Once upon a time, I worked shift work, which means more than a few long boring nights with little else to do but read and watch movies on cable television. You know the movies I mean — the mid-list flicks with perhaps a star or two in them that didn’t do well at the box office but, for whatever reason, have become staples of basic cable programming. I’ve fallen in love with a bunch of those movies*, the movies that’ll bring by channel-flipping to a quick halt any time I come across any of them. Here are my ten favorites, in no certain order
- The Fifth Element — If there’s a movie better suited for laying back on the couch on a lazy evening with a snack, I’ve not seen it. This movie has everything, almost literally, but at the top of the list are the superlative acting jobs from Gary Oldman, Ian Holm, Brion James, and Tommy Lister. There is also one scene in this movie that makes me laugh every single time I see it. You’ll have to guess which one.
- The Green Mile — I don’t know why this movie pulls me in so hard, but it does. This, like Dune and The Princess Bride is a movie I’ve seen more often than I’ve read the book on which it’s based, which is a testament to just how good the movie is. Tom Hanks was brilliant, and surrounded by amazing talent. This movie has the strongest cast on my list, by light-years. You almost forget that Bonnie Hunt and Gary Sinese are in the film.
- The Chronicles of Riddick — No matter what else Vin Diesel does with his career, I’ll be thankful to him for this movie, which sits among my favorite sci-fi flicks ever. The universe of Riddick is tantalizing enough all by itself to pull me in. The idea of Riddick as Conan of the Future only seals the deal.
- The Matrix — If at some point we learn how to travel through time, we should put a priority on stopping the Wachowskis from making sequels to this wonderful flick until they’ve had a chance to sit down with some professional writers and at least one person with a 2×4 to whop them over the head if they ever mention “The Architect”. The Matrix was groundbreaking in a number of ways and, so far as I’m concerned, it’s a genre classic. And a great way to kill part of an afternoon.
- The Princess Bride — Speaking of quotable movies, here is the Granddaddy of them all. One day, I’ll record a video in which Socky the Sock Puppet and I recreate the Battle of Wits scene. That day will then go down as either the greatest or most pathetic day ever. Until that day, though, pop some popcorn and enjoy anytime it airs.
- The Blues Brothers — HOW IS IT POSSIBLE THAT SOMEONE, SOMEWHERE DISLIKES THIS MOVIE?! Sorry…sorry. I’ll take it down a notch. I simply don’t get it, though. How can you not love this movie, which brings so much joy to so many people in so many ways? No, don’t answer that. I don’t want to know. Like Dune, The Blues Brothers requires a fair chunk of time, but you can watch it a number of ways, none of which need your full attention. Pay attention only during the musical numbers, for instance. Alternately, tune out of the music and follow the story. If you like, blow off most of the movie and jump in for the final chase, which is the best chase scene ever laid onto film (with the possible exception of Bullitt). You really can’t lose.
- Die Hard — These days, you’re far more likely to get the edited-for-television version since basic cable channels far outstrip their premium movie network cousins, but that’s okay. Die Hard is a good movie even with its most quotable line stripped of its last word. There is a version floating around out that, strangely, clips a good chunk of the sound effects from the “shoot the glass” shootout scene. I don’t know what happened there, and you won’t know you’re watching that version until it happens, but if you do get that version one evening, add in your own sound effects. Bonus points to you if you assign the glass-breaking sounds to a friend. Double bonus points if you follow up with the second or third movie in the series but not the fourth. The fourth costs you points.
- DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story — I like my Ben Stiller like I like my Will Ferrell, in well-controlled supporting actor roles. Chuck Norris and Lance Armstrong cameos are optional, but greatly preferred. Cool trivia: the actress who played Fran, the deadliest woman on Earth with a dodgeball, also played the woman alien in Galaxy Quest.
- The Shawshank Redemption — Yes, I know I’ve doubled up directors and literary inspirations here. I can’t help it. Shawshank is a marvelous movie and surprisingly quotable. One day I hope to have one adventure narrated by Morgan Freeman. That will be the greatest day of my life.
- The Italian Job — I refer here to the remake with Mark Wahlberg because I can’t remember the last time any movie network showed the original with Michael Caine. As remakes go, this one is exceptional because it stands up pretty well all by itself. We also have here another very quotable movie with a strong “second tier” ensemble cast. For my money, though, Charlize Theron belongs on the top tier.
WHAT, YOU DIDN’T REALLY THINK I WAS GOING TO STOP THIS AT TEN, DID YOU?
Major League — There is no better baseball movie, period. Again, the ensemble cast is good from top to bottom, complete with Charlie Sheen’s real baseball chops and a few former big-leaguers in key roles. Thanks to the director, David Ward, who didn’t direct much else of consequence save Down Periscope, the baseball scenes look like baseball looks and sound like baseball sounds. Bob Uecker’s call at the end gives me goosebumps every single time. It’s a classic that gets short shrift because it’s a comedy. Phooey on that, I say.
So what do you think? Have a few favorites of your own? Tell me about them in the comments!
*This list doesn’t include movies I love that, for one reason or another, the cable networks don’t show as often. Those movies — Dude, Where’s My Car?, The Replacements, Big Trouble in Little China, The Fog, Tombstone, Clue, A Knight’s Tale, Dune, Christine — show up in bursts, usually on one or two networks. You’ll get them a bunch for a month, then they’ll disappear. They also tend to show up on just a couple basic cable channels while the movies on this list can show up just about anywhere. No fooling. I’ve seen “The Princess Bride” on VH1 Classic, Logo, and ABC Family regularly.