Escapism has fallen on hard times in Hollywood. Want proof? Just take a peek at last year's Oscar field: "Crash." "Munich." "Brokeback Mountain." Sobering, staunch, modern-day tragedies, all of them. Like escaping into a tax seminar.
That's all well and good, but sometimes our moods dictate a different sort of entertainment. Sometimes we want movies that carry us away from our worries and sustain life's beautiful falsehoods, like "Love conquers all" and "Keanu Reeves can act." These are the movies that we curl up with when we're feeling overworked, irritable or simply jonesing for a hot cup of pap.
These, friends, are our comfort movies: Hollywood's version ofanswer to a hot plate of lasagna. Certainly, the very concept of comfort is relative — one man's "Apocalypse Now" could be another man's "Happy Gilmore" — but there are core comfort traits that make the following list possible. So snuggle up.
1.‘It's a Wonderful Life'
For the most part, utterly morose and depressing. That, of course, is the yin-meets-yang secret behind Frank Capra's life-affirming classic: It plunges us into darkness before showing us the light. Such is life.
2. ‘Animal House'
The dean of all college party movies. When underachieving slobs need a dose of solidarity, they turn to Bluto, Otter and the rest of the underachieving slobs at Delta House. At the cusp of defeat, ask yourself: "Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?" Hell, no! And it ain't over now.
3. ‘Gone With the Wind'
"As God is my witness, I'll never be hungry again!" pretty much sums it up. Scarlett O'Hara was an impetuous, grasping child, but she didn't take crap from nobody. You go, girl.
4. ‘Forrest Gump'
With a healthy can-do attitude, you can achieve anything in this life, even if you're a mildly retarded man with a bad haircut. Enshrined Tom Hanks as the pre-eminent comfort actor.
5. ‘Terms of Endearment'
Mike Nichols' relentless tear-jerker reaffirms our noblest presumption about death: That it strengthens the family bond and brings us in line with what's really important in life. Oscars
for MacLaine and Nicholson.
6. ‘When Harry Met Sally'
Platonic pals Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan succumb to their urges and discover a liberating truth: You can sleep together and still be best friends. Might have to fake a few orgasms in public, though.
7. ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington'
Another Capra keeper. As a freshman U.S. senator who stands up to corruption and Beltway cynicism, Jimmy Stewart makes us believe Washington's better nature will always prevail. Well, maybe not always.
8. ‘Dazed and Confused'
West Texas as teenage utopia. On the last day of school, jocks and geeks haze each other, engage in light delinquency, throw keggers and discover the opposite sex. Launched the careers of Ben Affleck, Matthew McConaughey, Parker Posey and others.
9. ‘The Best Years of Our Lives'
Melodramatic bliss. William Wyler's bold account of soldiers returning home from World War II endures as a universal testament to human resiliency. Handicapped actor Harold Russell won an Oscar for his performance as a maimed vet.
10. ‘Napoleon Dynamite'
(2004) The geek-chic mascot to end them all. Jared Hess' iconic vision of middle-American weirdness somehow touched a chord with holy and heathen alike: College kids and choir boys, priests and pro athletes.
Whatever painful acts of romantic sacrifice we must undertake to preserve the free world, we'll always have Paris. And a beautiful friendship might even start along the way. Fantastically, Bogey didn't win the Oscar in '43. It went to Paul Lukas for "Watch on the Rhine."
12. ‘In America'
An Irish family's search for physical and emotional sanctuary engenders moments so passage-perfect, you can enjoy them as stand-alone morals, like Taoist scripture. A remarkably soothing piece of filmmaking.
Mary Poppins in a cowboy hat, essentially. Alan Ladd plays a mysterious stranger who helps homesteaders in their struggle against greedy cattlemen. The definitive ride-into-the-sunset hero.
Impish do-gooder Audrey Tautou tiptoes around Paris, performing random acts of charity that transform her friends and family for the better. About as deep as a bumper sticker, but infinitely more addictive.
15. ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark'
If you were a boy in the early '80s, you wanted to be Indiana Jones when you grew up. Even today, I see no higher calling than fighting Nazis and snapping bullwhips.
16. ‘The Color Purple'
"All my life I've had to fight," Oprah Winfrey wails in Steven Spielberg's triumphant tale of race and hardship, and the next thing you know, she's Queen of the Universe. An object lesson for us all.
For an infectiously upbeat supernatural romp, who ya gonna call? Good, rambunctious, Stay-Puft-splattering hilarity. Arguably Dan Ackroyd's last funny role.
18. ‘Cinema Paradiso'
Giuseppe Tornatore's nostalgic ode to the magic of cinema will pluck the heartstrings of any movie lover. Like taking a warm, subtitled bath.
19. ‘Beauty and the Beast'
By now, the Oscar-winning title song is as cozy and familiar as an old blanket, so no wonder audiences still wrap themselves in it from time to time. Die-hard fans can't seem to get enough of Disney's musical blockbuster, as witnessed by the ice shows, stage shows, et al.
20. ‘Annie Hall'
Where romance is concerned, the means justify the end, even if in the end you get dumped. Woody Allen wraps that hard-yet-comforting truth in a script so lavishly witty, you could watch the movie a dozen times and still pick up something new. For a brief, flaring instant, Diane Keaton was America's girl next door.
Tom Hanks and the actor he's most often compared to, Jimmy Stewart, are the modern giants of comfort cinema: Good-humored, avuncular, dependable in every respect. Reaching back some, we find the stars of the Golden Era: Charlie Chaplin ("The Kid") and Buster Keaton ("The Navigator").
For a goodly stretch of the '80s and '90s, Meg Ryan ("Sleepless in Seattle") was an actress who had a knack for disarming audiences; you might say the same about Julia Roberts ("Pretty Woman"). Gwyneth Paltrow has an accessible, sisterly quality ("Shakespeare in Love"). Among actresses all-time, Katharine Hepburn ("On Golden Pond") stands alone.
Surprisingly, the '80s. With groping audience-pleasers such as "Rain Man," "Driving Miss Daisy," "Terms of Endearment," "The Princess Bride" and "Moonstruck," it was a veritable windfall of aromatic comfort.
'The Green Berets' (1968): Not all comfort movies are about hugging and drinking lattes. One of the few pro-military movies to emerge from the Vietnam era, this John Wayne vehicle speaks to a bygone hero morality: Might is right.
'Fight Club' (1999): Senseless violence as a means to escape the futility of a dead-end, IKEA-decorated life. Sounds reasonable. One of the movies you either love or hate.
'The Big Lebowski' (1998): The Coen brothers' tale of one dude's search for his missing rug — with much bowling and White Russian drinking in between — has emerged as their funniest and most adored movie.
'The Seventh Seal' (1956): Too nebulous for mainstream American audiences, this Ingmar Bergman-directed masterpiece is like mother's milk for arty look-into-the-void types.
'Fever Pitch' (2005): The Sox win the Series, and Jimmy Fallon gets the girl. Sniff. A cri de coeur for no-life sports fans.
'My Big Fat Greek Wedding' (2002): A husky Canadian girl beats her weight problem (sort of) and lands the ultimate fish: "Sex and the City" hunk John Corbett, who smilingly obliges every obnoxious ethnic stereotype that screenwriter/star Nia Vardalos throws at him.
'Barbershop' (2002): In a well-trafficked grooming outpost on Chicago's South Side, Ice Cube and company speak the truth, Ruth. Cinema as cultural refuge.