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Top 10 comfort films to warm a recessionary chill

It's not quality that counts but a connection. Lift the mood and get inspired with critic's-pick films including 'Best in Show,' 'Bridget Jones's Diary,' 'Finding Nemo' and 'Galaxy Quest.'

March 07, 2009|Betsy Sharkey | FILM CRITIC

Comfort films -- admit it, we all have them. Those movies you've seen so many times you can whisper the lines along with the actors, the images nearly as familiar as the faces of your friends.

They are powerful -- able to tear friendships apart, damage marriages with just the mention of a name. It's like a relationship Rorschach: If "Deliverance" tops the hit list of your significant other and "The Devil Wears Prada" tops yours, well, just don't book that couples cruise you were considering.

Comfort films rarely have a pedigree. But then cinematic greatness is not what you're in search of. These are back-room movies, behind closed doors along with other necessary vices -- that box of Kraft mac and cheese, the pint of Ben & Jerry's Chunky Monkey -- while the best movies of all time, those loved and judged for their soaring artistic, cinematic and intellectual feats, live in an entirely different space in your psyche.

But need a laugh right now? A cry? To escape? Or just to feel better? Comfort films are there to fit, and fill, whatever the emotional need of the moment, able to lift the shade on even the darkest of moods (or deepest of recessions). You don't even have to consume the whole film to enjoy the benefits; they're like munchable movie snacks for the mind, and catching a scene or two as you're channel surfing can usually satisfy the cravings.

There are rules, of course, but not many. The films can be comedies or dramas, weepies or creepies, but they should forever go unpunished for any indiscretion, whether it's cheesy dialogue, plots filled with potholes or actors who might drop this particular work of art off their resume if it weren't for the ruthless memory of IMDB.

Comfort films are by their very nature personal choices; they're memory movies, tied to a time in your life, or a place, or a person. But sharing them? Now that's harder. There's a trust factor involved: to own up to the films that live on your comfort list is to take a risk. You must trust that no matter how strange or embarrassing or trashy certain movies might be, your confessor will not judge, knowing there is a bit of history, a bit of you, really, attached to each and every one.

And so, without shame or apology and only a few regrets, here in alphabetical order are my top 10 all-time, but probably not forever, comfort films and a favorite scene bite (like sound bites, only sincere).

'Best in Show'

Why? Because I can only put one Christopher Guest movie on my list.

Guest's strange genius is so appealing that it just can't coexist with worry. Maybe it's his huge affection for even the most absurd of his characters that makes it difficult not to join the group hug. When "Best in Show" runs off-leash in this faux documentary on the insanity of a national dog show's finals, problems fade.

Scene bite: Eugene Levy, as the bucktoothed, bespectacled and absolutely guileless Gerry Fleck -- with Catherine O'Hara as his wife, Cookie, a sentimental sexpot with an ex-lover around every corner -- explains their time on the dog show circuit with this, "I like to think Cookie and I work as a team. Although I do nothing."

'Bridget Jones's Diary'

Why? Because it's the perfect romantic comedy for my imperfect world.

According to anthropologists, most of the actresses who turn up in romantic comedies -- from Meg Ryan and Julia Roberts in earlier days to Kate Hudson and Drew Barrymore today -- really don't have a hard time finding soul mates. They're smart, beautiful and always well-dressed. And then there is Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones, a plump, emotional mess of a girl with two dashing guys in pursuit. Bridget's laundry list of flaws is all hung out to dry, which, of course, just makes her that much more relatable. In a sense, it is the ultimate comfort film because it's best consumed with comfort food, since Bridget will be noshing right along with you.

Scene bite: Bridget is still reeling from being labeled a spinster by Colin Firth's Mark Darcy, and it's clear she's seriously into her misery. There's no dialogue in this scene, unless you count the voice mail telling Bridget "You have no messages." We find her collapsed on the couch in red flannel PJs, a cigarette and wine glass in hand, a full ashtray and near-empty bottle within reach. Just when it seems she's hit bottom, "All by Myself" comes on the radio, sending Zellweger into one of the funniest/saddest, most melodramatic lip sync-alongs ever.

'Finding Nemo'

Why? Because silly with soul is always good.

Can anyone watch Marlin (Albert Brooks) -- single-dad clown fish in search of his only son, Nemo -- and not be moved? I know I can't. The wonderfully conflicted and timid character hooks into your emotions from the first flip of his tale, er, tail. And there is Ellen DeGeneres' dense and forgetful blue tang, Dory, to keep things light. Toss all that into an ocean of brilliant animation and I'm completely submerged in this wonderful water world.

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