This month’s Spiritual Cinema Circle film collection is all about overcoming the odds.
It Ain’t Over is a story of hope from a man with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) who has been defying medical odds for over a decade. Granny’s Got Game follows a group of women in their seventies who have been playing basketball together for nearly 20 years. The Birdman celebrates a shopkeeper in New York City who has maintained a sanctuary for music lovers in the midst of the digital age.
Our films for this month focus on communication and imagination. In the high-concept short Baggage, a young man reclaims some emotional baggage he thought he had left behind for good. In The Gambling Man, we visit the inspiring real-life story of Alby Hurwit, a retired doctor who pursues his life-long dream to compose a symphony. And in What is That?, a father and son learn to reconnect.
Spiritual Cinema Circle’s September films focus on the journeys we take to find love.
The Last New Yorker, starring veteran actor Dominic Chianese (Uncle Junior in The Sopranos), asks the question: “Is it ever too late to find happiness?” This feature is a great exploration of a man looking at his life all over again.
The Spiritual Cinema Circle film selections this month explore empathy in the lives of families, friends and strangers.
In the short film Of Teaching Killer Whales Compassion, a homeless young man adrift in society finds hope for change after a chance encounter. A behind-the-scenes written interview with the filmmakers is included in the DVD insert. Our other short films this month, Lucy and Far, also tell stories of people seeking connection in the world.
In the short film OMG, a teenage girl and her grandmother learn to communicate in the modern age, with hilarious results. In Transit shows a touching encounter between strangers at a bus stop who find they have more in common than they think. And Fetch is the story of a young boy who is trying desperately to find his mother.
Chinese Take-Away (Un Cuento Chino) is the feature film for subscribers in the U.S. and Canada. Directed by Ricardo Darin, this film from Argentina is a powerful story about two men from completely different worlds who, in the most unlikely ways, help each other heal their broken hearts and spirits. Film critic Roger Ebert awarded it his top rating.
Awaken, this month’s feature film for international subscribers, is a mind-bending and heart-opening time-travel love story where two lovers meet and change each other’s lives in a completely unique environment.
The Camera is a haunting, wordless short film that reminds us of the power of love and the magic of memories.
In Tick Tock Time Emporium, a girl who desperately wants more time with her mother enters a strange shop where time is actually for sale.
Pioneer focuses on a mysterious, haunting bedtime story that a father tells his son. This powerful short film was voted the Best Narrative Short at the South by Southwest Film Festival.
A Bird of the Air is our February feature. Filmed in New Mexico, it tells the story of a solitary man (Jackson Hurst) whose life is altered by both a stray parrot and a woman (Rachel Nichols) who inspire him to ask questions about his past — and his future. A Bird of the Air was directed by Margaret Whitton and written by Roger Towne, best known as the writer of The Natural, which starred Robert Redford.
Although I am proud to be a voting member of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, I have a conceptual issue with the notion of “Best” film, actor, etc. Art is way too subjective to be making objective distinctions. For me, it is simply impossible call one film or a performance “better” than another. Who, for instance, is to say that Mozart wrote “better” music than Chopin, or that Gauguin was a “better” painter than Van Gogh?
For these reasons (as well as the incredible personal politics surrounding nominations), I feel much more comfortable using the phrase “favorite film.”
Another criteria for this list is a simple question that I ask myself: Do I feel better about being human after having seen the movie? This personal qualifier is certainly not a part of the Academy voting rules, but it is an essential one for me.
While I respect others who praise the “craft” of slickly produced and directed films that illustrate how violent, cruel and/or awful we can be as human beings, I personally do not want to feel assaulted or depressed by a dramatic film. I acknowledge all the fear, cruelty and negativity in the world and need only read a newspaper or watch the news or any one of several documentaries to see that side of our humanity. For me to enjoy and recommend a narrative film, however, I want it to show that, despite all the challenges and frailties we have as human beings, we can also be a generous, compassionate species that consciously loves, forgives and embraces the wonder and magic of life itself.
Here are my favorite, life-affirming films of 2011:
My wife Lauren and I were delighted to see Woody Allen’s new film,Midnight in Paris, over the weekend. The film is wonderfully entertaining, very sweet and really a lot of fun.
Owen Wilson plays a successful screenwriter who has come to Paris with his fiancée and her parents. While his fiancée sees the trip as a shopping opportunity, Mr. Wilson has a different agenda. He has always loved the notion of being a novelist, has indeed written his first book, and is enamored with the whole concept of being an artist in Paris, not a commercial “hack.” Unfortunately, his fiancée (played with great audacity and courage by Rachel McAdams) is shallow, materialistic and totally horrified that her soon-to-be husband is actually considering a career that is not based solely on making money.