All I ever wanted in life was to tell stories. To make up big, wonderful, grand adventures and get lost in them. That’s it.
Growing up, I put reading and writing first. Over everything. And everyone. I decided at age 9 that I didn’t want to have children, and as I got older, that if it meant having to give up the dream of writing, I wouldn’t have a husband, either. At 36, I’m single, and the men I date tell me I am aloof, that I don’t need them, that I want too much of a separate life. I am not anti-relationship, but I can’t date someone who needs me to make him my first priority. There’s something else there already: making art.
I don’t regret it.
Every now and then I look at those articles that talk about what people on their deathbeds say they regret. They always list “I wish I worked less and spent more time with my family.” Not me. I already wish I’d worked more. I wish I’d put my work out in the world sooner. I wish I would’ve thought of my writing as a business from the start rather than starting to consider what that would mean only a few years ago. I wish I’d quit doing dumb jobs that didn’t mean anything to me just to pay the rent. I wish I’d figured out a way to do what I loved sooner, no matter what it meant for paying the rent. I wish I would have not gone to college, if that would have helped. I wish I could’ve found a way to get my parents to support me more instead of taking them seriously when they asked what my backup plan was.
There is no backup plan.
This attitude has caused me some heartache, without a doubt — sometimes a considerable amount. Not a lot of people understand. Mostly my passion confuses them. Sometimes they are vitriolic with hatred. Even some who say they understand are only paying lip service. People have told me all my life that I will change when I get older. Most of them think getting a wife and making babies and having a clean house are the real tickets to happiness, and that without them, you are doomed to a lonely barren existence with no meaning.
But my dedication to this dream is what has kept me alive. It has kept me going every time I thought I couldn’t. I’ve doubted it, but I always come back to it. When everything else sucks, I know that getting inside of a story and playing around like a child exploring the world for the first time will get me back to my usual plucky self.
Nothing else can do that. Nothing.
For me, without writing, there is nothing.
It’s a struggle. It never stops being a struggle. I write for at least an hour almost every day and sometimes I feel like I have nothing to show for it. I’ve written four books and none of them are published. Only one got much attention when it made the rounds of literary agents.
Even now I wonder if any of it matters.
One of the major ways I face that struggle is by consuming art. Unfortunately, “love conquers all” is all too prevalent as a theme. Blah blah. How many movies have you seen where the workaholic decides life’s too short and he better spend more time with his family? Find that wife! Make those babies! Devote your life to them!
And so, I present to you my list of inspirational movies that aren’t gonna tell ya that love conquers all or that you should rush out and make babies and devote your life to them. They’re going to tell you that some things are more important than love and that you oughta chase your dreams like the hounds of hell are on your heels. They’re going to help you keep your head up when your work is getting you down. They’re going to say — full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes.
P.S. Every movie but one on this list makes me cry. You’ve been warned.
An inspiring tale of a boy growing up in a coal mining town who wants to study rocketry, and his struggle against his father’s wish that he work in the mine.
Homer Hickam, the hero, is more full of wide-eyed curiosity, childlike interest, and yet also a strong sense of self and justice than any other hero I’ve seen in the movies in a long time. Right from the opening, with the radio announcer talking about the launch of Sputnik, and the coal miners walking in, I feel like I’m in the joyous, fascinating world I live in that so few others do. This is life as it might be and ought to be.
Claire Danes gives a smash-hit performance as the real-life autistic Temple Grandin. At a time when not much was known about the disease, Temple’s mother kept her in school (rather than institutionalizing her). Temple proves amazingly adaptable, discovering ways to manage her autism so that she can live a more fulfilling life. She creates her own “squeeze machine,” based on a cage of sorts that cattle ranchers use to calm their cows; then she conducts an experiment on her classmates to prove to the school board at college that it not only calms her, but works on other students as well, so that they will allow her to keep it.
One of my favorite things about this one is the high number of adults who support and defend Temple. From her high school science teacher to her aunt to the one cattleman who signs her dissertation papers, they help give her the means to face terrible resistance. When a bunch of stubborn cattlemen who want to get rid of her cover her truck in bull’s testicles, she redoubles her resolve rather than running scared. She uses what she got from her autism (her sensitivity to cattle) to improve conditions for the cattle, save money for the slaughterhouse owners, and pursue her own passions. Inspiring and uplifting.
Growing up in the rough and tumble Bronx, Diana Gúzman is far more angry tomboy than girly girl. She gets into fights at school and defends her little brother by hitting people for him. When she decides to channel that energy into boxing, nothing can stop her. Not a reluctant trainer, not her drunk father—not even love.
Gritty, raw, and moving, with music that creates the perfect atmosphere every time.
Phoebe is not like other children. She has to wash her hands a certain number of times. She often does “inappropriate” things. She claps and jumps and stomps. When she gets the role of Alice in the school play, she starts to talk to the Red Queen and the Mad Hatter.
Patricia Clarkson steals the show as Phoebe’s empathetic drama teacher. A bit more tough and uncomfortable than I usually like, but I stayed up until 4 am watching it. Intense and moving.
At 6 years old, Vitus plays like Mozart. He is whip-smart and incredibly curious. He isn’t sure what he wants out of life, but his mother insists he make the best use of his musical gift—often to the extent of taking away the other things he loves. When Vitus hits his head in a flying accident, everything changes, and Vitus has a chance to figure out who he really is for himself.
The subtleties are a bit hard to parse sometimes, but Vitus’s grandfather alone is worth the time spent. Illustrates very well the struggle of growing up creative and unusual and the search to figure out whether it’s worth it.
Expect a fair amount of camp, even more than your usual Bollywood fillum. But if you can deal with it, there are great rewards.
Veera Kaur (Rani Mukherjee) wants to be a starting batsman for her town’s cricket team more than anything else in the world. But when flashy celebrity player Rohan (Shahid Kapoor) takes over and holds try-outs for a new team, girls are not allowed.
A determined Veera opts to become, “Myself, Veer Pratap Singh, right- and left-hand batsman.” She wraps her hair in a patka and sticks on a mustache and beard.
But things get tricky when Rohan starts to fall for Veer’s “sister,” Veera.
Hilarious as Veer and full of irrepressible spirit as Veera, Rani pulls out all the stops with her goofy benevolence in this one.
Uncle: “Come back to Earth. With such tiny eyes, don’t see such big dreams. They’ll bring you nothing but pain.”
Veera: “Chachu, I have a dream and so I exist. Without it I am nothing.”
Blind girl Zooni (Kajol) and tour guide Rehan (Aamir Khan) are a study in opposites.
Zooni shines with innocence the way only a girl who takes herself and her values seriously can. Her confident, joyful sense of humor brightens the first half of the movie.
Rehan, in contrast, is a glib playboy who talks flippantly in verse and quite firmly believes only in needs, not feelings, not love. Still he can’t help being swept away by Zooni.
When they meet, the chemistry is instant, and they agree to be “destroyed” in each other’s love.
Then, just when you think you’re watching a beautiful love story, a startling revelation (just before intermission) changes everything …
Fanaa is a lush, colorful vision of beauty. Three hours pass in a feverish dream. Every last song and its accompanying scenes pull you into another world …
Although Fanaa is one of my favorite movies, Bollywood or otherwise, I debated whether to include this one on this list. It’s not an easy one, but I think it’s worth it.