The Peak continues our series of best films to watch according to theme. Hope, as they say, springs eternal and these acclaimed movies are on hand to remind us of our silver linings.
The Shawshank Redemption (Frank Darabont, 1994)
Funny how time changes things. Shawshank, while critically acclaimed, had a lukewarm reception at the box office when it was first released. This was not unexpected–a first-time director, Frank Darabont, was helming the feature while its stars were not matinee idols. Yet, the movie, based on Stephen King’s short story which in turn loosely referenced Alexandre Dumas’ Count of Monte Christo, has a heartwarming theme of hope and redemption that gained traction with wider audiences. It propelled Tim Robbins’ and Morgan Freeman’s belated stardom and Darabont’s own career. Kevin Costner and Tom Hanks famously turned down the movie, the former for the box office bomb that was Waterworld.
Amélie (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2001)
This heartwarming and whimsical tale of an eccentric yet sensitive woman (played by Audrey Tautou) who anonymously sets out to make a difference in the lives of the those around her, charmed audiences and critics alike. The reason for its success is likely the titular character’s celebration of the tiny pleasures in life–skipping stones by a pond, the sound of crème brulee cracking in contact with a teaspoon, all of these moments are captured in loving detail by cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel. The movie’s message is clear–appreciate what you have and add a little kindness. The movie introduced Tautou to a larger international audience, swept up several nominations at the Oscars, Golden Globes and BAFTAs, and years later, was optioned for a musical in 2013.
Gandhi (Richard Attenborough, 1982)
Sir Richard Attenborough’s epic about India’s legendary freedom fighter puts Gandhi, impeccably portrayed by Ben Kingsley (who is half Indian), front and center in a time when movies were propped up by white “saviours”. Gandhi’s remarkable ability to mobilise India and gain its independence from British rule was even more astounding given his movement’s non-violent stand. Time and again, Gandhi runs up against Herculean challenges, only for him to stand his ground–and triumph. The movie ran to 3 hours 11 minutes and when it was screened to audiences had an allowance for a 15 minute intermission in cinemas (one of the last movies to do so). The movie was a frontrunner at the awards circuit with a whopping 8 Oscars won including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor.
Wings of Desire (Wim Wenders, 1987)
Angels roam the streets of Communist Berlin, observing and comforting its inhabitants. Some, like Bruno Gantz’s Damiel, fall in love. Damiel chooses to be mortal in order to be with a circus trapeze artist and, in the course of it, finds out what it means to be human. Others like Cassiel try to save mortals from themselves. Wim Wender’s exploration of 1980s Berlin before the fall of the Wall is rendered in black and white as a literal depiction of the angels’ initial philosophy, only for the film to switch to colour once Damiel “falls” as human. Themes of morality, beauty and memory are present but so too is the call for reunification, an ideal that finally came to fruition in 1989 when East and West Germany were reunited. For his effort, Wim Wenders won Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival and the film competed for its Palme D’Or.
Early Summer (Yasujirō Ozu, 1951)
Noriko is pressed by her otherwise loving family to accept a marriage recommendation to a businessman whom they believe is a good match for her. In post-war Tokyo, however, society and women are changing. Noriko has a job and asserts her independence by charting her own course of action. Much to her family’s disappointment, she chooses, instead, her childhood friend, a doctor, widower and father of a young girl. Intergenerational dynamics, a woman’s decision to assert herself, differences between modern Tokyo and rural life in Japan, are all explored by Ozu. The photo taken of the family is the director’s way of consolidating all these ideas in one, believing that Japan will move forward while reconciling with its past.