Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Most Inspiring Films 2013!

It’s that time of year when I share my most inspiring films list. Imagine my surprise to find that I hadn’t done last year’s list! I hadn’t even written a review in over a year! And it was such a great year for film! So I’m making it right by catching up now. I will be posting the longer version of each of these reviews throughout the month.

There are some enlightening reoccurring themes on my most inspiring films list. The common message in the romances was overcoming fear to make room for love. Six of the films on my list were inspired by empowering true stories. The hero in each film stood up against human rights injustices in their own way. They let their light shine!

Marianne Williamson's words illuminate the theme beautifully, “As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

I hope these films inspire you to shine in the New Year!

Movie blessings from 2013!

Jana Segal

10) “Mud”

Writer/director Jeff Nicols slops through murky Mississippi backwaters and gritty, dirty life on the delta to make, “Mud.” Ellis (Tye Sheridon) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) set off on a Mississippi river raft adventure. While exploring a small island, they discover a mysterious fugitive called Mud (charismatic Matthew McConaughey). Ellis was recently sideswiped by his parent’s ugly breakup and his first crush with an older girl. So when Mud spins a yarn about his undying love for his high school sweetheart, Ellis puts his faith in true love and does what he can to reunite them. Through his example, they learn the power of loyalty in the face of human fallibility.

9) "Nebraska"

Woody’s family is dumbfounded as the booze-addled, obstinate Woody (Bruce Dern) sets off on a 900 mile trek across Nebraska to claim his bogus million dollar sweepstakes winnings. And nobody seems to know why, even Woody. Director Alexander Payne gives us comic relief in the form of Woody’s ornery, long suffering wife (scene stealer June Squibb) as the foul-mouthed voice of reason, “I never even knew the son of a bitch wanted to be a millionaire. He should have thought about that years ago and worked for it.” Woody’s responsible son (Will Forte) is called in to talk some sense into the old man. But when Woody won’t be dissuaded, his son sees a chance to bond with the father he never knew. We feel his son’s frustration as Woody runs off to get sloshed at local dives, spouting off about his big windfall. The story livens up when his wife comes to “rescue” Woody. As the family deals with unresolved issues and greedy hometown “friends” and relatives, we see a little bit about what made Woody, well…woody. Payne paints a stark, yet quirky portrait of family responsibility and the silent isolation and resignation of rural America.

8) "Philomena"

For 50 years, Philomena (Judi Dench) has longed for the son who was taken from her by the nuns entrusted with their keeping. Ashamed of being an unwed mother, she kept that secret all those years. Philomena finally sets off on a journey to find her son with political reporter, Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan). Martin isn't thrilled about doing a human interest story, but he needs the job. Director Stephen Frears takes us on an “odd couple” road trip. Their differences are exaggerated for comic effect: Philomena’s small town naivety contrasting Martin’s world-weary cynicism. She is portrayed as a sort of everymom. An ex-Catholic, Martin can’t understand why Philomena would protect the nuns who shamed unwed mothers into indentured servitude and then sold off their babies. But Philomena’s faith is not limited to a flawed institution; it is built on God’s forgiveness. By the end, Martin sees the importance of this “everymom” story. By sharing her story, she gives permission for other mothers to seek out their children.

7) "Enough Said"
At first glance, “Enough Said,” appears to be just another quirky little, self-deprecating romantic comedy. But writer/director Nicole Holofcener gives us something much more down to earth and real. Two recent divorcees, Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and Albert (James Gandolfini) find comfort in sharing life’s changes until Eva unwittingly befriends her new beau’s ex-wife (Catherine Keener). Albert and Eva are both suffering from the onset of empty nest syndrome as their kids prepare to leave for college. Sharing coping strategies and jokes makes it a little easier. But Eva is scared of making the same mistake twice and starts to see Albert through his ex-wife’s disgruntled eyes. When the conflict comes to a head, Eva and Albert must decide if sharing their messy lives is worth the effort. This isn't escapist romance. It’s down to earth, awkward, and sometimes comforting like sharing your life.

6) "Dallas Buyers Club"

Real-life bull-ridin’ playboy Ron Woodroof (Best Actor winner Matthew McConaughey) is reckless with his life - until he is diagnosed as HIV-positive and given 30 days to live. The good ol’ boy is ostracized by his friends for being what he detests the most – a homosexual. Ron finds out that there are no government approved HIV drugs. The “lucky” AIDS patients are being used as lab rats. Ron takes it on himself to track down alternative treatments. When he can’t afford the drugs on his own, he is forced to team up with street smart, transgender AIDS patient Rayon (Best Supporting Actor Jared Leto) to bring in other customers. They bypass government regulations on selling illegal drugs by starting a Buyers Club where patients pay for memberships and get drugs for free. Through their shared struggle for dignity and acceptance, the men develop a grudging respect for each other. Ron Woodroof may be doing it for all the wrong reasons, but he ends up helping AIDS patients and growing in the process.

5) "12 Years a Slave"

Best Picture winner, “12 Years a Slave,” is based on the empowering true story of Solomon Northup, an African-American musician and freeman, who is kidnapped and sold into slavery. There have been many movies about the plight of the slaves. But “Twelve Years a Slave,” by director Steve McQueen and award-winning adapter, John Ridley, transcends the others by illuminating the importance of not only fighting to survive, but also fighting for your dignity. When Solomon (Chiwetu Ejiofor) is first kidnapped, he insists that he is a freeman. In an attempt to break his spirit, his captors beat him within an inch of his life. A fellow captive advises him that if he wants to survive, he must keep a low profile and not to let them know he can read and write. The hopelessness of his situation sets in as other slaves fail gravely in their attempts to escape. He decides to cooperate, but continues exercising to keep up his strength so he is prepared when the opportunity to escape arises. Despite the slave masters’ best efforts to break his spirit, Solomon Northup refuses to give up his identity as a man. Through his example, he plants a seed of thought – I am a man and no man’s property! By fighting to survive with dignity, he liberates himself and others.

OSCAR ALERT: Lupita Nyong'o won Best Supporting Actress and John Ridley won Best Adapted Screenplay.

4) "Her"

This SciFi romance explores the paradox of how we can be constantly connected through social media yet less intimately connected. In the new computer age, we have replaced personal interactions with text messages. The art of letter writing has been lost with the advent of chat, creating an industry for personal correspondence writers like Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix). Theodore specializes in drafting touching, intimate love letters despite being totally shut down in his personal life. Instead of creating a hollow, unfeeling world of SciFi technology, Director Spike Jonze creates a world where people still strive for human connection. Theodore downloads his own personal assistant operating system, (Scarlett Johansson). Programmed to anticipate his every need (while making no demands of him), it’s not difficult to believe that Theodore falls for “Her.” One of the delightful things about this romance, is that the filmmaker can’t rely on physical attractiveness to show us why these characters come together. Their affection is evident as they encourage each other’s growth.

3) "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom"

What makes this biopic so powerful is the courage director Justin Chadwick and writer William Nicholson demonstrated in choosing to show the much revered human rights leader’s weaknesses. It is important to convey that this flawed man sacrificed everything to bring freedom to his people. Due attention is given to Winnie who led the anti-Apartheid and Free Mandela movements while her husband was in jail. Despite Winnie urging him overthrow the white government, Nelson Mandela finds the strength and wisdom to transcend the desire for revenge or justice. Instead, he promotes cooperation and forgiveness as the means to heal South Africa.

2) "Captain Phillips"

In this thrilling, hard-driving action film, Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) is portrayed as a hard-working merchant mariner – responsible first to his duty (delivering cargo) and then for protecting his crew. The film opens with Phillips expressing his growing concern about how with today’s economy his son won’t be able to find employment. This burden distracts him from seeing the negative impact of international companies: dumping nuclear waste off of the Somali coastline and illegally trolling for fish. We witness the results as former Somali fishermen fight over knat (an additive green leaf) and to be hired for the only available job – a cargo ship pirate. It is only when Phillips is forced into a life and death struggle with the pirates, that he begins to understand their desperation. Based on an incredible true story, “Captain Phillips” is a must-see for the rising tension in the action and in global trade.

1) "Wadjda"

Wadjda,” by female writer/director Haifaa Al, is a deceptively simple story of a Saudi girl’s pursuit of money to buy a bike. Saudi girls are actually forbidden to ride bikes because it is seen as dangerous to their virtue. By pursuing this goal, Wadjda courageously challenges Saudi patriarchal traditions. In this patriarchal society, Wadjda doesn't know where she belongs. While father seems to love her and her mother, we soon discover that he is looking for a new wife. His parents are pressuring him to replace her mom because she can’t bear him a son. Her mother (Saudi television star Reen Abdullah) is a product of the patriarchal society that is displacing her. She forbids Wadjda from buying the bike. But she is too busy trying to hold onto her husband to notice Wadjda’s attempt to win money for the bike in a Quran recitation contest.

1 comment:

Jana Segal said...

It is an incredible accomplishment that, "Wadjda," even got made. It is the first feature film shot in Saudi Arabia. What makes it even more ground-breaking is that it was directed by a Saudi woman! The director is actually an example of the theme of challenging unjust Saudi patriarchal traditions, while showing respect to the culture. Director Haifaa Al-Mansour refrained from being in the presence of men not in her family circle by watching the shoot on a monitor from inside a tent and sending messengers back and forth or using a two-way radio to convey her adjustments to the actors. While standing up to unjust practices, the movie makes it clear that there was much about Saudi society that the director loved.