We need rainy days, of course, and we need rainy days off, in particular. Inclement weather can be very enjoyable when you don’t have to slog through it in order to earn your daily bread.
On the other hand, there are people who become bummed in an outward direction by a gloomy day, even if they have no traffic to fight. My best solution to take your mind off of all that dismality? Read a good book. Yes, I am familiar with the Fat Chance Principal. In that case, you may want to pop a movie into the old DVD and while away some drab time with a little enjoyable escapism.
I am here to provide a list of worthwhile movies for such an occasion. You can rent them, based on a prediction of foul weather, or simply summon them if you have some sort of on-demand set-up.
At this point, I am going to venture a guess that you, the hip, discerning potato of the divan, have seen most of the current stuff worth watching and, probably, a good deal that wasn’t. What I plan to provide are ten movies you may have missed the first time around and not yet caught up on. In just about all these cases, they would still be enjoyable the second time around.
A number of the movies are long, the better to while away a long, miserable afternoon, but length was not the sole criterion. A number of them are comedies, but they aren’t all funny. And, while characters lose their lives, from time to time, the movies are somehow upbeat or, at any rate, not so horribly depressing.
Here they are, then, in all their cinematic artistry. I will list them, as I typically seldom do, in reverse chronological order.
10. Zack and Miri Make a Porno, 2008, View Askew Productions
You might think of this as the lighter side of “show-biz shows” about porn. The more serious side would be an earlier film called Boogie Nights. That particular film made more of a splash than you might think at first glance. Made as a fictional biography of porn star John Holmes, it launched the careers of several little-known actors who became far better known as a result of the movie. Among them were Mark Wahlberg (the lead), Julianne Moore, Heather Graham, John C. Reilly, Don Cheadle, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Luis Guzmán. Still, it dragged on to a somewhat depressing ending, so I’d recommend the cheerier one between the two.
Zack Brown and Miri Linky (played by Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks) are housemates who share a home in a non-sexual relationship. They are long-time friends who had never considered the other in a romantic light. When their miserable economic situation leaves them broke and without utilities, Zack hits on the idea of making a porn film, after running into a former classmate, Brandon St. Randy (brilliantly played by Justin Long) at a high school reunion. St. Randy, as it turned out, had made a career for himself in the field of gay porn, which is as close as your narrator will get to featuring gay porn on this list.
The film does feature one genuine porn star from the past-Traci Lords-who’s two specialties have to be seen to be believed. Otherwise, the cast is mainstream Hollywood, but they do a thoroughly convincing job of staging pretend-porno. Don’t worry, there is none of the hard-core stuff, repeated ad nauseam, that you’d get in an actual porn flick. Also missing: the wretchedly-bad acting.
Despite the risqué subject matter, Zack and Miri Make a Porno is basically a boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl-back story, wonderfully told. Yes, according to the plot, the two title characters have known each other since childhood, but, when they end up doing a “scene” together, it is as though they had met for the first time.
9. Who Framed Roger Rabbit? 1988, Touchstone Pictures
This is as close as I come to putting a cartoon on the list, so, if you were hoping to see my take on Gerald McBoing-Boing and the Living Dead, you will have to wait a bit.
While the main focus of the film is on the animated characters, particularly Roger Rabbit and his wife, Jessica (voiced by Kathleen Turner, with Amy Irving doing the singing), the really outstanding performance is by the British actor Bob Hoskins, as detective Eddie Valiant. If you have seen Hoskins at his serious best, such as in The Long Good Friday, you may be surprised at how well he does comedy. Not only that, but he does it as an American, interacting with cartoons. Whew!
There are a lot of fun cameos by cartoon characters from our past, not all of them out of the same studio. At one point, Donald Duck and Daffy Duck engage in a hilarious duet, sure to pick anyone’s spirits up on a rainy day.
8. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, 1984, Paramount Pictures
Actually, all of the first three movies in the Indiana Jones franchise will serve as excellent rainy day or snow day movies. I have not seen the more recent fourth one, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, released in 2008, but, from what I heard, it may have been difficult to call the producer during the filming, because everybody was busy phoning it in.
The movie I picked is the second of the three and the first, chronologically. It is set almost entirely in India (although not filmed there, due to the Indian censors’ many objections to the content).
Actually, the Indians’ main objection was that the plot clearly and unmistakably indicated the murderous practice of Thugee was alive and well, even in 1935. It is against those practitioners and, initially, a duplicitous Chinese crime boss, that Indiana Jones must risk his life, time and time again. And, while I thought his leading lady, Kate Capshaw, was not as hot as Karen Allen from the first movie, this movie was the most exciting and action-packed one of the series, to my way of thinking. Enough thrills, I would imagine, to make you totally oblivious to that golf-ball-sized hail outside.
7. Broadway Danny Rose, 1984, Orion Pictures
Some people like Woody Allen movies and some do not. Whether you do or don’t, you may enjoy this one. It is different in that it doesn’t go here, there and everywhere in search of another gag, the way many of his movies do. No, this one pretty much tells the story, straight through. Actually, the tale unwinds as part of the conversation among the Broadway crowd in a New York delicatessen.
It is one of three black-and-white films on my list, but, given the excellent content, the blackness and whiteness of the picture should in no way distract you from your rainy-day distraction.
We tend to think of theatrical agents as parasitic types, living the high life off of someone else’s talent, but poor Danny Rose (played by Allen) is just barely getting by. With one exception all of his clients are nice enough people, but they are nobodies with very little in the way of marketable talent, as far as the entertainment world is concerned. The one exception is a sleazy lounge singer named Lou Canova (played very well by Nick Apollo Forte), who was a one-hit wonder, with a song called Agita (which is Italian for heartburn). Though the song was made up for this movie, it is in the style of the schmaltzy novelty hits that were big in the 1950s, like That’s Amore. Here is what Agita sounds like, sung by Apollo Forte.
Lou Canova, though his hit record is many years behind him, is still popular as a lounge singer, and Danny Rose is able to find plenty of work for him. The complications set in with Canova’s on-again, off-again girlfriend, Tina Vitale, played by Mia Farrow.
It is during one of the off-again moments that she begins to develop feelings for Danny, who has been bullied into looking after her. And, of course, he begins to develop feelings for her. This would not be such a big deal, except that Tina’s ex-boyfriend is a Mafia-type, who is not inclined to be a good sport about losing her.
Still, amid this tale of love, betrayal and redemption, there is wonderful comedy as only Woody Allen at his best could dream up. Heck, you should see this movie no matter what is going on outside.
6. The Shootist, 1976, Paramount Pictures
I don’t like a lot of westerns and I don’t like even more John Wayne movies, but this one is, not only the best of both, but one of the best movies I have seen, ever. Not only does Wayne do the best work of his career in this, his final film, he is joined by such outstanding actors as Jimmy Stewart, Lauren Bacall, Ron Howard, Richard Boone, Hugh O’Brian, Scatman Crothers and Harry Mogan, who turns in a brilliant performance as the cowardly marshal, tasked with running Wayne’s character, gunfighter J.B. Book, out of town.
The story is set in Carson City, Nevada, in 1901. Book (like Wayne) is an older man in his late 50s, who has long since given up gun fighting, but whose reputation is still very much alive. He comes to Carson City to see a doctor he knew from past experience (Stewart), because he is feeling poorly. The doctor tells him he has cancer and will die a painful death.
He gives Book laudanum, but warns him that, at some point, even that will not be enough to blot out the horrible pain. He also hints that there are quicker, less painful ways to depart life.
Meanwhile, any number of low-lifes congregate around the town hoping, either to exploit Book or kill him to enhance their own reputations. While all that is going on, he rents space as a boarder in a widow’s home (Lauren Bacall, where she lives with her son, played by Ron Howard). She is not at all pleased with putting up a wanted man, but she does develop a fondness for him, especially after he has befriended her son.
Unlike so many horse-operas, this romance never gets past the budding stage. If the plethora of willing guns did not end it, then the even greater plethora of cancer cells would. Don’t worry, though, the cancer cells do not win in the end, but there is a price to be paid in a brilliantly-staged, action-packed climax.
By the way, I think the title came from a casual remark by the real-life gunfighter, John Wesley Hardin, who, when asked by a lady what he did for a living, replied, “Madam, I am a shootist.”
5. Young Frankenstein, 1974, 20th Century Fox
Here is another movie you should enjoy, regardless of the weather. It made a profit, but was not a smash at the box office, and it got no recognition whatsoever by the Motion Picture Academy. Yet it has been listed among the American Film Institute’s top films of all-time.
There are a great many references to the original Frankenstein film, but you need not have seen it to appreciate Young Frankenstein. The cast was chock full of very talented people, doing some of their best work. Among them were Gene Wilder (as the title character), Peter Boyle, Madeline Kahn, Marty Feldman, Terri Garr, Gene Hackman and, my favorite among the entire cast, Cloris Leachman, as the formidable Frau Blücher, the very mention of whose name would always spook the horses.
In keeping with the movie it parodies, Young Frankenstein is in black-and-white.
There is a scene in the movie when young Dr. Frankenstein demonstrates how much better a job he had done than his ancestor at the life-creation thing by doing a duet with his monster (played by Peter Boyle). They sing Irving Berlin’s “Puttin’ On The Ritz,” with Wilder singing all the verse lines and Boyle chiming in with the tag line, “Puttin’ on the ritz!” but in the kind of way you would expect a Frankenstein monster to sing it.
These days, when the song comes up at my favorite piano bar, most of the people in the house sing that line the monster way. It is a joke that never gets tired or old.
4. The Godfather, 1972, Paramount Pictures
What can I say? This film was rated the third best movie of all-time by A.F.I., while other organizations have put it at the very top. I have found it is a movie I can watch again and again and still enjoy it.
The film itself won the Oscar for Best Motion Picture, while Marlon Brando, in the title role won for Best Actor, which he declined to show up for. Speaking of actors who refused to accept their awards, I thought about listing Patton, starring George C. Scott. To be sure, the action scenes, including his first encounter with Rommel’s army in North Africa and his relief of Bastogne in the Battle of the Bulge, are spectacular, but the movie was longer than it needed to be and, so, it dragged in parts. I could say the same thing about Enemy at the Gates, which started out with some of the best combat footage I have ever seen, but then bogged down.
There is no bogging down in The Godfather. Even between the bang-bang, shoot ’em up stuff, the movie is riveting throughout. Brando deserved the Oscar he won, but the cast performed with uniform excellence throughout.
By the way, I am ambivalent about Godfather, Part II. The flashback scenes, starring Robert De Niro as a young Vito Andolino/Corleone are, without a doubt, the most brilliant aspect of the entire Godfather trilogy, but, take them away, and the rest of the movie was tiresome, I felt.
If, by some chance, you have not seen this film (by which I mean the original) then, do yourself a favor and rent it.
3. The Great Race, 1965, Warner Bros.
Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon, who starred in the excellent comedy, Some Like it Hot (Itself a pretty good movie for passing some time indoors), were teamed up again. This time, though, they are not buddies but rivals.
The film, which typifies the term ‘slapstick comedy” about as well as any ever made, is about a globe-spanning automobile race across three continents, from New York (westbound) to Paris.
Curtis does a good enough job as the sportsmanlike protagonist, Leslie Gallant III. If that name sounds a bit hoity-toity, keep in mind that, as I pointed out in my recent essay about Henry Ford, automobiles were still considered luxuries for the wealthy. Natalie Wood does a good job as his love interest, Maggie DuBois. The cast as a whole is strong and performs well.
Still, this is, without a doubt, Jack Lemmon’s movie. If The Days of Wine and Roses was Lemmon’s greatest drama (and, trust me, it was), then surely The Great Race was his best comedy. I would even rank it above Irma la Douce, which was excellent as well. Lemmon plays two roles in this film. For the most part, he is the villainous Professor Fate, determined to win at all costs. In addition, he plays the role of a problematic ruler, Prince Hapnick of Carpania. I should point out that helping a great deal to highlight Professor Fate’s villainy is his loyal assistant, Max, wonderfully played by Peter Falk, long before his days as Lt. Colombo.
There is one particularly riotous comedy scene in the movie that I will not spoil by even saying what it is about. You will simply have to see the movie to find out. There are worse things you could do, particularly on a rainy day.
2. Spartacus, 1960, Universal Pictures
This is the best of those cinematic “spectaculars” that were quite popular in the late 1950s and early 1960s. These movies were typically based on history (There really was a slave named Spartacus, who lived in the 2nd century B.C. and did lead a slave revolt.) or Scripture. They were uniformly long and expansive, but not all of them held the viewer’s interest for the three or more hours they usually ran.
Kirk Douglas starred and performed brilliantly as Spartacus, while Laurence Olivier was even moreso as the main antagonist, Emporer Marcus Publius Crassus. Jean Simmons did a fine job as Varinia, another slave, delegated to pleasuring the gladiators (of whom Spartacus is one) before their life-and-death combat. She become’s Spartacus’ lover and stays with him to the end.
The movie was true to history in that the slave revolt did not succeed. Again, this was over a hundred years before Christ, and the Roman Empire had over five centuries to go before it collapsed for other reasons, having nothing to do with Spartacus and very little to do with Christ.
That said, the failure was a spectacular one, and, if you have not seen this epic, I think it would be well worth your time to take it in on one of those days when a fast game of hacky-sack is not an option.
By the way, I was almost tempted to list Lawrence of Arabia as my big epic film for this list, but it had a few draggy moments interspersed with a great deal of brilliance. On the other hand, while Peter O’Toole is nearly dying of thirst, crawling through the desert on the screen, you might develop more of an appreciation for all that precip that’s coming down around you.
I also thought about Braveheart, a more recent epic, but decided most of my readers will have seen that one already.
1. Citizen Kane, 1941, RKO Pictures
Okay, folks, the American Film Institute and a whole bunch of other people in a position to know such things, consider this the best film ever made. Sorry, there’s no blood, gore or nekkid ladies, but these people know what they are talking about. If you have not seen it, get a hold of it and see it…and that’s all I’ve got to say.
As I almost always do in my top ten lists, I need to acknowledge that my top choices may not be your top choices. I do not mean this as an authoritative list that waits only to be carved in stone, but, rather, as a guide to a few films that might entertain you when you are otherwise beset with limited options.
The listed movies themselves