This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on December 31, 2016.
Happy New Year everyone! This is a time that means a lot of things to a lot of people. In addition to usually meaning at least one extra day off of work, it can be an opportunity to reflect, reset, and consider the future. A lot can happen in a single trip around the sun and it’s useful to consider how we all might make the next trip better.
One way to do that is by spending time with our favorite stories, the classics that inspire and inform us. Movies are a great form of entertainment, but they’re also packed with messages and meanings. Those two things aren’t separate quantities either, many of the most powerful films also come in the form of farcical comedies or chase-laden action blockbusters.
So instead of just watching whatever’s on TV at the start of 2017, why not spend some time with some great films? This list of 5 cinema classics (both old and new) provides a great starting point. They’re movies that manage to both entertain and offer insight and inspiration that can be applied to the year to come. So take a look ahead and be sure to watch or rewatch some of these classics in 2017.
The Great Dictator (1940)
Directed by Charlie Chaplin
Starring Charlie Chaplin and Paulette Goddard
This political satire was written and directed by Charlie Chaplin to be released only a year before the United States entered World War II. It makes no qualms about its subject matter, openly deriding the fascist regimes of Germany and Italy. The story itself still manages to be an uproarious comedy in spite of its serious subject matter though. Chaplin plays both a put upon barber and dictator who eventually switch places through happenstance.
While the entire film is filled with great gags and zingers, it’s the climax that will be best remembered. In it Chaplin’s heroic character is able to give a speech to the entire world about the nature of war and humanity. His words still ring true today in an appeal towards our better nature and to reflect on what we all have in common. The Great Dictator shows that there’s no line between great art and great comedy, combining the two into a timeless classic.
It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)
Directed by Frank Capra
Starring James Stewart, Donna Reed, and Thomas Mitchell
You might view this film as something strictly for the holidays, but the connection between It’s a Wonderful Life and Christmas doesn’t define the story. The tale of how George Bailey almost loses everything, including his life, only to be redeemed and saved by a lifetime of good deeds is powerful no matter what time of year it is on. It presents the best versions of Golden Age Hollywood acting, writing, and directing in a movie that delivers suspense, laughter, and tears in equal parts.
The heart of this film isn’t about a spirit purely associated with the holidays, but one that is best felt year round. While the present day is set on Christmas, the rest of George’s story is shown to take place during all seasons. He is shown dedicating all of decisions throughout every stage of his life to helping others. That’s what makes the climax so powerful because it’s built on always dedicating yourself to charity and goodwill towards men. Watch It’s a Wonderful Life around New Year’s Day and you’ll likely find yourself singing along to “Auld Lang Syne” by the end.
12 Angry Men (1957)
Directed by Sidney Lumet
Starring Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, and Ed Begley
If you’re in the mood for a courtroom drama or mystery, it’s still tough to beat Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men even more than half of a century after it premiered. The story of a single jury debating the guilt of a young man in a murder trial never shows you what happened, but will have you at the edge of your seat anyway. It’s terrifically acted and the script is as taut and finely tuned as any you’ll find.
The issue at the center of 12 Angry Men isn’t just the guilt of a single man, but the nature of justice itself. It reveals the difficulties we all face when judging a situation and how our own experiences impact what we might see. The journey of these 12 individuals is one that makes them carefully consider the facts and assess how to correctly interpret the world. That sort of approach is valuable year round.
Do The Right Thing (1989)
Directed by Spike Lee
Starring Spike Lee, Danny Aiello, and Samuel L. Jackson
Spike Lee’s depiction of a complete Brooklyn neighborhood during one hot summer day is one of, if not the, greatest accomplishment of a very successful career. Audiences meet a collection of people as varied and complex as those in any real section of New York City, and come to care for them, flaws and all. These people will make you laugh, groan, and cry, often in the course of a single scene.
It’s that honest showing of people that makes this movie both tragic and subtly uplifting. The problems it shows were very real in 1989 and are still very real today. Yet it doesn’t work to push blame, but instead encourages understanding. Rather than place judgement and simplify a complex situation into only good and bad actors, Do The Right Thing exposes that everyone involved is a human being. And ultimately, it reminds us that people are what matter most.
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Directed by George Miller
Starring Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron
It’s not too early to call Mad Max: Fury Road a classic. It’s simply that good. The seemingly simple story of people fleeing across the desert in a never-ending chase sequence is packed with unexpected layers. Each character engages in their own unique arc in a world so filled with detail that every single aspect appears to have its own story. This is as pure of an adrenaline-fueled action film as you will find, but it’s also so much more.
The heart of Mad Max: Fury Road is hope. Every bad thing that occurs places weight and tension on characters and audience alike, but that’s what makes the climactic battle such an intense relief. In spite of all of terrible challenges faced and seemingly impossible odds, there’s still a road to freedom and change. That’s the message of this film and one that can continue to inspire us long after it ends.