Top 10 favorite weekend movies
by Tom Dolby & Abdi Nazemian
As the filmmakers behind the newly released movie Last Weekend, which tells the story of Celia Green (Patricia Clarkson) gathering her family for one final holiday in her beautiful Lake Tahoe home, we’ve been thinking a lot about weekends. Why is it that so many of our favorite films take place over the course of one weekend?
Are we subconsciously drawn to the quasi-Aristotelian unities that are present in “weekend” films, namely the specificity of time, place, and action? (Aristotle believed a story’s action should take place over no more than 24 hours – we find that 48-72 hours usually does the trick in creating enough drama to entertain us.) Is it that between work and kids, our own weekends are all but disappearing? In weekend films, characters let their hair down, reveal secrets, flirt, and sometimes even come away with new understandings of who they are.
In honor of Last Weekend, our own contribution to the genre, here are 10 of our favorites:
10. The Lost Weekend
This harrowing look at alcoholism, directed by Billy Wilder and starring Ray Milland, swept the 1945 Academy Awards, winning awards for Best Picture, Director, Actor, and Screenplay. The film’s central story concerns one weekend in an alcoholic’s life, which he spends with only the bottle for a companion. As he confronts his demons, we flash back through his life and understand how he got to this place. Wilder was inspired to make the film after working with alcoholic Raymond Chandler on the equally brilliant Double Indemnity. The director’s hope was that the film would help his friend Chandler see himself more clearly. As it turns out, the film resonated with more than just Chandler, giving us one of our first, and certainly one of our greatest, portraits of addiction.
Henry Jaglom’s East End exercise in cinema vérité was inspired, as many weekend films are, by Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard. Jaglom masters the feeling of “fly on the wall” cinematography, to the point where you feel as if the director turned on the camera, left the room, and let the sparks fly. The darkly comic tale features an expert cast, including Melissa Leo, Martha Plimpton, Ron Rifkin, Andre Gregory, Victoria Foyt, and Swedish legend Viveca Lindfors in her last on-screen role. (And don’t forget the very young Jon Robin Baitz, who, in a case of art imitating life, stars as a young playwright.) The film is esoteric, with its shaky camerawork and meandering plotlines, but it’s one of our favorites—arcane as it can be, it captures a group of characters who, in today’s era of Hamptons hedge funders and million dollar mansions, live a bohemian lifestyle that is as ephemeral as the sun setting over Georgica Pond.
8. Le Week-End
Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan shine as a British couple who celebrates their 30th anniversary by heading back to their honeymoon destination, Paris. If what you’re expecting is a gauzy and romantic film, think again: as portrayed by Broadbent and Duncan, this is a brittle, difficult couple who is more likely to be found bickering than reconnecting. As for Paris, the film does its best to depict corners of the city that are not deliriously magical (the first hotel they stay in gets nixed due to its dull, beige walls). That the filmmakers don’t go for cheap sentimentality makes the inevitable revelations that arrive feel genuinely earned. With a little help from a wonderful Jeff Goldblum (who is a master at weekend movies, see number one on the list), this film shows that even for couples that have been together for decades, a lot can still happen over le course of a weekend.
Do you ever wish you could have a do-over of your weekend? Apparently, so did Woody Allen. He shot this film twice, scrapping the first version, and having a second go at it with a new script and new cast. (Interestingly, it was filmed at Kaufman Astoria Studios in New York, due to the winter timing of the shoot—but the production designer faithfully imitated Mia Farrow’s Connecticut house that had been the original impetus for the movie.) Allen’s script was loosely inspired by an incident from the life of Lana Turner, but more than anything, it’s a biting, sad, and unforgettable character study of six adults coming together for a weekend. September was critically panned at the time, though it has stood the test of time, and is a worthy entry to the Allen catalog of classics.
Jennifer Jason Leigh and Alan Cumming probably know a little bit about what a weekend is like when you’re a fabulous Hollywood couple, and as the writers, directors, and stars of this film, they thrust us into a world of fame, privilege, and angst. The pair plays a recently reconciled Hollywood couple hosting their anniversary party, and their guests are an entertaining batch of neurotics played by such scene-stealers as Phoebe Cates, Jane Adams, and a delightful pre-Goop Gwyneth Paltrow. Just beware, after experiencing some of the drama of this weekend, you might be ready for Monday to come. The film is relentlessly bleak, reminding us that life can feel devastatingly empty, even when you live in the hills and Gwyneth is on speed dial.
Why see a one-weekend movie when you can see a three-weekend movie? This moving film, adapted from Terence McNally’s play, tells the story of a group of gay friends who gather over three weekends in upstate New York. Poignantly set against the backdrop of the AIDS epidemic, the film has everything you would want in a weekend movie times three. We love this film for its stellar cast, five of whom were in the original Broadway production. We love it for its standout performance by Seinfeld’s Jason Alexander as musical theater aficionado Buzz (though to be fair, Alexander owes a hat tip for the performance to Nathan Lane, who starred in the role on Broadway). But most of all, we love it for depicting the vital importance of friendship in times of crisis.
Often referred to as a British Big Chill, this film tells the story of a group of Cambridge University friends who gather at Peter’s newly inherited (and quite lavish) country home for a weekend of laughs and revelations. Another moving love letter to friendship, Peter’s Friends manages to be both wildly entertaining and socially relevant — particularly for 1992 — taking on a variety of social issues from sexuality to class. The expert cast, which includes director Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, and Stephen Fry, prove that weekends, and weekend movies, work just as well with a British accent.
Andrew Haigh’s Weekend is a touching love story that tracks two men who meet at a club on a Friday night and proceed to spend a weekend having sex, talking, having more sex, and talking some more. The sex is visceral and intimate, and the talking even more so. We won’t give away the ending, but we will say that this film is groundbreaking in the simplicity of its storytelling, and in its raw depiction of gay star-crossed lovers. But perhaps the most revolutionary aspect of the film is the way it captures how one weekend can change a person forever, making you look at everyone, most of all yourself, with a new lens.
A wedding is usually a cause for celebration, but when your unstable sister is on furlough from rehab, it can also be the cause for intense anxiety. In the course of one awkward, disastrous, and ultimately cathartic weekend, Anne Hathaway’s Kym and Rosemarie DeWitt’s Rachel must confront the demons haunting them since their brother’s death, and make peace with the realities of their dysfunctional family. Jonathan Demme’s go at making a less-than-slick family dramedy yielded this wonderful indie gem, which uses one weekend to depict a lifetime of love and loss in one unforgettable family.
Nominated for three Academy Awards, The Big Chill might just be the quintessential weekend movie. While its premise is gloomy — a group of friends gather in a Southern vacation home after one of their friends commits suicide — director Lawrence Kasdan builds a movie full of friendship, empathy, and naturalistic performances. The angst of these seven idealistic college students-turned-yuppies is rich fodder for Kasdan and his actors to explore—and it doesn’t hurt that it’s set to a soundtrack of classic sixties rock and Motown.
Footnote: Many have suggested that John Sayles’ Return of the Secaucus Seven was the film that directly inspired The Big Chill – we suggest renting both for a weekend and making it a double feature.
The comedian Rita Rudner (who wrote Peter’s Friends) once cracked that whenever she dates a new guy, she wonders, “Is this the man I want my children to spend their weekends with?” After reading this list, you may ponder an equally important question: “Is this the movie I want to share my weekends with?”Tags: Abdi Nazemian, Hollywood, Last Summer in the Hamptons, Last Weekend (film), Le Week-End, Love! Valour! Compassion!, Patricia Clarkson, Peter's Friends (film), Rachel Getting Married, Rita Rudner, September (film), The Anniversary Party (film), The Big Chill, The Lost Weekend, Tom Dolby, Weekend (film), Weekend films