So, last night I was hanging out with a few folks from work and we got to talking about movies. Everyone has an opinion of a movie (or two or twelve) that they think is great for one reason or another and in this day and age of Netflix and DVRs people are watching more movies than ever.
So, with the long Labor Day weekend coming up, I thought I’d share a few of my recommendations with you of movies that are a little more off the beaten path. As always, these are just one dork’s opinions and your mileage may vary . . .
* The Music Man – My Mom must have taken me to see this ten times. I blame her for my unnatural appreciation of musicals. I like ‘em but I’m embarrassed that I like them. At first I liked it cuz of the weird songs – Rock Island, Shipoopi and Pick A Little, Talk A Little. Later on I was just addicted to the voice and delivery of scam artist, Professor Harold Hill (Robert Preston) and began to memorize all his lines. (Well, either you're closing your eyes to a situation you do not wish to acknowledge or you are not aware of the caliber of disaster indicated by the presence of a pool table in your community.)
* Singin’ In The Rain – This is the quintessential musical but it’s a great film comedy as well. As many times as I’ve seen the Donald O’Connor scene, “Make ‘em Laugh” I still can’t quite figure out how he did it! And, uh, deep dark secret: I ended up taking tap dancing lessons for two years after being inspired by Gene Kelly “dancin’” in the rain.
* Silverado – This is like the Big Chill of Westerns. It features an all-star cast with plenty of action and a great story written and directed by Lawrence Kasdan, who also wrote Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Empire Strikes Back and, oh yeah, The Big Chill.
* Lonesome Dove – Okay, this was actually a TV mini-series but just like the book is one of the best things ever written, this is one of the best mini-series ever. If you can make it past the water moccasin scene hang in there until late in the story when Gus McCrae (Robert Duvall) and Woodrow Call (Tommy Lee Jones) are reminiscing about their lives as one of them is dying. I'm a blubbering idiot by the end of that scene!
* Donnie Darko – This is as creepy and weird a movie as I’ve ever seen, especially the freaky bunny! As you’re watching the movie you’ll ask yourself, “What the heck is going on here?” AND when the movie is over you’ll say, “What the heck was that all about?” But months later, you’ll still be thinking about it! Not that this will help much but here’s my one helpful hint. As you watch the movie, keep in mind that Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhall) is trying to do the right thing.
* District 9 – This is a film currently in theaters. It’s bloody and violent, which isn’t really why I liked it. In some ways it’s a story of racism sent in the trappings of a science fiction story. Regardless, you’ll never look at prawns the same way again!
* Breaking Away – This is the story of a bicycle race at the University of Indiana. The main character dreams of being a bike racer for an Italian race team. His friends help him train, but they’re really all just a bunch of losers. For me, it’s the Dad, (played by Paul Dooley) that makes the film. He is too funny by half!
* Glory Road – This is my all time favorite sports movie. It’s the story of Coach Don Haskins of Texas Western (now the University of Texas El Paso) and the first all-black starting line up for a college basketball team, winning the NCAA national championship back in 1966.
Mystery / Suspense:
* Memento – This is the story of a man (Guy Pearce) who has been through a great tragedy and was left with no long term memory. Since he can only remember things for a short period of time before it begins to fade away, he has a stash of Polaroid pictures, notes and TONS of tattoos to help him remember. What makes the movie however, is that it is told in reverse. The end of the movie comes first and it works it’s way back from there.
* Dexter – Okay, this isn’t a movie either but a series on Showtime and holy crap is it good. It’s about a serial killer who happens to be a forensic blood spatter expert for the Miami police department. His sister is a cop and his sweet, damaged girlfriend all provide him with some stability, even though they have no idea about his other life.
* The Green Mile – Stephen King is one of the best writers around. More than a few of his stories have been made into great films (The Shawshank Redemption, for example) and this is another. It’s partly a story about inmates waiting on Death Row for their executions but it is so much more. It’s the little mouse I love the most.
* Casablanca – This movie has something for everybody – suspense, intrigue, romance, comedy and even some music. Humphrey Bogart is way too cool and future ex-wife, except I think she’s deceased, Ingrid Bergman is waaay tooo gorgeous. And be sure to notice how many times you actually hear someone say, “Play it again, Sam.”
* To Kill A Mockingbird – The only movie that I think is as good as the book. Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch is the greatest dad and best lawyer ever. And when you realize who plays Boo Radley, it’s almost weird. But what the heck is a chiffarobe?
* Little Miss Sunshine – This is the story of the Crawford family and their young daughter’s quest to compete in a beauty pageant. A brother who doesn’t speak, a suicidal uncle, a grandfather with a heroin habit and a chain smoking mother who swears she does not smoke are all offset by the sweet as can be little girl, played by Abigail Breslin.
* Simon Birch – I’m not sure if this is really a comedy but it is hysterically funny! I love those “coming of age” movies about kids growing up. (Stand By Me, filmed in Dan LaCoste’s back yard is a great example.) But my all time favorite is the story of Simon Birch, a kid born with more than a few challenges to deal with. He and his best friend handle them all, including the “one thing” that Simon has been waiting - and dreading - for his whole life. If nothing else, this movie is worth watching just for the Christmas pageant scene where Simon, because of his small stature, is force to play the baby Jesus and lay quietly in the manger!
* Million Dollar Baby – Clint Eastwood is the greatest director around. Hilary Swank plays a female boxer and Clint Eastwood (with help from Morgan Freeman) is her coach. You watch the first half of the movie, thinking you’re headed in one particular direction and then, out of the blue, you’re headed another direction. And when it’s over, you sit and stare at a blank screen cuz you’re numb.
* Mystic River – Another Clint Eastwood movie, but this time he only directs. While this is really a suspense / mystery film, it has some of the best acting I’ve ever seen. Especially Tim Robbins and, holy crap, Sean Penn. And if you like this one, check out Gone Baby Gone – a story written by the same guy that wrote Mystic River.