Writers' Note: New Year's Resolutions
Is there a movie that motivates you to make positive change in your life? Do you have a viewing experience that you would attribute to making you a better human? Just in time for the new year, the BFBs have taken it upon themselves to select films that they connect with their new year's resolutions. Whether it's a cynical film about bad people that encourages us to separate ourselves from the chaos, or an optimistic film about good people whose traits we wish to emulate, the inspiration to improve comes in many shapes and sizes. We have high hopes for 2022.
My new years’ resolutions tend to be composed of unrealistic goals I will never accomplish. I decided that for 2022, a realistic and genuine goal for me is to be more spontaneous. I plan everything out, which proves to be very helpful at times but also somewhat restricting. I want to start saying yes to things I would generally say no to.
Nomadland is a film that captures and encourages spontaneity. Fern (Frances McDormand) leaves a life that has faded away in the ghost town of Empire, Nevada. Grieving the loss of her job and husband, Fern decides to sell her belongings, buy a van, and become a nomad. Throughout her journey, she meets fellow nomads and develops unlikely friendships despite missing the comfort of her life back in Empire. Her friend Linda May (herself) invites her to a desert rendezvous organized by Bob Wells (himself), an influential leader in the American nomad community. Fern initially declines Linda May's invitation but later changes her mind and joins her.
The desert rendezvous reassures Fern about her nomad lifestyle and made it all worth it. She meets Dave (David Strathairn), a fellow nomad and newfound friend. Although never having a relationship, Dave filled the void of Fern's late husband. The nomads welcomed Fern with open arms and provided her with the help she needed on her journey, whether it was to change a tire or have a laugh. Life on the road can be incredibly lonely. At the beginning of the film, Fern carries loneliness from her old life that didn't leave until she joined the community.
Fern's spontaneity provided her with memorable experiences, good friends, and a strong sense of community. Being spontaneous allows you to be open to new opportunities. I hope 2022 is full of spontaneity and living in the moment. I'm not sure if becoming a nomad will help me achieve my goal, but there is only one way to find out.
New Year’s is perhaps the most ritualized acknowledgment of time we have in our culture. Though New Year’s is a celebration of sorts, the week leading up to it is a period of mourning for the year past. That post-holiday lethargy gives way to the creeping reminiscence of the time we can never get back. The whole hullabaloo around “looking back” and “moving forward” is, in many ways, the most honest society at large ever gets about the inherently ephemeral nature of life.
It’s fitting, then, that my pick is a story about accepting the incessant march of time, rather than giving in to our tendency to try going backward (the ultimate vice that end-of-the-year hedonism promotes). Jack Clayton’s adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes has more in common with his stagnant 1974 version of The Great Gatsby than it does with his early career masterpiece, The Innocents. Beset on all sides and nearly torn in two by the conflicting visions of Bradbury and Walt Disney Productions, the final product is less than the sum of its parts. Though the idiosyncratic mood of Bradbury’s novel is left vitally intact, the film never comes together, often too workman-like and too family-friendly for its own good. Despite this, the emotional core survives unscathed, thanks primarily to the spectacular work of the legendary Jason Robards and a young Jonathan Pryce.
Robards’ Charles Halloway is an ailing middle-aged man who, due to his own physical limitations, is confined to a life as a bookish librarian rather than stereotypically masculine pursuits. Belittled by the misogynistic expectations of society, Halloway fears that he’s failed his son Will (Vidal Peterson) by being unable to fit the imposing mold of the all-American father. Later in the film, Mr. Dark (Pryce) tempts Halloway with the promise of youth and strength, all of which he turns down without a second thought to protect his son. Not only does he learn that Will loves him as he is, but also that he shouldn’t regret the quiet life among bookshelves he enjoys so much.
The reasons I connect to the story are obvious if you know anything about me. As a western-obsessed boy raised in the American south, I’ve been bombarded by societal expectations of masculinity since birth. However, I was lucky enough to be raised in a home that supported my habits and interests, which consisted almost entirely of watching movies and reading books in dark rooms. I feel like time is passing me by and I wonder often if I haven’t “lived,” whatever that means. Yet, young as I am, I can’t think of much I would do differently. I’m content in myself, even when I’m occasionally told I should feel otherwise.
Something Wicked This Way Comes is one of the more resonant reminders of this, with the rare bookish man who isn’t deemed impotent or immature, but rather whole and helpful in a way so many people are taught not to be. My New Year’s resolution is suitably silly considering the sappy tirade I’ve just given about self-acceptance: I plan on watching at least seventy-five westerns I’ve never seen before. It may not be drastic or powerful or inspirational, but that’s what I enjoy and I plan on continuing not to give a shit what anybody else thinks.
When I think about a film that inspires me to get through hard times, Sam Mendes’ 2019 masterpiece 1917 immediately comes to mind. I never would’ve imagined I would love this movie as much as I do or find it as motivational as I believe it to be. Yet, when I saw George MacKay’s character, Schofield, go through the wringer just to deliver a message, I couldn’t help but be moved to tears.
He’s roped into a mission that he doesn’t want to be in at first, but after a series of mishaps, he decides to move forward with it. He realizes he must toughen up and finish what he started as there are human lives at stake. Schofield is put to the ultimate test, from getting caught in barbed wire to outrunning German soldiers in a town that’s burning to the ground. It all mounts to the courage Schofield has, and it’s admirable to any viewer. The moment he makes the courageous decision to run onto the field above the trenches in the middle of an ongoing attack is a goosebumps moment alone, but it is further masterful thanks to Thomas Newman’s brilliant score. That moment and more add up to what makes 1917 the prime example of a motivational film.
1917 is a film about soldiers doing the unthinkable and carrying out a dangerous task with hundreds of lives on the line. Large stakes, time pressure, and the chaos of war are on full display in the film’s writing, which mesh beautifully with the visuals expressed by cinematographer Roger Deakins and visual effects supervisor Guillaume Rocheron. It’s a movie that says that you can do the impossible as long as you don’t give up. We need that courage going into 2022.
Most of the movies I like are happy movies. I like feeling inspired, and it’s difficult for me to spend my hours watching people suffer without a silver lining. But I know that can also come in too large a dose, and it can contribute to apathy toward real-world issues. The film I chose for this prompt is not strictly happy or sad; it’s pensive.
Cinematographer Kirsten Johnson, in her autobiographical video essay Cameraperson (2016), looks at her life through the lens of a camera pointed at someone else. It’s a “greatest hits” reel of her stints on documentary crews, with poignant interviews and breathtaking scenery alike, that also happens to portray her familial dynamics and general approach to life. Her empathetic essence emanates throughout the film; Johnson herself is minimally featured on-camera, and primarily through home videos. Her work and her personal life are put back to back, emphasizing the interconnectivity of society. Crossing paths once can be enough to change fate. Her loosely structured edit muses but refuses to conjecture. She considers her role in her family, and uniquely, in the lives of strangers with whom she is tasked with interacting.
I love this movie because it presents a very personal dilemma that most anyone seeking to enter into a media-related career can probably relate to. What exactly are our intentions as filmmakers? Are we storytellers? Does sharing the stories of others inherently make us truth exploiters?
I want so badly to make connections with people. I want to experience how they feel, and I want to open myself up to different perspectives. And then, in the best-case scenario, I want to share those connections so others are also challenged to open themselves up to the world. It’s perhaps a bit naive to believe that people want to be challenged; life is hard enough. But I hope and yearn for a day when the world comes full circle, and I can say that my desired compassion has found a purpose.
Cameraperson presents the challenges of a profession built on empathy alongside its many rewards. It’s one of the first films that really helped me understand the responsibility, and sometimes the burden, of hearing about tragedy and reporting on it. It made me feel stronger about the importance of my occupational pursuits, and its humble existentialism provoked me to become a more deliberate and thoughtful human being.
The Guy Who Didn’t Like Musicals is not a film, but I watched it through video, so technically it was consumed as a form of media. The Guy Who Didn’t Like Musicals was something I sort of HAD to choose because of what it meant to me when watching it. Honestly, I was directionless. I didn’t know what movies I should be making because I felt I was rooting myself too much in trying to replicate the quality of the movies I was watching, and then I ended up creating self-serious projects with pseudo-layered concepts.
I was eviscerated when I was rejected from my first priority University course. Tired, after working ridiculously hard through exam season to disappointing results, I was floating in melancholy with no sense of what to do next, let alone digest the concept of “next.” It was then that I sat down and watched a number of low-budget stage musicals from internet-famous theatre company, Starkid. We watched their parody of Wicked, titled Twisted, a hilarious retelling of Disney’s Aladdin that frames Jafar as the sympathetic protagonist with his own emotional hero’s story. Afterward, we watched Holy Musical B@man, which tells the simple story of angst-ridden and lonely Bruce Wayne set up in a friendship with orphan wonder boy Robin. And finally, we watched a piece of completely original material by the theatre company, The Guy Who Didn’t Like Musicals, which uses the bodysnatcher concept in the form of a musical virus, turning a very boring and totally normal businessman’s life into a three-act musical.
Now, why would I be talking about these musicals? They ain’t no films. They don’t seem to teach many deep lessons either. But in watching them I found insanely pure creativity. They made me want to go out and tell stories. Whether it be in film or stage, they taught me to not be afraid to be silly and just tell the stories I’m drawn to. The Guy Who Didn’t Like Musicals was the production I chose to represent the whole because it was Starkid taking theatre into cinematic territory, particularly in its narrative. It had the scale of a film in the way it was performed to mimic the pacing of a movie, but it also embraced cinematic framing with creative choices within the camerawork, much like Disney’s Hamilton.
There are definitely films that represent the purity of storytelling as an art form, but Starkid brought my love for storytelling back and helped me escape my gutted headspace and I’m grateful for that. I hope to go and find my creativity again in the new year.
-Sophie, Chance, Tyler, Lydia & Max