by Sage Cruser
While a lot of people are watching Contagion and The Purge, I’m over here trying to lower my blood pressure and mentally escape right now. Over the past several weeks, I have at times ventured into the “I’m terrified and want to watch something else that’s terrifying that I know can’t hurt me” realm, but that’s not where I’m at this week. This week is for comfort. The following are some movies that, after plucking them from my shelf and gazing lovingly at the covers for a bit, I pop into my drive and enjoy for the umpteenth time.
Ever After: A Cinderella Story (1998, Andy Tennant)
The best take on the Cinderella story you’ll ever watch. For years, I’ve been trying to get more people to give Ever After a chance so I’ll stop seeing contortions of surprise on their faces when I say I love it. Anjelica Huston as the complex stepmother, delivering some of the most scathing lines ever written for a noblewoman, is spectacular (teaser: “How can anyone love a pebble in their shoe?”). Watch this movie for her if nothing else, even though there is so much more to love: excellent story and characters (including a delightful Patrick Godfrey as a wise and comedic Leonardo da Vinci), intelligent and funny dialogue, and profoundly warm depth. Don’t limit yourself if you’re thinking this isn’t your kind/genre of movie; I’ve been known to pivot from raving about my John Wick marathon to singing the praises of Ever After. So please, be part of the solution and watch it.
The Secret of Roan Inish (1994, John Sayles)
Young Fiona (Jeni Courtney) goes to stay with her grandparents on the west coast of Ireland and untangles the mysteries of her family as she learns the lore of selkies, beings that can transform from seals into humans by shedding their skin. While I must admit there’s nostalgia tied up in my love for The Secret of Roan Inish, there’s a lot to be said for its quality—quality of structure, visuals, meaning, music, its ability to make you feel something. And it’s not just for kids, as I’ve heard some claim; it’s for everyone (Siskel and Ebert agreed). As it tells me its story, I feel like a wee babe in a cradle on the sea, rocking back and forth in the waves that hold secrets and histories yet to be revealed, a haunting melody woven by Celtic harps and flutes in the air…
A Knight’s Tale (2001, Brian Helgeland)
Hungry and poor with a chance to “change his stars,” young squire William Thatcher (Heath Ledger) impersonates his deceased master and poses as the noble knight in order to compete in a jousting match. This opens a door that had never before been accessible to him, and he and his friends ride the opportunity as far as they can. This movie is pure fun, start to finish (I recommend the theatrical version over the extended). From the classic rock soundtrack that the characters dance to in their medieval setting, to Paul Bettany playing a devastatingly charming Geoffrey Chaucer, few movies truly lean into the level of unapologetic fun the way A Knight’s Tale does. And there’s courage! Intrigue! Friendship! Love! No matter how many times I watch this feel-good gem, usually with yet another friend who must see it, I laugh and cry like it’s the first time.
The Princess Bride (1987, Rob Reiner)
Of course this one is here. I, along with many others around the globe, regard The Princess Bride as a treasure—and for good reason. “Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles.” Doesn’t sound too bad, right? Certainly enough to try and stay awake for. To be fair, I’ve encountered several people for whom it doesn’t appeal. And that’s fine. Totally fine. One of those lines of reasoning centered around the statement: “There’s so much happening. Like, is it a romance? Action? Comedy? Drama?” And to that I answered: “Yes!” I love it because it is all of those things and more. There has never been a time in my life when The Princess Bride did not exist in the world, and for that I am grateful.
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971, Mel Stuart)
When I tell people there are movies with which I have strong “texture associations,” Willy Wonka is the first one I use as an example. The colors, the sounds, the costumes, the candy, the devouring of candy, Wonka’s hair. Mm! So rich. I’ll never stop having daydreams about frolicking in the Chocolate Room and taking bites of everything I can reach. Even with these extremely satisfying elements, there is no denying the main reason I come back over and over: Gene Wilder’s enrapturing performance as the eccentric Willy Wonka. Often coming off as an inaccessible and even frightening individual who drops and twists Shakespeare quotes like no other, the reveal of his tenderness and humanity is all the more significant for it. And yet, even with his “So shines a good deed in a weary world” loveliness, I knew he’d be an eternal character of my heart from the moment I first heard him utter the words “Stop, don’t, come back” in his signature deadpan tone.
Finding ways to take mental breaks from stress is important for my health, but awareness and action are equally important. While movies are fun and they often provide me with that temporary reprieve from stress, the devastating reality of our current situation is affecting us all and requires attention. I was fortunate enough to write this article from the safety of my home, but there are many people in our Seattle community and beyond for whom home is not a safe space, especially during this pandemic. If you or anyone you know is being affected by domestic violence or abuse and prefers not to contact the police, please consider utilizing resources provided and recommended by Domestic Abuse Women’s Network (DAWN), and The NW Network. Some of these resources also include help for people who are struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic with things like food, shelter, and other essentials.
Sage Cruser works at Scarecrow.