I've been having trouble focusing the last few weeks. I imagine a lot of you are in the same boat. Every time you get wrapped up in your actual work, or a good book, or last week's episode of The Office, your mind wanders to what McCain said about the middle class in his speech in Florida, or wondering who else Obama might have palled around with in the old days.
This election has been fascinating for nearly a year now, and in the last few weeks its turned into a fevered buzz in my ear, not letting me let down my guard for a moment, lest the polls change all of a sudden. Any time I can get my mind off the candidates, the polls, the swing states, even for an hour, I'm grateful for the momentary peace it can give my brain. And now that we're going into the jam--packed fall season, movies have been pretty much all that can give me that peace. When I saw Slumdog Millionaire and I've Loved You So Long, two movies I loved, I was temporarily pulled out of the muck of politics and into something... well, real. Yes, it's important who becomes our next President, but in the meantime, life is going on--- in the movies if not at home in my apartment, obsessively refreshing FiveThirtyEight.
At this point in the election, as long as you're planning to vote, there's not much to do but try to retreat back and keep ourselves sane. Here are eight of my favorite movies that do just that-- movies that are so complex, fascinating or hilarious, they'll make you forget about everything for two hours, regardless of what the tracking polls in Florida have to say. If you have tomorrow off, try turning off MSNBC and picking one of these, or any of your favorites, to keep your mind quiet for a few hours. There will be plenty of time for exit polls later in the day-- and four more years of watching one of these candidates do his best at being President.
Pride and Prejudice
People who have to read this novel in English class complain that it has nothing to do with their actual lives. That's what makes this timeless romantic comedy perfect for Election Day viewing. There's war going on in the background of the saga of the Bennet family, and a touch of class politics, but what really matters is finding suitable husband, and maybe true love, when marriage was all that mattered for women. Yeah, it's the bad old days politically, but for escapist entertainment, you can't beat it.
Singin' in the Rain
This might be the happiest movie ever made, which is reason enough to include it on this list of escapist movies. But there are moments in this movie that go beyond the usual movie magic to pure transcendence-- Donald O'Connor running up walls in "Make 'Em Laugh," Debbie Reynolds' unbelievable youthful low, and yes, Gene Kelly jumping in those puddles. Plus, you'll have the songs stuck in your head for days afterward, which buys you extra time far, far away from anything happening in reality.
Probably not the most remarkable action movie of the 90s, but definitely one of the most complicated. You'll spend so much time figuring out who has pulled off which rubber mask that you won't have any mental energy left for your mind to wander. it's also a flashback to the days when Tom Cruise was the biggest movie star in America, which is pretty far away from the reality of today.
The Princess Bride
It's the cinematic equivalent of comfort food, something so familiar and delicious you can practically slip into a coma and still enjoy it. But it has the added benefit of a complicated plot that takes place far, far away from reality, allowing you to pretend you're being chased by Rodents of an Unusual Size or discovering the true identity of the Dread Pirate Roberts. Just don't get sucked into making any associations between the grandfather reading the story and John McCain, or else you've missed the whole point.
Can't Hardly Wait
What's more important than securing all your best high school memories and telling the girl of your dreams that you love her? Nothing, at least in the world of Can't Hardly Wait. Yes, it's shallow and silly, but if you let yourself feel shallow and silly along with it, you'll giggle uncontrollably when the German exchange student announces that he's a sex machine, and feel just that little twinge of happiness when Amanda finally catches up with Preston at the train station. Teen romance beats out politics any day.
Lawrence of Arabia
Yes, the movie involves politics, but they're all in a country far away in a time far in the past. And yes, you'll have to put out of your mind the whole "Obama is a Muslim" thing to let yourself enjoy this story set in the Arabian desert. Yeah, I know you can't see it in 70 mm from the comfort of your own home (unless you're reading, Michael Bay!), but just image those desert sands enveloping you, not to mention being transfixed by Peter O'Toole's piercing blue eyes. Lawrence may have been one of the original mavericks, but you have the movie's four-hour running time to forget about ol' whats-his-name.
This could be any Pixar movie, really, but the timeless father-son story, the lush undersea setting, and the unending hilarity of Ellen DeGeneres suck me into this movie every time. Unlike a lot of children's movies, there are no real community-building messages here-- just a simple story about love of family and commitment to each other. Plus, I always cry at the end-- a good catharsis to prepare for whatever happens when the polls start closing.
Not only is it set in Paris. Not only is it one of the most adorable romances ever made. Not only does it leave your heart actually leaping with happiness. But Amelie is one of those movies that celebrates human beings for being good even when they don't really know that's what they're doing. Politics is all a game when it comes down to it, but Amelie celebrates the good kind of games, that end in kisses and rides on motorcycles through scenic Paris streets. Only in the movies.