6. Say Anything… (Cameron Crowe, 1989)
Did you know that kick boxing is the sport of the future? Well, at least in 1989, it was.
80s teen every dude John Cusack is kickboxing fanatic and all around righteous goofball Lloyd Dobler. He is lovestruck by Ione Skye’s Diane Court. He’s the frog to her princess. He really shouldn’t have a hope in hell.
The end of high school. The future is an empty canvas that awaits your first brush stroke.
Diane Court (Ione Skye) has dozens of brushes and a palette full of colours to choose from. Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack) has maybe one brush, but he can’t find it right now. His palette, though, has three awesome shades of red!
One of the best 80s teen movies, writer/director Crowe really crushes it. Everything works.
Cusack and Skye are lovely together. Their shy smiles and clumsy hug and first kiss in a car romance is handled with real care and sensitivity.
In many ways, they are caught in a love triangle – the third point taken up by Diane’s overbearing father – played wonderfully by John Mahoney. He thinks little of Lloyd and works to stifle his daughter’s independence, while, at the same time, trying to keep her on a fast track that the Lloyd Dobler’s of the world have little to no access to.
Heart and humour are hard to balance – too much of either and you risk undermining the other. Here, the balance is so good, you’d swear Crowe weighed each one a scale before yelling his first, “Action!”
Like spending an afternoon in the warm sun with an old friend.
7. Mondays in the Sun (Fernando Leon de Aranoa, 2002)
“Like Siamese Twins. They fight…and one of them wins. He pushes the other one, who falls. And he laughs. But he’s falling too.”
Laid off, a group of shipyard workers try to hold it together without taking their anger and frustration out on each other.
Before Javier Bardem creeped us out in, “No Country For Old Men”, he had a rich and diverse career in Spain. Here, he plays Santa – the sort of spiritual leader of the group. He’s full of pride and wisdom and takes no crap from no one.
Full of himself, yet, humble enough to know that he needs his friends to get by, Bardem’s Santa is a kind of Captain without a ship. He knows the value of sticking together, particularly in rough waters, and tries to impart this lesson to his shipmates with varying results. He’s a glue guy – without him nobody sticks together.
Bleak drama about the way chronic unemployment can strain relationships and take away your dignity, Fernando Leon de Aranoa’s film is downbeat, yes, but, ultimately, uplifting in the way it reaffirms the value of community.
Unlike other films on this list, this one keeps the rain falling a little longer than you’d like.
Even so, it is an even more rewarding viewing experience for that very same reason. More pain, more gain.
Misery loves company – maybe. But, company can also shrink misery down until it is just a tiny pebble of a thought in your mind.
8. Unfinished Song (Paul Andrew Williams, 2012)
“Chips and ice cream. Go home and have as much as you want.”
Sometimes you can see all the story moves coming a mile a way and, yet, you still watch and you still enjoy and you still wipe tears from your eyes when it all ends.
Vanessa Redgrave plays a woman dying of cancer. But, she’s not going “…gentle into that good night.” Instead, she belongs to a local choir made up of other seniors and they are preparing for a competition. Her husband, played by a wonderfully crabby Terence Stamp, thinks she’s making a fool of herself singing all those contemporary songs meant for much younger people and, besides, he doesn’t think she has the energy to do it.
When Redgrave sings, “True Colours”, you’ll know why this film was made.
Usually, listening to people sing and struggle to hit all the notes is like watching four year olds play soccer – it’s funny for a few moments and then you just want it to end as soon as possible.
But, the thing about singing is that, when done sincerely, even by someone who can’t sing, it strips away all the shields they have worked so hard to put up and keep up. It presents them at their most innocent – their most vulnerable. They can touch your heart in a way that a great singer simply cannot.
Lovely in intent and execution. A beautiful tune that you’ve heard a thousand times before and want to hear a thousand times more.
Chips and ice cream.
When the light in us dims and the dark stretches out its long bony arms and slowly slides them around us for that concluding embrace, we can accept it with a scowl on our faces or we can reach for our “Chips and ice cream.”
It’ll make you feel like hugging the first random person you see.
9. Off the Black (James Ponsoldt, 2006)
Throw a pitch that just manages to catch the outside edge of home plate and it’s a strike – on the black.
Gravelly voiced, heart on his yellowing sleeve, Nick Nolte plays a crusty ole f*** who umpires non-professional baseball games for teenagers when he’s not crushing cars at the wreckers.
Living alone with his beer drinking bulldog, Kellydawn, Ray Cook leads a pretty lonely life. Enter teenager Dave Tibbel (Trevor Morgan) who agrees to pose as Ray’s son at his 40th high school reunion to repay a debt he owes him.
We all want the real thing. It’s only natural. Substitutes just won’t do. Funny thing, though, when the real thing isn’t available and you have no other choice but a substitute – it can do the job, at least for a little while.
Understated and thoughtful, the kind of movie that takes its time moving everything into place, writer/director Ponsoldt has a real feel for knowing when enough is enough – leaving just enough space for our emotions to spill into.
So, put your phone aside, forget, for a while, how crappy things have been and let this sweet little film into your heart. It’ll leave the place better than when it found it.
10. Tender Mercies (Bruce Beresford, 1983)
“I’ve decided to leave here forever/Let me know if you’re coming along.”
– a song from “Tender Mercies”
Once famous, now down and out, Mac Sledge (Robert Duvall) is trying to sober up and move on. Problem is, the wreckage he left behind him is still smoking.
Like Bad Blake – the fictional country singer Jeff Bridges played the hell out of in “Crazy Heart” – Mac has snagged himself a new love (Tess Harper) and a renewed desire to clean himself up.
It’s a familiar story. Heck, it’s a familiar country song. Yet, like any good country song, it’s the familiarity that makes it worth your while.
Duvall is just plain good. That voice, that face, his soft spoken manner and the comfort and skill he has around a song, has you believing him from the very first strum.
A lovely tune that is easy on the ears. A warm bath of a movie.