Inspiration is one thing, pulling ones-self out from the darkness is another. Fighting to stay alive is the task we all face. Fortunately, stories about making it are the ones that keep us going. The final part of my positive film list trilogy is about uplifting your fellow human being as well as yourself. Allowing the person on either your left or right to simply enjoy breathing for a few minutes and possibly find their calling in the long run. Once again this is not a list of best movies overall. This is focused on uplifting feelings.
10. The Truman Show (1998):
Reality television is admittedly a guilty pleasure. Being part of it, not so much. In his first somewhat serious role, Jim Carrey plays Truman Burbank. He is the kindest person in the world. Unfortunately, his world is literally a bubble. “The Truman Show” is the story of a man born in captivity as the star of a 24 hour reality television network. He lives in what looks on the surface to be a perfect life. He is surrounded by a legion of actors pretending to be the cookie cutter community with show director Ed Harris pulling all of the strings to keep up the facade. Perfection always gets old and the spirit of needing to break free comes out in its own unique way.
9. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946):
Often World War II is looked at in a bit more of a romantic light in America because it was the one war that, while not without its complications, was a clear good guys against bad guys. The least spoken about problem was the soldiers having to switch their brains back when they came home. “The Best Years of Our Lives” was one of the first films to tackle that debacle of men trying to be normal again. It chronicles the story of three soldiers. Frederic March is a 40 plus year old vet who returns home to his family with a serious drinking problem. Dana Andrews is the dreamy ex-soldier dealing with memories during his tour on a bomber ship. But perhaps the worst off is Harold Russell who lost both hands in the navy and now uses hooks for appendages. What makes director William Wyler’s classic post-war drama so special is its overall sensibility. No matter what a person goes through, the ones we love are what ultimately digs you out of the deepest of holes, and we all need that sometimes.
8. Forrest Gump (1994):
Similar to children or pets, often times a simpleton teaches the ‘Smart People’ what is actually important in life. That is what “Forrest Gump” is all about. Based on the novel of the same name, Tom Hanks won his second consecutive Oscar as the titular Forrest, a man who somehow stumbles his way into several of the most historic events during the mid 20th century, all the while never truly knowing what is taking place. Yet he can inspire hope in Elvis, his bitter drill sergeant Lt. Dan, and the love of his life and drug addict Jenny. Everyone knows the famous tagline, but my personal favorite is when Forrest tells Jenny; “I’m not a smart man, but I know what love is”. Truer words could not be said by any male.
7. Hoosiers (1986):
Nothing brings a community together better than sports. No matter the level or game, big or small, being part of a crowd cheering with strangers is one of the greatest things we do as human beings. “Hoosiers” is perhaps the best example of an underdog team bringing together a small community. Gene Hackman plays the Indiana team’s coach and brings a level of discipline to the squad which helps vault them on a state championship run, un-heard of for such a small school in a basketball state. His methods even help one of the player’s father, a mean drunk played by Dennis Hopper, find his way and reconnect with his boy and the community. There are more important things in life of course, but it’s hard to beat rooting for athletes fighting for greatness.
6. In America (2002):
Staying together amongst the mist of extreme hardship is what family is all about. No matter how that word “Family” is defined in one’s life. Director Jim Sheridan’s “In America” is the story of two parents, Johnny and Sarah Sullivan, running from the past of having lost a child. With two daughters still alive, the Irish group immigrate to Manhattan illegally from Canada. It’s a tough go of it from the start. They have almost no money, move into a drug addict filled tenement in Hell’s Kitchen, and Johnny wants to be an actor. The memory of their dead son Frankie is a black cloud over the parents, but the beautiful innocence of the two young girls always shines through, particularly when they befriend an angry African-American neighbor whom they refer to as “The Man That Screams”. Bottom line, no matter how bad life can become, never forget to stay kind and never give up on a dream to have a better life.
5. Singin’ in the Rain (1952):
It’s hard for even a person that hates musicals not to find joy while watching “Singin’ in the Rain”. The Gene Kelly classic is the gold standard of singing and dancing on the big screen. On top of that, the movie is completely meta, telling the story of a silent film star having to adjust to the introduction of “talkies” before being forgotten about in a new technological age. The titular classic main number is just the tip of the happiness iceberg here. Who could forget the slapstick wow-fest that is Donald O’Connor’s “Make ‘Em Laugh” or the smile inducing “Good Morning” with the three leads. No matter how down your mood is, “Singin’ in the Rain” will find some way to make you smile.
4. Bulworth (1998):
Easily the most gangster S.O.B. on this list, Warren Beatty’s 1998 unsung gem “Bulworth” is perhaps the greatest example of a person saying fuck it when they know death is coming. Beatty plays Jay Billington Bulworth, a California democratic senator who is tired of all the lies and puts out a contract on his life with a shady hitman that will be completed within a week. After that, he’s got nothing to lose! From telling a black church group obviously politicians don’t care about their community, to insulting the mostly Jewish Hollywood community for being rich money grubbers, to going clubbing with some gangsters, Bulworth does not care. The problem is that once he says screw it the career politician finds a reason to live. Not the best time to put a bounty on ones head. Kindness is ultimately the key to happiness, which Senator Bulworth learns in both helping youth corner drug dealers being harassed by the police and buying them ice cream as well as falling for a young Halle Berry. Unfortunately, doing the right thing does not always end well. Just ask the greedy insurance company Bulworth told to go to hell.
3. E.T. (1982):
It seems like every time someone makes a movie about aliens they’re out to kill us. Steven Spielberg said no with his all-time mega classic “E.T.” A young boy named Elliot living in a suburb in the South California area hears noises in the backyard which both his friends and sibling laugh at him about. With the aide of some well placed Reese’s Pieces candies, Elliot stumbles upon the oddest looking yet also kindest alien one could imagine. Who knows were or even when he came from, but E.T. is awesome. Disregard the decades of marketing similar to “Star Wars”, the journey of a child finding a friend so unique that his life will never be the same is the stuff that dreams are made of. And never forget the heart touching quote; “I’ll be right…here”.
2. The Shawshank Redemption (1994):
It is sad, but everyone must escape something at some point. Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) has to spend 20 plus years escaping the worst place in the world, a place he should not be, prison. Wrongly accused of killing his wife and her lover, Dufresne is sentenced to life in prison and scared to death. The story is told from the point of view of Morgan Freeman, a lifer of a prisoner who just might get out one day. The warden is a dick. Both prisoners and guards do unspeakable things to Andy, yet he continues to persevere because he is smarter. Andy also does what he can to help improve the lives of his fellow inmates. “The Shawshank Redemption” is not simply about getting out of hell. It is about helping others during the process.
1. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946):
Throw all of the adjectives about how “It’s a Wonderful Life” is say smaltzy or cheesy around. You’re wrong, but let us have a go. The 1940’s Frank Capra directed classic is the quintessential example of how to earn a happy ending. Ignore the ending and ‘angel gets his wings’ stuff. Do you realize what one man goes through (Jimmy Stewart), to want to kill himself?! This guy stopped an alcoholic pharmaceutical tech from poisoning a child accidentally, found the woman of his dreams during a school dance, refused to go to college after his brother came home to run the town bank, and gave money to people in need post war, no questions asked. Yet he still wanted to kill himself and it took an angel to save himself from jumping off of a bridge and realizing that life is worth living. If that isn’t uplifting then I don’t know what is.