Can everyone guess where I am right now, and what I'm doing? I'm very thankful that the New Orleans airport has free wireless available while I wait for an airplane crew to show up for my flight, so I can return to sunny Austin. In the meantime, I have a laptop and Internet access and a stack of DVDs to watch. I am prepared. I can watch movies indefinitely if necessary, especially if I can get Hulu or Netflix's Watch Instantly cranked up.
I have a few suggestions for packing / purchasing / (legally) downloading movies to watch on your laptop or other device in an airport or on a plane. Pick at least one or two movies that are old familiar favorites. Sometimes when you're stuck in a terminal with poor food choices, a "comfort movie" can be your very best friend. In addition, I find it difficult to listen clearly to movies on an airplane or even in a noisy terminal (you don't want the sound too loud, so you can hear updates on your flight's delay), so it's best to pick something where you already know what's going on and don't need to catch every last nuance of dialogue. Big goofy action films and physical comedies have an advantage over talkier films where you have to pay attention.
In compiling this list of specific recommendations, I tried to avoid the overwhelmingly obvious choices for watching movies in airports -- personally, I don't want to watch disaster films at times like this, or even spoofs of disaster films like that timeless comedy Airplane. The Terminal and Snakes on a Plane also a little too close for comfort. I thought instead of lighter fare, with scenes that emphasized the fantasy world of airline travel, good or bad, and the magic of escapism. Next time, I'm tucking a few of these in my laptop bag myself.
Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay
The most obvious choice on this list, but the first part (and a scene near the end, come to think of it) can be highly satisfying while you're waiting for a plane. Because no matter what's happening to you in an airport, it is unlikely to be nearly as bad as what's happening to Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) while they're trying to jet to Amsterdam. The movie also provides an object lesson on what happens if you try to smoke on a plane, no matter what you're smoking or how you choose to do it. And I like the airport security scene, although I think the odds of this happening in real life are just about nil ... not that this is a realistic movie by any means.
This may be the best airport/airplane movie on the list. First of all, you get a scene on an airplane that's far more luxurious than any I've ever traveled on, and the outcome seems rather sad for poor Robert DeNiro's bounty hunter, who looks like he might enjoy such a mode of travel. On the other hand, we can all feel truly grateful and relieved that we would not have to travel with anyone who acts like Charles Grodin's character does when he's on the plane. Airplane and airport scenes aside, this is a fun and fast film that's easy to enjoy while you sit in a hard plastic seat and try to block out the sound of the real-estate agent yapping on her phone in the next row over.
How to Marry a Millionaire
For some of us, watching Lauren Bacall, Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable as they set up schemes to snag rich providers is about as frothy and escapist as it gets. Besides, there's a scene where Marilyn Monroe gets on a plane and doesn't quite realize what its destination is. Do you think that could possibly happen these days? It makes you nostalgic for the days of lighter security and easier air travel. I'm not nostalgic for the days where women took Dorothy Parker's quip "Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses" seriously, but somehow Marilyn Monroe can get away with it. You also get to watch William Powell (whom I would pick over Cameron Mitchell any day, no matter how old he is), David Wayne ... and Rory Calhoun, standing and walking.
Not everyone wants to watch a comedy while they're waiting for someone to fix the fuselage, or whatever it is that's always breaking on planes and causing delays. Maybe you want to watch a high-tension action film with Steve McQueen and fabulous car chases instead. Bullitt not only has McQueen and one of the best car chases on film, but also a wonderfully thrilling action sequence at San Francisco Airport. And also, Steve McQueen, even though I don't think a turtleneck is really the best look for him. (An alternate choice for those people who aren't into McQueen would be Casino Royale, where you get an action-packed airport scene, and Daniel Craig.)
A Fish Called Wanda
The climactic scenes of this caper-film comedy take place in Heathrow Airport. You can feel thankful not to meet the same fate as Stephen Fry, hope you don't end up on the tarmac with someone like Kevin Kline's crazy Otto ... hmm, unlike How to Marry a Millionaire, maybe this movie makes you feel good about increased security measures in an airport. Not to mention it's damn funny, unless you are very sensitive about small dogs. For some of us who watched this movie multiple times when it was first released, pleased to see an old-fashioned caper film with some nice modern twists, A Fish Called Wanda is also a good comfort film. I could watch Kevin Kline bicker with Jamie Lee Curtis all day.
I don't have to tell you that Casablanca contains one of the best known airplane scenes in film. And no matter how scummy and no-frills the airport where you're waiting may be, it's probably in better condition than that shack next to the runway at the end of the film. However, the map sequence at the beginning that shows the convoluted route through Casablanca and to America might remind you that someone is on a moving plane, and it's not you ... or worse yet, you'll start imagining the tortured roundabout route you might need to take to get to your destination, if someone doesn't get that plane fixed soon. (The plane-route scenes in Raiders of the Lost Ark might present the same dilemma.) Casablanca may be the ultimate comfort film; it ought to take the sting out of being stranded.
This is Spinal Tap
It's funny. It's certainly going to distract you from your current plight. It doesn't take many brain cells to enjoy. And there's a certain gag about Harry Shearer's character going through airport security that will have you laughing so hard you might attract the attention of your fellow passengers nearby. But if any of those fellow passengers walk behind your laptop monitor and figure out what you're watching, you might have to fight them for the headphones. I wish this mockumentary were in my laptop bag right now.