Movies have been an integral part of my life. At one point in high school, I wanted to be a film critic. I did a study abroad program through the University of Georgia that allowed us to write critiques and reviews of films, plays, concerts and art shows. I worked at Blockbuster Video for 3 years in college, and for a year after that as a side gig. My DVD collection still rivals that of most people I know, and that’s after I got rid of a lot of them and all of my VHS, including an original Star Wars (before the remastering).
I battled between “Movies” and “Films” in the title and copy. What’s the difference between a movie and a film? They are both captured video and audio on a screen. They can be viewed on a screen as big as a movie theater, or as small as a mobile phone. “Movie: tends to be used more in the U.S., and “film” used more in the U.K. My interpretation is that movies are for enjoyment and commercial gain, and film serves a larger purpose, like being thought provoking or delivering a meaningful message. Rob Hardy does a good job of explaining the differences. The ones I watch offer both, but rarely at the same time.
Movies have always been more than just something to watch for me. I laugh, cry and debate what I saw like many, but the themes and topics of the movie always sit with me for days and even weeks after watching.
These are the 10 movies that influenced me. These may not be blockbuster or award-winning masterpieces, but these are the movies that I can always pop in the DVD player or find streaming and watch anytime. If I still had my “Employees Favorites” wall from Blockbuster, here is what you would find:
1) Dead Poets Society
30 years after its release, and after seeing it probably hundreds of times, this is still hands down my favorite. My mother claims I have seen this a thousand times. She may be right. Robin Williams as Mr. Keating was inspiring, but his students’ devotion to him was even moreso. As a lover of art and literature, even as a teenager watching the VHS in my parents’ basement, I couldn’t help but admire this teacher who pushed his students to test their boundaries and explore their creative side. I still look for people in real life that live this way. Dead Poets Society also introduced me to the Rat Pack of the late 1980s and early 1990s that were in many movies I saw: Robert Sean Leonard (Swing Kids, Much Ado About Nothing, a made for TV movie called In the Gloaming with Glenn Close, and of course, the tv show House), Josh Charles (Threesome and Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead), Ethan Hawke (White Fang, Reality Bites and Before Sunrise)
2) Rear Window
This is the movie that got me hooked onto Hitchcock. I don’t even remember the first time I saw it, but whenever I saw it was on, I made sure to watch it. It wasn’t available on VHS at any video stores I knew. I loved the banter between Jimmy Stewart’s “Jeff” and his women: Grace Kelly’s “Lisa” and Thelma Ritter’s “Stella”. I never got into horror movies, but I truly enjoy the suspense that Hitchcock and film noir classics like Double Indemnity, The Maltese Falcon and L.A. Confidential. Rear Window, like many of Hitchcock’s movies, featured a limited cast (14 credited actors) and set (only Jeff’s apartment, the apartment he was watching, and the courtyard in between). The only one of Hitchcock’s movies I’ve seen with a smaller cast and set is Rope – one apartment, nine actors). This is the movie that got me interested in dialogue, camera angles, the use of silence as a character and how a single look can tell the entire story.
3) The Apartment
The Apartment was one of the first movies in the Drama section (alphabetical order, of course) where I started my movie watching odyssey after I got my driver’s license and movie rental card at 16. I knew nothing about the movie, but it looked like an interesting plot when I read the description on the back of the rental box. It was “Mad Men” from the perspective of Joan or Peggy, but more raw emotion and angst. Yes, it’s possible. I fell in love with Jack Lemmon & Shirley MacLaine, and hated Fred MacMurray, and promptly found all movies starring all three. Thus began my love affair of film.
4) The Sound of Music | 5) Singin’ in the Rain | 6) An American in Paris
These movies began my love affair with musicals. There were others, like My Fair Lady and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, but these were three that I wore out the VHS copies that my dad lovingly recorded for me when I was a kid. These movies are the reason I have Broadway season tickets, and go see a show every time I am in New York City. These movies are the reason that I know the words to every song from Oklahoma, The King & I, The Wizard of Oz and Mary Poppins. Yes, these are in a separate section of my DVD collection. And they are watched often. Christmas even calls for special lineup of Holiday Inn, White Christmas and Meet Me in St. Louis.
7) Sliding Doors
Ever catch yourself wondering, “what if”? That’s what Sliding Doors asks. What if I had taken that job instead of this one? What if I had not moved to Washington D.C. and stayed in Georgia? What if… I ask that question often, and after seeing the scenarios that Gwyneth Paltrow’s character endures in Sliding Doors, I know that everything happens for a reason, and in the end, it all works out. After you watch this movie, you will look back on those life-defining moments and wonder what would have happened had you made a different choice?
Another movie I would never have discovered if it wasn’t for the independent video store in my hometown. I sort of knew who River Phoenix was because of his role in Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade, but I had no idea who Lili Taylor was. Of course, she had already played JoJo in Mystic Pizza, and Corey in Say Anything, but I hadn’t seen those yet in 1994. Probably later that year though since they were farther down the list alphabetically. I was Lili Taylor in this movie – a total homebody, an outsider in every way possible, and very low self esteem. No guy was going to look at me as a romantic interest, and I was automatically in the friend zone or a study buddy. I haven’t seen this one in a long time, and it’s probably one of the lesser known movies on my list. May be time to find it online somewhere…
I was so moved when I saw Spotlight at a pre-release screening in 2015, I wrote a review on it. I’ll pull out some of the parts of that column that I wrote because I think I said it best four years ago:
When you do see it, the scene where Mark Ruffalo’s character goes off on his editor, just remember that you will see that during the Oscars next spring.
Spotlight did win Oscars for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay (Josh Singer & Tom McCarthy), and had nominations for Mark Ruffalo (Best Supporting Actor), Rachel McAdams (Best Supporting Actress), Best Director (Tom McCarthy) and Best Editor (Tom McCardle). I think Mark Ruffalo should have been nominated for Best Actor – he had a major role, and got more screen time than any of the other actors in the movie.
Spotlight was inspired by my love of investigative and objective journalism, or my interest in child advocacy. Investigative journalism, like the breaking of the Watergate story, are what inspired me to pursue a journalism career in the first place. Pressure from higher ups on stories that were not advisable to pursue based on “community interests” were one of the many reasons I write for fun now. I do know that the American public, and maybe even the world, have become cynical of journalists because news outlets take stands, and profess opinions rather than reporting news and investigating stories. The public has developed a mistrust with the media, so when a story breaks, we wonder, what is the agenda? What does the news outlet gain from running this story?
If you didn’t get a chance to see it in 2015 or after it was in the theaters, go check it out now. Like All the President’s Men and The Insider, Spotlight will serve as a reminder of a historical event where journalism played a pivotal role in American history.
10) The Namesake
This book and movie are my life in a nutshell. Kal Penn as Nikhil/Gogol is the quintessential ABCD (American Born Confused Desi, for those of you not attuned to Indian American terms). He doesn’t get his FOB (Fresh Off the Boat) parents, and his FOBs don’t get him. He loves his parents and the customs, but he’s embarrassed to show them in public and share them with his friends. He is even more embarrassed about his name, enough to start using his “given” name rather than what his parents had been calling him his entire life.
Like Gogol, I was ashamed of my native heritage, the clothes, the food, the language, my name. Like Gogol, I thought shortening my name would be “easier” for Americans. I forgot why my father gave me that name, and the meaning of the name, “Sravanthi” (“continuous flow, oozing knowledge” in Telugu) was more like my personality than “Srav” could ever exemplify. “Srav” doesn’t mean anything. From college in 1996 until I started a new job in 2011, everyone called me Srav. My family, family friends, and friends from high school all continued to call me Sravanthi. I’ve trained some of my friends from college and until 2011 to call me Sravanthi, but it’s hard to break old habits.
In the end, like Gogol, I have returned to embracing both of my cultures (Southern American, Southern Indian), my birthplace (New Orleans), my heritage (Andhra/Indian)
So…what movies inspire you?