“Days” is the word for this entry in the Top 6 Words series. My favorite movies with the word “days” in the title follow the jump, but try thinking up some “days” titles on your own before peeking. Chime in with your own list in the comments section.
Missing the cut: Strange Days (1995), Days of Thunder (1990), Six Days Seven Nights (1998), End of Days (1999), How To Lose a Guy In 10 Days (2003), and Radio Days (1987). Then there is 28 Days Later (2002), which is surprisingly not a sequel to 28 Days (2000).
6. (500) Days of Summer (2009)
Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel are a delight in 500 Days of Summer, a film that is so much better than it needed to be. It is not quite a romantic comedy, though it is romantic and a comedy: as the film itself warns at the outset, this is not a love story. You would be excused for thinking it is, for it certainly looks and feels like one. But it has more to do with the idea of love than an actual instance of it.
Ingeniously, the story’s chronology is rearranged. We zip ahead to an advanced moment in a relationship, then double back to see how we got there. It’s not just a gimmick: by scrambling the time line, the film mirrors the human memory. When we think back on our history with the important people in our lives, we don’t remember events in chronological sequence but reordered in a way that allows us to get a better sense of the bigger picture. Something we learn later illuminates something that happened earlier. It is remarkable to see this idea reflected in the editing of a film.
But although it invites deeper thought like this, the film operates primarily on a level of escapism. Though it’s a cliche to say so, this movie is a “feel-good” movie in the best sense of the term. I loved these characters and loved watching them. I can’t ask for more than that.
5. Seven Days In May (1964)
John Frankenheimer followed up his great film The Manchurian Candidate (1962) with another Cold War political thriller that’s almost as good. It’s about a plot amongst military leaders to overthrow the President. The catch is that the plot isn’t about seizing power so much as preventing the President from signing it away with a nuclear disarmament treaty with the Soviets. The tension is wound tight, and there are intriguing moral complexities at play. There is also some powerhouse acting her: the cast, led by Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Fredric March, and Ava Gardner, are all outstanding.
4. Around the World In 80 Days (1956)
One of the most notoriously ambitious projects ever filmed, this lavish production of Around the World In 80 Days is quite a sight. It features scads of exotic locales, perilous adventures, and more stars than you can shake a stick at. At the time, advertising touted it as having more stars than any other film. Even today, it’s questionable if any other movie beats it.
The cameos are fun (in fact, the term originated as a result of this movie), and more importantly, the story is too. David Niven plays the eternally punctual Phileas Fogg, the man who makes a bet he can travel around the world in eighty days. The fellow members of his posh gentleman’s club take him up on it. The endearing part of this film is how tongue-in-cheek it all is — the delicate balance between drama and comedy is reached and maintained, so that it’s both exciting and funny. Alas, Around the World In 80 Days was filmed in Todd-AO and was absolutely stunning when projected the way it was intended to be. On video, even a letterboxed video, so much is lost.
3. Days of Wine and Roses (1962)
Blake Edwards, best known for the Pink Panther films, takes a serious turn with Days of Wine and Roses, a heavy drama about alcoholism. Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick are excellent as a married couple whose addiction systematically destroys their lives. The film makes a good companion piece to Billy Wilder’s The Lost Weekend (1945).
2. Three Days of the Condor (1975)
In today’s paranoia-ridden era, Sydney Pollack’s 1975 conspiracy thriller Three Days of the Condor has a devoted following, and so it should. This is an exciting, evenly-paced thriller that keeps its audience on edge, at the same time treating its characters like people rather than devices. The story follows the desperate efforts of a researcher (Robert Redford) for the CIA to save himself from death by his faceless enemies. It all starts when he steps out for lunch at what turns out to be a well-timed moment.
1. Days of Heaven (1978)
Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven is one of the most beautiful movies I’ve seen. It has a kind of poetic rhythm to it that washed over me and held me spellbound. It is not for the impatient viewer, however, as there is practically no storytelling at all. There’s a story, but it grows organically as a natural consequence of the film’s atmosphere.
That’s what you get with a Malick film, but he’s never done it better than here. It’s wonderful at conveying the impression of being in particular moments. In fact, the whole movie seems to be a series of sequences like that: here’s what it’s like to work on a hay farm. Here’s what it’s like during leisure time. Here’s what it’s like when the cicadas hit. Here’s what it’s like when the fields catch fire. Here’s what it’s like when a bunch of people are beating through the bushes on a manhunt. That’s the sort of thing you get with a Malick film, but he’s never done it better than here.