MOVIES YOU CAN LEARN FROM
“Trash has given us an appetite for art.”
– Pauline Kael
Movies can help you understand yourself. We watch the people on the screen & identify with their humanity, mistakes & struggles. Perhaps the actors can help us digest our own dark sides by watching them on the screen.
Note: Six terrific movies that capture the victim, rescuer, persecutor drama triangle are listed on the manipulation page of this website. It’s worth the effort to educate yourself about this game before you see the movies. It’s a game played often in families, business, and in our culture.
Best Discovered in 2017:
20th Century Women
Annette Bening stars in this movie rated 90% on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s a wonderful character study and offers a remarkable amount of wisdom “Men often feel as if they have to fix things, sometimes you just have to be there.” It’s full of the honest messiness of life that makes it delightful.
The Salesman From IRAN.
Won Best Foreign Film Oscar 2017. It is deeply moving about trauma & anger that evolves into revenge. There is a powerful juxtaposition of the setting for the main characters, who are acting in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman.
Best Discovered in 2016:
Manchester by the Sea
This is a movie about the burden of GUILT that creates a level of self torture that can destroy a man’s life. Profoundly moving about the power of unspoken pain that creates deep fractures in the soul. 96% critic rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Hell or High Water
Hell or High Water This is a wonderful western with Jeff Bridges where Banks are the villains. It’s about LOYALTY & LOSS. Don’t miss out on this treasure. 98% by critics on Rotten Tomatoes.
Best Discovered in 2015:
This is about the power of CHOICES & how important COURAGE can be in creating a better life. A truly lovely movie that reminds you how brave immigrants are to arrive at the shores of America. 97% critic rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Best Discovered in 2014:
Best Discovered in 2013:
9 Terrific Movies About Love in Relationships:
A British film with a female director. A very brash young woman (as most of author Jane Austen’s characters are) listens to her own inner voice and is willing to give up wealth and return to abject poverty rather than marry the wrong man. There is also a moment where our heroine is clear about the dangers of charm. So many women deny and ignore that inner voice and pay the price of wasted years.
As Good as it Gets
One of the ultimate definitions of love happens when Jack Nicholson pays the highest compliment to Helen Hunt: “You make me want to be a better man.” This movie also captures his ability to truly see who she is, and to describe her back to herself with a lovely clarity. She also has great boundaries with him which he is open to and then he is able to reduce his shenanigans.
Gwenyth Paltrow is radiant as another Jane Austen heroine. There is a picnic scene in which Emma is very mean and shockingly rude to another young woman whose only crime is that of being a geek. The man who secretly loves her and loves her enough to be incredibly honest tells her how terrible she has been; he does not want her to get away with it and she listens, shamed into being a better person. Emma follows through by taking action and making amends. The courage to say and hear hard truths leads to growth for both.
A wonderful movie with a female director and Michelle Rodriguez in her first performance. If swearing is a problem, the movie will be offensive to you. Michelle’s character listens to her own voice to become a female boxer. She is at a party where her boyfriend Shaun shows up with another girl; there is no drama, and no games (like the recent Mary J. Blige song). She sets boundaries and she sticks to them. She doesn’t pretend away what happened and get lost in the role of appeasing him to keep him. She has the courage of her convictions. She is able to be herself instead of saying what others want to hear.
An Iranian movie that is a visual feast. It is the story of a young construction worker self absorbed in survival who moves into true growth in loving an Afghan refugee from afar. His whole world view and moral code are transformed by his new experience of selflessness.
A Mexican film that captures the tragic side of love in three stories that all intersect in a car crash. Very powerful and poignant to watch. The title translates into “love is a bitch”. This movie is included because the danger of love must be faced to know love. Caution: Brutal dogfight scenes.
An Indian film of a Hindu wedding directed by Mira Nair. This movie has a very brave moment when the young bride risks the truth with her groom knowing that truth is the only way to begin a relationship and that she may lose him because of telling him.
Tully is a gem about two brothers who live on a Nebraska Farm. Handsome Tully learns what love is and makes a choice for substance over easy lust.
Movies About Fear
Making life work despite fear:
Eloquent testimony to living a life deprived because of fear.
Aussie gem from 1992. The phrase the characters repeat over and over, “A life lived in fear is a life half lived.”
The Accidental Tourist
This movie is about love, grief, anxiety and the importance of taking risks. The main character, played by William Hurt, is so afraid that he strangles the vitality of his life with huge levels of control.
A movie about an obese, anxious man who had been in a codependent relationship with his mother. His world has become strangled by his fear. Clearly shows how it is possible to make your world bigger, no matter how scary a proposition that may be. Crisis really is also opportunity.
Ruby in Paradise
A young girl moves to a new place to begin her life. Beginnings are always the hardest part. This movie captures both polarities of fear and excitement for any young person trying to make their way.
Bowling for Columbine
This is a documentary by Michael Moore. With humor he illustrates how we have become a fear-driven culture, encouraged by the sensationalism the media seeks.
Movie About Bullying
A lovely movie about an autistic kid teen who is bullied because he’s different. It was made in 2007 in Belgium and has a truly glorious, surprising ending.
Movie About Trauma:
The Secret Life of Words
The movie depicts a woman who has survived severe trauma and how she copes initially by keeping her world very small working in a factory without relationships and eating chicken, white rice & half an apple every day and this world surprisingly changes.
Movie about Giving Up Your Dream
This 2008 movie from Japan is really lyrical. A young man decides to sell his cello and stumbles into another answer for his life quest.
Movies About Attitude:
Attitude shapes your life.
The Lives of Others
Won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 2007 and deservedly so. Set in 1984 before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Watch the transformation of the Stasi spy who follows through with right action despite knowing there will be terrible consequences.
My Life Without Me
This Canadian gem has a remarkable 23 yr.old woman who faces dying in 2 months & has an attitude of being able to imagine those she loves without her.
One way to look at David Lynch’s tour de force is to see the scene in the cow pasture as a lynchpin. The cowboy asks the arrogant director, “Do you believe attitude shapes your life?”, then yells at the director for offering an unconsidered answer. So the first 2/3 of the movie feature Betty who is positive, open, and believes in possibilities. Look for the moment when a key goes in a blue box. The same actress who played Betty now becomes Diane. Diane is angry, bitter and begrudging, all captured in a scene of unsuccessful masturbation. This is of course only one interpretation of a very complex, confusing movie.
Movies About Codependency
Codependency is mush. Two people enmeshed with each other is not love. In fact, the pity of codependency is the real lack of respect in the relationship. The lack of respect is truly daunting. The danger of both of these movies is the watcher saying, “I’d never go to these lengths.” Stay tuned to all the small choices along the way and use the story to consider your own life instead of the easy, deflecting attitude of defensiveness.
Watch an 18-year old giving up her future to care for her alcoholic father and best friend who has MS. Her father discovers her secret and recognizing he is an obstacle in her life interrupts her enabling. (2006)
The Deep End
A mother who goes to every extreme for her son, except giving him the respect of believing him when he tells her the truth. She decides she knows and ultimately keeps him in the dark, so he never learns the severity of his poor judgment. It is a story of codependence masquerading as love and the relationship pays the price of
In the Bedroom
Sissy Spacek is deep into control in a situation of profound grief. Tom Wilkinson in a classic role of appeasement taken too far.
The Cider House Rules
In an early role for Toby Maguire he plays the orphan, Homer, who must leave the safe world created for him by Dr. Larch. He can only make his life his own by entering the wider world and then returning by his own choice. Dr. Larch is determined to be co-dependent with Homer. Candy, his first girlfriend, is “too afraid to be alone” and mistakes co-dependency for love.
Korean Movies About Revenge
The Man From Nowhere
Oldboy , Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance & Lady Vengeance
These movies are not for the faint of heart. Korean director Chan-wook Park has created a disturbing and unforgettable trilogy of movies. They examine the power of revenge and how it drives people to dark places.
Movies About Boundaries:
Sigourney Weaver plays a stepmother who a 15 year old is passionate about. She maintains her boundaries and he is freed up to move along in his life. Long term thinking about his best interests vs Bebe Neworth’s short term thinking of the immediate pleasures to be had.
Also a good self-help book would be
, by Anne Katherine.
The Upside of Anger
Joan Allen demonstrates the destructive power of anger and bitterness over a disappearing husband. Kevin Costner finally sets an important boundary with her and defines enough is enough.
Movies with Both Large and Small Therapeutic Points
The Dark Knight
Director Christopher Nolan scores again by creating a movie that reminds us even valiant superheros have their dark side… just like us.
Gone Baby Gone
A 2007 film directed by Ben Affleck. This is based on the book by Dennis Lehane. It’s about the power of listening to the truth and going after it even when no one believes you.
Lars & The Real Girl
A 2007 movie that depicts Ryan Gosling as a shut off misfit. We watch him grow and change in part, because his therapist begins by respecting his kookyness.
Secrets & Lies
A movie about someone who is adopted & finds her birth mother. Mike leigh is the director of another movie that illustrates the importance of truth in relationships.
Written and directed by Spain’s famous filmmaker Pedro Almodocar – Captures strong women and the vibrancy of relationships between mother and daughter and sister. It also captures the terrible tragedy when someone is sexually abused and they unknowingly marry someone who repeats the damage.
A movie that offers magnificient visuals, as would be expected since design and direction were both done by Julie Taymor who did the incredible set for The Lion King on Broadway. The movie sheds light on the connection between the pain of this artist’s life and her work. It is also a great film example of two “too muchs” in a relationship (see Couple’s Troubles).
Welcome to Collingwood
A funny movie of five inept burglars. There is a lovely moment where one of the burglars leaves the group because he has a new girlfriend. The girlfriend wants an honest man and he has gotten himself a job.
Set in Alaska, Al Pacino plays a cop who loses his way on the path of truth and regrets it.
Kurt Russell also plays a cop who loses his way on the path of truth and regrets it. Set during the LA riots.
Boys Don’t Cry
Hilary Swank plays a transgendered person who is stomach-wrenchingly self-destructive.
Wings of the Dove
The destructiveness of obsessive love and learning to let go.
Directed by Robert Altman, this movie captures clan divisions beautifully. We may pretend class isn’t a part of American culture but that’s not so. The complication of adoption is movingly addressed.
In the Mood for Love
Wong Kar-wai is the director; an astonishing poem to both romance and heartbreak of two lonely spouses both married to someone who is having an affair. It is haunting and knows the true loneliness of someone married unhappily.
(Or “The Spanish Apartment”) A French comedy that captures a college grad making life choices. Watch for the one character who is the biggest jerk and surprises us by also being the biggest hero.
28 Days Later
A UK science fiction thriller directed by Danny Boyle, who knows how to create darkness in film. Naomi Harris plays a character remarkably grounded in terrible reality. Cillian Murphy grows and transforms into someone who demonstrates the power of legitimate anger in a story saturated with disturbing sick anger.
Kill Bill vol. 2
It is very powerful to experience Uma Thurman digging herself out of a grave situation. She gets points for both courage and self-esteem. Kill Bill vol. 1 is enjoyable and fun, vol. 2 is more moving.
Heat, Collateral, and The Insider are movies by the director Michael Mann. They are movies of great style. The substance of these movies are stories of men who are committed to their work and doing it well. The New York Times review of Collateral describes it this way: “Most of the time, work is drudgery, compromise, frustration, but in Mr. Mann’s films it carries a thrilling charge of sublimity, danger, and grace.”
Chinese Movies include the Asian perspective that suffering is an expected part of life. Perhaps watching them will offer greater perspective on what tragedy really is. Three Movies offer the truth that profound pain must be made bearable. The second through fourth star Gong Li, an amazing actress.
The King of Masks
A wonderful tale of an aging street performer.
Farewell My Concubine
On many Top Ten Asian Movie lists. It is a
powerful story of two actors from 1924 to 1977.
Raise The Red Lantern
A woman endures becoming the fourth wife to a very wealthy man. The visual impact of the film is outstanding. This is an extremely disturbing movie.
The Emperor and the Assassin
Takes place in 221 BC, the plot twists with betrayal, ambition, and political intrigue. An epic picture that runs 2 hours and 40 minutes.
Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl
The painful life of a young girl who does not survive the cultural revolution. Directed by Joan Chen who did not fare nearly as well in her first Hollywood effort with Richard Gere. R rated. Disturbingly painful for the entire movie, the characters are unable to succeed making unbearable pain bearable.
Just Plain Fun Movies:
Out of Sight
George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez in an Elmore Leonard novel brought to life.
This Chinese movie is directed by Yimou Zhang who also directed the closing ceremony for the 2004 Olympics and Raise the Red Lantern mentioned above. There has never been a film that is so completely pure poetry. It elegently teaches a deeper meaning than most martial arts films and you experience the greater complexity of life. Truely magnificient.
Movies that can offer you an erotic jump start for a healthy sex life are listed at the end of the sexuality page.
Images and links courtesy of The Internet Movie Database (IMDb).