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So many movies give us so much pleasure

I’m not sure what it was that motivated me to make these lists, but last summer I posted an earlier version of this on Facebook. I picked my five favorite films in a lot of different genres, and then I picked my No. 1 film in each category.

Now the last thing I want to do is just cut and paste what I wrote last summer, even if this is for a different audience, so what I thought I would do was expand each category to a top 10. Within the 10, they’re in no particular order, except that the one title in boldface in each group is my favorite.

Here goes:

Bull Durham

ACTION/ADVENTURE: Die Hard, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Rock, The Abyss, Armageddon, The Adventures of Robin Hood (the 1937 one), Air Force One, Patriot Games, Con Air, Fail Safe.

COMEDY (FUNNY)Animal House, American Graffiti, Night Shift, My Favorite Year, Used Cars, Duck Soup, After Hours, Sleeper, Tootsie, Some Like it Hot.

COMEDY (SATIRE)Bedazzled, Best in Show, Lord Love a Duck, The Loved One, Smile, Putney Swope, Modern Romance, Saved, Serial, State and Main.

DRAMA: The Godfather Part II, The Grapes of Wrath, Casablanca, To Kill a Mockingbird, True Confessions, Twelve Angry Men, Chinatown, Gone With the Wind, Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago.

FANTASYThe Wizard of Oz, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, It’s A Wonderful Life, Streets of Fire, Peggy Sue Got Married, Superman, Pleasantville, Chances Are, The Princess Bride, Back to the Future.

FOREIGN (LANGUAGE): After Life, Shall We Dance, The Wild Child, Il Postino, Changing Times, Cinema Paradisio, Closely Watched Trains, Tous les Matins du Monde, The Sorrow and the Pity, Das Boot.

Hanover Street

GUILTY PLEASURES: Joe vs. the Volcano, Real Men, Hanover Street, A Small Circle of Friends, Stealing Home, Purple Hearts, The Long Kiss Goodnight, American Dreamz, The Hollywood Knights, Shining Through.

HORROR:   Dawn of the Dead, Freaks, Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Dracula, Bride of Frankenstein, Gotham, The Others, Shaun of the Dead, An American Werewolf in London, Shock Corridor.

MUSICALS: West Side Story, The Music Man, Bye Bye Birdie, Woodstock, Singin’ in the Rain, A Mighty Wind, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Meet Me in St. Louis, Guys and Dolls, Moulin Rouge.

ROMANCELove Actually, Notting Hill, Windy City, Blume in Love, The Electric Horseman, Just Like Heaven, Somewhere in Time, Sleepless in Seattle, Electric Dreams, When Harry Met Sally.

SCIENCE FICTION: Blade Runner, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, ET: The Extraterrestrial, When Worlds Collide, Time After Time, Forbidden Planet, Star Trek (2009), Galaxy Quest, Total Recall.

SPORTS: Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, Bang the Drum Slowly, A League of Their Own, Rocky, For Love of the Game, Hoosiers, Tin Cup, Pastime, Seabiscuit.

My favorite movie.

THRILLERS: North by Northwest, The Birds, Vertigo, The Maltese Falcon, Dead Again, Pretty Poison, The Last Seduction, Silence of the Lambs, Mystic River, From Russia With Love.

WAR: Testament, On the Beach, Gallipoli, The Human Comedy, The Best Years of Our Lives, The Guns of Navarone, From Here to Eternity, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, In the Valley of Elah, Threads.

WESTERNS:  Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, The Magnificent Seven, The Searchers, Little Big Man, Tombstone, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Fort Apache,  Rio Bravo, Stagecoach (1939).

posted by Mike in Happiness,memories,Movies and have No Comments

Tales of headaches, apocalypses and March Madness

Short takes from a journey through a disorganized mind:

I’m in big trouble.

I went to the drugstore the other day to get the only truly critical medicine in my life, only to find out there wasn’t any.


I have been using Excedrin for headaches, toothaches and whatever other aches I’ve had for the last 30-plus years. I’m sure it’s all in my head, but Excedrin is the only thing that seems to work for me consistently.

I buy the large size — 250 capsules or tablets — and then use up the bottle in about four months. So when I went looking for Excedrin the other day, I hadn’t actually shopped for it since November or so.

I couldn’t find any, so I asked. I learned to my great surprise that all the Excedrin had been recalled for some flaw in the packaging process. The biggest shock to me was that it had actually happened several months ago.

I really do have to start keeping up with the news.


I have always enjoyed apocalyptic fiction, whether in books or films. Not so much the book of Revelation stuff, although I did read the entire “Left Behind” series — a great example of a good story and poor writing . I drew the line at watching the movies. Kirk Cameron gives me the creeps.

Some of the best end-of-the-world fiction I’ve read were Nevil Shute’s classic “On the Beach,” Pat Frank’s “Alas Babylon” (in which the world doesn’t really end) and of course Stephen King’s “The Stand” (in which all that ends is the world as we know it). The Gregory Peck-Ava Gardner version of “On the Beach” is my favorite film of this sort, although I have a weird soft spot for a weird little Nicolas Cage film called “Knowing” in which the world actually ends.


Of course there are movies like “Armageddon” and “Deep Impact” — the twin asteroid/comet movies of 1997 — but despite the great tagline “Earth. It was fun while it lasted,” you pretty well knew going in that Bruce Willis and Bobby Duvall weren’t going to let us down by failing to save the day.

I have probably watched “On the Beach” a dozen times on DVD, and recently I saw that there had been a remake for television in 2000 starring Armand Assante and Rachel Ward in the roles Peck and Gardner played so well. I ordered the DVD from Amazon, but I haven’t watched it yet.

My favorite thing about the original version is the way “Waltzing Matilda” weaves in and out of the movie as the primary musical theme. Long before I started listening to Eric Bogle and Slim Dusty, even before I heard “Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport,” I fell in love with Australia through “Waltzing Matilda.”


My last NCAA tournament

During the 16 years I worked as a sportswriter, my greatest area of expertise was college basketball, and the most fun I ever had was covering the NCAA tournament. In 1985 and 1986, when I was working in St. Louis, I had the great privilege of covering the Final Four.

That took me to Rupp Arena in Kentucky for the classic ’85 game when Villanova stunned Georgetown, 66-64, and then to Reunion Arena in Dallas the next year for Louisville’s win over Duke.

I traveled all over for various regionals and sub-regionals — Providence, R.I., in 1985, Ogden, Utah, and Kansas City in 1986, and Salt Lake City and Oakland, Calif., in 1990. Earlier, when I was working in the Southeast, I covered a day’s worth of games in Charlotte in 1982 and Atlanta in 1984.

I achieved enough as a college basketball reporter that I was asked twice — in 1987-88 and in 1990-91 — to be one of the voters in the Associated Press college basketball poll.

I left sportswriting in 1996, and I never missed covering pro football. I’ve missed being a baseball writer, but more than anything, the time of year I have the most nostalgia is during the three weeks known as March Madness.

Ironically, the most fun day of all is the first — four different games at 12, 2, 7 and 9.

That, as they say, is a busy day.

posted by Mike in basketball,Final Four,Health,March Madness,Movies and have No Comments

My walls are filling up and so is my heart

For a lot of years, from about age 27 or 28 until my early 40s, my main mode of decorating my apartment was movie posters.

Most of them were the regular poster size known as “one sheets,” which measure 27 inches by 41 inches and were affixed to my walls by push pins. It was sort of a glorified college dorm-room look. I decorated my apartments the way a lot of single men did, although fairly light on the cheesecake photos and centerfolds.

Two new posters

When I married Nicole, though, I had to be a grownup when it came to decorations. We had lovely prints on the walls, and there was no place anywhere for movie posters.

A couple of years ago, though, I discovered these wonderful little 11×17 framed movie posters on Amazon. Since I knew I was going to have one room to decorate in our retirement home, I started looking at them. I’ve got 12 of them on the walls now, and my only disappointment is that my two favorite movies — “Love Actually” and “Animal House” — aren’t available.

What I really enjoy is that I’ve found a couple of posters of old favorites of mine that aren’t even available on DVD. “3 in the Attic” is one of them, although I do have a bootleg DVD of it. I also have one of “The Strawberry Statement,” which isn’t available on DVD but which I got off Amazon’s Video on Demand.

The one I really like is the one under “3 in the Attic.” It’s the French version of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and it translates as “The Silence and the Shadows.”

I like the posters a lot. They have a nice, clean feel to them and they look good on the wall with all my sports memorabilia and family photos. I have two more coming, which should just about fill up the last empty spots on my walls.

My one little room is very different from the sparse way my lovely wife likes to decorate the house, but almost every direction I turn, almost everything I see on the walls, makes me happy.

That’s worth a lot.

posted by Mike in Georgia,Happiness,Hobbies,Home,memories,Movies and have No Comments

‘Love and …” raises good questions about love

Some movies surprise you.

I’m not really sure why I decided to pick up the DVD of “Love and Other Drugs,” but it was far from being the romantic comedy I had expected. Jake Gyllenhaal is only my second-favorite Gyllenhaal, but I do like Anne Hathaway and feel like she has shown some decent comedy chops at times.

The movie started out funny, as Gyllenhaal’s character tries to make a success of himself as a rep for a pharmaceutical company.

It’s a fairly sexy movie too, but it takes a serious turn when we realize Hathaway’s character is suffering from Stage One Parkinson’s Disease. She pushes potential boyfriends away when there’s a chance of emotional involvement, possibly because she’s afraid she will eventually lose them.

The story of course becomes much more serious, as what was supposed to be just a casual relationship deepens.

It’s difficult to think of spending your life caring for someone with a chronic, degeneration condition. It is, however, an important part of love. Because real love — true love, so to speak — has only a little to do with lust and a lot to do with caring. My mother was my father’s primary caregiver throughout the last five years or so of his life, and as difficult as it must have been, I have no doubt she would have gladly continued it, or possibly have done even more, if it had meant keeping him alive longer.

That’s because love is about always being there, consistently putting the other person’s needs ahead of your own. Staying on your feet when your legs are so tired they feel like blocks of wood. Talking with them even though you’re exhausted and want nothing more than just to sleep,


In the present and in the future.

Love can be a lot of work, but there’s no work that is more fulfilling.

Love ennobles us.

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posted by Mike in Family,Happiness,Health,Movies and have No Comments

‘Easy Rider’ marked a real milestone in movies

I don’t think I had seen “Easy Rider” for at least 35 years when I picked it up on Blu-Ray DVD the other day.

It fascinates me that so many of the influential movies of my youth (and before) are showing up in 40th anniversary editions, or 45th, or 50th … or even in the cases of “Gone With the Wind” and “The Wizard of Oz,” 70th.

“Easy Rider” was different, though. It was the film that actually changed Hollywood for a while, until Steven Spielberg and George Lucas changed it back. For five or six years after its 1969 release, there were all sorts of fascinating films that were never going to make a lot of money, but that definitely added to the pantheon of great American cinema.

There are no heroes in “Easy Rider;” its two main characters — Wyatt and Billy — make the money for their cross-country journey by selling drugs. Other than their desire to be free, neither of them has any particular goal in life.

Most people remember the movie for Jack Nicholson’s supporting role. This was the part that made Nicholson a star, and he stepped into leading roles shortly after that with “Five Easy Pieces.” He definitely has the most memorable line in the movie.

“You know, this used to be a helluva good country.”

It’s the shocking ending — which I will not reveal here — that sticks in most people’s memory.

But it’s that line that stays with me in these days of tea parties and anti-government rhetoric.

“This used to be a helluva good country.”

posted by Mike in Movies and have No Comments

A Saturday night of a different sort

Another Saturday night …

Does there always come a time in your life when you no longer think of Saturday night as “date night,” or even as anything special?

For most of my single years — especially the 12 or so between my two marriages — I worked on Friday nights and had Saturday nights off. That’s the way it is for a lot of sportswriters; Friday nights are busy, Saturday nights not so much. And on several of the stops along my career highway, I wasn’t enjoying my Saturdays all that much.

I don’t think I had one date during my nine months in South Carolina, and I seem to recall my first year in St. Louis being a relative wasteland in that area as well. As Woody Allen once quipped in “Play it Again Sam,” my sex life was turning into the petrified forest.

Play it Again Sam

During my first marriage and the early years of my second marriage, we usually went out on Saturday night. Most of the time it was dinner and a movie, although sometimes we ate at home and then went to the movie after dinner.

But movies started getting really expensive. They’re at the point now where two tickets to a first-run film cost more than buying it on DVD a few months later, and it just isn’t as important to me as it once was to see a movie when it first comes out.

Heck, I still haven’t seen any of the three “Lord of the Rings” movies, and after busting my hump in the ’80s to see “Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi” on the first day they were out, I not only saw the last three “Star Wars” movies on DVD, I didn’t watch the last one until I’d had the DVD for more than a year.

Saturday night eventually became a night to rest and recover for the week ahead. Instead of living for the weekend, I was doing what I could to recharge my batteries on the weekend.

Here in Texas, that has been essential. I’ve been dieting all week and exercising from Monday through Saturday. By the end of the day Saturday, I’m exhausted. I fall into bed with a novel, sleep in on Sunday morning and then spend Sunday storing up energy for Monday, when it starts all over again.

Another Saturday night …

A blessing of a different sort.

posted by Mike in Happiness,Health,Movies,Uncategorized and have No Comments

‘Picture shows’ tell story of our lives

There is something ineffably sad about old abandoned movie theatres.

The last picture show?

Larry McMurtry captured it so well in his wonderful novel, “The Last Picture Show,” made into an excellent film by Peter Bogdanovich in 1971. Shooting in little Archer City, Texas, the director used the closed “picture show” as a metaphor for a dying small town and indeed, a dying time.

Saturday afternoon I was shooting some photos of the partly dead, partly dying old downtown in Hondo, Texas, when I saw the Rave Theater. At first glance it looked as if the last film through the projector was “Jaws” or “Star Wars,” and it made me think.

I wondered how many generations of South Texas kids had visited the Rave, and how many could look back now on memorable nights in their lives, and I thought about some of the memorable nights in my own life spent in other theaters in other cities.

My first date with the lovely Cheryl Newman was a movie and so was my last one. I remember standing outside a Washington, D.C., theater in the freezing cold with Shelley Marcus as we waited to see “M*A*S*H.”

I remember my first date with my first wife — a midnight show of “American Graffiti” in September 1973. I believe it was the fifth or sixth time I had seen the film, one of my favorites. I remember our last “date” too, an evening out six years later to see Burt Reynolds and Jill Clayburgh in “Starting Over” while our marriage was crumbling around us.

I remember all sorts of movies with all sorts of women in the 12 years between my two marriages, and I remember taking my wonderful Nicole to see “Gas Food Lodging” on a night she was so happy she skipped when she crossed Wilshire Boulevard.

Movies matter. During the early days of our marriage, when Nicole and I were still working to get to know each other, she told me she hadn’t been looking to get married, that she only wanted someone to go to the movies with. I could certainly understand that. Going to the movies ought to be a communal experience.

I thought about all these things as I looked at the Rave, and then I realized something. As run-down and battered as the building looked, the name of the movie on the marquee wasn’t something from a generation ago.

It was “Iron Man 2,” and even though there was only one show a night at 7 p.m. six nights week (closed on Tuesdays), the Rave was obviously hanging in there.

I had to smile.

There was something very right about that.

posted by Mike in Americana,love,Movies and have No Comments

‘Avatar’ looks great on DVD, HDTV

Going to the movies used to be such a big part of my life.

If a major movie was coming out, I always used to try and see it the very first weekend, even if it was something that didn’t excite me that much. I saw two of the first three “Star Wars” movies the first day they were out, and all three of the original Indiana Jones films. It mattered to me because I wanted to be able to talk about them with my friends. Movies were shared cultural experiences, at least as long as I was in the group they were aimed at.

But I’m not part of that group anymore. I haven’t seen any of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films, or the “Transformer” movies, or any of the three “Lord of the Rings” epics. In fact, I haven’t seen five of the top 20 highest-grossing films of all time.


This year, when “Avatar” was such a huge phenomenon, I missed it. As it passed “Titanic” to become the highest grosser of all time, I avoided it. Part of it is that I’ve never really enjoyed the whole 3D thing, but the biggest thing is that I’m just not that enthralled with movies that are probably 90 percent CGI.

I was happy to see “Avatar” top “Titanic,” because it always sort of annoyed me that a movie that I considered pretty mediocre was the No. 1 movie of all time. Not enough to sit through 2 hours and 42 minutes of 3D, though.

But this week “Avatar” came out on DVD, and I’m finally getting the chance to see it.

There is no question it is beautifully done, and if the story seems to drag a little at times, the scenery does a great job of making up for it.

I’m glad I finally got it see it.

posted by Mike in Movies and have No Comments

Finding stars in the strangest places

I haven’t known all that many movie stars in my life.

The one I did know, I didn’t know he had been in the movies until I had known him for a while. If that sounds odd — and it seems as if there are too many “knows” in the sentence — you have to understand the situation. I came to Southern California in the spring of 1990 to cover professional sports for a newspaper in the eastern suburbs of Los Angeles. At my first few Dodger games, I noticed that there was a lot of media in the clubhouse after games.

There were all sorts of newspaper reporters, some television guys and more than a few radio reporters. Some of them worked for local radio stations and some for national networks. Biff Elliot was an older man — 66 at the time; I was 40 — and he was stringing for CBS Radio. He’d go into the clubhouse after games, get some sound bites from the players and then upload them to CBS for play all over the country.

Biff Elliott

If you know sports journalism, you know that print reporters tend to look down on the electronic media. It takes a lot more creativity to write a game story than just to stick a microphone in and get some quotes. Biff was seen as kind of goofy for the long, involved questions he would ask, but he was a nice guy and I never ragged on him the way some people did.

Later that summer, I was covering the then-Los Angeles Rams at their practice facility in Anaheim. The routine was pretty standard. Reporters wandered in at 11 or so, and waited for the team to break from its morning practice at noon so that we could get interviews.

For some reason, I don’t remember why, I found myself having a conversation with Biff one morning as we waited for practice to end. I was amazed by what a fascinating life he had led. He had been an actor in both television and movies from the early 1950s to the mid 1980s, and he had some famous friends — Jack Lemmon, Tennessee Williams and Clifford Odets.

He told me a story of how he had basically sat beside Odets’ deathbed in the final days of the playwright’s life. I wish I remembered more about what he told me, but it was 20 years ago and I’m nearly as old now as he was then.

Biff's greatest role

He told me had had played the lead in “I The Jury,” a 3-D movie made about Mickey Spillane’s famous detective, Mike Hammer, and that he had made guest appearances on most of the great television shows of the ’50s and ’60s.

I was enthralled, and 40 minutes passed very quickly. When the Rams were breaking from practice, Biff turned to me and said, “Thank you for listening to me.”

I was surprised to hear it, but I responded quickly. “No, it was my pleasure.”

He looked at me gratefully. “You see, when you get older, you get the feeling that a lot of people wish you would just go away.”

I stopped covering professional sports in the mid ’90s, and I haven’t seen Biff since then. I looked him up on the Internet Movie Database, and at least according to IMDB, he’s still alive and going on 87.

I wouldn’t have any idea how to get in touch with him, and I doubt he would remember me if I did, but I’ll never forget him.

He’s my movie star.

posted by Mike in California,Friends,Movies and have No Comments

Tough to realize that old-timer quality

About 10 years ago, I was in a sports memorabilia store looking at autographed baseballs.

I was more of a collector then than I am now — my remaining collection is in a case that holds 12 balls — and I was considering purchasing balls signed by Frank Robinson and Johnny Bench.

“Oh, you like the old timers,” the attractive young sales clerk said to me.

Old timers? I almost screamed. Bench didn’t reach the majors until after I graduated from high school. Had I really lived that long as an adult, that a great player reached the big leagues, had his entire career and been retired long enough to be an “old timer?”

It’s the same thing with movies, television and music. “Star Wars” and “Jaws” aren’t old-time classics to me, and neither are “Happy Days” and “Welcome Back Kotter.” Bob Seger and Journey aren’t old-time rockers.

Are they?

If those are the old timers now, then where does that leave Joe Dimaggio (whose autograph I do have), “Casablanca,” “I Love Lucy” and Elvis Presley? Prehistoric? From a time when dinosaurs ruled the earth?

In recent years I’ve been collecting DVDs of some of the classic sci-fi films of the ’50s — movies like “Earth vs. the Flying Saucers,” the original “The Day the Earth Stood Still” and numerous others. I’m sure kids look at those movies now and laugh because the special effects are so cheesy, but I wonder if they’re looking at movies like the newest “Star Trek” — which I enjoyed — and laughing because they know the special effects are all done by computers and blue screens.

My good friend Mike Haskins wishes we could return to a day when baseball players had to get jobs in the off-season. I’m not sure we were better off then, but at least when ballplayers made $8,000 a year, they seemed more human to us.

There’s a certain unreality to life as we head into the second decade of the 21st century. It used to be that we could look at a family on television — be they Bradys, Cleavers or Cunninghams — and recognize only a slightly idealized version of families we actually knew. But now everything is so exaggerated that we can’t see ourselves in the picture at all.

Probably the last real family on television was the Conner family — Dan, Roseanne and their kids, who lived real lives, who fought with each other and ragged each other and still managed to love each other.

How did we go from Laverne & Shirley, working-class girls who lived in a crummy basement apartment in Milwaukee, to the six “Friends” with New York apartments anyone not named Trump would have had trouble affording.

Maybe it’s that movies and television used to turn a mirror on our lives and now they try and help us escape our lives.

Yeah, I guess I am an old timer.

posted by Mike in Americana,baby boom,baseball,Movies,Music,Ranting and have No Comments
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