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10 Films We Need Right Now - Post 9-11 DVD
10 Movies That We Need Right Now
We live in a changed world. The events of September 11th have permanently altered the way we think and feel, whether we like it or not. When the tragedy first occurred it seemed to me that it would be impossible to ever watch a movie again. How could you be entertained by fictional dramas with the horrible images of buildings and airplanes, smoke and fire, bodies falling a hundred stories, seared into your mind's eye?

It has only gotten harder in the days and weeks since the events. As Bruce Springsteen sang at the "A Tribute to Heroes" telethon, "My city's in ruins" and it couldn't be truer. Walking the streets of Manhattan means passing thousands of flyers with the faces of the missing. Walking Brooklyn's promenade means standing over hundreds of lit candles and hand-written prayers. Simply riding the subway to work means looking up at the hole in the skyline during two brief above ground stops on the way to the city.

Still, a little distance has also reminded us why we turn to entertainment in the first place. Much of our popular culture has been recontextualized. Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down" with its lyrics "You can stand me up at the gates of hell but I'll stand my ground" suddenly sounds like a battle cry, and the entirety of U2's The Unforgettable Fire has become a gospel hymn.

I don't subscribe to the notion that times like these call for light entertainment to take our minds off the real world. If you want pure escapism then you already know what to watch. I also don't think that the time is here for simplistic patriotic films. We have all seen the horrors of war and know that the right course today is much more complicated than that. I think that we need to seek out films and music that help us understand what has happened and what is still to come. Perhaps that's why films like The Siege have seen a boost in rentals. In their mourning Americans feel a need to know more. These ten movies inspire us, challenge us, and, ultimately, define us.

Casablanca
One of the most effective and affecting war-time movies ever to come out of Hollywood, this endlessly fascinating film combines romance, intrigue, and drama to help us understand that, even though the world is full of shades of gray, sometimes there truly are causes worth fighting for. In times of peace it's the hopeless love story that grips the heart but right now it is the sense of rage at a world filled with injustice, and the bravery to stand up to it, that hits hardest.

Fantasia
Most of the film is not relevant right now but at a recent candle-light vigil I was reminded of the moment that the "Night on Bald Mountain" nightmare turns into "Ave Maria", a somber unearthly scene that perfectly illustrates the transition between the darkness of the night and the hopefulness of the dawn.

Fearless
The scenes of the plane crash may be too much for some to bear right now but the story of a man trying to understand why he lived while so many others did not couldn't be more timely. Many of us may wonder why we were so lucky to be spared. There may be no answer but Peter Weir's gripping, spiritual drama attempts to at least shine a light into this unknowable void of grief.

4 Little Girls
While the recent events may be the most extreme and damaging attacks ever carried out in our country, there have been countless others, both from abroad and within. Spike Lee's achingly sad documentary looks back at the bombing of a Birmingham, Alabama church in 1963 that left many wounded and four young girls dead. In experiencing the lasting sense of grief carried by the families of these girls we can try to begin to comprehend what it means to suffer.

Grand Illusion
Jean Renoir sought to show the uselessness of war with this masterpiece but what it best conveys right now is the need to break down barriers. As men on both sides of the bars in a World War I prison camp cross lines of rank and country, a sense emerges that there is hope that one day these designations will no longer matter.

In the Heat of the Night
Right now suspicion abounds. Misguided, angry Americans are firebombing mosques and attacking those who look different than them. What they don't see on the outside is that these people are also Americans. What Rod Steiger's Sheriff Gillespie didn't see on Sidney Poitier's face was that he, too, was a law enforcement officer. And, ultimately, by teaming up with this man he himself became a better cop. A bold civil rights story, In the Heat of the Night is never stale and always serves to remind us of the ways in which we aren't all that different beneath the surface.

The Last Temptation of Christ
I am not a religious person but I still find Martin Scorsese's heartfelt ode to Jesus endlessly moving. Perhaps it is in the complexity and profundity of portraying Jesus' life more as a journey than a mission. As he struggles to understand what it is that his God wants of him he experiences pain as much as joy. In the most important moment Jesus asks Judas to betray him so that he can willingly give his life. Judas is almost to distraught to do it and Jesus tells him that he has the more difficult task. With this scene the film rejects nearly two millennia of anti-Semitism and helps to unite two of the world's major religions - and by extension all the people in the world.

Life is Beautiful
Roberto Benigni's Holocaust comedy achieves a level of empathy rare in film. By emphasizing the human spirit over the fate of the body he reminds us that it's the love and respect that we have for each other that counts, not the politics and not fear. By dividing the film in half (sweet romance and trial by fire) Benigni makes sure that we know exactly what it is that has been taken away from the characters and also what never can be.

The Sweet Hereafter
Atom Egoyan's mournful examination of the effects of loss doesn't involve terrorists or evil deeds. Instead, the children of a small Canadian town fall prey to a simple accident: Their school bus runs off the road. In trying to rebuild their community, and in realizing that it can never be the same again, the film finds a quiet dignity embodied in the actions of one wounded girl.

Three Kings
David O. Russell's Gulf War heist film displays a skepticism for US military action that many might find divisive in the face of what lies ahead. What the film really does, however, is examine why we get involved in foreign disputes in the first place. By criticizing the initial cause of our attacking Iraq (and the fact that it was our assistance of Iraq in their war with Iran that came back to harm us), Three Kings opens itself up to a true analysis of why we fight. In the film's final act it becomes absolutely clear: Simply because there are people out there who need our help.

This short list is woefully incomplete. In the weeks and months ahead we will each find our own way to watch movies. Maybe it will be the same as before, maybe not. Hollywood has scrambled its plans for many future releases, from delaying openings, to indefinitely postponing some, to scrapping some planned films altogether. In that time, however, we have the opportunity to share with each other exactly what it is that we need from the movies. Maybe we can add to this list over time and create a canon of films that can help us, in some tiny way, to cope with what has happened and to build what's to come.

- Gil Jawetz

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