This year’s 4th of July weekend is even more joyous than usual as we inch back to our new normal and reunite with friends and families. Be sure to catch the always-great Capital 4th on PBS.
Some movies to share:
Independence Day Will Smith, Bill Pullman, and Jeff Goldblum star in one ofthe all-time great popcorn pleasures. Aliens attack the earth and it takes a quirky engineer, a plucky President, and a heroic military pilot to save the day. What does that have to do with the 4th of July? Listen to the President’s stirring pep talk.
Johnny Tremain The Disney version of this classic YA book by Esther Forbes is set in the Revolutionary War era, told from the perspective of an apprentice to Paul Revere.
1776 I love this film, based on the Broadway musical about the signing of the Declaration of Independence, with almost all of the stars from the acclaimed stage production, including William Daniels as the “obnoxious and disliked” John Adams, Ken Howard as a dashing Thomas Jefferson, and Howard Da Silva as Benjamin Franklin.
The movies have given us warm, loving, mothers, evil, abusive mothers, even alien mothers. Some of my favorites are featured in my book, 50 Must-See Movies: Mothers, including these.
Claudia Before they went on to co-star in the luminous romance, “The Enchanted Cottage,” Dorothy McGuire and Robert Young played a young married couple in this sweet neglected gem based on the books by Rose Franken. Claudia and David love each other very much and he finds her innocence very appealing. But her immaturity leads to many problems. A neighbor thinks Claudia is flirting with him and without consulting David she impulsively decides to sell their farm. And she is very dependent on the loving mother she adores but takes for granted. Claudia’s is about to face two of life’s most demanding challenges – her mother is dying and Claudia and David are going to become parents themselves. So Claudia’s mother has to find a way to help Claudia grow up. Watch for: a rare film appearance by the exquisite Broadway star Ina Claire as Claudia’s mother
Guess Who’s Coming for Dinner There are two great mothers in this talky, dated, but still endearing “issue movie” about inter-racial marriage from 1967. Katharine Hepburn’s real-life niece Katharine Houghton plays her daughter and what Houghton lacks in screen presence and acting experience is less important than the genuine connection and palpable affection between the two of them. The question may seem quaint now, but as filming was underway, inter-racial marriage was still illegal in 17 states. The Supreme Court ruled those laws unconstitutional that same year. Hepburn is electrifying in what she knew would be her final film with her most frequent co-star and real-life great love, Spencer Tracy. And the distinguished actress Beah Richards is brilliant as the mother of a son who says his father thinks of himself as a “colored man,” while he just thinks of himself as a man. Watch for: Hepburn’s expression as her daughter describes falling in love
Claudine Diahann Carroll was nominated for an Oscar for her performance as a single mother in this ground-breaking 1974 film, one of the first to portray a domestic employee as a real person with her own home and family, and one of the first to provide an honest look at the perverse incentives of the “Great Society” welfare programs. Claudine is the mother of six who has to keep her work as a housekeeper and her relationship with a genial garbage worker (James Earl Jones) a secret from the social worker because they put at risk the payments she needs for her children. Watch for: the very romantic bathtub scene
Dear Frankie Emily Mortimer plays Lizzie, the divorced mother of a young deaf son in this heartwarming story set in Scotland. She is devoted and very protective. She does not want him to know the truth about his abusive father (the source of his deafness), so she tells him that his father is a merchant seaman. The letters he receives from all the ports of call full of details about all the places he has been are really written by Lizzie. When the ship comes to their town, she has to find someone to pretend to be his father. Watch for: Lizzie’s explanation of the reason she writes to Frankie — “because it’s the only way I can hear his voice”
Imitation of Life This melodrama about two single mothers, one white and one black, who join forces has been filmed twice and both are worth seeing. The best remembered is the glossy, glamorous 1959 version with Lana Turner and Juanita Moore. Lora (Turner) and Annie (Moore) are brought together by their daughters, who meet at Coney Island. Lora, a struggling actress, needs someone to help look after her daughter and Annie needs a job and a place to live. Annie moves in to be the housekeeper/nanny. She and Lora have a strong, supportive friendship, though Lora and both girls take Annie for granted. As the girls grow up, Lora’s daughter is resentful of the time her mother spends on her career and Annie’s daughter resents the racism she confronts even though her skin is so light she can pass for white. Watch for: the most elaborate funeral scene ever put on film, with a sobbing apology from Annie’s daughter (Susan Kohner)
Please Don’t Eat the Daisies Doris Day stars in this film loosely based on Jean Kerr’s hilarious essays about life as Kate, the wife of a theater critic (David Niven) and mother of four rambunctious boys. While most of the film’s focus is on the marital strains caused by her husband’s new job and the family’s new home, the scenes of Kate’s interactions with her children are among the highlights. It is clear that while she tries to be understated about her affection and sometimes frustration, she adores them. Watch for: Kate’s affectionate interactions with her own mother, played by Spring Byington
Christmas Movies After You’ve Christmas Carol’ed, Story’ed, and Home Alone’d
Posted on December 7, 2020 at 12:50 pm
By all means, watch the classics! One of the sweetest family traditions is sharing favorites like “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “White Christmas,” “A Christmas Story,” “Elf,” “Home Alone,” and my favorite, “A Christmas Carol” (I watch the MCM, Alistair Sim, and Mr. Magoo versions every year, usually the Muppets version, too.) And then there are the TV classics like “A Charlie Brown’s Christmas,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “The Year Without a Santa Claus.”
“Colorful” is not a colorful enough word to describe a fantasy movie musical so maximalist that even the title is overstuffed. The many pleasures of this overflowing Christmas stocking of a film are sure to make it a family favorite, and most likely a family tradition. Originally conceived as a musical play, it retains the liveliness of an in-person production. The exceptionally talented and appealing and nearly all-Black cast, including Phylicia Rashad, Forest Whitaker, and Keegan-Michael Key give the film a fresh perspective. The snowball scene is one of my favorites.
This is a Santa Claus origin story, based on the books by Grant Morrison. A spoiled, selfish young man is sent to a remote village to act as postman, not to return until he has delivered 6000 letters. Striking animation, top voice talent, and a charming interpretation of the way many of our favorite traditions began make this a gem.
“Dear Santa” (streaming now on Peacock and other services)
I love this documentary about the wonderful volunteers and USPS “elves” who answer kids’ letters to Santa. Schoolchildren and adults, including former beneficiaries of the program work around the clock. You won’t find a better example of giving being better than receiving than this charming and heartwarming film.
Romany Malco plays Rush, a popular DJ and a single dad of four. When he loses his job just before Christmas, his family has to leave their comfortable home and move back in to his old neighborhood with his aunt, played by the magnificent Darlene Love. This is a warm-hearted story about love and families and what really matters.
Fans of this site know that “A Christmas Carol” is my favorite holiday story. This is the story of how that book came to be written, with Dan Stevens just perfect as the brilliant but harried Charles Dickens. The book, one of the most popular of all time, really did change the way people saw Christmas, with more focus on helping others, and this story of love, reconciliation, and the power of storytelling is a treasure.
And, okay, yes, they aren’t classics and they don’t make much sense or vary much from the formula, but I like Hallmark Christmas movies, and the ones on other services, too. Some of my favorites are:
“Write Before Christmas”
A recently dumped young woman sends five Hallmark greeting cards to people who have been important to her and they change the lives of the recipients and hers, too).
“The Christmas House”
The Hallmark Channel’s first movie with a gay couple — the brother of the main character and his husband — is more layered and sympathetic than the more high-profile “Happiest Season” in this story of parents famous for their Christmas decorations insisting both of their sons come home to help.
“The Princess Switch”
A Chicago baker and a European princess who happen to look identical, both charmingly played by Vanessa Hudgens, pull a switch and each finds love. The sequel adds a third look-alike!
“The Mistletoe Promise”
A travel agent and a lawyer have different reasons for dreading Christmas, so make a pact to be each other’s plus one through the holidays.
Oh, and coal in the stocking of everyone connected with “Holidate!”
A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving This is the one with the famous episode about Charlie Brown trying to kick the football Lucy keeps snatching away from him. And Peppermint Patty invites herself to Charlie Brown’s house for Thanksgiving and he is too kind-hearted to tell her that he won’t be there because his family is going to his grandmother’s. When the Peanuts gang comes over for a feast prepared by Charlie Brown himself, Patty gets angry at being served toast and jelly beans. But when she realizes how hard her friend tried to be hospitable, she learns what gratitude really means.
Squanto and the First Thanksgiving , Native American actor Graham Greene and musician Paul McCandless tell the story of Squanto’s extraordinary generosity and leadership in reaching out to the Pilgrims after he had been sold into slavery by earlier European arrivals in the New World.
Halloween gives kids a thrilling opportunity to act out their dreams and pretend to be characters with great power. But it can also be scary and even overwhelming for the littlest trick-or-treaters. An introduction to the holiday with videos from trusted friends can help make them feel comfortable and excited about even the spookier aspects of the holiday. Movies for families to share are especially important this year, as there won’t be much trick-or-treating or many Halloween parties.
Kids ages 3-5 will enjoy Barney’s Halloween Party, with a visit to the pumpkin farm, some ideas for Halloween party games and for making Halloween decorations at home, and some safety tips for trick-or-treating at night. They will also get a kick out of Richard Scarry’s The First Halloween Ever, which is Scarry, but not at all scary!
Witches in Stitches is about witches who find it very funny when they turn their sister into a jack o’lantern. And speaking of jack o’lanterns, Spookley the Square Pumpkin is sort of the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer of pumpkins. The round pumpkins make fun of him for being different until a big storm comes and his unusual shape turns out to have some benefits.
Kids from 7-11 will enjoy the new Halloween treat from Netflix, A Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting. It has gorgeously imagined settings, a great cast, and an exciting story that hits the exact sweet spot between funny-scary and scary-funny. Which means it is exciting, fun, and, I hope, soon to be followed by Chapter 2.
Don’t forget the classic It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and the silly fun of What’s New Scooby-Doo: Halloween Boos and Clues. Try The Worst Witch movie and series, about a young witch in training who keeps getting everything wrong. School-age kids will also enjoy The Halloween Tree, an animated version of a story by science fiction author Ray Bradbury about four kids who are trying to save the life of their friend. Leonard Nimoy (Mr. Spock on the original “Star Trek”) provides the voice of the mysterious resident of a haunted house, who explains the origins of Halloween and challenges them to think about how they can help their sick friend. The loyalty and courage of the kids is very touching.