Films that Inspire

These films inspire travel, style, culinaria, and general day dreaming. Whether it’s a foreign country or simply a state of mind, the below list has me building castles in the sky all over again. I’ve organized them by locale, so if you can’t make it to the Hamptons next weekend, you can bring that spectacular beach house in ‘Something’s Gotta Give’ to your living room.

Below films is a list of recommended novels.

Hamptons

‘Something’s Gotta Give’ (Diane Keaton, Jack Nicholson, and my dream Hamptons house)

New York

‘All About Eve’ (Bette Davis, Anne Baxter. 1950)

‘The Apartment’ (Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine. Dir: Billy Wilder. 1960).

‘Auntie Mame’ (Rosalind Russell. 1958)

How to Marry a Millionaire‘ (Lauren Bacall, Betty Grable, Marilyn Monroe. 1953)

‘Holiday Affair’ (Janet Leigh, Robert Mitchum. Dir.: Don Hartman. 1949)

‘Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House’ (Cary Grant, Myrna Loy, Melvyn Douglas. Dir: H.C. Potter. 1948).

‘Pillow Talk’ (Doris Day, Rock Hudson. Dir: Michael Gordon)

‘The Tender Trap’ (Frank Sinatra, Debbie Reynolds. Dir: Charles Walters. 1955)

China

‘The Painted Veil’ (Naomi Watts, Edward Norton. 2006).

England

Darling‘ (Julie Christie, Dick Bogarde. 1965)

‘The Holiday’ (Kate Winslet, Cameron Diaz, Jude Law, Jack Black)

Indiscreet‘ (Ingrid Bergman, Cary Grant. 1958)

‘Royal Wedding’ (Fred Astaire, Jane Powell. Dir: Stanley Donen. 1951.)

‘That Forsyte Woman’ (Greer Garson, Errol Flynn, Walter Pidgeon. Dir: Compton Bennett. 1949).

France

A Man and a Woman‘ (Anouk Aimee, Jean Louis-Tintignant. 1966.) One of the greatest love stories of all time set in 1960s France. A chance meeting brings together two gorgeous French widows, both heartbreakingly complicated in their own way. They slowly surrender themselves to each other in a beautiful cinematic experience.

‘An American in Paris’ (Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron. 1951.)

‘Amelie’ (Audrey Tautou)

‘Breathless’ (Dir. Jean Luc Godard. Jean Paul Belmondo, Jean Seberg. 1960).

‘Charade’ (Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant. 1953.)

‘Day for Night’ (Jacqueline Bisset, Valentina Cortese. Dir: Francois Truffaut. 1973). 

‘Don Juan. (Or if Don Juan were a woman). (Brigitte Bardot, Robert, Hossein, Mathieu Carrière. Dir: Roger Vadim. 1973.)

‘Gervaise’ (Maria Schell. Dir: Rene Clement. 1956.)

Gigi

‘The Hedgehog’ / Le hérisson (original title). (Josiane Balasko, Garance le GuillermicDir: Mona Achache. 2009).

‘L’amour Fou’ Captivating documentary on the relationship between Pierre Bergé, and legendary Yves Saint Laurent after Yves’ death and during the auction of the elegant duo’s elaborate art collection. How does one not fall in love with Yves after watching clips of his young self as a shy, humble designer, setting the couture stage for the modern woman’s wardrobe, pushing boundaries and quickly becoming the most  influential coutourier of his time.. Yves was a visionary who enabled the public to consume his extraordinary genius and personality via his designs; he will forever epitomize 1960s French chic and a level of class and elegance that later designers could only deign to emulate.

‘La Chamade’ (Catherine Deneuve, Michel Piccoli. Dir: Alain Cavalier. 1969.) I watch a lot of movies. More than my DVR, my library account, and Amazon cart can handle. Sometimes I can make a judgement call within the first 10 minutes that the film is simply not for me, that I won’t finish it, and then it’s on to the next. La Chamade swept me up like a much-needed vacation. I fell in love with Deneuve as quickly as her counterparts in the movie, with her light step through the Paris apartment, her blissful, carefree drive along the Seine’s edge in the early morning, her delight in the first signs of spring, her refusal to let anything or anyone get her down, and last but not least: her clothes. Yves Saint Laurent, Ferragamo, sixties Parisian fashion. Her thick, bouncy hair, her porcelain complexion, and her perfectly proportioned facial features… it was quite impossible to take my eyes off of her. Catherine Deneuve plays Lucille, an irresistible, uncannily happy Parisian woman torn between a wealthy man who loves her dearly and a younger, less wealthy, ambitious, and soulful gentleman who tries to change her into a hardworking career woman who earns her bread. Lucille must choose between the elegant duplex, Mozart concerts, and croquet games, and the studio apartment, the public bus, and meager meals. It is not as shallow as it sounds because of the genuine love and devotion both men have for her. Deneuve is as likable a character as can be, caught in a complicated web as old as time with no obvious answer or solution in sight. This is a movie of fantastic skill, stunning imagery, sets, music, and colors. I will never grow tiresome of watching this film- for its stars, its characters, its dialogue, and its direction.

‘Le Divorce’ (Naomi Watts, Kate Hudson)

‘Madame Curie’ (Greer Garson, Walter Pidgeon. Dir.: Mervyn LeRoy. 1944)

‘Midnight in Paris’ (Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard)

Mississippi Mermaid (Catherine Deneuve, Jean-Paul Belmondo. Dir: Francois Truffaut 1969.) Belmondo plays a humble, multi-millionaire factory owner living on a remote island in the Indian Ocean who awaits the arrival of his fiance, a woman he knows only through correspondence and one small photo. When Deneuve arrives, clearly not the woman in the photograph, Belmondo chooses to believe her falsifications and quickly falls in love with her, entrusting her with access to his bank account. The rest of the film is a whirlwind race through Europe as Belmondo catches up with Deneuve. Instead of turning her in to the authorities, he falls more deeply in love with this painfully beautiful,  deceitful woman, and the two travel from locale to locale to escape the police. Deneuve is a stunning femme fetale and Belmondo is a hopeless yet evocatively masculine and loyal partner in this murderous romance. A story of the complex tragedies of being in love and how it leaves you entirely out of control. Beautiful settings, a beautifully written script, and a memorable score.

‘Paris, Je T’aime (Juliette Binoche, Leonor Watling)

‘Rififi’ (Jean Servais, Carl Möhner. Dir: Jules Dassin. 1955.)

The Last Time I Saw Paris‘ (Elizabeth Taylor, Van Johnson)

‘Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe?’ (George Segal, Jacqueline Bisset. 1978)

Italy

‘The Best of Youth’ (Luigi Lo Cascio, Alessio Boni. Dir.: Marco Tullio Giordana. 2003.)

‘Cinema Paradiso’ (Philipe Noiret, Enzo Cannavale, Antonella Atilli. 1988)

‘Divorce, Italian Style’ (Marcello Mastroianni, Daniela Rocca, Stefania Sandrelli. Dir: Pietro Germi. 1961)

‘Five Star Life’

‘I Girasoli’ (Sophia Loren, Marcello Mastroianni. Dir.: Vittorio De Sica. 1970.)

‘Ieri, Oggi, Domani’ (Sophia Loren, Marcello Mastroianni. Dir.: Vittorio De Sica. 1963)

‘L’eclisse’ (Monica Vitta, Francisco Rabal, Alain Delon. Dir.: Michelangelo Antonioni. 1962.)

‘Light in the Piazza’ (Olivia de Havilland, George Hamilton. Dir.: Guy Green. 1962)

‘Il Posto’ (Dir.: Ermano Olmi. Sandro Panseri, Loredana Detto. 1961)

‘Marriage, Italian Style’ (Sophia Loren, Marcello Mastroianni. 1964)

‘Roman Holiday’ (Audrey Hepburn, Gregory Peck)

‘The Trip to Italy’ (Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon. 2014)

Spain

‘Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona’ (Scarlet Johannson, Penelope Cruz)

Austria

‘The Sound of Music’

Morocco

‘Casablanca’ (Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman. Dir: Michael Curtiz)

Israel

‘The Attack'(Ali Suliman, Reymonde Amsallem. Dir: Ziad Doueiri. 2012). A very successful Arab surgeon living in Tel Aviv is confronted with heartbreaking truths about his wife after a suicide bombing in the city. It is by no means a travelogue for Tel Aviv, but Ali Suliman is superb, and the film is extremely well-done.

Films may not be a main character in these films but they remain on my favorites list nevertheless: 

‘The Bishop’s Wife’ (Cary Grant, Loretta Young, David Niven. Dir: Henry Koster. 1947.) To watch at Christmastime.

‘Citizen Kane’

‘Double Indemnity’ (Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck. Dir: Billy Wilder. 1944)

‘Now, Voyager’ (Bette Davis, Paul Henreid, Claude Reins, Gladys Cooper. Dir: Irving Rapper. 1942). “Oh Jerry, don’t lets ask for the moon..”

‘Old Acquaintance’ (Bette Davis, Miriam Hopkins. Dir: Vincent Sherman. 1943).

‘They Drive by Night’ (George Raft, Humphrey Bogart, Ida Lupino, Ann Sheridan. Dir: Raoul Walsh. 1940.) A classic film-noir with all of the main ingredients, including a duplicitous femme fatale and a one-liner slinging red-headed waitress.

We may sit in our library and yet be in all quarters of the earth. -John Lubbock

Alien Hearts by Guy de Maupassant. One of my favorite books of all time, de Maupassant’s last novel before his early death is his most psychologically penetrating and heartbreakingly true story of the human heart. I cannot read two pages without going back and reading them over, soaking in every word and relishing in the lyrical way de Maupassant weaves together extraordinary vocabulary to describe his character’s vulnerabilities. Madame is one of the earliest femme fatales, allowing countless Parisian men to fall into her lap without so much as a rise of a skirt hem, all hopelessly in love with her and in good company. She remains empathetic and relatable because of her feelings of inexplicable incompleteness, wanting, and dissatisfaction, even with her beauty, her high stature and good fortune, and her seemingly carefree and funloving allure. Though she makes a game out of her coquettry, she yearns to know what love really feels like. Alient Hearts is a perfect choice for a book club.

Bel Ami by Guy de Maupassant

Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe (1987)    Shermon McCoy (Shaw-min!) self-proclaimed ‘master of the universe’ takes one wrong turn, literally, and his Fifth Avenue lifestyle comes crashing down to his Italian handmade shoes. Hysterical, laugh-out-loud funny, Wolfe depicts the lifestyles of 1980’s Wall Street heavy hitters so spot-on, it almost feels wrong to admit how humorously truthful the story that lies beneath is. One of my top five favorite books of all time.

Claude & Camille by Stephanie Cowell   This novel about Claude Monet and his great love, Camille, completely encapsulated me. It is a book to be relished, to be enjoyed in quiet solitude, and not to be rushed through. I truly looked forward to returning to the beauty of Claude’s world in the late 19th century, where I felt I was a fixture of the setting just as he was, where I celebrated his few instances of good fortune along with him and his friends, where I felt the pain of his obstacles, setbacks, and challenges. Renoir, Cezanne, Pissarro, Manet… I often think of these great artists as indubiously successful when of course they struggled so throughout most of their careers. Cowell expertly interweaves history with a rich love story, supplying the various settings and backdrops for Monet’s various stages of life, all the while paralelling his emotions alongside his paintings. The events of the novel build slowly, and it feels like each chapter Monet takes one step forward and three steps back, but the ending is nothing short of a powerful force that leaves you entranced in its wake for days. It puts the little things, life’s trials and tribulations, in perspective. The Impressionists have always been my favorite amongst the many schools of art, but I now have a far greater appreciation for what they were trying to achieve, the complexities and simplicities, and for the beauty that they brought into our world. I will forever regard Monet’s paintings in a different way now that I better know and appreciate his mindset, his emotions, and his life.

The Confidant by Hélène Grémillon     An enveloping mystery weaved into a painful love story with no extraneousness or predictability. I whipped through this novel like the main character, cynical Camille, whips through the dubious letters that she receives every Tuesday. The setting is 1975 Paris, and Camille is a 30-something woman grieving the loss of her mother and facing the realities of her own less than ideal romantic situation. After receiving a few unaddressed letters that read like novels sent to the wrong person, Camille begins to trace elements of this World War II story to her own history. The reader is faced to wait as impatiently as Camille as the story slowly unwraps, from its ending to its beginning and finally to its climax, all attained through the various characters’ perspectives, so that it is hard to know who to believe. The tale is burdened with jealousy, wrath, betrayal, and death. Each twist is completely unexpected, each character is no where near what the reader initially believes them to be. The story reminds one that there is always more to learn about a person, and that the slightest misstep, the meekest misunderstanding, and the sheer power of our emotions can reel us into a set of actions that we never had in mind for ourselves.

Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman

Everything Beautiful Began After by Simon van Booy    A swoon-worthy novel set in Athens, Van Booy writes for all five senses, and his dreamlike story left me in a trance. I could smell the sweat in the ancient Greek city, I could taste the octopus grilled on a rented grill, I could hear the boat leaving the dock for the islands. Rebecca leaves her broken family in the French countryside in search of love and adventure in Athens. She meets George, a lonesome, vulnerable young man in search of self-appreciation and confidence. They both meet Henry, an accomplished young archaeologist harboring deep feelings of loss and failure that he keeps buried beneath the ancient ruins. The three are somehow interwoven into one another’s lives, for better or worse, until the city that offered them so much hope and promise suddenly sweeps the rug out from beneath them. Love, friendship, truth, compassion, the heartaches of family, and the struggle of forgiving oneself for events that we cannot ourselves control; all of the above told in Van Booy’s unequivocally lyrical prose. It is quite possibly the perfect novel with endless lines worthy of reading over and over again, with which to examine and contemplate ones own life. I wish this book never had to end.

Everything Changes by Jonathan Tropper

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

I Don’t Know How She Does It by Allison Pearson   The book is always better than the movie. Especially when the book takes place in London and is narrated by a whip-smart, fantastically sarcastic British mom with a killer wardrobe, but who is also likely to have spit-up on her Stella McCartney blouse.

In Office Hours by Lucy Kellaway    Set in London, a chic, smart, successful woman in finance stumbles into an office affair. A touching, sometimes very funny, sometimes agonizingly true, and always cheeky, story of life’s never-ending tangles and unanswerable questions ensues. More than a beach read, but not too heavy. I have a soft spot for sarcastic British humour, but I suggest this novel for it’s ability to quickly stir my emotions.

Incendiary by Chris Cleave

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

Keeping the House by Ellen Baker

Life Among Giants   by Bill Roorbach

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson    A Charming English village novel about love at all ages, loneliness, companionship, and the complicated relationships between human beings. If you haven’t had your humble pie this month, pick up Simonson’s best seller.

Marjorie Morningstar by Herman Wouk

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes    The kind of fast read that lingers under your skin for days and weeks after it sadly comes to the end; an end you were hoping you could somehow postpone. The characters are the sort that you have trouble saying goodbye to, and you feel strangely attached to each of them for their very real qualities. Each have imperfections that you can relate to, that you cannot really fault them for, and that make you empathetic for each at different times like a rotating wheel. Will is a successful, handsome, hotshot Brit turned severely depressed quadriplegic. Lou is a very ordinary girl in suburban England who has lost her abysmal job at the pie shop and is hired to ‘babysit’ Will, who has completely lost his lust for life. Moyes approaches a controversial topic from the varying viewpoints of the characters whose lives Will has touched, and the reader is left feeling torn between all of them. The dry British humor will have you laughing out loud one minute, and the next minute Moyes has you dumbly swatting a tear. Don’t roll your eyes- you will not be an exception.

Memories from Cherry Harvest by Amy Wachspress

One Day by David Nicholls   An incredibly funny and sad novel that I could read over and over again. It gets under your skin and stays there. Dry, British humor at its best. Nicholls is witty, adventurous, interesting, and interested, and his craft is enviable. It is quite rare for two characters to become so embedded into my thoughts and dreams as Dex and Emma. As always, the book trumps the movie.

Paris by Edward Rutherford

The Paris Architect

Sacre Bleu: A Comedy d’Art by Christopher Moore  Moore dives into the quirky lives of the Great French Masters in 19th century Paris, all of whom have fallen under the spell of the color blue, attempting to uncover the strange mystery behind Van Gogh’s sudden “suicide” and his desperate warning to beware the Colorman who haunted the impressionist until his death. Love, art, and bread intertwine at the top of the butte in Montmartre, as young baker/amateur artist Lucien tags along with Toulouse-Latrec and his crowd to unravel the secret power bestowed upon this Colorman, all the while chasing after his muse and the novel’s syphilis-spreading femme fatale, Juliette.  A portrait of late 19th century Paris is not complete without all of the major players, including Manet, Gauguin, Monet, Seurat, Pissarro, and Renoir, all expertly portrayed as the rebellious, independents that they were renowned to be. Famous paintings are inserted into chapters with hilarious captions that only Moore could come up with. Realism and surrealism blur together like shades of blue in a Monet, and Moore’s modern slang in the mouths of these historical figures is both bawdy and highly entertaining.

The Shoemaker’s Wife by Adriana Trigiani

Skippy Dies by Paul Murray

Us by David Nicholls

Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann

Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple

Winds of War by Herman Wouk

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