I should probably start that by saying that for me, movies are entertainment, for the most part. I’m not overly fond of “realistic, slice of life” movies. As I sometimes say, I get LOTS of real life, all the time. Movies where the father dies and leaves the young kid? How about where the guy gets fired from his job? Unrequited love? Poverty? Difficult relationships? Why in the world would I want to waste my valuable spare time with this kind of material? It’s like working at a computer all day and going home and working at a computer. Now, going home and PLAYING on a computer, that’s another story…
I know that I’m out of step with lots of folks about this (one of my sisters is almost the exact opposite, liking what seem to me to be depressingly realistic movies – maybe her real life is more like a musical comedy than mine, thus the need for contrast?). I apologize if I’m being overly disparaging to those lovers of ‘serious cinematic fare.’
But I just like movies that have comedy, flair, witty dialogue, adventure, elements of the fantastic, panache. Essentially, I favor unrealistic escapism that is light years away from real life.
Some movies, like some books, are good for you. They SHOULD be seen (or read in the case of books).
But that doesn’t mean these movies are a fun experience…
Probably the first movie that comes to mind for me in this category is Schindler’s List. You SHOULD see it. But be forewarned that it is an experience akin to visiting a dentist – you just need to get through it, for your own good.
Schindler’s List is based on the true story of Oskar Schindler, a German who arrives in Poland during the time of the Nazis (c. 1939-40). Originally, Schindler was mostly interested in the money-making potential of an enamel-ware business that employed cheap Jewish labor. But at some point, Schindler (a member of the Nazi party) became dedicated to saving “his” Jews, the workers in his employ, from the extermination camps. All in all, Schindler saved about 1200 Jewish men, women, and children from death, expending all of his fortune in doing so.
The movie, filmed in black and white, is an unstinting and relentless confrontation of the Nazi regime and its unremitting efforts to eradicate the Jewish people. While not without some minor (nit-picking?) academic/historical criticism, the movie was both a commercial and critical success (Oscar, Best Picture). See it – it won’t be a fun experience, but you’ll be glad you did.
The Hurt Locker is yet another Academy Award winner for Best Picture – it’s about an Explosive Ordinance Disposal unit (EDO) in the Iraq War. The small, tight-knit, elite units portrayed are far from glamorous – and the particular unit portrayed is fraught with internal tension and morale issues. The focus is on the unit’s new leader, a veteran but unorthodox explosive disposal expert. Dealing with issues such as fragging, guerilla warfare, and the difficulty in trusting ANYONE, even your fellow comrades in war, this is one depressing movie. The aim of the movie (to show the day to day experience of the soldiers in Iraq) is accomplished, but the film itself is unrelentingly bleak. Even though war films in general are not usually meant to glorify warfare (with the possible exception of some WWII “propaganda” films), movies such as Saving Private Ryan (with its intense scenes) don’t seem to be quite as much of a downer as this movie. Still, if you had relatives or friends who were in the Iraq War, or knew anyone that had to deal with IEDs in the various theaters of recent war zones, this is a movie you should see. It got mixed reviews for accuracy by Iraqi War veterans, with many saying elements were poorly done or incorrect, but yet giving the film good marks for the overall tone. My final recommendation is see it – but you probably won’t have a marvelous experience.
Boyhood (my final pick for this blog): the making of this movie is without equal – it was filmed from 2002 to 2013, and the actors all participated for a few week/days a year over that period (there were 45 total days of filming).
It follows the life of a boy (Mason Jr.) through his mom’s various marriages/liaisons, his father’s changing circumstances (his parents are divorced already when the movie starts), his experiences in school, his relationship with his older sister (and step-siblings), and essentially snapshots of Mason’s life from age 6 to age 18 (his school years). The main actor, Eller Coltrane, was literally 6 years old when the filming (and movie) started. There really aren’t any dramatic moments, or even anything faintly unrealistic. It has no elements I typically enjoy, and is exactly what I usually avoid – unflinching realism.
So why am I recommending you should see this movie? Because it will probably never be duplicated; because it is amazing in its mundanity; because somehow the sheer realism builds and builds until you feel like you’ve seen a time-lapse version of a human’s life, or at least a largish segment of it. It is basically extraordinary in its steadfast refusal to be anything but ordinary – and that is something neither my sister nor I will usually get to experience in cinema.
Depressing history (Schindler saved over a thousand, but six million didn’t get saved), realistic (therefore depressing) warfare depiction, and totally ordinary real life portrayal – while these may not float your boat like the new Avengers movie (two thumbs up, btw)
they might do you some good in revealing human nature – like a trip to the dentist, that’s something we all need (whether we want it or not.)