The time to “spring forward” is upon us and that means we’ll be looking at the clock wondering how it’s so late yet still bright outside. In honor of the special moment you have to remember (again!) how to set the clock on your car radio, the Dames give you their five favorite films about time.
I know many would interpret this category as movies about time travel. I went in a different direction. Yes, I do have a movie about time travel, but I also included movies centered on questioning what time means, how we choose to live it, and our fear of having it always slipping through our fingers. I’m sorry, I don’t mean for this list to depress you. It will, however, give you a movie about time in every genre!
The Clock (1945)
This 1945 war romance is the follow-up to the previous Vincente Minnelli/Judy Garland-starrer, 1944’s Meet Me in St. Louis. If Garland and Minnelli weren’t in love by that film, they definitely loved each other here and that could explain why the movie is so adorable. Garland plays Alice Maybery, a young woman at Penn Station who meets Corporal Joe Allen (Robert Walker). Allen is on a 48-hour leave and a series of circumstances puts him and Alice together, leaving them two days to discuss life and love with the lingering issue of what’s going to happen when Joe leaves.
Before Richard Linklater gave us two characters walking around a city and talking, Minnelli gave us this. What makes The Clock so special isn’t just the easy chemistry between Garland and Walker, but the central role the literal clock plays. The movie ingenuously finds a way to frame clocks throughout, reminding you that the couple’s time is drawing short. There were several wartime romances done around this time – another one similar to this is 1944’s I’ll Be Seeing You – but The Clock never fails to leave me aching for this couple to make it!
A Matter of Life and Death (1946)
I’m weirdly interested in how movies deal with the afterlife, maybe as a means of quelling my own fears on the topic. As a mediation on death, as a romance, as a movie about time, no matter the topic there’s always a way to include the Powell and Pressburger movie, A Matter of Life and Death. David Niven plays Peter Carter, an aviator who cheats death and has to convince a heavenly tribunal to allow him to stay on Earth.
Powell and Pressburger are utterly masterful with all their films, but A Matter of Life and Death is special. For starters, all the scenes set in “heaven” are in black and white, while scenes on Earth are in blinding color to emphasize life’s preciousness. There’s a formal, timeless beauty to everything in a way that only the Archers can create. Much like The Clock, you want Peter to win so he can stay with Kim Hunter’s June, even if we all know this is only temporary until death returns for them.
The Terminator (1984)
Here it is, my one legit time travel movie. I’ve been a fan of The Terminator since I was a child, and I can’t really tell you why. I can say that, as an adult, it’s still an engaging action film with a heroine I loved watching grow over two features. The whole film is really a paradox – I think I’m using that term correctly – but I don’t care. Watching everyone pop out of the ether, naked no less, to save Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor will never not entertain me. (Though, a note, the second one is the superior movie!)
Never Been Kissed (1999)
I almost tied this with 2004’s 13 Going on 30, but since I’m hitting a milestone birthday this year this 1999 comedy seems more accurate to me now. Drew Barrymore plays aspiring journalist Josie Gellar, who gets an assignment to go “undercover” as a high school student and learn about teens today. I can DEFINITELY understand the appeal of returning to high school as an adult. You have no idea how often I say to people “if I was the person I am now in high school, I’d have been cool.” Sure, I’d probably also apply myself and thus be smarter than all the kids actually in high school – though based on my little brother’s homework, I think I might just be more irritated. Regardless, Josie’s whole mission of learning about teens while trying to assert her own identity is relatable. I know in high school I acted a certain way and didn’t have nearly the confidence I have now. If only I could get that undercover assignment today….I’d be Regina George in an instant!
Twilight Zone: The Movie – “Kick the Can” (1983)
This Steven Spielberg-directed installment in the 1983 anthology movie based on The Twilight Zone is commonly considered the worst of the bunch. Really, you can’t blame Spielberg considering the reasons why he had to change from his original vision. (It’s a doozy of a story so either Google it or ask me to fill you in one day.) Regardless, this is a very sweet story about a group of elderly people who get a chance to return to their youth via a game of “Kick the Can.” A) this has Scatman Crothers in it as the Pied Piper and I love him. It’s darling to watch the elderly actors in the beginning, especially once they’re juxtaposed with the perfect casting of their child counterparts. In the end, it’s a fun, simplistic story about appreciating old age told in a way that’s very Spielberg.
Back to the Future (1985)
I know I should admit this, but I remember going to see this in the theater. In 1985. And I was mesmerized. It was funny and fascinating, and I remember being endlessly tickled at the fact that it took place in the year my mom was born. It also helped me be less scared of lightning, oddly enough. And I started imagining what the world would be like way in the future in two thousand fifteen. That was really far away back then.
The story of a father and son separated by years and connected by an amateur radio has a kind of silly premise. In fact, when it came out and all my friends were fawning over it, I rolled my eyes and avoided it. But then I finally ended up watching it sort of against my will one day and fell in love. It’s weird, sure, but so is a movie about a guy that dresses like a giant bat and beats up criminals in the middle of the night. Dennis Quaid and Jim Caviezel are both just so pleasant to watch as they figure things out and work together to right a decades old wrong.
Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
Yeah, I know, I could have picked Groundhog’s Day, but you know what? Tom Cruise wasn’t in Groundhog’s Day. Plus, this one involves team work. Tom Cruise joins forces with badass Emily Blunt, and together they have to find a way to save the world. And other people help too. It’s not just Tom Cruise working things out. Although he does look very cute when he’s totally clueless about how to operate his weapons.
(500) Days of Summer (2009)
What’s not to love about Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel falling for each other? Never mind the fact that it was written by the now Oscar-nominated duo of Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber. This film is charming and heartfelt, and heartbreaking. And even when it’s heartbreaking, it still finds a way to be hopeful.
The Lake House (2006)
I have never seen the original South Korean film, Il Mare, although I have been meaning to. And yeah, it sure looks like I have a thing for people being able to reach out to each other through ordinary inanimate objects. So what if I do? But part of the reason I like this one, too, is not just the funky fact of two people being able to write letters to each other through an inter-dimensional mailbox. It’s mostly because there’s just something sweet about Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves falling in love. And something so heart-wrenching about them doing so while sharing almost zero screen time.
Mulholland Drive (2001)
Most David Lynch films have a very fluid understanding of time, and Mulholland Drive is as much a mindfuck than any. What seems like a straightforward narrative begins to twist in and around itself as it goes on, turning into a cinematic ouroboros that may make sense in the end, if your name is David Lynch. The final twenty minutes or so draw everything you saw before into question, but – unlike many films that play fast and loose with time – things don’t become much clearer on multiple viewings. Do I know what happens or what happened? No, not completely. But that’s the beauty of Lynch – you don’t have to understand it to really, y’know, understand it.
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1949)
From the sublime to, um, a musical version of a Mark Twain novel starring Bing Crosby. I have a weird affection for this film, which takes Twain’s fairly serious work about a man who travels back in time to Camelot and turns it into a technicolor musical with Bing Crosby at its center. There’s the requisite love story, some silly knight-errant antics, and plenty of equally silly songs. Whatever. I love it.
Last Year at Marienbad (1961)
Moving ahead with films that Inception totally ripped off: Alain Resnais’s Last Year at Marienbad. A dreamy cinematic precursor to Lynch’s manipulation of time, Marienbad is all about perception. It’s supposedly about a man (X) who is convinced that he met and had an affair with a married woman (A) when they met at a house party at Marienbad the year before. She doesn’t remember him; or maybe she does; or maybe the affair never happened; or maybe it hasn’t happened yet. Resnais’s camera wanders through endless hallways and art deco gardens, tracking the nebulous memories of these two people. Past, present, and future coalesce, voiceover attempts to control the actions of characters, who immediately disobey it, and the central question of last year at Marienbad is never quite answered. It’s a fascinating film for a post-war era struggling to hang on to what memory even means.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
This one is basically a cliché now, but let’s admit that Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece is the constant bar for a reason. You want a film about time? This one spans the entirety of human existence.
Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)
This was all just an excuse to put 2001 and Bill and Ted on the same list. I do have an abiding affection for this film, though. It has the purest, dumbest heart, includes a time-traveling phone booth, George Carlin, and taught me how to constantly mispronounce “Socrates.” Extremely gnarly.
Time opens us up to talk about a variety of genres and even individual subject matter. Tons of movies spring to mind when thinking about its various forms. Here are just a few of my favorites.
About Time (2013)
Okay, yeah, no surprise here. This movie started my lingering and ongoing crush on celebrity husband number one, Domhnall Gleeson. While he’d been working for a number of years before this point I actually came to this movie for Richard Curtis, whose work I’ve grown-up loving since Mr. Bean and Blackadder.
The film follows Tim (Gleeson) who discovers that men in his family develop the ability to time travel (in their own timeline!) as soon as they turn 21. It might be a silly sounding premise but the great character work makes the movie. It’s funny and emotional in all the right places. It makes you want to get up and call your dad. However, what really makes it work is the undeniable adorableness of Domhnall Gleeson.
Star Trek (2009)
There are a few versions of this film which could work. The first film which sprang to mind for yours truly is the 2009 JJ Abrams-led franchise reboot.
The film stars Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto. When the movie dropped in 2009, it felt absolutely mind-blowing. The movie is an early example of a franchise being rebooted. This wasn’t a spin-off or a sequel. Rather, Abrams and writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman spun an interesting story involving time travel, propelling our named characters into the past. Thus, we get to enjoy and explore these famous characters through new eyes.
Plus, Chris Pine is the number one Hollywood Chris after all.
Back to the Future (1985)
I struggled a bit with whether to put number one or number two on the list. This movie is just fun. It’s iconic, and it takes place in 1955, probably what made me fall in love with the era. It’s a Hollywood cookie cutter image of the 1950s, but there’s so much fun to be had as Marty struggles to save his own existence while fighting off the advances of his mother. Check out this classic if you haven’t.
Kate and Leopold (2001)
This choice enters into #SorryNotSorry territory. This is a rom-com and fluffy as hell. It is about as formulaic as a romantic comedy as you can get. However, this film holds the place as being my introduction to Hugh Jackman. It hit right at the same time as the X-Men franchise and saw the Australian actor hit Hollywood with a bang.
Kate and Leopold follows romantically frustrated advertising executive Kate as she meets and falls in love with a handsome and romantic Duke (Jackman). However, there is a pretty major complication. It seems he’s trapped in our world after accidentally time traveling from the 19th-century. How will these two crazy kids make it work?
Midnight in Paris (2011)
Yes, I’m putting a Woody Allen movie on here. This one I am sorry for. Despite all of my better judgment, I can’t shake my fondness for this. It’s a lighthearted examination of nostalgia and realizing where we truly belong.
Midnight in Paris follows Gil (Owen Wilson), a reluctant screenwriter who visits Paris in the days leading up to his wedding. Suddenly, he’s transported back to the idyllic Paris of the 1920s. The wanna-be novelist finds himself cavorting with literary heavyweights like Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein.