Denzel Washington gives another spectacular performance as airline pilot William Whittaker, an excellent pilot who is deeply flawed and in denial. Despite sleeping off a bender in the cockpit (after a successfully maneuvering a scary take-off), Whittaker wakes up and lands a malfunctioning airliner in a field, saving almost everyone on board. He is Lauded as a hero pilot with incredible skills.
As the investigation into the cause of the crash unfolds, a disturbing fact comes to light about Whittaker, a fact that the airline will do anything to hide. Whittaker’s trajectory from carelessly confident pilot to desperate liar, to self-disgust and remorse are strengthened by his resolve to make drastic and meaningful changes in his life. This includes taking full responsibility for his actions. I would say this is one of Washington’s top five performances. Not to be missed.
Ground Hog Day (1993)
This unexpectedly profound comedy teaches essential lessons about how to achieve real change. Bill Murray plays Phil Connors, a misogynist TV newsman on assignment in t Puxatawny, PA covering Groundhog Day. The first time we see Phil he is his usual, insensitive, selfish and self-involved self. But the next day is the same day…and so on. Phil goes through every possible reaction to the situation, but it’s until he starts to
Stranger than Fiction (2006)
Harold Crick has a problem: he hears his every move being narrated by a voice in his head. Like in a book. Except it’s his life, but not his voice. While he’s figuring that out we meet a world-famous writer played by Emma Thompson. She is in the middle of a new book but is fighting a crushing case of depression and writer’s block. It’s her voice that Harold hears in his head. Does she write what he does or is he living what she is writing? Whose life is it, anyway?
Crick has to move far outside his comfort zone to resolve the mystery of the narrator’s identity and whether his life belongs to him or to his narrator.
Good Will Hunting (1997)
The film that launched Matt Damon and Ben Affleck into the Hollywood stratosphere still stands up ten years later. Will Hunting is a young janitor at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology. One day he solves a near-impossible equation that a professor has left on the board as a challenge to his graduate students.
Intrigued, the professor posts an even more difficult equation on the board as bait to catch who solved it. The professor (Stellan Skarsgård), makes it his business get Will to open up, lay down his defenses and deal with the trauma that’s holding him back. Affleck plays his best friend who has issues of his own, and Robin Williams plays his therapist. Excellent.
The Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
Brilliant performances highlight this comedy-drama-romance about two people trying to put their lives back together after having mental breakdowns. Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) has just been released from a mental hospital. His wife left him and has obtained a restraining order against him, making his hopes of reconciliation difficult. He moves in with his parents (Robert DeNiro, Jackie Weaver) and for the time being, focuses on getting better.
He meets Tiffany Maxwell at a dinner party. She’s shockingly open about her own emotional issues, and after asking him what medications he’s on, they strike up a friendship. Although both characters grow, it’s pat who does the most work here. Funny and endearing.
The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996)
Samantha Cane is a sweet suburban school teacher with a young daughter and cute, devoted boyfriend. She’s also got a lingering case of amnesia. At first, it seems that her future holds nothing more exciting than marriage, more teaching, and more kids. But wait: who’s the creepy guy in prison who sees on the news in her in her town’s Christmas parade? Why is he so interested?
One evening she drives her tipsy co-worker home from her Christmas party, and there’s an accident that shakes loose some repressed memories and seriously lethal self-defense skills. What does this all mean? After Samantha single-handedly kills a trained assassin who shows up at her house bent on finishing her, and she’s as surprised as anyone. Clearly, she’s in some kind of danger, so Samantha decides to leave home for a while to get to the bottom of things. She takes along the bargain-basement detective she hired (Samuel L. Jackson) for help. That’s when the action really begins.
Learning to Drive (2015)
This independent film is part fable, part love-letter to New York. The opening scene takes place in the backseat of a cab. We’re dropped in the middle of a marriage unraveling. The wife (Patricia Clarkson), is all pain and rage in the back seat, asking questions, demanding answers and getting incredibly personal. The Sikh cab driver (Ben Kingsley) is a silent and horrified witness to the scene. So begins the unlikely friendship between the spurned wife and the lonely taxi driver.
American History X (1998)
Ed Norton tears up the scenery in this unflinching look at the life and making of a white supremacist. His wall-shaking performance of a transformation from a vile, hate-spewing racist to a thoughtful, shameful man of tolerance is inspired. Difficult to watch, but so worth it.
Chuck Noland has everything. A girlfriend who loves him. Great friends and a wonderful (if demanding) job as a trouble-shooter for FedEx. The job involves a lot of travel to FedEx depots around the world and during a trip to Malaysia one Christmas Eve his entire life changes. After his plane crashes he finds himself alone on an island without a clue about how to survive or what to do next. But survive he does, changing from a clueless American to a seasoned survivalist.
Shirley Valentine (1989)
This ground-breaking film won awards for it’s realistic and empowering examination of women’s role in society and its portrayal of a woman achieving real happiness outside of societal norms. It’s one of the first films that portray a sexually independent woman as a real person instead of a psychopath. imagine that. And it’s a comedy.
Shirley (Pauline Collins) is a downtrodden wife and mother whom everyone takes for granted. After 20 years of marriage, she has become a maid for the household (in addition to holding down a job). One day her best friend Jane wins a trip for two to Mykonos and invites Shirley to go with her. Shirley puts herself first for a change and her universe changes.
Do know of a film you would add to this list? Add it in the comments!
This post was originally published on the MsLake blog.
Image: my screencap of the scene; I don’t own the copyright.