The interesting thing is that the movies most garlanded and most highly thought-of at the time they are made are rarely the ones that hold up. There was a big upset at the Oscars twenty-odd years ago when “Chariots of Fire” bested “On Golden Pond,” but honestly, would anyone want to see either movie today? I adored “Chariots,” but the last time I caught a few moments of it it seemed stilted and dated.
I thought highly of “Rain Man” when I saw it, and it won multiple Oscars its year too, but I think I’d rather go to the dentist than see it again.
The truth is that without question the movies that hold up best are comedies and musicals, because they are universal and because the better they are the less they are anchored to the specific political-social concerns of the moment they were made. (A “serious” musical almost never holds up, like “West Side Story,” which is an unintentional laff riot if you see it now.)
That’s why you can watch “The Philadelphia Story” or “Singin in the Rain” or “Animal House” or “Stripes” or “Radio Days” or “The In-Laws” or “The Band Wagon” or “Groundhog Day” or even something very slender, like “Fletch,” numerous times with pleasure each time. (I can’t count “2001″ as something that hasn’t held up since it was a crashing bore when I first saw it at age 12, even more boring at 25, and ridiculous-looking and sounding at 37. I tried, I really tried.)
The only Award-Winning Social Problem Movie of Its Day that to me still seems great — unbelievably powerful, moving and involving — is “The Best Years of Our Lives,” the 1946 masterpiece about three returning World War II veterans, which I see every couple of years and is magnificent over and over again. (And, of course, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” which one must watch every December.)