I really enjoy movies. But you know, who doesn't, right? For what is becoming an annual tradition in the Berkshires, once a year I get as many old and new friends as I can together to celebrate the magic that is Tanglewood. We sample single malt and enjoy great conversation but one of the requisites for all in attendance is to contribute to the wall of Top 5 lists.
I love Top 5 lists for the simple reason that it generates conversation where everyone is entitled to their opinion and it is happily assumed that people would disagree. Party goers laugh about arguments for a Top 5 list much differently than stylistic interpretation of music or politics. This is the third year I've done it and I always find myself in amused observation that people will literally laugh as they argue all night. I mean seriously, is it even possible to take it personally when you disagree with anyone about cinematic taste?
So I submit to you my Top 5 movies and encourage you to list your own and reasons why, just as I have done. Please PLEASE respond with your top fives - you can tell a lot about a person from what they like.
I like this movie because at first it seems overly simplistic; a petty thief falls prey to his own hubris and the plot is how fate catches up with him. About 2/3rds of the way through I realize this isn’t what is going on at all. The hero of the story is in fact not the cad Michel, but his girlfriend Patricia. Despite the wonderful one liners throughout the picture that offer an incredibly poignant perspective on progressive ideals of sexual politics in the mid 20th century in many ways still relevant today, what I truly enjoy is that although both characters are inherently flawed, (true to life) they literally struggle against fate and death, even in youth to self actualize and know for certain what love is. That in the end death is a small price to pay to know who they are and what love is, is tragically beautiful and inspiringly brave. I love being tricked into believing a movie is so simple and then being rocked by the depth of relatable character in front of me.
I like this movie because of the line indicating the lost boys turned men raised by women who thus have no clear idea of what it means to take ownership of themselves, only the imposed idealism of a domesticated wolves living out quiet servitude shackled to consumerism. In theory they only become redomesticated again by Tyler Durden, but are allowed a great deal more freedom to explore themselves without as much attachment and preconceived notions of “the good life”. The premise keeps me awake at night to consider my own attachments and whether they truly are damning or liberating.
There’s envy from Miles (Giamatti) to his beautifully flawed friend Jack (Church). This envy is at least half of the drama as Miles tries to work out why he deserves to suffer when his friend is so lucky in life and love despite Jack’s consistently careless behavior with both. You can actually track Miles’ habit to abuse himself emotionally in effort to convince his heart that he is undeserving of good things and then watch even the potential for happiness wash itself out of his life.
The beautiful message comes from his savior Maya (Madsen) who reminds him anecdotally through Miles's prized bottle of wine, a 1961 Château Cheval Blanc, that rather than waiting for a special occasion, the day that he opens it IS a special occasion. What a beautiful metaphor for ourselves - that we don't need a perfect occasion to take a risk and be who we are.
Philosophically, looking at life searching to embrace and celebrate good things as they come rather than allowing or disallowing good fortune based on a perception of whether he deserves happiness is a paradigm shift for Miles that allows him to finally move forward with his life. His paralyzed life that is so tragically consumed with low self esteem and self pity. I love that this paradigm shift allows him to be alone and Maya comes to him only at the very end of the movie instead of the boilerplate romantic movie style of that a happy ending is only possible when someone is most desperate. Ideation or strength from someone else who’s always there for the fallen hero (or heroine) that might remove Miles from nurturing his inner strength would be a little mainstream don’t you think? The ending is thus poetically beautiful and ever more relatable as a reality that luck can still find us all if we can grow enough to see it.
This movie talks a lot about the culturally taboo subject of death and what it means to life all inside the perception of happiness. I love the concept that the joy or sadness that accompanies self actualization does not evaporate with death and can indeed transcend one’s existence in the afterlife. It furthers the notion that we have the acute responsibility for ourselves to answer what it means "to be" in life for arguments and personal discord that may only continue in death, if indeed our thoughts somehow remain our own after our bodies are gone. It is exciting and scary to see it so obviously that in life we are the architects of our own personal heaven or hell as it exists in the mind. If it’s possible our thoughts are all that is left when we die, this movie makes it easy to believe that what pain or happiness awaits us in death is simply due to our thought habits in life.
Every year my family would drive 8-9 hours to Eastern Oregon. On a farm built on a fertile flood plain of the Snake River, my dad's side of our family still lives and works. And it was on Summer visits to the farm that we all learned many of life's lessons that only be learned on a farm. Getting there was an ordeal of boredom to endure for my sister Eryn and me so our mom (Kay) often read the books of Roald Dahl to us. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is timeless to me. I love the score with full orchestra, and the special effects are still gripping even now. Every time I watch this movie I find the cinematography, the script, and the subject matter to be surreal but strangely accessible and relatable. I am a super fan of Gene Wilder through and through in the way that I want to be him when I finally grow up some day.