In some literary circles, movies are considered the enemy of the literate; a crutch of sorts for those lacking the imagination to dive into a novel. For others, the silver screen can inspire and incite, causing a new wave of ideas to flood the mind that leaves the writer no choice but to write.
Now, I am no expert on film or what elements a film should have in order for it to be considered part of the elite class, but I am a writer who has found inspiration in the films listed below, and I think those are the only credentials I need. The list is not in any particular order to denote importance, and it certainly isn’t a definitive list by any means. There are movies on here that were adapted from books, and even though the book is always better, these adaptations come very close to capturing each author’s original intention. The purpose of this list is not to say which films are about writing or writers or the drudgery of the lit life, but to list the films capable of giving writers a boast of confidence, creativity, and inspiration. Each film listed below has left me with a need to create, whether it be a poem or a short story or even just a single sentence that will eventually lead to something grand. This top ten list should act like an aid of sorts to those stuck in the trenches of disillusionment.
Feel free to suggest movies that I may have missed because Lord knows I haven’t seen them all. Enjoy!
10. The Hours – Any movie about Virginia Woolf is automatically included on any list that joins the two worlds of film and literature. But the powerful thing this movie does is trace the lineage of a novel, it shows how influential the written word truly is and how it can affect all who experience it. Not to mention the stellar cast and their extraordinary performances.
9. Lars and the Real Girl – When I talk about this film with friends and with other writers, I almost always get the same response: “Is it that sad movie with Michelle Williams?” Unfortunately, this film been the most neglected of Ryan Gosling’s ventures since it’s not a blockbuster rom-com or an overtly artsy film that no one actually enjoys but will never say otherwise. As a writer, what I love about this film is the fact that it is an original idea. Nancy Oliver is the screenwriter for Lars and how she invites the audience through impeccable dialogue and real-life situations to understand the anomaly that is Lars and his love for a sex doll is the work of an inventive writer. This is one of those movies that is both heavy and light, and one that will leave you determined to write a new kind of story.
8. Her – This movie has people who either love it or hate it; I fall into the former category. This movie is stimulating on all levels for a writer: visually, conceptually, lyrically, emotionally. The exploration of human connection is a tale as old as time, but with this new technologically-dependent world we live in, the narrative has completely changed and I think Her does a perfect job of capturing our new paradigm. It’s hard as a writer to incorporate the electronic devices that control our lives into a story without sounding trite or too Sci-Fi, but Jonze does it well.
7. The Seven Year Itch – I feel like I’m going to get a lot of people scratching their heads over this one, wondering how in the world a Marilyn Monroe comedy could be of inspiration to writers. Well, let’s just be honest with ourselves: comedy writing is the red-headed stepchild of the writing community. Do we really take them seriously in our craft? The fact is we should; dialogue is one of the most difficult aspects of writing and comedy writers (good ones, anyhow) have perfected the art form. Seven Year is a product of engaging, delightful dialogue and is a great example of how to make two people interact. One of the other things I love about this movie (aside from loving everything), is that it captures the two elements writers hope to convey in all narratives: time and place. I can’t think of another movie that best captures New York during the summer of the 1950’s.
6. When Harry Met Sally – Ah yes, one of the greatest gems in film history. I love this movie for many reasons, but the biggest one is how it is able to give feeling to a season. Doesn’t this movie make you yearn for fall during those balmy, uncomfortable days of summer? It’s a remarkable thing when art can convey both universal and individual nostalgia. And like I’ve said before: dialogue, dialogue, dialogue! It is the driving force of this list and it’s for good reason: when you can master speaking for other people, everything else suddenly becomes effortless.
5. The Philadelphia Story – This is by far my favorite on the list. Originally performed on Broadway, Katherine Hepburn commissioned Howard Hughes to front the money for the film adaptation, and from that came one of the most underrated films in history. I was raised by my grandparents so most of my early exposure to film came from the Golden Age of the 1930’s to late 1940’s, a time my grandfather called “the short period of content.” If you haven’t experienced this film, I urge to you stop reading this and watch it immediately. Some of the greatest lines of dialogue come from this film, and I guarantee you will have to pause throughout just to jot down your favorites.
4. Revolutionary Road – As a writer, Richard Yates is my golden rod. I came across Road in my early twenties when I was at a time in my life when I had no self-identity; everything was clouded by other people and their expectations, and reading Road was what lifted the fog. So when I heard that Sam Mendes made a film about my favorite book, the book that was so highly lifted above all other forms of artistic expression, I was infuriated. No one knew the Frank and April Wheeler I had interpreted and no one knew how to draw them out the way I did. Turns out, Mendes knew them just as well. This film is one of the handful of adaptations that stays true to the original narrative: the dialogue, the setting, the colors, everything is in tune with Yates and his intentions. Like all important works of art, it leaves you in a constant state of questioning, and isn’t that what we all want as writers? Never to provide the answer, but to hand out the right questions.
3. Jane Eyre (2011) – Every woman who knew they were destined to write lists Jane Eyre as the one of the books who helped them on their path of self-discovery. I read Jane Eyre every year around the holidays and I never grow weary of it. I’ve also seen every adaptation I could get my hands on, but the newest release is by far my favorite. It captures Jane’s aesthetic shortcomings as well as the cold, unwelcoming landscape of the Moors, all of which are important to the development of Jane’s character. For writers, this film will make you fall back in love with the importance of the classics.
2. Hamlet (1996) – Shakespeare had to be on this list, you’re not a writer if you forget about the Bard. Arguably, Hamlet is Shakespeare’s masterpiece and just as arguably, Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation is the perfect mold of the masterpiece. This almost line-by-line accurate play-to-film is stunning to behold and the director/actor’s interpretation of Hamlet is flawless. Even though it’s roughly four hours long, it is a testament to the world’s greatest writer and how language is dependent upon the translator.
1. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof – It is unfortunate that Tennessee Williams has become a stereotype for overdramatic, uncontrolled playwriting. Williams had a natural ability of writing flawed, unlikable characters that you still couldn’t help but relate to, couldn’t help but hold judgement because you knew you had felt the same, thought the same, done the same. Just like other films listed here, Tin Roof perfects time and place, transporting you to the hot summers of the South during the 1950’s. Its myriad of voices moves the narrative as a collective whole to the end; Williams knew how to write characters with different diction, neuroses, and longings all while being limbs connected to the same body. It doesn’t hurt that each actor shines in their own right, embodying each character and their overwhelming vices.