Monday, October 26, 2009

Vacation, all I ever wanted/Timeless Movies

In France, public schools get quite a few more vacations than in America, which means that teachers like myself have the same privilege. This weekend, with the help of the local missionaries, I was finally able to get to my branch in Agen. There were about 18 people at church, a good turnout for the week. After the lesson was the ward Halloween party, where the three children present dressed up as a witch, a vampire, and a devil and began doing a treasure hunt for candy. After, we lobotomized pumpkins. A good time was had by all. I also discovered that one of the members is driving to Paris on Tuesday, which just so happens to be the day I was planning on going up. So long 120 Euro train ticket, hello 7 road trip with an old man!

I realize that my past couple posts may seem like I am having a bad time out here, but I'm really not. I just write about the things that get me thinking, and usually that has to do with human nature.

This week I had a translation deadline that, because of my own procrastination combined with my partner's abandoning the project, I was not going to finish. However, my friend, upon hearing of my predicament, volunteered to help out as best she could. This was a tedious and mind numbing chore that took me 12 hours or so on Friday to complete, and for the last 3 or 4 hours, she was right there with me. I offered to pay her, but she turned it down. All in all, a remarkably kind move on her part and one that has my faith in the general goodness of people somewhat restored. So in the interests of happy thoughts, I thought we'd go for a lighter topic this week.

She and I had a conversation in Bordeaux about movies, and its a conversation I've been carrying on with my students as well. I wanted a list of the top 5 classic movies. Before you all start writing about Citizen Kane, let me clarify. For what I'm looking for, a better word than 'classic' would be 'timeless'. I want a movie that you may have watched with your parents as a child, love today, and could someday show it to your children and grandchildren and expect it to have aged well enough that they love it as much as you did. Here is my list, though I reserve the right to change it.

1: The Star Wars Trilogy (Original)(1977, 1980, 1983): Yes, I'm counting all three as one movie, because its one story. No, I'm not going to rant about how much the new trilogy sucked. I actually kind of liked them...Or at least, I liked the third one, tolerated the second, and Liam Neeson was in the first. They do not, however, hold a candle to the old classics. These movies draw on timeless myths and stories, but its their lessons that stuck with me into adulthood. Faith, temptation, diligence, friendship, loyalty, family...each of these themes is touched on. Fear as an element that leads good intentions into bad ends. Unlearning negative modes of thought and believing in what you are doing. The eventual triumph of good over evil. Even one of the most sympathetic love stories of cinema, where a selfish smuggler and a proud princess who can't stand each other eventually overcome their own character flaws enough to become a perfect match for each other. These movies will be loved and quoted for generations to come.

2. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001,2002,2003): Again, three movies in one here. Beautiful scenery, special effects that are likely to age well, and once again, a movie that teaches morals and values that will stick with me. Good vs evil, hope in despair, these themes are as timeless as the counsel Gandalf gives the hobbits in their darkest hour. Not to mention a sweeping, epic soundtrack and glorious panoramic shots of New Zealand/Middle Earth and the most sympathetic schizophrenic computer generated villain to ever grace the silver screen...This is a movie even people who aren't fans of fantasy can appreciate. I'll go so far as to say it surpasses the books (sorry Tom Bombadil fans and Tolkien purists. Tolkien was a great inventor, visionary and linguist and the world he created is timeless...but when it comes to being an author, his dry obsession with historical minutia and Old Testament-style chronicles often turns people off to what is in reality an excellent story. Its a great story lost in pedantic prose). LOTR gets props for taking the essence of this great story and presenting it in a format that will reach audiences who don't have the patience to dig it out of dry old text, without dumbing down the important themes and lessons Tolkien included.

3. Indiana Jones-Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981): (The Last Crusade could take this spot as well, though the Temple of Doom and the newest disappointment of the franchise could not). Again, a Lucas project but with Spieldberg on board. Who does not love the idea of an archaeologist treasure hunting Nazi hating Harrison Ford with a whip and dashing hat? John Williams returns to blow us away with an incredible soundtrack. I know there's not much of substance here, but its a fun movie and one that can be enjoyed at all ages. It really opened the door for action blockbusters to come, but none have come close to this pulp fiction style classic.

4. It's a Wonderful Life (1946): Jimmy Stewart has on screen charisma and a charming period accent that never ceases to be endearing. More important, however, is the message this movie lays out. "No man is a failure who has friends" It is not always obvious how many lives we might touch or influence for the better, but when times are darkest and the chips are down, it is our friends who truly make us rich. As someone who values friendship over money and the comforts it can provide, the message resonates. This is a movie I've watched almost every Christmas with my dad, and if I ever find myself in a fatherly role I'll definitely continue the tradition with my kids.

5. Gladiator (2000): The spot for number 5 could be filled by many different movies, but I chose Gladiator as a representative for the type of movie I have in mind. Like most of the others on my list, it teaches a moral lesson (which, upon further reflection, is the whole point of a storytelling tradition). What you do in life echoes in eternity. This is a story of courage, loyalty to one's values, and...just basic manliness. What it truly means to be a man, not 'work out, get lots of muscles, drink lots of beer, sleep with lots of women', but the value of keeping one's word, of fighting for what you believe in, of sacrificing yourself for the chance of creating a better world. A sweeping soundtrack and stirring script give this movie an epic feel that makes it stand out on my list when it is so often overlooked by more 'serious' movie critics.

And that's my list. In short, I value inspiring soundtracks, the hero's journey, powerful messages of morality, and I seem to be a sucker for heroic sacrifice for a lost cause (The ending of the Last Samurai, for example). Most of the movies on my list came out before I was born, but new classics like LOTR and Gladiator definitely deserve to join their older brothers.

What about you? Do you agree or disagree with the movies on my list? What are your criteria for timeless movies? What is your list?


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  2. I agree with your list. I think everyone should own star wars, lord of the rings and indiana jones. However, I think I'll just keep my annual "Its a wonderful life" viewing for Christmas with our parents- I don't feel the need to own that one.