: I read this book sometime in my teenage years, and was immediately hooked into reading the entire Logan family saga (Song of the Trees, Let the Circle Be Unbroken, The Road to Memphis, and The Land), all of which have the same real, natural, authentic writing style that put me in the shoes of the characters and allowed me a personal, close-up look into a world I knew little about but quickly grew to care about deeply. As I immersed myself in the world of southern Mississippi, I experienced anger, frustration, sympathy, love, and determination alongside the brave, fiery Cassie, her protective older brother Stacey, and their little brothers Christopher-John and Little Man. I can clearly recall reading these books and realizing how important it was to remember this history, to recognize the impact of racism on our country, to treat all people as equal, and to fight against injustice, prejudice, and discrimination.
Breaking Bad: It’s been several years since I’ve seen this show, but the memories feel fresh and recent. It has some of the most gut-punching, visceral, heartbreakingly painful moments I’ve seen, but it also deeply touched me and brought new insights and revelations that I want to remember forever. I love how well-written it is; how it lays out a seemingly simple premise (high school chemistry teacher begins cooking meth to support his family when he learns he has cancer) and then proceeds to develop it logically, deliberately, and pragmatically, making five seasons seem incredibly tight and brief in the length it takes to reach its inevitable, tragic outcome. I can’t think of any plots or characters or choices that seemed unnecessary, out of place, or gratuitous. After seeing so many shows where the writers don’t seem to know where the story is going after the first season or so, it is a refreshing, beautiful thing to see a complex, tragic story told with such care, forethought, and passion, crafted in such a way that every choice leads to a logical consequence that brings the end closer. Not to mention that Bryan Cranston does some of the greatest acting I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s not a show I can watch often, but it’s one I’ll never forget.
Blood Meridian by McCarthy: I’ve read Blood Meridian maybe ten times or so, and still feel vastly unqualified to talk about it in any authoritative way. So I’ll just tell you a little bit of what effect it had on me. The book has a bloody, violent, bleak reputation which I had known of some time before I actually read it for an English class. I’m not exactly sure why, but I took it as a personal challenge to read this reputedly intimidating novel carefully, study it, and come away with something deep and meaningful for myself. Well, it did not disappoint. I ended up writing my final paper for the class on the Judge’s use of humor in Blood Meridian, a paper which went through many developments and changes as I went on to present it at the Cormac McCarthy Conference in San Marcos, Texas; publish it in a journal; and develop into my eventual master’s thesis. Since then, it has always been in the back of my mind, not in a dark or scary way but in a constant, serious, “don’t forget this” kind of way. It is bloody, bleak, and so on, but that isn’t what stuck with me. It is certainly one of the wordiest McCarthy novels, full of lengthy descriptions and poetic reflections on myth and legend and nature and the plight of humanity, both individually and collectively. I found the way that he laid out the baggage and history of our nation overwhelming, profound, touching, and unsettling, as I realized that this is not only the story of the Glanton Gang or of America, but this is our story–this is our past and our inheritance, and it is one of blood, violence, and war. What our future will be, of course, is up to us. There is not much hope in the book, except what the reader brings to it.
The Redwall Series: I could not let the creation of my top ten list pass without mentioning Redwall, my favorite childhood series that in many ways sparked and fed my habit of reading books for pleasure rather than work and combined my various loves of make-believe, fantasy, the outdoors, and animals all in one. When Brian Jacques died, I wrote a tribute blog post recounting the entwining of my life’s history with his books. To this day, I can’t think of any series that affected my thoughts and feelings so much at the time that I read them. I highly, passionately, warmly recommend this series to children and adults alike looking for nostalgia and adventure. My personal favorite of the series is Salamandastron, but Martin the Warrior is a close second.
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers: I have made no secret of my love for this movie in posts past, and in writing this list I came to the conclusion that by now must be obvious to anyone who thinks of or cares about such things: this movie is, for the record, my favorite movie of all time. I notice in looking over my list that many of my top ten are somewhat grim, troubling, and tragic in nature (with a few notable exceptions, thankfully). I am pleased with this, being a passionate, somewhat cynical, pessimistic person who delights in complaining, empathizing, and obsessing over the pain of others. However, in my deepest heart of hearts there is a tiny joyful, sappy, hopelessly romantic lover of life and babies and cuteness, and the placement of this film at the top of my list signifies, I hope, her ultimate triumph. If you haven’t seen this remarkable masterpiece, full of the catchiest songs, the handsomest couples, the liveliest choreography, and the sweetest of love stories between husbands, wives, fathers, daughters, sisters, brothers, and more, please clear your schedule for the next seven years and do so. It has brought me indescribable joy, energy, beauty, and love over the years.
One Honorable Mention:
Jane the Virgin: I discovered this TV show by the very greatest good luck right as it came out, and I kid you not, by the first commercial break of the first episode, it was done, settled, finished, decided – this is my new favorite show. It deals with deep themes, life moments, and relationships that everyone can relate to, emphasizes the roles and experiences of women, and even treats the characters’ religious beliefs with the sincerity and respect they deserve without becoming didactic, dull, or stereotypical. The writing is always clever, with witty banter, running jokes, and character development packed into every episode. And the acting is phenomenal. It has possibly the greatest mix of humor and sincerity I’ve ever seen in a TV show, and I can hardly believe it’s in its third season already. It looks like we don’t have it in the collection yet, but you can watch it on Netflix.