Friday Favourites: Comfort Films
By Anne Perry
Posted on August 19, 2016 in Film, Friday Favourites with tags Film, Film; Film Review;
There are favourite films and best-of films, but at the end of the day the only films that count are the ones you turn on when you need something to make yourself feel better – maybe you’re hung over and need to lose yourself in something familiar, or maybe you’ve got the evening to yourself and want to spend it with an old (filmic) friend. These are comfort films, and today Anne’s going to talk about a few (and only a few) of her favourites.
Honestly, I have no idea why I like this film so much. I suspect my affection stems in part from the fact that it’s an ambitious failure – I love an ambitious failure – and in part because it’s just so damned weird. Oh, also, Dimitri is like the hottest cartoon dude. Honestly. Anyway, let’s talk about this film.
It’s about Anastasia, one of the children of Tsar Nicholas II, who escapes the Russian revolution (which is brought on in part because Rasputin is literally an evil sorcerer?) and winds up in an orphanage with no memory of her past. At age 18 she picks up a scrappy dog sidekick and heads off to St Petersburg (which, in yet another nod at the weird way this film deals with actual horrible lots-of-people-died history, is still called St Petersburg and not Leningrad in the approximately 1927ish period this film is set in) to find a way to get to Paris where (unbeknownst to her) her grandmother, played by Angela Lansbury, is living. Once in St Petersburg, Anya meets two con men whose plan to get out of Russia is to have a girl to pretend to be the missing Anastasia, con her grandmother out of the reward she’s offered, and head off into the sunset. Our boys – Kelsey Grammar, playing a jovial avuncular type, and John Cusack, playing Hotty McCartoonhotterson Dimitri – agree to take Anya to Paris by telling her she might be the real Anastasia, and away they all go.
Of course by WONDERFUL FORTUITOUS COINCIDENCE she is the real Anastasia; her memories gradually come back as they teach her how to be a princess, she and Dimitri argue constantly (because they Have Feelings). Oh, and they’re being chased across Europe by the reanimated corpse of Literal Dark Sorcerer Rasputin and his albino bat sidekick. I am not making that up. His song about being evil gets backup from a chorus of bugs.
So, yeah. Once in a while I’ll just pop Anastasia on and marvel at the main character’s hair (is it genuinely short at the beginning of the film and long at the end or just up in some sort of elaborate knot at the beginning and down at the end?), perv on the romantic lead (I mean, really), and revel in the bonkers 90sishness of it all.
Star Wars: The original (unedited) trilogy (1977-1983)
This one’s an obvious one, but I grew up watching it, had to stop watching it once my old VHS tapes died and the only DVD versions available were the ones Lucas rejigged, and finally went back to rewatching it regularly when they finally, finally made the original unedited versions available on DVD (as an unrestored ‘special feature’, but beggars can’t be choosers).
I probably don’t need to tell you what it’s about (farm boy hooks up with space pirate and rebel princess; learns magic; changes the world). I can tell you that everything about it – from the screenwipes to the appalling dialogue to the fact that George Lucas wouldn’t let Carrie Fisher wear a bra because he didn’t think there’d be underwear in the future or something? – makes me happy. I mean, also, Han Solo. He makes me happy too. (So does Lando Calrissian, as long as we’re being honest about these things.)
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
In fairness I should drop Raiders of the Lost Ark in here too (but not Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, because that film does not hold up well.) But it’s Last Crusade that has my heart, in part because I love Sean Connery, in part because I love the spiky relationship between Indy and his dad, and in part because this was basically the last fun movie Harrison Ford ever made. Honestly, though, this film is so quotable. (Given that Tom Stoppard did an unaccredited rewrite, I suppose that’s not a huge surprise.)
Speaking of quotable movies: this one. What is your damage, Heather? If you haven’t seen this film, go watch it. Then watch it a few more times, just for good measure. It’s a bit of a slow burn; the first time I saw it (I was 14) I didn’t really get it; by the seventh time (it was on Comedy Central a lot in the 90s) I had come to realize that it’s basically the greatest film of all time. Nerdy Veronica sold her teenage soul (figuratively) to join the most popular group in her high school: three girls all named Heather. Then Veronica starts dating JD, the new guy in school (Christian Slater at his peak Christian Slaterness) and, well, people start dying.
Heathers is the ultimate ‘high school sucks; no really, it sucks‘ film – there’s no happy resolution, a la the John Hughes oeuvre. Here, the best you can hope for is survival. Did I mention Heathers is a comedy? It is!
Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves (1991)
THIS MOVIE IS LEGITIMATELY TERRIBLE. And I love it so, so much. I mean, you have Kevin Costner at the peak of his box office power (yes, that was a time we all lived through), Christian Slater at the peak of his box office power, Alan Rickman running around in leather trousers and a greasy black mullet (Surely someone must have figured out how to tie together Harry Potter/Snape and Robin Hood/Sheriff stuff?), a witch, a cameo by Sean Connery, a song that I briefly counted as my all-time favourite (I was twelve, after all), and Morgan Freaking Freeman being just flat-out awesome. How many times have I seen this film? Too many to count. I even have a vintage Sheriff of Nottingham action figure.
Northanger Abbey (2007)
This adorable adaptation of one of Austen’s lesser novels has it all: a feisty heroine, a cute hero, a weird sense of humour, and lots of poking fun at itself. Northanger Abbey the novel feels like a book Austen started at one point, abandoned, and got back to much later figuring she might as well finish it. This adaptation does a really nice job bringing the novel’s gentle, wry humour to life but still getting the audience invested in the action while simultaneously smoothing over the novel’s rougher patches. And it makes a few changes from the book that work better for a modern audience, and it features a young Carrie Mulligan, who absolutely lights up the screen.
Strictly Ballroom (1992)
Like many of my comfort movies, this is bright, bold, weird and romantic. It’s Baz Luhrmann’s first film (and arguably his best), a semi-autobiographical movie about a talented ballroom dancer trying to figure out how to marry his principles and his art. I love how seriously the film takes itself – the joke wouldn’t work if everyone weren’t 100% committed to it. You too will find yourself completely invested in whether Scott and Fran will be able to dance their new steps at the Pan Pacific Grand Prix. Also, there is a character named Tina Sparkles, and a lot of really, really sexy dancing.
Gosford Park (2002)
Essentially Downton Abbey before Downton Abbey, Gosford Park marries Julian Fellows’ sepia-toned, rose-tinted historical sensibilities to Robert Altman’s low-level absurdism for a strange, meandering murder mystery set in a grand country house that also serves as a melancholy meditation on the passing of the British aristocracy between the two world wars. Maggie Smith plays a version of the character she’d go on to play in Fellows’ Downton Abbey (which is basically Gosford Park minus the self-conscious thoughtfulness) and steals every scene she’s in, but my heart belongs to Clive Owen who, in 2002, was basically at peak Clive Owen. Also Jeremy Northam has a brief cameo-ish role as Ivor Novello in what isn’t even the fourth or fifth-most melancholy subplot of the whole film. Ivor Novello! I mean, really. Stephen Fry also has a small role, as a jovial police inspector, which is notable for how casually it subverts the expectations of those of us who have read and watched a lot of period murder mystery dramas.