Movies + TV

Always Watching

The movies and TV shows that’ll stay with us for life.

wonderyearsThe Wonder Years (1988–1993, ABC)
This series was set in the 1960s and aired in the 1980s, but I first watched it as reruns in the late ’90s, which I think proves that it is truly timeless. It follows Kevin Arnold, played by Fred Savage, as he navigates the transition from sixth grade to high school. Unlike shows that actually aired in the 1960s, The Wonder Years shows growing up in the suburbs for what it really is: underwhelming, haunting, and hilarious all at the same time. Kevin is obsessed with this girl named Winnie Cooper, who is the ultimate girl-next-door (and is played by the real-life math whiz Danica McKellar). Winnie is friendly and beautiful, yet smart and kinda elusive. Honestly, I wish this the show would have been about Winnie. She is my ultimate style icon (you can catch her sporting short bangs, cat-eye glasses, and overalls in the pilot episode alone). My parents both grew up in the ’60s and would always say really nostalgic stuff when we’d watch this together, and I’d be all, “Ugh, guys, shut up!” But now just thinking about the opening credits to this show makes me want to cry wistful tears. —Gabby

seven_minutes_in_heavenSeven Minutes in Heaven (1985)
In my experience, a lot of the movies you adored as a kid don’t really hold up when you revisit them five or 10 years later. But having recently watched this for the first time since the ’90s, I can say with utmost confidence that Seven Minutes in Heaven is ONE OF THE BEST TEEN MOVIES EVER. It’s a quiet, realistic depiction of the murky entanglements between best friends and first loves. A 15-year-old Jennifer Connelly plays the quiet, studious Natalie, who is smart but is still trying to figure people out. When her dad goes away to a conference, she immediately allows her best male friend, Jeff, to crash at her parentless place after he fights with his own stepdad. Their cohabitation is terribly innocent, though it’s clear that Jeff is hopelessly in love with Natalie. Many mortifying things happen—like when she accidentally walks in on him in the bathroom and realizes what shacking up truly means. Meanwhile, Natalie’s best friend Polly (played by the awesome Maddie Corman) is less interested in love and devotion than good old-fashioned s-e-x, especially after a random encounter with a pro baseball player (and underwear model). The dialogue is so sweet and realistic, with Jennifer Connelly constantly dropping jewels like, “Parents and kids always fight. It’s the way of the world.” I could live inside this movie. —Julianne

this_christmasThis Christmas (2007)
Named after Donny Hathaway’s classic song, This Christmas follows the Whitfield family as they reunite for the holidays for the first time in four years. Ma’Dere’s children return to her quiet home with a whole lot of skeletons jingling noisily in their closets—with the exception of Baby (played by a still sweet-faced Chris Brown). Quentin’s on the run, Claude has two major secrets, Melanie’s got a new boo, and there’s some turbulence between career-driven, single Kelli and married Lisa, whose husband, Malcolm, is rather shady. The Whitfield kids work through the difficulties within and among themselves, and the warm-fuzzies-inducing moral of the story is that the bonds of family, trust, and love are the most important things of all. A part of me watches this movie every year for the epic baby-oil, belt, and shower scene (it’s not what you think!) with Lisa and Malcolm. Another part of me watches for all the eye candy, including Lauren London, who plays Melanie. But mostly, each year I look forward to watching Baby’s golden rendition of Otis Redding’s “Try A Little Tenderness,” which is easily one of the most memorable moments in the film. —Nova

angel_on_wbAngel (1999–2004, the WB)
Angel was born out of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Buffy fans know Angel as the vampire with a soul, which was the result of a gypsy curse. He feels crushing guilt for his days as Angelus, one of the most ruthless vampires in Europe, and to help alleviate it, he works with Buffy to fight the big BAD. They also fall in love, and when that relationship ends somewhat disastrously, he heads to demon-filled L.A. and opens Angel Investigations to continue fighting evil. I came to both Buffy and Angel late, checking them both out for the first time just last year. On the advice of my brother, I watched them in tandem, and while you’d probably get the most out of Angel that way because of the character crossover, it totally stands on its own. Two of my favorite characters are wholly original to Angel: Lorne, the demon lounge singer, and Fred, a physicist who was trapped in a demon dimension for five years (played by Amy Acker, one of my favorite actresses ever). All of the characters are multi-faceted—they’re dark and dramatic, as well as comedic. And that’s what I love most about Angel: Its premise, about finding redemption, is serious, but there are a lot of downright hilarious moments. It’s Joss Whedon doing what he does best! I really wish this show could have lasted forever, but at least it has eternal life on Netflix. —Stephanie

Love Me If You DareJeux d’enfants (2003)
Jeux d’enfants aka Love Me If You Dare tells the tale of Julien (Guillaume Canet) and Sophie (Marion Cotillard), friends who begin a mischievous game of dares as children (Julien pees in the principal’s office!) that follows them into high school (Sophie wears a bra over a T-shirt during a class presentation!). As they become adults, it finally escalates into a sadistic competition that also is an excuse for them to stay connected to each other—possibly forever. If you’re a fan of unconventional love stories and the whimsy of movies like Amélie, put Jeux d’enfants in your queue immediately! You will either be charmed, irritated, or, hopefully, a little bit of both. Fun fact: Canet and Cotillard actually fell in love while making this movie and are still together today. —Marie

A Christmas StoryA Christmas Story (1983)
A Christmas Story will always be synonymous with the holidays for me because it’s been a favorite of my parents since they were young. I’ve watched it almost every winter for as far back as I can remember, and because its protagonist, a grade-schooler named Ralphie, is so hilarious, it never gets old. I’d watch as he groans about his father’s questionable taste in home decor (e.g. the iconic fishnet-clad lamp leg that is the center of one the movie’s plot lines), grimly dons a bunny suit gifted to him by a relative that thinks it’s just soooo cute, and, most crucially, pines for a BB gun (the gift he most wishes will appear beneath the tree) regardless of the season—although, of course, it’s best around this time of year. This movie is a perfect portrait of exactly what’s most exasperating AND most wonderful about being part of a family, which is why I love to watch it with my folks so much. See it with someone close to you, and “You’ll shoot your eye out!” will become a phrase that’s much warmer-feeling than it sounds. —Amy Rose

torchwoodTorchwood (2006–2011, BBC; 2011, Starz)
I first found out about Torchwood while listening to a discussion panel about the show at San Diego Comic-Con. I had never seen an episode of this Doctor Who spin-off (Torchwood is an anagram of Doctor Who), so I didn’t understand what the hell anyone was talking about as storylines and character motives were being dissected by diehard fans and the show’s crew. All I knew was that John Barrowman, the only actor from the cast on the panel, was the most charismatic person I’d ever been in the same room with. Based entirely on this guy’s candor and amazing smile, I bought the two seasons of the show that were available at the time. The gamble paid off because Barrowman’s charm comes across in every scene he’s in. But it’s not just him: This whole sci-fi drama, about a group of people tracking down aliens on Earth, is just incredible. The Torchwood team, including the immortal Captain Jack Harkness (Barrowman) and new recruit Gwen (Eve Myles—who is just as captivating as Barrowman), deal with things like underground alien fight clubs, otherworldly technology that resurrects the dead, and cannibals. You get all of the mystery and adventure that make this genre so much fun, but the show is just as much about humanity and mortality as it is about extraterrestrials and the supernatural. In Torchwood: Miracle Day, the show’s fourth season, human death in the world stops, which causes all kinds of practical and philosophical problems. It’s pretty common these days for sci-fi shows and movies to have some sort of existential theme (you know, like using aliens to make a point about what it means to be human). But when characters on Torchwood confront things like death, which of course can be dramatic and entertaining, it’s done in a way that inspires genuine sympathy and introspection. —Amber

the_neverending_storyThe NeverEnding Story (1984)
Sorry, I can’t see. My eyes are filling with tears…like every time I even think about this goddamn movie! The NeverEnding Story starts with a little boy, Bastian, who is being bullied at school. One day, he’s drawn to a mysterious book in a dark little shop; he swipes it behind the owner’s back, and then his adventure BEGINS. Squirrelled away in his school’s attic, he spends the day reading about a world called Fantasia where the borders are disappearing into a malevolent force called The Nothing. Fantasia’s ruler, the Childlike Empress, is ill because of The Nothing, and she summons the child warrior Atreyu to discover and banish the source of this danger. From the scenes of Bastian skipping school to read a book (MY FANTASY) to the wondrous characters—the beautiful and wise Childlike Empress, Falkor the flying dragon, and a giant bat that continually falls asleep—this film entranced me as a child. Throw in a magical amulet, the idea that every child (and their imagination) is important, and an amazing theme song (Limahl’s ’80s classic “The Neverending Story”), and you’ve got a film that will stick with me for life. —Estelle

mtv_unplugged_in_new_yorkNirvana: MTV Unplugged in New York (1993, MTV; 2007, DVD release)
Most bands in the ’90s that went on MTV’s acoustic performance series, MTV Unplugged, did versions of their greatest hits, but not Nirvana. Aside from “Come As You Are” and “All Apologies,” the band went with their lesser known-material (they opened with “About a Girl,” which Kurt introduced by saying, “This is off our first record, most people don’t own it”) and an incredible selection of largely unknown cover songs (like the Meat Puppets’ “Lake of Fire”). The episode initially aired right around this time of year, and to me, a 14-year-old Nirvana fan, it was like a Christmas present from the band. It proved they could be just as powerful with all the distortion stripped away—and Krist Novoselic playing an accordion! Four months later, when Kurt Cobain committed suicide, MTV played the episode nonstop, and it became the performance that immortalized him. It feels strangely prescient, and the song choices (“Jesus Doesn’t Want Me for a Sunbeam” by the Vaselines, “The Man Who Sold the World” by David Bowie) and white stargazer lilies and black candles decorating the set are all eerie to take in now. But there are so many moments that are pure, beautiful Kurt, like when he forces a smile, chastises himself for screwing up a song, and jokes with his bandmates (“What are they tuning back there? A harp?”). My favorite songs are his solo version of the band’s “Pennyroyal Tea” and the cover of Lead Belly’s “Where Did You Sleep Last Night.” The moment during the last chorus, around 4:46 in this video, when he takes a deep breath and opens his eyes wide is EVERYTHING to me. —Stephanie

home_for_the_holidaysHome for the Holidays (1995)
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, so it makes sense that my favorite holiday movie is a Thanksgiving movie—one of a genre that clearly needs more love. Home for the Holidays, directed by Jodie Foster, stars Holly Hunter as a big-city art restorer who, yep, goes home to her parents’ house to eat some turkey just as her own life is falling apart: She gets fired from her job, her love life is nonexistent, and her teenage daughter (Claire Danes in full-on My So-Called Life mode) is planning to lose her virginity. Anne Bancroft, one of modern cinema’s sexiest women, plays Hunter’s mother in a chain-smoking, wig-wearing, decidedly unglamorous part. Robert Downey, Jr. is Hunter’s brother, and even though RDJ has said he barely remembers making the movie because he was so high during its filming, I still find his goofiness totally charming. The reason this movie is so good is because it feels wonderfully true to life. Are any of us ever really adults when we’re at our parents’ house? I don’t think so. There’s a romance in there, too, but that part doesn’t even matter—it’s all about being in the kitchen with your siblings at midnight, talking about how crazy your parents are, and gorging on leftovers. —Emma S

TheFamilyStone_recsThe Family Stone (2005)
This is one of my favorite holiday movies and maybe one of my favorite movies, period. It’s Christmas, and the grown Stone children are converging on their parents’ cozily decorated New England home, which you’ll probably wish you could live in or at least snoop around. Some of my favorite actors play the Stones: Diane Keaton is the matriarch, Craig T. Nelson is the dad, Luke Wilson is the slacker brother, Rachel McAdams is the cynical sis, and Dermot Mulroney is Everett, the Good-Looking One. Everett brings his new fiancée Meredith (played by Sarah Jessica Parker) home for the holidays, and let’s just say the Stones aren’t warming up to her. What follows is a story of awkward encounters, clashing ‘tudes, and general mayhem. The Family Stone is better than other films about crazy, family-oriented Christmas antics, though, because of the performances. The snark-levels are high with Wilson, McAdams, and Keaton’s characters, and they make great foils to Parker’s uptight Meredith. Not to mention the family dynamics in the movie are just straight-up real. Those weird political conversations that happen at every fucking holiday gathering? This movie hits that nail right on the head in a particularly cringe-worthy scene in which Meredith explains her feelings regarding homosexuality and what’s “normal” to the family’s gay son Thad and his partner, Patrick. In The Family Stone, Christmas isn’t sugarplums and fairies: it’s children getting older and the strain of family politics. Oh, and Claire Danes makes an appearance as Meredith’s charming younger sister! Just watch it, folks. —Hazel ♦

9 Comments

  • sloththefifth December 6th, 2013 12:36 AM

    Home For The Holidays is one of my all time favorite movies ever. My family watches it every year on Thanksgiving. My brother and I promised when we move out to great each other on holidays by growling like RDJ’s dino impression. Plus is there anything better than “I’m calling you a product of baboon loving.”???? No.

  • julalondon December 6th, 2013 2:52 AM

    I absolutely love “The Neverending Story”; it’s possibly my favourite book of all time!

  • cloudinthesky December 6th, 2013 2:35 PM

    heeeey this does not fit here very well but I just got the yearbook 2 yeaaaay I am sooo happy and ugh it’s wonderful<3<3<3<3<3 thank you for being sososo awesome rookie! luv

  • Joyce December 6th, 2013 7:23 PM

    Jeux d’enfants! yes.

  • Hipstermonster December 6th, 2013 10:28 PM

    Oh god, a Christmas story and the never-ending story, those are the movies of my childhood I will NEVER forget!

  • Janine December 7th, 2013 3:49 AM

    I love the NeverEnding Story too, and that’s why I HAVE to call you out and tell you the dragon’s actually called Fuchur, not Falkor ;)

    • Lena December 7th, 2013 10:40 AM

      Thanks for letting us know, but both are true! In the English version, his name is Falkor.

      • Janine December 9th, 2013 2:26 AM

        Once again I’m reminded I should check the facts before commenting on anything. Sorry! I keep forgetting that names aren’t always the same in every language. Thank you for telling me!

  • Britney December 30th, 2013 9:32 PM

    Stephanie, thank you so, SO much for covering Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged session!! It is so beautiful and your comments coincided with the thought process I have every time I see/listen to this performance.