My “Comfort Movies,” When Even a Mystery Book Is Too Much

Lea Wait here, admitting that when I write all day, and edit or read in the evening, and even my favorite television programs (Castle! Bones! Law & Order! Rizzoli and Isles! NCIS! ) involve crimes, sometimes I need to get away. A trip to Bermuda might be nice. But that’s a bit beyond my reach at the moment – especially when reality says I have to be back at the computer in the morning.

But I can reach for one of my favorite movies. The kind that never fails to lower my blood pressure. Old friends I can count on to make me smile, make me laugh, take me into another world. Give me a little romance, a little laughter … the visual and aural equivalent of comfort food. 

I thought I’d list my ten favorites, but I couldn’t keep my list that low. All have stood the test of time. What do they have in common? That I love them. Maybe some of them are your favorites, too. 

1. Sarah Plain and Tall (and it’s sequel, Skylark.) Based on the Newbery Award winning book, and starring Glenn Close and Christopher Walken, how can it miss with the story of a feisty “mail order bride” from Camden, Maine who heads to Kansas in the early 20th century to marry a young widower with two independent children? Brilliant dialogue and acting, wonderful direction. Read the books, if you’ve missed them, then see the movies. For once, both are outstanding.

2. Another pair. Sabrina  – the Audrey Hepburn/Humphrey Bogart/William Holden version from 1954 – and the Julia Ormond/Harrison Ford/Greg Kinnear remake from 1995. Somehow they both got it right. I never can decide which one I like best.

3. All the President’s Men, with Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman. The way the media should be.

4.The American President, with Michael Douglas and Annette Bening. The perfect president, if he weren’t married and on West Wing. Martin Sheen and Michael J. Fox are bonuses. 

5. 1776 – a musical version of how those guys in Philadelphia wrote the Declaration of Independence. I love the dialogue and songs in which the words are drawn from actual letters and manuscripts. Funny, brave, true, and inspiring. Can’t beat that! (And it’s pretty close to historically accurate.)

6.  For funny, there’s Steve Martin, Diane Keaton and Martin Short in Father of the Bride (the wedding) and Father of the Bride Part II (the baby(ies)) — which if anything, is even funnier. Just repress the amount of money this family has and go with the flow. It’s hilarious.

7.  For a family that doesn’t have money — but is still hilarious – This is My Life, written by Nora Ephron. One of Ephron’s obituaries said this was her only movie failure. I’d just watched it the night before. Picture a single parent who’s a Macy’s cosmetic sales girl who wants to be a standup comic. Add Julie Kavner, Carrie Fisher and Dan Aykroyd and two incredibly talented kids. Mix — and cheer for them all. I do.

8. The second Audrey Hepburn movie on my list is Robin and Marian. Sean Connery is Robin Hood. Imagine they’re reunited 20 year’s after the Sheriff has driven Robin out of the forest and he’s gone to the Crusades. Marian’s  now a nun. He has gray hair. How their story might have ended. 

9. OK, weddings are funny by definition, so here’s another wedding movie. Betsy’s Wedding, with Alan Alda, Joey Bishop, Madeline Kahn, Joe Pesci, Ally Sheedy … an Italian/Jewish girl marries a WASP guy … but there’s also the mobster uncle and the sister cop. A NYC wedding, with all the trimmings.        

10.  Baby Boom, with Diane Keaton, reminds me all too much of my corporate days … and when the corporate executive inherits a baby and decides to move to Vermont and discovers living in the country isn’t exactly the way it is in the movies ….this one is close to home, with a great ending.

11. Working Girl is another NYC corporate drama (Harrison Ford, Melanie Griffith, Sigourney Weaver) I love for the personalities, the corporate intrigue, and the smart girl makes good theme. Realistic? Not exactly. But too bad it isn’t.

12  I almost went to law school, but ended up in grad school because I could do that at night – and the courses looked like more fun. But I love The Paper Chase, with Timothy Bottoms, Lindsay Wagner and, most of all, John Houseman, about Harvard law students. I suspect it isn’t true to life — but it’s the way I imagined it was. 

13. Notting Hill.  Another fantasy – this one romantic. Movie star (Julia Roberts) meets nerdy but lovable bookseller (Hugh Grant) and they fall in love. Of course, there are obstacles. And, of course, they end up together. Told you – fantasy. But the way it should be. And you get to look at Hugh Grant! (Or Julia Roberts – take your choice.)

14. The Mirror Has Two Faces. Barbra Streisand (her mother is played by Lauren Bacall!) is a dull NYC professor. So is Jeff Bridges. Accept those two facts, and go along with the ride that brings these two souls together in what he decides will be a platonic marriage. But that’s before they fall in love. . .

14. No platonic marriage for Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda in Yours, Mine and Ours, the original movie (1968 – don’t get the remake) based on an actual family. She’s a Navy widow  with 8 children. He’s a Navy widower with ten children. They meet, marry — and, of course — she gets pregnant. Yes, it’s funny – with Ball and Fonda it has to be – but the situations are also realistic. (My kids love this one, too.)

15. The Way We Were I refuse to think is a chic flic. Yes, it’s a romance. But it’s also history, and a great analysis of character. (And my husband likes it, too – although not as much as I do.) Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford are perfect in their roles, depicting publishing, media, and politics in America from 1937 to the late 1950s …. and what changes and what doesn’t. 

16. You’ve Got Mail:  a boy, a girl, 2 bookstores, email, the upper West Side of New York, and a (mostly) happy ending.  Can’t get much better. 

17.  And I’ll end with two musicals — very different, but classics. Gigi, with Maurice Chevalier, Leslie Caron, Louis Jourdan, Eva Gabor and Hermione Gingold: I love the story of the innocent young girl being trained to go into the “family profession,” and what she must learn. And a very different musical – although also with the theme of changing times — Fiddler on the Roof.

So — what are your “go to” movies when you want to curl up with a glass of wine or a warm cup of tea or cocoa and just forget the rest of the world? Talk to me!

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15 Responses to My “Comfort Movies,” When Even a Mystery Book Is Too Much

  1. Joan Emerson says:

    My mom simply adored “Sleepless in Seattle” and I treasure every one of the gazillion times I had the opportunity to enjoy it with her. Nowadays, I cannot bring myself to watch it . . . .

    Leah, I loved “1776” for all the reasons you mentioned and for bringing William Daniels and Virginia Vestoff from the Broadway show to recreate their roles in the film. The filmmaking world has pretty much eliminated the big-time musicals from production, so this film was a real treat. Like you, I also find it difficult to select “only a few” but I’ve promised myself I will keep the list to ten [in no particular order] . . . .

    Gregory Peck in “To Kill a Mockingbird” . . . the stuff of which classics are made.
    Clark Gable and Jeanette MacDonald in “San Francisco” . . . I could recite the dialogue for you and still I love to watch it.
    Raymond Massey, Ralph Richardson, and Cedric Hardwicke in “Things To Come” . . . a William Cameron Menzies film that is amazingly faithful to the H. G. Wells classic.
    Michael Rennie and Patricia Neal in Robert Wise’s “The Day the Earth Stood Still” . . . [the remake? Not so much . . . .]
    Walter Pidgeon, Anne Francis, Leslie Nielsen, and Robby the Robot in “Forbidden Planet” . . . loosely based on Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” and a template for decades of science fiction film that followed.
    Gene Kelly dancing in the streets and over sofas in “Singing in the Rain” . . . “The Wizard of Oz” . . . Walt Disney’s “Fantasia” . . .
    Julie London and Gary Cooper in “Man of the West” . . . okay, I’ll admit it, I will drop everything to watch any movie that Julie London made, but this one [her second with Gary Cooper] is one of my favorites, even if she doesn’t sing a single note. She does, however, sing along with herself in “The Great Man” . . . it’s one of the great “drunk” scenes of all time.

    • Joan Emerson says:

      Okay, I know it’s “Lea,” [and, of course, one never catches those goofs until AFTER you’ve pushed the “post” button] . . . my apologies . . . .

      • Lea Wait says:

        Joan — I agree with you on most — but I’ve never seen Man of the West — will have to add that to my “check it out!” list. (If I add my favorite TV shows of all time, by the way, I’d add West Wing, and
        Northern Exposure.) We are so lucky to live in a place where we have access to so many wonderful movies – old and new!

  2. Fascinating–Sarah Plain and Tall and Skylark are on my list, though none of the others are. My impression of Christopher Walken is based on his Jacob the farmer, and it always seems weird to me that most people know him for bad guys and monsters. Some of my top picks are Enchanted April, My Cousin Vinny, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Shakespeare in Love, and Ang Lee’s Eat Drink Man Woman.

  3. Barb Goffman says:

    I agree about The American President and You’ve Got Mail (though when YGM came out, I was appalled how Meg Ryan forgave Tom Hanks at the end – I guess I’ve mellowed over the years). I like Liz’s choice of My Cousin Vinny. My go to movies also include: Love Actually (makes me sad and happy), Music and Lyrics (a wonderfully funny and smart movie with Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore that most people missed for some reason), Miss Congeniality, The Birdcage (so wonderful), and Romancing the Stone.

  4. Lea Wait says:

    Oh, I love My Cousin Vinny, too And The Birdcage. And Miss Congeniality. Must check out some of the rest again — somehow i’ve missed Enchanted April and Priscilla Queen of the Desert. Such fun! (And such great movies!)

  5. Marni Graff says:

    I adore “Sleepless in Seattle” and “Four Weddings and a Funeral”–“Notting Hill” is grand as you mentioned. I’m also a Colin Firth fan and can watch anything he’s in over and over. And don’t forget anything with Cary Grant, who Colin channels…

  6. Hi, Lea,
    Hardest part is picking only a few, but here goes a baker’s dozen in no particular order: Romancing the Stone, Shakespeare in Love, Mama Mia, Twister, Independence Day, First Wives Club, Bringing up Baby, Some Like It Hot, Serenity, Grease, and Tremors.


  7. oops. miscounted. Add any Indiana Jones movie and (for laughs) Day of the Triffids.

  8. Lea Wait says:

    Day of the Triffids??? OK — got me on that one. Never even heard of it. This is becoming a very educational (and fun) conversation!!! And my list of “got to sees” is lengthening …”

  9. Brenda says:

    Some of yours are mine too. Love this topic! One of my comfort movies is “Casablanca.” I’ve only seen “Rhubarb” once, but it is already one of mine. Both Sabrinas for me too — hadn’t heard anyone else mention this before, “Some Like It Hot” definitely. I simply have to see the Hayley Mills version of “That Darn Cat” again soon, have the library copy checked out. I can’t name all I have and all I agree with. Just once again — love this topic!

  10. Jackie King says:

    Loved this post! My comfort movies are Gosford Park (oddly enough), Howard’s End, all of the Miss Marple movies (the ones made in the 80’s), and a DVD of the New Tricks TV series. That one always makes me laugh!
    Jackie King

  11. Bob Thomas says:

    Your husband likes MOST of those too. I’d just go a little easier on the musicals.

  12. Janice says:

    “Love, Actually” is a must every Thanksgiving night and “as needed.” I also love “Persuasion” because it’s so romantic and “Moulin Rouge” for Ewan McGregor singing love songs. If I stumble across “You’ve Got Mail” I can’t change the channel. My favorite scene is when Tom Hanks visits Meg Ryan in her apartment when she has a cold. I wish I looked so good when I have a cold! I love to watch “Holiday Affair” with Robert Mitchum and Janet Leigh any time of year. Don’t watch the awful remake. And for sheer silliness and a laugh it’s “Zoolander.” And a sequel is coming up next year!
    And if it’s a really awful, awful day? Anything with Elmo in it!!!

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