Some movies I watch every year, or at least every other year. These are not necessarily the “best” movies; I recently realized I tend to watch these on a seasonal basis – they feel most right and comfortable at certain times of year. In many cases, my impressions intermingle with my recollections of first watching the films. So, the seasons: my Top Ten Movie Perennials.
Nobody’s Fool (1994)
Richard Russo’s novel is one of my favorites, and Robert Benton’s adaptation is just about perfect. My favorite Paul Newman performance, and as a bittersweet bonus the movie features a very young Philip Seymour Hoffman. This is a winter movie through-and-through – themes of old age and obsolescence dominate, and a major subplot concerns a snowblower (which might not seem as important to anyone who doesn’t live in the Northeast U.S.)
Groundhog Day (1993)
Harold Ramis plays the “same day over-and-over” theme like a jazz riff; rumor has it Bill Murray was an asshole on set, but he reconciled with his director before Ramis died, so I’m at peace. As a curious aside, men tend to like this movie a lot better than women do. I haven’t figured out why, especially since Murray spends two hours (and, according to Ramis, a thousand years) becoming Andie MacDowell’s ideal mate. (Maybe it’s her?)
My favorite movie about the experience of watching movies. I saw it the night before Easter, after surviving a week where I literally wanted to kill myself. Four of us in the theater; I was the only one laughing, but I didn’t care. The original theatrical presentation is only available on Blu-Ray DVD, and it’s the only one to watch – complete with fake trailers, intermission, a missing reel, scratched and poorly-spliced film.
American Graffiti (1973)
The best movie George Lucas ever made, which isn’t saying much. (It might be his only good film.) I pitched this for the opening feature of a “Drive-In Classics” night when I managed the Marcy Drive-In. Watching it on the big screen, outdoors on a warm summer night, is one of my fondest memories. Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Harrison Ford, Wolfman Jack; those amazing songs; driving aimlessly all night. This movie provoked some of my dumbest (and favorite) adventures. Did I mention the SONGS?
Spielberg’s breakthrough; the birth of the blockbuster; the movie that most literally evokes my own sense of summer (a runner-up is Rob Reiner’s Stand By Me, 1986.) Filmed on Martha’s Vineyard, so near to where my family vacationed for years (Sandwich Beach on Cape Cod.) The Atlantic Ocean, the smell of sunscreen. The indistinct fear of something terrifying…
A terrible adaptation of a terrible musical, which has somehow aged incredibly well. During 4th grade I listened to the soundtrack endlessly and begged my parents to take me to the movie; they finally did, when it played at the drive-in. I was underwhelmed by the experience, but my love for this cheesy masterpiece grows stronger every year.
Bull Durham (1988)
Endlessly quotable dialogue. I’ve read that Ron Shelton’s script is an over-the-top male fantasy, but I know many women who fantasize about having Tim Robbins and Kevin Costner fighting over them too… The best roles Robbins and Costner would ever get, which might also apply to Susan Sarandon. I watched this movie six times in various cinemas, always with a sold-out crowd.
The Big Chill (1983)
The first R-rated movie I ever saw. I used to sweep the video store, and the Bangalorean proprietors would allow me to bring home any movie I wanted. This was my inaugural selection. I was struck by the friends who’d lost touch with one another, and with their youthful ideals. As I’ve grown older, Lawrence Kasdan’s script resonates more and more. (At 45, I’m well beyond the characters in the movie.) Second only to American Graffiti for its soundtrack.
The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
I didn’t realize until I wrote this piece that Fellowship came out shortly after the 9/11 terror attacks. The movie (like the novel) is about loss of innocence, and encroaching evil; my abiding sense memory of the film is falling leaves. This carries over from my youthful reading experience – I remember being shocked that Fellowship picked up 60 years after the events of The Hobbit; the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy feels elegiac, longing for a past that can’t be recovered.
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
I remember when this movie was out of copyright protection and showed several times every day all over the dial. I first saw it in 12th grade English class, although I only saw the last 40 minutes because I’d skipped class for the first two installments. That final third was enough to make me watch the film three more times over the Christmas holiday, and almost every year since. An idyllic portrait of small town America and family life that probably never existed (Nobody’s Fool is much closer to my own observations) but a welcome fantasy nonetheless.