After attending a screening of the pleasant, but unremarkable, Cheri (which stars Michelle Pfeiffer and opens in theaters Friday), we got to thinking about why period pieces have a bad rap. Is it the language? The unfamiliar customs and landscapes? It’s definitely not the lack of nudity. (We’re looking at you, Jonathan Rhys Meyers.) So we decided to put together our own list of the best and worst period films — based on box office success and our personal preferences — to see if we can find a common thread. Join us, will ye?
1. Dangerous Liasons – We’ll kick it off with a more successful Michelle Pfeiffer turn, in honor of Cheri. A great cast helps this tale of debauchery and bored French nobility (we’ll ignore Keanu Reeves) plus copious amounts of sex and manipulation. It’s Gossip Girl, but with even more insane fashion.
2. Elizabeth – Elizabeth took one of the most stoic figures from AP European History and made her into a real, conflicted person. The fact that you have two of the stars from the mega-hit, Shakespeare in Love doesn’t hurt. And speaking of…
3. Shakespeare in Love – OK, it’s not historically accurate and it’s kind of ridiculous, but it also manages to be entertaining and accessible to both groups of people who see Shakespeare movies — people who can quote Shakespeare and people who get dragged to the movie because they’re dating people who can quote Shakespeare. Plus Dame Judi Dench got the record for the performance with the least screen-time to win an Oscar.
4. Pride and Prejudice – We were going to go with the BBC version here, but it’s a miniseries, so we’ll take the Keira Knightley version instead. It has everything that we period piece geeks go for; beautiful sets, lovely costumes, nice acting and gut-wrenching romance all with a pace that kept us interested. Nicely done!
5. Titanic – It may not be what you think of as a period piece, but it does in fact qualify; and we couldn’t leave out the most successful box office film in history, could we?
2. Beowulf – We hereby instate a new rule for filmmakers: if your characters are human and you have to hire human actors to do all the movements, do not put them in motion capture suits and turn it into CGI. Just freaking film them!
3. The Other Boleyn Girl – Once more, we cannot reiterate enough how important sex is in period pieces. There was no TV back then; they had to entertain themselves somehow. Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson, and no major skin scenes? Fail.
4. The Reader – A great performance doesn’t make a great movie (sorry Kate!) and this Holocaust turn lost steam and direction about 15 minutes in. It also kept The Dark Knight out of the best picture category, and this injustice shall not be forgotten!
Did we leave out your favorite (or put it on the wrong list)? Go ahead, let us have it in the comments.