We are big movie fans here at the Silver Century Foundation, but the silver screen hasn’t been overly kind to older characters. Hollywood’s ageist bent is easily exposed when older adults are depicted as comic sidekicks or stereotyped grandparents—when there is no role for them at all. Happily, more and more filmmakers around the world are tackling the subject of growing older with honesty, insight and beauty. Pete Croatto takes a look at films that were selected by SCF because they examine age and aging in ways that challenge us to think about our own views of growing older.

  • Nyad Posted in: Arts, Cinema, Friendships, Later Life Quests

    2023, USA, 121 min.

    In 1978, Diana Nyad fails to swim from Cuba to Florida, a 110-mile ordeal in shark-infested waters. Years pass. Celebrity has dimmed. The former long-distance swimmer finds herself lost. “You turn 60 and the world treats you like a bag of bones,” Nyad (Annette Bening) tells her best friend Bonnie (Jodie Foster). So Nyad heads to the pool after a 30-year break. Soon, she is convinced she can swim to Cuba. As she spends years battling nature’s viciousness and pushing her threshold for pain, we learn that this is not an ego trip. It’s about resolving a painful past and living life on her terms. Bening’s spirited, vulnerable portrayal makes this story relatable. Foster is exceptional as the friend-turned-coach, who alternately inspires and admonishes the swimmer. Nyad is a stirring reminder that there’s no age limit to pushing past your boundaries—especially if you lean on your allies.


  • Top Gun: Maverick Posted in: Arts, Cinema, Midlife, Mortality

    2022, USA, 130 min.

    Nearly 40 years after his aerial heroics in Top Gun (1986), Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) faces irrelevance as he rounds past middle age. His risky approach to flying jets is again considered reckless, but redemption awaits. Maverick is asked to prepare young fighter pilots for an upcoming attack mission, a gig that gets complicated when he discovers that one of his charges is Rooster (Miles Teller), the son of his late friend and former wingman, Goose. Maverick has to channel his rebelliousness into a final shot at building a worthwhile professional and personal legacy. By peeling back the high-flying machismo to reveal the vulnerability of a fading, adrenaline-fatigued hero, Top Gun: Maverick is the rare blockbuster that finds excitement in the twisty emotional landscape of its aging protagonist. 


  • Wonder Boys Posted in: Cinema, Comedy Drama, Midlife

    2000, USA/Germany/UK/Japan, 103 min.

    Through the 1980s and 1990s, Michael Douglas garnered a reputation for playing aging men whose bubbling libidos doubled as domestic cautionary tales. This resonant, honest drama, based on Michael Chabon’s novel, is about the messiness of resurrection, not the ease of destruction. Douglas plays college professor Grady Tripp, a once-hot novelist, whose life is now a mess: a failed marriage, too much pot, and an unfinished, long overdue novel that his editor desperately wants. Over the course of an unwieldy weekend, Tripp undergoes an emotional reckoning spurred in part by a troubled but brilliant writing student (Tobey Maguire) and a revelation from his mistress (Frances McDormand), who happens to be his boss. Writer Steve Kloves and director Curtis Hanson keep the action brisk and frenetic without diminishing Tripp’s gradual escape from this self-made crisis. He can no longer hide in the shadows of his shortcomings. 


  • Going in Style Posted in: Arts, Cinema, Comedy Drama, Friendships, Later Life Quests, Mortality, Retirement

    2017, USA, 96 min

    Director Zach Braff’s remake of the quiet, thoughtful, 1979 comedy-drama ups the cat-and-mouse maneuvers, raises the stakes and modernizes the story line. Brooklyn friends Joe (Michael Caine), Albert (Alan Arkin) and Willie (Morgan Freeman) decide to rob the mega bank that has taken their pension money, after they’ve been laid off from their longtime factory jobs. What ensues is more laugh-heavy than the original, sometimes to its disadvantage—Christopher Lloyd’s superfluous appearance as a forgetful member of the friends’ social circle is flat-out ageist, a series of worn stereotypes presented as cheap comic relief . But the main characters’ comradery and their refusal to be marginalized by society make for a pleasing, moving effort. 

  • Going in Style  Posted in: Arts, Cinema, Comedy Drama, Friendships, Later Life Quests, Mortality, Retirement

    1979, USA, 97 min.

    New York City retirees Joe (George Burns), Al (Art Carney) and Willie (Lee Strasberg) are at the point where spare time has become a burden. Their days are spent idling in the local park or in their drab apartment; excitement is treated like a dietary restriction. So when Joe casually mentions they should rob a bank—it’ll provide a dose of adrenaline and is a shrewd fiduciary strategy!—Willie and Al agree. Then reality sets in. Director Martin Brest wisely eschews easy jokes for a meditation on mortality. The robbery and its aftermath invigorate Joe but aren’t a tonic for Al and Willie, who become overwhelmed by the audacity of their act. By rejecting easy solutions for the loss of purpose that can come with aging, Brest fashions a bittersweet gem. The entire cast is game, especially Burns, who shelves his famed mugging to deliver a terrific performance


  • A Man Called Otto Posted in: Arts, Cinema, Families, Friendships, Single, Widowed or Divorced

    2022, USA, 126 min.

    Otto (Tom Hanks) lives in a state of constant aggravation. He treats any interruption to his orderly life as a threat. The bluster hides a deep, unspeakable pain: Otto, recently widowed and forced to retire, wants to end his life. Every time he attempts to do so, life pulls him back. Quite often, he’s interrupted by his new neighbor Marisol (Mariana Treviño), whose kindness and authentic nature replenish his soul. Otto discovers, despite his best efforts, that people need him in ways he couldn’t possibly imagine. The American version of the beloved novel A Man Called Ove runs on Hanks’ inherent, unshakeable likability, which enhances the movie’s message: we are never alone. If we open our lives (and hearts) to people, rebirth is possible at any age. 


  • Drive My Car Posted in: Arts, Cinema, Midlife

    2021, Japan, 179 min. (subtitled)

    An aging, renowned Japanese stage actor (Hideyoshi Nishijima) directs a production of Uncle Vanya in faraway Hiroshima, another opportunity for him to retreat into an artistic bubble built by tragedy and 20 years of simmering grief. His stasis gets challenged when he is required by his client to use a chauffeur (Tôko Miura), a stoic young woman who carries her own emotional load. That (literal) change in perspective unlocks a slow, emotional awakening, which we see through his conversations with his lead actor (Masaki Okada) and the driver. Director and co-writer Ryûsuke Yamaguchi’s Oscar-winning drama is languidly paced, which gives the proceedings an existential wallop as the characters confront the roles fate has saddled them with. More than an exploration of art vs. life or a treatise on grief, Drive My Car is an uncompromising, beautiful film about the necessity and beauty of living an honest, open life at any age. 


  • Living Posted in: Arts, Cinema, Mortality

    2022, UK/Japan/Sweden, 102 min.

    In early 1950s London, lifelong bureaucrat Mr. Williams (Bill Nighy), whose life is all rigid routine and almost comatose stoicism, receives a shattering diagnosis. After a couple of attempts at living life to the fullest—including a drunken, sentimental night in a seaside town—he devotes his attention to a small, crumbling, neighborhood playground. This short, bittersweet character study leans heavily on Nighy’s exquisite, Oscar-nominated performance—you can practically see the weight of buried feelings in every gesture—and the narrative shifts in Nobel Prize-winning novelist Kazuo Ishiguro’s script. But Living’s bittersweet, even rueful, message emerges. Committing the smallest act, even in the autumn of our years, can tie up many loose ends, though some matters of the heart remain heartbreakingly unresolved. Adapted from Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiru.   


  • Space Cowboys Posted in: Arts, Cinema, Later Life Quests

    2000, US, 130 min.

    Forty years after he was exiled from a nascent program called NASA, engineer Frank Corvin (Clint Eastwood, who also directed and produced) is recruited to retrieve an out-of-orbit Russian satellite with his antiquated guidance system. He agrees on one condition: he will do the job with his long-disbanded Air Force team, who have exactly zero astronaut experience. Old tensions and new challenges emerge as Frank and his crew (Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland and James Garner) hastily train and then head into space. What elevates the film beyond the “seniors proving themselves” gimmick is its embrace of friendship and sacrifice as qualities that ripen with time. This crowd-pleaser radiates heart and warmth, thanks to the first-rate cast, led by Jones as an irascible daredevil forced to confront his mortality. 

  • It Ain’t Over Posted in: Arts, Based on True Stories, Cinema, Documentaries

    2023, USA, 99 min.

    To many younger Americans, Yogi Berra (1925-2015) wasn’t a Hall of Fame baseball player and a cog in the New York Yankees’ endless dynasty, but a lovable old font of folksy wisdom (“When you get to a fork in the road—take it!”) with a funny name and a teddy-bear physique. In this heartwarming documentary, director Sean Mullin—relying on interviews with the baseball legend’s friends, teammates and family members—examines Berra’s accomplishments as a baseball player and explores his personal life. Berra was a devoted family man who stormed Normandy in World War II. He happily bonded with younger ballplayers in his later years, instead of living in the curdled past. This is the rare sports documentary that hits a personal note, reminding us that a life lies behind every older person we dismiss or thoughtlessly categorize. Berra becomes a proxy for the older relative and neighbor we choose to know in a limited way.


  • Juniper Posted in: Arts, Cinema, Comedy Drama, Families

    2021, New Zealand, 94 min.

    Injured and out of options, retired war photojournalist Ruth (Charlotte Rampling) recovers at her estranged son’s house in rural New Zealand. With her son away on business, her teenage grandson, Sam (George Ferrier), becomes a reluctant caretaker, even as he grieves for his recently deceased mother. Ruth is not a model patient. She’s belligerent, condescending and frequently drunk. The two start as distrustful strangers, but their pain draws them closer. He is sensitive and obstinate, tough emotions to balance at any age, but the perfect tonic for Ruth’s stubbornness. She provides the attention and blunt guidance Sam has undoubtedly lacked since his mother’s death. As Ruth’s stay grows longer, she learns the value of letting people in and letting go. Matthew J. Saville’s touching comedy-drama about the necessity of vulnerability is fueled by Rampling’s lively, vulnerable performance.

  • Gideon’s Daughter Posted in: Arts, Cinema, Midlife

    2005, UK, 105 min.

    Veteran London public relations maven Gideon (Bill Nighy) has the biggest names in entertainment and politics eager for his counsel. But does it matter? His teenage daughter (Emily Blunt) is set to graduate high school, pushing him toward irrelevance in her life. Around this time, Gideon develops a relationship with an offbeat divorcée and grieving mother (Miranda Richardson), whose directness and working class values contrast with Gideon’s life of affluent influence. Stuck between the gravitational pull of these two women, Gideon reevaluates what matters in his life after years of striving for material success. Writer-director Steven Poilakoff has crafted a simple, touching story about people connecting with each other as they rediscover themselves, one that is enhanced thanks to Nighy’s and Richardson’s outstanding performances.  

  • That Evening Sun Posted in: Arts, Cinema, Later Life Quests

    2009, USA, 109 min.

    Abner Meecham (Hal Holbrook) leaves the nursing home and returns to his beloved farm, hoping for solitary contentment. Instead, he finds the place (legally) occupied by Lonzo Choat (Ray McKinnon) and his family. Abner refuses to leave. Lonzo, whom Abner has long disdained, isn’t budging. So Abner sets up in the property’s battered laborer’s shack, launching a standoff as the sultry summer slogs on. The older man wants to spend his last days in the beloved place that defined him; the younger man, all rough edges and volatility, wants to straighten out his life. Scott Teems’ meditative, moody drama on the difficulty of letting go and the destructive pull of the past will move a wide swath of viewers, but Holbrook’s masterful performance will captivate everybody.


  • Turn Every Page Posted in: Arts, Cinema, Documentaries

    2022, USA, 112 min. 

    This warm, bittersweet documentary examines the 50-plusyear relationship between Robert A. Caro and Robert Gottlieb. Caro is a titan of American nonfiction, thanks to his exhaustive, beloved biographies of Robert Moses (The Power Broker, 1974) and Lyndon B. Johnson. Gottlieb is his former New Yorker editor. Their frequently contentious relationship has endured the tumultuous world of book publishing and debates over semicolon usage. The heart of this winning film from Lizzie Gottlieb (Robert Gottlieb’s daughter) is its portrayal of two different but passionate craftsmen—Caro pounds away on a typewriter; Gottlieb edits in pencil—looking for a final triumph as Caro completes the final volume of his LBJ masterwork. In an environment where information is nonstop, Turn Every Page reminds us that someone exists behind every word. In some cases, it’s their life’s work. 


  • The Verdict Posted in: Arts, Cinema, Long-Lasting Marriages

    1982, USA, 129 min.

    Boozy Boston ambulance chaser Frank Galvin (Paul Newman) has been in free fall since his attempt to do the right thing got him fired from his prestigious law firm. Galvin is handed a lifeline by his friend (Jack Warden): a medical malpractice suit where everyone, including the hospital run by the Archdiocese of Boston, wants to settle. Affected by the plaintiff’s vegetative state and enraged by the church’s indifference, Galvin takes the case to trial. His fight against the powerful status quo (led by high-powered and ruthless attorney Ed Colcannon, played by James Mason) becomes a battle for his soul. “IF… if we are to have faith in justice, we need only to believe in ourselves,” Galvin tells the jury. And ACT with justice. See, I believe there is justice in our hearts.” This riveting and tense redemption/courtroom drama, written with typical verve and energy by David Mamet, is driven by Newman’s and Mason’s masterful performances.  


  • Rocket Gibraltar Posted in: Cinema, Families, Mortality

    1988, USA, 99 min.

    Famed poet Levi Rockwell (Burt Lancaster) hosts his large family at his palatial beach house to celebrate his 77th birthday. But as the summer visit unfolds, the travails of his adult children and their spouses dominate; they seem more excited for the party than the widowed patriarch. Levi mostly spends his time alone, napping or listening to Billie Holiday albums. His eight grandchildren (including a pre-Home Alone Macaulay Culkin) are the only ones who view Levi as a person, not as a charming, ersatz innkeeper. When the kids learn Levi’s health is failing, they scheme to give their grandfather a proper send-off, while their myopic parents amuse themselves. Lancaster’s regal performance, and the connection between the legendary actor and the kids, make this little-seen film a poignant, if not potent, reminder that a family’s elders are more than figureheads or weekend hosts. 


  • The Farewell Posted in: Arts, Cinema, Families

    2019, US/China, 100 min.

    Billi (Awkafina) is an independent, Chinese-American woman who receives two pieces of shocking news. First, her beloved grandmother in China, Nai Nai (Shuzen Zhao), has a terminal cancer diagnosis—and that is hidden from her by her sister. Then, instead of dealing with the grim news directly, her family is heading back to say goodbye via a hastily arranged wedding for her grandson. The arrangement enrages Billi, but she plays along and discovers that there’s no one definition of love. For a movie focused on an elaborate ruse, director-writer Lulu Wang (working from an event in her own life) eschews the broad and obvious. Her characters are regular people, struggling with their life choices, whether it’s Billi realizing that her grandmother is the last remnant of her childhood in China or a dinner conversation on American education that turns into a thinly veiled debate on opportunity abroad versus domestic loyalty. But this winning, finely crafted movie runs through Zhao’s sly, winning performance, which reveals that tradition, coupled with flexibility and self-awareness, is a balm for life’s onslaught.

  • Sweet Bean Posted in: Arts, Cinema, Friendships

    2015, Japan/France, 113 min.

    In Japan, doriyaki vendor (Masatoshi Nagase) lives in brooding isolation, running his small store with rote efficiency. When he puts up a help-wanted sign, he’s visited by Tokue, a meek, kindly, septuagenarian woman (Kirin Kiki) with gnarled, knotty hands. He declines Tokue’s entreaties to stop using vendor-bought, sweet bean paste between his pancakes—until he tries her homemade confection. They toil in the pre-dawn hours, perfecting the paste via ritualistic acts of washing and boiling and waiting. Tokue, who lives with older, recovered lepers in a remote complex, finds happiness in life’s basic pleasures: the blindingly white cherry blossoms that surround the shop; helping customers; finding freedom in creating a delicacy. Sentarô learns to enjoy the grace of a simple life, as exemplified by Tokue’s guileless, grateful ways, and learns to engage with the world that has run him down. Director-writer Naomi Kawase’s movie is an understated, powerful character study that shows how simple gestures of kindness can elevate our lives beyond parameters both inflicted upon us and self-imposed. 


  • Chef Posted in: Arts, Cinema, Families, Midlife

    2014, USA, 114 min.

    Middle-aged chef Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) is stuck in a simmer. He’s divorced and 3,000 miles away from his 10-year-old son, and the owner of his fancy California restaurant (Dustin Hoffman) stifles his ideas over the old favorites. When a demanding and influential food blogger (Oliver Platt) roasts Carl for his uninspired fare, the chef explodes at the writer in person and on Twitter. An unraveled, now unemployed Carl accepts his ex-wife’s suggestion that he watch their son (Emjay Anthony) for her in Miami, his hometown. The thinly veiled ruse for father-son time energizes Carl. He buys a food truck, renovates it and embarks on a cross-country trek—Carl cooks, the boy handles the social media. Viewers reap the results. This buoyant comedy-drama not only examines the joy that can result when children and parents share a passion, it’s a convincing reminder that it’s never too late to discover your passion. Written and directed by Favreau, who’s known mostly for blockbuster fare (Iron Man, The Jungle Book). 

  • Umberto D. Posted in: Arts, Cinema, Retirement

    1952, Italy, 89 min. 

    Seventy years after its release, director Vittorio De Sica’s understated, brilliant character study remains a treasure to be savored. Umberto Domenico Ferrari, a retired civil servant, who lives with his beloved dog, Flika, faces an increased cost of living that outdistances his meager pension. As a result, he is cast out into the world, looking to pay his debts, which range from selling off his belongings, to asking for loans, to considering suicide. De Sica did not get theatrical or heavy-handed in presenting the story of an old man’s struggle to retain his pride and quality of life in a world that won’t allow it—nor of the dog whose presence is his sole source of hope. Adding to the film’s poignancy is its dearth of trained performers, which enhances the heartbreaking reality De Sica chronicles. Carlo Battisti, then 70, who is memorable in the title role, was a university lecturer who had not acted before. Filmed in black and white with English subtitles.