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Amidst the bright colored bluster of early summer season blockbusters like Avengers: Age of Ultron, Mad Max: Fury Road, and Furious 7, it was easy to miss a small romantic comedy like Aloha sneaking into theaters. But Cameron Crowe’s latest does indeed make its way onto movie screens across the country this weekend, bringing a star-filled cast of Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, Bill Murray, and Alec Baldwin, among others, along for the ride.
Crowe is a filmmaker who takes his sweet time, often letting many years elapse between the releases of his projects, and as such, he only has a handful of titles on his resume. But it’s also part of why we tend to get excited when a new one pops up, and with that in mind, what better time to countdown our top five favorite Cameron Crowe movies than right now? This is, of course, a highly subjective list, so sound off in the comments below and let us know where you think we went wrong, and what you would have placed where.
5. Fast Times At Ridgemont HighOkay, maybe it’s bad form to start out with something of a loophole, as Fast Times at Ridgemont High isn’t exactly what you might call a "Cameron Crowe film." He did write the screenplay, and if you’re paying attention, his fingerprints are all over the place, but it is actually directed by Amy Heckerling. Still, it’s Crowe’s script, based on a book he wrote after going undercover at a San Diego high school (that in itself sounds like a movie), that gave us indelible characters like Jeff Spicoli, Mr. Hand, and Brad and Stacey Hamilton, and it shares a trait with his later filmography in that it features a killer soundtrack full of memorable music moments. Capturing the small details of high school life like few other films, the 1982 flick basically laid out the roadmap for a decade’s worth of bittersweet teen comedies, and who are we kidding, the influence is still readily felt today.
4. SinglesThis one is going to cause some debate, as Singles, Crowe’s 1992 relationship drama set in the heart of Seattle’s exploding music scene, admittedly doesn’t hold up as a movie quite as well as some others on his resume. Still, for fans of a certain age, this film captured the zeitgeist, portraying the city and the scene, as well as a bunch of slacker twenty-somethings clumsily trying to find their way through life and love. Singles is such a capsule of a specific time and place that it’s become a touchstone for an entire generation. Filming real bands, many of whom show up as extras and in small roles (most of Matt Dillon’s band Citizen Dick is made up by members of Pearl Jam), and filming in real clubs, some of which are still there, others relegated to memory (I used to live two blocks from the main apartment building and pass it everyday), it depicts a city and a scene and an era in a way most movies about such a precise time and place rarely do.
3. Jerry MaguireA lot of times, Jerry Maguire is so identified with the scene of Tom Cruise and Cuba Gooding Jr. bouncing around, shouting, "Show Me The Money!!!" into telephones that it’s easy to forget that Crowe’s 1996 romantic comedy-drama is actually a great movie. There’s a lovely romantic story, a sweet thread between Cruise and a small, bespectacled boy, and somehow Crowe weaves sports threads throughout as easily as he usually features music cues. Beginning cynical and ending up a heartwarming tale full of emotional and psychological connections, this is also Cruise doing some of his best, most varied work. Rightly or wrongly, he’s so identified as a movie star, people tend to forget that he can actually act when he puts his mind to it, something this movie reminds you of throughout. There’s a genuineness and generosity to Jerry Maguire that is moving and disarming, helping the film transcend and expand beyond the overall rom-com boundaries.
2. Almost FamousLoosely based on his experiences as a startlingly young music writer for Rolling Stone, Almost Famous is personal, autobiographical, and Crowe’s love letter to rock and roll (he’s fond of calling his movies "love letters"). Revolving around a young, sheltered journalist, the film shows him embark on a great adventure, but it’s about so much more than just a journey. It’s about camaraderie, friendship and love, family and fandom as much as it is about the music. A stellar cast has fantastic chemistry—the guys in the band fight like only people in a band can and do—and Almost Famous is populated by seemingly small scenes that are offbeat and quirky, the kind of things that only happen in the long periods of boredom on the road, that are also touching, heartbreaking, and heartwarming. It’s not necessarily the huge moments that have the most impact, it’s about showing how huge the small things can be.
1. Say AnythingFor a certain subset of the population, the image of John Cusack’s Lloyd Dobler standing in a field, holding a boombox over his head, blasting a Peter Gabriel song, is still the most romantic (if slightly stalkerish) moment in modern cinema (it also helped make Cusack the sensitive-man hearthrob). Funny, moving, and deeply invested in its characters and their lives, Say Anything feels like all of Crowe’s favorite themes and concerns coming together. He’s more invested in the onscreen action here than anywhere else in his entire filmography, which is saying something because he’s a filmmaker who tends to wear his heart on his sleeve in his films. There are bands named after this movie, episodes of sitcoms inspired by its lead character, I can’t count the number of records I’ve heard that use samples of dialogue, and that moment with Lloyd and his radio has become truly iconic, emblazoned on t-shirts, posters, stickers, and spoofed countless times. And there’s a damn good reason for that, and the lasting impression is a big part of why it sits at number one on this particular list.