What makes a good cinematic woobie? Jayne Denker explains why she keeps watching the same movies over and over again.

Gotta love serendipity. I mean the “happy accidents” kind, not the movie. The movie blew. (But John Cusack gets a pass because, well, he’s John Cusack.)

But back to what I was going to say, about (common noun) serendipity – which, as it happens, involves movies (see how I came back around, there?) …

Just the other day, one of my favorite movies popped into my head out of nowhere, and I decided that was a sign to dig out the DVD and rewatch it for what has to be the 742nd time. The next thing I knew, it also showed up in my recommendations on Netflix as a recent addition to their streaming library. Well, day-um, that was handy, I thought. I could watch it on Netflix right then. So I did, making it Viewing No. 743 or thereabouts.

And why have I watched that movie — Next Stop Wonderland — approximately 743 times? Because it’s one of my cinematic woobies. You know – the movies that you just have to watch at least once a year, one of those touchstones you reach for when life gets a little too wearing.

Everybody has a “cinematic woobie” list, I’d bet: “feel-good” movies, or “good-cry” movies, or ones that make us nostalgic for a certain era, letting us relive where we were – and who we were – when we first saw them. Sure, sometimes they’re chick flicks, but not always. They could be kickass adventure movies or silly comedies, unapologetic tear-jerkers or heart-fluttering romances. One thing I’d bet my Netflix queue on, though – they’re probably not ponderous Oscar material. No, the movies we tend to watch over and over (and over) usually aren’t good-for-you masterpieces, like cinematic broccoli, but celluloid Doritos.

I’d also bet that each person’s list of cinematic woobies is completely different, and that’s fine too. Whatever speaks to you, whatever lets you sigh with contentment, switch off the DVD player or put down the tablet (I’ve heard that some people do, actually, put down their tablets occasionally), and carry on, rejuvenated.

Here’s my list, in no particular order, of Movies I Can (and Do) Watch a Thousand Times. None of them is a new release, but that’s because a good cinematic woobie takes time to grow on you – and rack up enough viewings for each to qualify for the list. Okay, sharing mine now. What’s on your list?

1) Next Stop Wonderland (1998): This is the one I just watched, the one that got me thinking about my essential movie list—an indie filmed in Boston, starring newbie-at-the-time Hope Davis and a who?-at-the-time Phillip Seymour Hoffman. (Woot! Local boy shoutout! But I digress.) It’s a sweet, subtle love story about how “fate”/Spirit/destiny works in our lives. Magical without being heavy handed.

2) Dan in Real Life (2007): Cinematic admission that (gasp!) people older than 23 can fall in love. It’s the story of a widower raising three girls, who finds himself blindsided when he falls for a beautiful, smart woman … who turns out to be his brother’s new girlfriend. They’re all forced to spend a long weekend together at the family cottage, and major discomfort ensues. Bonus: Dane Cook is almost likable as the dimwitted, beefcake brother.

3) Lost in Translation (2003): Sophia Coppola’s much maligned second movie, about a young, directionless newlywed (Scarlett Johansson), who falls for an older, jaded, married actor (Bill Murray). The teeming metropolis of Tokyo never looked so intimate.

4) That Thing You Do! (1996): Nothing more than a happy-ending romantic comedy, with catchy tunes, about a one-hit-wonder band, the, er, Wonders. It’s cute, clever, candy-colored, and sweet, and gives you a days-long earworm that you won’t mind a bit. This giddy, Snoopy-dance bit of fluff was written and directed by Tom Hanks and stars his Dorian Gray, Tom Everett Scott, along with an always adorable Liv Tyler. What’s not to love?

5) Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001): You have to ask? You, reading ChickLitClub?

6) Easy A (2010): Watching Emma Stone do her “intelligent cutie pie” thang is always a great way to spend an hour and 40 minutes. The kickass script is a master class in snappy dialogue; sometimes I watch Easy A just to fire up my own dialogue generator before diving back into my work in progress.

7) Love Actually (2003): A holiday gimme. We all have one, don’t we?

8 ) Practical Magic (1998): Ah, sisterhood. Ah, magic. Ah, Goran Visnjic (before he turns into a reanimated corpse, that is). Every time I watch it, it makes me want to be like Sandra Bullock—pull up stakes, go live in a giant Victorian house in New England, and make true-love potions … or an organic facial scrub. Whatever.

9) Pride and Prejudice (2008): Okay, I cheated, since it’s a miniseries, but I don’t care because it’s The Most Perfect Production of an Austen Novel Evarrr. Who’s gonna argue with me? Anyone? … Didn’t think so.

10) A tie between two wedding movies — Muriel’s Wedding (1994) and The Wedding Singer (1998): Even though they’re both about weddings, they’ve nothing in common. Muriel’s Wedding, starring Toni Collette and Rachel Griffiths, is a touching dramedy about how sometimes the most important relationship in your life isn’t a romance, but your closest friendship. The Wedding Singer is a seriously flawed but goofy hot-pink ode to the ’80s. Overlook the lousy acting (I’m looking at you, Adam Sandler) and ratty wigs (you again, Adam Sandler), and get nostalgic for a sweet love story set in a stupidly simple decade with a great old soundtrack.

Jayne Denker is an unabashed proponent and creator of chick lit, currently is hip-deep in the challenging and often ridiculous process of agent querying for her first novel, By Design. She’d love to say “look for it in a bookstore or on a Kindle list soon,” but she can make no such promises yet. Jayne lives in a small village in western New York  with her husband and 8-year-old son. When she’s not wailing, “What do you mean you love it ‘but no?’” at the latest polite rejection e-mail glaring from her laptop screen, she’s toting her son to Cub Scout meetings, writing and editing magazine articles, renovating her 145-year-old house, and chasing after two psycho kitties (qu’est que c’est). Visit her website or her blog because she sure could use the page views.

5 comments on “Comfort Movies”

    • I’m like you and have a wide variety of movies I like to watch. I can dumb down and watch something silly to get a laugh or watch something that is challenging and thought provoking too. I love mainly action, crime or comedies myself. I have my own faves and movies I watch when I’m in a particular mood too.

  1. I must say, with great embarrassment, I am not familiar with the majority of these but will add them to my “must see” list. My woobie list includes, but is not limited to, “It’s a Wonderful Life”, “The Wizard of Oz”, “Dances With Wolves”, “When Harry Met Sally”, “The Christmas Story”, “Juno”, and “Groundhog Day”.

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Your woobie list (loving that word, BTW!) is way more “literary” than mine! The once a year’s include The Last Unicorn, Anne of Green Gables, and Pride & Prejudice. But the go-to’s anytime I need a pick me up are more like 27 Dresses, 13 Going on 30, Two Weeks Notice, Galaxy Question, The Fifth Element, and The Mummy triology. 🙂 Now who’s got popcorn?

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