It is that time of year when “Best of the Year” lists meet the awards season. It can be a full-time job keeping up! First our attention goes to the Golden Globe, then the People’s Choice, then, finally the Oscars. I find myself getting obsessed and totally wrapped up in it all. I love the movies! But some of my friends find it tiresome and balk at my involvement by disdainfully lobbing ridicule my way: “Do we really care what every star of every movie wears to these events and who accompanies them?” “Is it really necessary for newspapers and blogs to print list after list of each critic’s ‘Best Pics’ of the year?” “Are folks not able to determine their own tastes? The world will continue to turn without knowing the Ten Best Movies of 2011,” they condescendingly proclaim. How can I help them see the relevance and worth of astute movie-going?
The stories that movies tell, not unlike the stories that books tell, can resonate deeply for each of us. They entertain, uplift, and, at the least, provide us with a reasonable healthy respite from our routine reality while, at the most, allow us to share thoughts and reactions as we create meaningful connections with each other. All of those reviews, lists and awards are a powerful way for millions of people to bond around an idea, a plot, a story.
It is almost as though we are back in time, sitting around that proverbial primeval campfire telling our stories in the dark and creating shared experiences along with powerful points of reference. We humans desperately seek these connections and shared experiences, not only because art and entertainment allow us to delve and explore what is on the screen with others but also because ultimately they can be one of those vehicles that help us discover what is deep inside ourselves. That moves us toward ultimate knowledge: Knowledge of self.
But as in all things — moderation is the key. Let’s not get carried away, folks!
That said, I can’t help but think about all those movies and all those lists. Perhaps your friend would be intrigued by one more movie list, an inventive ten-best that adds a layer from, shall we say, our Greatest Story Ever Told, inspired by the marquees of today and the Midrash of yesterday. So with that I offer you, “Midrash Goes to the Movies!”
1. The Tree of Life: How much more biblical can you get? Be sure to catch this sordid he-said-she said tale of our original kin. The human desire to want what you cannot have leads to nibbling on the most forbidden of fruits. Was it the taste of the grape, the fig or the etrog to which they finally succumbed? Heads up, folks: That apple was a figment of the King James’s imagination.
2. Young Adult: Some people never grow up. And for the first young people ever created, it’s even harder! Who would have predicted that a cold-blooded murder would be just the beginning of the tale — with unbearable burden of guilt at its core. The unprecedented dastardly deed is handled with sensitivity and inestimable mercy; he knew not that he was his brother’s keeper..
3. The Descendants: Begot, begat and beget. This genealogical saga lays it all out for us from generations of Babel and flood to Adam, Noah and on to Abraham. The story’s setup may get bogged down, but the action picks up when Jacob’s descendants sell their brother down to Egypt. Look for keen identity confusion as the family sorts out its dirty laundry.
4. The Help: Watch as forefather Abraham takes a misstep as he follows the advice of his barren wife Sarah, complicating the household’s status quo. Precarious lines are drawn and crossed between those who help and those who are helped. Catapulted from servitude to motherhood, this new status is torturous to both lady of the house and handmaiden Hagar herself.
5. Contagion: Picking up where The Descendants leaves off, this reshaping of Cecil B. DeMille’s sensational yet dated The Ten Commandments, Contagion narrows its focus to a graphic tale of plagues, epidemics and disease moving from one outbreak to the next. Though an entire nation’s well-being is at stake, this is, at its heart, a tale of one Pharaoh’s family. Stubborn and unmoved, Pharaoh’s tormented persona keeps this film mesmerizing till the last scene.
6. War Horse: A cinematic masterpiece telling the compelling chronicle of both the evils of war and of the redemptive quality of relationships between man and creature. The Prophet Isaiah is the powerful leading man, calling for an end to war, to beat swords into plowshares, and to the wolves who lie down with lambs and the little boy who leads them. A must see.
7. The Artist: This silent film follow’s Bezalel’s detailed instructions for the creation of the Tabernacle. The tension of moving the People Israel from the abomination of the Age of the Golden Calf to the Age of Monotheism brings with it inherent tensions of change and creativity. With great attention to detail, watch as the menorah, altars and many vessels are fashioned. The production is a masterpiece that truly captures an art long gone.
8. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: A complicated, sordid tale of murder and mystery. In what way does the commandment, “You shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead nor make any tattoo marks on yourselves” of Leviticus 19:28 play in? Watch to find out.
9. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol: King Saul, succumbing to severe melancholia and a diabolical gripping jealousy of David, the man who will be King, teams up with Endor the witch and summons the prophet Samuel from the beyond. What sort of fate will be his at the hands of the Philistines? Don’t be divining, O King of Israel. The Lord is no longer with you.
10. Crazy Stupid Love: In this heart-wrenching epic drama of the greatest love story ever told, between the often-stupid people Israel and the anything-but-crazy love the Almighty has for His People, the filmmaker has captured hundreds of years of devotion and dalliances, adding up to one heck of an eternal betrothal. Not to be missed!