OK, so a couple of weeks ago we made a critical decision as a family — we decided to finally watch all three of the “Lord of the Rings” movies. This was while we were dealing with our own COVID situation with our two daughters testing positive (seriously, at this point, how many people do you know who HAVE NOT gotten COVID in the last month?) and we didn’t want to leave the house, and we just thought: Fine.
Hey, it’s a big part of pop culture. People who love it seem to really love it. The third one actually won an Academy Award. And every time I see one of those “100 greatest movies of all time” lists, “The Lord of the Rings” is always one of my most noticeable gaps.
Fine. So we watched all 583,282 hours of “Lord of the Rings.”*
*Well, technically we did not watch ALL 583,282 hours because I guess there’s an Extended Version available, which I would liken to an oversized mallet to hit yourself in the head with in case the regular-sized mallet just won’t do.
So, OK, you can probably guess: We despised it. And look, this isn’t a knock on the movies. It is a knock on us. We didn’t get it. More to the point: I didn’t get it. To me it was like 10 hours of fighting, trees talking, more fighting, Sean Astin saying, “Mr. Frodo,” more fighting, and a petulant ring trying to turn everybody evil. I needed to play little games just to get through it. For instance, every time Elrond spoke — Elrond being the mighty elf ruler played by the same guy who plays Agent Smith in “The Matrix” — I would finish off his sentences with “Mr. Anderson.”
And I want to be clear: This is surely a limitation of my own imagination. I know that millions upon millions love the series, the books, the movies, and I wish I could see what they see. But I can’t. It just isn’t for me. “The Hobbit” isn’t for me. “Game of Thrones” isn’t for me. I do not know why I love “Harry Potter” so much when I don’t get any of these others, but I’ve been told by a friend that “Harry Potter” is sort of “fantasy for beginners,” which does make sense to me.
In any case, a day after watching “Lord of the Rings” — on my birthday, in fact — we had our annual family watching of “That Thing You Do.” I saw it as sort of a palette cleanser, a sherbet movie. And it was every bit as delightful as ever, and it made me think about something: What are the 10 happiest movies I’ve ever seen? And I do mean “happy movies” — I don’t mean the 10 best movies or the 10 funniest movies or the 10 most meaningful movies.
I simply mean the 10 movies that make me the happiest*.
*Or the 10 movies that make me feel the most opposite feeling of what I felt watching “Lord of the Rings.”
Here’s my first crack at the list — subject to change as you remind me of movies I missed. And I should say up front that these are TRULY the movies that make me the happiest. There’s always a temptation in such lists to try and pick quote-unquote “great movies” to show that you have good taste. I don’t know that I have good taste. But I do know that these movies lift me when I’m down, spur me even higher when I’m up, and even just thinking about them I feel happier.
Honorable mention: “Trading Places;” “Clueless;” “This is Spinal Tap;” “Paddington 2;” “Babe;” “Toy Story 2;” “Inside Out;” “When Harry Met Sally;” “Crazy Rich Asians;” “The Family Man;” “Groundhog Day.”
Special Category: “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
“To my big brother George. The richest man in town.”
Gets me. Every single time. Happy tears. Every single time.
But “It’s a Wonderful Life” would make so many lists — best holiday movies, best hometown movies, best Jimmy Stewart movies, best Frank Capra movies, best Donna Reed movies, best movies where Uncle Billy screws up everything — that I’m going to leave it out of this particular Top 10.
“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”
I’ve seen a lot of superhero movies. A LOT of superhero movies. We as a family have watched every single Marvel movie, with the exception of the newest Spider-Man, which we are waiting to see when it starts streaming. And, you know what? They’re not always super-happy movies. I mean some of them, like the “Batman” movies and the more recent “Superman” movies, are really dark. The “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies are happy movies, for the most part, and the Christopher Reeve “Superman” movies (well, the first two) are pretty happy, and the “Ant-Man” movies are pretty happy, though that may just be because Paul Rudd exudes happiness.
But I’d say the happiest of the superhero movies is “Into the Spider-Verse,” which just overflows with bright colors and great music and great characters and fun plot twists. It also beautifully does one of my favorite superhero tropes — superheroes trying to figure out their powers. Smiley face emoji.
Lester Bangs: Aw, man. You made friends with them. See, friendship is the booze they feed you. They want you to get drunk on the feeling like you belong.
William: Well, it was … fun.
Lester Bangs: Because they make you feel cool. And hey, I met you. You are not cool.
William: I know. Even when I thought I was, I knew I wasn’t.
Lester Bangs: That’s because we are uncool. And while women will always be a problem for guys like us, most of the great art in the world is about that very problem. Look, good-looking people, they got no spine. Their art never lasts. Yeah, they get the girls, but we’re smarter.
William: Yeah, I can really see that now.
Lester Bangs: Yeah, great art is about conflict, and pain and guilt and longing, and, you know, love disguised as sex, and sex disguised as love. And let’s face it, you got a big head start.
William: I’m glad you were home.
Lester Bangs: I’m always home. I’m uncool!
William: Me too.
Lester Bangs: You’re doing great, kid. The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.
That scene, this movie, has brought me so much happiness … it’s a movie that seems to be talking directly to me.
We like to have fun here at Joe Blogs. Baseball. Football. Tennis. Chess. Family. Basketball. Music. Infomercials. Movies. Olympics. Hockey. Nonsense. Magic. In short, it’s an adventure. I hope you’ll come along.
It might not be as good a movie as “The Incredibles,” it might not hit with quite as many punchlines as “The Lego Movie,” it might not be as much of a hit as “Despicable Me” … but we as a family love it so much and quote from it constantly.
“Granted, you have talent.”
“You of all people should know we discontinued that promotion.”
“Ooh, I’m shaking in my custom baby seal leather boots.”
“Girls, girls, you’re both pretty, can I go home now?”
“I understand you, little well-dressed bird.”
If ever we want 96 minutes of mindless joy, “Megamind” is about as good as it gets.
Whoops. Wrong list.
I went back and forth between Penny Marshall’s two classics “Big” and “A League of Their Own” — both make me insanely happy even though both have bittersweet endings.
I ended up on “Big” because that’s a movie that has been tried like 10,000 times — “13 Going on 30,” “Vice Versa,” all the “Freaky Fridays,” a bunch more — and while some of those are not without merit, I don’t think anybody quite got the hunger to be older and the wish to be younger the way “Big” did.
Plus we often go around the house yelping, “It’s a bug!” the way the late, great John Heard did in the movie. Just makes me super happy in every way.
“The Hudsucker Proxy”
Every now and again, I put together a new list of my favorite Coen Brothers movies in order, and I seem to put a new one on top each time. Sometimes it’s “The Big Lebowski.” Sometimes it’s “Raising Arizona.” Sometimes it’s “Miller’s Crossing.”
But always, if I’m being honest with myself, it’s “Hudsucker” because it’s just so beautifully shot, and because the actors sure seem to be having the time of their lives — Paul Newman’s “Sure, Sure,” Jennifer Jason Leigh staking her Pulitzer on it, Tim Robbins doing the whole “Go Eagles!” thing, John Mahoney playing the hell out of an old-time newspaper editor, Charles Durning with a ukulele, Bill Cobbs (who is in TWO of these 10 movies) as the greatest narrator/character in recent movie history — and because it’s just a great story. That’s what they promise at the start, a great story.
And that’s what they deliver at the end.
Oh, man, now I just want to watch “Hudsucker” again.
Yes, I fall for it. Every time. I can’t help it. It’s not exactly that I fall for the Hugh Grant-Julia Roberts love story. Yes, everybody knows this one for the whole “I’m just a girl standing in front of a boy …” soliloquy, and, you know, that’s fine.
It’s more that I fall head over heels for living in London by a glorious street market and having a bunch of quirky friends who are struggling with life and owning a travel bookshop*. That’s really all I want out of life.
*There’s a wonderful scene in there about a guy who apparently keeps coming into the travel bookshop and asking about every sort of book that is NOT a travel book, like Charles Dickens or Winnie the Pooh. At one point, he says, “How about the latest Grisham thriller?” And now there is NEVER a time when my daughters and I are in a bookstore and we run across Grisham books that we don’t say to each other, “How about the latest Grisham thriller?”
This one has so many small and wonderful and gloriously absurd scenes that immediately come to mind and make me spectacularly happy. One character reliving his greatest celebrity brush by saying he once saw either Ringo Starr or Topol (“Not a classic anecdote, is it?”), the same character repeatedly asking Julia Roberts what Patrick Swayze was like in “Ghost,” Hugh Grant pretending to be a reporter from “Horse and Hound” at a movie junket, Hugh Bonneville having no idea who Julia Roberts is and … well, seriously, I could probably go on like this for another 30 paragraphs.
“My Favorite Year”
Speaking of a movie that I could literally recite from beginning to end …
I mentioned something about this in the “Notting Hill” section; the movies that make me happiest are probably the movies I wish that I lived INSIDE OF. And if I could have any job, fictional or non-fictional in the world, it would be writing jokes for King Kaiser’s Comedy Cavalcade in “My Favorite Year.” Yes, I do know that the movie was not-at-all-loosely based on Sid Caesar’s “Your Show of Shows,” and I’m sure I would have loved to write for that too.
But what I’d really want would be to enter the make-believe world of a bigger-than-life movie star like Alan Swann and a bigger-than-life television star like King Kaiser and a bigger-than-life gangster like Boss Rojack, and a bigger-than-life chauffer like Alfie Bumbacelli and a bigger-than-life mother like Bella Steinberg Carroca (of Brooklyn, New York, and Miami Beach, Florida, two weeks each and every winter), and the bigger-than-life Uncle Morty Kronsky (who was not born in Minsk or Pinsk).
Everybody in this movie is bigger than life, except the main character, Benji Stone, who has to be life-sized so we could appreciate the hugeness that surrounded him.
There’s a pretty decent chance you haven’t seen this one — those of us who have, tend to find each other so we can recite lines back and forth. If you haven’t seen it, I hope you will and I hope it makes you infinitely happy like it does for me.
“Singing in the Rain”
This would be my No. 1 except that the Broadway Melody scene drags just a little bit for me. As for the rest — perfection. Donald O’Connor’s “Make ’em Laugh?” Perfection. O’Connor and Gene Kelly’s “Moses Supposes?” Perfection. Debbie Reynolds’ glorious “Good Morning?” Perfection. Jean Hagen’s “And I can’t stand him?” Perfection. Gene Kelly singing in the rain? Obviously perfection.
“The Princess Bride”
I almost thought of disqualifying “The Princess Bride,” the way I did “It’s a Wonderful Life,” because everybody already knows how happy it is. But how can I leave it off? That would be a classic blunder.
Sometimes I look up lists of the greatest movie directors. You know their names, Hitchcock and Spielberg and Scorsese and Kubrick and Coppola and Bergman and Lee and all the rest — Kurosawa, Fellini, Wilder, maybe you’re a Tarantino fan, whatever.
And you know what name you will NEVER see on those lists (at least I’ve never seen it)? Rob Reiner.
And yet, there is no doubt in my mind that Rob Reiner has brought more joy into my life than any film director ever. “Princess Bride”? “Spinal Tap”? “When Harry Met Sally”? “The Sure Thing”? “Stand by Me”? I’m sorry, those five stack up against any director ever. Heck, throw in “A Few Good Men” and “Flipped,” which certainly had their merits.
I’m telling you nobody — not even Frank Capra — has pumped that much joy into the movie world. True, Reiner did also direct “The Story of Us,” and “North,” which drained some of the joy that he had put in (sort of like Albert Pujols having negative WAR years at the end of a spectacular career), but I’m thinking Rob Reiner is a first-ballot, no-doubt, inner-circle Hall of Famer.
“That Thing You Do”
There’s a scene at the very, very end of “That Thing You Do” that sort of describes why I love it so, so much. The final scene closes, and then the movie does one of the post-movie deals where they tell you what happened to every character.
And it’s so delightful because “That Thing You Do” is completely made up. These characters didn’t really exist. There was no Jimmy, no Lenny, no Skitch. Heck, the “name” of the base player is “T.B. Player.” Tom Hanks plays a guy named “Mister White,” no first name. These aren’t real people.
And yet, the movie tells you what happened to them.
That just makes me so incredibly happy.
Then, that’s the only point of the movie — unrefined happiness. You’ve got a bunch of kids in Erie, Pa., they create a snappy song, it sweeps the nation, they get caught up in it, they go their separate ways, it’s all so joyous, so carefree, so gleeful, literally every scene. Chris Issac recording their song in a church. Charlize Theron falling for her dentist. Bill Cobbs as Del Paxton … man, I just want to watch this movie on a loop. Tom Hanks has accomplished just a few things in his career. But making the perfect happy movie … that’s not bad.