Five Movies the Whole Family Can Watch

Suggestions for a crowded holiday house

Five Movies the Whole Family Can Watch

Earlier this week, I rattled off some Christmas movies, good and bad, with the help of a friend. Next week I’ll post my Best of 2021 list. I might try to squeak in a review of “The Matrix Resurrections” before my kids come piling through the door for the holiday. But maybe your kids have already piled in, or you’re amassing enough relatives under one roof that picking something to watch together might seem daunting. Off the top of my head, here are five movies available on demand that should please a royal flush of relatives, from reasonably sentient children to hard-to-please olds (of which I am one). Only one could be tagged as a “family movie” – the others are just ones the whole family can enjoy.

“What’s Up, Doc?” (1972) (streaming on HBO Max, for rent elsewhere ) Yes, you’ve probably seen it before. So see it again and introduce it to the rest of the family – few movies hold up to repeat viewings like this peerless Peter Bogdanovich comedy in which Mr. Propriety (Ryan O’Neal as an expert in igneous rocks) meets Ms. Catastrophe (Barbra Streisand, never sexier). The supporting cast is wide, deep, and hilarious: Madeline Kahn, Kenneth Mars, Austin Pendleton, Liam Dunn. The slapstick gags use the hills of San Francisco as a featured player. And the dialogue can make you burble with happiness:

“First there was this trouble between me and Hugh.”

“You and me?”

“No, not you, Hugh.”

(Hugh) “I am Hugh.”

“You are me?”

(Hugh) “No, I am Hugh.”

“Stop *saying* that.”

If you want to make it a double bill with Bogdanovich’s acknowledged model, “Bringing Up Baby,” by all means do.

“Cinderella Man” (2005) (streaming on HBO Max and DirecTV, for rent elsewhere) Ron Howard has made some great movies and some stinkers, and usually the public can figure out which is which. The exception is this true-life boxing story, one of Howard’s best and least remembered, with Russell Crowe making you feel every stab of desperation as James Braddock, an over-the-hill fighter struggling to feed his wife (Renee Zellweger) and children during the worst days of the Great Depression. With Paul Giamatti channeling the ghost of Ned Sparks as Braddock’s manager. It’s old-school Hollywood corn served with enough conviction and feeling to melt the hardest cynic in your house.

“The Illusionist” (2006) (streaming on Fubo and Hoopla; for rent on Apple TV and Amazon) This was one of two Great Magician movies to come out in 2006, and everyone remembers the other one, Christopher Nolan’s “The Prestige.” Fine, but I’ll take Neil Burger’s soapier but more enjoyable melodrama, with Edward Norton wowing the nobles in turn-of-the-century Vienna while pining above his station for a duchess (Jessica Biel) while trying to save her from a sadistic Crown Prince (Rufus Sewell) while trying to dodge a dogged Chief Inspector (Paul Giamatti again, and having the time of his life). It’s grand escapist fun, with a ripely thrumming Philip Glass score as the icing on a rich cake.

“We Are the Best!” (2013) (streaming on Amazon Prime Video and Kanopy, for rent elsewhere) A good bet if you’re trying to rope in any disaffected teenage sons or daughters in the house. A completely adorable Swedish comedy-drama about three 13-year-old girls who start a punk group just to annoy their parents and classmates – which is, face it, how all punk groups start. The bighearted Lukas Moodysson directs, and Mira Barkhammar and Mira Grosin are delightful as an adolescent female Swedish Lennon and McCartney, the former dryly pessimistic behind her granny glasses and the latter absolutely certain that noise will save the world.

“Paddington 2” (2017) (streaming on DirecTV, for rent elsewhere) On the assumption that you might have an actual child in the house, there should be at least one movie that everyone of all ages can watch without undue trauma, groaning, or F/X-induced sugar shock. This is that movie. (So is “Babe.”) You don’t need to have seen the first “Paddington” (2015) to enjoy the sequel, although if it gets young readers to the Michael Bond books, all the better. A British production, it’s an example of smart, talented people attending to the material without condescension, and look at that cast: Hugh Bonneville (“Downton Abbey”), Sally Hawkins, Jim Broadbent, and in a deliciously droll performance Hugh Grant as a villainous prat. Think of it this way: If you have to watch a family film, why not the one with a higher Rotten Tomatoes score than “Citizen Kane”?

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