Wednesday, April 20, 2005

"Mindless" movies for all occasions

A few months ago, a friend of ours from our birthing group asked if anyone could offer some suggestions for some good, funny movies to watch to distract her from the actual birth when she went through it. As it turned out, a friend of mine asked me for a similar list a few months ago to suggest for a friend going through chemotherapy. The topic has since now come up on a new dad’s listserv I joined so, rather than take up their bandwidth, I’m posting my list here.

The criteria was not only decent quality, but hopefully hilariously funny as well (with, as you can see, the latter often trumping the former criterion, haha). If you can think of others that will work, let me know and I’ll add them to the list. (Someone has suggested This is Spinal Tap! which, I am ashamed to say, I have not seen yet – but I know this to be an excellent film nonetheless.) They are arranged below in alphabetical order, with some additional information provided to find other similar films.

  • Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein – USA, 1948, D: Charles Barton, 83m. With Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Lon Cheney, Jr. and Bela Lugosi. How Universal Studios intertwined their monster movie stable with everyone’s favorite comedy team. Much funnier and better done than you might expect. Lots of great one-liners. See also the rest of the large series of Abbott and Costello Meet…
  • Airplane! – USA, 1980, D: Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker, 88m. With Robert Hays, Julie Hagerty and Leslie Nielsen. For recent American comedies, the one-liners don’t stop in this brief but hilarious film that defined the modern stupid comedy. Definitely not for the politically correct. See also the preceding The Kentucky Fried Movie and the slew of lesser but similar comedies that followed: Airplane 2, Blazing Saddles, The Naked Gun, Hot Shots, Top Secret, Scary Movie and a personal obscure favorite Amazon Women on the Moon. See also the hilarious social comedy but deeply offensive and objectionable South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut.
  • Annie Hall – USA, 1977, D: Woody Allen, 93m. With Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Tony Roberts, Carol Kane and Shelley Duvall. Even if you’re not into most of Woody’s work, this is him at his neurotic best by a long shot. The comedy that defined the 80s and really put him on the map. See also a number of his lesser early works: Bananas, Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex…, Sleeper and What’s Up, Tiger Lily? as well as the superior film The Purple Rose of Cairo.
  • Beverly Hills Cop – USA, 1984, D: Martin Brest, 105m. With Eddie Murphy, Judge Reinhold, and John Ashton. Eddie Murphy’s defining role, but also set the standard for the 80s comedy style in general. See also the remainder of the series, as well as Ruthless People, the first two Lethal Weapons, etc.
  • The Brady Bunch Movie – USA, 1995, D: Betty Thomas, 90m. With Shelly Long, Gary Cole and Christine Taylor. One of the many films based on a fond 70s TV show from our youth – but done rather well and with full awareness of what it is doing. (It’s worth it to see Alice in bondage gear for two seconds.) See also A Very Brady Sequel and well as Charlie’s Angels and apparently the new Fat Albert. (OK, maybe not that one...)
  • The General – USA, 1927, D: Buster Keaton, 75m. With Buster Keaton and Marion Mack. A very funny early silent comedy about a boy, his love and his train, and how they all manage to “defeat” the Union forces during the civil war. Impressive for the special effects – or rather, how Keaton had to really do everything we see instead of use modern special effects. My jaded students loved this to pieces. See also Keaton’s Sherlock Jr., Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last or The Freshman (if you can find it), and Chaplin’s The Kid, Gold Rush or Modern Times.
  • Flirting with Disaster – USA, 1996, D: David O. Russell, 92m. With Ben Stiller, Tea Leoni, Patricia Arquette, Alan Alda, Mary Tyler Moore, Lily Tomlin and George Segal. Forget the recent fiasco I Heat Huckabees – this is probably the most appropriate one on the list, with Stiller as a soon-to-be father trying to find his birth parents, with appropriately bizarre yet hilarious results. (Plus, MTM in a black bra!)
  • Grosse Pointe Blank – USA, 1997, D: George Armitage, 107m. With John Cusack, Minnie Driver, Alan Arkin, Dan Ackroyd and Joan Cusack. What happens when the 80s comedy goes back to its tenth year reunion – and discovers it’s just as funny to ridicule it for all its worth. Despite the gunplay, very funny commentary on the 90s, not to mention some great shots of Detroit! See the rest of the early Cusack oeuvre to compare with, such as Sixteen Candles, Better Off Dead and The Sure Thing; don’t overlook sister Joan in In and Out and School of Rock as well.
  • Hairspray – USA, 1988, D: John Waters, 92m. With Ricki Lake, Divine, Sonny Bono, Debbie Harry, and Jerry Stiller. Before Ricki became a TV star (and after Waters and Divine played wit dog poop), this funny yet topical musical comedy evokes the fun yet problematic 50s in Baltimore. Great for Debbie Harry’s and Sonny Bono’s scenes as a racist married couple alone (along with great cameos by Ric Ocasek and Pia Zadora as beatniks), but also a really good movie to boot that turns into something serious without you being aware of it. See also Waters’ later clean romps in Cry-Baby and Serial Mom. (The utterly filthy Pink Flamingos is also worth it, but the final scatological scene literally almost made me throw up. I'm not kidding.)
  • A Hard Day’s Night – Great Britain, 1964, D: Richard Lester, 87m. With (who else?) John, Paul, George and especially Ringo. This is hysterical film with the thinnest of plots (Ringo feels like the least important member of the band – so the boys show him they need him desperately!), basically an excuse to have the boys run around London being chased by girls. That said, it’s a surprisingly brisk film and the chaotic nature ends up running on the good side of slapstick. Wilfred Brambell's portrayal of John's "grandfather" is hilarious. Lester’s later Beatles film, Help!, is even zanier, though the plot (involving the possession of a large jewel which evil cultists are trying to capture) is less fun; the boys’ collective household, however, is worth a look. (Thanks to Brian for reminding me of this one.)
  • M. Hulot’s Holiday – France, 1953, D: Jacques Tati, 114m. With Jacques Tati and Nathalie Pascaud. How can you not love the innocent M. Hulot, who bumbles his way into hilarious situations? This French pratfaller (perhaps only equaled by the Mexican Cantinflas, whose films are alas mostly unsubtitled in English as of yet) that eventually gave way to the British Mr. Bean. See also Tati’s Mon Oncle as well as Cantinflas’ sole subtitled film There’s the Detail!
  • Metropolitan – USA, 1990, D: Whit Stillman, 98m. With Carolyn Farina, Edward Clements, Chris Eigeman, and Taylor Nichols. Stillman’s comedy is wry, poking fun at the ridiculousness of the prissy, stuck-up modern bourgeoisie. This, his first film, lays it out as dryly as possible as the characters go to debutante balls over the Christmas holidays. See also Stillman’s films that complete a trilogy of sorts, Barcelona and The Last Days of Disco.
  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail – Great Britain, 1975, D: Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones, 91m. With John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin. Unparalleled nonsense involving King Arthur and the quest for the Holy Grail… sort of. See also And Now for Something Completely Different, The Life of Brian, The Meaning of Life and some later work by the Python folk: Cleese’s A Fish Called Wanda and Gilliam’s very dark Brazil.
  • The Princess Bride – USA, 1987, D: Rob Reiner, 98m. With Cary Elwes, Mandy Patinkin, Chris Sarandon, Wallace Shawn, Andre the Giant and Robin Wright Penn. Sure, it’s really a disguised love story as an adventure flick. The funny parts, however, almost all involve the great supporting characters, who are hilarious on their own. Provide some wonderful lines for use at parties as well.
  • Some Like It Hot – USA, 1959, D: Billy Wilder, 120m. With Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe. Easily Monroe’s best film, and hysterically funny with Lemmon and Curtis running from the mob disguised as members of a girls’ traveling orchestra. Curtis’ obvious digs at Cary Grant are worth the price of rental alone, but the kicker is the film’s last line, which is entirely unexpected and yet the only possible ending. AFI’s #1 Comedy film. See also the immortal Casablanca, which I think fits all categories of all films, and Wilder’s risqué The Apartment.
  • Xanadu – USA, 1980, D: Robert Greenwald, 93m. With Olivia Newton-John, Gene Kelly and Michael Beck (who?!). This is only if you like your laughter to my ridicule-oriented since this is a truly awful film that is deliciously good. The idea of Olivia Newton-John discoing the night away with Gene Kelly (in, to our collective horror, his last role) on roller skates is both tragic and hilarious. Music by ELO. This was, notably, one of my favorite movies as a child, due largely to a major crush on Olivia Newton-John – boy, have my tastes in virtually everything changed. (I've blogged earlier about Roller Boogie, which is in the same veinSee also the abysmal Can’t Stop the Music, where the laughs also can’t be stopped when you consider this movie stars Steve Guttenberg and decathlete-Wheaties guy Bruce Jenner in the “true” story of the Village People who, by the way, happen to be straight here.


Anonymous said...

I would add "Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios", or "Women on the verge of a nervous breakdown" for the less hispanically inclined like myself.
And some Chaplin, maybe "Modern Times" or "The Great Dictator".
And maybe "Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb".

Kristy said...

"Galaxy Quest."

Nell Minow said...

I may be the only person reading your blog who actually did watch a movie while I was in labor. It was one of my favorites, "Ball of Fire" with Barbara Stanwyk, Dana Andrews, and Gary Cooper, a bunch of Hollywood's best character actors, and one of the wittiest scripts ever. I developed some rules for appropriate get-well movie-watching after a friend told me he tried to watch "Schindler's List" when he had the flu. In my opinion, movies to feel better by should:

1. Not be set in locales that are either too hot or too cold -- that will make you feel worse if you have a fever.
2. Not require much thinking. You should be able to doze off now and then without losing track of the plot.
3. Be cheerful and upbeat and low-key. Intensity is out, even in a comedy. So I have to disagree with you about one thing. I think "hilarious" is too demanding for someone who isn't feeling well.
4. Good ideas -- MGM musicals, light romances, and the ultimate comfort -- something you've seen before and enjoy.

Now go watch "Spinal Tap," for goodness' sake! It's one of those movies like "Casablanca" that has become so much a part of the lingua franca that it should be considered core curriculum! And, with a brief running time, it's just right for new parents with a napping baby.

Middento said...

Nell is very right about those guidelines -- and I can't believe I left "Singin' in the Rain" off my list! I show that movie *every semester* to start off my basic film class and it's wonderful in so many ways. (A plug for Nell, who is a great pal: she is the Movie Mom and has a great book about raising kids with movies. Definitely worth a look!!)

And Kristy, I should have expected that one! Also one that caused me to laugh a lot, even for a non-Trekker like myself.

Oge said...

Coming to America
Ferris Bueller's Day Off

J.J. said...

If you have not watched This Is Spinal Tap by the time I'm back in D.C., I will invade your house and subject you to it. I'm dead serious, Jeffrey. I'm sure if Xan were cognizant, he'd be embarrassed.

My contributions to the list are by no means mindless, but certainly conducive to a relaxing-yet-enjoyable stint on the sofa, fever or not:

* Everyone Says I Love You (1998). I know you've tried to watch this once and couldn't sit through it, which I don't understand. And if you ever teach a musicals class again, this must be on the syllabus. This is pure joy, bordering on ecstasy. I feel like floating just thinking about it.

* Mary Poppins (1964). Julie Andrews can make any medicine go down. This movie is a balm, a salve, a healing tea, a spa treatment, acupuncture, whatever.

* Almost Famous (2000). I was at death's door in Prague in October 2003, and I watched this and got all better (I also chased it with Bonnie & Clyde, but I think only I would take heart from seminal violence).

* All of Me (1984). Underrated and all but forgotten, Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin are sublime together.

* Dead Again (1991). Also underrated and all but forgotten, but different from the rest. It's neo-noir/romance thing is so much fun, and Emma Thompson is the best thing England's produced ever. A ripping good yarn.

J.J. said...
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