Movies with Mom

I asked my Mom, in honor of Mother’s Day and after taking a hint from The Dark of the Matinee, to name her five favorite movies. That turned into the 5 movies she can watch over and over. You never know with Mom. She likes Bad Lieutenant (full review)- something I never expected. She can’t stand Lifetime, but can’t “get” the humor in one of my favorite recent comedies, Role Models; she’s more of a Mel Brooks fan.

Tommy Salami was just a L’il Smokey then, and Mom looked like she was in Thelma & Louise.

She introduced me to a lot of movies that formed the foundation for my love of film, and Mel Brooks is just one facet. I’m surprised History of the World Part 1 or Blazing Saddles isn’t on her list, but when you ask people their faves, sometimes they want to pick the important ones. Another surprise is that Night of the Hunter isn’t here- she introduced me to that excellent film, only recently appreciated for its daring and greatness. Also Harvey with Jimmy Stewart, or any number of Alfred Hitchcock films that we watched together- Strangers on a Train being the one we probably agree on most. Here’s her top 5:

1. Goodfellas

Martin Scorsese’s mob masterpiece- what’s not to like? It’s one of those movies I can watch again and again, too. Not just for the story, but the direction- everyone remembers the long shot of them entering the Copa, but the one that always got me was the court scene- we smoothly cut from the judge sustaining an objection, to Henry Hill lounging in an empty courtroom, narrating to us directly. Everything else has been voiceover, and we barely notice. Nice move, Scorsese. I love The Godfather and Part II, and so does Mom, but Goodfellas is both more fun, and removes any glamorization. Everyone betrays each other and goes to jail.

2. To Kill a Mockingbird
I love this movie, too. The book is great, but the movie really encapsulates everything about it, and puts us in magical childhood time where Scout learns some very adult things. It’s one of those perfect movies, where Gregory Peck exudes admirable righteousness as Atticus Finch, without being a jackass. Scout and Jem are believable children, and while the story is pretty black and white- no pun intended- Finch’s daring and fruitless stand against his townfolk is even more memorable to me than Gary Cooper in High Noon.

3. Dances with Wolves
I still hold a grudge against this movie for getting the Oscar over Goodfellas, but it’s an enjoyable enough epic. Sure, it buys into the noble savage crap about the American Indian, it’s a fine Hollywood historical fantasy. And after being villains in countless westerns, they earned it. I found the movie overlong and a little contrived- Costner just happens to find a white love interest?- but it’s not horrible, and Wes Studi is pretty amazing as the bad guy in his small role. Which he got him an even better part in…

4. The Last of the Mohicans
My mom and I saw Heat in the now-gone Franklin Theater; I know she liked The Insider and Ali. So being a fan of Michael Mann runs in the family. He’s one of my favorite directors, and I’m hoping the upcoming Public Enemies makes up for the flop of Miami Vice (which I liked). Mohicans caught a bit of flack, but I think he was true to the novel and removed all the twigs and other thinks that Mark Twain found infuriating. It’s got romance for the gals and plenty of tomahawk and musket mayhem for the guys, it’s filmed beautifully, and if Daniel Day Lewis isn’t at his absolute best, Wes Studi’s evil Magua is just incredible. Okay, the shots that follow the cannonballs were a bad choice, but it’s a hell of a lot easier for me to watch than Costner’s movie. Silent Russell Means as Chingachook and Clannad’s incredible soundtrack sure help.

5. Love, Actually
I wrote this off as a silly chick flick with no evidence until Mom, Sis and Firecracker all said to watch it. And when I did, I was surprised. It weaves many romances together, 8 of them in fact. That’s a tough act. But it works. It begins with Hugh Grant as the British PM, sparring with U.S. President Billy Bob Thornton- a hilarious bit of casting- and spirals off with the PM’s sister, and unfolds to include a dozen characters that it keeps track of well. It jumps from Colin Firth with writer’s block and a language barrier, to two stand-ins in a movie doing a sex scene. Bill Nighy is fantastic as a washed up rock star forced to write a carol. Written by the fellow who gave us Four Weddings and a Funeral, bigger may be better in this case. It’s a Christmas film, and no one likes being lonely around the holidays; no one played it in December on cable last year, but Comcast wanted $4.99 to watch it On Demand. Bastards!

Overall, a pretty good list. Her love of movies helped make me who I am today. Watching Blazing Saddles when you’re 11 is pretty awesome. Laughing at Cloris Leachman’s prehensile boobs in High Anxiety, and the wordplay in History of the World, definitely shaped me at a tender age. I still ask her if she flunked flank any time there’s any alliteration around. She let me watch Alien on HBO, still one of my favorites of all time, and didn’t mind too much when I had to RUN from my bedroom to the bathroom at night because the alien might get me. We had a VCR (thanks to my Uncle Paul) when they still cost a small fortune, and we watched Raiders of the Lost Ark and Blade Runner over and over. And she waited in line around the block with me when I wanted to see The Empire Strikes Back.

What can I say? Thanks, Mom. And Happy Mother’s Day!

These are the honorable mentions that didn’t make the top 5:
This is tough because there are a lot that I like… Moonstruck ,The Color Purple, Gone with the WindAlmost any Bette Davis movie; The Godfather I and II, A Bronx Tale, An Affair to Remember (the original), Of Mice and Men, and The Grapes of Wrath.

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