Family gatherings are the heart of the holiday season. These days families tend to gather around the VCR--particularly if it was a Christmas gift. For another week at least, there will be a run on family movies (wholesome fare that might appeal to fans of all ages) at video outlets and, most likely, less interest in films like "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and "Friday the 13th."
Here are some suggestions for those in the market for family movies:
"The Bad News Bears" (1976, Paramount). A hilarious movie with Tatum O'Neal, about a rag-tag Little League baseball team that becomes a winner under a boozy old coach (Walter Matthau). The language is a little raunchy at times but it's still first-rate family fare.
"Beauty and the Beast" (1983, CBS-Fox). With Susan Sarandon and Klaus Kinski, it's a classic tale of unrequited love. Kinski's performance carries the movie. Arguably the best in the brilliant Faerie Tale Theater series on CBS-Fox. Other highlights of the series: "Cinderella," starring Jennifer Beals and Matthew Broderick; "Rip Van Winkle," with Harry Dean Stanton; and "The Nightingale," featuring Mick Jagger and Barbara Hershey.
"The Black Stallion" (1979, CBS-Fox). A winning boy-and-his-animal story, filled with thrilling and heart-warming moments. Kelly Reno stars as the boy, with Mickey Rooney contributing a skilled performance as the old horse trainer. The cinematography is stunning.
"Bugsy Malone" (1976, Paramount). A zany musical spoof of vintage gangster films done with a cast of kids, starring Jodie Foster and Scott Biao. Director Alan Parker lets it get a bit too cutesy at times but, on the whole, it's a savory, lighthearted entertainment.
"The Little Prince" (1974, Paramount). The Lerner and Lowe score is only so-so, but this musical fantasy, based on the book by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, has its soaring moments. Richard Kiley plays the aviator. Stanley Donen directed.
"Pollyanna" (1960, Disney). Hayley Mills stars as the sunshine girl who spreads merriment among the sourpusses in a New England town. Jane Wyman co-stars as grumpy Aunt Polly.
"The Parent Trap" (1961, Disney). A charming comedy, liberally laced with slapstick, starring Hayley Mills in a dual role as twins who try to reunite divorced parents (Brian Keith and Maureen O'Hara).
"It's a Wonderful Life" (1946, Hal Roach). Frank Capra's classic small town comedy-drama about a man (James Stewart) who's driven to a suicide attempt on Christmas Eve. But he's saved by a guardian angel who shows him that his life hasn't been wasted. This ranks with Stewart's finest performances. Available in color and black-and-white.
"Sounder" (1972, Paramount). Cicely Tyson and Paul Winfield star in this touching drama about a black sharecropper family in the Depression. The story isn't much and it's all too romanticized but the performances make it work. Tyson is terrific.
"Mary Poppins" (1964, Disney). This may be the ultimate family entertainment. Julie Andrews stars as the nanny who works her magic on a London family in the early 1900s. A truly great score, including "Chim-Chim-Cheree" and "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious."
"The Sound of Music" (1965, CBS-Fox). It's hard not to exclude this sugary entertainment--based on the exploits of the Von Trapp family--from any list of recommended family movies. If excessive sweetness drives you up the wall, then focus on the music ("Do Re Mi" and "My Favorite Things") and the spectacular scenery.
"The Wizard of Oz" (1939, MGM/UA). Judy Garland, as Dorothy, sings "Over the Rainbow" and romps down the Yellow Brick road into possibly the most charming children's adventure ever filmed: a classic of the genre.
"Sleeping Beauty" (1959, Disney). Some of Disney's other feature-length animated movies are a bit too childish for grown-ups, but this romantic fairy tale has considerable appeal for adults. The animation is ranked with Disney's best.
By the way, if you're still in the mood for Christmas movies, CBS-Fox's "Miracle on 34th Street," Paramount's "White Christmas" and VCI's "A Christmas Carol"--the 1951 version starring Alastair Sim as Scrooge--are among the best.
COMING MOVIES: "Running Scared," a buddy movie starring Gregory Hines and Billy Crystal, was heavily hyped and expected to be a box-office smash. Instead, its grosses--about $30 million--were just OK. But all that hype won't go to waste. This is the kind of action comedy--an Eddie Murphy movie without Eddie Murphy--that's popular among rentals. After MGM/UA releases it Feb. 10, "Running Scared" should have a fairly long run in the rental chart Top 10.
Paramount is releasing "Heartburn," starring Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep, on Feb. 11. Based on Nora Ephron's novel, it's a semi-comical look at an ailing marriage between a magazine writer and a newspaper man. This wasn't sizzling box office. Most critics weren't crazy about it either.
Also on Feb. 11, Paramount is releasing "Friday the 13th, Part VI: Jason Lives," the latest episode in the blood-spattered life of Jason, the homicidal maniac blessed with at least nine lives. We all knew "Part V" wasn't really Jason's swan song.
As a romantic movie, "A Man and a Woman: 20 Years Later" didn't make hearts flutter like the 1966 original. Yet this movie, due Feb. 11 on Warner Video, did decent business in art theaters. It served a purpose too, reminding the romantics how much better the original "A Man and a Woman" is. In the sequel, Jean-Louis Trintignant and Anouk Aimee repeat their roles.
NEW RELEASES: Karl-Lorimar's horror thriller "Maximum Overdrive," starring Emilio Estevez, is out this week. It's bound to make some of the Top 10 bad movie lists for this year. The directorial debut of novelist Stephen King, it's about machines murdering people in the South.
Media's "Invaders From Mars" is also in the stores this week. Many regard it as vastly superior to the 1953 original, a cult favorite among B-picture fans.
HBO-Cannon's rock musical, "Absolute Beginners," is due out next week. It didn't stick around in theaters very long last spring, despite some acclaimed production numbers and stars like Davie Bowie, Sade and Ray Davies of the Kinks.