by Michael S. Palmer
The last three months of any calendar year meld into one giant festive season that is equal parts consumerism, gluttony, and good will. In a 'nog-and-blinking-lights haze, we bounce between feasts and families and charity work and wishing for new toys. But a scant week after the presents are unwrapped, a New Year arrives and reminds us of our imperfections. The extra pounds. The bad habits. The unachieved goals and dreams.
Well, dear readers, as is the custom, it's time to make a resolution! To grow. To learn. To change ourselves for the better.
But wait, there's more?!?
No, there's a catch. A problem. A plot hole. Human beings don't actually like to change, because it's far too easy to stay the same (I'm pretty sure we're talking fundamental laws of physics here, but it works on people too). In fact, here we are some four weeks into the New Year and how many of our new selves are already looking much more akin to the selves of old? How many of those fancy new gym memberships are already going unused?
Well fear not, we've got you a list of epically feel good Blu-ray discs to help you through the toughest of trials. Because if there's one thing movies teach us, it's that with enough will power, anything is freakin' possible. And if fictional characters can face off against impossible obstacles when filmmakers dreamed it so, why they hell can't we make a New Years Resolution and keep it?
But first, what makes an inspirational movie? After exploring the genre a little bit, I found a lot of interesting parallels. For example, without really paying attention, so many are sports films. Spiritual and prison break films also frequently appear in considered titles. Despite the different genres, all inspirational films feature extreme situations where only perseverance can win out.
Another interesting parallel is the narrative structure of the main characters. In most stories well told and well structured, the Hero must learn something. He or she must change in order to defeat an obstacle (a villain, a monster etc.) and if they don't learn about the world or themselves, they don't win. But, in the Inspirational Movie, Little Engines That Could remain essentially unchanged while enacting a change on the environment and characters around them. In the end, despite all the trials and tribulations, The Hero was right all along. 'Forrest Gump' is a perfect structural example of this as a film and as a character. Of course, this Inspirational Movie genre assumption isn't meant to imply these Heroes don't learn or change, or that every single main character listed below fits this mold.
THE RUNNERS UP:
'Glory,' Cool Hand Luke,' 'Braveheart,' '300,' and 'Gladiator' are all fantastic films, but tragically so. If you need them as inspiration, only watch the first two acts! Then there are films like 'High Noon,' 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,' 'Far and Away,' '127 Hours,' 'The Fighter,' and 'E.T.,' but alas, they aren't available on Blu-ray yet.
TEN INSPIRATIONAL BLU-RAYS:
M. Night Shyamalan is probably not many people's first thought when it comes to inspiration. His early work was reserved and Hitchcockian -- he had an uncanny ability to create empathetic characters, tension and suspense -- and 'Signs' is my favorite in the bunch. Sure, you can poke some holes if you like, but to me, inspirational movies are all about how you feel at the end of watching them. 'Signs' is nothing short of a miracle as an empty, broken father -- a former priest who had lost his faith -- finds that the world has a plan. That he is not alone. It is a comforting thought to those who embrace one form of spirituality or another, but I don't think it's necessarily a requirement. Anyone can walk away knowing that, whether it be family, friends, or even God, that in the struggles we face, we can't always do it alone. Sometimes, faith in not-ourselves is important. Together, we can survive anything.
Along the same lines, we have another supernatural genre piece. This one about a family banding together to take on the darkness that goes bump in the night. A darkness brought to life because of corporate greed. This film is scary and emotional and funny all at once. Again, we see how important it is to form bonds and relationships (to form a family of one kind or another).
8) 'Con Air'
By now, I'm sure many of you think I'm crazy. That's okay. This list is about to get much more predictable, but for now, let's talk about 'Con Air.' Family is not only the thread that saves and redeems, but it is also the end game. Cameron Poe (Nicolas Cage) is a man of principles who has gotten the short end of the stick (haven't we all?). When all he wants to do is go home and see the daughter he's never met on her 7th birthday, he has to make the impossible decision to do what is right when it is clearly dangerous. Poe then kicks so much ass and survives so many explosions, anyone watching feels like a superhero by the end of it. 'Con Air' makes me giddy. It makes me cheer at my television. It's loud and dumb and the supporting cast is amazing.
There are literally too many titles to list under inspirational 'based on a true story' sports film. Walt Disney and filmmaker John Lee Hancock certainly have been cornering this market in the last ten years. And while most of them are so glued to structure that any casual movie fan knows all the beats, they still manage to work emotionally. I suppose sports movies are the safe version of war movies. Themes of struggle and individuality versus the greater good are all over the place here. But in the end, the impossible happens for the underdogs, which is how we all cast ourselves in our daily struggles.
6) 'Apollo 13'
'Apollo 13' is an inspirational film for so many reasons. The astronauts themselves go through a terrible physical journey. They are isolated, and have to make constant life and death decisions. Back on Earth, the tension is just as great. Families left behind hoping to see their husbands/fathers/coworker/friends again. A nation/world waiting with bated breath to bring their heroes home. NASA engineers trying to figure out how to get the broken craft home before everyone perishes. 'Apollo 13' inspires not only because of how much we can accomplish on our own, but more so because in times of great tragedy, it too shows how we are not alone in our struggles. How we will band together to do the impossible. Lesson to be learned: join the gym with a partner. Tah dah!
Anthony Hopkins is pitch perfect (he usually is, even in lesser films than this one) and Roger Donaldson's direction puts viewers on the edge of their seats in this under-rated, under-seen movie. 'The World's Fastest Indian' has all of the features of the true story sports movie, but the subtle variation is that at the end of the day, we learn it's never too late in your life to have a dream. Also, there are some great moments where the kindness of strangers saves Hopkins from giving up.
The greatest part about 'Rocky' is that the behind the scenes story is just as inspirational as the film itself. Sylvester Stallone wasn't getting the parts he really wanted, so he wrote himself a role that ended up becoming one of the most iconic characters in cinema history. It's a real-life fairy tale because regular guys like Stallone and his character Rocky Balboa don't easily win in the real world. But, if you keep trying, training and montaging…if you work harder than everyone else (than you ever thought possible), you too can be a champ. And becoming a winner isn't about winning one fight. It's about the change in yourself.
I love this film. It's my favorite Spielberg movie, despite the fact that Spielberg publically declared, after having a family, he would change the way this film ends. To me, this is another example of Inspiration via universal connection (after all, we are not alone). But more than reaching out across the street/country/galaxy, it's about believing in something fully, and the sacrifices that come from following dreams and instinct. The reward for the characters in 'Close Encounters' is multi-faceted. Some are reunited with loved ones. Some finally know for sure that they aren't crazy. That the dream was worth the personal losses and sacrifices. It's also a film where regular people do and see extraordinary things; it says our world is much more special than day-to-day life sometimes allows us to realize.
Every time I watch this film and Rudy's carried off the field by his teammates, his father and angry brother there to see it all, I fight a pair of watering eyes (*sniffle*…I won't cry…I won't!). Rudy is seven hundred times more of an underdog than Rocky Balboa; he's a talentless athlete who dreams of playing college football for one of the best programs in the nation. The only thing he has going for him is heart (aka, unwavering determination). He's had a dream his entire life, and his entire life, everyone said he couldn't do it. But when his best friend (the only person that ever did encourage him) dies, Rudy realizes that never trying is a sure-fire way of failing. From that moment forward, Rudy is relentless. He's an amazing character, the person we all wish we could be when facing adversity. Rudy will get you through many a tough time.
And the number one movie to help inspire you to stick with a New Years Resolution or overcome a craptastic day/month/year…
A film that bombed upon its initial release, only to be reborn on home video, where it has turned into a modern classic. 'The Shawshank Redemption' is one of the greatest movies of all time (it's certainly the best Stephen King adaptation). It's the classic tale of a wrongly convicted man stuck in a brutal prison who never gives up hope. Who never lets the darkness in. This is a movie about patience (decades worth) against adversity. About focusing on a Goal, and making the dream happen no matter what. It's also an amazing tale of friendship, again showing how human connections are just as important in bad times as dedication. The story also manages to humanize the terminally criminal by portraying the weakness inherent in all people.
As always, there are certainly more films to mention than what's considered on this list – also, please remember, we're only considering currently available Blu-ray Discs -- so I encourage readers to hit up the forums to add titles and/or arrange your own list. What inspires you during dark and trying times?