We watched the Oscars on Sunday night. With my newfound time, I actually had the opportunity to watch most of the nominated movies this year. I loved CODA, and I was pleasantly surprised to see it win. Don’t Look Up was one of the funniest movies I’ve seen in a while, but I thought that it was too political, even for the Oscars. Belfast was beautiful and was the type of movie I thought the Oscar people would love. And Summer of Soul was one of the best films I’ve seen in a long time. Thanks to my friend Bill for recommending it to me – as he said, it’s a movie that fills up your heart. And in the interest of staying positive, I will just say that there were many things to celebrate in this year’s Oscars show.
Back to the movies. When I was little, my parents brought me to the movies several times a year. We all still laugh about scenes with Inspector Clouseau (“Does your dog bite?”), anything from Mel Brooks (“What in the wide, wide world of sports is going on here?”), and so many others. It has been an important part of parenting for me too. Watching movies with my sons was always a highlight. There’s not much better than laughing together, and I love that my children had heroes we could root for. It’s still a huge part of their lives, and I know that will continue as long as they live.
I think you can tell a lot about a person from the movies they love. There are several films that I watch over and over again. I can’t even count how many times I have seen each of the movies listed below – probably between 10 and 40 times. They are old friends. If I just watch any of them for even 20 minutes, that’s OK. I know I’ll see them again, so it’s easy to walk away.
You might see my list and think that there’s not much to me. An old friend who knows me very well used to joke (kind of) that I was “a mile wide and an inch deep.” Maybe my friend is right, but these movies are special, and I embrace whatever they say about me.
I love stories. In most cases, when times are tough, or when things don’t go the way they are supposed to, there’s always the silver lining that it will create a great story. One of my favorite things about Abraham Lincoln is that he used stories to make a point or just to lighten a tense situation. It was charming and made him a great campaigner. For those closest to him, Abe’s stories annoyed the hell out of them. I have read that there was no small amount of eye-rolling when he would say, “That reminds of the man who . . .”. As we say in my family, keep on telling a story or making a joke until everyone is tired of it, then really start to hammer it home. If it’s good enough for Abe, it’s good enough for me.
Here are four movies that tell stories that speak to me so well that I watch them again and again and again:
- Princess Bride: I love everything about this movie. From Peter Falk narrating it, to Fred Savage hating it, then liking it, to every single character in it. In our family, we just have to say certain phrases, and we know the thought we are trying to convey. “My name is Inigo Montoya,” “That is the sound of ultimate suffering,” “Booooooo!,” “Have fun storming the castle!” and “Inconceivable!” I could keep on going. It’s a perfect movie that turns storytelling into an art form. And I never tire of it.
- Big Fish: It’s a father-son tale, where the son is pretty much estranged from his father, because of all of the crazy stories that his dad makes up and retells again and again. He longs for a closer relationship with his father, but his father’s incessant stories keep him from doing that. Or do they? I don’t take many quotes from this one, but it’s a storytelling classic about storytelling.
- A Knight’s Tale: Heath Ledger at his best, and how do you not like a movie that includes Chaucer. It’s a quote-fest of a movie about friendship, dreams, and good versus evil. And the mix of contemporary music (Queen, David Bowie) with medieval pageantry makes it nothing short of breathtaking.
- Star Wars IV, V, and VI: Has there ever been a better storytelling movie series? I remember seeing Episode IV: A New Hope in the theater with friends, and when it was over, paraphrasing Vin Scully, we could not believe what we just saw. IV, V, and VI were so good that they make all of the others highly enjoyable. Yoda’s wisdom (“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering”), Luke’s whining, Obi-Wan’s coolness, Darth Vader’s conflicted evil (“I am your father”), Droids, and Wookies. “Let the Wookie win” is good advice in a number of situations.
Though I love stories well told, comedies are my favorite genre of movie. I believe that each of the films below represent comedic genius. Here are some of my favorites, and yes, I have watched them dozens of times:
- The Jerk: I owned Steve Martin’s comedy album in high school and played it until the grooves wore out. I lived for the Wild and Crazy Guys appearing on SNL on Saturday nights. Like Navin R. Johnson, I took a picture of my name the first time it appeared in a phone book, and I said, “Good things are going to start happening to me now.” I actually could have expanded this to any movie featuring Steve Martin, but I’ll stick to my rules.
- Office Space: Damn, this movie is funny. It’s so dry, but it’s perfect. How many situations was I in as a teacher or principal when I had to do a stupid “TPS Report.” And I knew as a superintendent, I wasn’t happy when I created that requirement for others. Beating the daylights out of a glitchy office machine is something so many of us dreamed of. Bad bosses, heartless consultants, and outstanding slogans like, “Ask yourself, is it good for the company?” I love it all.
- Wayne’s World: Another quote fest. I even have Tia Carrere’s “Why you want to break my heart” song on some of my playlists. Rob Lowe almost steals the movie, and Wayne and Garth are suburban heroes. I’ll party on with those guys many more times in my life.
- Zoolander: Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson, with a cameo from David Bowie, are perfect. The gasoline fight with Wham’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” playing in the background is about as good as it gets. I’ll admit that I’m not really, really, really, ridiculously good looking, but I can live vicariously through this movie.
- This is Spinal Tap: My friend Carolyn sent me a text about the greatness of Spinal Tap, and my first thought was to make this whole blog post about life lessons to be learned from Spinal Tap. I still might do that in the future, but for now, the movie that invented the Mockumentary genre is my favorite movie of all time. Some call it the greatest comedy of all time. And this movie does indeed go to eleven. I think that in my next life, I’ll forsake my college education and meaningful careers, and I’ll be a rock and roller. I don’t need to be famous, but the life is something I believe I would love. This is Spinal Tap did nothing to dissuade that dream.
While comedies are wonderful, I do have one go-to movie that I will watch when I’m down. I don’t get sad very often, but life kicks you in the teeth sometimes, and I am not immune from the pain. For me, one of the best things I can do when I go to this place is to bathe myself in it. I don’t look for movies to cheer me up. On the contrary, I look for a film that reminds us of how crappy life can sometimes be, while showing that there are glimmers of hope that make it worth living:
Tender Mercies: When I want to accept and embrace that sadness and suffering, I watch Tender Mercies. Robert Duvall is my favorite actor of all time, and this is Duvall at his best. He plays a washed-up country western songwriter. If there’s anybody who embraces sadness more than a country western songwriter, I’m sad for them. Yet even with all of the heartbreak, the movie ends with messages of redemption and hope.
So those are my all-time-watched-a-gazillion-times-already-and-I’ll-keep-on-watching favorites. I’d love to hear from you about what movies never get old for you.
Thanks for reading.
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