Meet the Staff: Mary Bolton’s Top 5 Films

My personal and critical interest in film is centered on how the many aspects of film art are used to create intimate meaning to the viewer. My favorite movies are movies that feel as if they were handcrafted solely for me—even though, of course, their appeal is meant to be for general audiences. Still, watching these movies is like being seen and having my heart projected onto the screen.

5. What a Way to Go!

(J. Lee Thompson, 1964)

Louisa (Shirley MacLaine) and Pinky (Gene Kelley).

With the help of the dearly departed FilmStruck, I started working through the filmography of Gene Kelly, and fell majorly in love with him. What a Way to Go! was one of his few films that wasn’t available on FilmStruck, but I felt that watching it was essential to completing his dance-related filmography.

What a Way to Go! follows the story of Louisa (Shirley MacLaine), who is four-times widowed by increasingly rich husbands (played by Dick Van Dyke, Paul Newman, Robert Mitchum, and Gene Kelly), each of whom reminds her of living in a genre of moviefor instance, life with Pinky (Kelly), her fourth husband who becomes a famous actor/dancer, reminds her of a Hollywood sound stage musical. It’s an extremely funny movie, tinged with a little sadness of the Hollywood film industry in transition. You can feel how Old Hollywood is slipping away in it to make way for New Hollywood; it feels nostalgic for a time that is already starting to slip away.

4. Thoroughbreds

(Cory Finley, 2017)


I put a lot of value in my closest friendships, so stories about the complexity of platonic relationships between two people particularly speak to me (as evidenced by my review of HBO’s My Brilliant Friend). Thoroughbreds explores the renewed friendship between two bored, wealthy teenage girls—Amanda (Olivia Cooke) and Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy)—as they plot to kill Lily’s abrasive stepfather.

I love boredom as an impetus for crime in film, and I love that this movie takes you on a journey into the spectacular emotions (or in Amanda’s case, lack of emotions) of a teenage girl. But I especially love this movie for the symbiotic relationship developed at lightning-quick speed between the two former friends—one that feels so real and immediate.

3. O Brother, Where Art Thou?

(Joel & Ethan Coen, 2000)

O Brother Where Art Thou

I spent 2017 and 2018 watching every Coen Brothers movie. I adore most movies the Coens have made, but O Brother, Where Art Thou? is my favorite of all of them (though Hail, Caesar! is a close runner-up). In this movie, Everett (George Clooney) has a line that acts as the central thesis for the majority of the Coens’ work: “It’s a fool that looks for logic in the chambers of the human heart.”

Their movies are decided studies of people who don’t make sound choices—people who are driven by base human emotions. The Coens are trying to understand what drives us all, what makes us do the stupid things we do, and, in effect, looking for logic in the chambers of the human heart.

2. A Hard Day’s Night

(Richard Lester, 1964)


Last year I got really into The Beatles. I’d grown up liking what I’d heard of their music, but it was kind of inaccessible (this was in those weird, Dark Age-decades where you couldn’t buy their music on iTunes or listen to it on YouTube). Subsequently, I didn’t have much of a Beatles phase growing up. I postponed it until last year, when I fell head-over-heels in love with them.

The impetus for my obsession was A Hard Day’s Night, a movie recommended to me after I mused to a friend that I’d be interested in a movie about The Beatles’ falling out. A Hard Day’s Night is the opposite of that kind of movie; it is focused on a fictionalization of The Beatles as they spend the day in London, waiting to perform on a TV show. While mostly plot-less, it’s overwhelmingly charming, and the sense of make-believe is done so well that it feels like a documentary rather than narrative fiction—the movie’s greatest magic trick that I fall for every time.

1. Almost Famous

(Cameron Crowe, 2001)

Almost Famous

Before I even saw Almost Famous, I already expected that I would like it, but never would I have suspected that it would grab a hold of my heart and make a home there. It is the convergence of many of my specific interests—star studies, the coming-of-age of a writer, insiders and outsiders. It argues that, yes, earnestness is supremely uncool, but it’s still a worthwhile endeavor.

Almost Famous is my heart-song movie because it knows just how uncool it is, and revels in it. I’ll always be taken by Patrick Fugit’s tender performance as William Miller, a teenage journalist (read: Cameron Crowe stand-in) for Rolling Stone—used as a pawn by rock stars and groupies, but still a lover of rock music and the people who make the industry work. When the film industry gets me down, I use William’s passion for what he writes about—even when the people he admires betray him and disappoint him—to help me get back into my own writing.

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