Friday, January 13, 2012

Films About Aging A-F

Released 1971.
Let's go to the movies! This list features films that contain salient images of people in late midlife and beyond. Please fill free to suggest titles or themes in a comment below.

Last updates: Supernova (2020),  The Father (2020)
and Nomadland (2020)

The full list is getting unwieldy with  200 plus films viewed/summarized, so I split the post: A-F here, G-N in a second post and O-Z in third.


Published April 1, 2019
I encourage you to get a copy of Mario Garrett's 2019 book Coming of Age in Films. He has a cogent, focused argument about the power of stereotypes used in film.

He divides his book into several age-related topics, and he draws on many of the films I list and review--including some of the classic films, indie films, and foreign films. Nevertheless, he also discusses the way major blockbusters depict older adults.

If you are a film buff how is interested in depictions of aging from midlife on, you will enjoy Garrett's book.

My review of Coming of Age in Films

Also, check out the film reviews by Terra Nova Film founder / director Jim Vanden Bosch and KSU professor Rick Scheidt. The scholarly journal, The Gerontologist, publishes their film reviews.

My introduction to Vanden Bosch and Scheidt's reviews. 


In addition to this long, alphabetical list of all viewed film on aging themes, I have also composed posts that group some films together by themes. You can find these shorter, more focused posts by following these links:
If you want to see what films are on my list of those YET to be viewed, check out this post that lists another 100+ titles.  I hope to add them to the list below at the pace of one a week. 

The List A-F

5 Flights Up (2015). Diane Keaton and Morgan Freeman star as a couple married for 40 years who are contemplating moving out of their walk-up apartment and into a building with an elevator.  They review key scenes from their long-time marriage during the process. 

56 Up (2013). This is the most recent in a series of 8 documentaries about the same set of people from England, filmed every 7 years since they were 7 years old.  In this film, the film subjects talk about their children launching and having grandchildren. There are numerous clips of each person from previous films, showing age-related changes to attitudes, behaviors and appearance. 

About Schmidt (2002).  Jack Nicholson plays Warren Schmidt, who finds at 66 years old that he is unsure of his place in the world. With a comedic tone, this movie asks some serious questions about how people find purpose during late adulthood as Schmidt reviews his life on the eve of his only child's wedding. 

Advanced Style (2014). Photographer and blogger Ari Seth Cohen photographs New York women ages 60 plus who show great style for fashion.  This documentary features a half dozen or these women--their outfits, their biographies and their perspective on life.  Full Review

(#5)  Age of Champions (2011). This documentary follows a handful of mature athletes as they train and compete at the Senior Games.  We meet brothers who swim at 88 and 90, a 100 year old tennis player, a team of women basketball players aged 65 plus, and a pair of men in their late 80s competing against each other in shotput, javelin and discus. 

Age-Old Friends (1989). Hume Cronyn stars as a resident in an assisted-living facility facing age-related changes, including a friend's (Vincent Gardenia) failing memory.

Alberta Hunter: My Castle's Rockin' (1992). Hunter (1885-1984) established herself as a singer in Chicago in the early 1920s. She went on to perform in New York, London and Paris.  She sang on Broadway, on albums, and with the USO. After a two decade hiatus as a nurse, Hunter delighted audiences with a comeback at age 82 which included a performance at the White House.

Alexandra (2007).  A Russian grandmother visits her grandson at his military base and does an informal inspection and informal set of interviews in order to evaluate the conditions. It seems as though it would be a comedy, but it's really a serious critique of the absurdities of war. 

Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974). This film won the the critics' prize at Cannes for its portayal of prejudice in modern Germany.  A thirtysomething immigrant from Morocco marries a sixtysomething German widow.  They must find a way to respond to how their relationship bothers their family, friends, co-workers and neighbors.

(#10) Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory (2014).  A documentary that shows what happens when people with dementia receive headphones and an iPod filled with their favorite music.  They produce more language than usual, interact with others around them and increase movement.   Full Review

All Together (2011). A French film featuring an ensemble cast of seasoned actors ranging from age 66 to age 82 at the time of release.  Two married couple and a confirmed bachelor have been friends for more than 40 years.  When health and memory problems plague a few of the members, they decide to live in the largest house owned by one of the couples.  Complexities emerge, some of them age-related, some of them borne from personality conflicts, some from long-held secrets.

Amour (2012). This French-language film depicts a mature couple trying to adapt to the wife's disabilities after she suffers a series of strokes that make her increasingly incapable of caring for herself.  Full Review.

And So It Goes (2014).  Kirk Douglas and Diane Keaton star in this romantic comedy about feuding neighbors who build a fragile truce when the man discovers he is a grandfather but has no idea and very little desire to care for his grandchild.

Another Year (2010).  While billed as a dramedy, this ensemble cast leans towards drama with its comparison between midlife characters who are happy with their jobs and relationships contrasted sharply with others who are not. A sobering cautionary tale.

(#15) Antonia's Line (1995). A film from the Netherlands about a woman who builds a sense of family from passion and caretaking where bloodlines do not necessarily exist.

Assisted Living (2003). The director mixes footage from a documentary about an assisted living center with an art house storyline about the attachment formed between a frequently stoned janitor and a resident who pines for a call from her son.  While at times a bit slow and overwrought, the film conveys some great messages about the human condition in general and the plight of nursing home residents specifically.

Aurora Borealis (2005). The focus for this film is on a late launching young adult named Duncan, but he's very close to his grandfather who has Parkinson's as well as an emerging case of dementia.  

Autumn Spring (2001). A Czech film that explores the opposing ways one couple copes with the physical, social, and financial challenges of aging.

Away from Her (2006). A couple struggles to respond to the wife's diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease and her deteriorating condition.

(#20) The Ballad of Narayama (1984). This film won the Palme D'Or at Cannes for its depiction of brutal rural life in Japan during the 19th century. While not well documented, Japan has a persistent legend (ubasute) depicted in this film: adult sons carry their aging parents onto a mountain top in order to die. 

Barbarian Invasions (2003). A French-Canadian film about an aging professor dying of cancer. He's conducted several affairs over his life and failed to achieve in his career, probably due to his hedonism. His son comes to Canada from London.  The son helps to make his father more comfortable and encourages friends to visit, which leads to a "Big Chill" feel to the second half of the film. 

Barney's Version (2010).  The film is a series of flashbacks of a man in his late 60s remembering his three ex-wives and his bohemian friends from their days in Rome in the 1970s.  His life was complicated enough by his ill behavior when dementia in the present (briefly portrayed) makes everything even harder.

Batteries Not Included (1987). An ensemble cast of 5 face eviction because a greedy developer wants to put a skyscraper where their apartment complex sits in Manhattan. Jessica Tandy, Hume Cronyn and 3 other tenants fight back with the help of alien robot. Tandy plays a person with memory problems, but her behavior has more to do with propelling the plot than with depicting dementia accurately.

The Beaches of Agnes (2008). A documentary--or really a film memoir--by Agnes Varda, a French film director.  It's experimental in its methods and contains some nudity.  

(#25) Been Rich All My Life (2006). This documentary profiles five chorus girls who danced in Harlem at the Cotton Club and the Apollo Theater--and who are still dancing as part of a group called the Silver Belles. They range in age from 84 to 96. 

Before You Know It (2013).  This documentary follows three older gay men as they talk about their past experiences and their present challenges and opportunities.  

Begin Again (2013) can be categorized as a midlife crisis film for its depiction of a record producer (Mark Ruffalo) whose life is in the toilet until he meets a new muse, a young songwriter. 

Beginners (2010).  Christopher Plummer wins the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor at age 82 for his portrayal of Hal Fields, a man who comes out as gay at age 75.  The film is framed around his son's quest to process this fact as well as his parents' deaths spaced just a few years apart.  Full Review.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2012).  A group of older adults from England decide to stretch their retirement pound by relocating to India.  When they arrive, they find their accommodations much less luxurious than advertised, but in the process of adjusting, they find renewed vigor in their sunset years.

(#30) Bicycling with Moliere (2013). This French film focuses on two mature actors rehearsing for Moliere's play The Misanthrope. Their own lives start to parallel the play's themes.  While more focused on the world of acting than age issues, the film does draw on midlife issues. 

The Big Wedding (2013). Robert DeNiro and Diane Keaton star as parents having an adopted son getting married, but the son's birth mom disapproves of divorce, so they try to hide the fact that they are divorced and that Susan Sarandon's character is DeNiro's live-in girlfriend. 

Big Fish (2003). A beautiful and heart-wrenching film about an adult son struggling to come to terms with his father's eccentricities as the father's health is failing.

Birdman (2015). Michael Keaton plays a Hollywood film star trying to rebrand himself as a serious dramatic stage actor on Broadway.  While a broader satire on the entertainment industry, the film does offer some insights about aging and identity. 

Bonneville (2006). A recently widowed woman invites her gal pals to travel with her to the coast to deliver her husband's ashes to his daughter from a previous marriage. All three of these women take inventory of their lives in the process.

(#35) Boynton Beach Club (2005). A handful of adults 55 plus must  make the adjustment to single life after losing a spouse. The singles scene for older adults has its mix of comedy and drama. 

Bubba Ho-Tep (2002). This comedy horror film has a crass dimension that I had to wade through to find some interesting reflections on late life, the trappings of fame and the importance of having a purpose.

Buena Vista Social Club (1999). Wim Wenders directs this documentary about Cuban musicians now in their 80s and 90s. 

The Butterfly (2002).  In this French film, a mature butterfly collector finds that a neighbor's child has stowed away in his car as he journeys to find a rare butterfly.   

Calendar Girls (2003). A group of older women redefine sexuality for the older woman when they pose nude for a fundraiser.

(#40) Callas Forever (2002). Zeffirelli directs a highly fictional account of Maria Callas filming a performance of Carmen using a recording of her own voice from years prior.  This project sparks questions about identity, age, youth, art, and authenticity. 

The Cats of Mirikitani (2006). This documentary starts with a stereotype of homeless people: crazy, dirty, loner.  But the film maker takes the time to ask questions and listen to Jimmy Mirikitani, an 80 year old Japanese-American, an artist and an internment survivor.  A complex and interesting person is revealed. 

Checking Out (2005). Peter Falk stars as an aging actor from the Yiddish theatre who has summoned his three grown children home to Manhattan for his farewell party and funeral. The film depicts the love and conflict of family members who do not live locally and who struggle to work out past conflicts and present differences.

Chef (2014).  John Favreau plays a chef at midlife who grows restless working for someone else so  he strikes out on his own. He takes his food truck on a road trip and explores the boundaries of several areas in his life.

Cherry Blossoms (2008) Set partially in Germany and partially in Japan, this film shows a couple teetering between late midlife and older adulthood as they try to connect with each other and with their adult children. Alludes to Tokyo Story (1953), which in turn alludes to Make Way for Tomorrow (1937). 

(#45) Cinema Paradisio (1988). An accomplished film director returns home and reviews his life.

Cloud 9 (2008). This German film (Wolke Neun) focuses on Inge, a sixtysomething woman, who begins an affair with Karl, a man in his seventies, forsaking her husband, Werner, of 30 years.  The film contains quite a bit of full-frontal nudity and graphic sex scenes in the first 42 minutes. So if you want to skip ahead to the emotional / relationship fallout, then start half way. The film makes it clear that love, romance, sexual desire and complicated relationships aren't just restricted to younger adults. 

Cloudburst (2011). Two women in love for over 30 years are separated when one is put into a nursing home by a grandchild. Not to be separated, they go on a road trip to get married in Canada. 

Cocoon (1985). A group of older adults get a new lease on life when alien forces produce a "fountain of youth" effect on them.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008).  Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchette are featured as star-crossed lovers, thwarted by the challenges of aging: he's old, she's young, but over time this dynamic reverses. Along the way, the film delivers a lot of commentary about the ebb and flow of life as they adopt various social roles and adjust psychologically to these age-relate changes. 

(#50) Cyber-Seniors (2014). Ostensibly, this 75-minute documentary is about older adults learning how to use the internet. The real message is the mutual benefits of bridging the generation gap and the power of life-long learning and self-expression.  Full Review

Departures (2008). This lyrical Japanese film examines the attitudes and rituals around death and cremation in Japan. The soundtrack features the cello in a way that is at once haunting and inspiring.

Diminished Capacity (2008). Alan Alda and Matthew Broderick star as an uncle-nephew pair who both suffer memory loss: the uncle due to Alzheimer's, the nephew due to a concussion. 

Driving Miss Daisy (1989). An older woman and her chauffer must adjust their relationship over time where some changes happen because of culture and some because of age.

Dying of the Light (2014). Nicolas Cage plays Evan Lake, CIA agent, who has a recent diagnosis of Frontotemporal Dementia.  Lake seeks to bring an old foe to justice despite disease-related problems with controlling his anger and accessing his memories. 

(#55) Eat Drink Man Woman (1999) Directed by Ang Lee, this Taiwanese film centers on the lives of a widower and his three single daughters.   They are trying to launch by also worried about him. 

Edie & Thea: A Very Long Engagement (2009). After being a couple for more than 40 years, Edie Wilson and Thea Spryer travel to Canada to marry. The review their life by narrating several photos from their past via a slide show.  Thea's worsening MS makes their time together more dear. 

Elsa & Fred (2005). This Spanish-language film introduces us to impulsive Elsa trying to loosen up recently widowed Fred. Their adult kids sometimes interfere, but they assert their right to live as they choose. 

Evening (2007). Vanessa Redgrave stars as a woman reliving a key series of events surrounding he best friend's wedding and trying to find peace amid long-festering regrets. Toni Collette plays one of her adult daughters, wanting to prevent regrets but afraid to take action and make lasting commitments. 

The Father (2020). Anthony Hopkins plays a character (also named Anthony) who is living with dementia. He talks with family members and paid caregivers without realizing he has memory problems. This is obviously frustrating for him.  Full Review

(#60) The Farewell (2019). Awkwafina plays a Chinese-American young adult whose paternal grandmother back in Mainland China falls ill. The family wants to go visit her before she worsens, but no one is telling the grandmother her diagnosis. 

The Field (1990). Richard Harris plays Bull McCade, a mature farmer determined to buy a field that he and his relatives have been cultivating for years. He marshals every resource to the task because he wants his son inherit the land of his ancestors.  Full Review

Finding Jenua (2011). A young woman running away from her past meets an older woman trying to remember hers. A short film at 70 minutes.  

Finding Your Feet (2007). A woman finds herself divorced after 40 years of marriage, which sends her on a journey discover her authentic self.  Full Review

Firefly Dreams (2001). This Japanese coming-of-age film focuses on a 17 year old girl whose parents' poor behavior rattles her, but she meets an older woman who is living with dementia and hearing about this woman's talk about her adventures in the 1940s helps the teen.  

(#65) The First Grader (2010). Based on a true story of an octogenerian Mau Mau fighter attending grade school in Kenya. He learns how to read while also teaching his fellow students and the school faculty about his personal history fighting the British decades prior. 

The Forgetting (2003). A documentary based on the book by David Shenk. Director Elizabeth Arledge films a handful of families about their experience with Alzheimer's Disease.  The film also includes interviews with scientists who are researching causes and drug therapies.  Bonus materials include a 30 minute Q&A with moderator David Hyde Pierce and interviews with Shank and with Arledge.

A Foreign Field (1993). Alec Guinness and two other WW2 vets return to France after nearly 50 years to solidify their memories of the war and of wartime romances. 

Fred Won't Move Out (2012).  A short film starring Elliot Gould about two adult children trying to convince their aging parents to leave their home in order to move into assisted living.  Based on the director's experience with his own parents and filmed in his parents'  home.

Fried Green Tomatoes (1991). A middle-aged woman must remake herself and is inspired to do so by the stories she hears from an older woman.

(#70) Frontline: Being Mortal (2015).  Atul Gawande profiles five people with life-threatening diseases and how they worked with their doctor and their spouse to make end-of-life decisions. 

Frontline: Can You Afford to Retire? (2006). Investigative reporters examine the change in workplace retirement plans during the 1980s and 1990s that moved away from defined benefits (pensions) to defined contributions (401ks). 

Frontline: Facing Death (2010).  Medical personnel, patients and family members discuss on camera the tough decisions to prolong life through invasive medical procedures that often hinder quality of life.  When do people turn away from these procedures common in end-of-life--chemo/radiation and/or intubation and/or dialysis and/or feeding tubes and/or ventilator--and transition to comfort care? 

Frontline: Living Old (2006). A 60 minute documentary that focuses on the frail old living at home with the help of family or home health aids or living in nursing homes.  Available online at PBS.

Frontline: My Father, My Brother and Me (2009). Journalist Dave Iverson investigates the various causes and treatments for Parkinson's Disease. He's especially interested since he, his father and his brother all have the disease.  

(#75) Frontline: The Old Man and the Storm (2009). While many might categorize this as a "Katrina" film, this documentary centers on the devastation to 82-year-old Herbert Gettridge. In late life, his home was damaged extensively and his extended family dispersed to several other states.  Nevertheless, he returns to his home and uses his skills and determination to rebuild against all odds. 

Other stereotyping terms or too technical terms for these films are these: senior citizen films, films featuring retired people, movies with old men, movies with old ladies, geriatric films, movies for gerontology students, movies for aging studies classes, movies about people over 65 years old, movies with grandpas and grandmas.   



    Awesome movie about a college student who becomes roommates with is 100+ year old grandfather. Starring Peter Falk, of Colombo fame.

    1. Couldn't find the comment thing, so I am replying under this one.
      'One Special Night' with James Garner and Julie Andrews. The other movie, 'The Notebook', also James Garner and Gina Rowlands.

  2. Ah, the link didn't linkify. The movie is called _Roommates_. I saw it in college. It starts Peter Falk as a 107 year old banker who becomes roommates with his college-age grandson. It is one of the first movies that I saw that really tries to deal with issues of aging. And, of course, Peter Falk is incredibly cool.

  3. Karen, you've got to get "The Straight Story" in there. One of the simplest, deepest movies I've ever seen. Check out the trailer here:

  4. Anne of Green Gables doesn't feature older adults. But I do love Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert. I love how well they parent Anne. Many grandparents or great aunts and uncles bear the responsibility of raising children at advanced ages.

    Nancy Williams

    PS It was great to meet you at your birthday party.

  5. Thank you Michael, Glenda, Russel and Nancy for the recommendations. Now I need to work them into my Netflix queue.

  6. I just found this list, which includes several more titles than my list.

  7. I think Jane Fonda's new movie, Peace, Love & Misunderstanding might fit your criteria - she is an aging Hippie [Boomer] trying to relate to her adult lawyer daughter & two teen-agers as guests at her upstate NY farmhouse...and you also MUST include The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel - lots of very famous aging actors!

  8. Thanks, Suzi, for the recs. I haven't heard of the new Fonda flick. I have The Best Exotic..., but it's under "The." Maybe I should move it to the Bs. If you see any omissions or hear of any new releases, send more my way. Have a joyous day.

  9. Just saw Hope Springs starring Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones, and it's really great. Though the trailers make it look kind of goofy, it's actually a very relaistic, sometimes uncomfortable look into a marriage which is no longer sexual.

  10. Gaili: Thanks for the suggestion. I haven't gone to see Hope Springs yet. I appreciate knowing that is more of a drama than a straight comedy mix. That piques my curiosity.

  11. Caramel. One of the story lines is about a seamstress and is the relevant one to your post. The side story deals with roles, responsibilities, relationships, body image, sexuality, loneliness, poverty, in such a powerful way, with so few words.

  12. Thank you, Selwyn, for the recommendation. I need to find a copy of Caramel. Gaili: If you are still out there, I saw Hope Springs a couple of weeks ago. Oh, it was heart-renching but really good. It's about time Hollywood presented an image of long-lasting relationships. The "infatuation stage" of the first 3 months is obscenely over-represented.

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  14. Here are a handful of films on dementia recommended by the Alzheimer's Reading Room:

    And here is a list on Dr. (as in Ph.D.) Rick J. Scheidt's syllabus (KSU) where he lists a lot of films depicting aging:

  15. My house guest Charlotte just recommended this German film about late-life love and sexuality called Cloud 9:

  16. I just barely watched, and greatly enjoyed, a new movie by the Iranian director Kiarostami called "Like Someone in Love" about the relationship between an aging professor and a prostitute (it's not even remotely salacious).

  17. Also: Mrs. Dalloway (I didn't like the movie nearly as much as the book, but I rarely have liked a movie based on a book better than the book), Grey Gardens (I haven't actually seen this movie myself, but it's quite famous, and makes many "best documentary" lists), Mr. and Mrs. Bridge (again, the movie is not nearly as good as the books on which it is based, Mrs. Bridge and Mr. Bridge, by Evan Connell), Ran (Kurosawa's take on Lear), Eat Drink Man Woman (this is one of my favorite movies of all time, an early Ang Lee movie).

    1. Thanks! I've seen Ran, but I was categorizing it as "Shakepeare" and "Kurasawa," and not "late life issues," but it fits! I have seen Tortilla Soup, which is a Mex-Am. take on Eat Drink Man Woman, but I should check out the original! Also, I have seen Hours but not Mrs. Dalloway. And I know little but the title for Mr. & Mrs. Bridge. Great additions with the Iranian film, too. I have a BIL from Iran, and I've seen I think 3 Iranian films, but now I have two reasons to see Like Someone in Love.

  18. LIKE. Like. Like your List, Karen! Ours is "in the works" and now I'm thinking just to refer our readers on over to your List! FANTABULOUS! And thank you so much.

    1. JaneAnne: I've been working on this for five years now through Google searches, Netflix suggestions, chatting up people, etc. I keep thinking I'm half way through viewing my total list, but then I learn about more films and can never quite get to the half way point!

  19. What a fabulous resource! I've just reserved some of these at the library. Thanks!

  20. We are movie lovers at our house and this list is great! Thanks.

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