Like many people, my quarantine was characterized by a lot of TV time. While I found myself sitting at home, I turned to movies and television shows I had never seen before, whether it was vintage film classics like Sabrina or juicy dramas like Gossip Girl.
But one day, upon rewatching the '90s rom-com You've Got Mail, I got into a discussion about Nora Ephron and her impressive filmography. Although I had heard the name, I had never realized that this daughter of two writers was the mind behind so many of my favorite films. I know, I know—blasphemous! But I'm a Gen Z baby, what can I say?
As I scrolled through her Wikipedia, I thought: "This is the same woman who wrote When Harry Met Sally... AND Julie & Julia?" I knew I had to watch every single one of her films.
So, after a few months of tracking down hidden gems and rewatching some old favorites, (not including her production on All I Wanna Do or her uncredited co-write on The Super) I can now confidently put forth my ultimate ranking of every Nora Ephron movie. Here goes...
14. ‘Mixed Nuts’ (1994)
Look, I'm a sucker for a Christmas movie. Whether it's the vulgarity of Bad Santa or the tenderness of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, I eat it up. However, Ephron's '94 flick Mixed Nuts does not stand up to some of the holiday classics (and its title alone is indicative of the goofiness of the film). While it boasts stars like Steve Martin and Juliette Lewis, the slapstick nature of the film felt like it was trying to compete with staples like National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, and even some fruitcake fighting and a serial killer subplot just couldn't salvage this one for me.
13. ‘Lucky Numbers’ (2000)
This was the only title that Ephron ever directed without writing the screenplay...and it certainly shows. Without the magic of Ephron's pen, Lucky Numbers just falls apart. John Travolta stars as Russ Richards, a cheesy local weatherman who uses various (and sometimes offensive) costumes and skits to rise to the top until he finds himself in money trouble. While I've seen plenty of get-rich-quick narratives (and I never tire of them), this dramedy fell short of feeling lucky.
12. ‘Cookie’ (1989)
In the same year that Ephron released the beloved When Harry Met Sally…, she co-wrote the script for a darker flick titled Cookie. While my assumptions about Ephron's movies were solely based on the classic rom-coms I had seen, I soon learned that she could imbue a grittier element into her movies as well. In Cookie, the eponymous protagonist (played by Emily Lloyd) reunites with her estranged father, where she enters into a world of cheating, murder and lies. While Cookie kept me engaged, too many of the jokes were a little outdated for this one to stand out among her best.
11. ‘Hanging Up’ (2000)
One of the movies I was most excited for when I embarked on my Ephron quest was Hanging Up, a 2000 comedy based off a book written by Ephron’s sister, Delia. Hanging Up stars Meg Ryan, Diane Keaton and Lisa Kudrow as three dysfunctional sisters who deal with the worsening health of their father (Walter Matthau). While Kudrow nails it as a dramatic soap opera actress and Matthau pulls plenty of laughs as a shamelessly flirtatious geriatric patient, I often felt frustrated at Ryan's unfortunate situation in the film, which took away from many of the laughs.
10. ‘Michael’ (1996)
Long before I decided to explore Ephron's films, the 1996 fantasy flick Michael was introduced to me by my mother, who had seen the movie when it first became a hit back in the '90s. When I took this nostalgic trip with my mom, I couldn't deny my love for John Travolta as the slovenly, cigarette-smoking archangel, Michael, who is sent to Earth to help bring two lovers together (Andie MacDowell and William Hurt). While Michael could be guilty of overdoing the cheesiness (I mean, this is basically Cupid reimagined), it was undeniably a fun watch.
9. ‘My Blue Heaven’ (1990)
While Nora Ephron's third husband, Nicholas Pileggi, was writing Goodfellas about real-life mob boss Henry Hill, Ephron was drafting her own perspective of Hill's story. The result was the 1990 black comedy My Blue Heaven, starring Steve Martin. While her Christmas collaboration with Martin did not win me over, My Blue Heaven was far more endearing, feeling like a prologue to other comical portraits of antiheroes (think The Sopranos with a more outrageous Tony). If you can get past Steve Martin's haircut, this is one of Ephron's more daring works.
8. ‘Bewitched’ (2005)
When I first saw the 2005 adaptation of Bewitched as a kid, I had never even heard of Elizabeth Montgomery or the eight-season-long sitcom that inspired the movie. Now, as an adult revisiting the film (and someone who has still never seen the original Bewitched series—sorry!), I find myself just as enchanted by Nicole Kidman's turn as the nose-wagging Samantha Stephens, and the surprising chemistry between her and typical funnyman Will Ferrell. While critics may have been harsh when it first came out, I think Bewitched contains troves of Ephron's screenwriting magic.
7. ‘Heartburn’ (1986)
After watching Heartburn , I was unsurprised to find that the movie was based on the actual relationship between Ephron and her second husband—famed journalist Carl Bernstein. The scorn that Rachel Samstat (Meryl Streep) feels for her husband (played by Jack Nicholson) burns throughout the entire movie, and you practically root for this couple to stay apart. While the unlikeable nature of the leads kept this movie from the top of my list, the famous pie scene is one of the best endings to a movie I've ever watched.
6. ‘Julie & Julia’ (2009)
Teaming up with Meryl Streep again (in case you couldn't tell, Ephron loved frequent collaborators), this was Ephron's final film before her death in 2012, and in my opinion, she certainly went out with a bang. By taking two stories about ambitious women across time, Ephron highlighted the feminist themes of her films, while maintaining the playful storytelling that made her so well-revered. While I can't get enough of Meryl Streep's magnetic performance (and this movie always makes me super hungry), this is one of Ephron’s that I’ve come back to again and again.
5. ‘This Is My Life’ (1992)
Ephron made her directorial debut with This Is My Life in 1992 and it's easily one of her best (and most-underrated) films. In a story about a mother-of-two who aspires to be a stand-up comedian, this movie shows the difficult balance between parenthood and careers. And while this was one of Ephron's earlier films, it covers so many themes that are still being discussed to this day. I was reminded of recent shows like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and even The Crown with their tales of ambition and motherhood. Ephron always had a knack for presenting unexplored female narratives, and this is one I will certainly be telling everyone to watch for years to come.
4. ‘Silkwood’ (1983)
In Ephron's Hollywood breakthrough, she told the story of Karen Silkwood, a plutonium plant worker who started investigating her workplace when she believed her supervisors were exposing their workers to radiation. While Silkwood thematically deviates from most of Ephron's work, it clearly stands out as one of her best and it mirrors other massive hits like Erin Brockovich (but with a bit of a darker twist). Ephron received her first Oscar nomination with Silkwood, and she certainly proved her skills from the very start. My eyes were glued to the screen the entire way through.
3. ‘You’ve Got Mail’ (1998)
One of the great rom-coms of the ‘90s and one of Ephron’s classic Hanks-Ryan collabs is You’ve Got Mail. This is one that I've revisited throughout the years (and gotten into many discussions with friends over the big business propaganda of the film). But, while small-business owners may have reason to complain, You've Got Mail is always such a joy, with the witty banter between business rivals Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) and Joe Fox (Tom Hanks), and a clever enemies-to-lovers narrative that still feels especially relevant in this digital age.
2. ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ (1993)
Like so many of the films in this list, I grew up with Sleepless in Seattle. As a kid, my parents often tried to get me to appreciate some of their favorite films, to which I wasn't always the most receptive. But, while many movies didn't grab my attention, something about Sleepless in Seattle always did. Maybe I saw myself in 8-year-old Jonah, or maybe I was just dazzled by that perfect ending on the Empire State Building. Either way, this other collab between Ephron, Hanks and Ryan stands out as one of her best, and simply one of the best romantic movies of all time.
1. ‘When Harry Met Sally…’ (1989)
When Harry Met Sally… is such a classic that it was on my radar long before I had ever even seen it, having eaten in the famous Katz's Delicatessen on a family trip to New York (where I wasn't old enough to have the "I'll have what she's having" joke explained to me). And even though I grew up hearing lines from this film quoted on repeat, none of them fell flat once I actually did watch the movie. When Harry Met Sally is one of the greatest romantic comedies of all time, not only because it breathed new life into the genre, but because it offered a rare cinematic take on both sides of a relationship. While my list of favorite rom-coms is very, very long, this will always stand near the top and it will always reign as one of my favorite movies of all time.
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