We’d like to bring a smile to your face. This month’s Retrospective Roundtable centers on films that are sure to make you laugh with joy, smile with glee, and recall memories about all there is in life to enjoy. To ensure that the films part of this retrospective are most accessible, all of the films selected are available on popular streaming networks or free to watch online, availability indicated below each selection. Enjoy!
Sherlock Jr. (1924)
By Henry Baime
Available free on YouTube and only 45 minutes long, Buster Keaton’s 1924 silent classic Sherlock Jr. may just be the perfect film to lift your spirits in these uncertain times. And if it isn’t, you didn’t waste any money or hardly any time. Buster Keaton plays a projectionist who is falsely accused of stealing a pocket watch from the father of the girl he loves. Later, while showing a film, he falls asleep and has dreams populated by his acquaintances where he is a great detective. It leads to a series of energetic sequences that are not just hilarious uses of physical humor but are chock full of action scenes worthy of the Mission Impossible films. Though nearly a hundred years old, the innovations in the filmmaking and the daring nature of the set pieces are so grand that it seems fresher than most anything that has come out since.
Where to Watch: YouTube
A Day in the Country (1946)
By Ben McDonald
It’s perhaps fitting that Jean Renoir never got the chance to finish A Day in the Country. A film about the simple, fleeting pleasures of life, Renoir’s 40-minute excursion into relaxation and love is both lightly poignant and thoroughly life-affirming. On paper, A Day in the Country follows the romantic intersection of a Parisian girl and a charming man while the former is on vacation with her family in the countryside. As its title and premise suggest, the film is a leisurely one, unfolding with Renoir’s characteristically laid-back mise-en-scène and charismatic performances all around. At its core, A Day in the Life is a film about slowing down and taking in the overwhelming joy of simply being alive. Though Renoir never completed principal photography due to inclement weather, the bittersweet briefness with which the film leaves us is arguably even more affecting. There is much anxiety and dread in the world right now, but A Day in the Country is exactly the kind of film to assuage some of it, if only for a moment – the cinematic equivalent of the calm one feels after a relaxing walk on a beautiful afternoon.
Where to Watch: Kanopy, Criterion Channel
By Eugene Kang
Coming out three years before Jurassic Park, Tremors kicked off a decade packed with big-budget sci-fi disaster flicks though it seriously underperformed in the box office. A tiny town in Nevada is invaded by three gigantic creatures that mostly burrow underground and have a taste for human flesh. Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward play two repairmen who had been trying to leave their boring town but are forced back by these monsters, and they become the de facto leaders in charge of their town’s survival. The great charm of this movie is seeing the tropes that draws people to this type of movie over and over again. The monsters are beautifully ugly products of practical effects, a cross between giant worms and dinosaurs. The movie also presents a perfect trap that makes it almost impossible for the townspeople to escape from; it is surrounded by miles of desert and mountains, and the mostly flat landscape is a perfect hunting ground for the worms. Tremors has genuine moments of horror, but it still has a light, breezy tone thanks to the humorous performances by Bacon, Ward and others. The eccentric, gun-toting couple played by Michael Gross and Reba McEntire are especially fun scene-stealers, yet the movie also makes it clear that the monsters cannot be defeated by firepower alone. What makes Tremors perfect for those in quarantine is the sight of seeing the townspeople band together and help each other out. In a time of isolation and distrust, their selfless unity is quite inspiring to watch.
Where to Watch: Netflix
Magic Mike XXL (2015)
By Henry Baime
Magic Mike XXL just may be the most fun film I’ve ever seen. A follow up to Soderbergh’s 2012 film that looked at the whole world of male stripping, from the highs of the wonderfully choreographed dances to the lows of waking up with a tiny pig eating vomit, Magic Mike XXL changes entirely to be a freeform film about buddies reuniting and going on a road trip together for one last ride at a stripper convention and is better than the original in every way. It perfectly captures the feeling of seeing friends again after a long time apart and exploits that awkwardness and love to find tender moments between all of the characters and explosive good times. The film constantly shifts tone and seems to drift between genres but always maintains an electric ability to enthrall with its humor, heart, and slick dance moves. I could truly watch Magic Mike XXL every day and always come away from it overjoyed and optimistic.
Where to Watch: Vudu (free)
By Ben McDonald
In a normal year, Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson would merely appear an ode to routine and ordinary life; in 2020, it seems a distant fantasy. While most of us are more or less trapped at home for the foreseeable future (likely longing to return to that ordinary life we never realized we missed), this quaint two-hour slice-of-life film starring Adam Driver will have to suffice. Following exactly a week in a bus driver’s (Driver) life, Paterson is a perfectly paced exercise in the mundane. Lacking much in the way of drama or conflict, we instead devote our undivided attention to this ordinary man’s endearing everyday habits. Every day, we watch him wake up with the same bowl of cereal, drive a bus filled with strange passengers, write poetry on his break, and go out for a single beer after work.
I have seen a few films that devote this much attention to the insignificant details that define most of our daily lives – Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles and Mike Judge’s Office Space are probably the best examples – but only this one portrays the humdrum of everyday life with any semblance of warmth and optimism, not dread and despair. We may not always appreciate the frustrating tedium of daily life, but Paterson challenges us to approach it with a more patient, forgiving outlook. What’s the rush?
Where to Watch: Amazon Prime
Never Goin’ Back (2018)
By Eugene Kang
The female stoner comedy isn’t the most populated genre, but Never Goin’ Back makes a strong case for more films of this subgenre to be produced. Angela (Maia Mitchell) and Jessie (Camila Morrone) are two young waitresses who want to go on an expensive trip to Galveston. They could easily make enough money by picking up extra shifts at the diner they work at, but complication after complication ensues (mostly drug-related) where they end up arrested, jobless and penniless. They must find some way to solve all of their problems (with plenty of diversions along the way). Though Never Goin’ Back is also a crime caper, the two leads are a blast to watch. They are profane in a goofy way, and you can believe that their boss at the diner likes these girls even if they’re guilty of some dumb behavior. Most of their troubles come from stupid people around them (like Dustin, Jessie’s drug dealer older brother) or their own terrible decisions. Director Augustine Frizzell brings occasional moments of surrealness and indulges in a lot of moments of friendships between the girls. A scene where they enter an air-conditioned supermarket to escape from a scorching Texas summer and we see their sighs of relief is one of the many small delights of this film. Never Goin’ Back is just as ribald as any teen comedy, but it is grounded with a great pair of female characters that you can easily root for.
Where to Watch: Kanopy