Rather than wring my hands over the fact that a film glorifying sexual abuse pulled in a gazillion dollars last weekend, I’m going to accept and share a challenge from Erin McCole Cupp: shine a light on quality entertainment. As she says, #showusyourlist. This is for everyone, although she is pointing particularly at Catholics who are fuming at 50 shades of whatever. (Hey! That’s me!) Erin complicates matters by making a rule that no non-fiction can go on the list.
So here I go with this Mardi Gras celebration, letting you in on some of my favorite media where entertainment and food for the soul come together. The items are listed in no particular order, and this isn’t a comprehensive list (no music listed, for example, because I scarcely know where to begin). Comment below with your own lists, so I can enjoy them & learn from you. All kinds of media are fair game. If World of Warcraft is your idea of edifying entertainment, let’s hear about it. Quibbles, comments and disagreements welcome. That’s what comment boxes are for.
Groundhog Day. After countless viewings, I still find it side-splittingly funny, and my heart always glows a bit when Bill Murray finally gets the day right.
His Girl Friday. Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell: what else do you need to know?
Anything by Alfred Hitchcock from ’39 (Rebecca) to ’58 (Vertigo).
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Searchers, Rio Grande, Fort Apache. All directed by John Ford. I’m generally indifferent to Westerns, but these four stand up to repeated viewing. Fascinating characters, good stories, great respect for the land where the stories take place. Every time I watch one of these, I see something new.
Of Gods and Men. I’m stretching the no-non-fiction rule here. This is not a documentary, but it’s based on a true story. A small community of Trappist monks in Algeria lives peacefully with Muslim neighbors during the 1990s, until an Islamist insurgency forces the monks to decide whether to stay or leave. Serious stuff here, wonderfully written and acted. The monks’ choice and its consequences will leave you thinking.
The Lives of Others. Watch what happens when an East German Stasi agent starts feeling sympathy for the people on whom he’s keeping surveillance.
The Harry Potter series (but the books are better; see below). Ditto for Lord of the Rings.
All About Eve. Bette Davis is at her best. It would be tough to find a better what-goes-around-comes-around story.
A Man for All Seasons. I’ve seen this performed as a play, but the 1966 film with Paul Scofield as Thomas More takes the prize.
The Thanatos Syndrome by Walker Percy. For that matter, pretty much anything by Walker Percy. The Thanatos Syndrome is a look at what happens when people are at the service of “science” and not the other way around.
The End of the Affair by Graham Greene. A spiritually-indifferent woman impulsively calls on divine intervention in a crisis, and she’s stunned when she gets it. Now what?
In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden. I’ve loved this story from the moment I picked up the book from my mom’s night table long ago. A forty-something woman, extremely successful by any measure, enters a convent – and not just any convent, but a monastery of cloistered Benedictine nuns. It’s a book full of surprises – how the main character gets to the monastery, why she stays, how a community of women from wildly-varying backgrounds come together in common purpose, how even in a religious community human nature asserts itself over and over again.
Ben-Hur by General Lew Wallace. Trust me on this: as splendid as the 1959 movie was, the book has a much richer story.
The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, particularly volumes 4 through 7: HP & the Goblet of Fire, HP & the Order of the Phoenix, HP & the Half-Blood Prince, and HP & the Deathly Hallows. I love the characters. I love the language and the vocabulary. The most compelling idea in the whole series – even more than the fight between good and evil – is that those who deny that evil exists might as well be doing evil themselves.
The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkein is far more thought-provoking and beautiful than any high-budget trilogy of movies could hope to be.
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh is a serious contender for Book I’d Most Like To Have if I were deserted somewhere. A down-at-heel college boy in England is drawn into his best friend’s rich and nominally Catholic family between the two World Wars. No cardboard-cutout characters here. Cordelia is who I want to be.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. A book about kids, but not a kid’s book until you want your kid to know how messy life can be. The book is unsentimental and perfect. When I was a kid, Francie Nolan and I were both bookworms …and that’s how I was drawn into her world.
Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather. Two dissimilar 19th-century French priests, a most unlikely pair of friends, are sent to what is now New Mexico to re-establish a Catholic presence in a newly-outlined diocese. That tells you everything about the plot and nothing about the story. The story comes in the relationships built by each priest with the local settlers, the established (and sometimes resistant) missionaries, and the regional indigenous peoples.
Anything by Jay Nordlinger.
Right here in New Hampshire is a blog called New Hampshire Garden Solutions that has some of the loveliest close-up nature photography you could hope to find. A feast for the eyes.
New Hampshire’s Cohos Trail, rail trails, state parks … we Granite Staters are lucky people.
So … what’s on YOUR list?