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Movies to survive the plague

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

I’ve often joked that my personal life motto is “Outside bad, inside good.” This is owing to my aversion to activities like hiking and skiing and anything that requires me to purchase expensive equipment in order to suffer.

It might be time for a mea culpa.

What I’ve discovered is that while I might like to opt out of outdoor activities, I do enjoy leaving the house whenever I please. Sure, the first couple of days of pandemic-induced isolation were pretty all right. I read three books, wore my pajamas 24 hours a day and did everything on my own schedule with no one there to judge me or expect anything of me—except two very needy cats, that is. I had food, vodka and all the toilet paper a girl could need (for now).

But the steady stream of bad news combined with my natural inclination for self-critical introspection started to get me down. And without being able to socialize my way out of it—social media is good and all, but no match for face-to-face conversation—I stewed. And fretted. And worried. As the news got more dire, and I began to comprehend how far the effects of COVID-19 will spread, even among people who never fall ill, my small world became more dark.

I have a feeling a fair number of you know exactly what I’m talking about here.

I needed some feel-good, pick-me-up entertainment fodder, stat. Under normal circumstances, my inclination is to scratch that escapist itch by taking myself to the Pickford Film Center for some high-grade cinematic action. After all, I work there and so the movies are free. However, the Pickford was one of the first places to shutter in response to the pandemic, and while the thought of sneaking in and firing up the projectors for a private show was appealing, it certainly didn’t seem in the spirit of the quarantine.

Luckily, options for home entertainment abound.

This is the point at which I feel it pertinent to point out that at the time I am writing this, Film is Truth remains open, is taking precautions to keep things as sanitized as possible and has all of the everything you could ever want to watch. Businesses all over are scrambling and panicking (with good reason—how’s about some small business relief, Gov. Inslee?) due to mandated closures, but supporting Film is Truth and keeping ourselves from going stir crazy at the same time is one of the few bright spots in the COVID darkness.

What I have to offer is a totally random, completely personal list of the movies that I believe can get you out of your head and help get you out of the dumps when you can’t leave your house.

I feel it behooves me to begin with a movie that was a flop when it was released, but has become a bona fide cult classic—at least if the packed house at a recent showing of it at the Limelight Cinema as part of the Pickford’s Third Eye movie series is any indication. I’m talking about Clue, the movie based on the popular board game. When it was released in 1985, anticipation was high. It had an excellent cast (Tim Curry, Madeline Kahn, Christopher Lloyd, Michael McKean, etc.), the trappings of a drawing-room mystery and one helluva gimmick: three separate endings that would be shown in different theaters. There was no telling which theater would get which ending, and to see them all, you had to do some sleuthing, which in the pre-internet era, was not as simple as it sounded. The conceit was good on paper and a flop in real life. Turns out, no one wanted to see the movie three times just for the final five minutes. The prospect of having to do so made audiences so mad they stayed away in droves. However, when the movie began to show—and show, and show—on television with all three endings attached in madcap succession, Clue finally found its audience. It’s wacky, whip-smart and features both some incredible physical comedy as well as one of the best ad-libs of all time, courtesy of Kahn.

I know they can be polarizing, but I’ve always had a soft spot for musicals. Other than Grease, there’s no musical I’ve watched more times than Singin’ in the Rain, which falls into a second category of films I love: movies about the movies. The 1952 musical comedy covers the not-so-graceful time when films transitioned from silent pictures to “talkies.” Glamorous onscreen couple Lina Lamont and Don Lockwood (played by Jean Hagen and Gene Kelly) has to convert their already-in-production silent movie to one with sound. There’s just one hurdle: Lamont has a voice that can peel paint. Enter ingénue Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds), who is tapped to dub her voice. A whole lot of hijinks—and tap-dancing—ensue, a little romance is had and Kelly sings and dances in the rain. Kelly and Reynolds are supposedly the stars to watch in the movie, but I’m in it for Lamont’s stellar comedic performance and Donald O’Connor (as Lockwood’s best friend and collaborator Cosmo Brown) fancy and decidedly acrobatic footwork during his big “Make ’Em Laugh” number. And we could all use a laugh right now.

In the more modern cinematic era, another movie that never fails to amuse me—even though it is the darkest of comedies—is Election. It’s early-era Alexander Payne, prior to sideways Sideways, The Descendants, About Schmidt and his brilliant and Oscar-winning labor of cinematic love, Nebraska. Reese Witherspoon plays one of the most indelible heroines ever committed to the big screen, Tracy Flick, a Type A overachieving high-schooler. Her nemesis is none other than Ferris Bueller himself, Matthew Broderick, in this case an embittered and dissatisfied teacher. The battleground: a school election. Somehow the stakes grow to be sky-high, and when you add a variety of wholly inappropriate short-lived and ill-conceived romances to the mix, everything gets hilariously dicey long before the votes are counted. If you’ve watched Big Little Lies, just think of Tracy Flick as the less-polished precursor to Madeline Mackenzie and it will make the whole thing that much more entertaining.

Given that some of you have children you’re desperately attempting to keep occupied (I’ve seen your social media posts, and while I can’t empathize, you do have my sympathies), it seems only proper to throw out a suggestion that will satisfy the little ones—and the adults. My touchstone for entertainment that crosses all age boundaries will forever and always be Pixar. The natural choice of the animation powerhouse’s catalog is Finding Nemo, but odds are decent you’ve already watched that one eleventy bajillion times and may not want to be trapped in the house for weeks on end with you, your offspring and Nemo on repeat. In that case, might I suggest you take another gander at Toy Story? Despite all of the movies that have come since, and in light of Pixar’s long dominance of Oscar’s Best Animated Film category, it can be easy to forget that Toy Story was the movie that started it all—and it remains nearly perfect even now. Pixar brings a family of toys to life as only it can, and this one won’t make you cry nearly as hard as, say, Wall-E.

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