For All Your Wants and Worries, a Film
There are a lot of modern illnesses for which we don’t have any cure and, often, for which we don’t even have a catchy name. Absent marketers and medicine, we are often left to our own devices to deal with, e.g., the emptiness after bingewatching all of a cancelled series, or of the mixed feeling you get when you look at an ugly car in a beautiful colour. And then there are the sharper feelings: of estrangement from nature; of dispassion; of a life lacking in surprise; of a either a surplus or lack of fantasy; of moving past materialism but missing the comfort of the QVC; of adulthood; of distrust; of losing your moral compass to the group; of not being in charge of one’s future; of forgetting whether it was the last Captain America where the large thing fell out of the sky or if that was the last Avengers; actually, of forgetting where you left a lot of things.
If you find yourself wanting for the comfort everyone deserves, perhaps you might contemplate movies as a kind of soft medicine. There are numerous advocates for art or literature as therapy; I’d simply like to promote film for your consideration. Movies can’t solve every problem and, as in the case of alien invasion, are sometimes preoccupied with worries largely absent from modern life. What they can do is brighten and cheer and move you, with the best ones having you feeling changed, if only briefly, as you leave the cinema for the sunlight. Or, as this is 2015, when you finally put down the same machine with which you’re reading these words.
Some conditions and prescriptions follow. As every film here is filled with pleasures, think of these as Flintstones Vitamins rather than banana flavoured Calpol (a cure worse than the disease). No trailers here as most trailers vandalise a film’s best bits and often rob one of surprise even when they don’t.
Hardly definitive, both in symptoms and cures.
To Cultivate and Reward Patience
Goodbye Dragon Inn
This film is brief by Tsai Ming Liang’s standards, or indeed, at 82 minutes, anyone’s. But it is full in spite of its slight quiet, maybe even because of it. If you fall into its rhythm — and I’d grant that it’s not for everyone — the final moments are incredibly moving and more exciting than all the Transformers films stacked end on end
off-label use: regaining lost appetites, believing something absent.
To Aid in the Feeling of Wanting to Start Over
Antonioni is similarly deliberate, but wheras Dragon Inn is limited to one diminished theatre, here we have access to what feels like the entire world. Jack Nicholson plays a man who discovers the suicide of a man with whom he looks just enough alike to pull a switch. He sets out on a new life, only finds that his new rebirth comes with its own mysterious past, unpleasant, ticking. Maria Schneider exceeds her rôle as The Girl.
Off-label uses: cultivating patience, appreciating the importance of third acts.
To Combat Homesickness
There’s no place like home. The movies have used the journey home as a plot device since the Golden Age. This is more than a MacGuffin, it is universal, and also the stuff of good stories from The Odyssey to 2001. Local Hero has less of that travel and more more of the sense of home: of local people; of place; of a sense of belonging, even for Mac, our American interloper. It’s a perfect film, part of a small tradition of excellent Scottish slice of life films that includes I Know Where I’m Going and Whisky Galore!
Off-label use: Joy. Also: Homeward Bound.
To Help with Wanderlust
A lot of travel is wrapped up in sex and a fantasy, possibly related, that we’d like to reinvent ourselves abroad. This is also the basis for a good espionage thriller and screwball comedy. All these fixings are mixed in in Stanley Donen’s excellent film, sometimes referred to as “the best Hitchcock movie that Hitchcock never made.”
Also consider, but for very different reasons: Phantom India .
To Help with Worries about a Lack of Empathy (a placebo)
First off, worrying that you’re not caring enough about people is solid proof that you care far more deeply than your average man. But if you do want to watch a film that calls on you to care for a rich range of characters, rent or buy Short Cuts. Consider it a counterpoint (antidote?) to the easy, unnamed film about isolate, colliding Los Angelenos; Altman never condescended to his audience (see Popeye) and he didn’t start here. As cliche has it, worth watching again and again, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, a rollicking ride,…
Also: Baises Voleurs, Atlantic City.
To Temporarily Alleviate Feelings of Sadness
A Fish Called Wanda
It’s more than one of the funniest films of all time. It’s a working thriller, an impossible romance, something completely unique in tone and its many achievements — not the least of which is having you spend most of the film cheering for a barrister.
Also: Harold and Maude, Alpha Papa.
To See that Change is Possible, Even If Slight
This film begins where many would end and fills in all the hard parts — the struggle, life too — as Robert Duvall’s Mac picks himself up off the floor and redeems himself to those he loves. Small steps look heroic on the big screen, as indeed they are.
For Dealing with Buildings
It was Socrates or Snapple who said “a fool becomes wise when he shuts his mouth.” I would debate this if I didn’t feel that that was undermining my argument. Monsieur Hulot gets through this film without speaking, but he expresses himself full well as he bungles with machines, consumables, and some of puzzlingly horrible modern architecture. There’s dignity there (Hulot; not the wretched buildings we’ve been left with.)
Also, when ready: Tati’s equally wonderful film Playtime. In 70mm if you ever get the chance.
To Remind you of Nature
Burden of Dreams
This is such a great film. A documentary about the making of Fitzcarraldo, and a variation on all of that film’s themes only where the madness and the jungle were real.
I recognise that there’s a commitment involved here as you might not have seen Fitzcarraldo itself. Both films stand (stratospheric) on their own. I’ve included the above clip to try and tilt the scales. In it, Werner Herzog describes what the jungle has come to mean to him as he struggles against it and not without some guilt at thinking it could be so easily tamed.
Off-label uses: for ambition, for remembering your responsibility to yourself.
Full Metal Jacket
Chances are you’ve already seen this. But chances are you’ve also grown up since then. If you assemble a group of guys you will often find that they can quote pages of dialogue from Kubrick’s anti-war flick, possibly taking turns one upping each other, possibly not even taking turns. That is precisely the kind of male hivebrain Kubrick is pointing his camera at, only in Vietnam they had guns, pathetically slim orders, and an absence of hope. Very much worth revisiting, and far more ironic than Kubrick’s often ironic oeuvre.
Off-label use: for keeping your head when those around you are having theirs removed.
To Diminish Crippling Sensations of Adulthood
So much about growing up here and the unintended consequences of outsourcing your conscience to a cricket. Unimaginable that it came out in 1940! You can always return to this one.
To Encourage a Healthy Desire to Dance Where None Existed
Singin’ in the Rain
Some self-medicating: I don’t enjoy dancing, but, as I have been told countless times, it is my loss. Fine. To combat this and remain to be seen as open-minded, I am taking double doses of Singin’ in the Rain. I have already run through three and a half couches in the process but feel some improvement, even enjoyment.
It is also a movie about movies and could be enjoyed for its important lessons about self-regard, self-mythologising, and a delicate amount of smugness which could be intolerable in real life.
The Browning Version
Deeply moving. It sounds so meagre when in synopsis so I will spare you. Leap as it is never too late.
Also: Dancer in the Dark, The Lion King, Le Ballon Rouge.
If you know what it does then it won’t work.
Off-label uses: as a panacea, apply directly to the eyes