Bill’s Best Bets: Looking for movies to lift your spirit during these times of troubles? Here are 15 recommendations

It was Lubbock Lights editor Terry Greenberg who suggested I come up with a list of “feel good” movies, motion pictures that lift our spirits during this coronavirus crisis.

These are the first 15 film titles I jotted down. I hope watching them helps if you need a boost.

I also decided quotations from the films also could provide further smiles.

A few other points to make:

  • Rob Reiner directed two of my choices.
  • Another two find the late Penny Marshall directing Tom Hanks.
  • Sports movies? I list two back-to-back.
  • I originally meant to shy away from animation and Disney. Too obvious. And yet I did include one animated movie and one Pixar project. They are one and the same. I realize other animated hits can take our minds off tough times from start to finish. That said, I love how the sadness expressed in “Up” gives way to friendship and happiness.
  • I never expected, or even recognized, that I chose so many movies involving cross-dressing male leads. John Travolta, Robin Williams, Dustin Hoffman, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon – they’re all here. I am unsure what this says about me.

No doubt you have favorite Feel Good titles you’d add. They may show up on future lists. For now, feel free to leave comments on Lubbock Lights Facebook page, pointing out your films.

The following movies are presented in no order other than alphabetical.

Enjoy.

‘Big’

Josh: “I wish I were big.”

Josh and Billy: “The space goes down, down baby, down, down the roller coaster. Sweet, sweet baby, sweet, sweet, don’t let me go. Shimmy, shimmy, cocoa pop. Shimmy, shimmy, rock. Shimmy, shimmy, cocoa pop. Shimmy, shimmy rock. I met a girlfriend, a triscuit. She said, a triscuit, a biscuit. Ice cream, soda pop, vanilla on the top. Ooh, Shelly’s out, walking down the street, ten times a week. I read it. I said it. I stole my momma’s credit. I’m cool. I’m hot. Sock me in the stomach three more times.”

1988, directed by Penny Marshall. Stars Tom Hanks, Elizabeth Perkins, Robert Loggia, David Moscow (as young Josh) and Jared Rushton (as Billy).

No one ever has surpassed Tom Hanks at expressing the child within while trapped in an adult body, thanks so much to a great script directed by the late, great  Penny Marshall. The story: After a magical wish transforms 12-year-old Josh Baskin (Moscow) into a 30-year-old man (Hanks), he heads to New York City and lands a low-level job at MacMillen Toy Company. A chance encounter with the company owner (Loggia) leads to Josh being promoted to test new toys. Soon, fellow employee Susan (Perkins) takes a romantic interest in Josh. However, the pressure of living as an adult begins to overwhelm him, and Josh longs to return to his simple, former life as a boy.

‘Elf’

Buddy to department store Santa: “You sit on a throne of lies.”

2003, directed by Jon Favreau. Stars Will Ferrell, James Caan, Bob Newhart, Ed Asner, Mary Steenburgen and Zooey Deschanel.

So many Christmas pictures would fit the bill of a feel-good movie, but this has become one of my favorites. I have not been the biggest, or most consistent, fan of Will Ferrell. Yet he embodies the Christmas spirit as Buddy the elf.  (Fact: Buddy thought he was an elf while being raised at the North Pole, but he is a human raised by elves.) Now, dressed in his green-and-yellow elf suit, he’s expected to leave, and seek out his real father (Caan). Meanwhile, whether decorating a store for Christmas or engaging in snowball fights, no one can deny Buddy learned a lot at the North Pole. And he still dreams of becoming Santa’s biggest helper one day.

‘Groundhog Day’

Phil: “This is pitiful. A thousand people freezing their butts off waiting to worship a rat. What a hype. Groundhog Day used to mean something in this town. They used to pull the hog out and they used to eat it. You’re hypocrites, all of you.”

1993, directed by Harold Ramis. Stars Bill Murray, Andie MacDowell, Chris Elliott and Stephen Tobolowsky.

Bill Murray stars as cynical Pittsburgh TV weatherman Phil Connors, who travels every year with his crew (news producer Rita and cameraman Larry) to cover Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, Penn. But now he finds himself reliving the same Groundhog Day over and over again. His predicament drives him to distraction, as he seeks a way to turn the situation to his advantage. The mystery lies in whether he can figure out a way to change, learn how to appreciate the little things in life, and thus halt the loop.

‘Hairspray’

Edna: Would you keep that racket down? I’m trying to iron here.”

2007, directed by Alan Shankman. Stars Nikki Blomsky, John Travolta, Christopher Walken, Queen Latifah, Michelle Pfeiffer, Amanda Bynes, Zac Efron and Allison Janney.

With respect to “Saturday Night Fever” and “Grease,” the role of loving mother Edna Turnblad ranks with John Travolta’s greatest performances. Pleasantly plump teenager Tracy Turnblad (Blomsky) may have what it takes to teach 1962 Baltimore a thing or two about integration. First, she must audition as a dancer on “The Corny Collins Show,” a locally filmed TV dance show – and then use her new teen sensation status to topple the reigning dance queen.

‘It Happens Every Spring’

Professor Joe Forsythe: “It happens every spring.”

1949, directed by Lloyd Bacon. Stars Ray Milland, Jean Peters, Paul Douglas, Ed Begley and Ted de Corsia.

There are a dozen great baseball movies able to send the blues packing. (And my list includes two.) But this one, filmed before I was even born, is a movie I watch before Major League Baseball’s Opening Day arrives each year. I discovered it on television when I was a child, and never forgot it. Here, college chemistry professor Vernon Simpson (Milland) tries to invent a substance that makes insects avoid wood. A lab accident with an unexpected baseball instead results in a substance that forces the ball to repel wood. The next thing you know, Simpson’s new “screwball” impresses the St. Louis Cardinals. He becomes star pitcher King Kelly, leading his team to a World Series.

‘A League of Their Own’

Jimmy Dugan: “Is she crying? IS SHE CRYING? There’s no crying in baseball!

1992, directed by Penny Marshall. Stars Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, Lori Petty, Garry Marshall, Jon Lovitz, Madonna, Rosie O’Donnell and Megan Cavanagh.

In 1943, with Major League Baseball having lost many stars to military service and World War II, the All-American Professional Girls Baseball League was born. That’s a fact. The film focuses on an executive approving plans for a league of female ballplayers, and a scout (Lovitz) seeking potential stars for drunk-turned-Rockford Peaches manager Jimmy Dugan (Hanks). He dries out and begins caring more after reading in his contract that he makes more money if his team reaches the World Series. And he has just the team to get there. Stars include competitive sisters Dottie and Kit (Davis and Petty). The film is hilarious; yet it treats the women who played in the real All-American Professional Girls Baseball League with respect. This league, after all, is part of baseball history.

‘Mrs. Doubtfire’

Daniel as Mrs. Doubtfire after a stove fire: “Look at this. My first day as a woman and I’m getting hot flashes.”

1993, directed by Chris Columbus. Stars Robin Williams, Sally Field, Pierce Brosnan and Harvey Fierstein.

The truth is, so many of Robin Williams’ films make us forget our troubles, from the ad-libbed, animated “Aladdin” to the manner in which he provides laughs within serious themes in “Good Morning, Vietnam” and “The Birdcage.” While with The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, I was privileged to interview Williams three times. And I loved what he had to say about “family,” after critics laughed through Chris Columbus’ “Mrs. Doubtfire.” Sally Field and other cast members take advantage of a clever script. But Williams, still ad-libbing at times, is in command. He portrays actor Daniel Hillard, who, when granted little access to his children during an ugly divorce, is disguised by his (makeup artist) brother and becomes elderly British woman Mrs. Doubtfire. Miranda (Field) hires Mrs. Doubtfire to be her children’s nanny. Daniel’s new persona wins over his children – and helps him become a better parent.

‘The Princess Bride’

Inigo Montoya repeats: “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

Vizzini: “Inconceivable!”

Pirate and Grandpa: “As you wish.”

1987, directed by Rob Reiner. Stars Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, Mandy Patinkin, Chris Sarandon, Christopher Guest, Wallace Shawn, Andre the Giant, Carol Kane, Billy Crystal, Fred Savage and Peter Falk.

My friend Ralph DeWitt may be the only person I know who has not accepted this film’s charms. He claims not to like “silly or sweet” stories. This movie is, admittedly, both. The story opens in Chicago, where the grandfather (Falk) of a sick child (Savage) sits at his bedside, hoping to cheer him up by  sharing the story of “The Princess Bride.” Savage is not confident; he prefers stories with lots of action and “no kissing.” But he discovers this story of Buttercup (Wright) grieving her lost love also includes – surprise – fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, close escapes, “rodents of unusual size” and, OK, love. Not to mention a Bad Guy with six fingers on one hand. Penned by William Goldman and based on his own novel, this is a very funny and charming fairy tale, guaranteed to warm the hearts of (practically) everyone, except Ralph.

‘The Shawshank Redemption’

Andy to Red: I guess it comes down to a single choice, really. Get busy living, or get busy dying.”

Red: “These walls are funny. First you hate ‘em, then you get used to ‘em. Enough time passes, you get so you depend on them. That’s institutionalized.”

1994, directed by Frank Darabont. Stars Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, Bob Gunton, William Sadler and Clancy Brown.

This is a far more serious adult film, yet with an uplifting ending that found it becoming a universally beloved motion picture. Tim Robbins stars as Andy Dufresne, an innocent man nevertheless sentenced to two consecutive life sentences at tough Shawshank Prison after being convicted of killing his wife and her lover. While serving the first 19 years of his sentence, he forms a friendship with Red (Freeman), a convicted killer and wisdom-spouting prison scrounger, who had adapted to the brutality of prison life.

‘Singing in the Rain’

Cosmo: “Lina. She can’t act, she can’t sing, she can’t dance. A triple threat.”

1952, co-directed by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly. Stars Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Connor and Jean Hagen.

The funniest movie about changes in Hollywood. One of history’s best films, period. This backstage musical opens in 1927 with supposedly “romantic” silent film stars Don Lockwood (Kelly) and Lina Lamont (Hagen) having kept Monumental Pictures at the top of the Hollywood food chain. That’s with help from Don’s friend Cosmo Brown (O’Connor). Things change when “The Jazz Singer” opens. Talkies arrive. Plus, Don falls for chorus girl and fledgling actress Kathy Selden (Reynolds). Monumental still hopes to make a rapid change from silent to talking pictures, but Lina’s horrible and hilarious voice finds her career in real danger. “Singing in the Rain” is perfectly cast. Musical numbers all are memorable. And as for the script, this remains one of Hollywood’s most quotable films.

‘Some Like It Hot’

Osgood: “Well, nobody’s perfect.”

Sugar: “Story of my life. I always get the fuzzy end of the lollipop.”

1959, directed by Billy Wilder. Stars Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, George Raft, Pat O’Brien and Joe E. Brown.

Chicago musicians Joe (Curtis) and Jerry (Lemmon) witness the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. They desperately need to leave town and escape the gangster responsible, Spats Colombo (Raft). The only openings for musicians, however, are in an all-girls band. Thus, Curtis and Lemmon show up at the train station as replacement musicians: saxophonist Josephine and bass player Daphne, respectively. Both enjoy being around the women, of course, especially band leader and singer Sugar Kane (Monroe), who also plays the ukulele. Soon, Joe wants to woo Sugar, while Jerry (as Daphne) is being pursued by millionaire Osgood Fielding III. Mayhem ensues as both try to keep their true identities hidden and Spats calls for a meeting with crime lords. Some insiders were surprised the film became a classic, considering Monroe consistently was late to the set and flubbed her lines, causing as many as 50-plus takes for some scenes. Wilder was so furious he barred Monroe from the wrap party for cast and crew. After all, her mistakes reportedly added more than a half million dollars to the total cost. Years later, Wilder forgave her, saying, “It takes a real artist to come on the set and not know her lines and yet give the performance that she did.”

‘Tootsie’

Dorothy Michaels, ad-libbing on daytime television: “Dr. Brewster tried to seduce several nurses in this unit, claiming to be in the throes of an uncontrollable impulse. Do you know what? I am going to give every nurse on this floor an electric cattle prod and instruct them to just zap him in his badubies.”

1982, directed by Sydney Pollack. Stars Dustin Hoffman, Jessica Lange, Teri Garr, Dabney Coleman, Charles Durning, Bill Murray, Geena Davis and Sydney Pollack.

Dustin Hoffman stars as New York-based actor Michael Dorsey, a perfectionist who makes his projects so hard on himself and others that his agent (played by director Pollack) no longer can find work of any kind for him. When his audition for a trashy soap opera goes just as poorly, Michael afterward dresses as a woman. He reinvents himself as actress Dorothy Michaels and he gets the part! What was written as a short-lived part is expanded into a major role, with a long-term contract. Hoffman’s Michael loses himself in the role of Dorothy and becomes a spokesperson for women, inspiring them to break free of the control of men. Meanwhile, Michael develops a crush on co-star Julie (Lange), while Julie’s father simultaneously is falling for Dorothy.

‘Up’

Dug: “Squirrel!”

Dug: “I do not like the Cone of Shame.”

2009, co-directed by Pete Doctor and Bob Peterson. Animated film featuring the voices of Edward Asner, Christopher Plummer, Jordan Nagai, Bob Peterson, Delroy Lindo, John Ratzenberger, Elie Doctor (as young Elie) and Jeremy Leary (as young Carl).

A strange choice, I realize – because sadness dominates this film’s opening images.  The first several minutes are the stuff of genius; viewers watch Carl and Elie meet as children, their courtship and marriage, followed by disease and loss. Sobs are expected. But once “Up” puts us through that emotional wringer, Carl (Asner) finds the strength to begin living his childhood dream 64 years later, exploring South America and eventually finding Paradise Falls, where he and Elie had hoped to make their home. Carl becomes a friend and father figure for lonely child Russell (Nagai), and the two embark on a mad adventure with a funny, talking dog named Dug and an exotic bird they name Kevin. Carl and Russell also discover that a nearby villain is Carl’s boyhood idol. A happy ending is appreciated as much as it seems guaranteed.

‘When Harry Met Sally’

An unknown customer played by Estelle Reiner, director Rob Reiner’s mother, upon witnessing the fake, but convincing, orgasm by Sally (Ryan) at Katz’s Delicatessen: “I’ll have what she’s having.”

Harry (Crystal): “I had my dream again where I am making love and the Olympic judges are watching. I’d nailed the compulsories, so this is the finals. I got a 9.8 from the Canadians, a perfect 10 from the Americans. And my mother, disguised as an East German judge, gave me a 5.6. Must have been the dismount.”

1989, directed by Rob Reiner. Stars Meg Ryan, Billy Crystal, Carrie Fisher, Bruno Kirby, Steven Ford and Lisa Jane Persky.

This film from director Reiner and screenwriter Nora Ephron remains one of Hollywood’s top romantic comedies, worthy of multiple viewings. I daresay it will take your mind off of social distancing for a couple hours. University of Chicago graduates Harry (Crystal) and Sally (Ryan) meet when they share a car ride from Chicago to New York in 1977, during which they argue about whether a man and a woman can share a platonic friendship. Ten years later, they meet at a bookstore and test the waters, wondering whether they can possibly remain close friends without sex getting in the way. Ephron’s script includes terrific dialogue about sex and dating – and Ryan’s faked orgasm during a public lunch still works 30 years later.

‘The Wizard of Oz’

The Wicked Witch of the West: “Just try and stay out of my way. Just try! I’ll get you, my pretty and your little dog, too.”

Auntie Em: “Almira Gulch, just because you own half the county doesn’t mean that you have the power to run the rest of us. For 23 years, I’ve been dying to tell you what I thought of you, and now … well, being a Christian woman, I can’t say it.”

Dorothy Gale: “There’s no place like home.”

1939, directed by Victor Fleming and (uncredited) George Cukor, Mervyn LeRoy, Norman Taurog, Richard Thorpe and King Vidor. Stars Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, Bert Lahr, Margaret Hamilton, Billy Burke, Charley Grapewin and Clara Blandick.

I remain enchanted by this film’s characters, story and songs, although I wish I could relive the sensation of viewing Dorothy stepping through a doorway from black-and-white into the color of Oz for the first time. Regardless, “The Wizard of Oz” remains as magical and full of wonder today as when it was first released more than 80 years ago. We see Dorothy (Garland) and her dog, Toto, survive a tornado ripping through their Kansas home … as they are carried to the magical land of Oz. A yellow brick road guides them to the Wizard, introducing along the way a Scarecrow wanting a brain, a Tin Man in need of a heart and a Lion missing courage. Together, they hope to retrieve the broomstick of the Wicked Witch of the West. Margaret Hamilton appears stronger, more wicked and more menacing with each screening – and be assured her character never could wash her hands in our viral age.