My MSAW List

So last night, while lounging back with Sarah after a long week of house-hunting disappointment, work-place uncertainty-turned-insanity, and academic difficulty, we were in full-on channel surfing mode. Despite the massive menu to select from, there wasn’t a single thing we could both agree was worth watching (or re-watching). Then, a movie flickered on the screen and managed to steal a spot on my M.S.A.W. (Must-Stop-And-Watch) list.

“Bad Boys” (1995) took one glance at my list, sat down, put its feet up, and said: “Eery body want to be like Mike Lowry.” Then Michael Bay blew up the room.

We caught the film about 15 minutes in, the moment where the unmistakable rasp of Tea Leoni echoes along a corridor at the Biltmore Hotel. I said: “I love this movie”, and, put down the remote to pick up my Sam Adams Alpine Spring. We watched it to the end.

See, there’s one obvious requirement for entry onto the MSAW list: the film has to make you stop. These films are undoubtedly among our DVD collections, perhaps even stashed away in VHS form in some dusty under-the-bed box. We can find these movies online, streaming them through Netflix or any number of other places. But when they appear, as if delivered by our haloed cable guardian angel to save us from and endless coursing over the channels, we sit and (re-)enjoy.

There’s nothing spectacular about “Bad Boys”. The film was Michael Bay’s first full-length feature, and it relies on a very formulaic plot. The only lasting, valuable thing to come from “Bad Boys” is the commencement of Will Smith’s career as a headline actor. It’s an incredibly dated buddy-cop action/comedy. It’s hard to imagine a 1995 film to be dated, but watch it. Look at the “mobile” phones. Look at the fashion. (Will Smith sports a now-throwback Miami Heat jersey at one point.) Listen for the reference to Michael Jordan being retired. (Yeah, his first retirement. He came back to win three more championships after the film’s release. Then retired. And unretired. And retired again.) Listen for the line when Martin Lawerence says: “I’ve been beeped three times”. That’s right. 1995 might well have been the peak for Beeper popularity.

So what makes a MSAW movie? There are a few key components. First, there needs to be a magnetic cast. You’re drawn into the film by the actors and their entertaining performances. Secondly, the plot, while perhaps full of stock characters and situations, has a familiar and, again, entertaining story. Thirdly, there’s a certain marketable quality to it that keeps the film in cable rotation. You can’t really have a MSAW that isn’t on TV very often. (Sorry, Tim Curry and “Clue” [1985]. You’d most definitely be at the top of my MSAW list, you’re just never on TV. At least I’ve got you on DVD.)

Familiarity might very well be the essence of an MSAW. It’s turn-your-brain-off entertainment. Think of your own MSAW list. There’s no doubt all of the movies that populate it can be said to be familiar, turn-off-your-brain entertainment. There are very few Best Pictures on MSAW lists. Not much thought-provoking going on. These movies don’t necessarily reside among on the top of the all-time favorites list, but they are important to us. My list is littered with comedies and action. It’s important for these movies to be well-known. More often than not, we’ll stop on these movies while lounging in bed at night or on the couch in the middle of the afternoon. They’re supposed to be fun, funny, and really something that unplugs you from the electric current of daily life. They give us the gift of an evening or afternoon of relaxed enjoyment.

Some of the movies on my list:

  • “Back to the Future” (1985) is really the quintessential MSAW movie. It’s fun and funny. Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd provide the magnetic quality. And who will forget: “If my calculations are correct, when this baby hits eighty-eight miles per hour… you’re gonna see some serious shit.” or “Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.”
  • “Jaws” (1975) stands as the first blockbuster. While any number of Spielberg films are MSAW-worthy, but this one is has to top the list. Masterful filmmaking and great acting from Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss,  and Robert Shaw pull us in, and Peter Benchley’s gripping tale keeps us there. And of course: “We’re going to need a bigger boat.”
  • “Die Hard” (1988) is undoubtly the bloodiest of my MSAW list. This wonderful romp stars Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman, the latter in his first major American motion picture. Who can turn away from a barefoot NYC cop who’s trapped in an LA office building fighting Eastern European terrorists? And who will ever forget: “Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker.”
  • “Ghostbusters” (1984) & “Ghostbuters 2” (1989) are films that I could watch on an endless loop. Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and all the others in the cast put together performances that I think are among the best in the history of comedic cinema. Rumor of a Ghostbusters 3 without Bill Murray makes me sudder. Choosing one line for these films is a near impossible task, but here’s one: “Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria!”
  • “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” (1989) was the third of the series, but the addition of Sean Connery to the cast took it to another level. The combination of Speilberg and Lucas released another blockbuster story, but it was the play between Connery and Harrison Ford that make this the highest Indy flick on my MSAW list. While the exchanges between characters are better, but to choose a one-liner: “This is a castle and we have many tapestries, and if you are a Scottish lord then I am Mickey Mouse!”
  • Some of the other films I’ll always stop on include: “Shooter” (2007); “The Fifth Element” (1997); “The Mummy” (1999), and “Harry Potter and the Scorcerer’s Stone” (2001). I’m sure I’ve forgotten some.

What does your MSAW list look like?

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