Sunday, January 24, 2010


This list is compiled of films that have been promoted through our reviews on Reel Inspiration's blogs. Diverse films with entertaining, powerful stories that uplift, challenge, give hope or inspire. Some weight has been given to films with themes that are particularly relevant to the issues of our time.

Due to time restraints, I must limit the kind of films I review. For instance, I don't review documentaries and I rarely review animated films. I am less likely to review a Hollywood blockbuster unless I am EXTREMELY moved as with last year's MICHAEL CLAYTON. In fact, I mostly review films that move me emotionally or intellectually.

I would like to make an exception about documentaries by recommending two of the most inspiring films of the year: "THE HORSE BOY" and "AFGHAN STAR." In both of these docs, the heroes take great risks to follow their "unreasonable" paths. In THE HORSE BOY, an autistic boy speaks clearly when put on a horse. His family travels across Mongolia in search of a horse Shaman to heal the boy.
In AFGHAN STAR, an Afghani woman risks her life to express herself in song and dance on the national talent show.

If you do not see your favorite inspiring films represented here, please, share them in the COMMENT section.

After reviewing this list, I found a trend in the many of the films: the theme of the importance of human connections. Perhaps in this time of war and financial hardships, our connections with others are even more important.

It is my pleasure to present...
Reel Inspiration's MOST INSPIRING FILMS 200

1) "Up in the Air"
Ryan Bigham, an elite frequent flyer, enjoys riding high above the clueless employees he fires as a corporate hatchet man. He discovers that despite the hassles, it's our connections with others that make our lives rewarding. This film stands out as one of the few recent adult comedies that is truly witty.

2) "Paris"
In a city bustling with people and their busy lives, it's time to start living by connecting with others. This touching film brims with hope and life. (subtitles)

3) "Invictus"
Newly elected President Mandela sets an example for his country by forgiving and working along side of his vicious suppressors. He uses the universal language of sports to present a unified Africa to the world. Truly inspiring.

4) "Departures"
When his dream of being a cellist is destroyed, Diago finds his true path in the most unlikely of professions - preparing the recently departed with the traditional Japanese cleansing rituals of Nokanshi. DEPARTURES has humorous scenes reminiscent of SUNSHINE CLEANING, but it takes us on a deeper spiritual journey. (subtitles) "Departures" won best Foreign Language Film.

5) "Precious"
This powerful, acclaimed film with heart achingly honest performances, demonstrates the strength of the human spirit to survive extreme abuse and find hope. It shows the transforming power of having one person - a teacher - who believes in you. "Precious" won best Supporting Actress for Mo'Nique and Best Adapted Screenplay for Geoffrey Fletcher. 

6) "Tulpan"
Cinematic magic. This "fictional" film follows the daily life of a nomad family, but it feels more real and less intrusive than a documentary. Spontaneous acts of nature are caught on film and seamlessly incorporated into the story. It ruminates on how modern civilization encroaches on the happiness of a simple life. (subtitles)

7) "Rachel Getting Married"
Troubled Kim is released from rehab to attend her sister's wedding. Desperate to reconnect, she makes clumsy attempts to get her family's attention. But the hardest part is coming home to the people you hurt. Despite it's flaws, Kim learns that being a part of the family is worth the effort. This film is full of the painful truth, but there is also the hope of forgiveness.

8) "Sugar"
Sugar becomes a local hero in his small town in the Dominican Republic when he is recruited to play minor league baseball in the United States. But his pursuit of the American Dream is hampered by his struggles with the language and the cultural barriers of acclimating. More than just a sports film, Sugar deals with the issues of being true to yourself in a foreign country and the struggles facing illegal immigrants. (subtitles)

9) "Moon"
2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY lite. This mostly two set, two actor production was one of the best Indie films of the year. Sam Bell has been stationed at the mostly automated lunar base for three years with his robotic assistant Gerty. His only human contact are recorded transmissions from his family back on earth. MOON illuminates what it is to be human: the necessity of hope and our need to connect with other people.

10) "The Messenger"
War "hero" Will Montgomery returns from Iraq and is assigned to the Army's casualty notification service. He has not gotten any grief counseling since receiving his own battle wounds - just a quick lesson in protocol from his jaded partner Tony who instructs the soldier to avoid physical contact with the next of kin. But their grief hits close to home. When he finds himself drawn to a widow with a brave facade, he questions his ability to be good for anything but war. THE MESSENGER shows the resiliency of the human spirit to move through grief to hope.

11) "Wendy and Lucy"
The antithesis of Disney talking animal films, WENDY AND LUCY shows the realistic bond between a young woman and her dog. Wendy relies on her dog Lucy for a sense of security and companionship as she travels to a fish cannery job in Alaska and sleeps in her car at night. When her car won't start in the morning, it is towed away leaving Wendy stranded in a town with no job opportunities and a hungry dog to feed. Wendy must deal with the hard responsibilities of having a pet.

Movie Blessings!
Jana Segal
Reel Inspiration


Friday, January 22, 2010

"A Single Man"

"You must get through this goddamn day."

With this affirmation George begins his day.

College professor George (Colin Firth) lives a tidy, orderly life of silent desperation since the death of his partner of sixteen years. Today George plans to put a tidy, orderly end to it all. He puts his affairs in order and packs his brief case for his last day of work - gun in tow.

"A Single Man," is a singularly beautiful film. Several reviewers have commented on how fashion icon-turned-director Tom Ford's use of style distracts from the film. But style and beauty are really the point. It's all about appearances.

Keeping up appearances was vital to a gay man in the early sixties. The restraints of society didn't allow men to express deep sentiments. George must contain his emotions even when he is told that his life partner has died in a car accident and that he isn't invited to the funeral because it's "only for the family." Actor Colin Firth gives us a glimpse of his pain while struggling to keep it at a socially acceptable level. Director Tom Ford cues us in on the depth of his feelings through music.

But today George has nothing to lose, so we see hints of his true sentiments. He lingers on the scent while petting a stranger's pup. He raves about the secretary's beauty. For the first time, he shares his thoughts with his students about how people are afraid of those who are invisible to them - like the Jews. George is invisible in his own life. But he is still too guarded to share that with his students.

I'm afraid Tom Ford made George a bit too guarded. I think I would have felt more for George if I had seen a deeper connection between George and his lover. But George's memories are shallow. That's really a shame because this is a film about the importance of human connections. Throughout the film, I hoped that George would find the connection he needed to make life worth living.

"A Single Man," is a deep film about appearances and our need for connection. It is an important film because it is still sadly relevant. Hopefully, it will help us connect with the beauty in all of us.

Movie blessings,
Jana Segal

Sunday, January 10, 2010

"Up in the Air"

ZIP up the carry-on bag, SNAP up the handle, ROLL up to the gate, and V.I.P. through the automatic check-in machine. ZIP. SNAP. ROLL. VIP. "It's a pleasure to see you again Mr. Bingham." In V.I.P. time, Ryan Bingham is "Up in the Air."

This is the structured, comfortable life of Corporate Downsizing Expert and elite frequent flyer Ryan Bingham (brilliantly played by George Clooney.) Bingham happily travels 322 days a year. He is on the verge of achieving his ultimate goal - to win a golden card for earning ten million frequent flyer hours. And he has just met the frequent flyer woman of his dreams, Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga) - a sexually adventurous woman with no excess baggage.

After watching his motivational speech in the trailer, I was in no hurry to see the film. (I'll edit it here for brevity.) "Imagine that you're carrying a back pack...Pack it with all the stuff in your life...How much does your life weigh?...Now fill it with people...Feel the weight of that bag. Make no mistake, your relationships are the heaviest components in your life." What has become of our country when a Corporate Downsizing Expert is considered a motivational speaker?! Our hero is a successful jerk who can't be bothered with people.

I opted for another movie on Christmas Day, but I couldn't help noticing that "Up in the Air" was sold out. Later, I looked it up on-line and found out that it was popping up on some best films lists. What did these people know that I didn't? Was it George Clooney's smile?

I saw it the next day. I was delighted to discover that "Up in the Air" was a charming, witty, and ultimately poignant film in the tradition of Prestin Sturge's smart comedies. Kudos to director/co-writer Jason Reitman ("Juno," "Thank You for Smoking"), co-writer Sheldon Turner, and an award winning ensemble cast.

Bingham flies from city to city firing unsuspecting corporate employees. He handles his job with the necessary objectivity while treating his victims with as much dignity as he can muster. He gives them a package that includes their severance benefits and a plan for reclaiming their unrealized dreams. No doubt it is a great comfort to get "up and away" from it all.

Bingham is in danger of being grounded when an Ivy League graduate Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) develops a plan to save travel costs by firing people via video conferencing. Bingham's comfortable routine is challenged when he is forced to take Natalie on the road to show her the ropes. She observes, "You have set up a way of life that makes it impossible for you to have any kind of human connection." I found myself rooting for this self-centered man to finally grow and learn how to connect with other people.

"Up in the Air" reminds us that in these difficult times, we need to come down to earth and find strength in our connections with others. One thumb way "Up in the Air."

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Hollywood blind-sided by the "Blind Side"

"The Blind Side" is the true story about how a huge, homeless teen Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron) was taken off of the mean streets of Memphis and into the home of Leigh Anne Tuohy (Sandra Bullock). With the help and encouragement his new family, he works hard to earn an education and eventually becomes an offensive lineman for the Baltimore Ravens.

I wonder if Hollywood executives were at all blind-sided when this little movie opened at $34,119,332. Chances are that it wouldn't have been made if it wasn't based on a successful book. It has TV movie written all over it. But it has grossed $209,052,000 to date. I'm sure credit was given to Sandra Bullock who starred in the hit comedy, "The Proposal," earlier this year. Sandra Bullocks ability to open a film aside, I believe there is another reason that this film is such a huge success. Despite our initial cynicism, we are actually inspired by people who unselfishly give of themselves. Theater goers have sent a message to Hollywood with their entertainment dollars. We are hungry for uplifting stories of human kindness. I hope Hollywood listens...

The movie, based on the true story, shows human compassion, strength and the inner beauty with fearlessness that each human has the potential of being. Loved it. -- Jennifer Hillman

"The Blind Side" is a must see movie. Sandra Bullock gives a stellar performance along with a fabulous cast. This film will inspire and encourage you to invest into the lives of those who are less fortunate and who need an opportunity to succeed in life. -- Susanna Velaquez

I went to see this movie by myself over the holidays and I can't stop talking about it. Because of the movie it has inspired me to be "My Brothers Keeper" I gave my son $25.00 to go see the movie last weekend:) I HOPE he did! -- Candy Kennelly

I loved it because it shows no matter what our differences are (racial, gender or economic), we still need love, support and guidance from people who really care. If each one saves one in the world, all of us would be much better off. A family is not only a husband, wife and kids. It is about a group of people caring for one another. This movie was wonderfully uplifting.-- Ralette

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal

Saturday, January 02, 2010


From Despair to Hope

Two powerful, acclaimed films, "Precious," and, "The Messenger," have heart-achingly honest performances that express the strength of the human spirit to move through despair to hope.

The synopsis of, "Precious," couldn't be more depressing. Precious, (Gabourey "Gabby" Sidibe) an obese thirteen year old, is pregnant for the second time with her father's child. Her mother (Mo'Nique) treats her as less than a servant, beating her and constantly reminding her that she is nothing. We get a glimpse of the girl's spirit as Precious escapes into her dreams of being a glamorous star. At school Precious is pretty much invisible aside from being teased for her weight. But there is one teacher who recognizes her potential in math. When Precious is kicked out of school, he recommends that she be placed in a alternative school. Her new teacher (Paula Patton) asks Precious how she felt about introducing herself to the class and Precious says she feels, "Here." The teacher assigns her a journal where she expresses herself for the first time. Precious finds the strength to get an education and keep her baby even as the abuse intensifies at home.

It is a minor miracle and a credit to director Lee Daniels, screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher, and actress Gabby Sidibe that you leave the theater actually feeling hopeful. The film demonstrates the transforming power of having one person - in this case a teacher - who believes in you. Precious illustrates the strength of the human spirit to survive extreme abuse and find hope.

In, "In the Messenger," war "hero" Will Montgomery (Ben Foster) returns from Iraq and is assigned to the Army's casualty notification service. He has not gotten any grief counseling since receiving his own battle wounds - just a quick lesson in protocol from his jaded partner Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson) who instructs the soldier to avoid physical contact or hugging the N.O.K. (next of kin.) Ben assures him, "I'm not going to be offering any hugs."

Will has come home to a lonely apartment and an empty life. (When he went off to war he broke up with his girlfriend.) He diligently carries out his duty, but the grief of the families of the deceased hits close to home. He finds himself drawn to a widow with a brave facade. Her husband's story brings out his own neglected issues. Will his "war scars" heal so he can be a decent husband and father? Or should he reenlist because war is the only thing he is still good for? Somehow he finds the strength to choose life. "The Messenger," shows the resiliency of the human spirit to move through grief to hope.

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal


Mo'Nique won Best Supporting Actress, Geoffrey Fletcher won Best Adapted Screenplay