Saturday, November 14, 2015

15 Movies that will always stay with me (part 3 of 3)

(Read part 1 here and part 2 here.)

11. Sophie's Choice

In this movie, the lead character Sophie, a Polish woman who was imprisoned in a concentration camp in Auschwitz, somehow survives the Holocaust and eventually finds herself in the US. She becomes involved with Nathan, a smart, vibrant man with an infectious zest for life. Later, they become best friends with Stingo, a young man from the South who is trying to write a book. While Sophie's Choice starts out quite cheerful, it gets heavy pretty quickly. You can feel the presence of the holocaust throughout the entire film even if only a few scenes are actually set during the war. As Sophie starts opening up to Stingo, we slowly learn the details of her tragic life and of the horrors she experienced that she has tried to forget. It is traumatic, gruesome, and heart rending, as many films about The Holocaust are. I actually knew what choice it was that Sophie had to make (and from which the film gets its title) long before I saw the movie, but I can only imagine how much of a shock it would be to people who saw it without having that knowledge. (If you are curious what it is, read this Urban Dictionary entry.)

Sophie's Choice is memorable to me for two reasons. First, because it is a gut-wrenching tale of how something as horrific as the holocaust ruins lives and even those who survive it can still find themselves crumbling long after. Second, it is elevated by the sheer brilliance of Meryl Streep. My list of 15 movies isn't well-balanced because it has two films that are here because of how much of an impact Streep's performance had on me. However, both had a profound effect for different reasons: she was (is) greatly underrated in The Bridges of Madison County while Sophie's Choice is famous for being Meryl's best performance and for being a must-see for all Streep fans. She won her first Oscar for Best Actress for playing Sophie and she absolutely deserves all the accolades and praise she has received for it. From running the whole gamut of human emotion to showing subtle glimpses of the depth of the pain she has tried to forget to learning how to speak in German and Polish and adopting a Polish-American accent, Meryl Streep totally immerses herself in this role and truly becomes Sophie. This has to be the single best performance I have ever seen.

12. The Last Unicorn

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This animated film was released in 1982 by Rankin Bass and when I saw it the first time as a kid, I didn't like it and found it quite boring. However, when I watched The Last Unicorn again as a young adult, my appreciation for it expanded significantly, making it one of my favorite animated films (animation quality notwithstanding). One of the most important twists in the film happens midway when Amalthea, the last unicorn who is attempting to find the rest of the unicorns, is attacked by the Red Bull. In an attempt to save her life, Schemndrick the magician transforms her by accident into a woman. While she is initially shocked to be and feel mortal, Amalthea soon learns to love and this love eventually becomes so strong that she wishes to abandon her quest to find all the other unicorns. This poignant and haunting movie talks about love, loneliness, and the human desire to achieve greatness and leave a legacy. However, the theme that resonated with me the most was regret. When the unicorn says that she is actually thankful for being able to feel regret and that she will forever be different from all the other unicorns, I was deeply affected. This film, based on the novel of the same title, is not really ideal for children. For adults who may want to watch The Last Unicorn now, once you get past the poor animation (by 2015 standards), you will be rewarded by a sad but beautifully moving story.

13. Frost/Nixon

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This movie, which stars Frank Langella and Martin Sheen, was highly acclaimed by critics and audiences and it in fact scored a few Oscar nominations. Knowing what it was about (Nixon admitting on TV that his administration tried to cover up its involvement in what was later to be called the Watergate scandal), I thought it was going to be slow, serious, deliberate, methodical and very intelligent. It was most of those things, all right, but it was certainly not slow. Frost/Nixon is fast-paced and suspenseful (who would have thought that, right?), with a lot of intense and stress-filled moments as David Frost and his team try to figure how to get Richard Nixon to admit his mistakes. (I didn't realize until I saw this how much work went into landing that interview, preparing for it, and setting the stage for Frost to elicit an admission from Nixon.) I watched it on DVD and I remember being so involved that even if I could easily put my player on pause to take a quick restroom break, I didn't want to. You know a movie is very well-made when a story to which everyone knows the ending and that is primarily about an interview (and not some life-or-death situation) still has an edge-of-the-seat feel to it. As I had written before, Frost/Nixon greatly exceeded my expectations, which were already pretty high to begin with.

14. Never Let me Go

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I wasn't familiar with Never Let Me Go until a couple of friends talked about it in passing once. When I saw it on Star Movies one night, I decided to watch and I ended up being deeply affected. The film's concept is already pretty disturbing - humans are cloned to become organ donors when they reach adulthood. It's like a drama version of The Island except that there is no triumphant revolution in the end that releases all the clones from their deathly fate. What makes Never Let Me go even more heartbreaking is that all the clones know what they were created for, and as they reach adulthood, they all understand that they don't have much time left. They attempt to prolong their lives, either by being a carer or through the rumored possibility of a deferral which can supposedly be granted to donors who have found true love. This film is based on the book of the same name written by Kazuo Ishiguro. While critics of the film (and the book) say that the grisly fate of the donors should spur them to either run away or to revolt, Ishiguro said that often, in life, humans don't run away from these situations. We often accept what we believe to be normal and we accept what we believe our fate to be without challenging it and this can happen for a variety of reasons, such as passivity, fear, or even respect. Think about it: slavery was acceptable for a large part of history and more often than not, the slaves didn't rebel nor did they run away. (Watch the author discuss this in this video.) Never Let Me Go moved me, disturbed me and made me think a lot about it afterward. It's not easy to watch by any stretch of the imagination, but that's what makes it tremendously memorable.

15. Up

Most films about grief revolve around the death of someone who is killed or maybe a young character battling a terminal illness. But in Up, we get to see someone who lives a full life, grows old, and passes away in her twilight years. That this happens very early on is pretty heavy stuff. I had just written about how much of an impact Up made on me and why it is my favorite animated film. Yet despite it being one of the best films created about grief, it also celebrates life and shares with us the importance of valuing even the simple moments. It tells us that our dreams may change as we get older but that a dream that doesn't come true doesn't shouldn't mean that our life has less value. There is a lot of focus sometimes on the bucket list, or things we want to - have to - do before we die, that there is almost a feeling of dissatisfaction when we are unable to achieve a dream. In truth, it is not this bucket list that makes life beautiful and amazing because our lives aren't just made up of the highlights; rather, they are made up of all moments, big and small. Up is heartwarming and heartbreaking and triumphant and bittersweet at the same time, making it a truly beautiful film.


I always knew that sad movies tend to have a greater prolonged impact on me (I enjoy the happy, feel-good movies a lot but the sad ones on average stay with me longer). I'm also not surprised that a lot of the films that were memorable for me are those that feature sensational acting performances. What is interesting though is about half the movies in my list are based on books (I guess I should read more). While all the decades of my life are all represented, a third of the films on my list are from the 1990s. Of the four films from the 1980s, three are actually from the same year - 1982. However, I got to watch those three in different decades though (The Last Unicorn in the 1980s, Himala in the 1990s, and Sophie's Choice in the 2010s).

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