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What does your list of favorite movies say about you?

As anyone who tries to shop for me will tell you (in frustrated, gritted-teeth tones), I have wide-ranging tastes in movies, books, and music. I think this is good. It should make it easier to find something I’ll like. Others aren’t so sure.

However, friends and family might be relieved by the realization I had a while back that my favorite movies have a lot of common themes.  Here they are, in no particular order:

  • Planes, Trains and Automobiles – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0093748/ – Steve Martin as an uptight stiff and John Candy as the bigmouth buffoon thrown together on Thanksgiving on a cross-country road trip. An unlikely friendship is forged even as the world seems to conspire against their getting home. Martin as Neil Page: “Those aren’t pillows!” Hilarious.
  • Little Miss Sunshine – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0449059/ – Patriarch Greg Kinnear and suicidal brother-in-law Steve Carrell drive cute little 7-year-old Abigail Breslin and the rest of their dysfunctional family from New Mexico to California in a VW van with no clutch so she can compete in the “Little Miss Sunshine” pageant.  Lots of humor, but some very touching family stuff too. Carrell as Frank: “I was the #1 Proust scholar in the US.” Kinnear as Richard Hoover: “Everyone just pretend we’re normal.”
  • Sideways – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0375063/ – Paul Giamatti’s Miles and Thomas Haden Church’s Jack are lost, emotionally-stunted, middle-aged men on one last road trip through wine-country to celebrate Jack’s impending marriage and the hoped-for publication of Miles’s novel. These characters teeter on the line between funny and pathetic. It’s a testament to the actors’ skill that we root for them and that the movie so successfully weaves flat-out humor with some really nice friendship stuff. Jack: “If they want to drink merlot, we’re drinkin’ merlot.” Miles: “No way am I drinking any f-ing merlot!”
  • Wonderboys – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0185014/ – During the weekend of “Wordfest” at a small liberal arts college, pot-head, one-hit novelist professor Grady Tripp (Michael Douglas), eccentric writing student James Leer (Tobey Maguire) and washed-up book editor Terry Crabtree (Robert Downey Jr.) end up taking a hard look at where they are in life and where they really want to be. Another movie that expertly weaves the humor with the poignant. Tripp:”I’m your teacher, James. I’m not a Holiday Inn.”

I love these movies. I watch them all faithfully at least once a year and look forward to doing so the rest of the year. I have other favorties. There’s a whole set of holiday films I always watch at Christmas. There are others that I will always stop to watch on cable when I channel surf: Back to the Future, Indiana Jones, Star Trek. But these four movies are the ones I always come back to; the ones I look forward to watching all year. These are the ones I think about the most and can quote from the most.

So, what does that say about me? I dunno. But I think what it says is that I’m drawn to road-trip movies for one. Three out of the four center on some kind of road trip. I can see that. You really get to know a person – see them at their best and worst when confined together on a train or in a car, when you don’t have the normal distractions of daily life to act as a buffer between the two of you. There is huge potential for humor and drama there and these movies play that expertly. The geographical journey is  a metaphor for the emotional one and somehow that just resonnates. Go figure.

The other commonality between these four movies is exploration of friendship and self-identity. All these characters have their opinions about themselves and their opinions about their friends/families tested. I think that’s healthy. We can get bogged down in the detritus of life.  I think it’s good once in a while to step back and reassess what’s good and not so good in your relationships and use that to grow. Characters in movies have to grow and change or there’s no story. People in life have to grow or change or there’s no, well, life.

So what are your favorite movies? What do they say about you?



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