2006/06/22

An Inspirational Five

The AFI has released its list of the top 100 Inspirational Films of all time, and you know what? For the most part it sucks! You see, I don't believe that such a list can be created by committee or by voting. The notion of inspiration is so tied up with who we are, that each person's list would be unique--probably wouldn't even overlap.

So, with that in mind I'm going to list my top 5 inspirational films:

5. Life Is Beautiful
4. The Color Purple
3. The Mission
2. Hotel Rwanda
1. Fargo


And what do these films say about me? Well, setting aside Fargo for the moment, probably that I'm inspired by terrible adversity and by people who continue to struggle despite knowing that their cause is lost, that their efforts will amount to nothing. This is typified by Gabriel (The Mission) who, when he's told that the Portuguese/Spanish division of the new world means that they will have to abandon their work with the natives replies, "But are we to let that stand in our way, your Eminence?"

Now let's deal with Fargo. Because it's really the black sheep in this list.

Fargo, in my opinion demonstrates the best and the worst in people, and the best is embodied in Francis McDormand's character Marge Gunderson. Marge doesn't let kidnappings and murders get to her. She goes about her job with dedication and efficiency. She knows how to let people down easy (Lou, about his police work); She doesn't condescend (questioning the prostitutes); She knows how to brighten someone's day with the simplest observation (her remark to her husband about the "little stamps"); And she knows how to look on the bright side even when it sounds corny ("You know we're doing pretty well..."). Marge is inspiring for who she is, not what she goes through, but perhaps that is the case with the other films as well.

So...what inspires you?

Thanks to The Station Agent for taking it upon himself to create his own list. I didn't agree with his either, but that's what got me thinking.

26 Comments:

guess my idea of "inspirational" is a bit darker than yours. I agree on Fargo. Add The Big Lebowski, Dr. Strangelove, Clockwork Orange, and The Last Picture Show. Oh, and you made me remember The Mission, which is an excellent #6. (ps, I followed your frog footpads from enigma's) -- D.K.
Shawshank Redemption, Norma Rae, and the Robin William's movie where he played the doctor (sorry, my CRS condition is bad today.)
D.K., welcome. You know the Station Agent listed the Big Lebowski as well, and although I like the film (a lot) I don't find it particularly inspiring. If you don't mind my asking, what do you find inspiring about it?
haha, well to start, John Turturro's bowling style! As far as inspiration, I think just the fact that even tho' The Dude was clearly stuck back in my youth, he seemed to be happily surviving today without having compromised his core values. Really, most anything the Coen Bros do is OK with me.

I think movie lists say less about the movies themselves than they do about the person making the list. So depending on my mood, I could just as easily have listed The Long Riders vs The Last Picture Show. I'd like to see a list of favorite movie scenes since many undistinguished movies contain at least one unforgettable scene.

Re: Fargo, yes Marge's down-to-earth character is wonderful, but being from the SW (104 today), for me seeing all that snow was just as dramatic! D.K.
Where is the The Passion of the Christ on that list? How can you have a list of inspirational films and not include The Passion of the Christ?
The Passion of the Christ?

Right you are R-bE. The Passion of the Christ double-billed with The Last Temptation of Christ and bracketed by The Greatest Story Ever Told on one side and The Ten Commandments on the other--almost Wagnerian in breadth and length. :-)

Anon, I have to admit that John Goodman's speeches are one of the best parts of the film for me.
I agree with you on Life Is Beautiful - I really enjoyed that movie. And I just love Fargo and agree with what you said about Marge.

I don't know if I have a top 5 list of inspirational movies, but I did enjoy A Beautiful Mind. I guess I would include Philadelphia.

BTW, I know It's A Wonderful Life was #1 on AFI's list, but I don't like that movie at all. I think it's slow and boring (I know I'm probably in the minority on this one.)
If I say SLC Punk is that too telling? ;-)
I'm touched, nay, inspired by this rich homage. Excellent! And bravo on your list sir, classics all.
Elsa, I have to agree about Wonderful Life. Maybe inspirational, but not numero uno!

Lukku Cairi...welcome. SLC Punk, huh! Great film, but what does that first part stand for?

SA, my pleasure. But the traffic man...the traffic! I'm trying to get people to go over to Ice Station Tango and beat you up for The Karate Kid.
Fargo is simply one of the best films ever made in America, but I love all Coen Brothers films. The problem I have with making lists like these personally is once I'm done and published them I immediately remember one I should have added to the list.
Lew... Well, while we're on the subject of the Coen brothers: I have to say that they're all great with one exception (Kvatch pauses to pull up his asbestos shorts)...Barton Fink. I just don't get it, and I don't like it. Hell I even like Intolerable Cruelty. No strike that. I think Intolerable Cruelty is great, but Barton Fink remains a mystery to me.

(And I have to put in a plug for O' Brother Where Art Thou. Next to Fargo, it's the best of a magnificent collection of films.)
I loved Fargo, too, for the same reasons as Kvatch - also love Shawshank, The Full Monty and Coming To America.
GREAT list FROG!

Fargo was great. All their movies are..
Salt Lake City - the only place in the United States with enough of a monolithic establishment left that "visible rebellion" still counts for something.

Not that I visibly rebel (too goddamn old, mostly), but I appreciate the dynamic. Very Manichaean.

The movie is about acknowledging that LIFE IS SHIT and that the nihilists are, in an ultimate sense, correct; but that you gotta move on from there and create a point to your life to prove them wrong, just for you, personally. Or you die, whichever.

As an aside, I've always been a fan of improv religion. It's fun to create pantheons and then take them apart to see how they work. The history of philosophy in a petri dish.

As an aside to that aside, I grew up in the Bahamas, where our rainwater tank was full of Cuban tree frogs, and at night they said "KVATCH!" "KVATCH!" to each other very loudly. They liked the echo chamber effect, I believe.

Two rapid digressions in a row have proved to me that the cold meds are kicking in. Glad to have found you, and goodnight!
Alicia...Coming to America...great film.

Lily, thanks.

Lukku, in fact "Kvatch" is the sound a frog makes in German, which is part of the reason I chose it. There are other reasons as well.
Your list is great...I have a few others to add...

The Scent of a Woman (Pacino's speech at the Boy's school)

Box of Moonlight (John Turturo discovering Sam Rockwell as a friend)

Life Is Beautiful and The Mission

The Medicine Man (Sean Connery in the rain forest discovering the cure for cancer...and it being destroyed by fire)
I am also a big Coen brothers fan -- loved Frances McDormand's Marge. It definitely inspired me the first time I saw it because I was about 8 months pregnant and feeling like the Staypuft Marshmallow Woman, and it was so refreshing to see a pregnant woman portrayed as a ultra-competent hero rather than as a vulnerable china doll.

I like Field of Dreams. It's inspirational in a follow-your-vision sort of way, even if practically everyone around you regards your vision as kooky. I like the way Kevin Costner's wife believes him even though she doesn't hear the voices. I also like the way the wife takes on the book-burning "Nazi cow" at the PTA meeting. (I was kind of annoyed at Kevin Costner for not noticing, even if he was hearing voices at the time.)

The ultimate shameless chick flick, Steel Magnolias, also inspires me because I hope to live long enough to become a crotchety old Southern woman like Ouisa Boudreau.

PS: I second Lukku's observation about Cuban tree frogs -- they do say "kvatch" incessantly.
Send you minnions against me, Kvatch. I will best them with the crane kick thing Ralph Macchio does in the movie.

"A good school!"
Betty - me too - Field of Dreams is a guilty pleasure. As is (gulp) Angels in the Outfield. My kids love it, and I will get all choked up at the foster kids getting adopted by the crusty coach. It takes balls to come up with a story line as sappy as that.
Lots of great movies in that list. But if Pinnochio could make it, Lady and the Tramp should have made it, too. I loved that movie...
Actually, that AFI list looks more like the 100 Films Most Desperately Anxious to Be Inspirational.
I think DBK is right--a lot of films in that list that tug at the heartstrings just for the sake of doing it.
Let me explain Barton Fink to you.
Barton Fink is an up-and-coming playwright who is the toast of Broadway. He dreams of setting up a theatre for the common man, the guy in the street. He goes to Hollywood to make money writing screenplays because, as the studio chief says "we like the Barton Fink feel" (even though he has no idea whta exactly that is). He does this, in part, to fund his theatre for the common man, and checks into a seedy hotel to surround himself with the common man, and immediately begins to complain about the noise (made in part, by the common man). He struggles to write a screenplay, about wrestling, with the Barton Fink feel, seeking advice about where to start from everyone, only to ignore them when they lay out various formulaic scenarios. Instead, he churns out another pretentious "Barton Fink" piece, which is ridiculed by evryone form the police (another version of the common man) to the studio chief (who says he could hire a hundred writers to give him a piece with that "Barton Fink" feel). His dreams (of building a theatre for the common man) dashed, he heads down to a beach (with a box that may contain the head of his lover)unaware that his dream of a theatre for the common man has been there in front of him all the time-movies!
Lew...as much as I appreciate the synopsis, I still don't get what's so great about BF, as compared to the other Coen Brother's films.

Probably an artifact of my only having 5 brains cells. Pearls before swine, as they say. Throw up Nick Cage saying, "...my wife's womb was a rocky place where my seed could find no purchase." and I'm all over it.
Well, besides stellar performances by John Goodman and John Turturro (always excellent in Coen Brothers films), it also featured great support from Tony Shaloub and William Mahoney (plus Steve Buscemi..CHET). I wouldn't say it's their best (that would be Miller's Crossing)but it is a step above Hudsucker Proxy (which is one of my lesser favorites). I'll admit, the first time I saw it, I was not too impressed, but like all their films, they get better with repeat viewing.

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