List: Most Inspiring Movies #100-81

This week, I’m starting the second half of my list of the 200 most inspiring movies to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 most inspiring American movies. I don’t follow the same rules as the AFI. Foreign movies, documentaries, and short-length films all appear. See #200-181, #180-161, #160-141, #140-121, and #120-101.

 

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100. My Neighbor Totoro (1988: Hayao Miyazaki)

99. Places in the Heart (1984: Robert Benton)

98. Searching for Bobby Fischer (1993: Steve Zaillion)

97. Interstellar (2014: Christopher Nolan)

96. The Life of Emile Zola (1937: William Dieterle)

95. The Story of Weeping Camel (2004: Byambasuran Davaa & Luigi Falormi)

94. Moneyball (2010: Bennett Miller)

93. Smoke Signals (1998: Chris Eyre)

92. Fiddler on the Roof (1971: Norman Jewison)

91. Beauty and the Beast (1991: Robert Wise & Gary Trousdale)

 

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90. The Full Monty (1997: Peter Cattaneo)

89. 7th Heaven (1937: Henry King)

88. Somebody up There Likes Me (1956: Robert Wise)

87. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000: Ang Lee)

86. The Nephew (1998: Eugene Brady)

85. Rocky (1976: John G. Avildsen)

84. Finding Neverland (2004: Marc Forster)

83. The Miracle Worker (1962: Arthur Penn)

82. The Polar Express (2004: Robert Zemeckis)

81. Hoosiers (1986: David Anspaugh)

 

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Now, Voyager (1942)

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2017 is the 75th anniversary of the film that Bette Davis gave her greatest performance in. Like Whoopie Goldberg’s Celie in The Color Purple, Bette Davis’ character Charlotte is transformed from victimhood of years of abuse and deprivation of love and kindness into a confident woman who is able to experience the reality of goodness in the world and to be part of that goodness, giving of herself to others and healing the brokenness in others, helping them experience the same transformation she has gone through. The story of The Color Purple is overtly religious while Now, Voyager‘s is not, but the process we see in Now, Voyager is just as much of a spiritual transformation.

Charlotte’s existence is controlled by her mother. She makes no decisions on her own, has no friends of her own, and thinks of herself as incapable, ugly, stupid, and completely dependent on her mother because that is exactly how her mother has groomed her. The psychological abuse Charlotte endured is almost unbearable to watch at times, and we see enough flashbacks to know that it has been going on her whole life. But the story begins at a breaking point in Charlotte’s relationship with her mother where she meets a psychiatrist (Clause Raines from Casablanca and Notorious playing one of the rare upstanding characters of his career). He helps her see that there is more to herself than what she can see and that the only way to discover that is to have some separation from her mother.

After her psychological treatment, the doctor encourages her to travel apart from her mother. As she does that, the transformation becomes real. She has to fight with the lies she’s heard from her mother for so many years that she’s too ugly and stupid to be lovable. When a man expresses romantic interest in her, she has to learn to accept herself as worthy of that kind of love. She has to know that she is capable of giving any kind of love. As the transformation unfolds, Now, Voyager becomes one of the most romantic movies ever made, but since this man who she falls in love with is married, her transformation is complicated. She learns to love Jerry (Paul Heinried, also from Casablanca) through his daughter Tina whose experiences mirror her own.

The movie’s most famous scene includes the line, “Oh Jerry, don’t let’s ask for the moon. We have the stars.” Her transformation is complete because she has been able to love another. Charlotte and Jerry both have too much respect for Jerry’s commitment to his wife to let their attraction to one another tear his family apart. That would be to ask for the moon. But they truly love each other in a way that allows Tina to escape the abuse she endured from her mother by becoming like the daughter of Jerry and Charlotte, even though it’s separate with Charlotte as her caretaker. That’s what it means for them to have the stars.

These characters experience spiritual transformations that make them able to receive and to give love. They are empowered to no longer be trapped by the effects of abuse they’ve experienced and to heal others through the love they’ve been shown. While Now, Voyager is one of the most romantic movies ever made, its view of love is much fuller than that. The expressions of love are life-giving and sacrificial. They empower others to be transformed as they have been.

 

List: Most Inspiring Movies #120-101

We’re up to the halfway mark on the list of the 200 most inspiring movies of all time. See #200-181, #180-161, #160-141, and #140-121.

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120. The Karate Kid (1984: John G. Avildsen)

119. David and Lisa (1962: Frank Perry)

118. A Raisin in the Sun (1961: Daniel Petrie)

117. The Keys of the Kingdom (1943: John M. Stahl)

116. Imitation of Life (1934: John M. Stahl)

115. Coming Home (1979: Hal Ashby)

114. A Brilliant Young Mind (2014: Morgan Matthews)

113. Meet John Doe (1941: Frank Capra)

112. A Little Princess (1995: Alfonso Cuarón)

111. Big Hero 6 (2014: Don Hall & Chris Williams)

 

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110. The King’s Speech (2010: Tom Hooper)

109. The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (1958: Robert Rossen)

108. Malcolm X (1992: Spike Lee)

107. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946: Frank Capra)

106. A Man Called Peter (1955: Henry Koster)

105. Gandhi (1982: Richard Attenborough)

104. Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936: Frank Capra)

103. All or Nothing (2002: Mike Leigh)

102. Frozen (2013: Chuck Buck & Jennifer Lee)

101. Holiday (1938: George Cuckor)

 

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The Immigrant (1917)

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This year marks the 100th anniversary of Charlie Chaplin’s greatest short length film. Like most of Chaplin’s movies, he balances on a tightrope between comedy and tragedy in The Immigrant. The film opens on a ship headed for the U.S. Its occupants are mostly Russian Jews seeking refuge from the oppression of the tzar. On the ship, Chaplin accomplishes some of his greatest physical comedy including the results of seasickness and a choreographed scene with a fish that must have inspired Monty Python’s obsession with fish slapping. But Chaplin does all this surrounded by grief, poverty, hunger, and desperation.

Chaplin’s character doesn’t seem to have the same amount of physical and emotional distress as those with him on the ship. The movie doesn’t explore why that is or give any of his (or anyone else’s) backstory. We just know that he’s surrounded by hurt and sees himself as a way to make things right. Chaplin’s characters are often unintentional heroes that do great things for other people but only by accident. His character in The Immigrant is no “little tramp.” This may be his only true heroic character.

Most of the movie is set on the ship. Through what happens on the ship, we see that the story is set in a time where immigrants are unfairly labeled “bad hombres” just like the world we live in in the U.S. right now. An older woman on the ship realizes she has lost the money that will make her able to enter the U.S. legally. Without that money, she gets sent back. Chaplin’s character has compassion on her and has a very funny scene where he tries to sneak money into her pocket without her knowing it. But an American guard on the ship sees and accuses him of being a pickpocket. When they reach the border, things just get worse.

Everywhere he goes, he’s treated like he doesn’t belong, like he’s ruining the country, and like he’s a “bad hombre.” Nobody is willing to show him the same compassion that he is so willing to give others. Chaplin’s usual characters would fight over this, but not this one. Chaplin’s immigrant character is always willing to fight, but only for other people that he sees being wronged. In less than a half hour, we see a story that vividly shows the themes of justice, compassion, and mercy, something so sadly missing from the America of its time.

It’s been 100 years since The Immigrant was made, and in the last few decade, much progress has been made to avoid the type of treatment of people seen in this movie. But ever since Donald Trump decided to “make America great again,” he’s shown that his vision of American greatness looks a lot the anger, oppression, deceit, and discriminatory behavior that marks how the American characters in this great Chaplin film treat immigrants. That is a very sad reality, yet Chaplin’s character offers such a contrast to all the harm by being a source of healing. So the movie shows us that we can fight against these cultural swings towards hatred and indifference by giving love and compassion.

 

Other Chaplin movies I’ve reviewed:

The Gold Rush (1925); Modern Times (1936); The Great Dictator (1940)

List: Most Inspiring Movies #140-121

This is the 4th installment of my list of the most inspiring movies. See #200-181, #180-161, & #160-141.

 

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140. The Farmer’s Daughter (1947: H.C. Potter)

139. Modern Times (1936: Charles Chaplin)

138. Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977: George Lucas)

137. Chicken Run (2000: Nick Park & Peter Lord)

136. Monsieur Lazhar (2010: Phillipe Fauldereaux)

135. Return to Me (2000: Bonnie Hunt)

134. Milk (2008: Gus Van Sant)

133. The BFG (2016: Steven Spielberg)

132. The Robe (1953: Henry Koster)

131. Dave (1993: Ivan Reitman)

 

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130. An Affair to Remember (1957: Leo McCarey)

129. Shrek (2001: Andrew Adamson)

128. Waking Ned Devine (1998: Kirk Jones)

127. The Mighty (1998: Peter Chelsom)

126. Hondo (1953: John Farrow)

125. The Butler (2013: Lee Daniels)

124. Queen Christina (1933: Rouben Mamoulian)

123. Freaks (1932: Tod Browning)

122. The Rookie (2002: John Lee Hancock)

121. The Great Dictator (1940: Charles Chaplin)

 

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What’s Cooking? (2000)

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The most American of all Holidays is brought to screen by British-Indian director/screenwriter Gurinder Chadha (co-written with her husband Paul Mayeda Berges). We follow the events of Thanksgiving day for four families, each from a different ethnic background, that all live in the same L.A. neighborhood.

The Vietnamese family struggles with the tensions of Americanized children that don’t share the same values, and when their turkey with all its Asian spices gets burned, the kids are happy to have dinner from KFC. The Mexican-American family is just beginning to heal after years of betrayal and infidelity that led to an unavoidable divorce, except that the son has the not-so-brilliant idea of inviting his father to Thanksgiving along with his mom’s new boyfriend. The African-American family is full of conflicting expectations for what their Thanksgiving is supposed to look like, and those disagreements end up exploding into the revelations of secrets and scandals that could threaten to destroy the family or bring them together instead. And the Jewish family has to reconcile with the fact that there are lesbians in the family; nobody in the family wants to exclude them or be insensitive, but we see a very believable clash between the rest of the family’s religious and cultural sensibilities and how those beliefs are challenged by the fact of homosexuality in the family and how the couple challenges them to live out their beliefs through how they include and express love to the couple.

I may have just made this sound like a sappy, ingenuine soap opera, and if so I apologize deeply as that could not be further from an accurate explanation of this warm, smart,  sophisticated, complex, and extremely entertaining portrait of the diversity of American families. That diversity is shown through what initially looks like a complete separation between the four families. It appears to be four different stories connected only by a neighborhood and a holiday. But it is actually only one story. As it unfolds, we see more connection between the families than we (or they knew was there). They talk about how they don’t know their neighbors, but there’s a little more connection than they realize.

That connection is what makes What’s Cooking? so special. There’s a very bad thing that happens in the middle of the movie, but it’s a kind of bad thing that good things can come out of. Through that bad thing, the families all come together unintentionally. The connections between the families that were secret before are now in the open. All the people involved, whether they know it or not (and even whether they really want to or not), help each other heal.

Thanksgiving is a time when families come together, and often that means clashes of beliefs and values, resentments, and hurtful memories come face to face with each other.  That kind of confrontation may be unavoidable for many Thanksgivings, and What’s Cooking? points out the truth that this is not a bad thing. How we respond to it can be, but it can also result in healing of relationships. Divisions can be broken, walls between people can come down. What’s Cookingshows the potential power of healing and family available on days like Thanksgiving. Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

List: Most Inspiring Movies #160-141

Here’s the 3rd installment of the most inspiring movies of all time. See #200-181 and #180-161.

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160. Persepolis (2007: Vincent Paranoud & Marjane Satrapi)

159. Ratatouille (2007: Brad Bird)

158. Breaking Away (1979: Peter Yates)

157. Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962: Agnes Varda)

156. Marty (1955: Delbert Mann)

155. Joe versus the Volcano (1990: John Pattrick Shanley)

154. The Champ (1932: King Vidor)

153. The Preacher’s Wife (1996: Penny Marshall)

152. Take Shelter (2011: Jeff Nichols)

151. Nebraska (2012: Alexander Payne)

 

"The Song of Bernadette"
Jennifer Jones
1943 20th Century Fox

 

150. Lars and the Real Girl (2007: Craig Gillespie)

149. Song of Bernadette (1943: Henry King)

148. Dark Victory (1939: Edmund Goulding)

147. The Secret Life of Bees (2008: Gina Prince-Blythewood)

146. Remember the Titans (2000: Boaz Yakin)

145. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001: Peter Jackson)

144. Love & Mercy (2014: Bill Pohland)

143. The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951: Robert Wise)

142. The Lion King (1994: Roger Allers & Rob Minkoff)

141. I Remember Mama (1948: George Stevens)

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