Tuesday, July 31, 2007

32 Films I Take With Me (Top 5)

5. Elephant (2003)
A few of the movies on my list are directly linked to actual events that have occurred in our world in my lifetime. Events that have shaken us all. This is another of Gus Van Sant's trilogy on mortality, and it has left a fingerprint on my soul. There are a million ways a movie like this could have gone wrong: disrespect, bad taste, melodrama, triteness, over-simplification---the list goes on. But it steered clear. This is a very disturbing movie, not least because it is so true to life. Yet somehow it made me love people, especially young people, and it has ingrained in me this tragic sense that if only---if only!---we could learn to love them and each other we might find a way out of this mess. The day after I saw this movie I was at a theater waiting for my wife to come out of the bathroom and I was watching teenager after teenager walk by me and I wished I could just hug each one. Every person I saw in that crowded mall was a person. WE forget that too easy. That may sound like the cheesiest thing in the world, but it was a moment as solid as the chair I’m sitting on.

4. Gandhi (1982)
Surely this film glossed over some of the more eccentric and ridiculous of Gandhi’s habits, but if it erred on the side of avoiding his foibles it did it for the sake of accentuating his power. A power made perfect in weakness, one might say. If not for this film I don’t think many of us would know Gandhi or what he stood for. It may be a sad fact that we need movies to do this for us, but all it means is that the written tradition which replaced oral tradition has now being replaced by the visual tradition. Each of these methods of passing along stories has its pitfalls to beware of, and relies somewhat on the other, but we shouldn’t discount the added power of the film. Thanks to this film Gandhi’s name has come to stand for what it ought to and has become an icon of sorts for non-violence, self-sacrifice, and passion for human rights. Although Gandhi remained outside the Church, this look at his life captures an aspect of Christ that most "Jesus movies" miss almost completely.

3. Good Morning Vietnam (1987)

This was a deeply touching film in a way similar to Life Is Beautiful. Here is a guy using humour to try to cope and help with the ugliness of war. So many sides of human nature are portrayed in this film. The complexity of global and interpersonal relations are captured well. It just stirs something up in you. Robin Williams is magnificent. I don't remember when I first saw this but I can almost remember every scene as if I was there. I shudder to think what it would have been like to actually be there. If I was I'd want a guy like Williams' character by my side, that's for sure, else I might go insane.

2. Remains of the Day (1993)

I've reviewed this movie and the next one before. I'll say this for them now though: For all the gruesome reality and inspiring beauty of the above-mentioned films, these last two have probably served as the largest motivators for me to go out and do something about it with my life. Both of them are "seize the day" kind of pictures, done in very different ways. But it isn't just about "sucking the marrow"out of life, it is about choosing which you'd rather regret: being overwhelmed and fearful and doing nothing OR being overcome with wonder and hope and getting in there and getting your hands dirty. About Remains of the Day all I can say is that I "grew up" a very short person and therefore very timid. It took a lot of prodding in my early college years to really believe I could do or be anything. This movie convinced me to pursue my love or die trying. I personally doubt I'd be married today if not for this movie.

1. Dead Poet's Society (1989)
It pains me in a way to know that this movie has become its own cliche. Nonetheless I am one of the people who this movie originally hit square in the face and who was never quite the same. I remember first seeing it with a room full of family and relatives. I was 15 or 16. It ended and I had a massive dry spot in my throat and an ache in my side. I couldn't say anything because it felt like no one in the room was with me. Turns out later at least my cousin was, but no matter, it was like someone had jumper cables on my heart and was trying to start the thing up. It worked. I think life began meaning something to me at that point. Of course there was life before that, but I don't think I'd thought about it much. Carpe diem. So overused now. But I can still hear Robin Williams whispering it as if he's over my shoulder right now.

Thanks for reading along. This has been an exercise in self-indulgence as I approach my 32nd birthday but I hope you've enjoyed it. I look forward to reflecting on this each year and maybe adding a new one every year. Maybe the list would change too. I'd probably change the order a bit even now. But these films are part of who I am, and I've enjoyed reflecting on that and sharing it.


Tony Tanti said...

I hoped that would be your number 1, DPS is truly great. Often imitated but not even close to duplicated this is one of the greatest inspirational movies ever.

I'm impressed that Robin Williams is in #1 and #3 on your list.

This may have felt self-indulgent but it was great to read as well. You reminded me of a few movies I'd forgotten about (eg: Green Mile) and you showed an affection for movies I had no idea you were even into (eg: The Fisher King).

You're still a month and a half from turning 32 though, how will you top this?

Matthew A. Wilkinson said...

This has been a great list. I was surprised to see that you are such a big Robin Williams and Gus Van Sant fan.

I remember finding 'Good Morning Vietnam' dull when I watched it a couple years ago. I guess I'll have to revisit it.

I'm glad Peter Weir made your list with 'Dead Poets.' He's an under-rated talent, with a filmography that is pretty astonishing.

I'm looking forward to seeing a few of your choices that I've never seen before.