Catch-22 (1970)

War is absurd in many ways, especially the unique subculture that forms in isolation. The very qualities that make this depiction stand alone keep it from being a favorite. Though adaptations of the novel abound– it’s easy to see why an Air Force pilot would be desperate for a diagnosis of “crazy” so he can get out of future missions– never has such a notable cast been assembled.

And unlike like modern stories that mostly highlight the seeming thrill of combat, this film’s non-linear structure gives a surreal quality to an ordinary routine, in which trauma blends with even the most mundane tasks, such as clerical duties and laundry. Unlike depictions of war that debuted around the same time (e.g. MASH), rather than merely utilize sarcasm, its unflinching dry humor highlights the same dark comedy found in the desperation, resourcefulness, futility (and, of course, the irony) of hollow victories.

Grace is Gone (2007)

When military personnel are assigned to a far-away tour, the loved ones left behind know there’s a chance they might not return. But awareness of the hypothetical doesn’t prepare anyone for reality. How do you tell your daughters their beloved mother is never coming home? How do you accept it yourself?

Persepolis (2007)

I’m so glad the author of the autobiographical comic– the basis of this movie– was involved in making this version of her story. An Iranian expat, who came- of- age during the Islamic Revolution/ reign of the Shah describes her historical experiences– personal, cultural and political– in black and white. The bold stylistic choice serves […]

Little Boy (2015)

When most people say they’re praying in the midst of painful circumstances, what they actually mean is they’ve developed tunnel vision in light of their pain. St. Paul warned, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith…” Whether we’re already in communication with God or waiting to become entrenched in our circumstances, unwavering […]

Across the Universe (2007)

Though the title borrows the more popular lyric/ song title, this film could’ve been aptly named “Nothing’s Gonna Change my World”; the irony being the massive upending of life as everyone knew it prior to the turbulent 1960s. To craft a plot from a collection of music not written as a cohesive narrative is tricky enough; to seamlessly infuse the playlist with a personification of the music and events that equally influenced and inspired each other is a true work of Art. The inclusion of live musical performance, choreography, imaginative cinematography, depiction of history and socio-political commentary take this mesmerizing spectacle way beyond a Beatles-inspired musical.

Machine Gun Preacher (2011)

In no way hyperbole, the title is as provocative and contentious as its titular character, who happens to be a real person. It’s an severely honest rendering of a life turned upside down—first by conversion from a life of unrestrained vice to a zealous desire to serve God then again from safe and tidy church subculture into fighting for the safety of orphans caught in the crosshairs of war. By getting to know and love vulnerable children in desperate need of protection, the repentant rebel turns his unbridled violence into a passion for rescue and protection, with or without the help of friends and family. Sadly, those in the greatest position to help lack the spiritual and emotional resources of compassion and generosity.

Grace of Monaco (2014)

No one in the world could’ve predicted the whirlwind, history-making romance of England’s Prince Harry to American actress, Meghan Markle. It is to this movie’s advantage that its particular depiction of an historic marriage, to which the modern one is being compared, predates Harry and Meghan’s engagement; it was crafted to document a historic anomaly rather than contrive comparisons that may or not serve any particular purpose other than marketing.

To give up everything to take on another identity is no small feat but a woman in love with a man who both respects and adores her is gaining so much more than she’s giving up, which is still easier to accept in theory than to demonstrate in practical application! Even more so for American actress, Grace Kelly since the Royal Family of Monaco is more than mere figureheads.

By the early 1960s, the threat of invasion by the French overshadowed whatever dreamy notions Princess Grace may have had. At the urging of her spiritual advisor, who was also a close friend and confidant, Princess Grace redefined romance, which not only saved her marriage; it helped to unite the country, who had embraced her as their own. Suddenly, she became a leader, who could use her influence to provide stability and courage in the midst of uncertainty.

Alone in Berlin (2016)

Based on a book by an author given access to old Nazi files, this film depicts of a brave couple, who simultaneously rediscover themselves—and each other—as they enter a new phase of marriage. The couple’s grief over losing their son to the war leaves then disillusioned with the promises of the Hitler’s regime. The two become one team, who circulates messages of resistance to Nazi power. Rather than churning out yet another heavy-handed treatment that risks turning the entire era into a cliché, the context of this film is a time when people were not only under duress to turn a blind eye to national atrocities but hadn’t grown up in a culture where people—particularly the working class, women, etc.—had ever been allowed personal opinion.

Production initially lost traction due to lack of funding so the decision was made to film in English. Though the supporting cast is mostly German, the main characters are played by non-German European actors, which ended up giving a sense of collective responsibility. It feels more like a call to action meant to inspire viewers to consider their own roles in life, rather than inviting them to be spectators of a bygone event. At no point does the story lag or do the actors overact, which would be easy to do. Its ultimate triumph is in the integrity and courage of two seemingly insignificant individuals, who chose to stand alone together.