Mia, Brian and Gemma discuss their fave noms and gongs from the latest guild shortlists. A quick look at the Golden Globes, the EE BAFTA Rising Star award public voting is open! And it’s animation time: Turning Red director Domee Shi has a message for the Letterboxd community, and we go deep on Akira Kurosawa, Ingmar Bergman and Sergio Leone with Puss in Boots: The Last Wish director Joel Crawford. Then, we re-evaluate the 1976 Best Director Oscar lineup.
Thirst for Love: Our first movie crushes
For Valentine’s Day, the Letterboxd crew and filmmakers reminisce about the movie characters that first gave them funny feelings.
You’ve gathered a sibling or a few friends, you’ve got the popcorn and soda, you’ve pressed play on tonight’s movie, when a new face appears on screen and an unfamiliar feeling rises from deep within you. Nothing will ever be the same. You’re all Bugs Bunny heart ears, you’ve inked “Love You” on your eyelids, you’re William Thacker babbling on in a bookshop about lighting fires and wrapping fish.
Movies are a fine way to learn about ourselves: our dreams, our tastes, our desires. A movie crush can unlock our sexual essence and gently help us begin the process of erotic self-discovery. A movie crush is safe: there’s no chance the object of our pre-teen affection will shame us in the schoolyard, no danger of them rejecting us. A movie crush can last forever, or just for a fleeting summer until the next blockbuster heartthrob comes along. But you never forget your first.
So this Valentine’s Day we wanted to learn more about the silver screen dreamboats who made the funny feelings first tingle in the Letterboxd team. As the lovers’ holiday approached, we also sneaked in some lovelorn first-crush questions to a few actors and filmmakers we met along the way. Let’s kick off with a Swedish heartthrob mooning over an Oscar-winner.
It was Jessica Lange in Tootsie. That was not only my first movie crush, but probably the first time I’ve had a crush, period. I just felt something that I hadn’t felt before. It was very confusing to me. I can remember watching that movie, I was very young, but I just remember being drawn to Jessica’s character. I was just like, ‘I don’t know why, but I want to see more of her.’
A View to a Kill (1985)
Grace Jones as badass assassin, chauffeur and lover May Day in her hooded Azzedine Alaïa looks. Her tragic journey from antagonist to anti-hero. A self-sacrificial act of explosive proportions. Hell, yes! (Not to mention Jones getting her bodyguard boyfriend Dolph Lundgren his acting debut!) These are all things I know now. Back then, I had only tingly, weird feelings when May Day, in a buttless black leotard, spars with a peroxided Zorin (Christopher Walken!), then beds Roger Moore in his final stand as Bond. My parents had a habit of taking us to 007 movies like they were wholesome family entertainment, but from the nude-swimming title sequence of For Your Eyes Only to May Day’s thigh-high boots in A View to a Kill to Mujahideen rebel and thirst king Kamran Shah in The Living Daylights, they only have themselves (and Barbara Broccoli) to blame for however I turned out.
The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)
While I imagine that I saw Steven Spielberg’s original dino adventure first, the memory that’s seared into my brain as my introduction to Jeff Goldblum’s brainy spark plug Ian Malcolm is seeing him take center stage in The Lost World. No longer the sidekick who bares his chest and lays on a table for half the movie (but was still so magnetic they couldn’t kill him off like Crichton did in the novel), Malcolm returns for the sequel as a full-fledged leading man, and I was in heaven. With his peculiar mannerisms, soothing bedtime voice, striking leather jacket and impossibly perfect curled locks, my head may have taken another decade to realize I was gay but Jeff Goldblum allowed my heart to see it early. Soon, my longing obsession with my Ian Malcolm action figure would all become clear.
Pretty Woman (1990)
I don’t know if I was obsessed, but every time I saw Julia Roberts I used to be really attached to the film, to the screen, and I used to lock myself to the TV, to the big screen. She had something so attractive, so unconventional. I was a big fan of hers since Pretty Woman. Ah, Catherine Zeta-Jones, my goodness, how can I forget her?! Mask of Zorro was one of my first films [where] I enjoyed her work, and ever since I’ve followed her work, in Entrapment and so on.
Flushed Away (2006) and Music and Lyrics (2007)
In early 2007, a besuited cartoon rat and an aging pop star united with one common goal: to drive impressionable twelve-year-old me absolutely bonkers. Along with their 3.1-star average ratings, the pair share much in common: they’re both played by Hughs, boast great hair and a knack for gyrating dance moves, and while the upper-crust Roddy is flushed away, the similarly posh Alex is washed up. I am more than willing to be the quirked up broad who keeps these Englishmen grounded (represented by Kate Winslet’s Rita and Drew Barrymore’s Sophie, respectively), but they’ll have to battle for my heart, Bridget Jones-style.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
When I first watched The Lord of the Rings, ten-year-old me was plagued by nightmares of the snarling Uruk-hai emerging from the mud. Fortunately, a certain lithe elven warrior promised protection. Legolas’ silken tresses and ethereal grace burned bright in my mind and sparked innocent fantasies of riding around Middle Earth together, holding hands and feasting on lembas bread. He’s also crucially the boy band member of the group, possessing a squeaky-clean sexuality that never overwhelmed or threatened my nascent desires. My allegiances later shifted to Viggo Mortensen’s considerably more grimy and earthly Aragorn—a transformation that I haven’t experienced alone.
High School Musical (2006)
Lust first introduced itself to me via Rebecca Romjin as mercenary Laure Ash in Brian De Palma’s Femme Fatale, but it was yet another blonde with delicate features and beautiful blue eyes who became the object of my first bout of proper infatuation: Zac Efron as Troy Bolton in Disney’s seminal 2000s classic High School Musical. The high-schooler torn between theater and basketball was many a millennial’s dream, his sensitive soul laid bare onstage while his skin glistened under droplets of sweat shed in court. Efron’s gorgeous golden locks were a staple on my teenage bedroom walls for years—until Edward Cullen, of course.
Jump In! (2007)
I, too, was enamored by Zac Efron’s Troy Bolton in High School Musical (so much so that my mom still remembers him by name seventeen years later). The following year, Disney Channel released a thematically similar but lesser-known flick called Jump In! led by Efron’s HSM co-star Corbin Bleu. What Efron and Bleu’s characters had in common (aside from their sheer charm) was their navigation around toxic masculinity and defiance of gender roles. I guess I had a type! Bleu became the sole object of my desire for years to come; I clipped his pictures out of teen life magazines and named my guinea pig Corbin. Oh, to be thirteen years old and in love.
Oh my god. Winona Ryder. Mermaids. Actually, between Winona Ryder and Christina Ricci. By the time it was Addams Family era, the crush was thick and hard and already established for Christina Ricci. Mermaids, she was a younger sister of Winona Rider. And Cher was her mother.
Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed (2004)
What needs to be said about that leather jumpsuit that another queer woman hasn’t already said? Life-changing, eye-opening, iconic costuming! “Who’s your mommy?” More seriously, this scene and Shaggy’s magic potion ‘chick’s body’ which, honestly, I would also classify here without elaborating further, likely subconsciously assisted me in understanding my gender and sexuality more than any other childhood film. I was enamored by live-action Velma’s nerdy chic in the first film as well, yet the way Cardellini retains the awkwardness while transforming her presence not only speaks to her talent, but is likely single-handedly responsible for thousands of similar 2000s-era gay awakenings. Fitting for a character who was supposed to be a lesbian during the first film’s development, years before the recent canonization!
Easy A (2010)
My high-school years coincided with the rise of movie star Emma Stone, though Easy A releasing freshman year alone would have cemented her as my number-one crush. That voice! That hair! That Natasha Bedingfield sing-along! Unfortunately, a class assembly involving a hypnotist made my feelings known to the entire student body. Put under while on stage, I was led to believe my shoe was a phone, ringing with a call from my “secret admirer”. This was Emma, naturally. Shoe to my ear, she made me laugh (she was as funny as anticipated) and blush (she was absurdly charming). We made plans to see a movie. Snapped out of my trance, I remembered nothing, but classmates delighted in jogging my memory, all year long.
I’ve had so many answers for my first movie crush, but what actually constitutes crush status more than funny feelings? Diving into a filmography because of those feelings. Going off people who’ve known me since I was a teenager who lost their minds when I first met and interviewed Natalie Portman, it is unquestionably her whom I most closely held the longest funny feelings for. And it started in Heat, with Lauren, the first person I’d seen my age harboring dark thoughts and being treated like an adult. Her objectification at this age is absent from Michael Mann’s lens and though Lauren’s arc makes for an odd answer to this prompt, honestly, my aching heart for this character probably set forth two decades of the type I pursued: a brunette with a troubled past, just like me.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)
I will never forget watching Cat on a Hot Tin Roof for the first time, and more importantly the first time I ever saw Paul Newman. Eyes so blue they were like tropical waters, a voice so smooth it made my heart stop, and swagger so off the charts I thought I would never, ever recover. Paul’s character Brick was so heartbreaking and charming, I was smitten from the moment I saw him. From there a lifelong love for the actor began and I have never been the same since.
The Sound of Music (1965)
Amid the G-rated pleasures of The Sound of Music, the sexual charisma of Christopher Plummer as Captain von Trapp radiated through my childhood as loudly as Do-Re-Mi. Sleek in his form-fitting naval uniform, his hair in an immaculate side-part, he was the original officer and a gentleman, with a thrilling air of sexual danger. Note his perverse smile when Julie Andrews sits on a pine cone, and the white-hot flames when they dance together at the ball. Then there’s the riding crop he brandishes so expertly at the delighted-looking Baroness. How could my juvenile queer self be anything but besotted?
I was ten years old when Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera) first jogged across my family desktop screen and into my heart. It wasn’t his gangly bod or suggestive golden short-shorts that captured me. It was the soft way he casually adored Juno and her particularities, while maintaining a sense of self outside of loving her. His famous admission of “I try really hard, actually,” in response to Juno’s acknowledgment of his seemingly effortless smarts and kindness. Talk about searching for a love you can live inside of! Benny ‘the Jet’ Rodriguez (The Sandlot) and Nani (Lilo & Stitch) tie for my runners-up.
Adventures in Babysitting (1987)
I was a tad too young and crane kick-focused to properly pay attention to Elisabeth Shue in The Karate Kid, but by the time Adventures in Babysitting (released as A Night on the Town in New Zealand because they didn’t think people outside America knew about babysitting) rolled around, my ten-year-old self could only ask the question: why wasn’t this person my babysitter? Shue is very funny in the underrated film, and as much as I want to ascribe my youthful crush to her girl-next-door sass and corn-fed good looks, the character’s mama bear maternal ferocity probably played a role.
(TW: Suicide.) Growing up as a teen in the ’80s not knowing if I liked boys or girls, there was one thing that I did know, and it was that I had a crush on Molly Ringwald. How could you not crush on her in Sixteen Candles or Pretty in Pink? (Those soundtracks!) My top crush, though, is Lonnie, the role she played in the TV movie Surviving. A suicide survivor with scars on her wrists, she is seen as damaged goods. That doesn’t stop Rick (Gremlins’ Zach Galligan) falling in love with her, and an awful chain of events leads to a Romeo and Juliet style finale. The image of them dying together for love stuck with me growing up young and queer; for if your love is forbidden, what reason is there to live? I survived the ’80s, and Molly Ringwald helped me through.
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005)
As a young child with two older sisters, I would watch movies a little sooner than I should’ve. Watching The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, many aspects stood out to me: the turkish delight, James McAvoy as Mr. Tumnus, Aslan the lion. But as soon as I laid eyes on Peter, played by William Moseley, I knew I was in love. His accent, the blonde hair, the smolder. I had a crush, for the first time. So much so that my sisters and I saved up our allowance to go buy one of Peter’s prop swords used in the film. We hung it in our TV room, so that every time I walked in my house, there was a piece of Peter there with me.
The X Files (1998)
I’m going to guess that I’m not the only bisexual millennial whose semi-formed mind was blown by The X Files. Mulder with his quiet confidence and ambient horniness, Scully with her brilliant mind and sharp tailoring—the tension between these characters reflected my inner turmoil about who I was supposed to like, and why it was hard to choose. And seeing my sexy, ultra-serious FBI agents projected twenty feet tall on a movie screen was even more overwhelming. That being said, I currently follow several Gillian Anderson fan accounts and no David Duchovny ones, so in the end she won.
The Trouble With Angels (1966)
It was the late ’60s or early ’70s, when I was a pre-teen, that one of the few channels we could receive by antenna started showing The Trouble with Angels around Christmas time. I was immediately smitten by the spunky and mischievous Hayley Mills as Mary Clancy. There was something about her strength and her compassion that melted my heart. And oh my goodness, she was a cutie. As a kind of tradition, I’ve watched it most Christmas seasons over the ensuing 50+ years, and I must admit that I’m still in love with Hayley.
17 Again (2009)
I’d probably found movie stars attractive before the age of fifteen, but Zac Efron’s leather jacket and Aviator sunglasses one–two taught me what proper lust felt like. It was a few years after McFly’s gelled-down, hair-straightened era for the Wonderland tour (first ever live show for me) and to see Efron, only a year after graduating from the High School Musical series, step out of that car into high school (yes, always) as a younger Matthew Perry (this didn’t age too well) hellbent on making everyone fall in love with him once more—his smile was like a bolt of lightning. The purest, coolest, most basically beautiful first impression I have ever seen.
(500) Days of Summer (2009)
As a regularly heartbroken teenager, I naturally saw myself as Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Tom, the hopeless romantic and what the internet now calls a “sadboi”. Therefore Deschanel’s Summer, what the internet now calls a “manic pixie dream girl”, was the woman of my dreams. As I matured, telling people I loved (500) Days of Summer started to feel like a red flag; Gordon-Levitt himself rightfully criticized the film’s influence on young men like me. So luckily, while I’m just as much of a sadboi at 29 as I was at 16, I never really got into New Girl.
She was so standoffish. So tough. So in your face. Oh sure, my thirteen-year-old self thought I kept going back to the theater (thirteen times) for the tunes and Kenickie. And yet, I knew all of Rizzo’s tunes by heart. Hell, I knew every one of her lines by heart. She was my idol, my third-finger salute to all the moms playing Barbie dolls with their daughters. I started donning work boots and work socks with skirts and a ‘just try it’ attitude that would freeze anyone who dared talk about what femininity should look like.
I grew up loving Shah Rukh Khan, but I think the first Hollywood film I saw was perhaps Titanic, and I thought Kate Winslet was like a god. Since then of course there have been many, many. But Kate Winslet for me, was a god.