Sometimes, you just gotta have a big ol Hollywood happy ending - kill the villain, kiss the heroine, say something suave, fade out. But often that's not good enough, and so frequently when watching movies, the endings disappoint me. I was really into The Departed until the last 10 minutes, for example, which left a sour taste in my mouth that I retroactively applied to the whole film. Endings are a big deal, and I worry that directors and screenwriters don't pay as much attention to them sometimes as they do to the beginning and middle. So I started compiling a list of my favorite endings of all time, and realized that I had a bias towards nontraditional happy endings. There are some twist endings I like, some really ambiguous ones I like, but most seem to fall into the previously mentioned category. Sometimes the hero gets the girl, sometimes not, and not everybody wins, but you walk away feeling good - at least content. So here's my list. Oh, and obviously:
**********************************MAJOR SPOILERS ABOUND*************************************
* The star indicates that this ending made me cry. I'm a sucker.
1. Fargo. One of the most heartwarming and understated endings imaginable. Before I saw this movie beginning to end, it was on TV, and a friend of mine declared that Marge and Norm Gunderson have one of the best relationships ever, which is definitely true. After crazy days of bloody murders and wood chippers, pregnant police chief Marge comes home to discover that her stay-at-home husband has won a bird-drawing contest and his mallard is being featured on a 3-cent stamp, and she congratulates him wholeheartedly. Then her husband happily rubs her pregnant stomach. It's effective precisely because it is so different from the rest of the movie.
2. Gone With the Wind. For such a blockbuster, it had a decidedly un-blockbuster-ish ending, probably because it was based on a novel. Rhett Butler famously tells Scarlett O'Hara that he doesn't give a damn what she does, while she tearfully begs him not to leave her after treating him like shit for years. She doesn't know what to do, but then she gets that glint in her eyes again, declares she'll think of a way to get him back, and says a terrific mantra: "After all, tomorrow is another day!" And you'll know she'll get what she wants, because she always does. If GWTW had been made today, they'd probably be hard at work on a sequel, but here's a film that knew when to stop.
3. Annie Hall. Long story short: he doesn't get the girl. But it's okay. Alvy is at first hopelessly depressed after the breakup, but moves on with his life and recounts his final meeting with the titular Annie in a voiceover after the characters have left the screen. He makes peace with their relationship and says that it was great just to know her, and says that, like the man who refused to turn in his brother who thought himself to be a chicken, relationships are totally irrational, but we go through it because we "need the eggs."
4. The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Andy loses his virginity. Then he breaks out into a rousing version of the song "Aquarius," and the whole cast joins him. Illogical, and perfect.
5. *The Apartment. Fran runs away from the man that causes her constant unhappiness, and heads for the apartment of nice guy Baxter, who has given up all hopes of being with her. Eschewing the traditional seal-with-a-kiss, though, that brilliant bastard Billy Wilder has Fran insist, over Baxter's "wtf-are-you-doing-here / omg I love you" exclamations, that they finish a gin rummy game they began weeks ago. The last line of the film is Fran saying "Shut up and deal" (the cards).
6. *Little Miss Sunshine. Over the course of their road trip to Olive's little-girl beauty pageant, every member of her crew has had something horrible happen to them: her parents' relationship gets worse, her brother realizes he can't become a pilot, her uncle is generally miserable, and her grandpa dies of a drug overdose. And when Olive begins her racy dance for the talent portion, her family realizes that something horrible could happen to her too. So they all jump onstage and dance with her, letting go of all their problems and issues with each other. It's hilarious, but touching. The family gets banned from attending any more pageants, but they drive away looking content.
7. Casablanca. Of course. Rick lets Ilsa leave on the plane OMG SACRIFICE. But he gets Claude Rains as a consolation prize, which is pretty cool.
8. *The Squid and the Whale. Some people say this ending is pretentious; I disagree. I absolutely love this movie because it's pretty much the exact story of my life in terms of my parents' divorce, but it's also hilarious and well-written. One of the major themes is the story of older brother Walt's "redemption" - that is, coming to terms with his identity post-divorce and forgiving his mother. The title refers to the exhibit he would visit with his mother at the Museum of Natural History, which he would always be afraid to look at. So the ending consists of Walt running epically to the museum and staring at it, to the beat of the awesome "Street Hassle" by Lou Reed. It's a minimalist way of saying that everything is gonna be alright.
9. *Lost in Translation. Bob and Charlotte form a special connection in Tokyo, despite their significant others. When it comes time for them to leave, they kiss, hug, and part ways forever. Bob also whispers something in Charlotte's ear, which is impossible to hear, but was actually recently revealed to most likely be, "I love you. Don't forget to always tell the truth." Allegedly, the kiss was also improvised in the heat of the moment while filming. Those two bits of trivia, discovered just now on IMDB, make this ending even better.
10. The Great Dictator. A satire of WWII before it even really happened? Charlie Chaplin was always cutting edge. And true to form, this movie provides plenty of laughs. But it gets serious at the end. Having been mistaken for dictator Adenoid Hynkel (also played by Chaplin), the unnamed Jewish barber takes the opportunity in front of a microphone to deliver an eloquent 10-minute speech about how men have to love and respect each other. I can't do it justice - the whole speech can be read here. He ends this address, being broadcast on the radio, with a personal message to his companion Hannah, telling her literally and figuratively to "look up." If it seems like a random ending, know that Chaplin in real life was a big pacifist whose liberal leanings did not sit well with the government. It suits the film, and also has a Big Message.