Comfort movies: What are your favorite subclassics?

(Photo: DY)

(Photo: DY)

Do you have a list of movies that might not make it onto the critics’ all time great lists, but that you can watch over and again?

I have some favorite movies that just happen to be classics. Singin’ in the Rain (1952) is my favorite movie ever, and I’ll be sharing a memory about that one soon. The Civil War movie Glory (1989) may be the best of its genre. Woody Allen’s Manhattan (1979) brilliantly captures both a great city and some of its neurotic people. For humor, Mel Brooks’s The Producers (1967 version) is at another level, while The Exorcist (1973) still rings the fear bell for me. And Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) gets me every time with that twisty story and gorgeous Bay Area cinematography.

But whenever I watch and enjoy these movies and others like them, there’s a part of me that feels obliged to study them, too. They’re so darn good, I need to appreciate them at an aesthetic level, as well for their pure entertainment value.

The subclassics

But then there are the comfort movies, what I call my subclassics, that I can watch repeatedly, without feeling tugged by my inner film critic.

They’re the movies that may get a solid three stars from the critics, though rarely four. They’re not dumb movies, but they don’t overly tax my brain either. I can miss a few lines and not worry about missing the whole point of the film.

War movies

Several World War II movies make my subclassics list. In Harm’s Way (1965) is a WWII naval flick, with John Wayne and Patricia Neal leading a star-studded cast. Its opening scene takes place in Hawaii on the eve of the Pearl Harbor attack. Sink the Bismarck (1960) portrays the British mission to sink Germany’s most powerful battleship, starring Kenneth More and the incredibly lovely Dana Wynter. And Battle of the Bulge (1965) depicts Germany’s final major offensive effort of the war, featuring Henry Fonda and lots of other Hollywood stars.

As a Civil War buff, I’ve given Ron Maxwell’s Gettysburg (1993) repeated viewings. And going back in historical time, The Patriot (2000), a highly fictionalized story of the American Revolution, and Master and Commander (2003), a rousing naval actioner about the Napoleonic Wars, have received similar attention on my DVD player.

And more…

I’ll accept the twist of a blue state liberal enjoying war movies, but I like other types of movies as well.

For late Cold War-era humor and suspense, WarGames (1983) is thoroughly entertaining period piece, starring Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy as privileged teens who get caught up in the possibility of computer-generated nuclear war. I also love seeing the early 80s personal computer gadgetry playing a key role in the movie.

For more serious Cold War stuff, I love Thirteen Days (2000), the story of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis as seen from the Kennedy White House (with a little bit too much Kevin Costner). And for fake international intrigue, there’s Patriot Games (1992), a Tom Clancy novel turned into celluloid, featuring Harrison Ford as Jack Ryan.

Another subclassic favorite, Twister (1996), stars Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton as diehard storm chasers and weather researchers. I’m fascinated by tornadoes and have gone on five storm chase tours since 2008, and I can watch this (scientifically shaky) flick anytime. And the steak dinner scene at Aunt Meg’s never ceases to arouse my taste buds.

On the funny side, Major League (1989) is a favorite and hilarious sports flick (anything with Bob Uecker usually qualifies), and Hairspray (1988 version), starring a young Ricki Lake in one of John Waters’ tamer productions, blends slightly gross humor and great tunes. And That Thing You Do! (1996) is charming and funny story of a small Pennsylvania band that suddenly hits the big time, starring Tom Hanks, Tom Everett Scott, and Liv Tyler.

And yours???

There are many others I could add to the list, but you get the idea. These are the movies that put us in a good place or give us a respite from everyday stuff.

Feel free to add yours, either here or when I post this to Facebook!

9 responses

  1. Comfort Movies: any of the old WGN “Family Classics” to start. Some are not so good to adult eyes, but many are supurb.

    1. For the uninitiated, “Family Classics” was on Chicago’s local WGN TV, a weekly family-friendly movie that, by the time I was watching, was on late Sunday afternoons. Here’s the Wikipedia writeup, and you can scroll to the list of movies:

      Brad, I’ll have to do a post on that sometime.

      1. David, let me know if you do a post on Family Classics. I have a list of movie titles that more closely matches the set of FC titles shown to our cohort than the list a Wikipedia, that I can share with you.

  2. Yikes, ‘The Exorcist’ still creeps me out. Even now, 40 years later, I find it laughable that ad-monkeys often try to sell current horror flicks as ‘…scarier than The Exorcist…’ or some other babble.
    Anyway, I’ll just toss some of my favorites into the mix:
    The Dish (2000) — a semi-fictional account about a radio telescope in Australia and it’s role in the live TV broadcast of the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing.
    Smoke Signals (1998) — two Native Americans travel from their reservation in Idaho out to Arizona. Adam Beach usually gets top billing but it’s hard to ignore the presence of co-star Evan Adams.
    The Station Agent (2003) — basically it’s about a guy who wants to escape from society and its often ugly, discriminatory biases but he finds that even in a remote New Jersey town that we’re all still just social creatures.
    Iron Jawed Angels (2004) — Hollywood is so full of gender bias & testosterone I just wanted to add this my suggestions because it’s a) written and directed by women, and b) a really good movie. Covers a lot of the social and political struggles of the U.S. women’s suffrage movement in the early 1900’s.

    1. Jeff, I’ve never seen any of those flicks (besides The Exorcist, of course)! I guess I have some catching up to do.

  3. Well, I know that Hotel Rwanda probably doesn’t fit this topic as it won ten awards that I am aware of, and was nominated for many more.

    I do think that this movie is a must-see, though, as it highlights the 1994 genocide whereby the Hutus slaughtered almost a million Tutsis and Tutsi supporters-the figures vary-in during a specific time frame, accounts vary, as well.

    There is a book, as well, called, ” We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Killed with our Families” by Phillip Gourevich, a journalist that was able to cross into no-mans land and come back out alive to talk about what he witnessed.

    Both the book and the movie bring me comfort in viewing/reading about modern-day heroes, as both the hotel manager and the reporter risked life and limb in order to do the right thing, according to each person’s belief system.

    Joseph Campbell talked about identifying heroes in our lives and how critical that is to our feeling a deeper sense of wholeness, which is supremely nurturing.

    I derive comfort in being able to identify heroes in the midst of an epidemic of apathy to humankind’s suffering in our modern world.

    I hope this focus isn’t too disruptive. I call it an occupational hazard, as I strongly believe in social justice, and whenever I see it in action, I truly feel more safe as a human being in a world that seems to be at odds with itself.

    As for lighter topics, I am working on enjoying some sitcoms, now and again.

    1. JP, I thought Hotel Rwanda was bracing and very well done. It reminded me of The Killing Fields, another excellent movie, except it had a more authentic (and tragic) feel.

  4. Oh you are such guys!!!! The Way We Were, Out of Africa, The Sound of Music, The King and I, Funny Girl/ Lady, My Fair Lady and for some reason I was extremely fascinated and have watched multiple times…Indochine with Catherine Denuve.

    1. I didn’t watch “The Sound of Music” until after completing a study abroad semester in England. During a post-semester trip to the Continent, one of my friends dragged me on The Sound of Music Tour in Salzburg, insisting we couldn’t miss it because the movie was one of her childhood favorites. Now I enjoy it and revel in the beautiful shots that we saw in person.

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