One of the curious things about being a parent is that, despite your limitless love for your child, and your awareness that every second is precious, you feel enormous relief when they finally go to sleep.
In our house, the nighttime ritual takes at least an hour.
Adeline, at 7 months, still goes down pretty fast... But the boys! The boys...
First, there's the running in circles around their rooms, screaming and laughing like crazed... I don't know... hotdogs. At this early point in the ritual, you can usually find me or their mother chasing after one or both of them with a pair of pajama pants in our hands. I'm often shouting "Hot dogs don't run!" or "You need ketchup!" or some such phrase (which to the uninitiated would seem like gibberish but for my purposes at the time is a clear command).
Then there's the sitting-on-the-potty-before-bed for George, who is 3. Our 2-year-old, Cole, during this part of the evening, usually stacks giant red, blue and green lego blocks into a tower, then knocks it down like the budding anarcho-primitivist that he is.
This is followed by the washing of their hands and brushing of their teeth. Which requires rinsing and spitting. Which usually results in the fronts of someone's pajamas getting soaked, and more screaming and laughing as they both need to run around their rooms again and recreate, in a frenzy of effort, the incredibly enjoyable gesture of spitting out water.
Then it's on to reading books. "One more story!" says Cole every time, after having agreed that the last was "the last one!" (To this day he impressively refuses to acknowledge any contradiction.) Then, after the books, it's telling stories...
George has become quite the critic of our stories ("Not that one!" he will interrupt, just as we are getting into it). Cole, meanwhile, sings along as we get to the part of our version of "Hushabye, Don't You Cry," which goes "...when you wake, you shall find, all your favorite little toys..." The undue emphasis he places on the the slightly archaic "shall" unnerves me every time.
Finally we say goodnight and back out their doors.
That's when the request phase begins. (Water. etc.)
By the time we stumble downstairs we are quite relieved, really, that our special time has arrived. On some nights, we even muster the energy to watch a movie.
So that's the subject of today's post:
Movies to watch when the kids are finally asleep and you happen to have an hour (or two!) before bed.
Now I'm not just going to list good movies. This is not your generic "recommendations" list.
Instead, I'm going to list for you movies that have nothing to do with childish concerns. These movies are for grown-ups only... but not in that way. They are grown-up in the sense that they will make you think differently about the world than before you saw them.
Some of these are demanding movies. You may resist them at first (I certainly did for many of them). But then, we resist most experiences which are "new, but true."
Rather than falling inside the categories we know, these films create new modes of observation about what it is to be human. They have tones, and moods, and visual or auditory languages all of their own.
If you watch any, or have watched any, write in to this post with your comments!
Here's the list (alphabetical, since I could think of no useful way to rank or categorize such unique films!):
Ballad of Soldier. (1959) A 19-year-old Russian soldier returns from the front in WW II to visit his mother. Black and white, gracefully shot, it will move you to tears.
Baran. (2001) With a rich visual style, the director, Majid Majidi, conjures a world where romantic love seems as real as steel, cement and smoke. This film is gorgeous and quiet.
The Bicycle Thief. (1948) A classic by the great director Vittorio De Sica. A man loses his bike and -- with his son at his side -- searches around the city of Rome for it. Hits you hard. Watching it changed my moral compass forever, and yet it is never moralistic.
The Birds. (1963) If you haven't seen this Hitchcock, do. Even with its abruptness and structural creakiness, it is a visual poem which haunts you well after you thought you had left it behind.
Calendar. (1993) If you have ever returned from a trip to a foreign country with a vague sense that you exploited it, or if you have exited a relationship wondering what you missed, this film will draw you in. It has a fascinating puzzle-like structure. It is partly shot on home video, partly shot on film.
Celebration. (1998) This film gives the movement Dogme 95 a good name: the jittery, handheld camera, the use of natural light -- everything about the visual style of this film works perfectly with the story. A Danish family reunion goes terribly wrong.
City of Women. (1980) A romp into an enchanted forest of gender codes, sexual longings, frustrations and fantasies, with the charming Marcello Mastroionni ("Smick smack," he says as he follows a woman off a train) leading you by the hand.
Code Unknown. This strange, fragmented film leaves you feeling the palpable loneliness of our time. And when it ended I sat there, stunned, thinking about the smallness of art -- as if books, paintings, films are now nothing more than broken pieces of pottery, evoking our interest or empathy for a moment and then gone. Completely absorbing performances.
The Crossing Guard. (1995) Watch this just to see Jack Nicholson deliver the goods. The story involves a husband and a wife dealing, each in their own way, with the loss of his child.
The Death of Mr. Lazarescu. (2005) A film by one of the most brilliant up-and-coming directors in the world, the Romanian Cristi Puiu. It is ultra-real, following one man's experience being shuttled from hospital to hospital as he approaches death. So real that it feels like a meditation.
Destry Rides Again. (1939) Marlene Dietrich and Jimmy Stewart in a charisma stand-off that is thoroughly enjoyable.
Happiness. (1998) Shocking, outrageous, and funny. But it has a tone of its own. Instead of bouncing off of the shock, or just getting the laugh and moving on (as, say, Quentin Tarantino does so well), the writer/director Todd Solondz lets the moments sit. You start to feel what is happening on the inside of the characters too.
It Happened One Night. (1934) A love story as crazy-making as the best love stories are, with Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert.
Moloch. (1999) I will never forget this film and its powerful, hushed atmosphere. The shooting style is wonderful -- lots of wide angles and complicated blocking. The feeling of proximity to Hitler's evil grows -- you feel his deranged isolation and panic in your gut.
Monsoon Wedding. (2001) Okay, if you missed this and you like stories with good endings, you have to see it. It is full of vibrant color (the opening shot of the marigolds is seared into my brain forever), romance, and convincing moments of moral choice. And every time someone does the right thing it always works out.
Nights of Cabiria. (1957) Unbelievable lead performance by Giulietta Masina. The settings are stunning, the story is ruthless -- this is one of the greatest.
The Passenger. (1975) Slow, hypnotic shots. Attention to visual detail. A nearly complete avoidance of melodrama. Jack Nicholson in Antonioni's brilliant film. The famous, final, uninterrupted shot is draw-dropping.
Secrets and Lies. (1996) This director, Mike Leigh, uses months of improvisation to develop a script with his actors. His actors' nuanced, detailed, explosive performances show it.
The Seventh Seal. (1957) I watched this with my arms folded, saying "So?" to myself repeatedly. And its genius still owned me. It took my wife to point that out (based on my odd restlessness when talking about it) later that night. As soon as she did, I let the memories rush over me and I joined the many others who adulate this dream-like film.
The Story of Qiu Ju (1992) This film, about a woman's quest for justice in a remote Chinese village, is structured like a Greek tragedy. It moves inexorably, grippingly forward, and you stare and wonder at it all the way through.
Sunset Boulevard. (1950) If you haven't seen this classic, you will be happy you did. It draws you in, and it creates a world of its own: dark, full of deception, reeking of physical desire, horrible, oppressive, erotic.
The Sweet Hereafter. (1997) A snow-bound town loses a whole school bus of children. Each household holds its own pain. Beautifully shot. The experience of watching it is like unfolding something slowly, with each fold revealing something new.
Tokyo Story. (1953) Yasujiro Ozu's masterpiece. An older couple comes to Tokyo from the country to see their grown children. And you understand more about being alive, and about what it is to care, after watching this simply story.
The Wind Will Carry Us. (1999) Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami is one of the world's great artists. This film, set in a small Iranian village, follows a fictional film director from Tehran as he and you (the viewer) slowly shed our assumptions and remember what counts. It is full of people, and life, life! I wish it could be required viewing for our political leaders.
The 400 Blows. (1959) A troubled boy in Paris. A sad, serene movie that leaves you with a sense of hopelessness and beauty at the same time. Watch for the wonderfully complicated and graceful way it is shot. Or don't watch for it; just enjoy.