Had enough of lockdown winter and are longing for the spring? RICHARD LUCK selects 10 films that reflect the optimism of the changing seasons.
Movies – is there anything they can’t do? I mean, most of us have already had a gutful of winter and yet, with the season not officially over until the end of March, motion pictures can make the promise of spring seem a reality long before the daffodils start coming up. But where to being? A trip to the ballpark perhaps…
Bull Durham (1988)
In lieu of there being many decent cricket films, a quality baseball movie’s a great reminder that it’s not long until the Boys of Summer will be with us once more. And what better film to watch than Bull Durham, a picture written and directed by Ron Shelton, himself a veteran of the minor leagues, and starring Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins each at the very top of their game. Funny, sexy and with more than a whiff of authenticity, it’s a film to convince you that spring has already sprung. “I believe in the Church of Baseball,” says Sarandon’s Annie Savoy. Amen to that. Oh, and for those who prefer a more sedate summer sport, Shelton and Costner’s golf comedy Tin Cup is well up to par.
Groundhog Day (1993)
How could we not include a film which revolves around a large rodent who’s charged with predicting the end of winter? That said, Groundhog Day – in which Billy Murray’s weatherman lives the same day over and over again – might feel a little too on the nose during these pandemic times. You’ll be hard pressed to find a find a more entertaining advert for changing your ways, mind you. And as the egotistical Phil Connors, Murray is free to demonstrate his straight acting chops as well as his skills as a comedy performer. And on top of everything else, he learned to play the piano especially for the picture – all the proof you need that it’s never too late for an old dog to perfect some new tricks.
Spring in Park Lane (1948)
Pretty much everything about Herbert Wilcox’s romantic drama is hard to resist. From likeable leads Michael Wilding and Anna Neagle to the shots of a more innocent Shepherd Market, it hardly matters that this Park Lane was largely reconstructed at Elstree Studios. Quite the opposite, the artificiality of the sets only add to the film’s fairytale feel. And while it couldn’t be more obvious that this is a movie from a very different age, Spring in Park Lane‘s charms aren’t entirely those of yesteryear. On the contrary, when Wilding’s footman Richard is told he looks a lot like the actor Michael Wilding, it’s hard to square so modern a gag with the fact this love letter to both a season and a city was made while Britain was still to bid adieu to its ration books.
Light Sleeper (1992)
Every list needs a wildcard entry and this one is this one’s. A story about an ageing drug mule set in a strike-hit, autumnal New York, Paul Schrader’s drama is anything but an out-and-out spring movie. Part three of the writer-director’s ‘lonely man’ cycle of films – Taxi Driver, American Gigolo and The Walker complete the series – it’s a story steeped in addiction, insomnia and regret. So why is it so perfect for those keen to say farewell to the dark winter days? Because Willem Dafoe is extraordinary as the fortysomething dealer keenly aware he’s made nothing of his life. Because Susan Sarandon is captivating as a woman of years keen to pursue a better way of life. But mainly because of the final scene which ends with the most hopeful of lines – “I’ve been looking forward.”
Easter Parade (1948)
That rare seasonal movie that plays well any time of the year, Easter Parade was a colossal success upon its original release. Some 70 years later, it’s not only easy to understand why it went down such a storm, it’s impossible not to succumb to its wonders. Jam packed with terrific Irving Berlin numbers (A Couple of Swells, Steppin’ Out with My Baby, the title number), while watching Charles Williams’ picture it’s hard to believe that the ever-effortless Fred Astaire was starring 50 in the face. Likewise, one struggles to square the tragedies of Judy Garland – aged just 25, she’d already gone through a divorce, suffered a breakdown and tried to take her own life – with the woman on screen. An enchanting presence who doesn’t appear to have a care in the world, she’s as much a tonic as the movie itself.
Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979)
Oh well, since we’ve made mention of Easter, there are few better ways of raising the spirits than watching the Pythons’ finest hour-and-a-half. The cheek and irreverence is particularly welcome during a period when – quite rightly – toeing the line is the order of the day. And a year on from Terry Jones’ passing, there’s joy to be had both in basking in his triumph as a director and in his wonderful portrayals of Brian’s mother (referred to in the script as the Virgin Mandy), a stitched-up Good Samaritan, and a hermit keen to make up for lost time after breaking his vow of silence (“I’m alive, I’m alive! Hello birds, hello bees!”). But is it the funniest movie ever made? It all depends whether you think Spinal Tap turns it up to 11.
Over the Hedge (2006)
It’s not the most obvious animated movie to champion but this is that rare family film which really does have something for all the family. For while it features the voice talents of Bruce Willis, Steve Carell and William Shatner, the undisputed star of the show is Verne, the taciturn tortoise voiced by the much-missed Garry Shandling. Whether it’s explaining to his fellow critters the difference between ignorance or stupidity or owning up to his lack of wanderlust (“There are places in my own shell I haven’t been”), Verne’s an animated comedy king waiting to be crowned. Indeed, his decidedly dark humour is ideal for these uncertain times: upon learning that a plan has reached step two, he flashes two thumbs up and the broadest of grins – “I thought we’d be dead by step two, so this is going great!”
The Producers (1967)
The musical’s plenty of fun but if bad taste’s your thing, the Mel Brooks original is impossible to beat. Now, would we be recommending this film at this time of year if it didn’t feature the show-stopping Springtime for Hitler? No, probably not. But since it does feature said masterpiece – sample lyric: “We’re marching to a faster pace/Here comes the master race!” – and as laughs are very much the order of the day, we can’t recommend it highly enough during this era of leaden skies and long days indoors . Incidentally, co-lead Zero Mostel knew plenty about being left out in the cold having been blacklisted during the McCarthy witch hunts. The Producers was his second feature film in almost decade. His obvious joy at being back on screen is as adorable as Brooks’ film is – in the best sense – deplorable.
The Wicker Man (1973)
First things first – The New European in no way condones human sacrifice as a means of speeding up the seasons. However, the flame-filmed finale of Robin Hardy’s feature does at least illustrate that mankind’s longing for spring has been a part of life in these islands for as long as they’ve been occupied. In The Wicker Man, the island in question is Summerisle, the population of which includes the mime artist Lindsay Kemp, a be-kilted Christopher Lee and a badly-dubbed Britt Ekland. Add to this a great turn from Edward Woodward as a chaste police officer and an unnerving folk score courtesy of Paul Giovanni and you’ve a picture that wears its reputation as ‘the Citizen Kane of horror movies’ rather convincingly. “Sumer is icumen in!” sing the Summerisle faithful. As the flames start to lick at the feet of the Wicker Man, you might find yourself pining for winter.
“It’s May, it’s May, the lusty month of May / That lovely month when everyone goes blissfully astray / It’s here, it’s here, that shocking time of year / When tons of wicked little thoughts merrily appear.” These lyrics were written by Alan Jay Lerner. The music that accompanies them was composed by Frederick Loewe. In Joshua Logan’s big-screen adaptation of the pair’s Arthurian stage musical, they’re sung by Vanessa Redgrave who, as a particularly comely Guinevere, is as warm and welcoming as an early summer’s morn. I could try and say something more profound but there’s not much point, really. A movie moment so in love with a particular time of year, it’d could be the winter solstice and it’d still leave you wanting to pop your shorts on.
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