let’s go to the movies


    I saw a promo for the Oscars next Sunday and it got me thinking about movies that have moved me for various reasons, so I thought I would share a few, in no particular order. These are ones a little out of the mainstream; all are worth chasing down at your local video store.

    Bottle Rocket (1996)

    This is, I think, the first collaboration between Wes Anderson and Luke and Owen Wilson. Owen plays Dignan, a guy who has a seventy-five year plan for how to be a successful criminal, which he describes well. The comedy is off the wall and you have to watch it more than once to make the most of the side comments.

    Miss Firecracker (1989)

    I’ve mentioned this movie before. Holly Hunter plays a young woman determined to win the Miss Firecracker Pageant in Yazoo City, Mississippi. What unfolds is a deeply resonant story of family, dreams, failure, and grace.

    Cry, the Beloved Country (1995)

    To say I love this movie is to say a great deal because the novel from which it is adapted is one of my favorite stories and Stephen Kumalo, the man at the heart of the story is one of the great characters in literature. This movie was the first independent movie produced in post-apartheid South Africa and is worth seeing again and again and again (after you read the book over and over).

    The Elephant Man (1980)

    David Lynch’s movie is based on the life of John Merrick, who was known as the Elephant Man because of his deformities. Anthony Hopkins plays the doctor who befriends him. One of my favorite scenes is Hopkins’ questioning his motives in helping the man, because his compassion brought him some fame.

    The Year of Living Dangerously (1982)

    Peter Weir directed Mel Gibson in two of his best movies: Gallipoli and this one. The movie is set in Indonesia during the political turmoil of the 1960’s. The key character is Billy Kwan, played by Linda Hunt (a role for which she won an Oscar). This movie works on lots of levels.

    The Killing Fields (1984)

    Before there was Law & Order, Sam Waterson played Sidney Schaunberg, who was a reporter for the New York Times during the Cambodian War and won a Pulitzer Prize for his stories. Dith Pran was the Cambodian who helped him. When the Americans evacuated, Pran and the other Cambodians who had helped them were left at the mercy of Pol Pot, who was out to kill pretty much everyone who disagreed with him. This is an amazing story of our human capacity to both endure and forgive.

    The In-Laws (1979)

    Yes, I said these were movies to watch more than once. I suppose I should also say you have to give yourself some time to recoup between viewings. I will close my list with one you can watch as many times as you want. This is one of the funniest movies ever. (The remake a couple years back sucked, by the way). Peter Falk is a former CIA guy who is pretty much of a loose cannon and Alan Arkin is a Manhattan dentist who has never colored outside the lines. They are great together.

    There are more where those came from. I would love to hear the movies that matter to you.



    1. Okay, safe to comment.

      I am absolutely nuts about Bottle Rocket. I never heard of it until someone recommended it. I’ve seen in three times. What a delightful film. The humor is…delicious.

      Elephant Man is a stunning thing. This is one of the few movies I will demand my children see, not that watching movies has ever been difficult to convince them to do. My oldest watched it with Jeanene and I just a couple of weeks ago. The younger two will watch it when their time comes. It’s strange, I’m not a big David Lynch fan. I can’t understand or relate to most of his stuff. But this…

      Couple of my recommendations – Amelie – Oh my God how I love that movie. I know this one is old and everyone has seen it, but Babette’s Feast. Also, a documentary, Capturing the Friedmans. This is a truly great film. An inside look at hysteria. Ebert said, “You know something happened here, but who knows what it was.”

      Finally, the most interesting documentary EVER. Hands down. No one can beat this unless they are willing to make a similar 50 year commitment. The UP series. It began in the early 60s with a film made of a number of English kids, all age 7. Every 7 years they revisit them to see how their lives are developing. (7 UP, 14 UP, 21 Up, etc.) The most recent in the series, 49 UP was just released on DVD. These kids are pushing 50, and you can watch their whole lives develop right before your eyes.

    2. I didn’t know that “Cry the Beloved Country” was made into a movie. I’ll have to check it out! I’m with you — it’s one of my all-time favorite books!

      A movie I’ve recently discovered is called “Rumors of Angels” — an amazing, simple on the surface, story about a friendship between a boy and an older lady. On a deeper level, it’s a movie about getting past our prejudices.

    3. A Trip to Bountiful is my favorite movie. I think Carrie reminds me of my grandmother, and the line “It’s too early for hymn singing” has always cracked me up. My roommate while I was in law school would always say that line — her mom would sing hymns at the top of her lungs at 6 a.m.

      I also adore the documentary Hands on a Hardbody about folks trying to win a truck, partially because it was filmed in my hometown, and because it is really well done [especially noticable if you watch it a 2nd time, after you know how it turns out].

      Bottle Rocket is great but I think The Royal Tennebaums is my favorite Wes Anderson film. And for big ole’ belly laughs, nothing beats Caddyshack.

    4. Gordon — I’ve never seen Amelie despite numerous recommendations;

      Evelyn — thanks for the “Rumors of Angels” tip

      Lisa — I thought about “Bountiful” when I was writing last night. And you’re right about Caddyshack.

      Thanks to all for the documentary tips. I’ve got a lot to watch.


    5. I’ve been wanting to watch Hands on a Hardbody for like two years, but I never could get Netflix to send it to me. It was always listed “very long time” Now I’m with Blockbuster online and it’s the same thing.

    6. RLP, we own it, friends have borrowed it, but I’d be glad to lend it to you when we get it back. I will let you know when I have it. Lisa

    7. Welp. Everyone here has nailed Bottlerocket. I’m from Dallas and was in my early 20s when it came out and I saw it. It hit me at a pretty tranformative period of my life (college) and, for whatever reason, remains a seminal flick. I’m not exactly sure how it shaped my life other than the fact that it influenced my mythos. The trait of the Dignan/Max Fischer (Rushmore) characters–boundless curiousity spilling over into adventure, however fanciful and unrealistic it might be, really strike me to the core. It’s something that I’ve readily identified with from childhood; always having had grand ideas but never quite seeing them through outside of my own mind.

      Anyway, I’m rambling. But..it’s a helluva movie and it makes this Dallas boy really proud to call it part of his home. In fact, I go to church no more than a mile from “Grace’s private school” (Anthony’s sister).

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