Harold and Maude
When Harold and Maude arrived in theaters in the winter of 1971, its maudlin humor and light ironic touches confused audiences used to movies with more bite, whether it was the youth-embracing The Graduate or the warmongering Patton. But this satiric melodrama eventually found its audience, and later helped inspire a new subgenre of romantic comedy, with the Farrelly Brothers, Wes Anderson, and even Judd Apatow hitting the same notes of love and desperation set in the most outlandish situations. The death-obsessed young Harold (played by Bud Cort, who showed up in Anderson's The Life Aquatic) and the life-loving septuagenarian Maude (Ruth Gordon) are still delightful, especially because the characters don't seem to be aware that they're cute and strange at the same time. By pushing the May-December romance plot to its logical extreme, Harold and Maude happily buries movies that relied on the most banal of transgressions to draw a crowd. And, by making a movie that laughs at death when Vietnam and Kent State overwhelmed the nation's capacity for tragedy, director Hal Ashby helped the next generation find a new stance to take when the world is crumbling around you: detached amusement.