Our Favorite Southern Movies

We are deep in the throes of award season, so that’s got us thinking about movies — specifically, our favorite Southern movies. The South is rich with stories and its diverse landscape makes the perfect backdrop for a whole plethora of narratives. Its history is filled with stories both uplifting and disheartening, inspiring and cautionary. Here are a few of Scout’s favorites, Zelda’s favorites, and movies we love watching together. 


Scout’s Picks

Coal Miner’s Daughter: This biopic tells the story of country music legend Loretta Lynn (Sissy Spacek), from her roots in small-town Eastern Kentucky to her rise to fame and all the trials and tribulations along the way.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: Based on the book by John Berendt (one of Zelda’s favorites), the narrative circles around the murder of one Billy Hanson (played here by a young Jude Law) in Savannah Georgia. John Cusack stands in for Berendt as the Northern reporter thrust into the seedy, witchy, eccentric and wonderful underbelly of Savannah while the trial takes place.

Crazy in Alabama: This film follows the parallel stories of Lucille Vinson (Melanie Griffith) and her nephew Peejoe Bullis (Lucas Black) in small-town Alabama in 1965. Lucille begins the movie stuck in an abusive marriage, from which she frees herself by killing her husband. While Lucille finds freedom and independence away from Alabama, Peejoe finds himself front and center as the Civil Rights Movement comes to the fore.

Fried Green Tomatoes: Based on the novel by Fannie Flagg, this is a story about two female relationships. The 1980s friendship between Evelyn Couch (Kathy Bates) and Ninny Threadgoode (Jessica Tandy) forms as Ninny narrates the story of the Depression-era romance between her sister-in-law Imogen “Idgie” Threadgoode (Mary Stuart Masterson) and Ruth Jamison (Mary-Louise Parker).


Zelda’s Picks

Gone with the Wind: The quintessential Southern film. Problematic though certain aspects of it may be (it was released in 1939, to be fair), this sweeping epic of the Civil War and Reconstruction Era South, spun around the fiery romance of Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) and Rhett Butler (Clark Gable), gets me every time. (Plus, on a personal note, it was one of my Atlanta-raised grandmother’s favorites.)

Driving Miss Daisy: Jessica Tandy plays Daisy Werthan, a wealthy Jewish widow living in 1950s Alabama. Morgan Freeman plays Hoke Colburn, her chauffeur. The story of their eventual friendship, and the rocky road that leads there, is a must-see.

Sweet Home Alabama: Reese Witherspoon returns to her Southern roots to play Melanie Carmichael (slash Smooter, depending on who you ask), an Alabama gal who returns to her hometown after years making a new life in New York City. Includes honky tonks, shotgun weddings, and Confederate battle re-enacters, not to mention the eponymous song.

The Help: Set in the early 1960s in Jackson, Mississippi, this movie is about the lives of two black maids (Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer) and the writer (Emma Stone) who helps to tell their story. Much like “Waitress” (see below), pie plays a key role here, but in a very, very different way.

The Notebook: Yes, it’s cheesy. Yes, it’s ridiculous. But damn if it doesn’t make South Carolina look like the most beautiful and romantic place you’ve ever seen.


Zelda & Scout’s Picks

Forrest Gump: This movie is like a box of chocolates. Some parts are sweet, some more bitter, some crunchy and some as whimsical as whipped nougat. It is at once the story of American history and the tale of one lonely Alabama boy (Tom Hanks) who loved a lonely Alabama girl (Robin Wright) and grew up to leave his mark across the decades.

Big Fish: A Southern folk tale of mythical proportions, this Tim Burton take on the Daniel Wallace novel (featured in Required Reading: Volume Three) follows the life of one Edward Bloom (Ewan McGregor/Albert Finney) and his many misadventures up and down Alabama and beyond.

O Brother, Where Art Thou?: Scout devoted an entire post to her love of this Coen Brothers interpretation of “The Odyssey.” From the soundtrack to the swamp moss, it is an ode to southern storytelling and the larger-than-life characters (George Clooney, John Turturro, John Goodman, and more) that lend the region so much of its personality and charm.

Waitress: Although no specific setting is ever given, this tale about Jenna (Keri Russell), a waitress at a pie diner, is clearly a Southern one. It’s sad and it’s sweet and it will hit you right in the heartstrings. Do not watch on an empty stomach. You have been warned. (Bonus: The Broadway musical based on the movie is also wonderful!)

Remember the Titans: There are few things as Southern as football (see Scout’s “Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Watch These (Movies)”). Normally we consider Virginia’s Southerness on the iffy side, but this tale of a town torn apart by race but brought together by the love of a team definitely puts it on the Dixie side of the Mason-Dixon line.

Steel Magnolias: A Southern woman is a fearsome thing, beautiful and powerful and brave. A band of six Louisiana ladies who navigate joy, fear, grief, pain, and whole lot of big hair, all with wry humor and immense love? Now that is a force to be reckoned with.

Zelda’s Top 10 Holiday Movies

Merry Christmas, lovelies! I hope you’re all snuggled up with those you love, enjoying a cup of good cheer (aka some well-spiked nog). I’m keeping it short and sweet today, in keeping with the holiday spirit: I should be celebrating and relaxing (truth be told, this is being written weeks in advance at my desk, because as you read this I am happily ensconced in the internet-less land of New Hampshire with my family), and so should you.

Christmas is a bit like the Kentucky Derby — weeks and weeks of build-up, and then it seems the actual shebang is over in a matter of minutes. The stockings are emptied, the presents unwrapped, and then you’re left with a whole day to loll about. As a kid, these hours were spent happily playing with my loot, whichever toys Santa had brought my way that year (the year I got a Playmobile dollhouse was hands-down the best), but now that my Christmas booty entails more sweaters and cookbooks than American Girl dolls, I’m left with a void in activities once breakfast has been eaten and the coffee is all drunk.

In true interfaith fashion, my family and I often turn to my mother’s side of the family for inspiration and indulge in some good old-fashioned Christmas movies. This sometimes entails an actual trip to the cinema (we do however forgo the traditional Chinese food), but if you’re feeling a strong desire not to get out of your holiday pjs and want some home viewing instead, these are some of my favorites.

white christmas

White Christmas (Netflix, free): This is my family’s number one, go-to, must-watch-every-year Christmas film. Bing Crosby’s crooning, Danny Kaye’s antics, Rosemary Clooney’s wardrobe, Vera-Ellen’s dance moves, Irving Berlin’s music, what’s not to love!


How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Amazon, $4.99): By which I mean the original 1966 animated version. No offense to Jim Carrey, when it comes to tales of Whoville and Christmas cheer, I’m a Boris Karloff gal all the way.

love actually

Love Actually (Netflix, free): My roommate and I hold an annual viewing of this rom-com-to-beat-all-rom-coms, complete with a requisite drinking game. My favorite plotline changes every year, but Hugh Grant’s dance moves always make my heart sing.

the holiday

The Holiday (Amazon, $5.99): Another charming and unexpectedly original rom com for the holiday season, sweet but not cloying and realistic yet hopeful. I have three words for you: Mister Napkin Head.

charlie brown

A Charlie Brown Christmas (Daily Motion, free): One of the greatest regrets of my current cable-cutting existence is that I am unable to watch this on TV with the rest of the country (the other is my difficulty watching awards shows, which I adore to an inexplicable level, but that’s a story for another day). This year, I took the plunge and bought the DVD so no holiday would be without Linus’s words of wisdom and Snoopy’s tricked out doghouse.

Image #: 904522 "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," the longest-running holiday special in television history, celebrates its 40th anniversary broadcast on Wednesday, December 1, 2004. CBS /Landov

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (YouTube, free if slightly illegal): I’m fond of all of the Burl Ives claymation classics, but this one is my favorite. Another film I’ve recently purchased on DVD when the internet failed to pull through on easy viewing options.


Elf (Amazon, $2.99): I was a late convert to this paragon of Christmas cheer but love it no less for the delay. Will Ferrell is at his most infectiously enthusiastic (can he come decorate my apartment please?), and Zooey Deschanel rocks both blonde hair and the shower solo.

disney christmas

Disney’s Sing Along Songs, Very Merry Christmas (YouTube, free if slightly illegal): We in the Zelda house were huge sing-along kids when we were growing up. We had all the Disney classics — Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah, You Can Fly, Be Our Guest, Friend Like Me — and this holiday-themed VHS was particularly great. Mickey, Minnie, the Fantasia fairies, and more take you through all the classic carols. And to sing along, you just have to follow the bouncing ball (or rather, the bouncing wreath-bedecked Mickey head).

bridget jones

Bridget Jones’s Diary (Amazon, $2.99): I think of this more as a New Year’s movie, even though Mark Darcy’s reindeer sweater does feature prominently in the meet-cute. We should all be so lucky as to find a Colin Firth type who likes us just as we are.

when harry

When Harry Met Sally (Amazon Prime, free): And to round things off and really get you in the New Year’s Eve spirit, I present the best of all New Year’s movies, the Rob Reiner classic (and classic of New York cinema) starring hunky Bill Crystal and OH-MY-GOD-SO-YOUNG Meg Ryan. If you want to truly emulate Scout and myself, you can make it a whole Meg Ryan, New York rom-com marathon. Just add champagne, lots of food, and a bestie, and you’re all set to take on 2016.


Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Watch These (Movies)

Zelda and I each have a t-shirt from our high school that reads, “LCS Football: Undefeated Since 1915.” Technically, it’s true…on account of the fact that we didn’t actually have a football team. Our 198-person, largely female student body would have had some trouble fielding a team (for lack of numbers, not for lack of boys — girls can kick butt/pigskin too); we had better things to do anyway (see: Quick Recall). But even at our team-less school, high school football reigned supreme during the fall, with their college peers a close second. Without a team of our own, we got sucked into the legendary rivalry between the two biggest all-boys Catholic high schools in town, and their annual face-off was a huge event that drew us, and a stadium’s worth of other folks, to watch the Shamrocks battle the Tigers. So despite my school not fielding its own squad, my childhood and adolescence were still filled with many of the cinematic clichés that come when you grow up around the sport.

I’ve always been around football. It’s been a constant presence in my life since a tender age, and I love it in a nostalgic way that takes me all the way back to being a tiny, blonde (yes, I was blonde then) six-year-old in the stands of Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington. Those high school games also had an impact; even if I didn’t have any real investment in the outcome, the being there with my peers, sucking down Diet Coke that the more daring upperclassman would spike with something stronger, made the event bigger than the game itself. Football to me is childhood and tailgates, family and friends and family friends who are more kin than acquaintance. It’s the changing seasons and a start of a new school year and being a part of something bigger than yourself. And when the crackling of leaves and the faint scent of a charcoal grill get me all nostalgic for games gone by, I turn to the next best thing: football movies.

I am a huge sucker for sports movies. I love an underdog story with a good message and a triumphant ending, so it makes sense that I am a giant fan of movies that use athletic competition as their main plot device. Now that I reside in Brooklyn, football doesn’t fill up every nearby screen come fall. Plus, with age, I’ve become more enthused for the other football (America’s sport of the future, but more on that another time). So instead I turn to the fictional, or more often fictionalized, sports stories that can be found in my Netflix queue. When the leaves turn and the air goes crisp, I revisit my old friends at T.C. Williams or Permian High. These are seven of my favorite movies about football — a cinematic touchdown (with bonus, non-movie field goal) to guide you through the coming season.

Remember The Titans: “In Virginia, high school football is a way a life.” Sheryl Yoast, our narrator (played by a young Hayden Panettiere), opens the film with these words. While football is the guiding force behind the plot of this film, the story is really about life: race relations in the 1960’s South, a town divided, the understanding that grows as they are united by their first integrated football team. The best sports movies are about more than sports: They use sports as a metaphor, a reflection of life itself. Teams are a symbol of the community, a rallying point during hard times. Remember the Titans is about football, yes, but more so it’s about a town dealing with change and learning to come to grips with its past while stepping into the future. Also, Denzel Washington, Donald Faison, tiny Ryan Gosling.

The Replacements: So my absolute favorite Keanu Reeves-helmed sports  movie is 2001’s Hardball (though Keanu’s performance leaves much to be desired), but this one comes in a close second (unless we count Point Break as a sports movie). Reeves stars as a washed up Ohio State quarterback recruited by Gene Hackman’s character when his pro players go on strike. While Keanu’s Shane Falco may not be as talented as the diva QB he replaced, he’s got more heart for the game, and that wins out every time.

Friday Night Lights (film): Based on a true story, and the book of the same name, this movie follows the Permian High School Panthers of 1988. It’s a story about an Odessa, Texas, team that tries to defy the odds, and the city that fanatically supports them. Like Remember the Titans, it touches on the social issues of the time and place — classism, racism, segregation, poverty — as the team overcomes athletic and personal obstacles to do the impossible (insert inspirational music here).

Friday Night Lights (TV series): Okay, I’m cheating a bit, but hear me out. The movie is good…but honestly I am more enamored with the television series (this may be due to my general tendency towards serial media: Tumblr LOVES this shit). I urge you to venture down the five-season rabbit hole into Dillon, TX. Get to know Saracen, Smash, Riggins, and the other good, non-football-playing folks of this Texas town, and you will root for the Panthers just as hard as the fictional town folk. Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.

Varsity Blues: Another story of the high expectations surrounding high school football in rural Texas, this one stars a Dawson’s Creek-era James Van Der Beek as a back-up quarterback with Ivy League dreams and an overbearing, football-obsessed father. I love it for the clichés, for the fact that it’s spawned many a parody and a copycat, I love the late 90s soundtrack (Green Day, Foo Fighters, Aaliyah) and the pre-The Fast and the Furious Paul Walker. Bonus: It’s Regina George’s favorite movie.

The Longest YardBest viewed as a double feature, starting with the original starring Burt Reynolds as Paul Crewe, followed by the remake starring Adam Sandler in the same role. Crewe, a disgraced pro quarterback, is sent to jail and asked to form a football team from the rag-tag group of inmates. They embark upon the ultimate underdogs’ journey in an attempt to beat the highly-trained team of prison guards. I really love good remakes, seeing how things were changed to suit a new time period, different actors, etc. Chris Rock is a highlight of the Sandler version, as well as Nelly and Terry Crews. Plus Burt Reynolds returns to play the coach, Nate Scarborough, and brings the whole thing full circle.

EXTRA POINT A future film about one of these ladies: Theresa Dion, the first girl to play on a high school varsity team in the U.S.; Ashley Martin or Katie Hnida, two of the first girls to dress for and score in a NCAA Division 1 game; Erin Dimeglio, who took the field as the all-important quarterback at her high school in Florida; or Haley Abeyta, who’s showing her impressive strength as a linebacker. As much as I love the boys of fall, girls have got game too! And there are a disappointing number of films out there about girls sports, football or otherwise. Each of these stories deserves the cinematic treatment as much as the boys. Cue the poignant music.