….in a nutshell, not much that is recent.
Since we’re all stuck at home, I figured it might be a good time to watch some classic movie fare. While I’d like to say my idea of classic movies means Citizen Kane and On the Waterfront, the truth is we’re not necessarily watching just the AFI 100.
Here’s what we’ve watched together as a family:
The Goonies: I remember loving this Spielberg treasure hunt flick when I was a kid, and it was also a hit with my 12 year old son. The Goonies isn’t a great movie, but the innocence of the kid heroes was refreshing and the plot was fun. I forgot how scary Mama Fratelli was — strong performance by Anne Ramsey.
Legally Blonde: My daughter and I enjoyed Reese Witherspoon’s star-making turn as Elle Woods, the California sorority girl who gets into Harvard Law School (“What, like it’s hard?”) then wreaks havoc amongst the snobby WASP-y students, eventually triumphing as a top student. As a former California sorority girl, I especially enjoyed the mostly positive depiction of Elle’s Greek life, which was more similar to my own experience than other hot takes. I know there are real and legitimate concerns about fraternities, but I found sorority life mostly to be empowering. The friendships, camaraderie, leadership exercises and social skills I developed while I was a member were invaluable to me both personally and professionally.
The Godfather: The ultimate cinematic touchstone, and #2 on the AFI list. I don’t know that we would have screened this movie without the COVID-19 lockdown. And we did fast forward through some dicey sections. My son is obsessed with fairness and justice, and he HATED the way Michael Corleone ended up handling his duties as a don, commenting several times that he was “evil.” And he was. I will never understand why Michael Corleone ghosted Kay, the girlfriend he was super into, and impulsively took a Sicilian bride.
North by Northwest: ALSO on AFI’s list. I love this movie. It’s smart, glamorous, the female lead is a surprisingly tough cookie for the 1950s, the costumes are gorgeous, Cary Grant is ultra charming and I love the mid-century architecture. The crop-dusting scene is one of the all-time best action sequences EVER. Kids thought it was just so-so.
Mean Girls: The Tina Fey script is sharp and funny, and Regina George is the gold standard for, well, mean girls. But overall this movie was kind of a “meh” for me, there just wasn’t enough heart or emotional connection for my taste. My daughter on the other hand LOVED it.
Titanic: The dialogue is not the best (too many exclamations of “Jack!” “Rose!”) and the heavy-handedness of the villain is over-the-top. But the visual storytelling is pretty epic and the inequalities of the haves and have-nots on board the ship sadly reflect today’s world. Having met the lead actor once (before he filmed this movie), I can attest to the fact this is a performance. DiCaprio is not at all like Jack, whose dreaminess mostly comes from his unstinting support of Rose. Had he lived and married Rose, you know Jack would have shared in household chores equally and helped Rose achieve whatever hopes and dreams she desired. These qualities are what makes him a lovely romantic hero.
Clueless: A spoiled California girl becomes a better person in this loose adaption of Jane Austen’s Emma. Clueless has mostly aged well (much like Paul Rudd, who plays Josh). So many great lines:
- “It does NOT say R.S.V.P. on the Statue of Liberty.”
- “Isn’t my house classic? The columns date all the way back to 1972.”
- “Until mankind is peaceful enough not to have violence on the news, there’s no point in taking it out of shows that need it for entertainment value!”
Lilo & Stitch: Enjoyable Disney romp featuring a fierce yet sweet alien and a struggling pair of sisters trying to avoid foster care. My daughter and I enjoyed the Hawaiian setting as well as the strained yet loving relationship between Lilo and her sister Nani. For some reason I didn’t like Lilo & Stitch when it first came out?
I have also revisited a few of my old favorites without the kids.
Angels in America: I remember being wowed by this miniseries, adapted by Tony Kushner from his own Pulitzer-winning play, when it first came out in 2003. Watching again did not disappoint. Angels in America is set during another plague (AIDS) and I found a lot of the material eerily relevant to today. The fear, the grief and the loss the characters experience definitely resonates with what we are dealing with now. The wildly ambitious screenplay (Kushner’s brilliant dialogue uses language so vividly) covers the divisions, beliefs, optimism, inequalities, philosophies and sense of progress deeply ingrained into Americans, and best of all, doesn’t reduce characters to stereotypes. Well, except Roy Cohn. The fundamentalist Mormon mom, the Republican striver, the sick WASP-y scion, the no-nonsense nurse, the Valium-addicted housewife, the fearful New Yorker who leaves his partner after he’s diagnosed with HIV: we feel for all of them, even when they do the wrong thing. The ending — suffused with optimism — demands for its characters what we all want right now for ourselves and our loved ones. More life.
Hannah and Her Sisters: Ugh, Woody Allen. I know. But I remember loving this movie when I was young, dreaming about urban life. It has NOT held up well. What I remember as sophisticated fare now reminds me of a student film made by someone who, to quote Clueless again, “…is trippin’ because he is in his post-adolescent, idealistic phase.” The script is sophomoric. Hannah (and her sisters) were so obviously written by a dude. No woman in the history of the world has ever said to a guy that he “…has ruined me for all men.” That’s pure wish fulfillment! This movie also features the icky trope of an older guy needing to “teach” a woman about culture and “the finer things” before she can become a more interesting person. Ew. PASS.
When Harry Met Sally: On the other hand, this romantic comedy is as brilliant as ever. The whole cast is perfect, especially Meg Ryan and Carrie Fisher. Their dialogue (courtesy of Nora Ephron) features the kind of catty bon mots you would exchange with your friends if you were exceedingly clever. Like Clueless, WHMS has great lines.
- “This eight dollar dish will cost you a thousand dollars in phone calls to the legal firm of That’s Mine, This Is Yours.”
- “I want you to know that I will never want that wagon wheel coffee table.”
- (The wagon wheel coffee table is the funniest piece of movie furniture since the leg lamp in A Christmas Story.)
- “When I buy a book, I always read the last page first. That way, in case I die before I finish, I know how it comes out.”
Studio 54 – The Documentary: New and not a re-watch. You can stream this on Netflix and to quote SNL’s nightlife critic Stefon — it has EVERYthing. If you don’t know anything about the infamous nightclub, the rise and fall of the ultimate discotheque is a pretty crazy and fascinating story. Started by two young lower middle class nobodies who came out of nowhere, Studio 54 invented the concept of the velvet rope celebrity hotspot, became “the place to be” and really was a lightening bolt of a cultural phenomenon. Like Icarus, the founders flew too close to the sun by making a series of bonehead moves, like skimming most of the money off the top and doing basically everything they could to ensure an IRS audit. Both went to jail for fraud and other charges, and the nightclub only lasted 33 months. But the glamour, fashion and style of “Studio”, as its regulars referred to it, is still relevant 40+ years later. Roy Cohn (Angels in America’s arch villain) plays a role in this drama as well.
What have you been watching?