Feeling down? Lift your spirits and celebrate what it means to be you with these empowering films about acceptance, compassion, and love.
If you're like the majority of the planet, this year has been rife with divide, discourse, and disheartening events, one after the other. It's perhaps the first time, at least for this generation, where the lines between politics and entertainment have completely blurred. Some argue that the two should stay in their own lanes, but the arts have a long history of being politics' most threatening rival. We're in the midst of political battle, where parties are bellowing with insults and jabs, while those of us in the middle are looking at the images of kids being stripped away from their parents, or the images of people in Puerto Rico still struggling so many months later, or the images of students, once again, fleeing a school with their hands above their heads. Has humanity completely been lost on us? What happened to compassion? Empathy?
If you need a reminder as to what human connection and love and 'working together' can look like, give yourself a break and be inspired by these films that truly grasp the definition of humanity, especially during a month celebrating pride.
Have other suggestions? Drop them in the comments.
1. DEAD POETS SOCIETY (1989)
Directed by Peter Weir
Starring Robin Williams, Robert Sean Leonard, Ethan Hawke
It's easy to get stuck in a box, especially in a society built on traditions in every sense of the word. Robin Williams' Mr. Keating is the heart of the film, purposed with inspiring a group of repressed school boys into thinking beyond the rules of intellect, instead choosing to find an emotional cortex in each of life's most poignant moments. Through literature and poetry, Keating offers the class the opportunity to find the richness in each word and put it to use in their own lives, even if that means not conforming to the ideals and hopes and dreams of the people around each of them. Though, there may be an argument that perhaps it's too focused on feelings, giving these kids the power to write their own story is of the greatest importance. Once they know they have that power to find those things about which they can be passionate is the most rewarding aspect of teaching. Sure, the material is important and there's a broad stroke of introducing students to an array of styles and periods, nothing is affective if it can't touch someone on an emotional level. With that empowerment, it's practically impossible to fail. You can find the good in any situation, or recognize the bad and be able to evaluate it. In the film's most towering scene, as the students stand up in a rebellious protest and respect for Keating, human nature gets its most powerful spotlight. Keating has accomplished what he set out to do: show these boys that they are in control of their lives, their emotions, their stories. If only we all could approach life with such vigor and love and respect. The world would be a much different place.
2. THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994)
Directed by Frank Darabont
Starring Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, Bob Gunton
It's generally remarked as one of the best films of all time, for good reason. Tim Robbins stars as Andy Dufresne, a banker falsely charged with the murder of his wife and her lover. Set in the maximum-security prison in which he's sent, the true sense of humanity comes in the form of the other, troubled souls residing within the walls. Life in prison isn't pretty, as anyone could assume, but sometimes the trials inside are less about self-doubt and self-regret and more about what it's like living without the compassion of those around you. The film rests on Dufresne's ability to keep his head straight despite the setting. Distracting himself with mundane, but important, tasks, Dufresne builds the confidence and trust of his inmates around him. Sometimes our decisions or circumstances put us in spots where we can easily unravel, losing any sense of worth or importance. But, even in the most trying of times, keeping your sense of dignity about you is sometimes the only tool you'e got. The film treats triumphs as well-earned, without ever giving pause to the need for consequences. Even in serving your time, there's still a need for compassion and understanding. Freedom is important.
3. AMÉLIE (2001)
Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Starring Audrey Tautou, Mathieu Kassovitz, Rufus
In 2001, Amélie swept into the modern cinema lexicon with its sugary-sweet story and tantalizingly sincere main character, a Parisian waitress searching to change her life and the lives of those around her. The message is simple and the reward is fantastic: love is all we need. It sounds cliche, but the way director Jean-Pierre Jeunet pulls together his highly stylized visual treat is magical and moving. Part of the magic is in the setting: Paris. Visually, the film is a gorgeous love letter to the city, with many of its most famous sites stepping in as the settings. But, beyond that, the story is where things really connect. Amélie is all of us, learning to love her surroundings while also feeling innately alone. Once she realizes she's on the same path towards solitude as everyone else around her, she makes the decision to use her free, lonely time to help those around her. It gives her a sense of purpose and it shifts the lives of her family and friends in ways she never expected. It's the most rewarding version of a pay-it-forward tale you'll ever see. She gains her confidence through her compassion for others. She gains her joy in seeing how even the smallest act of kindness can have everlasting effects.
4. CASABLANCA (1942)
Directed by Michael Curtiz
Starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid
Academy Awards Won: Best Picture, Director, Screenplay
Casablanca is one of American cinema's greatest exports, delivering one-of-a-kind cinematography, top notch performances, and the greatest love story (or lack-thereof) than ever before shown in the silver screen. Humphrey Bogart is an American icon, using each and every glance or line to his advantage, showing his vigor with the simplest of tries. Ingrid Bergman is gorgeous, but driven, as the femme fatale of a picture that's equal parts love story and war drama. The past can sometimes define us, but if we're willing to put our reactive feelings to the side and push ahead for the greater good, we're usually capable of more than we realize. In Rick's choice to set aside his cynicism to offer his hand at defeated the Nazis, we see the power of sacrifice. He wants to give in to his resentment, but instead knows that it's with his persistence that the film's classic finale will take place. "If we atop breathing, we will die. If we stop fighting our enemies, the world will die...Welcome back t the fight. This time I know our side will win."
5. TOY STORY 3 (2010)
Directed by Lee Unkrich
Starring Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack
Academy Awards Won: Best Animated Film, Original Song ("We Belong Together," Randy Newman)
The Toy Story franchise, in general, is about as close as you can get to perfection, in terms of stories of companionship and perseverance. From the first film, which sees the human Andy growing up and neglecting his favorite toys, in favor of the uber-cool and new Buzz Lightyear. For the toys, it's a story of learning to work together and find value in each person (or toy) around you. Even the scary creations in Sid's house nextdoor have a purpose and use their characteristics for the greater good. And, for Andy, it's about learning how to appreciate the nostalgia that surrounds us as we grow older. In the third, and far superior, film of the series, Andy has reached almost-adulthood, with college right around the corner. Though the meat of the lplot surrounds Woody, BUzz, and the gang's attempts to find peace with their new surroundings (after being donated to a daycare), the toys carry on an elaborate escape plant o get back home. Disney and Pixar have mastered finding humanity in the most plain of items, giving life to robots, bugs, and vehicles, to name a few. With these toys, the child in all of us can easily resonate with the idea of forgetting the value in each of the things that have made us. While toys come and go, there are very distinct memories attached to some of our play things. Even greater, though, is the film's message of friendship and hope. During one of the most harrowing scenes, the toys all grab hands, choosing to find their demise as a united group, rather than fall alone. When they are left to say goodbye from the stoop of a front porch, waving their little hands to Andy, the message of the pain saying goodbye has never been better formed. The ebbs and flows of life are sometimes surprisingly easy and other times emotionally tough. Sharing these moments with those around us creates a sense of trust and family. Take care of the ones with whom you surround yourself.
6. THE TRUMAN SHOW (1998)
Directed by Peter Weir
Starring Jim Carrey, Laura Linney, Ed Harris
Just before the peak of television shifted towards reality TV, Peter Weir's film about a man who lives his simple life every day, unknowingly the star of a very elaborate reality television series: "The Truman Show." The film works on many levels, especially creatively, with the set-up and execution part of the fun. Seeing the actors try to keep up with Truman's every move is funny and harrowing. Jim Carrey gives the performance of his career as the tepid Truman who slowly begins to unravel as he starts to piece together things from his past, realizing something is amiss. The show-within-a-movie is directed by Christof (Ed Harris), a God-like figure who watches every action from a control booth in the "moon" on the ginormous soundstage that makes up Truman's fake world. The Truman Show has moments that feel somewhat Stepford in their aesthetic, showcasing the ritual of day-to-day life we all fall into as adults. The power of Truman inquisitions shows how important it is to dissect and digest your life and your choices especially in regards to how they can impact the lives around you. The show's intentions are good, hoping to showcase a normal life. But, in that misstep, Truman is robbed of the single greatest quality of being a human: free will. Even Christof, during the film's finale, recognizes the power of Truman isn't in how the town and creators can control his environment, it's in the truth of Truman's own decision. It also shows how our society can shape us into becoming copies of the ones who've come before us, instead o developing and adapting as our own, singular beings.
7. CALL ME BY YOUR NAME (2017)
Directed by Luca Guadagnino
Starring Timothée Chalamet, Armie Hammer, Michael Stuhlbarg
Academy Awards Won: Best Adapted Screenplay
Set in the beautiful Italian countryside during a summer in the 80's, this Oscar-winning film dissects the intricacies of love from the eyes of youth and the sting of formidable secrets. Resilience is the theme, most-importantly displayed during the film's most affecting scene as Elio (Timothée Chalamet) sits in front of the fireplace, tears streaming down his face, outwardly showing his feelings of loss, regret, and wishful thinking. It's powerful and haunting. The subtle musicality of Sufjan Stevens playing over the crackling fire. While it's painful, it's also freeing, supported by the scenes that play out just before this seminal moment. Elio's father (Michael Stuhlbarg) shares his own ideas of where Elio is at, mentally and emotionally. With careful indications, he gives Elio the power to feel lost and hurt, but to also rejoice in the fleeting love from that summer. "Nature has cunning ways of finding our weakest spot...How you live your life is your business, just remember, our hearts and our bodies are given to us only once. And before you know it, your heart is worn out, and, as for your body, there comes a point when no one looks at it, much less wants to come near it. Right now, there's sorrow, pain. Don't kill it and with it the joy you've felt." Suffering and pain are parts of life. We do ourselves an injustice to try and shy away from feeling anything negative. It's in those negatives, we can respect the positives. All of these feelings are part of being human and become the innate tools we need to take care of ourselves, but also to show empathy and compassion for others.
8. 12 ANGRY MEN (1957)
Directed by Sidney Lumet
Starring Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Jack Warden
There's a lot to unpack while watching 12 Angry Men, a slice of life courtroom drama that takes place in the jury room of a murder case involving a young defendant. The film explores self-doubt and learning to approach things in life with an open mind. Though there are aspects of the film that wouldn't resonate today, most notably the absence of women in the jury room and, besides the one immigrant jury member, a lack of minorities. Today's courtroom proceedings would desire to be more inclusive in the dispersement of jury duties. But, the honorability of the presented events isn't what the film is about, instead opting to showcase how each of us as individuals can approach the same problem from countless different points of view. Some jury members allow their own personal pasts define their stances on the crime at hand. Others choose to not try to find a person connection between the decision at hand and their own lives. The film is heightened by amazing performances from its cast and an incredible screenplay that's rich in tough dialogue and engrossing characters. As the film carries on, it's in the care and approach of a one jury after the other to finally bring a sense of togetherness that doesn't exist when the film first starts. This showcase of the power in one person's patience and attentiveness is important. It's also intriguing to see how we're all guilty of looking at a situation from our own selfish point of view, rather than the view for the greater good.
9. THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (1946)
Directed by William Wyler
Starring Myrna Loy, Dana Andrews, Fredric March
Academy Awards Won: Best Picture, Director, Supporting Actor (Harold Russell), Screenplay, Film Editing, Original Score, Honorary Award (Russell)
The Best Years of Our Lives came at a time of transition for American cinema. The war had just ended and an entire generation's worth of soldiers were coming back to the homeland, ready to acclimate back into their daily routines. It was a tough time, as families strained to continue on as if nothing had happened. The American society, as a whole, grappled with loss, dignity, and learning to carry on with heads held high.William Wyler's film served as a poignant look into the day-to-day lives of Americans , even casting an actual veteran soldier (who lost his hands in battle) in a supporting role. The film mastered the idea of realism for the sake of dramatic effect, clutching cinematography that rivals the vast images we see today. At the core, though, is the sense of community and how it takes a village to mend the weary among us. It's one of the most American movies you'll ever see, and not for the sake of forced pariotism. This is the America that dreams were built on, even before Civil Rights opened those dreams for everyone. While the cast is lacking in diversity, it takes its time and message with upmost respect, knowing that it's a story that resonates with anyone waiting for their prodigal son to return. Seen from a modern lens, the cliches exist about how tidy American life was at the time. But, also from that modern lens, the innate importance placed on love and family is a trope that seems to have been muted in recent years. American ideals now face completely inward, taking up only the issues that benefit the majority of same-minded people. Instead, at the time The Best Years of Our Lives was produced, the American values we all hold dear were instilled in each and every person, especially those headed o the front lines to fight for the greater good of the humans in the countries surrounding us. Life is better when we all take care of one another.
10. THE BREAKFAST CLUB (1985)
Directed by John Hughes
Starring Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald
Hughes is a master of tennage-dom, bringing comedic relief to the most awkward years of our lives. With The Breakfast Club, he not only mastered the storytelling from the point of view of adolescence, actively creating a new genre of film, he also gave us one of the most intriguing looks into anthropological study of all time. There's nothing quite like the displacement of personalities and people as there are in high school. Cliques reign supreme, with everything from the popular kids to the jocks, to the nerds and the goths. The stereotypes live on and on in each generation's version of school. While the people and attitudes have grown over the years to be more accepting of people's differences (though, an argument can be made that we're actively regressing, with bullying become a major talking point), it's in Hughes' use of these differences as the ultimate cause for good. Stuck together on a Saturday for detention,. a group of teenagers resent each other, at first, but find equality in their desire for freedom and understanding. Outwardly, they couldn't look any different than they do, exposing their interests, choices, and backgrounds through the way they dress and the way the speak. The longer they sit together, the judgements and misguided thoughts begin to transform into empathy and acceptance. A sort-of beautiful family unfolds out of the mire of annoyed looks and judgmental eyes. As our society continues to embrace the differences in our culture, from race, to religion and personal identities, a greater example of acceptanceThe Breakfast Club's sermon of acceptance is the kind of teen comedy we need.