So this is (almost) Christmas, and what have you done? In a Trump-as-president-elect reality, that question might be more relevant to your life – both online and offline – than ever before. What have we done? How did this happen? Was it always this way? Were we too distracted and self-obsessed to notice?
Those questions are too convoluted to address in these 500 words, but what we can do is choose not to re-watch all those classic feel-good Christmas films this year. We can choose to put away the toys and take a hard look at the world we participated in creating. We can watch a few films that might help us understand it.
The Great Dictator (1940)
Released the year before the United States of America entered WWII, this film was writer, director, producer, composer, and star Charlie Chaplin’s first talkie. A seminal piece of Hollywood Nazi satire, its power is not diminished. If you want your comedy deeper than Alec Baldwin’s SNL impersonations of Donald Trump, dive into this Library of Congress preserved piece of film and human history. We could use another one like it.
Night on Earth (1991)
The title is self-explanatory. This classic from Jim Jarmusch’s and indie film’s golden decade celebrates the endangered art of conversing face-to-face (or via rear-view mirrors) to break down social, political, and cultural barriers. Hop in the five different cabs with the mesmerizing international cast and enjoy the engaging ride.
Thelma and Louise (1991)
Two women face the ramifications of rape culture. You won’t find that logline on IMDb, but that’s what it should be. This film hooked Callie Khouri the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay her first time out and raised firestorms of controversy. Like The Great Dictator, we could use another one like it.
This film won my internal tug-of-war with Two Days, One Night (2014) to represent the Dardenne brothers in this list. Both films relentlessly explore urban poverty and feature mesmerizing performances from female leads. If you want to see and feel how financial and emotional desperation translates to the screen, these two films are just the ticket.
Boys Don’t Cry (1999)
If you haven’t already, cringe your way through this no-holds-barred film. Based on the real-life story of Brandon Teena with Hilary Swank in the lead role, writer-director Kimberly Pierce takes us on a blistering battle cry for the LGBT community with a female-born human being who feels and dresses like a man and suffers the horrors of bigotry and hate.
Monster’s Ball (2001)
One word: racism. Name me a film that peers deeper into its complexities.
Children of Men (2006)
Like many films that deal with the imminent extinction of us homo sapiens, this sci-fi thriller adaptation of P. D. James’ book is about hope. Unlike many of those films, this one doesn’t offer easy expository road signs and definitive narrative destinations. Mexican-born director and co-writer Alfonso Cuarón – perhaps better known for Gravity (2013) – is too honest to make those trite Hollywood offers.