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Larry Donnelly: We all have movies that we watch over and over again - so here are my top 10

A self-confessed ‘ignoramus’ about pop culture, even Larry Donnelly has his own festive film favourites.

Larry Donnelly Law lecturer, NUI Galway

AS MOST OF us are digesting the turkey and ham and enjoying a few beverages with loved ones on this wonderful Christmas Day after the annus horribilis that was 2021, I am eschewing the rough and tumble of politics for a change.

Before parsing my list of the top ten movies I’ll be taking in during the next week or so, it’s important for readers to understand my vantage point.

I am an ignoramus about most of the things that ordinary people derive great joy from and banter knowledgeably about with family, friends and colleagues.

I know almost nothing about popular culture. I don’t buy music in traditional or new formats. I seldom go to gigs – actually make that never since the Saw Doctors stopped touring. Plays, musicals and operas are mysteries to me.

With the exception of a strange addiction to Blue Bloods, I only look at sports and current affairs on television.

Radio is my thing. I have never “binged” on Netflix and could count the number of programmes I have ever streamed using any platform on one hand.

I loathe going to the cinema and have to be prodded by my wife – who frequently wonders how she stays married to a proud troglodyte – to even sit through a film at home that I have not previously seen. The thoughts of wasting two hours on rubbish terrify me.

All of that having been said, I know I am not alone. A small minority of us wallow in our indifference. But I do have some movies that I watch over and over again, to the consternation of my brother in particular, who will have to endure my selections as we (hopefully) will be winging our way to Boston the day after tomorrow.

Here they are:

10. Home Alone (both 1 and 2)

I had to start with a Christmas film and these two, which Larry Óg adores viewing with his parents, are undeniably good.

Seeing them this year, I was genuinely moved by young Kevin’s interactions in the first film with Old Man Marley, who his older brother alleged was a serial killer, and in the second film with the Pigeon Lady, played by Brenda Fricker.

It may be sentimental or schmaltzy, yet the ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ lesson flowing from these unusual friendships is a crucial one for girls and boys. And it’s a valuable reminder for us all.

9. The Friends of Eddie Coyle

The Boston gangster movie is its own genre at this stage. This one is the original, and still ranks among the best.

It has an obvious appeal for natives – one of the key scenes, for instance, unfolds in the car park at the MBTA subway station nearest to the house I grew up in – but it is an absorbing story that is craftily told.

The Friends of Eddie Coyle depicts a grittier, harsher Boston that is no more. Lots of us miss that place dearly, however, warts and all.

8. Southie

Staying in the best city on the planet, Southie is a low budget picture that nonetheless features highly regarded actors like Donnie Wahlberg, Rose McGowan and Amanda Peet.

It was greatly overshadowed by Good Will Hunting, which was released shortly before it.

Southie offers a thrilling portrayal of the bleaker realities of the criminal underworld that some young men in the neighbourhood were drawn to. That, of course, was before gentrification took hold and South Boston was transformed utterly.

7. Magnum Force

I am a massive fan of the Dirty Harry series starring the terrific Clint Eastwood and this is at the top of my list.

Harry Callahan encounters a group of young military veterans who have joined the police force and believe they have a moral duty to rid San Francisco of malevolent people, due process of law be damned. They envisage Callahan as a potential ally in their vigilantism.

“I’m afraid you’ve misjudged me,” is Clint’s coolly detached retort to their entreaties before he sends the rookie cops, as well as a supporter in the upper echelon of the department, to their graves. A classic.

6. Beverly Hills Cop

I don’t think there is a funnier person on the planet than Eddie Murphy. And he is in peak form in this perfect blend of comedy and action.

No matter how many times I have seen it, I invariably find myself guffawing at Detective Axel Foley’s antics – notwithstanding the fact that many of the admittedly offensive jokes and gags no longer pass the smell test nearly four decades on.

Fantastic chase scenes and shoot-ups galore.

5. Caddyshack

Given my obsession with golf, I have to mention this absolutely hilarious comedy set at a Long Island country club.

Its legions of aficionados claim that Bill Murray, as a uniquely eccentric greens keeper, is the main attraction. Murray is good, but to me, Rodney Dangerfield, as the outrageously garish and vulgar real estate developer, Al Czervik, is the standout performer.

Golfers will recognise the typical club snob in Judge Elihu Snails, played masterfully by Ted Knight, who Dangerfield, in his own inimitable style, delights in infuriating with numerous uproarious insults.

4. National Lampoon’s European Vacation

It is not excessively glib to opine that millions of Americans learned all they know, or think they know, about Europe from this film in which the Griswold family win an all-expenses-paid holiday on a TV game show and criss-cross the continent.

While some annoying stereotypes are to the fore, it is all in good fun and done with great humour from beginning to end.

Chevy Chase as Clark Griswold, the too earnest yet quite likeable leader of the clan, is brilliant, as is Jason Lively as Rusty, a prototypical 1980s American teenager whose behaviour and mentality I and many of my contemporaries could identify with – embarrassingly.

3. The Verdict

Paul Newman was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar in his role as an alcoholic attorney, Frank Galvin, who gets a shot at redemption in a medical malpractice case arising from the negligent treatment of a woman in a hospital owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston.

Plenty of lawyers, myself included, can easily understand why Galvin grew so disillusioned with practice and suffered from depression and addiction.

The stunned expression on the face of James Mason playing Ed Concannon, the big law firm fixer leading the archdiocese’s defence team, when the anguished Irish nurse who had worked at the hospital reveals under cross-examination that she had kept a copy of a damning document, is an extraordinary moment.

Albeit fictional, it’s both affirming and inspirational to see a solitary, down on his luck lawyer go up against the establishment and achieve justice for his client.

2. Rocky

This is the ultimate underdog tale.

It is difficult to fathom from this remove, but producers originally wanted Burt Reynolds to play the title part. Fortunately, Sylvester Stallone got to be the lead in the script he had written and the rest really is history.

The fight and training scenes are captivating; the culture of Philadelphia in the 1970s is captured magnificently; and the characters are fascinating.

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As well as Stallone’s defining acting, Burgess Meredith is excellent as the salty old trainer, Mickey Goldmill.

I love the sequels too, and I rate the entire series in this order: 1, 3, 6, 4, 2, 5.

1. Jaws

Returning to Massachusetts (see a theme emerging here?) – the shark epic was filmed on Martha’s Vineyard – Jaws is an outstanding horror movie and much more besides.

In my estimation, it is the most eminently watchable motion picture ever made. I have happily sat through it at least 100 times and never tire of tuning in.

Robert Shaw is superb as the hard-bitten fisherman Quint, who relishes ridiculing Richard Dreyfuss’s Matt Hooper. It has subsequently been disclosed that this relentless antagonism extended off screen.

The flawed person I am most drawn to in Jaws, though, is Mayor Larry Vaughn, whose unwavering focus, no matter what tragedies transpire in the water, is on his political self-interest.

His related snarky reply to shark expert Hooper’s warnings about the dangers posed by a great white – “love to prove that, get your name in the National Geographic” – is a downright amazing insult in the context.

This is what has been and will be occupying my down time. I have no doubt that some will scoff at my philistine tastes. Have at it. I’ll revert to politics next time around.

Warmest regards to all readers for Christmas and New Year. Let’s hold on to the modest hope that 2022 will be a better year for everyone than 2021.

Larry Donnelly is a Boston attorney, a Law Lecturer at NUI Galway and a political columnist with TheJournal.ie. His new book – “The Bostonian: Life in an Irish American Political Family” – is published by Gill Books and is available in all book shops.

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About the author:

Larry Donnelly  / Law lecturer, NUI Galway

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