Music Break: Ten Favorite Oscar-Winning Film Scores

TenFaveOscarWinningScores

The Oscars is just a week away, folks! Well, a week ago, as I was listening to 99.5 Classical MPR they were playing my favorite score from Titanic and I knew I had to make a post of it. For this post I’m focusing more on the instrumental themes instead of the songs, hence my exclusion of Sound of Music, My Fair Lady, etc. Y’know, I’m still surprised that some of my all time fave scores did NOT win an Oscar, i.e. Gone with the Wind, Superman, Indiana Jones, Gladiator, The Hours, and The Passion of the Christ, just to name a few. Heck, the one I considered one of the greatest scores ever, Somewhere in Time, wasn’t even nominated! But its composer John Barry had been nominated six times. John Williams, the reigning champion of the most-nominated composer ever with 44 (he beat Alfred Newman who had 43 noms) have made some truly iconic scores, but my faves did not win, so I only included the one I love the most.

Thanks to Wikipedia for making it easy for me to see the winners all the way from the 1930s. Now, I’ve seen most of the films the scores appear in, with a couple of exceptions (Out of Africa and Dances with Wolves). So in any case, here are my Top 10 Fave Oscar-Winning Scores, in order of release:

BEN-HUR – Miklós Rózsa

Ever since I saw this as a young girl with my late mother, few films have touched me as much as Ben-Hur did and Rozsa’s score is one of the reasons it’s such an enduring epic.

 

Lawrence of Arabia – Maurice Jarre

I actually just saw this film two years ago but I’ve heard the soundtrack years before and it’s remained one of my favorites!

 

Out of Africa – John Barry

Ahhh John Barry… nobody could create a more lush and devastatingly gorgeous music that pierces your soul. I haven’t seen the film yet but I’m actually afraid the music would actually eclipse the film itself.

 

The Little Mermaid – Alan Menken

I grew up listening to all Disney Princess songs and I somehow identified with Ariel’s loneliness and her yearning to belong in someone else’s world. Mr. Menken is an absolute musical genius in that he somehow could capture the sentiment of her character.

I also have a special fondness for the Caribbean-influenced style of Under the Sea. I LOVE the little crab Sebastian so much I actually bought the tiny stuffed animal, and I’m still using The Little Mermaid‘s beach towel to this day 😀

 

Schindler’s List – John Williams

Perhaps one of the most hauntingly-beautiful music ever conceived. I never NOT tear up whenever I listen to this. Itzhak Perlman‘s violin solo adds so much to the piece, making it ever so unforgettable.

 

Beauty & The Beast – Alan Menken

I was just listening to this the other day and out of all the music in the wonderful album, this has to be my favorite. Yes, it even beats the more popular Tale as old as time. The scene itself of the Beast’s transformation is beautifully-done and it always packs such an emotional punch.

 

Dances with Wolves – John Barry

Another one by John Barry, can’t you tell I absolute LOVE this man’s work? I really should see this film already, as I’ve listened to the soundtrack more often than I can count.

 

Titanic – James Horner

THIS is the piece that was played in Classical MPR on my way home from work last week. I’m glad they chose to play Take Her to Sea Mr Murdock instead of the massively popular My Heart Will Go On. I always remember the first time I beheld the majestic ocean liner on the big screen and there’s a lump in my throat when that music came on. There’s such an energy to it, a joyful optimism of that day that’s so infectious, which makes the doom fate of Titanic later on in the film even more heart-wrenching.

 

The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King – Howard Shore

I really think the soundtrack of the entire trilogy is simply exceptional. It’s just as epic as Peter Jackson’s creation and it really transport you into the realm of Middle Earth!

 

The Artist – Ludovic Bource

The strength of a lot of silent films is the soundtrack and The Artist is no exception. I love most of the tracks but this waltz is my absolute favorite. I LOVE Bérénice Bejo in the role, this music is as pretty and playful as Peppy herself, there’s such a wistful nostalgic vibe that takes you back to those Chaplin classics.


Hope you enjoyed this week’s music break! Which of these Oscar-winning score(s) is your favorite?

The Spielberg Blogathon: My Top 10 Favorite Spielberg-Directed Films

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This post is part of the SPIELBERG BLOGATHON hosted by Outspoken & Freckled, It Rains… You Get Wet, and Once Upon A Screen taking place August 23-24. Please visit these host blogs for a full list of participating blogs

I first learned about this blogathon from my pal Michael’s blog, and having grown up watching a bunch of Spielberg’s films, naturally I have to take part! Steven Spielberg is such a legend because so many of his films are not only entertaining but they have such strong emotional resonance and timeless quality about them. For this list, I’m focusing on the 50+ films that Spielberg has directed, as there are nearly 150 projects that he has produced for both TV and film. I didn’t realize this until I made the list but the scores of ALL of the films on my top 10 are done by John Williams! I guess I shouldn’t be surprised as a lot of the scores also made my top 10 scores by the legendary composer.

So here they are ranked from bottom to top so #1 is my MOST favorite 😀

10. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)

AIArtificialIntelligence

Many great sci-fis dealing with artificial intelligence make us ponder what it means to be human, and this film definitely did so. The story about a robot boy who desires to be real and craves real love from his parents was poignant and emotional, it’s not a cold or distant type of sci-fi that’s more concerned about cool set pieces and futuristic designs. The moral dilemmas presented here are genuinely thought provoking, with compelling performances from Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law and Frances O’Connor.

9. The Terminal (2004)

TheTerminal

It’s a story about an immigrant from an Eastern European country finds himself stranded in JFK airport. Though the story takes a lot of liberty from the real thing, I was quite engrossed and entertained by this. It’s perhaps one of my favorite Tom Hanks‘ performance in an underrated but endearing role. Hanks is an immensely and effortlessly likable actor, which makes him the perfect actor to portray Viktor Navorski. Even with an exaggerated Russian-sounding accent, the actor is at his most charming here as he befriends the airport staff and even took a chance at romance. This is also the first time I saw the then-unknown Zoë Saldana as a Trekkie Immigration Officer, which is interesting as she later plays Uhura in the J.J. Abrams movie!

8. Catch Me If You Can (2005)

CatchMeIfYouCan

Leo DiCaprio at his most charming and, with his Jack Dawson looks and that devil-may-care swagger. I guess this is like Wolf of Wall Street lite as both Jordan Belfort and Frank Abagnale Jr are both charming con artists. I love the retro look and feel of the movie and the sense of fun in the chase as the FBI are on to catch the teenage fraudster. The dynamic between Frank and the federal agent played by Tom Hanks is fun to watch, they definitely play off each other well. There are also great supporting cast and cameo throughout, including Christopher Walken, Amy Adams, and Jennifer Garner. The lighter tone somehow work nicely here, with the darker moments only sprinkled throughout which showcase Frank’s vulnerability to great effect.

7. Empire of the Sun (1987)

EmpireoftheSun

I saw this one fairly recently and I wish I had seen it sooner. Even at such a young age, it’s evident that Christian Bale had the chops to carry a film. I’m usually not into war films but I do like it when it focuses more on a certain character’s life being affected by war and this one shows that from the perspective of a young boy named Jim ‘Jamie’ Graham. There is an epic quality to the production, as one would expect from Spielberg, yet it feels personal and intimate at the same time. I love the unlikely relationship between Jamie and the soldiers in the camp, particularly Basie (John Malkovich). It’s a wonderful coming-of-age story and a survival tale that certainly lingers long after the end credits.

6. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

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I was pretty young when I saw this movie and it’s one of those movies that one simply doesn’t forget. It might’ve been one of the earliest movies about alien that I saw [well apart from Superman which came out a few years before] and perhaps cemented my love for sci-fi movies. There’s a sense of wonderment in Spielberg movies that definitely appealed to this wide-eyed kid filled with curiosity. The fact that I was the same age as Drew Barrymore‘s character when I saw this made me identify with her even more. I remember wondering what it would be like if there were such an alien creature living in my grandma’s garage. E.T. is the kind of film that fuels the imagination and of course it’s got so much heart, who didn’t at least tear up watching the bicycle scene as it flies across the full moon? It’s also one of the most iconic cinematic scenes ever.

5. Minority Report (2002)

MinorityReport

I regard this as one of my favorite sci-fi movies. I own the Blu-ray and on recent rewatch, I was amazed how this movie still holds up to this day. A lot of futuristic films often look dated even a few years after they’re released but somehow the concepts still feel fresh and modern. The whole *Precrime* notion doesn’t seem all that far-fetched now, not to mention having those annoying ads who know who we are. It’s interesting to see how some of the technology presented here have been realized, while some are still being dreamed up [wonder if we’d have flying cars by 2054? Wouldn’t that be nice?]. I find this movie immensely entertaining and intriguing, with Tom Cruise playing what he does best as a former cop on the run. Though I’ve seen this repeatedly, I’m still surprised by that twist towards the end, thanks to a great performance by Max von Sydow and Colin Farrell. Samantha Morton is also memorable here as one of the three Precogs who could predict the future.

4. Schindler’s List (1993)

SchindlersList

One of the most, if not THE most, essential holocaust film ever made, this film is as beautiful as it is heart-wrenching. I’ve only seen Schindler’s List once but it’s one I shall never forget, in fact, some of the scenes are forever etched in my mind. It’s one of the most powerful displays of the best AND worst of humanity, as well as a testament how a single person can make a difference even in the most dire circumstances. There are so many indelible performances here, Liam Neeson as the hero is as iconic as Ralph Fiennes‘ villainous turn as Amon Goeth. John Williams‘ evocative, soul-piercing score makes the whole experience even more unforgettable. It’s not a hyperbole to call this one Spielberg’s masterpiece.

3. Jurassic Park (1993)

JurassicPark

I had just rewatched this recently and I was reminded by how wonderfully entertaining this is. Even the latest Godzilla still falls short as it lacks that sense of wonderment and sense of humor. Jurassic Park is such a thrilling ride from start to finish, filled with great, memorable characters courtesy of Jeff Goldblum, Sam Neill and Laura Dern. Of course those cloned dinosaurs are wildly entertaining, as terrifying as they are dazzling thanks to the special effects prowess of Stan Wilson & co. Too bad the sequels never measure up to this amazing original film.

2. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

IndyTheLostArk

I’m still mad at Spielberg for ruining his own awesome franchise with that godawful fourth movie! I grew up watching the Indiana Jones movies with my two older brothers and to this day I’m still a huge fan of the first and third movies. Infused with fun action, special effects and a dose of good humor, it’s the quintessential action adventure that never gets old with multiple rewatches. Plus you’ve got an awesome heroine who’s equally charming & fun to watch, Karen Allen‘s Marion. The chemistry between the two is perfect, absolutely perfect. Speaking of perfection, Harrison Ford made the role of the archaeologist adventurer so iconic. It’s crazy to think that George Lucas wasn’t keen on casting him initially [Tom Selleck was the first choice], I really can’t imagine anyone topping Ford as Indy in the inevitable remakes.

1. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

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This is one of my favorite movies of all time, not just from Spielberg but of ALL movies I’ve seen in my life. There are just so much to love here, even more so than the first one thanks to the inspired casting of Sean Connery as Indy’s father, Dr. Henry Jones Sr. They’ve become my favorite cinematic duo ever, apparently there was an inside joke to say that James Bond is the father of Indiana Jones, ha! There are quite a few actors here who’ve been in various Bond movies: John Rhys-Davies, Alison Doody & Julian Glover, they’re all great in their respective roles. This movie has everything I loved about the first movie, but on top of the sense of humor and rousing adventure, we’ve got that spiritual aspect going for it that fits perfectly with the familial theme of the film. That whole finale in the mysterious Holy Grail is so wonderfully-filmed and leaves a lasting impression for years to come.

 


HONORABLE MENTIONS: 

1975 Jaws
2005 Munich
2005 War of the Worlds
2011 The Adventures of Tintin
2011 War Horse

Well that’s my top 10 faves from Spielberg. Which movie(s) would be on YOUR top 10 list?

Question of the Week: What’s your favorite contemporary black & white films?

This week’s question is inspired by Sin City: A Dame to Kill For screening Tuesday night. Boy it’s been ages, almost a decade to be exact, since the first film was released.

SinCityDameToKillFor

To be honest with you, I don’t remember much about the story but the visual certainly is striking. The graphic novel came to live onto the screen, the term ‘graphic’ here has double meaning as the violence truly was quite explicit. Yet the stylish way it was filmed somehow made it somewhat more palatable if you will, enhancing that fantasy element to the noir story. So I kind of expect more of a visual feast with this sequel and not much else, but who knows it might surprise me.

So it got me thinking about other contemporary black/white films released in the past decade. Naturally the first thing that came to mind is Schindler’s List, but that was over twenty years ago. If we’re looking at just in 2000s decade alone, there are nearly 250 films in either partial or entirely done in black & white (per Wiki). Here are a some of beautifully-shot B&W films I’ve seen just in the past 10 years:

Memento
Memento (2001)
AngelA
Angel-A (2005)
SinCity
Sin City (2005)
TheArtist
The Artist (2005)
CaesarMustDie
Caesar Must Die (2012)
Nebraska
Nebraska (2013)

There are some recently-released ones I still want to see like Control, Persepolis, Blancanieves, Much Ado About Nothing, Frances Ha, Ida, etc. Hopefully I’ll get to those soon.


So what’s YOUR favorite modern Black & White films you saw recently?

Top 10 inspiring Biopics to see this holiday season… or any time of the year

Christmas is always a special time for me. It’s not just another holiday, as there is someone’s birth I am celebrating for His gift to humanity. So as we celebrate the birth of our Lord, it’d be most appropriate to focus on the theme of inspiration. The word itself came from the Latin word inspīrāre which means ‘to breathe upon or breathe life into.

inspire (ɪnˈspaɪə)
— vb
to exert a stimulating or beneficial effect upon (a person); animate or invigorate

Certain films have a power to inspire us, especially those that are based on a real person. Of course Hollywood often takes creative license with the films, but so long as the essence of the story is there, it can still very much inspire us. Note that I’m limiting the list to films from 1980s and up just to help narrow things down.

So without further ado, here are 10 biopics I have seen so far that I find the most inspiring (in alphabetical order):

Amazing Grace (2006)

The idealist William Wilberforce maneuvers his way through Parliament, endeavoring to end the British transatlantic slave trade.

I saw this a while ago and I wish more people had seen this. This movie’s release coincided with the 200th anniversary of the establishment of the first anti-slave trade bill, ending 400 years of slave trading. The main protagonist, William Wilberforce is a faithful British member of Parliament. Ioan Gruffud is excellent in the title role, conveying the emotional and physical struggles battling illness and one setback after another in the two decades he fought to end slave trading in England.

AmazingGrace

Along the way, he’s encouraged by his mentor John Newton (portrayed marvelously by Albert Finney), the author of the beloved hymn of the movie’s title, a repentant former slave trader. He’s also helped by his allies, PM William Pitt (Benedict Cumberbatch), a scholarly former slave Olaudah Equiano (Youssou N’Dour), as well as his loving and influential wife, Barbara Spooner (Romola Garai). Though it’s heavy on the history and political aspect, but the redemptive values aren’t lost in the process. It’s one of those rare Hollywood films with a deep passion for goodness and virtue that’s entertaining as well as inspiring. The performances of mostly-British talents, which also includes Ciaran Hinds and Rufus Sewell, are top notch, but ultimately it’s the profound message and inspiring story that makes this a winning feature.

Chariots of Fire (1981)

Two British track athletes, one a determined Jew and the other a devout Christian, compete in the 1924 Olympics.

It’s one of those sports biopics that is so much more than the sports itself. Both Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell are both gifted Olympic-worthy sprinters, but what set them apart is the motivation behind each athlete. Abrahams has something to prove to himself and those around him, and Liddell runs for the glory of God. “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.”

ChariotsOfFire

The rivalry between the two isn’t so much about who’s better or more righteous, as both stood for what they believed in. Each of them is motivated by their own personal values and convictions, nary of any political agenda nor hostility, that alone is inspiring. The physical and spiritual conflicts presented here made for a rich human drama with plenty of teachable moments. For one, there is a good message about one’s preoccupation of winning at any cost that ultimately lead to empty victories. Hugh Hudson‘s brilliant direction, David Watkin‘s exquisite cinematography and Vangelis’ powerful score made this film a classic, one that can be passed down from one generation to the next as it’s the kind of timeless stories people of all ages can appreciate.

Conviction (2010)

A working mother puts herself through law school in an effort to represent her brother, who has been wrongfully convicted of murder and has exhausted his chances to appeal his conviction through public defenders.

Just like Amazing Grace, this is another overlooked small-budget-with-big-story that I highly recommend. Featuring two excellent performances by Hillary Swank and Sam Rockwell as Betty Anne and Kenny Waters, I was inspired by Betty Anne’s undeniable love and loyalty for her brother, which leads to her unrelenting quest to get upturn his conviction, even getting a law degree whilst struggling to support her own family.

Conviction

It’s quite heart-wrenching to see the struggles Betty Anne had to go through, helped only by her sympathetic lawyer friend Abra (Minnie Driver). Coping with one setback after another, yet she kept on hoping and trying even when Kenny himself seemed to have given up. It’s a compelling drama about the power of love that triumphs even in the most difficult circumstances.

Finding Neverland (2004)

The story of J.M. Barrie’s friendship with a family who inspired him to create Peter Pan.

It’s one of those heart-warming stories of unlikely friendships that is beautifully presented on screen. Johnny Depp at his most charming yet understated role and Kate Winslet is lovely as always as the frail Sylvia, but it’s Freddie Highmore who’s quite the scene-stealer.

FindingNeverland

I was really won over by how life-transforming this friendship was for everyone involved, especially between Mr. Barrie and Sylvia’s youngest son Peter. All the performances are lovely, including supporting turns from Julie Christie and Dustin Hoffman. This film celebrates the gift of imagination and creativity and its emotional healing power.

Hotel Rwanda (2004)

The true story of Paul Rusesabagina, a hotel manager who housed over a thousand Tutsi refugees during their struggle against the Hutu militia in Rwanda.

One of the hardest films to sit through yet has the best lesson to take away from. Paul was an ordinary man who’d never make himself out to be a hero. Yet the indescribable atrocities around him compelled him not to simply stand in the sidelines. This film shows the worst of humanity, how the world failed the people of Rwanda, but out of all that wickedness and evil, there is always a glimmer of light peeking through. It reminds me of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous quote “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that,” and that’s exactly what Paul did, which proves that even one person could change the world.

HotelRwanda

Don Cheadle delivered a remarkably powerful and moving performance and Sophie Okonedo is quite remarkable as Paul’s wife. In a brief role, Joaquin Phoenix as a photojournalist delivered a line that is perhaps the most convicting of all, “I think if people see this footage, they’ll say Oh, my God, that’s horrible. And then they’ll go on eating their dinners.” We definitely are guilty of that, whether we want to admit it or not. Paul Rusesabagina shows us what it means to actually care and not simply shrug things of and say that it’s other people’s problems.

The Insider (1999)

A research chemist comes under personal and professional attack when he decides to appear in a “60 Minutes” expose on Big Tobacco.

Sometimes an ordinary person can be a hero when it’s willing to risk it all for the good of the public. Jeffrey Wigand is a research chemist who makes a good living working for a tobacco company, but yet he risks losing it all, even his own family, when he became a whistle blower exposing the fatal danger of smoking.

TheInsider

It’s a gripping story that’s full of suspense without a single shootout or car chases. The real beauty is in the script and performances, esp. by Russell Crowe as Wigand and Al Pacino as investigative journalist Lowell Bergman. At the core of the story is a riveting David vs. Goliath story that carries the themes about honesty, loyalty, integrity, as well as what it means to selflessly put others first.

The Intouchables (2011)

After he becomes a quadriplegic from a paragliding accident, an aristocrat hires a young man from the projects to be his caretaker.

Phillipe and Idris couldn’t be more different from each other in terms of background and social status. Yet the two strike an unlikely friendship that spark a journey to self-healing when they least expect it. What I love most about this film is the honest dialog between the two characters and how Idris never see the paraplegic Phillipe as a ‘lesser’ person because of his condition.

Intouchables

It’s a sincere and incredibly poignant depiction of human relationship that celebrates the human spirit. Though their circumstances perhaps don’t change much in the end, their friendship certainly is life-affirming.

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (2013)

A chronicle of Nelson Mandela’s life journey from his childhood in a rural village through to his inauguration as the first democratically elected president of South Africa.

With the South African leader being laid to rest earlier this month, this film’s timing is unbelievably timely. Yet I believe the story of personal courage and benevolence shall stand the test of time. This is not the first film about Mandela I saw, nor would it be the last, but his life story never fails to move and inspire me.

MandelaLongWalkToFreedom

This film shows the personal toll it took on Mandela for the sake of equality and human rights. “It is an ideal for which I am prepared to die” he declared, and as the film title says, it sure was a long and difficult walk, having to endure 27 years behind bars in Robben Island. He lost his freedom but also his family, not being able to see his wife and kids which ultimately cost his marriage to Winnie. So many things about Mandela are inspiring, but perhaps most of all, is his ability to forgive those who put him in jail. It’s the ultimate manifestation of love,  the love for his people and his nation, that enables him to put aside his own pride and personal vendetta. Now that folks, makes Mandela better than any Hollywood superhero.

Schindler’s List (1993)

In Poland during World War II, Oskar Schindler gradually becomes concerned for his Jewish workforce after witnessing their persecution by the Nazis.

The contrast of how the Nazis value human life and how Schindler sees it towards the end of the film is tremendously striking. “I could have got more out. I could have got more. I don’t know. If I’d just… I could have got more…” Schindler weeps in one of the many, many heart-wrenching scenes of the film. He comes to value how precious each human life is, and that monetary success no longer means anything to him when there are human sufferings all around him.

SchindlersList

Few films strikes deep to the core of your soul like this one, and John Williams’ exquisite score has a transcendental quality that haunts you for a long time. The quintessential ‘inspiring movie,’ Schindler’s List is considered a masterpiece for a reason. Perhaps the best and most personal work by Steven Spielberg, it’s interesting to note that he didn’t think he could do the story justice.

Veronica Guerin (2003)

The story of Irish journalist who exposed some of Dublin’s most powerful crime barons in 1996 and later gunned down by assassins hired by the same criminal drug lords she exposed.

One of the first Cate Blanchett films I saw and I was so deeply moved by it. The Australian actress is absolutely convincing with her Irish accent and truly disappeared into the role of the Irish journalist.

Her single-minded pursuit which endangers her life and her family can be considered reckless, but one can’t help but admire that incredible courage. On top of that, her lack of apathy towards the evil around her is to be commended, as most people would just turn the other way. Guerin’s husband pleaded for her to drop the case yet she refused to succumb to the criminals’ threats that prove to be fatal.

VeronicaGuerin

It’s painful to see that time and time again, it takes a tragedy for lawmakers and the power that be to finally wake up and fight the crime they should’ve been fighting for from the start. There are memorable supporting turns from Irish actors Ciarán Hinds, as well as then-unknown Colin Farrell in a cameo role. Director Joel Schumacher is known mostly for his bad films like Batman & Robin, yet his smaller gems like this one sadly got overlooked.


Wishing you all a blessed Christmas!

BlessedChristmas


Surely there are more inspiring biopics beyond what’s on this list. What are some of your favorites?

Breaking Emotions Blogathon: HATE + LOVE

BreakingEmotions_Banner

This is the last set of emotions from Mettel Ray‘s BREAKING EMOTIONS blogathon. Check out my entry on the previous two sets of emotions: Tears & Surprise and Smiles & Thrills.

HATE + LOVE

Here’s what Mettel had in mind about the set of emotions:

Finishing up the emotions are two of the most ultimate emotional states one could imagine, HATE is up first in this case because I wanted the good stuff to be the last thing everybody will read when it comes to the Breaking Emotions Blogathon. It is quite obvious that we all have those scenes that just bring up all the bad feelings and it’s not even awkward, it is just plain bad! Most of my hate is towards romantic comedies but I’m sure there are some serious scenes that have caused some of you some inner turmoil and this is the time and place to let all those emotions run wild.

And the last one, the very last emotion I’m asking you guys to break is LOVE – it doesn’t have to be a scene about love, hell no, it can be a sci-fi scenery, it can be the ending of a drama and yes, it can be a scene from Notebook as well but it’s not mandatory. I’m looking for scenes that you love and adore until the end of time, scenes that just pop up in your mind while walking to the store and are just simply awesome. What are the scenes that you love the most?

Check out Mettel Ray’s post on Breaking Emotions: HATE + LOVE


It should be obvious for posts like these, but just in case, if you haven’t seen any of these, BEWARE OF SPOILERS!

Ok, so here are my picks:

HATE

Schindler’s ListThe Balcony Scene

There are many, many instances where Amon Goeth (played with chilling realism by Ralph Fiennes) does absolutely revolting acts that makes your blood turn cold. But this is one that particularly stands out. The bloated second lieutenant just wakes up and goes to his balcony of his villa in Kraków, he nonchalantly grabs his rifle and starts shooting Jewish people at random, whoever happens to enter his eye-shot.

I so hated Goeth, but more than that, I hated Hitler and the Nazi party for corrupting people to such a degree that they lost their souls. I mean, they’re worse than alien body snatchers (if there were such a thing) as they’re SOUL snatchers, making humans worse than animals.

District 9 –  Test weapon scene

This is one of the most harrowing scene that made me so sad and so angry. I hated that the people at the lab forced Wikus to do this, it’s one of those sci-fi films that REALLY made me abhor the humans in it. I couldn’t bear watching this scene at the theater, and hearing Wikus’ pleading that he doesn’t want to shoot the aliens is so gut-wrenching. If you’ve seen the film, you’ll see the obvious allegory to racism and how the Prawns are treated like second or even third class citizens with nowhere to go. At this point, Wikus’ has been infected with the alien DNA and that’s why he’s the only one who could operate the extra-terrestrial weaponry. So he’s forced to shoot the Prawns who hasn’t done anything wrong. It’s infuriating how quickly the people at the military company turn on their fellow human being as Wikus’ been infected. On top of that, they have no qualms in manipulating him for their own gain. I hated this scene so much and it’s one that lingers with me most after the film’s over.

..

Bel Ami – Robert Pattinson’s mis-casting

I’ve already made a post on this a while back on good/bad casting choices of 2012. Well I’m going to mention it again here as I really hated his performance here as R-Patz is so terribly mis-cast. Ok so teeny-boppers may think he’s like THE most beautiful man vampire in the planet in those abhorrent Twilight movies, but seeing him with the likes of the great Kristin Scott Thomas, Uma Thurman, and even Christina Ricci who’s closer to his age just highlights how ill-advised his casting was. On top of that, his character is so utterly unlikable, unsympathetic and just a plain douche bag. Now, a charismatic actor could make me like him or at least enjoy his performance but R-Patz just makes me want to punch him and kick myself for renting this [it’s on Netflix so at least I didn’t have to pay extra for it, but still!].

BelAmi_PattinsonScottThomas

The character of George Duroy from Guy de Maupassant’s classic novel is supposed to be seductive and manipulative [which is a juicy role for any actor methinks], but Pattinson’s portrayal is neither, he’s just annoying and lame. I hated what his character did to those women who loved him, but most of all, I just hated his sub-par acting that’s completely devoid of charm.

* I almost put his ex Kristen Stewart’s performance in Twilight and Snow White & The Huntsman on here, but you know what, I think I hated R-Patz’ performance here more. And that speaks volumes!


LOVE

Sleepless in Seattle – Finale

“Are you Annie?”

“Yes.”

“You’re Annie?”

“This is my dad… his name is Sam.”

“Hi Jonah… [sigh] Sam…”

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I only love a handful of rom-coms and three of them are by Nora Ephron. Out of the three, I think Sleepless in Seattle my favorite, one that I can watch over and over. I can easily list all the things I love about this movie, but I’ll save that for Valentine’s Day. I picked this finale as this is the only time the two main protagonists actually meets and oh, what a meeting it was. It was such a satisfying ending to all that build-up throughout the film and it was as perfect as a romantic scene can be filmed without resorting to banal over-sentimentality. It’s got just the right amount of sweetness and plenty of adorable things, such as Sam’s son Jonah grinning ear-to-ear when he realized it’s the woman he wrote his letter to (and when the elevator closes). It’s as much a love story between a man and a woman as it’s a love story for a family, whose tragic loss seems too impossible to recover from. Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan at their loveliest, plus the music is just so enchanting!

Beauty & The Beast – There’s something there

There may be something there that wasn’t there before.

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Since I just talked about Disney movies at the last Five for the Fifth, I wanted to include one that always makes my heart soar. The song is lovely and whimsical, and though it may not be the most memorable one of the entire movie, this scene is just adorable. It always puts a smile on my face every time I think of it [so I guess it would fit under the SMILE Breaking Emotions, too!]. It’s the ultimate unlikely friendship that blossomed into well, something more. You could say that Belle and The Beast are the most developed characters amongst other Disney *princess* movies as you really see the gradual progression of their relationship. The ballroom dance scene is perhaps what people remember most, but I picked this one as there’s an irresistible innocence about it and Belle’s expression as she realizes her feelings for the Beast is wonderful to behold. The scenery, song, etc. all make up for one lovely scene.

Superman: The Movie – Superman rescues Lois scene

I know it’s predictable that I put this on here given how much I loved Superman, but we are talking about a scene that I will love and adore until the end of time, so I can’t possibly exclude this one. Every time the rousing theme plays on as Lois quipped, ‘You’ve got me, who’s got you?’ I can’t help feeling nostalgic and giddy as the first time I saw this when I was a kid. This is why the Christopher Reeves will always be Superman in my heart, inimitable and unrivaled to this day.

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There are SO many awesome things about this scene… the set-up, how Supes was introduced, the crowd’s reaction as he saw him fly [as well as the ‘that’s a bad outfit!’ quip the first time he’s seen in the red & blue suit] and of course, that iconic John Williams‘ theme song! It’s just brilliantly done by Richard Donner that is still the scene to beat even three decades later. This is what Man of Steel is lacking… at least one truly memorable scene featuring the Kryptonian hero that even if you remember nothing else about the film, you will always remember the one iconic scene. In the case of this one, it’s one I will always cherish for ever and ever, and one that never fails to fill my heart with joy.


What do you think of my picks? Which scenes would YOU pick for LOVE + HATE?

Question of the Week: What’s your favorite biopic(s)?

A biographical film, or biopic (/ˈbɵpɪk/; abbreviation for biographical motion picture), is a film that dramatizes the life of an actual person or people.

JeannedArcThis week I saw two press screenings (The Butler and Jobs) that are both based on real-life characters. So I thought I’d blog about one of Hollywood’s favorite genre [or is it sub-genre?]. There are a plethora of biopics getting made every single year. I mean, if you look at this list of biopics in Wikipedia, the number is in the thousands, dating all the way to the year 1900 with short, silent film Jeanne d’Arc by Georges Méliès — clearly Joan of Arc is a popular subject that’s been filmed time and time again. Just in 2000s alone, there are nearly 500 biopics in just one decade! I think biopics have become a favorite for actors to portray, perhaps because they tend to be popular come award season. A bunch of actors have won Oscars portraying real-life characters, as Daniel Day Lewis did most recently playing President Lincoln.

Obviously, just like any genre/sub-genre, there are good and bad biopics, and there’ll never be a shortage of them in the years to come. I for one don’t mind them, especially when the subject matter are intriguing and even inspiring. I prefer biopics that focus on a certain period of the person’s life instead of an overarching biography, just because it’s so challenging to do the latter and make it compelling. I’m excluding documentaries for this post, as it’s kind of a whole different genre entirely.

If I were to choose my top 10 favorites from what I’ve seen, it’d probably look something like this (in no particular order):

  1. Schindler’s List (1993)
  2. Veronica Guerin (2003)
  3. Ray (2004)
  4. The Insider (1999)
  5. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
  6. Elizabeth (1998)
  7. Hotel Rwanda (2004)
  8. Amazing Grace (2006)
  9. The Queen (2006)
  10. Walk The Line (2005)

5 Honorable Mentions: Amadeus, The King’s Speech, The Fighter, Nowhere Boy, The Aviator

I say ‘favorite’ because a large part of how well we receive a biopic is how much we care about the subject matter. I mean, I’m fascinated by royal families (esp. British), but I know some people don’t and they probably aren’t going to be keen on films about them. Of course another big thing is how well we think the actors portray the real-life persona on screen, physical resemblance notwithstanding. Keep in mind I haven’t seen some of the essentials like Gandhi, Citizen Kane, The Passion of Joan of Arc, Ragging Bull, etc.


So my question to you two-fold… do you like Biopics and which ones are your favorite?

Special Collaborative Post: 10 Redeeming Films for Easter… or any other time of the year

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Image courtesy of River Valley Church Minnesota

Happy Easter everyone!

I’d like to wish everyone a wonderful holiday. Fellow Christians all over the world are celebrating the resurrection of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ… I’m forever grateful for His atoning sacrifice. So in the spirit of personal redemption, I invited two of my best blog pals Terrence and Keith to participate in coming up with 10 redeeming films we’d highly recommend.

re·demp·tion
an act of redeeming or atoning for a fault or mistake, or the state of being redeemed.

So, what’s a “redeeming” film? The definition varies, but borrowing from this Christianity Today article , we mean movies that include stories of redemption—sometimes blatantly, sometimes less so. Several of them literally have a character that represents a redeemer; all of them have characters who experience redemption to some degree—some quite clearly, some more subtly.

So without further ado, I present to you our list…

[SPOILER ALERT: It should be obvious that in a list like this we’d be talking about some plot points about the film, so if you haven’t seen it, consider this a warning]

KeithIconKeith’s Picks:

Schindler’s List 

One of the most devastating and piercing movies about the Jewish Holocaust is Steven Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List”. The epic Academy Award Best Picture winner went to great lengths to offer the most transparent and realistic depiction of one of our world’s darkest moments. But as powerful and important as its historical focus is, there’s a lot more to “Schindler’s List” that just that. Within its brilliantly crafted 186 minutes lies one of the greatest stories of personal redemption you’ll find in cinema.

The lead character in the film is Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson), a German business man and Nazi Party member using World War 2 as a means of financial gain. Schindler arrives in Krakow, Poland smelling profit. He buys a factory, hires local Jews for their cheap labor, and begins making supplies for the Nazi war effort. Schindler hobnobs with high-ranking Nazi officials and enjoys a comfortable lifestyle. But when a brutal Nazi Lieutenant arrives, Schindler’s eyes begin to open. A concentration camp is built and the Jewish ghetto roundup begins. Schindler sees first hand the murderous brutality of those he associates with and his heart is broken as he watches many who he’s grown found of victimized or slaughtered.
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Schindler makes it his mission to free as many Jews as he can from their certain death. He secretly uses his war profits and Nazi connections to save the lives of over 1,000 Jews. There’s no doubting his inner transformation. We see his life change before our eyes and even though his character would never say he has found redemption, I think it’s a beautiful picture of it. He does everything in his power to atone for his sins and not just with words but in deeds. And his sorrow for not being able to do more only verifies his genuineness.

Casablanca

If I had to list one movie that I would call my favorite of all time it would be the beloved 1942 classic “Casablanca”. It was one of the movies that introduced me to the magic of classic cinema as well as the starting point for the love I have of my favorite actor, Humphrey Bogart. The film is as close to perfection as you’ll find with Bogie oozing coolness and the gorgeous Ingrid Bergman lighting up ever scene she’s in. There’s an amazing love story at the heart of “Casablanca” but there is also a wonderful depiction of a man’s self-sacrificial redemption.
Bogart plays Rick, the owner of a popular nightclub in Casablanca, Morocco. He’s not beyond participating in a few shady dealing and he maintains a middle-of-the-road war position for the purpose of profit. We do get hints of a soft side to Rick but mostly he doesn’t stick his nose out for anybody but himself. Enter Rick’s old flame Ilsa (Bergman) who permanently damaged him when she left him at a train station in Paris a few years earlier. He’s mean and unforgiving to her until he finds out she and her husband are tied into the Allied war effort and are being hunted by the Nazis. Rick and Ilsa reconcile and their genuine love for each other softens his hardened heart.
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Rick turns away from the fence straddling and does the right thing. His redemption is shown through his personal sacrifice and it was all brought on by his willingness to love and forgive. Ilsa’s reappearance may have hurt him at first but the transformation her love brought is undeniable. Rick’s redemption may not be as profound as others in movie history but I think it’s a beautiful example of how true love can change even the hardest of hearts. What a great example of redemption and a perfectly fitting one as we talk about Easter.

3:10 To Yuma

Unlike the previous two characters and their stories of redemption, Ben Wade from the fantastic western “3:10 to Yuma” is undeniably a villain through most of the movie. Originally made in 1957, I prefer the 2007 remake starring Russell Crowe and Christian Bale. Bale plays a father named Dan who is the only man willing to see that the captured murderer and thief Ben Wade gets on the 3:10 train to the Yuma prison. There’s a moving story about a father trying to prove his worth to his son. There’s also plenty of cool, well done western action sequences. But there’s also the story of Wade and his most unexpected shot at redemption.
Now let me go ahead and throw out a SPOILER WARNING here.As Dan is set to make the final push to the train station, Wade’s gang arrives to make sure he doesn’t get on board. All of the deputies and marshals skip out leaving this struggling father alone. But what folks don’t realize is that Wade has grown to respect Dan. Even more, Dan’s son and his constant belief that there is good in Wade ends up touching this wanted criminal. When its time to head to the station Wade’s gang comes with guns blazing. Dan is no match for them but it’s Wade who carries him all the way. Thinking they had made it, Dan is shot just as Wade is getting on the train. Wade, fully understanding the better man that Dan is, redeems himself by killing his entire gang and then boarding the train on his own just so Dan’s son can believe in his father once again.
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Now I suppose you could say Wade’s redemption wasn’t as pure or pronounced as Oskar Schindler’s or Rick Blaine’s. We are left to believe that he has no intentions of staying in Yuma prison very long. But you can’t deny his actions. Not only does his unselfish actions save a young boy’s life and rid the territory of some of its most brutal killers, but he also restores the love and admiration a boy has for his father. And he sacrifices his own freedom to do it. That’s where his redemption becomes clear. Sacrifice, true and genuine, often goes hand-in-hand with true redemption. We certainly get that from Ben Wade.


TerrenceIconTerrence’s Picks:

There are several films that deal with redemption as a theme, while the main story itself does not revolve around it. Everyone loves a story of redemption…that happy ending or fulfilling moment or triumphant success that appeals to the human heart and soul. Redemption movies tell great stories and are often more enjoyable due to the different levels of human emotion it reaches and touches. In my list of possibles were so many favorites (such as The Passion of the Christ, Ben Hur, American History X, Star Wars, A Christmas Carol, Shawshank Redemption, The Ten Commandments, etc), but I decided to go with a few different ones this time around:

Les Miserables

Up until a few months ago, I had never seen any rendition of this story (on Broadway, on TV, on VHS, etc) and this latest version of Victor Hugo’s classic story brought this tale, unknown to me, to my attention in such beautiful fashion. No one can deny that redemption is a thread throughout as Jean Valjean seeks and finds solace for himself through giving purpose to his life by caring for the young Cosette. But, not only does Valjean seek and find redemption, the same could be said for multiple characters in the story. So touching, so moving, I am now a big fan of this story and almost regret having never watched/read it before (but there’s something to allowing this beautiful version be my introduction to it.

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The communication of the characters and their plight through song translates so well with multiple strong performances full of power and emotion. Everyone hoping to find some true meaning, yet few really finding it. Jean Valjean himself saw the biggest turnaround and redemption and expresses that in his song “Suddenly” which I love to listen to. (Fantine as well, in the end). Hooper does a fantastic job portraying the toil of the “sins” of each character and their journey to recompense for transgressions made. Every character fights for redemption of sorts and Les Miserables is now one of my favorites in this category.

One worthy of being on this list, Les Miserables shows the rewards of hoping for and seeking redemption. People who rose above that which was miserable and found redemption for their souls.

Road to Perdition

Perhaps not a film that would come to mind when thinking of redemption, but it strikes a chord with me in this light because of Tom Hanks’ character, Michael Sullivan. Sullivan, a “muscle” member of the mob, ends up on the wrong side of their favor and now faces the trouble that he has inflicted for so many years. Loss, redemption, family, protection and more flood his mind and influence his actions as he now fights against the “family” he’s protected and fought for for years.

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Sullivan finds redemption (and purpose as the collector of payment for sins) through his last surviving son who goes on the run with him. In one of the best mobster movies, his character gives a look at one man in the mob and his inner struggle with conscience vs. duty. When the tables are turned, so are his priorities and he learns what his life should have revolved around and makes concentrated effort to make up for lost time and the mob circles in on him and his son on the run. A gripping movie that keeps you interested all the way to the surprising ending. Road to Perdition is a must-see redemption flick.

Despicable Me

Not expecting this movie on the list? I know, but Despicable Me is so great and it does share a message of redemption and that even the most evil conniving bad guy can find a happy ending and change his way. What greater message is there to tell kids? :) And what greater way to do so than with Gru, the minions, and three of the cutest little girls in search of a home and happiness (and a fluffy unicorn)?

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Stuck in his ways of evil and surrounding by an army of minions who obey his every whim, Gru is out to prove he is the villain of villains. But even the greatest of bad guys can be conquered by love. And that’s exactly what happens when Gru finds his heart torn between his unexpected growing love for three little girls that come into his life and his love for evil plans and the fulfillment of them. It gets complicated further when another villain threatens his title and makes Gru choose. Redemption is shown after a choice made for selfish reasons turns to a choice made for others and the reward is seen. From best villain to best dad, Despicable Me is such a fun film with other themes as well, but one of the main ones being that of attainable redemption.


FlixChatterIconRuth’s Picks:

Before I get to my picks for this year, I’d still want to include the three I’ve already recommended a couple of years ago. All three indie films are not widely seen as they perhaps didn’t even play in a theater near you, but now they’re available to rent. I’d see all of these again in a heartbeat as they’re beautifully-made and never fails to inspire me. Click on the posters below to read the post:

2011_EasterPicks

For this year, once again I choose films that are not box office hit (save for one). The first three are under-appreciated and overlooked films that should be seen by more people. Some are more obvious than others, but they all have strong redemptive quality despite the personal transgressions and vice the character(s) go through.

Everything Must Go

Now, people might not associate a Will Ferrell movie with personal redemption and neither did I. I thought the trailer was hilarious but there seemed to something more beneath the surface and it was. Nick Halsey’s a broken man, not only has he lost his job, he also lost his wife who left him and threw all his possessions all over their front lawn. He decided to hold a yard sale and ended up striking a friendship with two of his neighbors, a young boy (Christopher C.J. Wallace) and a pregnant woman (Rebecca Hall) expecting the arrival of her husband. His unlikely friendship with the two of them somehow helped him in a path to reclaim his life back.

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Ferrell is much more watchable to me in a serious role (like this one and in Stranger than Fiction) and I instantly empathize with Nick, a man who’s hit rock bottom and seemed to be without hope, wasting his life away drinking beer and lounging on the sofa. The journey to personal redemption isn’t always marked with dramatic or sensational moments, but the simple things such as a kindness from a stranger and going out of one’s comfort zone can transform one’s life. The film depicts how our excess baggage, more in terms of emotional than physical, that often hold ourselves back.  It’s a slow but  film that display a surprisingly quiet, restrained performance from Ferrell, which also boast wonderful performances from Michael Peña as Halsey’s cop friend, and a small–but–memorable turn by Laura Dern.

Machine Gun Preacher

It’s criminal how poorly-marketed this film was, making it look like a *Rambo in Africa* type of genre film (as Claratsi pointed out in his excellent review). It’s a shame as this film deserves so much better. Based on a true story about an ex-con and drug addict Sam Childers whose new-found faith in God drove him to build an orphanage in Sudan following a mission trip to the region. Based on his autobiography Another Man’s War, its tagline pretty much says it all: “Save the children, no matter the cost.” Seems extreme perhaps, but this film showed the brutality of what happened to these African children as they’re being recruited as child soldiers, forced to slay their own family member in order to *save* their own. Extreme situation calls for extreme measures. Childers’ battle his own personal demons, which did not immediately vanish at the moment of conversion as some people seem to assume.

Gerard Butler depicted Childers with such conviction. It’s a brutally honest portrayal, Childers’ not simply a one-dimensional *white man hero* but a fascinating man full of rough edges but with a stern, compassionate heart. It’s heart-wrenching to see such a tumultuous journey, warts and all, because we’ve all been there at some point of our lives.

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The script could have been more compelling and nuanced, yet the redemptive quality of it is not lost on me. Childers may have rescued the children and did his best to protect them, but it’s these very children who in turn *save* him and give him a new purpose in life. The one quote that struck me from the film comes from one the orphans living in Childers’ compound: “If we allow ourselves to be full of hate, they have won. We cannot let them take our hearts.” It’s a poignant moment and certainly a thought-provoking one, as even as we do try to do the right thing, we’re often so consumed by anger and sometimes hatred, which could lead us back to where we were before we found redemption. (read my full review)

The Visitor

Personal redemption doesn’t always take one to hit rock bottom, sometimes a docile existence is just as in need of a reformation. Walter Vale’s life is not out of control, in fact, the economics professor lives a comfortable, albeit boring, life that suddenly takes an unexpected turn with the arrival of two immigrants in his home. Richard Jenkins gave a wonderful, sensitive portrayal of Walter, and he’s got a nice chemistry with Haaz Sleiman as Tarek.

TheVisitor

In my review of The Intouchables, some people mentioned that the story reminded them of The Visitor and certainly the unlikely friendship has some similarities. Tarek, a Syrian immigrant and his girlfriend Zainab, a jewelry designer from Senegal ended up living in Walter’s apartment, having rented it from a swindler who claimed it was his place. Walter initially freaked out about the whole ordeal, as one could imagine, but a friendship slowly developed between them as they learn to trust each other. I love the scene where Tarek taught Walter how to play the drum and they played with Tarek’s drum circle in Central Park. There’s also a sweet relationship that developed between Walter and Tarek’s mother Mouna who lost her journalist husband in a Syrian prison. Their friendship give Walter a renewed joy and a sense of purpose, as he’s become determined to help Tarek and Mouna to stay in the country legally. The depth and humanity of the story is heart-wrenching as well as uplifting, even if the outcome didn’t turn out the way we wish it would be.

Gran Torino

Now, this film is not exactly overlooked. It’s grossed over $200 million worldwide so it was quite a box office hit, but I’d like to include it nonetheless as it has a strong redemptive theme.

Clint Eastwood has played more than his share of grump, taciturn protagonists in his lifetime, but few are as curmudgeon-like as Walt Kowalski. Mourning the death of his wife, Walt’s become embittered of and loathe the world around him. The Korean War veteran’s sole prized possession is a 1972 Gran Torino which he keeps in mint condition. He loves his classic car as much as he resents his Hmong neighbors. One day, their paths cross as a Hmong teenager Thao attempt to steal his Gran Torino out of peer pressure and their lives are changed in ways neither one could’ve anticipated.

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At 78, his quip ‘Get off my lawn‘ is still as intimidating as his ‘Make my day.’ Eastwood snarls, glowers, and growls like nobody’s business and his friendship with Thao doesn’t immediately soften him, which creates some amusing scenes. But there’s no denying that the personal redemption is real as Walt slowly opens up his life to his new friend and his family. He’s come to care deeply for them as well, to the point of laying down his life to save them from the threats of the violent gangs that frequent the neighborhood. It goes to show that even the most hardened hearts is not beyond the point of redemption, and the grace from those he discriminated against end up being his own personal savior as much as he become one to them.


THANK YOU Keith and Terrence for your awesome contribution!


Hope you enjoy our recommendations, we welcome your thoughts on our picks. Now, what other films with redemptive theme would you add to the list?