Prepping for Valentine’s Day with A&F’s “Top 25 Films on Marriage”

A group of bloggers from Patheos’ Movie Channel — including Jeffrey Overstreet and Peter Chattaway, two cinematic commentators I’ve been following for most of my Internet life – are also regular contributors to Image Journal/the Arts & Faith Forums. (The inimitable Steven D. Greydanus is a regular there, as well, but he has somehow managed to elude us. For the moment.)

Yesterday — I wonder why they picked early February? — they released their third “Top 25″ list: The Arts & Faith Top 25 Films on Marriage. And as someone with both a long-time  interest in many of the writers and with an unhealthy obsession for any/all movie lists (as well as an ever-growing appreciation for this marriage business), I was instantly trapped.

On his simultaneously-released “Good Letters” post, M. Leary of Filmwell — another regular stop on my cinematic stalking rounds — discusses why films about marriage are often so much more fascinating than they appear “on paper:”

While from the outside our narrative arc may have a tedious domestic teleology, beneath it lurk these moments through which I catch a glimpse of what we have built together, bit by misshapen bit; each frame a record of the quick gestures between us that themselves contain deep pools of narrative.

In the same way, marriage in this film list seems to evolve over time as its own species of narrative; it may be hard to catch at first glimpse, as it is artfully embodied in the casual gesture, the passage of two figures across the frame in a certain way, or the edit that contains a decade of emotions.

What marriage may lack in narrative, it expresses in form and composition.


These sort of lists are great fun, and this one captures a number of my own personal favorites, including Hobson’s Choice (which cannot be recommended enough), In America, and my definitive “Grow Old Together” film: Tokyo Story. It also contains the film that muscled its way into last year’s “Most Unusual, Unexpected, and Undoubtedly Awesome” category: Certified Copy. It still haunts me. (For more spoilerish but wonderful commentary on the aforementioned film, try Overstreet.)

Sadly, I have yet to see the McCarey-helmed and Greydanus-blurbed Make Way for Tomorrow. I am deeply ashamed. To atone, I’m setting myself the task of working my way down this list until I’ve seen all 25. I should be able to fit that in before Valentine’s Day, right?

And then, just for good measure, I’ll watch a couple of my own personal favorites from the “Marriage” genre: Unbreakable and Ushpizin. And the beginning of Up. (Odd. They all start with “U.” I don’t think I’d ever noticed that before.)

Anyone else have their own favorites?

About Joseph Susanka

Joseph has been doing development work for institutions of Catholic higher education since graduating from Thomas Aquinas College in 1999. A grateful resident of Wyoming, he spends his free time exploring the beautiful Wind River Mountains, keeping track of his (currently) seven sons, being amazed by his (currently) lone daughter, and thanking his lucky stars for Netflix.

  • Julie Davis

    A film my husband and I return to again and again is The Paper, directed by Ron Howard, starring Michael Keaton and Marisa Tomei, among a large cast. The issues of juggling marriage and job, impending motherhood and trust in both spouses’ involvement, and how the little decisions all add up to our big life choices are key to marriage. Plus it’s got a terrific story about the reporting biz. :-)

    • Joseph Susanka

      I’ve been wandering ’round the outskirts of this film for years, Julie, but have never seen it. I’ll add it to the list. (Duvall and Robards? Why, yes. I’d love some.)

  • Anna Johnson

    Glad you linked Fiddler on the Roof–that was one of the films that garnered the most disappointment when it didn’t quite make the list. It’s a favorite of the A&F community too.

    • Joseph Susanka

      That’s fun “insider” information to have, Anna. Thanks! (I wondered about the methodology a bit — not because I disagreed; far from it. But I’m inveterately curious, so… Leary said that there were over 40 folks involved, but how did the final list come to be? Was it simply a “Most Votes = #1, and On From There?” Or something else?)

      One of the things I love about that film (especially in this context) is that it offers such a range. Tevye and Golde have the central relationship, to be sure. But the experiences of the three daughters all come into play, as well, and provide for a many-faceted understanding. Love that.