Or: The Most Un-Pretentious Movie Recs This Side of the Internet
Yeeeeeah… this movie didn’t make the cut.
I’m sorry too, okay?
A furry’s fantasy becomes a cartoonish version of our reality, where a bunch of animals shows us what it takes to be really human. Yeah, I know, I wasn’t sure about this either. But it’s worth the hype and shows that cartoons can be more than just entertainment for the kiddies. Stuff for the adults include: a bite-sized politics lesson, quick snapshots of society’s current problems, relevant issues that need fixing ASAP, a mystery story too dark for a kid’s show, and Breaking Bad references.
The movie is told from the perspective of rookie cop, Judy Hopps, the first bunny to join the Zootopia police force, and has wild dreams of changing the world. She meets Nick Wilde, Zootopia’s resident conman, who makes money by stealing the grossest popsicles seen on screen. With Nick’s help, along with the other diverse characters she meets, Judy learns very quickly that changing the world isn’t going to be as easy as she thought.
Don’t let that poorly-written rendition of the plot fool you, however – this movie’s really much more than it looks at first. I made the same mistake of underestimating this, only to be caught blindsided later on, so that, by the time Judy makes her big speech at the end, I became a believer in man’s ability to change for the better.
Moment to look out for: Nick’s backstory. It’s your first real hint that there’s more to this movie than funny animals wearing clothes and walking on two legs.
Will you cry? No.
Citizen Kane (1941)
Told through interviews with former friends and associates, this movie tries to piece together the story of Charles Foster Kane, a successful media mogul who dies alone. How could someone so influential be so lonely during his last moments? What was the man really like outside the public’s eye? And who’s this “Rosebud” Kane mentions before he dies?
If you want the primero uno example of those “lonely at the top”-type stories, then this movie is it. It’s the blueprint for most biopic-based movies, where a person’s life is re-told in separate accounts by people who knew different sides of the character.
By taking this methodical and chronological approach to telling a character’s life story, the movie invites the audience to make our own judgments about the man, based on what it’s showing us. And naturally, by seeing someone else’s life story unfold in bits and pieces, we also become inclined to think about our own lives and the relationships we’ve forged with other people. What will our friends say about us when we die? What kind of impact will we leave in the world when we go?
As the South African philosophy of Ubuntu goes, “we are people through people.” More than finding out who the mysterious “Rosebud” is, this movie is about finding out your worth as a person through the people you know.
Plus, Orson Welles is The Man. And don’t you doubt it, either.
(Thanks, Doc Rivers and the ’08 Boston Celtics for showing me the Ubuntu way!)
Moment to look out for: Kane watching his wife embarrass herself at the opera and giving her a standing ovation anyway. It’s a lot less sweeter than it sounds, believe me.
Will you cry? No.
Come and See (1985)
Not for the faint of heart. Shown in a time when Russia was still called the Soviet Union, the movie follows a child soldier named Florya, who enlists with a guerilla army to fight off the Nazi invaders, only to find out that war isn’t as grand as he originally thought it would be.
More a re-telling of the war’s effects on civilians than Florya’s journey as a soldier, Come and See, is without a doubt, the scariest war film I have ever seen. It’s brutal, cold, and unforgiving in showing the war’s abuses on the people who can’t fight back, especially since all of it is framed through Florya’s horrified eyes. Florya, the innocent farmer boy, who’s struggling to reconcile the horrors with everything he knows is right.
What makes it worse is that, even if Florya is a fictional character, everything else actually happened. These are the depths humanity will sink to when given the chance; where everyone is granted permission to kill, leaving their potential for violence unchecked. It also doesn’t help that the movie bombards you with close-ups of Florya’s traumatized face and gets rid of the background music in critical scenes, so that the total silence becomes eerily deafening.
It’s a good movie I would not want to watch again. Leave it to the Russians to scare you into doing some good for the world, I guess.
Moment to look out for: Florya witnesses the Nazis terrorize a village he stops over at. You’ll never look at churches the same way again.
Will you cry? No – although you may be unable to sleep for a while afterwards.
After Life (1998)
In my favorite cinematic version of the afterlife, this film shows a more creative vision of what becomes of us when we die. Instead of going to heaven or hell, people are instead made to choose one happy memory they’d like to re-live forever. Once the memory’s been picked, a small staff of counselors put sets and props together to make their re-enactment of the memory as accurate as possible. And from there, the lucky soul finally moves on from this earth, presumably to live a happier afterlife in that favorite memory.
The memories vary per person, ranging from a man’s simple wish to remember the peace he felt watching the clouds go by on an airplane ride, to a student’s impulsive choice to remember a trip to Disneyland with her classmates. And on the off-chance that they’re like me and can’t think of any happy memory immediately, they stay at that little office to work as counselors and help make people’s versions of Heaven come to life.
The movie takes its time to tell the story and lets the camera linger on its characters for long intervals, that it almost feels like you’re watching a documentary. But the wait is worth it; by giving the story some room to breathe, the movie draws you into this fictional afterlife, and it doesn’t take long before you re-visit your own memory banks to pick a memory to remember forever.
It’s not just a love letter to the human condition – it’s one written for cinema as well, and the end result is nothing short of glorious.
Moment to look out for: Any moment when the counselors re-construct a memory on set. Watching it all come together is just part of the movie’s magic.
Will you cry? Maybe.
Think Warrior, only, instead of Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton, you have Nick Cheung and Eddie Peng training for MMA fights until their bodies burst to levels beyond the average six-pack.
Okay, so it’s a little weird and unconventional to put this on the list. And yeah, I admit, I only snuck this in here to lighten the mood some. But think about it – and I mean really think about it: what sports movie doesn’t motivate us to be a better version of ourselves? Put all those halftime speeches and training montages aside for a minute, because you gotta admit, there’s just something about seeing the underdog win the State Championship that stirs the competitive spirit in us. Hitting the gym and working out are the most basic forms of becoming a better person, even if it’s on a purely physical level only.
Sports films are so proactive. Come on, who else didn’t want to run up a bajillion steps after seeing Rocky do it first? How about re-learning the value of teamwork and comradeship after seeing Remember the Titans? Or wanting to play in the big leagues after seeing Henry Rowengartner play baseball with a broken arm? (Just me? Okay, then…)
This movie’s no different. Replace the half-time speeches with an old athlete past his prime working out for his first fight in years, and put in some extreme MMA training sequences in place of your usual gym work-outs, and you’ve got Unbeatable.
Oh, and there’s a bunch of scenes featuring a shirtless Eddie Peng lifting tires and Nick Cheung putting all dad bods to shame, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Moment to look out for: Nick Cheung revealing his reason for joining a high-level MMA competition, despite his age. To his friend’s skepticism, Nick retorts, “I didn’t do anything for over 20 years. I don’t want to die without any good memories.” Hearing him say it will instill a sense of urgency in anyone.
Will you cry? Yes.
Yi Yi (2000)
Saved this for last, because this one’s the hardest to explain. At first glance, it looks like your average slice-of-life movie, where a simple Taiwanese family has to come to grips with losing their grandmother.
But before the film ends, you’ll realize that it is “just” a slice-of-life movie, but at the same time, something that’s so much more. By taking the multiple perspectives of three family members from three different generations (middle-aged dad, teenage daughter, kid son), the movie makes you realize things about life that you never noticed before. There’s a running gag in the movie, where the kid son goes around taking pictures of the back of people’s heads, so they can see what they look like from behind.
This movie is like that. It takes shots of things we can’t see – or things we don’t bother to see. Because we’re so busy with the trivial things, like jobs, quarrels with the significant other, and the bills, we miss out on some of the more important things. Music, the scenery, our relationships with others – you know, the things that really define us as humans. Director Edward Yang shows it all in this three-hour masterpiece, giving birth to a whole new kind of experience that’s too big, too profound, and yet too simple, for words.
You might think that relating with a Taiwanese family is going to be difficult, but give the film some time to warm up to you, and you’ll find that despite the culture clash, their struggles aren’t so different from yours after all.
Moment to look out for: The father’s conversation/monologue to the grandmother who’s slipped into a coma. He describes the experience as something like praying to the gods – an act that’s both useless and comforting at the same time.
Will you cry? Yes.
- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: http://media.senscritique.com/media/000004845389/1200/Eternal_Sunshine_of_the_Spotless_Mind.jpg
- Zootopia: http://www.gannett-cdn.com/-mm-/302e555156c15b1408fd512e6031b39f870fbe96/c=665-0-2335-1256&r=x404&c=534×401/local/-/media/2016/03/02/USATODAY/USATODAY/635925269978470529-zootopia-325.0-134.00-0001.jpg
- Citizen Kane: https://i.imgur.com/icDAkh.jpg
- After Life: https://thepasswordisswordfish.files.wordpress.com/2009/01/afterlife3.jpg?w=477&h=307
- Come and See: http://www.studlife.com/funcooker/files/2013/04/a-z-comeandsee.jpg
- Unbeatable: http://budomate.com/images/unbeatable-15.jpg
- Yi Yi: https://etheriel.files.wordpress.com/2010/02/yi-yi-camera.jpg