When I was single and dating — about one generation ago — they told me that taking someone to a movie wasn’t a very good first date, because we’d just sit there quietly and passively absorb the movie, and when we were done we wouldn’t know each other any better than we did when we started. It made sense, so I didn’t go on a lot of movie dates.
Sometimes they say the same thing about movies at home — family video night, if you will. But there I disagree. Movies work differently for families at home. Sometimes we do sit quietly at home as we watch them, but that’s not the end of it. The best movies, by which I mean the ones we like best, live on in our conversation. Then we go back and watch them again and again, and they live even longer.
In my family it’s usually not profound themes or moving monologues that enter the family’s language. It’s great lines, and most of them are funny. In just the last few days, these much-loved lines have been quoted aptly in ordinary conversation among members of my family:
- “Truly, you have a dizzying intellect.” (Cary Elwes’ Man in Black in The Princess Bride)
- “I tell you, it’s a whole different sex!” (Jack Lemmon’s Jerry in Some Like It Hot)
- “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?” (Benjamin Whitrow’s Mr. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice)
Some of our movie references require a second participant, which makes them sort of an inside joke. Two of the most common are from the 1993 comedy Dave. Kevin Kline’s title character and Ving Rhames’ Duane have this exchange:
“I can’t say.”
“You mean, you don’t know, or ‘you can’t say’?”
“I can’t say.”
And when relatives come over, especially during the holidays, they’ll wave and call out, as they drive away with their windows down:
“Thanks for doing this, Ellen!”
There are two canonical responses, depending on how naughty we’re feeling, because Dave says this two times in the movie, and his wife (played by Sigourney Weaver) responds differently. One is:
“You never change, do you, Bill?”
The other is:
“Go to h-ll, Bill!”
(For the record, Sigourney Weaver didn’t use the hyphen.)
For full effect, picture my relatively straight-laced family in front of my house on our quiet, Christmas-lit street, as midnight approaches on Christmas Eve. Huge snowflakes fall gently. My brother-in-law and his relatively straight-laced family pull away in their car, headed home. Their windows are open, the horn honks, and they yell out the windows, “Thanks for doing this, Ellen!” I and mine call loudly after them, as if with one voice, “Go to h-ll, Bill!” It’s a beloved ritual.
Scenario: Snowed In
My colleagues here at MyHeritage’s Utah office, the home of WorldVitalRecords, are fun and interesting, so I decided to consult them. I e-mailed them this question, and several replied. (The others, I assume, were too busy working.)
“It’s two days before Christmas. You’re snowed in with the family. The cable, satellite TV, and Internet are out, and you forgot to order anything new from Netflix, but the electricity’s still on. By mutual agreement, it’s video night. The popcorn’s popping, someone has a stash of relatively fresh Junior Mints, and there’s time for two movies. You’re all feeling nostalgic, and the consensus is to watch two family favorites: one that’s related to the season and one that’s not. What movies might you watch? Tell me your short lists. They have to be in your, or the family’s, video collection.”
I told them my short lists, to get them started. (Later I consulted my family and was told I got them mostly right.)
- While You Were Sleeping (1995)
- The Bishop’s Wife (1947)
- Miracle on 34th Street (1947 or 1994, but some of the family strongly prefer the older one)
- It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
- Some Like It Hot (1959)
- Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988)
- My Fair Lady (1964) or The Music Man (1962)
- Dave (1993)
For some reason, most of family’s favorites tend to involve a scam or impersonation of some sort. That probably means something.
But to My Colleagues . . .
Richard listed non-holiday flicks Ever After (1998), Harry Potter (2001), and The Count of Monte Cristo (2002), and, for the holidays, ‘Twas the Night before Christmas (1974) and How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966).
Will listed, for the holidays, “in order of awesomeness,” It’s a Wonderful Life, Elf (2003), Scrooged (1988), and How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966). His non-holiday choices are The Sting (1973), Groundhog Day (1993), and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969).
Randy’s mixed short list includes The Grinch (2000), Dumb and Dumber (1994), and White Chicks (2004).
Roger’s family likes holiday films It’s a Wonderful Life, Elf, and The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992), and non-holiday pictures Enchanted (2007), Mary Poppins (1994), and Jungle Book (1967).
Ashley listed these for Christmas: It’s a Wonderful Life, How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966), Home Alone (1990), The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), The Santa Clause (1994), and Elf. Her non-Christmas choices are Tangled (2010), “any of the 007’s,” the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Harry Potter series, the Star Wars series, The Expendables (2010), Alien (1979), Predator (1987), and AVP (2004). (Her family may have to be snowed in for several days, not just an evening.)
Mark offered Elf, Miracle on 34th Street (1994), Polar Express (2004), and The Grinch (2000) for the holidays, and also “Harry Potter — all of them” and “Lord of the Rings — all of them.”
Julie listed A Christmas Story (1983) and Mixed Nuts (1994) for the holidays, and Tommy Boy (1995) and Crocodile Dundee (1986) of general interest. She added a story about Crocodile Dundee:
My grandpa had a cabin when I was young. We would go up there at least once a month in the spring andsummer. There was a TV and VCR, but we could never remember to bring movies with us. For years the only tapes left up there were Crocodile Dundee and some 1980s ski movies. We ended up watching Crocodile Dundee every time we were there.
A Thought, a Suggestion, and Two Questions (not necessarily in that order)
Julie’s brief tale of Crocodile Dundee appeals to the family historian in me. Here’s my suggestion: When the parents or grandparents or uncles or aunts are over for dinner during the holidays, ask them what have been their favorite movies — and when and why they loved them, and with whom they watched them, and how much it cost to get in.
My questions for you are these. First, based on the movies listed above, whose home would you prefer for an impromptu, snowed-in video night? Second, what would you and your family watch if you were snowed in at home?
Finally, the thought may be out of bounds for this blog post, perhaps, but Ashley added this at the bottom of her list, and it belongs at the bottom of mine, too: ”And, of course, we would cozy up and read books.”
Happy holidays, everyone!