Touches of Grey
This is the opening weekend for "The Leisure Seekers," a road movie about an aging couple that has great stars (Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland) but not such great reviews. So if you'd like to see a more inspiring film about the later stages of life, check out one of the 20 listed here.
"Driving Miss Daisy" (1989)
Based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning play, "Driving Miss Daisy" won an Academy Award for Best Picture as well as a Best Actress Oscar for Jessica Tandy. She plays Daisy Wertham, an elderly Jewish woman whose failing eyesight and advancing age make her a danger on the road. Her son (Dan Aykroyd) hires Hoke Coleman (Morgan Freeman) as her chauffeur. Set in the American South of the '40s and '50s (and directed by Australian Bruce Beresford), the story lovingly chronicles the decades-long friendship of the odd couple against a backdrop of the casual racism and anti-Semitism of the times.
"The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" (2011)
Seven British pensioners—among them Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson and Bill Nighy—"outsource" their retirement from England to a shabby hotel in India being energetically renovated by Sonny (Dev Patel). With lesser talents, the tale would be routine, but these screen veterans weave a comforting story of life in India that proves that passion and growth do not belong solely to the young.
Christopher Plummer won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor as Hal, a man who, after his wife's death, is diagnosed with terminal cancer and announces he's gay. Ewan McGregor is Oliver, the son who struggles with his father's late-blooming identity as well as his own. A graphic designer, Oliver illustrates "The History of Sadness," which frames this poignant, fragmented but ultimately optimistic film written and directed by Mike Mills.
Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, Billy Connolly and several other British luminaries star as residents of a retirement home for professional musicians. Will the annual Verdi gala save the home from foreclosure? Will interpersonal disagreements derail it? Dustin Hoffman, in his directorial debut, guides the cast in this amiable comedy/drama in which the manicured grounds and gorgeous mansion are as sweet and gentle as the music.
"The Trip to Bountiful" (1985)
Geraldine Page won an Academy Award for her stubborn, complex performance as Carrie Watts, a woman desperate to see her childhood home in Bountiful, Texas, before she dies. Peter Masterson directed this moving film, adapted by Horton Foote from his play. Carrie's bus ride across Texas—and through her past—forces her to come to terms with her lost family, even as she learns to embrace the family she still has.
"On Golden Pond" (1981)
Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn star as long-married couple Norman and Ethel Thayer in the twilight of their lives. Both Hepburn and Fonda—in his final film—won Oscars for their performances. Jane Fonda bought the rights to Ernest Thompson's play as a gift for her father, and played the couple's estranged daughter, Chelsea, marking the first time they shared the screen together. The film is at once sentimental and completely charming as a glowing ode to the redemptive power of love.
"Harold and Maude" (1971)
Cult film, black comedy, twisted romance—"Harold and Maude" is all three. Death-obsessed, 18-year-old Harold meets 79-year-old free spirit Maude at a funeral, and their friendship leads to love, as well as a romp between the sheets. Joyous music by Cat Stevens complements the Californian setting. Directed by Hal Ashby and written by Colin Higgins, the film survived bad reviews to become a classic.
Two words: Lily Tomlin. Ellie (Tomlin) is a lesbian, grandma, poet and septuagenarian who's nonplussed when her pregnant 18-year-old granddaughter (Julia Garner) comes calling for money for an abortion. The two crisscross the city—and Ellie's land-mined past—prospecting for money, while exploring several waves of feminism without being heavy-handed. Director Paul Weitz penned the story with Tomlin in mind. Good call, Paul.
Woody Grant, wonderfully played by Bruce Dern, is an aging alcoholic on the brink of dementia who believes he's the winner of a million-dollar sweepstakes. He's determined to claim his prize, and his son David (Will Forte) reluctantly joins him on his odyssey. Veteran character actress June Squibb, as Woody's salty wife Kate, enjoyed "overnight success" with her colorful performance.
"The Notebook" (2004)
The courtship of gorgeous young lovers from opposite sides of the track—rich Rachel McAdams and poor Ryan Gosling—is recounted by an elderly man (James Garner) to a nursing home resident (Gena Rowlands) who wanders in and out of lucidity. Directed by Nick Cassavetes (Rowlands's son) and based on the best-selling novel by Nicholas Sparks, "The Notebook" became a sleeper hit, a sappy drama that even a manly man can fall for.
A tender and penetrating story of aging and love. Jean-Louis Trintignant came out of retirement to play Georges, devoted husband to Anne (a radiant Emmanuelle Riva). After Anne suffers a stroke, their cultured life of retirement changes drastically, though their love remains and sustains. Superbly written and directed by Michael Haneke, this romantic and ultimately devastating drama won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film, as well as the Palme D'Or at Cannes.
"The Straight Story" (1999)
David Lynch directed the true story of Alvin Straight (Richard Farnsworth), who drove his lawn mower on a 240-mile journey from Iowa to Wisconsin after learning that his estranged older brother (Harry Dean Stanton) has suffered a stroke. Farnsworth, who was terminally ill with bone cancer, gives one of his greatest performances, and the perfect wordless ending still gives us chills.
"Grey Gardens" (1975)
The Maysles brothers' celebrated documentary features the eccentric mother and daughter Edith Ewing Bouvier/"Big Edie" and Edith Bouvier Beale/"Little Edie," relatives of Jacqueline Kennedy, who live in squalor and isolation at their decaying family mansion in Long Island. Together they survive marriages, divorces, aspiring stage careers, dashed dreams, stray cats and even (in a meta twist) having their lives turned into a film. In 2009, HBO produced a scripted movie starring Jessica Lange as Big Edie and Drew Barrymore as her daughter.
"I’ll See You in My Dreams" (2015)
Widow and former singer Blythe Danner learns to live, love and sing again in this heartfelt dramedy. Danner's performance glows with restrained intensity, and Sam Elliott sizzles as her new love interest.
"The Hero" (2017)
An aging movie star with his best years behind him. A terminal illness. An estranged daughter. Stop us if you've heard this before. But Sam Elliott's performance as Lee Hayden, the titular hero, is understated and powerful—and sexy as hell.
"Marjorie Prime" (2017)
At 80, Marjorie finds comfort with an AI hologram of her late husband Walter—the young Walter (Jon Hamm), the man she first loved. It's science-fiction of the gentlest sort—everyday reality imbued with only one or two futuristic inventions. Based on the play of the same name by Michael Almereyda (who also directed), Lois Smith reprises her stage role as the intelligent heart of this nuanced meditation on memory and identity.
"About Schmidt" (2002)
A comic yet bittersweet journey by Winnebago gives Jack Nicholson yet another role described as "the best of his career." Widower Warren Schmidt visits his estranged daughter's wedding and learns valuable life lessons along the way. Insightfully written and directed by Alexander Payne, "Schmidt" won a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Drama. "I'm a little surprised," Nicholson said in his acceptance speech. "I thought we had made a comedy."
"Fried Green Tomatoes" (1991)
The lives of four Alabama women (Kathy Bates, Jessica Tandy, Mary Stuart Masterson and Mary-Louise Parker) are interwoven in a story of love and empowerment in a movie that begins with a visit to a nursing home. Based on a best-seller by Fanny Flagg and directed by Jon Avnet, the film cuts from the Depression to the '80s, and flirts subtly with lesbianism, racism, resilience, even cannibalism. It's here that Kathy Bates, angered by younger women who steal her parking space, bashes into them and utters the famous line, "Face it, girls—I'm older and I have more insurance."
"Wild Strawberries" (1957)
Crotchety and egotistical Professor Isak Borg (Victor Sjöström, in his final performance) is a widowed recluse and physician slated to receive an award for 50 years of medical service. He travels by car from Stockholm to Lund, from regret to redemption, through dreams and hazy memories. "Wild Strawberries" is one of Ingmar Bergman's greatest and most moving films. Yet the New York Times exclaimed, "This one is so thoroughly mystifying that we wonder whether Mr. Bergman himself knew what he was trying to say." You decide.
Don Ameche, Wilford Brimley and Hume Cronyn frolic in a literal Fountain of Youth in this charming comedy directed by Ron Howard. Alien pods stored in a hidden swimming pool radiate a rejuvenating life force, much to the delight of the trespassing men—and their wives (Maureen Stapleton, Jessica Tandy and Gwen Verdon), who delight in the sudden carnal attention of their husbands. When the aliens return to earth to retrieve their pod/comrades, these mortals have a choice: remain on earth and ultimately die, or journey with the aliens and live forever. Which would you choose?
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