--American film critic Roger Ebert
The film was “Tora! Tora! Tora!”
In 1970, as a ten year old budding cinephile, it’s the first movie I ever saw in a real theater, our local neighborhood movie house, right across from the Rexall drugstore on Hancock Street. The picture was forgettable, a two and half hour war flick about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. But the experience? Unforgettable.
Purchasing my ticket from a woman within a glass booth, she interrogated me for an extra moment, worried I was too young to see the film. Eyeing all the treats at the concession stand, buying a box of Canada Mints, a bag of popcorn with extra butter and a small Coke. Finding a seat in that dark, hushed, church like space, waiting with anticipation for the lights to dim and then finally, being transported to another time and place, to see the world in a different way. To watch a movie. The flicker of light through celluloid, at 24 frames per second.
Do you remember your first movie?
Movies are unlike any other art form. Immersive, they surround us in sound and image within a full sensual experience. And though in 2016, many of us now watch our movies on the small screen at home, or even the smaller screens of computers and smart phones, still there is nothing like a film to tell a story. To weave a tale. To invite us into the experience of a character and take us along for the journey. To expose us to places in Creation, real and imagined, we could never envision ourselves. Some rare movies even offer a spiritual experience of sorts. Transcendent, these films take us away from the every day, and teach us ideas, truths and stories to enlighten us, if only for a few hours.
So with the 88th Academy Awards coming up this Sunday night, as a wannabee film critic, I humbly offer a short list of five movies from last year I think deserve to be seen, or seen again. Take these recommendations in the spirit that art is always in the eye of the beholder and that everyone’s a critic! The envelope please…
“Brooklyn” (rated PG-13): this beautiful film tells the story of a young Irish immigrant who comes to New York City in the mid 1950’s and finds herself torn between family at home and her hopes for a new life and love in a new land. It is a “small” film in the best sense: sweet and kind and thoughtful and tender.
“Inside Out” (rated PG): this Pixar cartoon introduces us to the inner emotional life of an eleven year old girl, as she faces the struggles of moving from her childhood home in Minnesota to the big city, San Francisco. Much more adult in nature than you might think, the film deftly creates and envisions what happens within our minds and hearts, as we grow up into young adulthood. It is funny, smart and a great movie for families to watch together, though it may be a bit too intense for kids younger than 7 or 8. Nominated as a best animated feature, it should have gotten a best picture nod.
“Creed” (rated PG-13): remember the joy of watching the first “Rocky” movie, the rush of that classic fight story, the underdog taking on the champ? This story imagines the aging boxer Rocky, now widowed and retired in Philadelphia, mentoring a young fighter, Creed. He’s the son of Rocky’s first opponent. The film could easily be cheesy or cliché but instead it reboots the “Rocky” franchise with grace and fun. In a year when Hollywood again overlooked African-Americans and other minorities in the awards season, it is a must see.
“Spotlight” (rated R): a real Boston movie in the deepest sense, the movie tells the true story of “The Boston Globe” and its courageous efforts to track down the full account of the Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal, which first broke in 2001. No one gets off scot-free in the film: the Church, defense lawyers, the courts, even the newspaper is shown as complicit in the crimes. The movie powerfully portrays the dogged work by reporters who use old school methods to get the story. It shows why great journalism still matters in the 21st century.
“The Big Short” (rated R): a full eight years after the worst financial meltdown in the United States since the Great Depression, most of us as average citizens still don’t fully understand why that collapse happened and why it was so big, preventable and even criminal. This movie dares to try and explain the arcane financial ideas (think “credit default swaps”) which led to the disaster and it succeeds. Funny, acerbic and cheeky, it creates a whole new film genre for telling a story.
So lights! Camera! Action! And maybe I’ll see you at the movies.