We're all very much aware that the romcom genre is basically dying on the vine, but her trilogy of collaborations with Meg Ryan in the ten years between 1989 and 1998 are without a doubt the three best romantic comedies of the last 30 years (My Best Friend's Wedding would be #4, but she had no involvement with that). When Harry Met Sally... in 1989, Sleepless in Seattle in 1993, and You've Got Mail in 1998 is like some sort of magical romcom trilogy that I kept hoping Ephron would get to add to one day, but sadly that will never come to be. I don't know if she intended it, but I like how Sally is about two people who have known each other for years, Seattle is about two people who have never met, and Mail is about two people who've known each other, but don't realise who each other is. Really does make it feel like a connected series of films and not just three nice films made by the same person.
Nora Ephron's "What I Will Miss", photo courtesy of Sandi Sieger.
Those three works with Meg Ryan look more and more perfect every time I watch them. And I watch them all very frequently, so I know. They are all so smartly structured, intrinsically intelligent, and full of delicious observational wit - Ephron was Oscar nominated for the screenplays of the first two, alongside Silkwood in 1983 - but made so keenly made that they make for effortless viewing. They are modern day mainstream cinema at their finest and those screenplays, as wonderful as her books and essays, brought out the best in the actors. Tom Hanks may have two Oscars for Forrest Gump and Philadelphia, but the charm he exudes in Sleepless in Seattle in just beyond. Meg Ryan, no matter what she's done to her legacy and her face, will always be remembered for these works. Billy Crystal, too. Last year I wrote of rewatching You've Got Mail and falling absolutely, intoxicatingly in love with it again. These films are special to me and Ephron is the reason why.
I couldn't not mention the terrifying Silkwood, or the delightful and insightful Julie & Julia (I know a lot hated the Amy Adams segment, but I thought it had some great things to say about the life of a writer, especially given it was written by a woman in her late 60s). I'm even the one person on Earth who likes Mixed Nuts. I haven't seen all of her films - Heartburn is supposedly quite good; Hanging Up not so much - but even her failures, like Bewitched, tend to have buried gems of dialogue and character buried within them.
Of course, no matter how many fabulous movies she wrote and/or directed, no matter how many books she wrote (much like I enjoy The Golden Girls' observations of the lives of women in their 50s, Ephron's I Feel Bad About My Neck remains a hilarious read no matter the age or gender of the reader), I don't think anything she could do could possible overtake her three minute performance at the AFI's salute to Meryl Streep. Reeling of a dazzling list of A-grade gags, it's the sort of thing that could - and do - watch over and over and over again.
RIP Nora Ephron. Your wit will be missed, but I'm currently watching Sleepless in Seattle as I type this so it won't be forgotten.