The pandemic has taken so many of the things we used to take for granted, but cinema is one of the places I miss the most. I love music, but film has that added magical quality—the opportunity to vicariously live through onscreen characters for a brief moment in time. They can act as a placeholder in time and even help shape who we are as people. Great films live with you long after you step out of the cinema, both personally and through conversations with others. What follows isn’t a collection of my favourite movies, but those which have had the greatest impact on me. Here is My Life In Films.
Cinema Paradiso (1988) dir. Giuseppe Tornatore
I first saw the Cinema Paradiso at my favourite cinema, Cinema City in Norwich, where I worked as a volunteer during my university years. Seeing young Toto be enchanted by cinema in his small Sicilian town felt more magical when viewed from the quaint hard-backed cinema seats of Cinema City, rather than a plush multiplex. The movie is about love: love of cinema, the fatherly love Toto experiences in the bond he strikes with grizzled projectionist Alfredo, and the ache of lost romantic love. It is about the pursuit of dreams and the sacrifices we sometimes have to make. Whenever I hear the weeping violin and gentle piano chords of Ennio Morricone’s theme, it transports me back to the sights, sounds and smells of my university days; my fondness for small Italian piazzas and Spanish plazas originate in the celluloid images of Giancaldo, the film’s town. For newbies, try to seek out the original version and not the Director’s Cut, which loses some purity. Alfredo was the mentor to Toto and, in many ways, Cinema Paradiso had a mentoring role in my life.
Lost In Translation (2003) dir. Sofia Coppola
We have all experienced moments of loneliness—especially in the last twelve months. Lost in Translation is a beautifully observed study of being lost and finding human connection. Set in Tokyo, it tells the story of an unlikely friendship between a middle-aged American businessman and a bored young American woman. The power is in the slow build: the ache of loneliness of two people questioning the direction of their lives despite the difference in their ages. The scenes between Scarlett Johansson and Billy Murray sparkle with their deep connection, complemented by stunning cinematography of modern-day Japan and a perfectly selected soundtrack. Lost in Translation perfectly captures those moments of doubt and loneliness that can happen throughout our lives. I dislike goodbyes and thrive on those deep human relationships, so some of the scenes play out as though viewed from my own mind’s eye. Then, we have that final ‘whisper’, which always leaves me choked with emotion.
Barton Fink (1991) dir. Joel Coen
The slowly unfurling garish wallpaper. The sense of heat and humidity and the annoying whine of a mosquito. Barton Fink was one of the first films where I felt like I was watching a piece of intricately composed prose. It made me realise that there could be as much depth in a moving picture as in the pages of a book. The atmosphere seeped over me. The film enhanced my love of writing and inspired me to appreciate the small details that add brush strokes to the canvas of our daily lives. I was drawn to the quality of Turturro and Goodman as actors, who introduced to the brilliance of the Coen Brothers. Some may describe Barton Fink as slow or boring but, for me, it is a masterpiece in observation.
Toy Story 3 (2010) dir. Lee Unkrich
I have always loved animated Disney and Pixar movies, and count Moana and Coco as two of my all-time favourites. As a franchise, Toy Story manages to combine the camaraderie of a buddy movie, slapstick comedy, the excitement of an action movie and some genuinely tender moments. All this in jaw-dropping computer animation. Toy Story 3 brings a new level of emotional maturity and some darker themes. Topics such as facing our mortality and growing up are tackled here with more emotional depth than many movies with human actors. I remember this being one of the first full movies our daughter ever watched and can recall her fear of the clapping monkey. Above all, the symbolism of Andy growing up and giving his toys away was not lost upon me. I gazed upon my children, knowing that, one day, it would be their turn to move on. This third outing for Woody, Buzz and the gang had a profound effect on me. There have been some heartbreaking endings—Terms of Endearment, Million Dollar Baby, La La Land to name but a few—but nothing packs a punch like the ending to Toy Story 3.
La La Land (2016) dir. Damien Chazelle
Grease was one of the first films I remember seeing at the cinema, igniting an appreciation for a genre I still enjoy: musicals. My favourite is Hairspray, and I have many fond childhood memories watching Oliver!. It was La La Land, however, which blew my mind and shredded my heart: an emotional rollercoaster of bold musical numbers, a nostalgic colour palette, the blend of traditional and modern and searing onscreen chemistry. With a storyline about the pursuit of dreams, growing up, goodbyes and a reflection about what might have been, La La Land takes ingredients from all my above choices and blends them into a heady cocktail. When I watch the film, my emotions seem to float up among the stars, with those final mournful piano keys leaving me lost and empty. La La Land is often on repeat now our daughter loves the movie and plays the soundtrack on piano. It will forever be the beating heart in My Life In Films.
Honorable Mentions: The Wages of Fear (1953), Star Wars (1977), Schindler’s List (1993), Pulp Fiction (1994), Adventureland (2009), Moana (2016)
Words by Andrew Butcher
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