Now that my stories are over (I’ll miss you, BSG), I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few weeks listlessly flipping through the teevee channels looking for something worth watching. Mostly, this means getting sucked into watchable movies of widely varying quality: Con Air, Robocop, Teen Wolf, The Rock, Gremlins… the list goes on. Basically, if it’s on the big flashing screen and I’m sitting there, I’ll watch it.
At least, I’ll watch part of it. The great thing about watching movies that I’ve already seen a dozen times before is that I feel no remorse about switching the channel at the nearest available commercial break. Last weekend, I flipped to TNT just in time to see badass Sean Connery bust through that metal door and say “Gentlemen, welcome to The Rock™.” And when the film gave way to the inevitable marathon of SlapChop and Snuggie commercials, I changed the channel before you could say “Time-Life Soft Rock Collection.” That five minute clip was enough to make me feel like I’d watched the whole movie. Who needs to stick around for the rest?
I’ve started watching other movies this way as well. The other night I spent 45 minutes watching some Bruce Willis thriller called Striking Distance, or whatever. But it was getting late, and I was pretty sure that I knew where things were headed , so I turned it off and went to bed. And who cares if I’m wrong? The movie wasn’t that good anyway, so my made-up ending was probably as good as whatever actually happened. The point is that I feel like I’ve watched all these movies, but in a fraction of the time.
This efficient method of movie viewership reached an extreme level on Thursday, when I tuned in just in time for the last 30 seconds of Trainspotting. There’s something about that ending that I really love. I sat there watching the credits, listening to that goofy circus song by Blur, and remembered all the great scenes I’d just missed. I’d seen literally 30 seconds of the movie, but felt like I had watched it from start to finish.
This got me thinking about other movies with great endings. I haven’t put enough thought into this list to call it my “all-time favorites,” but these are the ones that first came to mind. (Spoiler alert: I spoil the endings of all the following movies.)
1. City Lights (1931) Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp spends the whole movie pretending to be a wealthy man in order to woo the poor blind shop girl whom he loves. Having managed to pay for surgery to restore her sight, he returns to his life of penury, until a chance meeting brings them together again. She touches his face and realizes that he’s the “wealthy” man who had helped her. In one silent gesture, Chaplin expresses shame, embarrassment, and hope. The film fades to black, and what happens next is anybody’s guess. This movie is a reminder of how much emotion and meaning can be conveyed without a single sound.
2. The Italian Job (1969) The raucous song. Michael Caine. The improbable physics of a bus balanced so precariously on the side of a cliff. Zoom out, fade to black. Brilliant! For some reason I only recently got around to seeing this movie in its entirety, and what the hell took me so long?
3. Barton Fink (1991) I’ve probably seen this movie a dozen times, and every time it leaves me delightfully perplexed. I’m convinced I know what’s in the box (hint: human head), but that doesn’t really explain much. WTF? Exactly.
4. Citizen Kane (1941) An episode of The Real Ghostbusters ruined this ending for me roughly eight years before I even saw the movie, but that made the ending no less moving. Bernard Herrmann’s dark score and the image of that sled going up in flames make for one poignant-ass denouement.
5. Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) I just re-watched this movie, since I’d only seen it a few times before. The whole film is cute enough, but the ending turns the film’s Hollywood sweetness on its head. Turns out, things don’t always work out in the movies after all.