I absolutely love movies. It’s an undeniable fact. We all have that song, that movie, or TV episode that is a must watch/listen when we are down in the dumps, need a pep talk, or are drowning in our feels. Why else do we obsess over the 25 Days of Christmas on ABC Family (let’s be honest, we’ll never call it Freeform)? Below are a list of movies that I tend to watch at the beginning of each year that always gives me perspective for a new start. Because hey, “new year, new me,” amirite? Some for perspective, some because they just feel like winter and I enjoy synchronicity. So if you’re stuck inside this January and feel like you need a a nudge to think and feel a little deeper, some of these might be for you.
1. About A Boy (2002)
“Once you open your door to one person anyone can come in.”
I love About A Boy for a few reasons. It’s based on a Nick Hornby story, Badly Drawn Boy did the soundtrack, and Hugh Grant’s character’s apartment (it’s an amazing apartment). But above all, this movie makes me laugh, get emotional, and think about my own inclinations to “be an island.” Left to my own devices, my impulse is to hide away with all my stuff and just indulge in the things that can’t hurt me, like people. But we don’t grow that way. We don’t learn about ourselves and the world and ultimately what life is about. About A Boy covers this beautifully.
2. Wonder Boys (2000)
“So there it was. Somewhere in the night, a Manhattan book editor was prowling the streets of Pittsburgh; best-selling author at his side, dead dog in his trunk.”
So many things I love about Wonder Boys. It’s a highly under appreciated film from the early 00’s that few have seen. Not only does it have a great cast (Michael Douglas, Tobey Maguire, pre-Iron Man Robert Downey Jr., France McDormand, and Dawson’s Creek era Katie Holmes), but it’s always good to watch a movie or read a book about a character that has screwed up more than you. I find great comfort in Wonder Boys. Not only is it well written and acted, it’s a great reminder that no matter how far we’ve fallen from the prospect of greatness, if we’re willing to put in the work we can find it again, and it (and we) might even be better than before.
3. We Bought A Zoo (2010)
“You know, sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it.”
We Bought a Zoo is a movie I wrestle with saying I love because it has many flaws. Cameron Crowe (writer/director) is one of my favorites and although he sometimes dips his toe in the sappy and cheesy, and it never really bothers me because sometimes I enjoy a good “heart on sleeve” approach. In We Bought a Zoo he seems to jump in head first though, and… I’m becoming ok with that. One thing I personally wrestle with when writing is the line between being earnest and heartfelt and coming off like a big ol’ cliche’ cornball. Cameron Crowe tows that line hardcore here. But it’s heart is in the right place. In it’s moments of “eye rolling corniness”, We Bought a Zoo counters it with some amazing moments that leave my eyes anything but dry. The themes of this movie are why I keep coming back. It covers ideas and reminders I so often forget. Things like how life is supposed to be an adventure, how it’s ok to be inspired and run with it, and to love in the moment without regret. It’s hard to hate something that gives you those feelings, no matter how cheesy the delivery system may be.
4. Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (2003)
“Adults are this mess of sadness and phobias.”
I don’t like the word “genius.” It gets thrown around too often and then loses it’s meaning. But Charlie Kaufman is a genius. Between films like Adaptation, Being John Malkovich, and Eternal Sunshine the man continues to push the boundaries of how we think about the world we live in, the relationships we are in, the baggage we carry, and how we exist in our own minds. Eternal Sunshine is about failure. It’s about the wounds we carry and introduces the idea of removing them, and if we would be better off or if the hard parts of life and relationships are the things that make us…us. This film moves me in so many ways, from an artistic standpoint to the very personal. Above all, it’s a great reminder that we’re all messed up in our own way, so let’s move forward… together.
5. Up In The Air (2009)
“If you think about it, your favorite memories, the most important moments in your life… were you alone?”
Jason Reitman is one of my favorite filmmakers: Thank You For Smoking, Juno, even Young Adult. Up In The Air is one of his movies that I revisit quite often though. Between the cinematography, the great soundtrack, and stellar performances from George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Jason Bateman, and my favorite, Anna Kendrick, this movie always leaves me with more questions than answers, and I like that. The journey of a man who’s sole goal in life is achieving purpose thru status, then finding that a more meaningful purpose to life might be the people he’s tried so hard to distance himself from. Even if it’s painful, it’s always worth it.
6. Wild (2014)
“There is a sunrise and a sunset every day and you can choose to be there for it. You can put yourself in the way of beauty.”
Wild was a movie I liked ok when I first saw it and then upon further viewings found myself utterly WRECKED by it’s beauty and raw honesty. It’s a difficult yet necessary journey into the things we must face about ourselves, our past, our family, before we can move on and be better as individuals and therefore better serve those around us. It focuses hard on the things we can and cannot change, and how to decipher between the two. Reese Witherspoon is maybe the best she’s ever been (although I’m partial to Election’s Tracy Flick) and the cinematography, music, and storytelling are outstanding as well.
7. True Grit (2010)
“You must pay for everything in this world, one way and another. There is nothing free except the grace of God.”
One of the rare remakes of a classic film that actually surpasses the original (or at least adds depth to it.) I love the Coens’ True Grit for it’s performances, Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld specifically, and for how gorgeous each shot is, but also for it’s themes of forgiveness, redemption, and grace. Those are much needed themes in the new year for me.
8. The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty (2013)
“To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the purpose of life.”
The story of Walter Mitty was first written as a short story in the New Yorker in 1939, but the themes are eternally human and resonate today as strongly as they did then. This 2013 adaptation is a bit “by the numbers” story-wise, but the themes and reminders are some that we all need, specifically this time of year. This film is for those of us that dream in our heads too often, too scared to actualize these dreams into reality. And not to mention it has a great soundtrack (like…INCREDIBLE), and a great cast, Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Adam Scott, Sean Penn, to name a few.
9. The Tree of Life (2011)
“Unless you love, your life will flash by.”
This a big one for me. An annual viewing. The Tree Of Life is a divisive film (which I don’t really care to talk much about here, because there’s enough on the internet about that.) I love this film. I watch it and I have tears in my eyes the whole time. This film takes risks in storytelling to show us the little things in life on a grand scale, to show us familiar things in an unfamiliar way. Our lives are packed with beautiful, artful, masterworks and we miss them for whatever reason. Writer/director Terrence Malick takes the beginning stages of a family in a small rural Texas town in the 50′s and puts it against the creation of the universe as a whole. The themes of love, hardship, grace, grief, and so many others we face in life are gorgeously shot and edited along with the backdrop of a classical score. I’m moved by the effortless performances by the actors Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain (who actually play less as actors and more as moving musical notes to the symphony of the film.)
I think everyone should see this film. I don’t think everyone will enjoy it, and it’s ok if you don’t. You do have to be in the right mind set though, know going in that you’re not going to see a classic narrative story as much as you’ll see snippets of life shown over the course of the film, and you’re not going to get every little part of the film upon first viewing (or second or ninth.) If you didn’t see this movie because someone told you that it’s dumb (it’s not), or that it’s pointless (it’s quite the opposite), or that there are dinosaurs in it (yes there are and it’s awesome), then I urge you to watch it for yourself.
Prepare yourself in the same way you mentally prepare yourself, abstractly, to read a poem, instead of the way you ready yourself for a “Brad Pitt movie.” Because it’s way more the former than the latter. Each new year’s day I wake up and put this film on and let the beauty of it wash over me. It reminds me to wake up, to look around, to love those in my life, to seek out the good around me and inside me instead of constantly focusing on the faults of the world and the ones ever-present in my life. Those reminders alone are worth the viewing.