6 movies that will inspire you

Movie theatre marquee, people in line outside

Movies entertain us. Teach us. Help us define who we are and who we want to become.

Here are 6 movies that are on my short list. Grab some popcorn and fire up the big screen for a movie marathon.


Casablanca DVD cover

It’s not just that it’s Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. (But can you imagine this film with any other leading actors?) There are so many lines that get quoted from the movie:

Rick: “Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.”
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Rick: “I stick my neck out for nobody!”
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Rick: “Here’s looking at you, kid.”

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As Rick and Captain Renault walk off into the fog at the end of the movie:
“Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
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Ilsa: “But what about us?”
Rick: “We’ll always have Paris.”
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Rick: “If it’s December 1941 in Casablanca, what time is it in New York?”
Sam: “What? My watch stopped.”
Rick: “I’d bet they’re asleep in New York. I’d bet they’re asleep all over America.”

Of course, Rick’s comment isn’t about different time zones at all, but about how people “back home” are clueless as to the high stakes drama that is playing out across Europe in the shape of World War II. If it’s December 1941 in Casablanca, depending on the actual day, the US is either still not in the war, or has just been rudely awakened and is finding that the messy dealings in Europe and the western Pacific that it has tried to stay out of now concerns it very much.

Up until the the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, most Americans were quite content to let the other guys slug it out over there. Are we any different today?

Why I like it: The film dives into the motives that make men and women choose to get involved when freedom is at stake, even at the cost of their own lives, or to stay out of the fray to just look after themselves first and foremost.

Casablanca is a good watch with deep meaning that will never go out of style as long as there are freedom causes needing support.

Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice 2005 version

It’s THE classic love story. Jane Austen didn’t know it, but she penned the standard against which romance novels are still measured today.

There are several film adaptations of the book. Two I especially enjoy:

The 2005 version with Keira Knightley is a lavish production that looks good and captures the essence of the story in 2 hours and 15 minutes.

The 1995 TV mini-series with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle is possibly the definitive version. Because it’s a series, it can stay much truer to all the in’s and out’s and complications of the book.

Pride and Prejudice 1999 TV miniseries cover

In the story we see that first impressions are not everything and may often be horribly wrong. And so can pigeonholing a person — making assumptions about who they are and what they are about because of incomplete information.

Jane Austen has a way of making daily life in England in the early 1800s relevant for us today, because even though society and technology are totally changed, human nature remains the same.

Why I like it: The story of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy is the story of all of us: How we relate to people and connect (or don’t connect) with them.

The Remains of the Day

The Remains of the Day DVD cover

Did you like me, watch Downton Abbey, eagerly following the life and times of the Crawley family and their servants?

The Remains of the Day gives us a look into Lord Darlington’s estate, focusing on the butler, Mr. Stevens (Anthony Hopkins) and the housekeeper, Miss Kenton (Emma Thompson).

In one scene, Mr. Stevens tells a younger member of the staff, Mr Benn: “In my philosophy, Mr. Benn, a man cannot call himself well-contented until he has done all he can to be of service to his employer. Of course, this assumes that one’s employer is a superior person, not only in rank, or wealth, but in moral stature.”

Is that the order of the world: a master race to lead and a servant race only fit to follow?

The film explores human emotions and interactions against the backdrop of the 1930s and the shadow of impending war in Europe, as well as a world order change where the way of the large estates is slowly slipping into obsolescence.

Why I like it: Mr. Stevens and Miss Kenton face feelings and choices during their interactions that could quite possibly lead toward a future together. As the film progresses we see how those choices play out in ways they didn’t really want. As I watch, I find myself wondering: How would I react in their situations and would that have changed how things turned out?

It’s a Wonderful Life

It's a Wonderful Life DVD cover

Okay, who hasn’t seen this classic at least once? It’s a tradition for our family to watch it every year, sometime after Thanksgiving and before Christmas.

James Stewart and Donna Reed deliver unforgettable performances as George Bailey and Mary Hatch doing life in upstate New York.

The film is all about the question we all ask ourselves at one time or another: What would the world be like if I wasn’t here? If I was never born? Did I make any difference?

All too often the conclusion is that I didn’t make much of a difference. I mean, after all, I wasn’t ever President or some important business person. George puts to a point where he looks at his life and all he can see is what Mr. Potter (the richest man in town) told him: “Why, George, you’re worth more dead than alive!”

Thanks to guardian angel (2nd class) Clarence, we get to watch as George receives a very unique gift: The ability to see what life in Bedford Falls would have been like without him.

Why I like it: We all need a reminder that our lives make a difference. It’s a Wonderful Life does that and reinforces what friendship is all about at the same time.

The Story of Us

The Story of Us DVD cover

Bruce Willis and Michelle Pfeiffer star in this movie about a couple that after 15 years together finds that maybe they don’t love each other anymore. The kids are sent off to summer camp and the parents go their separate ways to try to figure out who they are and what they want to do when they grow up.

Comedy or tragedy? We see a relationship both start (in flashbacks to happier times) and fall apart (present) because the two players find themselves out of love and at odds at every turn. The things that once drew them together and they loved about each other, now repel.

It’s a relationship in crisis and not always an easy watch. We see that they’ve come this far together, but it’s also all the angst of marriage.

Why I like it: A realistic portrait of so many marriages after the initial romance has left the building. And it deals heads-on with the nagging questions: What do we do now? Does what we have had together count for anything? This film should be required viewing for all engaged couples.

The Help

The Help DVD cover

A great cast, including Viola Davis, Emma Stone and Octavia Spencer, make a period in US history that many would just as soon forget stand out in vivid detail.

1963, the Civil Rights movement, Jim Crow laws. The white part of town, the black part of town.

This film takes you right into an era where white and black interacted daily according to very tightly prescribed conventions of who is the master and who is the servant and what each can do (and can’t do).

Then Skeeter (Emma Stone) comes home from college and decides to cross the invisible line by actually talking to the maids, like Minny (Octavia Spencer). The world may never be the same.

And the world should never be the same.

Why I like it: The film is a vivid portrait of prejudice in action and also of persistent efforts to change things, of telling the full story, including the hidden parts the world wasn’t supposed to see and wouldn’t have seen if everyone just stayed in their place. The film won’t leave you untouched.

That’s 6 movies that are each of them worth watching, multiple times. See them, experience them, laugh and cry, but most of all take them to heart.

What makes a movie stand out to you? Story? Acting? Characters? Because it makes you think?
What are your favorite movies and why? Let me know in the comments below.