Let’s face it: It’s way easier – and far less convicting – to watch yet another insipid comedy than opting for a movie with some real substance.
While there’s certainly nothing wrong with kicking back with entertainment that tickles the funny bone, it’s not always easy finding more meaningful options when the mood strikes. And considering how utterly pointless many of the local Cineplex’s latest offerings have been, however, (Hall Pass, anyone?) it’s particularly refreshing to know that movies that emphasize what’s really important in life, namely making a difference in this big ol’ world of ours, really do exist.
So what should you consider watching in the comfort of your own home or adding to your Netflix queue pronto? Well, we’ve got a few options that have – and will continue to – play a key part in helping shape our culture for the better, something you can rarely say about the latest flick starring Will Ferrell, right?
The Great Debaters
In the last city to surrender after the Civil War – Marshall, Texas – history was made at Wiley College in 1935 when a determined professor named Melvin B. Tolson coached an unlikely group of debaters to a nearly undefeated season. And while that would’ve been spectacular enough in its own right, the real victory was for modern-day race relations and women. See, as the team kept winning and gaining notoriety, the African American team, which included a female student, was eventually invited to face Harvard’s championship debaters. As you can imagine, this didn’t happen without some major adversity along, thanks to Jim Crow laws, an arrest, and a near-riot.
The Tuskegee Airmen and The Color of Freedom
The Tuskegee Airmen explores the real cost of being free through the eyes of those in the frontlines of the fight.
The Grace Card
Exploring how two men from very different backgrounds not only learn to get along but actually respect and learn from each other – when thrown together as partners on the local police force – The Grace Card explores how faith and redemption play out in a fallen world. And while the film features a cast of mostly newcomers, their investment in their roles and the message is obvious from the first frame.
We all know the song, but what about the story? Turns out the writer of the much-beloved hymn, a priest named John Newton, played a key role in mentoring William Wilberforce, a great crusader for the British abolition of slavery. Now in Amazing Grace, a movie that I dare you to watch without shedding a tear, we get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of Wilberforce’s world-changing ideas that eventually led to a major victory for social justice.
After learning that one million people in Rwanda were brutally murdered and barely a word was uttered in the news about what happened, an ordinary family man (played by Don Cheadle) decides to make a big difference by granting thousands of helpless refugees shelter in the hotel he’s managing.
In case you missed it, Jamie Foxx won a much-deserved Best Actor Oscar for playing the legendary performer Ray Charles in 2004’s Ray. In fact, you practically forget you’re watching a movie because Foxx is that good at disappearing into the role. In what’s inevitably a heartbreaking story of a broken family, fame, drug addiction, overcoming prejudice and what happens when your priorities are suddenly all out of whack, it’s impossible to hear the legendary music the same way again once you’ve seen his remarkable, heartbreaking story.
The Blind Side
More than your average sports movie where you can predict what will happen ten minutes after you start watching, The Blind Side is an unconventional and moving story about beating the odds. For Michael Oher, a homeless high schooler who is traumatized by his harrowing circumstances, his life is forever changed when a brassy southern mother and her loving husband welcome him into their family. Oh, and as a result, he becomes a success – not just in professional football where he was a first-round pick, but in life.
The Pursuit of Happyness
Misspelling aside (a pet peeve for any writer, I assure you), The Pursuit of Happyness is a story of determination and a sense of mission that will test your patience at every turn. Just when you think that nothing else could possibly go wrong for Christopher Gardner, a guy who lost it all for a cause he believed in, it does – and then some. So what lengths will he go to provide for his son to achieve exactly what he set out to do? Well, you’ll have to watch and trust me, you’ll be inspired – even if you’re slightly cynical like I was.
Although largely ignored at the box office, (I’m guessing it’s because the subject matter isn’t exactly cheery), Extraordinary Measures is dare we say, an extraordinary story of an eccentric doctor and determined young family’s quest to introduce a new drug that could help children struggling with a rare genetic disorder. Wonderfully acted and quite a departure for Harrison Ford, who plays the kooky doctor, Extraordinary Measures is a reminder that everyone, no matter how small, can be a powerful agent for change.