Weighed down like so many others in recent months by the constant onslaught of news about the pandemic, aberrant behavior at the White House, social justice protests, economic distress and cyber-terrorism, my wife and I have chosen to immerse ourselves during the evening in the cinematic world. Movies of yore have become our refuge.
We sleep better, unburdened temporarily by worldly concerns. For a few hours, we opt for fiction instead of friction. We thrive on redemptive or happy endings. For the most part, we avoid violence, though not entirely.
One more thing: our age reflects our taste. Some movies are simply distasteful to us. Our 40-ish daughters snicker at our choices.
Escapism is our nightly intent. It calms the nerves and feeds the soul. I’m not suggesting some sort of mystical experience, merely joyfulness provided at a charge by Netflix and Amazon. It’s worth the cost to two senior citizens.
Now, for the moment that you have eagerly awaited: a partial list of our favorites accompanied by comments likely considered sophomoric by the once popular critic-duo (now deceased) of Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert.
“Officer and Gentlemen,” featuring Richard Gere and Debra Winger, offers a simple plot, strong acting, strenuous military training and gripping drama, with an underlying theme of rising to a higher, respectable social and professional level despite a hard-scrabble upbringing.
“Rain Man,” featuring Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise, offers an Academy Award performance by the former, who portrayed an autistic adult who garnered the affection of a brother whom he didn’t know, and who learned to love his challenging sibling through arduous trial and error. It’s a truly remarkable film that treats autism in a sensitive way.
“Philomena,” starring the incredibly talented British actress, Judi Dench, tells a heart-rending story about a woman seeking to find a son born out of wedlock whom she had to give up for adoption when he was a baby and she was a teenager. Philomena must deal with a rigidly obdurate group of nuns who run a Catholic convent in Ireland, sacrificing compassion for money paid by rich Americans seeking to adopt Irish babies. The movie grabs and holds onto you for 98 minutes.
Maggie Smith, another absolutely superb British actress—who captivated my wife and me in the “Downton Abbey” as the witty, conniving and imperious Dowager Countess—stars in “Quartet” as a retired opera singer who reluctantly moves into a retirement community in England catering to former music luminaries, including her ex-husband. A scene-stealer in the best of ways, Maggie Smith expertly portrays prima-donnas whose hearts, though mostly hidden, are big and giving.
“Bucket List” with Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson is a favorite of ours. The actors are stars for a reason; they infuse their characters with humor and humanity. Their thrilling search for exciting, dangerous ventures as they navigate their imminent deaths as cancer victims paints a picture of pure joy and overwhelming pathos nearly simultaneously. When this movie ends after 97 minutes, these two audience members want to see and feel more the fusion of wild adventure and preparation for mortality.
Finally, “On Golden Pond,” which brought Academy Awards to the renowned Katherine Hepburn and Henry Fonda, represented on one level an acting masterpiece, while providing insight on another level to emotional distress in facing the deteriorating aspects of aging—and using acerbic language to hide your inner pain. A major element in his engrossing film is a pond filled with memories and family dysfunction.
The fictional lives and personal crises portrayed on the cinematic screen invite viewers to ignore their own worries and health. Movies have always been a refuge for escapism, sometimes in silly, superficial ways.
The six chosen by this half-baked film critic brought enjoyment to my wife and me. COVID-19, politics, social justice and the economy were on the back-burner.
Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.