Recently, I was challenged to come up with a list of my five favorite movies. Not just favorite in terms of, “This movie is really awesome and I like watching it over and over.” A more personal challenge along the lines of, “What movies most inspired you or changed you as a person?”
This question intrigued me. For one thing, I've tried to avoid making this blog too personal. I prefer the challenge of writing in a way that is both opinionated but objective, trying to avoid the diatribes and rants in favor of an earnest, but fair, point of view. But in terms of me personally: my life, my personality, and who I am... I've let that express itself through my writing alone, but I don't think I've ever really talked about it specifically except with regard to those occasional times where my busy personal life making writing here more sporadic. I'm not the type to talk about my day to day life in blog format; to me, that's what my closest friends are for. Somehow, answering this challenge feels like it'll veer more towards that personal side of things that I tend to avoid in the internet sphere.
But, hell, why not try new things? So, in no particular order...
The Last Samurai
For me, the movies that I feel affected me, changed my life, or inspired me the most are those that have characters, settings, or ideas that I find incredibly admirable. The Last Samurai followed that mold by showing an attractive view of old Japanese culture. The philosophy of life that the samurai are depicted as having is of immense appeal to me. Living a quiet life in an idyllic valley deep in the mountains, it is hard for me to not feel at peace when viewing this movie and seeing how those in the village go about their everyday lives. Part of that derives from my own experience exploring parts of Japan on my own. The other part comes from simple yearning for the peace that the samurai seem to have found, acted or not.
Certainly, The Last Samurai is probably rife with historical inaccuracy. Sure, Tom Cruise makes for an eyebrow-raising samurai. But, what made this movie truly connect with me was the romanticized spirit of it. That tight-knit belief in family. The ability to commit yourself utterly to the perfection of whatever you choose to do. Holding to your belief or way of life, even when the entire rest of the world seems to be bearing down on you for it.
A Man for All Seasons
Given my own background of politics and history, I found this movie to be quite appealing. An older movie set in the era of England when Henry VIII was king, A Man for All Seasons mixes intellectual legal discussions with debates on how to hold onto your ethics when faced with all sorts of challenges, political and personal. But, most of all, I found in A Man for All Seasons an intense connection with Thomas More (Henry VIII's advisor), seemingly the only man able to hold to his beliefs in a political jungle where compromise and the bending of morals is the norm.
As far back as I can remember, I've been deeply attached to stories where common men and women are confronted with incredible adversity, yet manage to hold onto themselves and what they believe in, no matter what. A Man for All Seasons, for me, is one of the most comprehensive and well-told examples of this. All Thomas More has to do is commit to one little lie: state that he supports the King in marrying Anne Boleyn. First, he is threatened with getting fired from his position. Then is faced with arrest. Finally, he comes up against his execution. And, no matter what, even when begged by his family to allow for this one little lie, he holds to what he believes and dies for it. Perhaps that is foolish, but the movie effectively makes it come across as inspirational. And, for that, it goes on my top five.
Princess Mononoke is a movie where I'm somewhat biased towards it because I associate it with a powerful experience and important individual who used to be in my life. Though that experience did not end well at all, it impacted enormously the person I am today, and so this movie gets a nostalgia bonus for that. The wistful, wild, and idealized depiction of Japanese mythology that Princess Mononoke presents adds to that feeling. But explaining that experience is too personal for this blog, so you'll just have to deal with that omission.
Aside from that, it is interesting to observe that I love Princess Mononoke because it is a blend of the same reasons through which I loved The Last Samurai and A Man for All Seasons. The romanticized setting presented through the Japanese folklore is wondrous and populated with cultures that are as interesting as they are varied. Prince Ashitaka himself is similar in character to the samurai just as he is as devoted to his principles as Thomas More was. I also appreciated the movie for its depiction of the love that grows between Ashitaka and San. You get the sense of an increasing depth of affection while simultaneously noting that it isn't shallow and doesn't end with them getting together (you merely get the hint that there might be something there that they will explore later). In other words, it was realistic yet moving, and that made a lasting impression on me.
The Mask of Zorro
Now before you laugh, you have to understand that, underneath the veneer of professionalism, drama, and objectivity that surges through my writing here, below all of that is a guy who wants to be charming, swashbuckling, roguish, daring, and with no concern at all for the rules or society's expectations of him. I want to sweep ladies off their feet, laugh heartily and, at the end of the day, ride off into the sunset, wave about a sword dappled in sunlight, and vanish into the night. I want to be able to sweep all worries aside, cut loose, and simply have a blast at whatever I'm doing, whether that be partying with friends or overthrowing the Spanish government.
The Mask of Zorro is the distillation of all that which is awesome. And, come to think of it, it is another of those which is a romanticized depiction of history, and thus probably a font of historical inaccuracy. Remarkable that, for someone who plans on becoming a high school social studies teacher, I'm attracted the most to movies which happen to butcher it. Anyways, I've always wanted to be the roguish hero and, whether that has manifested itself in my life or not (that's for my friends to decide), The Mask of Zorro will always have a special place in my heart for that.
The Emperor's New Groove
Now, for those of you who are friends with me “in real life”, this is the point where you loudly exclaim, “Where the hell is V for Vendetta?!” Deal with it. You all know I love that movie, both for its Zorro-like main character and epic plot of self-realization and belief. But I've talked and written enough about that one. So now for something completely different!
The Emperor's New Groove is easily my favorite Disney movie of all time. It is a perfect blend of an exciting story, positively hilarious humor of all flavors, and a smorgasbord of different characters, all of which are highly entertaining in their own unique ways. But, perhaps most of all, I love The Emperor's New Groove because it is that quintessential buddy movie that perfectly defines the relationship that I have with my closest guy friend.
It is hard to go into without going at length about it, but this friend and I are, in many ways, complete opposites. He's the comforting family man, the steady, reliable, big cuddly bear of awesome. In other words, he is Pacha. By contrast, I can be pretty self-absorbed, crazy, quirky, spastic, and a joker. Essentially: Kuzco. Having watched that movie with my friend, it was downright hilarious how the budding friendship between those two characters seemed to oddly mirror how our own went down, and it was absolutely appropriate that, by the end of the movie, the two are fast friends for life. As a consequence, The Emperor's New Groove will forever have a soft spot in my heart, an ever-giving memory of the awesome friend that I gained and will always have, through thick and thin.
Runners-Up: V for Vendetta, Braveheart, Casino Royale, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Now to see if my guest writers will follow suit for the challenge. ;)