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R.I.P. Nora Ephron (1941-2012)

The writer and director of Sleepless in Seattle died Tuesday night at the age of 71. We already miss her.

 

If you've ever seen Meg Ryan orgasm in a restaurant, you too will be saddened to learn that Nora Ephron, who wrote the wonderful screenplay for When Harry Met Sally… passed away Tuesday night. The cause of death, given by her son to The New York Times, was pneumonia, brought on by a six-year bout with acute myeloid leukemia. Nora Ephron was an accomplished essayist, but to those of us at CraveOnline's Film Channel, she was a director who brought a little love into the world. And introduced us to the merengue.

Ephron's death is indeed a sad day, but while we lament her passing dearly (it's really struck me hard, to get a little personal), it's important to remember that first and foremost, at her best, she made us laugh and cry and feel something beautiful. Her directorial debut, This is My Life, starred Julie Kavner as a single mom who jeopardized her relationship with her daughters, Samantha Mathis and Gabby Hoffman, to pursue a career in stand-up comedy. This is My Life comes across as her Nora Ephron's most personal film, an almost too-sincere slice of life family drama that celebrates a woman's independence while challenging her traditional but committed role as a mother. As the daughter of Henry and Phoebe Ephron, who co-wrote the 1958 Spencer Tracy/Katherine Hepburne classic Desk Set, it's easy to imagine young Nora Ephron with her even younger sister Delia (who co-wrote many of Ephron's films) coping with many of the same familial issues arising from a showbiz family.

Sleepless in Seattle, on the other hand, is more likely to go down as Nora Ephron's legacy. At turns nostalgic and modern, romantic and even slightly creepy, the 1993 ode to true love and, equally important, An Affair to Remember resonated with audiences and made Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, for a time, the Tracy and Hepburne of the 1990s, even though their previous film pairing, Joe vs. The Volcano, failed to make an impression despite rave reviews. In 1998, Ephron reteamed with Hanks and Ryan to remake Ernst Lubitsch's romantic comedy classic The Shop Around the Corner by updating the pen pal lovers (who hate each other in "real life") into the anonymous internet era. The result was You've Got Mail, a financial success that was nevertheless considered a step down for the director, who went on to write and direct some flops throughout the 2000s before her last film, Julie & Julia, earned rave reviews for Meryl Streep's performance as famed chef Julia Child and returned Nora Ephron to box office glory.

But our favorite Nora Ephron movie was actually directed by Herbert Ross. My Blue Heaven stars Steve Martin as Vincent "Vinnie" Antonelli, a mobster exiled to suburbia after enrolling in the Witness Protection Program. Endessly quotable ("Nice day for a mow!"), pitch perfect and very sweet, the film also has a curious pedigree. It was based on the life of Henry Hill, the subject of Martin Scorsese's classic mob saga Goodfellas, which was based on the biography written by Nicholas Pileggi, Ephron's third husband, now widowed. Ephron's second husband, famed reporter Carl Bernstein, was one of the key investigative reporters in the Watergate scandal, and the subject of the film All the President's Men. After their acrimonious split, Nora Ephron openly, accurately and repeatedly revealed the true identity of "Deep Throat" as none other than Mark Felt, who finally proved Ephron right when he outed himself to Vanity Fair in 2005.

Whatever your favorite Nora Ephron movie, or whether you simply loved her books and essays, take a moment to remember the contributions the talented writer/director made to your state of mind, if only for the course of a movie or two. She will be missed.