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Senior Correspondent

Even though most contemporary movies seem to be marketed to those under 30, boomers love motion pictures. Some of our fondest memories probably involve a date at the Saturday night show with popcorn and a Coke. Today, it is more likely to be a big-screen TV in the living room, but the popcorn and soft drink remain. And so does our love of movies.

That got me to thinking about movies and a satisfying retirement. Are there any really good movies that use retirement as the central focus? Yes, there are. In fact, some of my favorites of all time fit into that category. Two years ago the Wall Street Journal published a list of their choices for the top retirement movies. Here is the WSJ list with some of my own comments added:

  • "About Schmidt" (2002) Jack Nicholson plays a newly retired insurance man. Within the first few minutes of the film he becomes a widower. With nothing better to do he hits the road in the RV he and his wife had planned on using in their retirement. He heads toward his estranged daughter and son-in-law's house. Who can forget the hot tub scene with Jack and Kathy Bates? A great portrayal of a retired man searching for a reason to get up in the morning.
  • "Cocoon" (1985) Retirement meets science fiction in Florida. Just going through the motions of living, Don Ameche, Wilford Brimley and Hume Cronyn are joined by some energetic aliens who revitalize the retirees. Mr. Ameche showed his dance moves and won the Oscar for best supporting actor.
  • "Going in Style" (1979): George Burns, Art Carney and Lee Strasberg live together in an apartment in Queens, N.Y. With only Social Security checks to keep them going, days are spent feeding the pigeons. To add spice to their boring lives, Mr. Burns' character suggests robbing a bank. While mainly a comedy, there are emotional moments when the pain of growing old while poor and without family overwhelm the laughs.
  • "Harry and Tonto" (1974): Art Carney plays a retired teacher living in New York City. When his apartment building is torn down to make way for a parking garage, he moves in with his son. After that proves problematic Carney's character and his best friend, a cat named Tonto, hit the road. Their journey together is sweet and moving. Mr. Carney won an Oscar for best actor in this unassuming gem.
  • "High Noon" (1952): Normally not thought of as a retirement movie, Gary Cooper is trying to stop working but a bad guy and his own conscience won't let him quit quite yet. Gary plays a small-town marshal whose new wife is played by a very beautiful Grace Kelly. He's one day away from handing in his badge when he learns a man he sent to prison is returning on the noon train looking for revenge. Cooper, playing Will Kane, stays and fights. Mr. Cooper got the Oscar for best actor.
  • "The Lion in Winter" (1968): Peter O'Toole is an aging Henry II, hoping to choose a successor from among his three sons so he can stop all that kingly stuff. But the boys and their scheming mom, played by Katharine Hepburn, have their own ideas. Anthony Hopkins's makes his first screen appearance in this film. Ms. Hepburn won an Oscar as best actress.
  • "Lost in America" (1985): One of my favorite comedian/actors, Albert Brooks, quits his job after he doesn't get the promotion he believes should be his. Ditching and selling everything, he and his wife, played by Julie Hagerty of Airplane fame, plan to spend the rest of their days exploring the country in their motor home. Unhappily, stopping in Las Vegas proves to be their downfall. Linda loses virtually all their money in a casino the very first night. The rest of this very funny movie has Albert Brooks' character, David, trying to get their money back and making sense of it all.
  • "On Golden Pond" (1981): Henry Fonda, in his last picture, is a retired college professor. Nearing his 80th birthday his estranged daughter (Jane Fonda), son-in-law, and mouthy grandson arrive to help him celebrate. A missing boy and a near-death experience give Henry and his wife, played by Katharine Hepburn, a chance to grapple with mortality and the real meaning of love. Both Henry Fonda and Ms. Hepburn received Oscars.
  • "The Straight Story" (1999): This is a real sleeper on the list, but one I have seen and thoroughly enjoyed. Actor Richard Farnsworth plays Alvin Straight, a 73-year-old retiree who lives in a small town in rural Iowa. Straight lives with his daughter ( Sissy Spacek) and neither is able to drive a car. Suddenly this becomes a huge problem when Straight learns that his brother, who lives 300 miles away in Wisconsin, has been felled by a stroke and is likely to die. Not being able to afford a bus ticket he drives a riding lawn mover, at five miles per hour, to Wisconsin to see his brother one last time. Ignore the fact that the gas would cost more than the bus ticket and enjoy a heartwarming tale based on a true story.
  • "Unforgiven" (1992): Clint Eastwood plays William Munny, a retired gunman who now raises hogs with the help of a character played beautifully by Morgan Freeman. But when a young cowboy offers Munny a chance to avenge a cruel attack on a prostitute and earn some reward money he can't resist getting back in the game. Leaving the farming life behind he recaptures, at least for part of the film, his former glory. Oscars were won for for best director (Mr. Eastwood), best supporting actor (Mr. Hackman as a nasty sheriff) and best picture.

Here a few others that didn't make the Journal's top 10 but I like and are about retirement:

  • "Saving Grace": After her husband dies and leaves her deeply in debt, Grace grows massive amounts of marijuana to keep her home. Along the way she has to deal with drug dealers, a suspicious local constable, and a handyman with a girlfriend who is unhappy with the whole affair. Funny and well-acted.
  • "Calendar Girls": Older British ladies help raise money for the local hospital by producing a calendar of themselves, in the nude. Funny and tastefully done, this proves you are never to old to take a risk. The movie is based on a true story.
  • "Secondhand Lions": Two retired brothers on a broken-down Texas ranch have nothing better to do than shoot at any salesman dumb enough to come on their property. That all changes with the arrival of their great nephew who spends the summer with the men. In the process the boy and the men learn about life, adventure, the importance of memories, and family. Michale Caine is perfect in his role.
  • "Up" (2009): This animated gem is all about living out a dream. An old, unhappy geezer is forced to sell his home, the home where he and his beloved wife lived for their entire married lifeand where he remains after her passing. An 8-year-old boy, a bunch of balloons, a villain, and various animals end up taking the man on a journey of discovery that helps him understand some important facts about his life. Ed Asner, who voices the old man, is perfect as someone who finds a new reason to live and love.

I thought of several more, but I'd like your input. What movies have you seen and liked (or disliked!) that deal with this journey we are on called retirement? Did they accurately capture the ups and down of this phase of life. Were they Hollywood's version of retirement but not what you have experienced?

In closing, here are a few quotes from famous movies that fit our topic well:

  • Leonardo DiCaprio in "Titanic": "I figure life's a gift and I don't intend on wasting it. You don't know what hand you're gonna get dealt next. You learn to take life as it comes at you, to make each day count.”
  • Mel Gibson in "Braveheart": "Every man dies, not every man really lives.”
  • Robert Duvall in Lonesome Dove: "The older the violin, the sweeter the music.”

OK, now is your chance to be Siskel and Ebert. Tell us about your choices for top retirement-themed movies.

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