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Film is Life

The 83rd Academy Awards were this past Sunday and, like every year, I watched them with Ashley and some friends that came over. As usual, the telecast was a cross between awkward and boring, but we still had fun watching it. This may be partly because movies have been --- and continue to be --- such a huge part of my life.

Film critic Roger Ebert has often remarked that literature is more of an intellectual exercise, while films tend to be more of an emotional experience. While it can't be denied that books can pack an emotional wallop on occasion, I mostly agree with Ebert's assessment. Who wasn't moved during Colin Firth's performance in The King's Speech when, as King George VI, he gave his stirring speech on the eve of World War II? Who didn't shed a tear (or at least get a little misty-eyed) when Jack disappeared into the icy waters of the Atlantic at the end of Titanic? And what about when Forrest Gump is speaking to his dead, beloved Jenn-ay at her grave? Movies have the ability, perhaps more than any other art form, to tap into our emotions.

Regardless of the emotional impact a film may (or may not have), it's true that they have had a huge influence over my life. Here, then, are five of the films that have most impacted me thus far. Feel free to check them out if you have the opportunity to do so.

Amadeus (1984)

Without a doubt, this is my all-time favorite film. I nearly wore-out the VHS copy my family had during the 1980s, and have purchased it (twice) on DVD and on Blu-ray. Though not an extremely accurate portrayal of the life of composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (but then, what biopic is all that accurate), it is nevertheless a lush tribute to the world that he inhabited. The sets, the costumes, the direction, the performances --- all are top-notch. This movie ignited my interest in classical music, something which has endured to this day. Symphonies, concertos, operas --- it all began for me with this film. I love it. And it's even more special because it happens to be the Ashley's favorite movie, as well. Great minds think alike, I guess.

El Norte (1983)

I originally saw this at Ebertfest years ago, and it impacted me like few other movies have before or since. It tells the story of a brother and sister from Central America who journey north to the United States (illegally) in order to find a better life. It is, in many ways, a modern Grapes of Wrath. This film completely changed my mind about illegal immigration. It's not like I was a hardcore anti-immigrant person before seeing this, but it was definitely something that, when my mind did turn to the issue, seemed pretty cut and dry: If you're here in the states illegally, you're suspect, and need to go. Try and come back sometime when you're legit. El Norte opened my eyes to the harshness of such thinking. It is superbly directed and beautifully filmed. I highly recommend you watch it.

Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Perhaps it was because I was just 22 when this movie came out. The younger we are, the less thought we typically give to things, especially things (and people) from the past. But leaving the theater after watching this film, I felt... changed. Or at least I saw things differently. World War II was no longer a distant event in 20th century history. For the first time, it felt real. Everyone talks about the opening 20 minutes, when the Allies storm the beach at Normandy. Yes, that's a stunning sequence, but the rest of the film holds-up just as well. And Spielberg was right to bookend the movie with the remembrance of the current-day, older Private Ryan. This was a major aspect of the picture that helped me view the older people around me with different eyes. For the first time, I looked at them and thought, 'Who among them served during WWII? Who was at Normandy? Who went through the pain, fear, conflict and anguish of those dark years of the early-mid 1940s?' This was the awakening (perhaps a tad late) that a young man went through after seeing this film. It still haunts me today.

This Boy's Life (1993)

While not every aspect of this film reflects parts of my own life, enough of it hits home that it's a familiar, often uncomfortable movie to watch. This Boy's Life tells the story of Toby and his nomadic mother, flitting from one town and one man to the next, until finally they settle in the small, northwest community of Concrete with Dwight and his family. Played to hideous perfection by Robert DeNiro, Dwight is an ogre. He is an insecure man who bullies his children and seems to despise his wife. He's overbearing in every sense of the word, yet still manages to remaind distant and cold. Unfortunately, much of this I could relate to with the relationship I had with my own father. The scene toward the end, when Dwight and his mother finally run-off and leave Dwight behind to his pitiable existence resonated with me deeply. While it didn't reflect any actual event in my life, it did manage to encapsulate the feeling of euphoria I had when my parents finally divorced.

Titanic (1997)

I know, the haters came out in full-force against this movie after the tidal wave of its success wore-off sometime in 1998. Still, it made $600 million somehow, didn't it? At any rate, what worked about this movie for me (and others, I suspect) is how instead of trying to cover the lives of several passengers and crew members on the doomed ship (as other Titanic-themed films have done), this one decided to focus mainly on the love story of two people -- Jack and Rose, star-crossed lovers that were never meant to live a long and happy life together. Leonardo DiCaprio became my ultimate leading man with this film, and his devotion to the hapless Rose is tear-inducing. We should all hope to have someone like him in our corner.


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