The Steel Helmet (1951) by Sam Fuller. I served in the US Army and I miss the guys I served with watching this film. It's a no nonsense storyline and does not glorify war. Survival is the number one theme. The cast is multi ethnic and multi cultural, just like the US Army I served in. The characters have real depth to them. Even the GI that doesn't talk.
Network (1976) I was at the Soho Apple Store when Matthew Modine was signing his book (Full Metal Jacket Diary). The book is about his time working with Stanley Kubrick for Full Metal Jacket. Mr. Modine was quite affable. He talked at length about his time in England with his wife, the English studios, and his introduction to photography from Stanley Kubrick. He described spending time with Vincent D'Onofrio, about having to recite the Rifleman's creed lying down. His talk turned to news people in today's press and he urged people to check out Paddy Chayefsky's Network, for those who haven't seen it. I rented it and it is one of my favorite movies today. I would place it in the same category as Eli Kazan's A Face in the Crowd (1957). These two movies show the unusual appeal media savvy have over us. Network is more of a team effort in its manipulation of public opinion. A Face in the Crowd, on the other hand is about the frightening duplicity of certain people out to manipulate and cheat you.
Akira Kurosawa's Ikiru (1952) is a great reminder that everyone can start helping anyone right away, right now. The movie shows the main character not finding a meaning in his life until he realizes one can leave a legacy after you're gone. Having terminal cancer, he realizes helping others helps him overcome his inevitable death. There's a Buddhist saying that an act takes a while to bear fruit, like the time for drops of water to fill a bucket. Performing small deeds adds up eventually. It's the same way with evil deeds, which also add up to bear its consequence. So Ikiru, I like because it is a great reminder of death, and with that I'm reminded that good deeds can be performed while one is living.
The second Kurosawa film "Dreams" (1990) are sketches he made of actual dreams he had. A great peek into his mind. The dreams involving atomic catastrophe are very memorable and a great warning against nuclear proliferation.
Shoah (1985) may feel dated but it is so literate, analytical, and upfront on its interviews of World War II Holocaust survivors. This movie will change the life of anyone who has been silenced by their oppressors. The way Claude Lanzmann builds this film should be applied to all cases of genocide. I own a copy of this on my shelf. This movie made me personally interview members of my family who where war refugees during World War II in the Philippines.
Wings of Desire (1987), is a personal fairy tale of sorts. The Dalai Lama has sound advice for people. It goes something like this- "If you can't help anyone at least try to cause no harm at all".
So this movie is about this angel who would rather be human because of a woman he finds impossible not to love as a human being. It's an interesting heady subject- what are we to others- harmless witnesses, personal saviours, detached and removed from an emotional standpoint as some sort of angel or in your face as a human being, having misunderstandings, bad manners, and mortality. Of course there is the common ground, the happy medium.
Finally, Born Into Brothels: Calcutta's Red Light Kids (2004). These children are given a fantastic opportunity to attend school through a photography program. What prevents most of them from attending though is their family background. They are children of sex workers. They are poverty stricken and must also work in order to survive. In one level we are like them because we are all artists. We can be inspired by their individual photographic vision. On the other hand we are not struggling for survival as much as they are. Again this is a great reminder that we can perform good deeds through charities and such without making a big fuss about it. And much like the children, enjoying the pleasures of photography, we can apply that same joy when we are at work as firefighters, bakers, accountants. There is one big difference. Most of us, anyone who is reading this, probably have much more education those children will ever have. So like that terminally ill worker in Ikiru, now is the time to make it better for everyone because you too will die. Whether you believe in an afterlife or not the consequences of helping someone less fortunate is a joyful act in itself.