by Kim Morgan
Special to MSN Movies
Sorry guys, but cinema just wouldn't be the same without movies for and about women. And we don't just mean movies about pretty women, but all women and their issues -- something many guys don't usually have the patience for in real life. That's what sisters are for, right?
Right... sisters or movies. Nothing like a tub of popcorn and a box of Kleenex to release female angst in the company of say, Barbara Hershey in "Beaches" (should I get a lip injection?) or Nicole Kidman in "The Hours" (should I get a nose job?). Whether good melodrama (like "Stella Dallas") or bad tripe (like "Fried Green Tomatoes"), chick flicks are not only distinct for annoying men, but also for saying something about the female experience that's either terribly stupid, yet real, or incredibly insightful. And -- again, sorry guys -- there's no stopping them. Last year we saw "The Hours" win awards and "White Oleander" win critical acceptance. This year we've got the older gal blockbuster hit "Something's Gotta Give" and the "youngish teacher and her lovely colts" movie, "Mona Lisa Smile" -- featuring chick-flick staple Julia Roberts.
So, we thought it was time to take a look back at the women who paved the way. In honor of those who have fought, cried and died on film, we present our top 10 list of the greatest chick flicks of all time. And fellas, keep reading ... we promise we won't tell.
10. "Steel Magnolias"
(1988) /"Pretty Woman" (1990)
The holy (or unholy) trinity of chick flicks, these three movies together almost add up to one decent film. Almost. Nevertheless, they are serious girl movies, ones you couldn't drag your boyfriend to even if he had a curious thing for Liza Minnelli. "Beaches" is a 10-hanky flashback fest chronicling the lives of two friends -- the spunky Bette Midler and the WASP beauty Barbara Hershey. One dies. "Steel Magnolias" stables a herd of Southern women played by the chick-flick honor roll of Sally Field, Dolly Parton, Shirley MacLaine, Daryl Hannah, Olympia Dukakis and Julia Roberts who deal with various female problems, but chiefly (you guessed it) death. And "Pretty Woman" has the best-looking Hollywood street walker (Julia Roberts) hooking up with corporate sleazebag Richard Gere. No one dies, but you kinda wish someone would. Still, if street cred could translate to chick cred, these films would be, for lack of a better phrase, keeping it real.
9. "The Women" (1939)
A classic woman's picture made by the frequently genius pro-feminine director George Cukor, "The Women" reveals female bonding and bitchiness in its purest form. Norma Shearer plays the devoted wife to a man who's cheating on her with the lower-class gold digger Joan Crawford. When she learns the news through gossip (in the beauty parlor!), she decides to leave him, but not without going through some psychological tumult. Aiding and/or sabotaging her pride is her circle of friends, Paulette Goddard, Mary Boland, Joan Fontaine and the loud-mouth, drama-loving Rosalind Russell. Though the film focuses on the idle rich, it gets female behavior perfectly without truly demonizing or talking down to any of these characters. Even mean Joan is met with a smidgeon of sympathy by film's end. Wonderful for its spiky dialogue and reflections on female friendships and marriage, it's simultaneously delicious and intelligently biting. It's also incredibly funny. And there's an all-color fashion show mid-way through. Forget Mel Gibson: Cukor really knew what women want.
8. "When Harry Met Sally" (1989)
It's impossible to make this list without little Meggy Ryan. In Rob Reiner's romantic comedy, the world (for better of worse) fell in love with her sometimes-annoying mop top-a-tude. It asked the question: Can a man or a woman be friends without "that sex thing getting in the way"? The film charmingly studies friends Harry (Billy Crystal) and Sally (Ryan) as they remain friends from their first can't-stand-each-other-meeting in 1978 and into the 1980s where they endure divorce, dating and, of course, sex. No matter how clichéd, certain moments have become classics -- like Ryan's fake orgasm deli scene. Unlike other Meg Ryan chick vehicles (the icky treacle "Sleepless in Seattle" and "You've Got Mail"), this one retained a certain spirit. The presence of Crystal certainly helps -- what girl wouldn't eventually fall for a guy who sings "Surrey with the Fringe on Top" in The Sharper Image?
7. "Grey Gardens" (1975)
Required viewing for every woman, this 1976 documentary by Albert and David Maysles gives a humorous, sad, poignant and bizarre glimpse into the intense relationship between mother and daughter. Here it is Big and Little Edie Beale, a mother and daughter who live their lives like a Flannery O'Connor story, holed up for decades in their dilapidated East Hampton mansion where cats pee on family heir-looms, raccoons are fed Wonder Bread and Little Edie (who is in her 50s) does interpretive dance. And that's just the beginning. What makes this story so unusual is their lineage: Edie is the aunt of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. We learn quite a lot about these women, like both were raving beauties in their time, filled with promise and entitlement. In spite of their destitution and lost chances, these women maintain a flair for life that's inspiring, particularly Little Edie, whose fashion sense (turbans made of turtleneck sweaters or wash towels, complete with decorative broach) and love of singing and dancing are incredibly artistic. Watching the film, you'll come to love the Beales and see elements of your own mother-daughter dynamic -- albeit in a highly exaggerated form.
6. "Sabrina" (1954)
Billy Wilder's "Sabrina" laid the groundwork for the "Pretty Woman" of the future. Audrey Hepburn plays Sabrina, the daughter of a chauffeur to the obscenely rich Larrabee family. She unrequitedly pines for Larrabee playboy son David (William Holden), even attempting suicide from his non-interest. Sabrina's given a second chance in life when her kindly father fulfills the major chick dream of sending her to Paris. When she returns home two years later, she's a sophisticated beauty and finally, David goes gaga for her. The wealthy family's not hip to David desiring a daughter of "the help" especially when he's set to marry a rich girlfriend so older brother, all-business Linus (Humphrey Bogart) has to gum up the works. But in doing so, HE acquires feelings for Sabrina that are much more real than David's. Terrific for the female make-over moment, and giving that guy you've worshiped his just deserts, "Sabrina" is also powerful for its message of taking another look at the quiet, serious man reading the stock quotes. Of course it helps when that guy's rich. And Humphrey Bogart.