One of my favorite film scores of all time is Randy Newman's lovely music for Avalon (1990), which also happens to be a great unsung movie that has held up really well over the last couple of decades. The score is heartfelt and elegiac, which also perfectly describes this deft, observant, funny, and ultimately heartbreaking study of three generations of Polish Jews in Baltimore in the early and mid-1900s.
Writer-director Barry Levinson is best known for Rain Man; Good Morning, Vietnam; and Diner, but I believe that Avalon is his most crowning achievement, a semi-autobiographical story of immigrants (and children and grandchildren of immigrants) that will no doubt hold resonance for anyone who has or who knows someone who has adopted America as his or her new country.
Avalon is a loving portrait of the large Krichinsky clan and its pursuit of the American dream, but that dream comes at a terrible cost. For all its humor and generosity of spirit, the film wants to explore the disintegration of the family, asserts that progress has dark consequences, and blames television of all things for destroying the cohesion that had always been central to the collective identity of the Krichinskys.
Near the end of the film, a character says, "If I knew things would no longer be, I would have tried to remember better." Avalon is a clarion call for us to remember our roots, a plea for us to make storytelling—to make oral history—an integral part of our lives once again.
Watch the trailer: