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Whoever came up with the expression “third time’s the charm” has clearly never met Greta Gerwig. Lady Bird, a coming-of-age story about a precocious teen who dreams of running away from her dull, small-town life, has already received a perfect 100% on Rotten Tomatoes—a mere three days after its wide release. Lady Bird marks Gerwig’s directorial debut, and though she’s written and acted in several other films, the fact that Gerwig’s work is being celebrated so early on in her directing career is pretty impressive.
Especially considering the company that Lady Bird and Gerwig now find themselves in. From old classics like Citizen Kane to newer favourites like O.J.: Made in America, the coveted 100% has proved to be a reliable indicator of quality since Rotten Tomatoes’ inception in 1998. And history shows that the Tomatometer doesn’t favour any one particular genre—foreign films, documentaries, blockbusters, animated films, and dramas alike have all earned 100% ratings. Even How the Grinch Stole Christmas! has a 100%.
So what do all of these so-called “perfect” movies have in common with one another? What special sauce do these films have that most others don’t? Let’s see if we can find out.
Lady Bird is funny, heart wrenching, and thoughtful. It’s easy to hate Lady Bird’s protagonist, the immature and imaginative Christine (Saoirse Ronan), but it’s just as easy to love her. And Christine’s complicated relationship with her mother (Laurie Metcalf) makes her quirks, flaws, and gifts all the more fascinating. Lady Bird’s not loud or showy, but you’ll probably still catch yourself thinking about it days, weeks, or even months after leaving the theatre.
The Terminator, on the other hand, is very loud and very showy. It’s not only directed by the King of Spectacle, James Cameron, but also stars Arnold Schwarzenegger. As a cyborg. So what made critics fall in love with The Terminator as quickly as they fell in love with Lady Bird? Maybe it’s the fact that, amid the chase scenes and the time travel, the movie still has a strong emotional core. And even though Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) is ultimately saved by baby daddy Kyle, there are still traces of the determined female heroine she would grow to become later on in the Terminator franchise.
Again, Toy Story—on the surface—doesn’t share many similarities with Lady Bird. But let’s break it down: a hopeful, idealistic, but slightly overdramatic hero (Woody) becomes more mature after experiencing a number of unexpected hardships. Similarly, Christine has to lose friends, make enemies, and experience pain before she grows as a person. The obstacles Woody and Buzz have to face are a lot wackier than Christine’s, but Woody, Buzz, and Christine all discover what and who is truly important to them by the time their respective stories come to an end. It’s worth noting that Toy Story 2 also has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes (Toy Story 3 only has a measly 99%).
In addition to being a whimsical musical that features dancing chimney sweeps and cartoon penguins, Mary Poppins is also a sweet story about the importance of combining work and play (or medicine and sugar). The trailer describes claims that Mary Poppins (Julie Andrews) is “the world’s most charming and delightfully eccentric heroine,” and that’s exactly what makes this movie so entertaining. Mary brings joy into the lives of Jane, Michael, and George Banks, and she—like Lady Bird—brings joy into our lives, too.
Tonally, Before Sunrise is a lot more like Lady Bird than most of the other items in this list. It’s about two “regular” people (i.e. the extremely photogenic Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy) who meet on a train and decide to spend time in Vienna together despite knowing nothing about each other. Like Lady Bird, much of Before Sunrise’s plot unfolds through seemingly mundane (but actually significant) conversations. The movie makes you believe that something unremarkable—meeting and falling in love with a stranger—can happen to you, because every other aspect of the movie seems fairly unremarkable. And that’s a big part of what makes it so good.
Like Mary Poppins, Singin’ in the Rain is a fun, candy-coloured musical that’s surprisingly profound. The singing and dancing is obviously top-notch (it’s Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds, so how could it not be?) but the most interesting part of the movie is its message about adapting to change. Performers Don and Kathy learn how to adjust when “talkies” become popular (and when they unexpectedly fall in love with each other). Similarly, Lady Bird’s Christine must accept the reality that she may have to drop her grand, big-city plans in favour of smaller, more easily attainable ones.
Speaking of Debbie Reynolds, Bright Lights is a masterpiece. Reynolds and her daughter Carrie Fisher were both talented, hilarious actors who burned brightly before sadly passing away late last year. This HBO documentary gives viewers a sense of just how close Reynolds and Fisher were and, like Lady Bird, proves how beautiful people can be in spite and because of their imperfections.