As an equal opportunity movie writer and fan, I would be negligent and remissed if I didn’t show my friends of Italian ancestry the same love I did just this past weekend for my fellow Irish-Americans. For those who don’t know, today, just two days after St. Patrick’s Day, is the Feast of St. Joseph, or St. Joseph’s Day. Like Ron Burgundy, Joseph, the father of Jesus Christ, is “kind of a big deal” in Sicily (where he is the patron saint), Italy, and other predominantly Catholic countries. So, just as I showcased the “10 Best” Irish-themed movies in time for St. Patrick’s Day, I felt due diligence and respect needed to be paid today to an equal list of Italian-themed movies for St. Joseph’s Day. To my Italian-American readers and friends, take in this list of muddled stereotypes and relish in what the American audience thinks of you and your heritage. Enjoy!
10. (tie) Cinema Paradiso and Il Postino— Easily beating many cliched American movies that just happen to be set in Italy (yeah, stuff like you, Under the Tuscan Sun and The Italian Job), I will start the list with a pair of Italy’s own best works. Cinema Paradiso was the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar winner of 1989 and follows the childhood flashbacks of a film director and the father figure lessons he learned from the local projectionist. Il Postino, nominated for five Oscars in 1995 including Best Picture and Best Actor for the late Massimo Troisi, tells a great romance of a letter carrier and the love letters he desperately delivers. Both feature rapturous musical scores (one by Ennio Morricone and the other by Luis Bacalov) and beautiful Italian scenery. (trailer and trailer)
9. My Cousin Vinny— When it comes to Italian-American stereotypes, nobody does it better than Joe Pesci. Normally a supporting character, this was his breakout lead role in 1992 that also brought a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award to Marisa Tomei. This culture clash of NYC and the humble South is incredibly hilarious. (trailer)
8. Moonstruck— This 1987 romantic comedy from the great director Norman Jewison edges My Cousin Vinny for quality. Starring Oscar winners Cher, Olympia Dukakis, and a young Nicolas Cage, this Brooklyn blue-collar story ranks #41 on the AFI’s list of “100 Years… 100 Laughs,” #17 on their “100 Years… 100 Passions,” and stands as their #8 romantic comedy of all time. Standing 25 years old this year, it’s become a hidden gem to our current generation. (trailer)
7. Big Night— Speaking of hidden gems, no movie on this list is more hidden than this. Directed by actors Campbell Scott and Stanley Tucci and starring Tucci alongside Tony Shaloub, this 1950s-set drama/comedy from 1996 tells of a pair of brothers tirelessly hoping that hosting a big dinner for singer Louis Prima will save their failing New Jersey restaurant. There are few Hollywood movies about food better than this, while still being an excellent Italian immigrant story. (trailer)
6. Roman Holiday— No list of Italian-themed movies is complete without this Audrey Hepburn/Gregory Peck classic from 1953. With Hepburn as the regal crown princess and Peck as the expatriate reporter hoping to score a scoop, they make magic touring the Italian capital. Passing Moonstruck, Roman Holiday is #4 on AFI’s all-time “Passions” and romantic comedy lists. (trailer)
5. The Talented Mr. Ripley— Far darker than the streak of comedies and romances between #10 and #6 on this list, Anthony Mighella’s identity-stealing psychological thriller from 1999, based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel, does an outstanding job of showing Italy’s lavishness from the 1950s while still using it as a menacing backdrop for Matt Damon’s dark dealings as Tom Ripley. (trailer)
4. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly— One splinter film genre created in Italy that deserves prominence on this list is the “spaghetti western.” Clint Eastwood and Italian director Sergio Leone collaborated on three westerns shot in Spain that become “The Man with No Name” trilogy. Though the movies were shot in Spain and depicted the American West, their flair was entirely Italian. The greatest of those is 1966’s The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. The films made stars out of Leone, Eastwood, and composer Ennio Morricone. Currently, it sits #5 on the Internet Movie Database’s all-time Top 250 list. (trailer)
3. (tie) Raging Bull and Rocky— I know there’s a world of difference in the quality, story, and influence between the real-life Jake LaMotta of Raging Bull and the fictional Rocky Balboa of Rocky, but I can’t decide on a favorite. I’m sure, on paper, Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro’s collaboration is superior as a film in every way, but I can’t discount the energy and appeal of American’s best underdog story written by and starring Sylvester Stallone. I will have to call it a tie and get yelled at by cinema snobs who will kill me even comparing them. (trailer and trailer)
2. Goodfellas— Finally, we’ve come to the Big Two. To me, there is a mile-wide gap between the tie of Rocky and Raging Bull before you get to Goodfellas here at my #2, in terms of Italian-themed movies. Combining the talents of so many (Scorsese, De Niro, Pesci, Ray Liotta, Lorraine Bracco, and Paul Sorvino), this movie has so many quintessential Italian-American details: “as far back as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be a gangster,” the shaved garlic, the music, the nicknames, the lingo, the endless parade of Tonys and Marias, and so much more. One thing can top this for Italian flavor and everyone better know what it is. (trailer)
1. The Godfather trilogy— Without question, The Godfather is the absolute best for Italian-themed movies. It’s the only thing that could top the detail of Goodfellas. From the Sicilian heritage and history to the massively epic immigrant rise to power here in America, there are few movies, of any demographic theme, that are better than The Godfather in cinema history. It’s #1 on a more lists than space here allows to print. Even with a weak third chapter, the likes of Francis Ford Coppola, Mario Puzo, Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, James Caan, John Cazale, Diana Keaton, Talia Shire, and Robert De Niro will be forever remembered for this series’s greatness. (trailer)
Each of these excellent films are available for rental at your local west side Chicago area Redbox and Blockbuster locations and for purchase at your local west side Chicago Best Buy, Target, and Walmart stores. Keep an eye on Netflix and Amazon Instant Video as well! Happy St. Joseph’s Day!