If you’re like most of movie-loving America, chances are you at least paid a bit of attention to this past weekend’s Academy Awards. The Oscars are always good for old-fashioned entertainment. The fashion! The speeches! And—I nearly forgot—the movies!
My friends and family would be the first to tell you that I’m miserably ill-informed when it comes to matters of pop culture. I’m pretty sure my mom is the only mother in America who says, “Honey, you really should be watching more TV.” I’m also pretty sure my best buddies are pretty tired of explaining to me why certain people are famous.
Nevertheless, movies are my big exception, and as Ben Affleck gave giddy and heartfelt thanks Sunday night to anyone anywhere who had anything to do with the making of Argo (including Canada), all the great movies that are passing unrecognized into history began running through my mind.
To that end, here is a completely unscientific and unofficial list of movies I think are really worth watching. Some are old. Some are newer. Most aren't big-time Academy Award-winners. They are, however, highly entertaining.
A warning: I’m not really a musical sort of gal. I also won’t watch depressing movies anymore (thanks for nothing, Million Dollar Baby). Period dramas, a la Jane Austen? It’s not happening, for the most part. There are also no obvious choices like Pulp Fiction, one of my favorite movies of all time.
So get the popcorn, light a fire, turn out the lights and enjoy!
If you liked Argo, you’ll like All the President’s Men. I saw Argo and feel it’s one of the best movies I’ve seen in years, as notable for its topical restraint as well as its heart-pounding suspense. If you love suspense sans violence, bring All the President’s Men, with Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford, back into your life. And the ending—with the teletype machine pounding away—gets my vote for one of the most brilliant movie endings ever.
The (original) In-Laws is the funniest movie ever made. If the word “serpentine” doesn’t mean anything to you then run, do not walk, to get a copy of the original comedy classic starring Alan Arkin and Peter Falk. It is a brilliant blend of near-slapstick and deadpan humor. Let me emphasize original once again: Avoid the remake, starring the usually reliable Michael Douglas and Albert Brooks, like the plague. “There’s no reason to shoot at me! I’m a dentist!”
If you liked Lean on Me, try Stand and Deliver. Math geeks and underdog lovers alike will love Stand and Deliver, the true inspiring story of an unlikely classroom of students in a disadvantaged L.A. neighborhood who study calculus, take the AP exam and perform so well that they are accused of cheating. A wonderful, not-to-be-missed performance by Edward James Olmos.
If you like music, but musicals make you cringe, try these. Although not deserving of a “best ever” superlative, Rock Star's Mark Wahlberg and Jennifer Aniston are extremely likeable as a newbie rock star and girlfriend who experience overnight fame and fortune. Not appropriate for the under-13 crowd, by the way. Other near-musical choices: Walk the Line, This Is Spinal Tap and Victor/Victoria.
Don’t overlook mystery and horror in the pursuit of quality entertainment. For every 80 downright terrible horror movies, there is roughly one high-quality production, although the quality productions stand the test of time, as any fan of The Shining will tell you. Michelle Pfeiffer and Harrison Ford give nuanced and natural performances in the face of the incredibly unnatural in What Lies Beneath. And if you don't know who Keyser Soze is, watch The Usual Suspects.
Movies for kids. Remember Stand by Me, the classic coming of age tale narrated by Richard Dreyfuss and based on Stephen King’s novella The Body? Sportif lasses will love A League of Their Own. Adventure-oriented families will enjoy Chasing Mavericks and Soul Surfer, two newer movies featuring true-to-life tales. And The Color Purple is a must.
Classic films that aren’t Casablanca or Gone With the Wind. I live in perpetual awe of Elizabeth Taylor, whose beauty is matched only by her range as an actress. Cleopatra and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf demonstrate both. Too long and/or heavy? For something totally different try After the Thin Man, the black and white classic that was the basis (I think) for the popular 80s television show Moonlighting. And don’t forget Bogart and Bacall in The African Queen, the classic movie lover’s classic.
Chick flicks. Sofia Coppola’s somewhat-controversial Marie Antoinette is brilliant simply for its use of music, its incredible imagery and for the fact that she filmed it right in Versailles, the first filmmaker to have permission to do so. And I will always have a soft spot for the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair, with Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo, as well as Sixteen Candles, home of the best ever Hot Guy with a Heart of Gold (and a Porsche).
Boys Night Out. Courtesy of my husband and his friends: Blackhawk Down. Trading Places. Stripes. Glengarry Glen Ross. Braveheart. Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Predator. And anything with Charles Bronson.