This list actually proved more difficult than I had anticipated. At first, I had a relatively clear idea of what films impacted me the most throughout my life. But then I began to question everything. Are these films representing me? Why am I choosing them? I had to do some thinking to whittle down my standouts.
Once I’d done that thinking (to the point where I realised I was most likely overthinking this), I ended up with five films that have been essential in each stage of my life so far—whether they comforted me, taught me a lesson or completely changed my life. There are also some honourable mentions at the end, because I couldn’t help myself. So, here is my life in films.
Matilda (1996) dir. Danny Devito
I’m starting off strong with one of two childhood movies to make this list (nostalgia keeps me going). This is one of those films I had on repeat, back when you had to rewind your VHS tape and close your eyes in case you spoiled any of the film despite seeing it hundreds of times already. As a young shy girl, I saw a lot of myself in Matilda. All she wanted to do was read books and escape. It was a very authentic film for the time, and dealt with important topics like complicated family relationships and abuse of power. It taught me a lot. And yes, I did wear hair ribbons just like Matilda for a period of time in primary school. I was impressionable. Matilda is one which I revisit frequently when I need comfort and familiarity.
Drop Dead Fred (1991) dir. Ate de Jong
Okay, this one is a little weirder. The second childhood film I’m including is Drop Dead Fred. The main character, Elizabeth, is a struggling young woman at a tough spot. Who comes along to help her? The eponymous Fred, her imaginary friend from when she was a child (played by Rik Mayall, of course). There’s been a lot of talk about this being a film documenting Elizabeth’s mental breakdown, and her use of an imaginary friend to cope. And yet, this is still a children’s movie. It makes the viewing experience feel comforting and naive, but with more serious themes under the surface. Regardless, it remains one of my go-to comfort movies. The dynamic between Elizabeth and Fred always reminds me of me and my brothers. This film also pushed me further into my creativity and fuelled my imagination.
10 Things I Hate About You (1999) dir. Gil Junger
We’re jumping ahead to my pre-teen/teen years now. This film came recommended from my mum, and it was the first teen rom-com I ever fell in love with. I think I was also falling in love with Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles. Even at that age I was a bookworm, so I loved that this film was adapted from a Shakespeare play. But I mostly think this film impacted my life because of Kat Stratford (Julia Stiles). I never wanted to be someone as much as I wanted to be Kat. She was cool, read feminist literature and didn’t care what anyone else thought of her. She taught teen Amy many lessons that she definitely needed to hear. 10 Things I Hate About You remains for me the superior rom-com, and I make sure to rewatch it at least every few months. It’s the best of the best.
Billy Elliot (2000) dir. Stephen Daldry
This has been a constant favourite for me over the years. Again, I associate it with my mum because we used to watch it together a lot. Something about Billy resonated with me. He was a little northern kid trying to understand the world he is living in, struggling to express himself. Now, as a 21-year-old, I’ve experienced a lot of the same things as Billy. The film has always inspired me and made me want to create—I even did dance classes for a while! The excellent writing and cinematography have both stayed with me, too. It was also one of the first films I remember watching that included an openly queer character (Billy’s best friend, Michael), and that was very important to younger me. Billy Elliot deals so well with family, grief and classism. I can’t rate it high enough.
Dead Poets Society (1989) dir. Peter Weir
We’ve finally made it to the end, and this wouldn’t be ‘My Life In Films’ if I didn’t mention Dead Poets Society (starring—of course—the late, great Robin Williams). I first watched this film at around 17, when everything in my life was uncertain. I wanted to study literature and creative writing, and get out into the world. Watching Dead Poets Society dispelled any doubts I had about my choices, so this is one film that undoubtedly changed my life. It inspired me, and broke my heart. It was one of those movies that you finish watching, and then you just sit there in silence. It felt like I needed this film. I have leaned on it in the worst of times (even though I do skip the ending so I can pretend it isn’t sad!). I found more characters that I related to, and it even introduced me to new writers and books I hadn’t explored yet. From that moment, in everything I did, I had this film in my back pocket. Dead Poets Society will always be my number one.
Honourable mentions: Dirty Dancing (1987), The Edge of Seventeen (2016), The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012), It (2017), Lady Bird (2017)
Words by Amy K Brown
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