Manifesto: Movies to Live By

Cinematic art provides us with provocative images and stimulating ideas. Moving images and visual stories trigger questions and supply guidance in our quest to interpret our private and public lives. Cinema is becoming the primary cultural process for finding meaning in our individual and social existence. Movies are still largely perceived and experienced as escapist entertainment; a parenthetical fantasy zone where we hide for a couple of hours to avoid laborious work, stress-filled relationships, boring religion and fear-inducing world events. Escapist entertainment in the Cineplex is a useful and even necessary function of movies.

Films, however, have evolved to be much more. They assist us in negotiating who we are, where we are going, and why it matters. Films such as “Babel,” “Children of Men,” “Pan’s Labyrinth,” and “3 Burials of Melquiades Estrada” from four Mexican directors in 2006 treat us to a feast of beautiful images and disturbing stories that generate enduring questions about human life.

Recent Academy Award-winning films such as “Slumdog Millionaire” (2008),” “No Country for Old Men (2007),” “Babel (2006),” “Crash (2005),” “Million Dollar Baby (2004),” “Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003),” “Chicago (2002),” “A Beautiful Mind (2001),” “Gladiator (2000),” and “American Beauty (1999)” deliver enduring images that both entertain and enrich.

2007 releases were especially potent: “There Will Be Blood,” “Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” “The Savages,” “Sicko,” “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story,” “Starting Out in the Evening,” “Michael Clayton,” “American Gangster,” “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days,””Mary,” and “I Am Not There,” among many others, stir our emotions and enlighten our intellects. Going to the movies can be a life-enhancing experience.

“Citizen Kane,” “The Wizard of Oz,””It’s a Wonderful Life”: Why are these movies still popular? What is their perennial appeal? These films offered previous generations a framework of images/visual narratives to live by.

“Taxi Driver,” “Apocalypse Now,” “The Decalogue,” “Chinatown,” “Blue Velvet,” “Crimes and Misdemeanors,” “Paris, Texas,” “Blade Runner,” are a few of the films that inspire and inform me. These films are my companions in the adventure to discover and discern the mysteries and puzzles of existence.

More recently, “Reservoir Dogs,” “Pulp Fiction,” “Fight Club,” “Moulin Rouge,” “Magnolia,” “Donnie Darko,” “Napoleon Dynamite” and “Superbad” have ignited the spirits of a younger generation.

All of the cinematic treasures I have mentioned are merely a sampling – a selective, not nearly a comprehensive, itemizing of films people live by. Notorious omissions have undoubtedly occurred. Many of you could add important movies to this litany I have proffered.

Sights and sounds, moving images and contemporary music are the lingua franca for our life and times. Big screen / Small screen / Micro screen delivery systems are changing the scale and scope of our relationship to visual stories and knowledge. The future will be showcased on screens more potently than read on a page.

We are in the middle of award season for 2009. This reflection on the significance and undeniable importance of movies is prompted by this annual ritual of selecting movies that matter for commercial and cultural reasons. It seems appropriate to summon larger horizons as we deliberate on last year’s movie theater offerings.

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