Tuesday, January 24, 2006


I like to watch — and watch — and watch — and watch

By Edward Copeland
I summoned the ghost of Chauncey Gardiner from Being There for the title of this post, because I want to look at a specific type of movie. Not the greatest or even necessarily your favorites, though they can often overlap, but movies that just seem infinitely watchable. If you stumble upon them on TV and you are bored, you may stick around until the end just because they are so damn mesmerizing.

Several films on my 10 best of all time list fit this criteria: I never seem to tire of Casablanca, Dr. Strangelove, Goodfellas, Network or Rear Window.

However, look at some of the other great works by the directors there: I can't say I could watch Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey over and over again and A Clockwork Orange actually weakens on repeat viewings. While I love Goodfellas and can watch it repeatedly, there is a limit to how many times you can sit through Scorsese's Raging Bull or Taxi Driver. A lot of Hitchcock's works could fall into this category (I'm thinking especially of North by Northwest), but who really wants to watch Vertigo or Psycho on a daily basis?

There are many great films not on my all-time list that are ones whose greatness you can recognize but that you aren't inclined to revisit frequently. Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List is a great example. There's only so much of it you can take, but I never tire of Jaws, which when push comes to shove I still think is Spielberg's best movie.

While Sidney Lumet's Network is on my all-time list, he has another title that in many ways is even more watchable. If I ever stumble across Dog Day Afternoon, I inevitably have to stick it out to the end. The fascinating thing is that you can't always quite put your finger on why these films affect you like this.

So, in no particular order other than the one in which they cross my mind, I'd like to toss out some movies, some great, some merely good, that I think have a special magnetism that draw me back for more looks.

Duck Soup and Horse Feathers: A lot of the early Marx Brothers fit this category, but these two are my favorites and I think show them at their zenith of zaniness.

His Girl Friday: In my opinion, one of the greatest comedies of all times by Howard Hawks, one of the most underappreciated directors of all time. Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell sparkle in the rare example of a remake of a good movie that's actually better than the original. Remember — keep the rooster story, that's human interest.

It's a Wonderful Life: Part of this may be because of the pure repetition in which it was shown back in the days it was in the public domain, but if I stumble upon its less-frequent showings now, I still have to watch. I think part of the reason is that it's not really the Capra-corn it gets credit for being. There is a darkness here too, a darkness I think Hitchcock may have picked up on when he started using Jimmy Stewart soon after. At its heart, while it's inspirational, it's really about a man who gets screwed over time and time again —
and that's why it works. George Bailey is a 1940s Job.

Singin' in the Rain: Arguably the greatest movie musical ever, it never grows old.

The Manchurian Candidate: Of course, I refer only to John Frankenheimer's original classic, not Jonathan Demme's modern travesty.

The Godfather: For me, this only applies to the original. Part 2 is good, but doesn't cast the same spell and as for Part 3, let's not talk about that one.

The Sting: Seeing this is one of my earliest memories of seeing an "adult" movie in a theater. While I'm sure I didn't quite comprehend it at the time, I think Marvin Hamlisch's reworking of Scott Joplin helped it work its magic on me forever after.

Smokey and the Bandit: Somewhere deep in my movie critic's mind, I know this isn't that good a movie, but I can't help it. It cracks me up, especially an uncut Jackie Gleason. If they didn't stop the film for the romantic rendezvous between Burt Reynolds and Sally Field, it never would have slowed down and that would have suited me fine.

Tootsie: There was a time in my youth, when I used to think that E.T.: the Extra-Terrestrial was the best film of 1982, but when you return to these two now, it's hard not to laugh (in a bad way) at some of E.T. while Tootsie just gets better and better

Terms of Endearment: I'm sure many would argue with me, but I love this movie and never grow tired of it — and odds are I'll bawl every time too. As a sidenote, I'd like to present my longtime argument against the term known as "chick flick." There is no such thing. There are good movies, bad movies and those in between. By trying to label something a chick flick (or a guy flick), it implies that all members of one gender will like something because of the genitalia they were born with. It's also too often used as an excuse to try to explain away criticism of lesser films. Terms of Endearment is a great film, Beaches sucks and gender has nothing to do with my assessment of either.

Real Genius: Here's the movie that might be the perfect example of what I'm talking about. If I hadn't rejected the future use of a 4-star rating scale, I couldn't give this anything higher than ***. When it shows up on TV, I have to watch, thanks mainly to Val Kilmer's fun performance. Besides, who can argue with a film whose climax involves a house being destroyed by popcorn?

Broadcast News: James L. Brooks is back again — yet he's never equaled his first two film efforts as writer-director. Of course in the case of this film, part of its appeal to me is because it relates to the business I'm in and I find way too much in common between myself and Albert Brooks' Aaron Altman.

Raising Arizona: Another Holly Hunter offering from 1987. This Coen brothers farce still grabs you and never lets go, all accompanied by that yodeling score. Granted, I think Miller's Crossing is still the Coens' best film and though I eventually grew tired of them (I haven't liked anything after Barton Fink, Raising Arizona is still pure entertainment.

Die Hard: With each viewing, I love this action ride more and more. Sometimes, jokingly, I say it is the greatest film ever made (though I mean it about as much as Pauline Kael probably did whenever she chose Million Dollar Legs). It's got one of the all-time great movie villains in Alan Rickman and a supporting cast seemingly plucked straight out of Asshole Central Casting (Paul Gleason, Robert Davi, William Atherton, Hart Bochner). The amazing thing about this movie to me is that no matter how many times I've seen it, it can still hold me in suspense.

Back to the Future Part II: Granted, the original Back to the Future is by far the better film and certainly is just as watchable as Part II, but for some reason I find this one more fun. Perhaps it's the mind-bending time-bending storyline, where action from the first film is playing in the background while the sequel's story moves along in the foreground. Can't really explain it, but I love it.

Pulp Fiction: I know that this film wears on some viewers, but having just rewatched it recently, Quentin Tarantino's masterpiece still holds me in its clutches just as it did the first time I saw it in 1994.

South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut: This is probably the most recent title I would allow on this list. The songs are great, the satire is sharp and it's just damn funny.

Those are all I'm coming up with right now, but please feel free to add your own.

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It's hard not to repeat many of the titles on your list. It seems I will never tire of "It's a Wonderful Life" as many times as it's shown. And speaking of Christmas movies, I must admit that "A Christmas Story" is amazingly durable for the blitz it gets each season. As for my pet..if you come in after the first half hour, "The Osterman Weekend" kicks ass.
I thought about "A Christmas Story" when I was writing about "It's a Wonderful Life," but then forgot it when I started going in semi-chronological order. Another Christmas movie I'm a sucker for: "White Christmas." Everyone says "Holiday Inn" is supposed to be better, but I don't think it's a contest. I end up watching at least part of "White Christmas" every year.
All yours are great and I love that you included "Smokey and the Bandit." When I was a kid my favorite film was "Arthur." I saw it eight times in the theatre. I couldn't get enough. I watch it today and what the hell, it holds up, cheesy music and all.

I watch "It's a Wonderful Life" about three times every Christmas; it will never get old. Do you think it is all Mary's fault that George's life went to hell? Minutes after she throws the rock and makes that secret wish, George learns his father has suffered a fatal stroke, setting in motion the series of events that will chain him to Bedford Falls forever. Thanks a lot, Mrs. Bailey.

There are a few films that when they come on cable I just end up watching the entire thing. The first two "Godfathers". "Die Hard", although it looks especially bad not letterboxed.

Recently I've found that if I run into "Sideways", which is on so frequently, I'm going to watch the whole thing, or at least until Paul Giamatti in the trucker's house to steal the wallet back. The first time I saw it I said I probably could never watch it again because it was so painful and embarrassing but I guess I got over that.

There are several Woody Allens.. but I seem to never get tired of "Hannah and Her Sisters" or "Husbands and Wives."

Being a parent I'm subjected to my daughter's movie obsessions and have watched some of her favorites over and over... and I have to say I have no complaints about repeated viewings for "Wizard of Oz", "Singing in the Rain", "Beauty and the Beast", "Toy Story 2", to name a few.

A few more: "Sunset Boulevard", "All About Eve", "West Side Story", "Sweet Smell of Success", "Ball of Fire", "Philadelhia Story", "Big Lebowski."
You know, I can't believe I forgot one of my all-time watchable guilty pleasures -- The Poseidon Adventure. How could I forget, especially this soon after Shelley Winters' death and with two remakes this year.
Actually, I was pleasantly surprised by A Goofy Movie when I reviewed it when it opened years ago. Not great, but entertaining. Hair has both its good and bad points. As for Singin' in the Rain, keep going back to it as you grow up and I think you'll appreciate its greatness.
jen's comments make obvious what I was missing. As a parent, 99 percent of what I watch is kids stuff. I get out to a theater about twice a year, usually for big stuff like Star Wars, Harry Potter, or Lord of the Rings. I rent maybe five new realese a year(lots of oldies though). I haven't watched a television show in years. All the same I log plenty of hours in front of the tube watching over and over whatever my son is into that month. It started with Pooh. I thought I'd go nuts if I ever had to watch "Winnie the Pooh, A Valentine for You" again, but after the first hundred times or so, damn if it didn't begin to grow on me. But mostly I feel lucky, as I can watch all of Pixar and the Disney classics (old and new) again and again without any problem. I'm pleased to note that black & white is no hinderance to his enjoyment. He often requests black & white Mickey Mouse and in his pirate phase we watched the silent "Black Pirate" with Douglas Fairbanks several times. (Actually, a handsome two-strip technicolor.) As far as I'm concerned, "Finding Nemo" is as near to perfection as anything made by humans. After seeing it at least 60 or 70 times, he began to move on to "Peter Pan", but I confess I stayed up late one night and watched it yet again with the audio commentaries. Regarding "It's a Wonderful Life" and George's hell, when I saw it the first million times as a young man, the crushing sense of George Bailey's frustration was palpable. As I grew older other aspects began to take on more weight. Things like Zuzu's petals, for instance. I think of George Bailey as a civilian, hometown counterpart to the navy's Mister Roberts. With dreams that big, reality was destined to temper his fantasies and channel his spirit. Besides, how could any man pass on Donna Reed? We all know what Mary wished for when she threw that rock at the Granville House...and indeed she got her wish. But as to it all being her fault, well, I find nothing to fault. So I'm gonna side with the Angels on this one.
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