A while ago, I wrote here about how I had experienced an “existential moment” when someone asked me to list my ten favorite movies. I couldn’t do it. I started into the exercise, then almost immediately froze, realizing I had no idea what my ten favorite movies are. This realization helped me to see just how out of touch I was with myself.
I have spent the past 10 days thinking about this, watching some of the movies that are listed below, and thinking about why I ultimately chose each movie that is on my list. I am now very pleased to say that I have successfully compiled a list of my ten favorite movies, and because this represents such an important step for me, I wanted to share that list. They aren’t necessarily listed in order of how much I like them; they’re just there, on the list.
Dead Poets Society
This is definitely one of my favorite movies, if not at the top. I have written elsewhere of my love for this movie and my wish that I had had a John Keating in my life as a youth. Keating calls to the boys to discover who they are, to reject convention and conformity, to live deliberately, instead of in quiet desperation. Their slumbering spirits awake for a brief time, until one boy flew too close to the sun and plummeted to the earth. This film evokes in me a desire to be alive to my self
I love this film because it is a story about rising above one’s apparent assigned existence, having faith that destiny has called you somewhere else, and then having faith to go seek out and meet that destiny, believing all the while that others are called to meet you on your path and that they will come. It features great music and wonderful performances by, among others, Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Robin Williams.
What can I say? A movie directed by Clint Eastwood about Nelson Mandela, South Africa, rugby and my favorite poem, featuring a truly inspiring (true) story with an amazing performance by Morgan Freeman. And did I mention that Matt Damon plays the captain of the
Rugby team? Definitely a favorite.
Ordinary People is a 1980 American drama that tells the story of the disintegration of an upper-middle class family in Lake Forest, Illinois (wealthy suburb north of Chicago), following the death of the older son in a boating accident. The film won that year's Academy Award for Best Picture, and Robert Redford (Best Director) and Timothy Hutton (Best Supporting Actor) also won Oscars.
I loved this movie when I first saw it, and I was wondering how I would feel about it upon watching it again. Once I got past the hair-styles and the very dated cars used in the movie, I found the message of the movie to be as timeless as it was when it first came out in 1980. It addresses the conventions of (upper-) middle-class families; the lack of genuine communication and of authentic relationships; the absolute need to keep up appearances and never, ever go below the placid surface of a family life that is, at whatever cost, to be maintained.
Timothy Hutton plays the role of the son (Conrad) who survived a boating accident; his older brother did not. The movie explores what happened to Conrad in the wake of the accident, as well as what happened to his parents. Conrad goes to see a psychiatrist, Dr. Berger (Judd Hirsh), who helps Conrad work through his trauma.
Some quotable lines from Dr. Berger: “It takes more energy to hold things in than it does to let them out.” “Let me give you a little advice about feeling: don’t expect it to always tickle.” “Feelings are scary and sometimes they’re painful. But if you can’t feel pain, then you can’t feel anything else, either.”
Like I said, this film deals with issues and asks questions that resonate with me as much or more today as they did when I first saw the film years ago. Particularly relevant was the depiction of the chain of events that ultimately led to Conrad’s father (Donald Sutherland) deciding he could not go on living a false existence with his wife.
It’s a Wonderful Life
I believe any man who has sacrificed all or a part of himself for the good of his family and/or for the good of others, while at the same time feeling like life’s parade has passed him by, can strongly relate to this movie. Even though it was made over 50 years ago and depicts events going back to soon after the turn of the last century, it is timeless in its message.
I am not at all sure that I had seen this movie before my mission. One of my missionary companions said it was his all-time favorite movie, and I was embarrassed that I couldn’t recall ever seeing it. This was remedied upon my return, and I now faithfully watch it every December, preferably on a dark and snowy night. I annually work through the catharsis with Jimmy Stewart from that of hopeful youth, to (overly) responsible young man, to lost dreamer, to responsible married man, to resentful cynic, to – ultimately – a man who sees as he is seen, who is blessed with the rare and wonderful gift of understanding that his life has truly made a difference. What can I say? It makes me tear up just thinking about it.
This is my favorite sports movie that goes far beyond being just a sports movie. It tells the remarkable true story of the 1980 U.S. Men’s Olympic Hockey Team. Inspirational, exciting, and nostalgic, capturing the mood of the country and the sense of the times. Ordinary people – amateur hockey players – achieved something truly heroic and helped Americans renew their belief in themselves and in their nation.
This French film released in 2007 has become my favorite comedy. It imagines what happened in a period that is undocumented in the famous French playwright Moliere's own biography: the years between his release from prison in 1645 at age 22 (because his theatre company went bankrupt and he could not pay his debts) and his return to Paris 13 years later after a triumphant career as a travelling playwright and actor.
Though in French (with English subtitles) and set in the middle of the 17th century, the film to me is very accessible, truly funny and extremely entertaining. The story begins upon Molière’s release from debtor's prison by Monsieur Jourdain, a wealthy commoner with social pretensions, who agrees to pay the young actor's debts if Molière teaches him to act. Jourdain, already a married man with two daughters, hopes to use this talent to ingratiate himself with Célimène, a recently widowed beauty with whom he has become obsessed, by performing a short play he has written for the occasion.
Molière, however, who has been presented to the family and staff of Monsieur Jourdain as Tartuffe, a priest who is supposedly to serve as tutor for the Jourdains' younger daughter (even though Jourdain is clearly Protestant), proceeds to fall in love with Jourdain's neglected wife, Elmire. The threads of the plot weave in and out, featuring true comedy and terrific acting. Many scenes follow actual scenes and text in Molière's plays (including Tartuffe and Le Misanthrope), and Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, whose principal character is also named Jourdain), in a manner that implies that these "actual" events in his life inspired the plays of his maturity.
Romeo and Juliet (Zeffirelli)
This film, when it first came out in 1968, revolutionized the way Shakespeare’s play was taught in high schools across the country. A beautiful Italian and English production, it depicted the star-crossed lovers as they actually would have been – teenagers – and beautiful ones at that. The exquisite costumes and cast, together with the haunting soundtrack (and, of course, Shakespeare’s play), make this one of my favorite movies, even though it was made over 40 years ago. It won Academy Awards for Best Cinematography and Best Costume Design and was also nominated for Best Director and Best Picture. It holds special meaning to me because of what my freshman English class and teacher meant to me.
The Sound of Music
I started to write that nothing needs to be said about this movie. But then, I thought I wanted to say this: Apart from the wonderful music, apart from the themes of love, exploration of self, and resistance to tides of change – above all this for me is the story of ordinary people who did something extraordinary; who faced evil and chose to gamble everything on an opportunity to live free. This is true courage, and this is ultimately why I love this movie.
Fiddler on the Roof
I selected this last choice because of the music and the story behind this musical. Dealing as it does with being a people apart, endeavoring to maintain tradition and to find meaning in that tradition in the face of changing times. Being swept up and carried away by changing times. Attempting to love one’s children while at the same time feeling the pull of tradition, of belief. Choosing between children and belief. Loving. Laughing. Living. All between the gates of sunrise and sunset. It may be brief, but it is our human experience – and I love movies that explore the meaning of that experience and celebrate it.
I also love the Harry Potter movies, the Chronicles of Narnia movies and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I consider them in a class by themselves.
A new favorite is The Pianist – another one of those R-rated movies I never watched and have only recently seen. (The only reason this movie has an R rating, by the way, is because of graphic brutality to humans, which one might expect in a movie about the Holocaust.)
This movie is based on the autobiography of Polish (Jewish) pianist, Władysław Szpilman, and recounts what happened to him from the time of the German invasion to shortly after the liberation of Warsaw. There is much in this film to write about, including the lovely music, and I hope to a post in the future about some of the aspects of this film that both touched and troubled me. The film won Academy Awards for Best Director, Best Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay and was nominated for Best Film, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design and Film Editing. The film also won Palme d'Or at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival and seven French Césars including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor for Adrien Brody (who became and remains the only American actor to win one).
I also really liked the movie Defiance, based on the true story of Jews who went into hiding in the forests of Belarus during the Second World War, shielding women and children while carrying out guerilla attacks on German soldiers. Of the same, but different, genre was Valkyrie. This was a thriller, again based on a true story of German military men who tried to stand up to Hitler.
I haven’t seen enough gay-themed cinema yet to comment on this genre. I loved Shelter. I found A Single Man thought-provoking and interesting.
Were the World Mine was whimsical and fun. Next on my list are Latter Days, Brokeback Mountain (no I still haven’t seen that) and Milk. Thanks to those who have offered their suggestions regarding this genre.
The result of this exercise: I think, I feel, I AM.