What to watch with the family, of various ages, during the holidays


So you’ve got 500 channels and there’s nothing on… and your child, parent, neice or aunt Rochelle or uncle Ralph need something to do on a rainy afternoon. Here’s a passel of movies, mostly kids movies, but not all, that are favorites of ours. These are good to get from the library, good for your Netflix list, good rentals, good stocking stuffers. Enjoy, and put your own picks up as coments!
I’ve broken out Miyazaki and Nick Park’s work at the top, the rest of the kids stuff is alphabetic:

Lets start with Studio Ghibli. If you don’t know these, I think you’ll like them:

My Neighbor Totoro
Porco Rosso
Spirited Away
Kiki’s Delivery Service
Howl’s Moving Castle
The Cat Returns,
Floating Castle,
Nausicaa,
Princess Mononoke
“Grave of the Fireflies”
is a post Hiroshima drama/heartbreak and
stands aside from the rest…

Nick Park’s Wallace and Gromit movies- the first 3 are shorter than 90 minutes.

A Grand Day Out
The Wrong Trousers
A Close Shave
Curse Of The Weir-Rabbi
t

More kids movies,

alphabetic order and including some additions over the annoted list below, because I haven’t caught up!

2001
The African Queen !
Avatar – the last air bender
Cars
Casablanca !
Chicken Run
Close Encounters Of The Third Kind
Creature Comforts
ET
Finding Nemo
Fly Away Home
Get Smart
The Great Escape
A Hard Day’s Night
Help!
Hoodwinked
Ice Age 2
Ice Age
The Incredibles
Indiana Jones, every one of them
Kit Kittredge, An American Girl
Madagascar
Mary Poppins
March of the Penguins
Men In Black
Monster House
Night At The Museum
Nim’s Island
The Princess Bride
The Pursuit of Happiness
Ratatouille
Rivers and Tides – Andy Goldsworthy Workinig With Time
Spy Kids 2
Spy Kids
Spy Kids 3
Toy Story
Tron
Wall-e
The Way Things Go
Winged Migration


Seasonal:

How The Grinch Stole Christmas <– Chuck Jone’s animated version.
A Charlie Brown Christmas
Elf
Miracle on 34th Street
Its a Wonderful Life
Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer
– GE Theater stop-action animation, with the elf who wants to be a dentist.

A bit (only a bit) more grown up:

Bend It Like Beckham
Hellboy (I)
Le Mans
Pirates of the Caribbean I, II and III.
Raising Arizona.
Tampopo.
The Triplets of Belleville

RIght on the edge:

Bedazzled
The Lord Of The Rings trillogy- The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King
O Brother Where Art Thou
Michael Clayton
Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day
The Shawshank Redemption
Tropic Thunder


Not for kids, imho:

The Big Lebowski
The Constant Gardener
Fargo
No Country for Old Men
Saving Private Ryan


Annotated/capsule reviews:

My Neighbor Totoro <– An animated, Japanese, Winnie The Pooh… Truly a child’s film, and beautiful to watch. One for my desert island DVDs list
Porco Rosso <– Beautiful and disorienting 1930s fable of Adriatic air pirates… Also for the desert island
Spirited Away <– An abandoned theme park contains an alternate reality which includes some dark stuff and some very odd stuff too.
Kiki’s Delivery Service
<– A young witch must spend a year away from home, Charming. Neat cat subplot.
Howl’s Moving Castle <– Really cool but hard to characterize in a sentence… you’ll have to trust me, if you liked any of Miyazaki’s other films, this one is worth your time too.

After any of these you’ll have seen enough to make sense of his other films- The Cat Returns, Floating Castle, Nausicaa, and the other adventure stories. etc. That said, “Grave of the Fireflies” is a post-Hiroshima drama/heartbreak and sort of special and stands out from the rest…

Here’s some bio and a description of Totoro:
Nick Park’s wonderful claymations:

A Grand Day Out <– introduces Wallace and Gromit, an inventor and his dog. Pure bliss. The first W & G film.
The Wrong Trousers <– Strapped for cash, Wallace lets Gromit’s room to a boarder who may be more than he seems… Ends in an amazing chase
A Close Shave <– Our heros start a window washing business, then Wallace meets a charming lady who sells yarn…
Curse Of The Weir-Rabbit <– W & G start a pest control company, using a machine Wallace has invented… Chaos follows.

Chicken Run <– As in the W & G films, Park has an un-erring feel for 1930s-1050s-ish technology, culture and wildly mixed humor. A small-time egg farm looks and runs like a WWII Stalag Luft xyz- complete with a capable lady chicken playing the Steve McQueen trouble-maker role from “The Great Escape”. She’s in the cooler, with her baseball and glove, as the story opens… it gets better 🙂

Park’s first widely seen work is in a series of shorts called “Creature Comforts“- the spoken words are quotes or recordings (can’t remember) of retirees in homes or nursing facilities, the images are of animals in the zoo… :^)

Hoodwinked – low budget fun, no fart jokes, turns a familiar story inside out… “A-” writing, “B” animation, “A” direction. And it might inspire someone to see The Thin Man.
Over the Hedge – formulaic, but this has an even funnier squirrel-on-caffeen joke. See if free. Squirrel joke near end.
Everything Pixar has ever done, but especiallly Ratatouille and Toy Story… boy has computer animation come a long way! Oh yeah, The Incredibles too.
Cars, Wall-e, Finding Nemo etc, have a lot going for them too. Pixar hasn’t made a bad movie yet.

Spy Kids 2 <– this is the best of the three Spy Kids movies- Richard Rodreguez is a major talent, with a major attitude 🙂 Nonstop invention.
Spy Kids <– see where it all began. You can start here if you’re feeling linear, ‘2 will be easier to follow if you do..
Spy Kids 3 <– Fun for a movie of a story-inside-a-video-game but 1 and 2 are better.

Ice Age 2: The Meltdown. Again, having created and justified an ensemble in the first film, this sequel ads some marvelous characters (Crash and Eddie) and just runs with the idea. And there’s more of Scrat, who is absolutely wonderful. It doesn’t hurt to see Ice Age 1 and then 2, but 2 is the richer film.

March of the Penguins, the English language version, is priceless.

Winged Migration, is another documentary about birds. Breathtaking, and the scene on the beach is a fake, they resuced the bird and threw a sandwich out to the scavengers.

Fly Away Home, a drama based on a true story about Canadian geese taught to migrate…

Rivers and Tides – Andy Goldsworthy Workinig With Time is just knock your socks off cool. He’s a stunningly good at what he does, which is making art out of what he finds in the natural world. Not all of it works, which is the whole point. He says, at one point, “I still don’t understand these rocks”… its a time machine back to when science and art were the same thing.

The Way Things Go – a Swiss art film that has been changing the world since 1986. A 31 minutes Rube Goldberg machine run, made of junk in an abandoned or disused building. There is fire, and bad chemicals, and a rhythm enforced by the need to change film magazines. They try to make it look like one shot all the way through though. You can’t watch it just once :^)

COG“, find on youTube, is a 2 minute Honda ad that’s a homage to TWTG. It was said to have required 600+ takes, over several days. My favorite part is the pushrods rolling down the springs, and the valves turning 180 degrees.

The Triplets of Belleville. Not really a kid movie, but animated, and with music and song from the characters, like 1930s animation.

Kit Kittredge, An American Girl <– Jean and Benjamin saw this and liked it a lot

Nim’s Island <– A girl and her widower father live on a jungle island with friendly animals…

Ratatouille <– correct spelling. What a wonderful film! Life, art, cooking. Can’t beat it.

Mary Poppins <– Good whenever things look too bleak. Sing along with “Chimchiminee”!! And, if you don’t see this, how can you get the “Juuuulieeee Andrewssss” (in the rich, fruity, voice) that Peter Cook uses for abracadabra in the original Bedazzled?

Monster House <– Effectivly scary, engaging, good lessons blah blah. Nice movie.

Avatar the last Air Bender<– this TV animated show comes in season and movie length servings. Good stuff.

Get Smart <– I was cringing as we went in but it turns out to be faithful to the spirit of the Don Adams/Barbara Feldman original without trying to channel them. A pleasant surprise.

Madagascar – if you can watch it for free, the penguins are worth your time.

The Pursuit of Happiness – Will Smith shines in this gently but firmly told story of a medical equipment salesman who looses his job and makes his way, homeless, with his young child, back into employment. If you don’t smile at the end you have no heart. Serious drama, suitable for all.

Men In Black. Tommy Lee Jones as the tough lawman he seems to have been born to play, Will Smith as the new guy, and its the True Story of the Aliens All Around Us. Jones and Smith are trerrific fun playing off each other, the New York locations are fun, the gags, gimicks and awesome weapons are thrilling. Of course they win in the end. A complete treat.

Night At The Museum <– The first Ben Stiller film I really liked. He plays deliberately unlikable characters, a discovery that he can make comedy without being likable (Mary, the Fockers, etc.)

A bit (only a bit) more grown up:
Pirates of the Caribbean I, II and III. Johnny Depp is an astounding conceptualizer – taking a theme park ride and a one-liner (“pirates were the rock stars of their day…”) as a point of departure and creating three well made films and a zillion dollar licensing empire. It works big because it works on a small scale first and foremost. He’s completely serious. Funny as his basing Capt. Jack Sparrow on Keith Richards is, having the real Keith play the Captain’s father in the third film, successfully, is a master’s touch. Coulda been awful. Instead its great fun.

Hellboy (I) I can’t vouch for the second film but the first one is Way Cool, and the role of a lifetime for the star. The action plot didn’t do much for me but I could have watched the characters for another hour or two. Its Stephen King in reverse- the plot is just a skeleton to hang terrific characters on.

Speaking of Stephen King, The Shawshank Redemption is based on a story of his and is the one piece of his work I like. The movie has violent and unpleasant moments, but its a classic, lovely to watch, and some (not all) bad deeds are punished. Its eye candy and the story is told straight forwardly by and of guys who’s clothing identifies their characters standing in one place or another…Very old fashioned in that way. For when you get tired of computer generated animation. A “real movie”.

Bend It Like Beckham – Two girls in London are friends and very good soccer players- against the (different) wishes of both sets of parents. Two parallel family comedies with a sports-friends story mixed in. Of course there’s an older sister’s wedding and a thousand complications. Very, very, nice. Happy ending, of course!

Raising Arizona. <– the opening sequence is the funniest Nicholas Cage has ever been and apparently ever will be. Holly Hunter is sweet and completely winning as the cop who loves him, and their mad scheme to kidnap one of a set of quituplets is a left turn straight to Toon Town. All ends well, and Hunter and Cage’s characters visibly grow in wisdom. They make an awesome screen couple- they make it look SO easy. My brother knows people who bought only Huggies for their kid because of this film.

Tampopo. <– One of my top 10 movies of all time. I have to think about the other 9, but this is one without question. It has two ‘false’ beginnings before you really see the main character (Goro) and his assistant driver (Gunn) ride into town on a rainy night- they stop for noodles in a bad part of town, stopping bullies from beating up the son of the restaurant owner and chef. The rain pours down. The noodles are not very good, and the bad guys hanging out in the restaurant start a fight with Goro, the older man, which he loses. (you’ve seen this Western, yes?)

As he prepares to ride away, the next morning, the restaurantier, a widowed woman who’s husband started the restraunt and then died, asks Goro to teach her to cook noodles correctly, and he agrees. What follows is something
sorta like Seven Samauri or The Magnificent Seven, as experts in all fields of ramen are gathered together to teach Tampopo (Dandylion) the craft she aspires to. Frequently, someone will cross the screen and the camera will turn and follow them into a food-related subplot… The gangster from the first ‘beginnning’ re-appears. All is resolved. And the two truck drivers drive off into the sunset…

Michael Clayton <– If the Gray Suit Maker’s Association of America isn’t buying George Clooney’s wardrobe you can’t tell by looking. Damn! The man is a Movie Star, never more so than when things seem against him. Really, really, enjoyable stuff.

O Brother Where Art Thou <– a take on the Odessey, sorta, set in the depression era South. Its so good Clooney’s character can’t steal the whole thing. Glorious. Hilarious. Liberating.

Fargo. Not for kids- very dark, but VERY funny. William Macy is an unlikable auto dealer whose financial shenanigans are coming unglued. He hires a couple of bad, bad, guys in a harebrained plot to make big money, quickly, and things go wrong immediately. Frances McDormand is the chief of police, a cop’s cop, also pregnant, and a rich mix of subplots appear as she solves the crime and brings the malefactors to justice.

Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day. An able and good hearted woman who is a bit of a square peg, awkward, without friends, recently fired, muscles her way into a personal secretary’s job for a classic 30s screwball comedy socialite and actress. With an outsider’s clarity, and the the stark realization she has nothing to loose, she be comes
indespensible, untangling her employer’s life, finding her own feet and a very happy ending. McDormand is just a joy to watch when she has a good part, like this.

No Country for Old Men. Tommy Lee Jones, again, this time in a riveting, dark, story, impecibly acted, written and filmed. You can’t look away, although its not always nice to watch. Xavier Barden’s bad bad guy in a bad hair cut is One Scary Dude, and Josh Brolin, at the center of the story, is compelling and sympathetic, with a controlled
intensity that keeps hope alive.

The Big Lebowski. ANOTHER Coen brothers movie, with John Goodman and Steve Buscemi as memorable supporting characters. Jeff Bridges IS the slacker named The Dude (Lebowski), possibly the best performance of his life. When bad guys ruin his rug, mistaking him for the BIG Lebowski, a millionare, he enlists his bowling buddies to help him sort it out. “Aw, that rug pulled the whole room together”. A Paen to slackers. I don’t think Bridges ever wears long pants.

Buscemi is unique, as always (will he and the Coens ever run out of ideas?) and Goodman’s haunted, Vietnam
vet shows every gratuitus PSD sufferer on screen the door. Its amazing how one good role and performance can completely wipe away a generation’s lazy short-hand for character development. LIke all the Coen’s movies I’ve seen, this one celibrates the individual and those who strive to do good in a world they’ll never completely understand, or master.

Tropic Thunder <– the second Ben Stiller movie I like- again his character isn’t that likable, but the ensemble acting, the comedy and the drama mixed in with it are absolutely first rate. Jack Black and Robert Downey Jr. are superb, and if its all not quite politically correct enough for some, sorry ’bout that. This is what “Hip and ireverant” was originally meant to convey.

Saving Private Ryan <– War movies are necessarilly part of indoors and bad weather. It doesn’t hurt to be reminded that freedom isn’t free, perhaps especially at the holidays. Speilberg can’t stop himself from making this a bit of a comic book, and I hold that against him, but Hanks and the rest of the cast and crew are superb.

Seasonal:
Elf <– Every scene is perfect. He can really act, its nothing like his sports comedies.
How The Grinch Stole Christmas <– Chuck Jone’s animated version. Right length, perfect in every respect. Pair with:
A Charlie Brown Christmas <– The actual Christmas story, great music, superb characterizations. Nothing wasted.
Miracle on 34th Street <– Kris Kringle IS Santa Claus. Pair with
Its a Wonderful Life <– Another great holiday tradition

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One response to “What to watch with the family, of various ages, during the holidays

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