Have you ever been on a long drive and “zoned out” to the point where you’re still focused on the road, but it feels as if you’ve covered the last 20 miles in two minutes?
Confession: I’ve experienced that same wandering-mind phenomenon here and there at movie screenings, e.g., when Vin Diesel is dismantling anonymous henchmen for the fifth time in a CGI-filled action movie. On the opposite side of the spectrum, the best movies are so captivating and so immersive they wash over you like a waking dream and you get totally lost in the story. Life will be waiting for you after the closing credits, but for now, THIS is the world.
In these extraordinary, quarantined times, many of us are watching more streaming series, more original movies and more beloved favorite films than ever before. With that in mind, the latest “Best Movies…” podcast featuring yours truly and radio host Roe Conn is all about feel-good films, from comedies and musicals to biopics to sports films — even some heavy dramas and scary movies.
Here’s a look at all the genres we’ll be covering in the four-part series, with a spotlight on one title in each category.
“The Nutty Professor” (1996). A more enlightened Academy would have recognized Eddie Murphy’s tour de force, six-character performance as one of the great acting turns of 1996. In this reboot of the 1963 Jerry Lewis classic, Murphy creates two distinctive and memorable characters: the morbidly obese, brilliant and kindly Sherman Klump and his evil, Mr. Hyde-like alter ego, Buddy Love.
Among other laugh-out-loud moments, “The Nutty Professor” contains the single funniest group flatulence scene in the history of motion pictures, with Murphy playing everyone at the dinner table except the fantastic Jamal Mixon as Ernie Klump Jr.
Also: “National Lampoon’s Animal House” (1978), “Groundhog Day” (1993), “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” (1986), “Uncle Buck” (1989), “Airplane!” (1980), “Caddyshack” (1980) and “Best in Show” (2000).
“The Blues Brothers” (1980): “Who wants an orange whip? Orange whip, orange whip?”
“We’re on a mission from God.”
“It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark and we’re wearing sunglasses.”
John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd as Joliet Jake and Elwood Blues tore up Daley Plaza, the 95th Street Bridge over the Calumet River and the old Dixie Square Mall in south suburban Harvey in this raucous, rumbling, rambling musical comedy, which features legendary performances from Aretha Franklin, James Brown and Cab Calloway.
Also: “Jesus Christ Superstar” (1973), “Grease” (1978), “Mr. Holland’s Opus” (1995), “Rent” (2005), “A Hard Day’s Night” (1964), “Purple Rain” (1984).
“Erin Brockovich” (2000). There are moments in certain movies where you think: Well, there’s this year’s Oscar winner. In “Erin Brockovich,” that moment occurs when Julia Roberts as the real-life people’s advocate dismantles the smug corporate attorneys who have taken over the case she’s been building with her boss, Ed Masry (the great Albert Finney).
After Erin recites the names, numbers and personal details of plaintiffs by heart (“Annabelle Daniels, 714-454-9346, ten years old … wanted to be a synchronized swimmer so she spent every minute she could in the pool … her parents are Ted and Rita”) and the uptight lawyer across the table says, “OK, I think we got off on the wrong foot here,” Erin retorts, “That’s all you got lady, two wrong feet in f----ing ugly shoes.”
Boom. Bam. Oscar.
Also featured: “Amadeus” (1984), “Lincoln” (2012), “Chaplin” (1992), “Straight Outta Compton” (2015), “Ray” (2004).
“Isn’t It Romantic” (2019). In this overlooked, sparkling gem from just last year, Rebel Wilson stars as Natalie, a lonely cynic with a drab life who hates romantic comedies — and then gets knocked out during a mugging and wakes up to find herself inside a romantic comedy. This loving, spot-on spoof features Liam Hemsworth as the prototypical leading man, Brandon Scott as the clichéd gay best friend and Adam Devine as Natalie’s friend and co-worker, who just might turn out to be the perfect fit for her. (Sometimes, the love you’ve been searching for your whole life … has been right by your side all along.)
Also: “Love, Actually” (2003), “Modern Romance” (1980), “When Harry Met Sally…” (1989), “Sleepless in Seattle” (1993), “Love, Simon” (2018), “Notting Hill” (1999).
“The Karate Kid” (1984). Come on, how can you not leap from the sofa and cheer when Daniel pulls off that ridiculous crane technique in the big final match against the despicable Johnny?
“The Karate Kid” is essentially a teenage, martial arts remake of “Rocky.” (In fact, both films were directed by Oak Park native John G. Avildsen.) Its popularity endures to this day, with Ralph Macchio and William Zabka reprising their roles in the YouTube Premium series “Cobra Kai,” which also has featured Martin Kove’s sensei John Kreese — star of a commercial for QuickBooks.
“Sweep the leg!”
Also: “Rocky” (1976), “Miracle” (2004), “Hoosiers” (1986), “The Natural” (1984), “Rudy” (1993), “Seabiscuit” (2003).
“Ocean’s Eleven” (2001). From the moment George Clooney’s Danny Ocean recruits Matt Damon’s Linus at Emmit’s Irish Pub in Chicago, Steven Soderbergh’s remake of the Rat Pack heist film from 1960 is a perfectly paced, old-fashioned crowd-pleaser with an exquisite ending.
Also: “Goodfellas” (1990), “Reservoir Dogs” (1992), “Casino Royale” (2006), “Taken” (2008), “Pulp Fiction” (1994), “The Fugitive” (1993), “Déjà vu” (2006).
“Back to the Future” (1985). When you think about the insane and tricky premise of this franchise-igniting blockbuster — American teenager time-travels in a DeLorean and becomes his mother’s love interest — it could have gone spectacularly wrong. But thanks to director and co-writer Robert Zemeckis (another Chicago native) and the terrific performances by Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Crispin Glover and Thomas F. Wilson as the immortal Biff Tannen, “Back to the Future” is a timeless (pardon the pun) classic.
Also: “Wonder Woman” (2017), “The Martian” (2015), “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (1977), “Iron Man” (2008), “Black Panther” (2018).
“Jaws” (1975). Let us sing the praises of the venerable character actor Murray Hamilton, who was not only the mayor in “Jaws,” he was MISTER Robinson in “The Graduate.” It takes considerable skills to convincingly portray such memorably unlikable characters.
Steven Spielberg was not yet 30 when he directed arguably the greatest scary adventure movie of all time.
Also: “Scream” (1996), “Get Out” (2017), “Poltergeist” (1982), “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991), “The Lost Boys” (1987).
“The Maltese Falcon” (1941). When I was a kid growing up in Dolton, my mom would let me stay up late whenever “The Maltese Falcon” was “The Late Movie” on Channel 9, aka WGN-TV. This 1941 film noir from John Huston features my favorite Humphrey Bogart performance. Bogie kills as the private investigator Sam Spade, the quintessential taciturn anti-hero.
Also: “Some Like It Hot” (1959), “A Night at the Opera” (1935), “To Kill a Mockingbird” (1962), “It Happened One Night” (1934), “All the President’s Men” (1976), “The Godfather Part I and II” (1972), “The Shawshank Redemption” (1994).
“Finding Nemo” (2003). Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres, Alexander Gould, Willem Dafoe, Geoffrey Rush, Allison Janney et al. turn in the best ensemble voice work in modern animated movie history in this vibrant, exciting, moving and very funny underwater adventure from Pixar.
Also featured: “E.T.” (1982), “Toy Story” (1995), “Home Alone” (1990), “A Christmas Story” (1983), “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” (2018), “My Dog Skip” (2000).