Woody Allen recently summed up the problem with his recent films thusly: “Nobody wants to see a guy who’s 74 hitting on a woman of any age. But I don’t want to make geriatric movies about old people because they bore me too.” And while we see what he’s saying, we think Allen is giving movies about oldsters short shrift. With that in mind, we hope he’ll watch these ten excellent films about the Social Security set.
1. Away from Her , dir. Sarah Polley (2006) Based on a short story by Alice Munro, Away from Her is the heartbreaking story of a woman (Julie Christie!) suffering from Alzheimer’s. When her illness advances to the point at which she feels she needs to check into a nursing home, her husband (Grant Pinsent) drops her off and reluctantly agrees not to visit her for 30 days in accordance with the home’s rules. But by the time he returns, she doesn’t recognize him and begun a romance with one of her fellow residents. Actress Sarah Polley’s directorial debut is every bit as captivating and heartbreaking as it sounds.
2. A Christmas Tale , dir. Arnaud Desplechin (2008) Who says Americans have a monopoly on dysfunctional families? In this sprawling drama, three generations of the troubled Vuillard family gather for the holidays at grandparents Abel (Jean-Paul Roussillon) and Junon’s (Catherine Deneuve) home. As various years-old feuds play out and skeletons spring from every closet, the action centers on Junon’s cancer diagnosis and the revelation that only a bone marrow transplant will save her. Which of her children or grandchildren will be a match, and what will that mean for a family that’s already hanging by a thread?
3. Arsenic and Old Lace , Frank Capra (1944) Mortimer Brewster (Cary Grant) has the weirdest family ever. His brother (John Alexander) thinks he’s Teddy Roosevelt, and his two elderly aunts (Josephine Hull and Jean Adair) — by far the film’s most memorable characters — are serial killers. They murder lonely, old men by poisoning their drinks, and Teddy hides the bodies… and they’re not even the only murderers in the family.
4. The Beaches of Agnès , dir. Agnès Varda (2009) At 80 years old, French New Wave legend Agnès Varda looks back on her life and career. We see the seaside home of her youth (and the inspiration for her first film La Pointe Courte), relive her marriage to Jacques Demy, and follow her through her later work. But this isn’t just a victory lap or nostalgia-fest. The film follows Varda’s declaration that everyone has a landscape inside, and hers is a beach. Her exuberance is contagious, and quirky touches like Chris Marker showing up as an animated cat, keep the energy flowing.
5. About Schmidt , dir. Alexander Payne (2002) These days, About Schmidt is best known as “that movie where Kathy Bates gets naked” directed by “that guy who did Sideways” two years later. Really, it’s the aging Baby Boomer generation’s very own 21st-century road movie, starring Jack Nicholson, who, of course, had a memorable role in the ’60s roadtrip classic Easy Rider. Instead of a young man wondering whether he’ll ever amount to anything, Schmidt is an aging man questioning whether his life has had any meaning. Think of it as a three-quarter-life crisis.
6. The Barbarian Invasions , dir. Denys Arcand (2003) Arcand revisits the group of aging Québécois lefties he introduced in 1986’s The Decline of the American Empire. In the new film, Rémy (Rémy Girard) is dying of cancer, and his son Sébastien (Stéphane Rousseau) brings him to America to receive proper care. The movie is about their strained relationship but also the conversations Rémy has and the lifelong friendships that have sustained him over the years and remain lively even during his final days.
7. Harold and Maude , dir. Hal Ashby (1971) It makes an odd kind of sense that a young man obsessed with death would seek out the company of a 79-year-old woman. But Maude (Ruth Gordon) isn’t your typical old lady: She’s a firebrand who lives on the edge. Together, she and Harold (Bud Cort) have quirky adventures and fall in love, which totally freaks people out. This is an odd one, to be sure, but it’s a cult classic for a reason.
8. Young@Heart , dir. Stephen Walker (2007) Think old people can’t rock out? Well, think again. Walker’s documentary follows a Northampton, MA chorus comprised entirely of old people who perform songs by bands including The Clash and Sonic Youth. Despite facing tragedy, the group perseveres in what is ultimately one of the most uplifting films we’ve ever seen.
9. Cocoon , Ron Howard (1985) This is a Ron Howard-directed sci-fi flick starring Hume Cronyn, Wilford Brimley, and Steve Guttenberg. If that isn’t enough to get you to watch this spectacle of weird, consider the plot: In ancient times, aliens roamed Atlantis. Now, they’re back and renting a house with a pool they’ve spiked with life force. Some old guys from a nearby retirement community swim in it and get their groove back.
10. The Straight Story , David Lynch (1999) Lynch is known for making spectacularly bizarre films, but The Straight Story showed that he could do low-key and touching, too. Based on a true tale, the movie follows 73-year-old Alvin Straight (Richard Farnsworth), who makes the six-week, 240-mile journey on a lawnmower to mend fences with his estranged brother (Harry Dean Stanton), who has recently suffered a stroke.