Sagamore Recommends: movies

It’s tough out there. Between nations locking themselves down, schools closing until who knows when and climate change still existing, it’s difficult to find something to be excited about in the outside world. Yet, never fear, the magic of cinema has arrived and is ready for prime time.

To me, movies are a reminder of what it is to be human. To see the faces and hear the voices of the stories that dig into our humanity is something that makes me feel alive. Movies are the result of thousands of years of artistic innovation by humans who have gone from drawing with stones to painting with a brush that brings pictures to life.

Good art elicits an emotional response, and emotions are the only thing that separates us from machines. So as we fall into these cycles of monotony in daily life, I think it’s good for all of us to see some movies that remind us of all that we love and hate in this world. That is what’s going to keep us all alive during these trying times.

And, at last, in no particular order, I present seven movies from this millennium that you absolutely have to see for the wellbeing of your soul.

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” (2014)
Directed by Wes Anderson

It’s hard to know where to start with this movie. Anderson constructs a dynamic between a concierge and his lobby boy that seems almost too ridiculous to believe yet keeps the viewer entirely rapt. Leading man and flamboyant concierge M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) seems to work in a process that humans were not meant to understand, and it is brilliant in all the best and strangest ways. Small ornaments of Jeff Goldbloom, Ed Norton and Bill Murray’s acting make this movie the gem that it is, and Anderson’s oddball filming style and artistic direction make watching it a near out-of-body experience. The frustrations of not knowing why things are where they are half the time can make a viewer hate the oddness of such a quirky film, so you have to watch this, not because you’ll certainly love it, but rather because you need to find out how you will react. If it’s how I did, it will be a lot of fun.

Public Domain
M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) and Zero (Tony Revolori) in the Grand Budapest Hotel (2014).

“1917” (2019)
Directed by Sam Mendes

In the pantheon of cinematographic achievements, this film shines above the rest in its ability to make the camera appear to roll for one continuous shot. The camera work gives the viewer the indication that they watched every minute of one man’s harrowing journey to save a whole legion of British soldiers from a devastating trap unfolding before their eyes. The film operates with very little dialogue, primarily focusing on the emotions and mental fortitude of Lance Corporal Will Schofield (George MacKay), yet employs a startlingly epic score to show the magnitude of his heroism. The message is nothing revolutionary, but the cinematic and storytelling achievement will drop your jaw to the floor.

“Parasite” (2019)
Directed by Bong Joon-ho

“Parasite” won Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best International Feature Film at the 92nd Academy Awards. In his acceptance speech for Best Director, Bong told us all that “once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.” He may have a point. This film takes everything anyone could want in a film: it has frequent comedy, heart-pounding suspense and an unquestionably poignant message, and it mixes, shakes and stirs these into a cinematic cocktail rivaled by only a few movies this century.

“There Will Be Blood” (2007)
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

A man drowning in oil and a fiery preacher walk into a derrick in rural California. What could go wrong? According to Anderson, quite a lot. Daniel Day-Lewis portrays the unforgettable Daniel Plainview with an effort that earned him his second Academy Award for Best Actor as he masterfully conveys the troubles of a king in an oil-drenched paradise. A hauntingly personal story, “There Will Be Blood” hits right at the core of American ambition, with all the many frustrations of pursuing something sinisterly grand woven into the film’s many grits and grains.

“The Hurt Locker” (2008)
Directed Kathryn Bigelow

This movie follows hotshot bomb tech William James (Jeremy Renner) during the Iraq War, and it was released while the wounds of said conflict were still very fresh. Director Kathryn Bigelow sculpts scenes with stunning acts of heroism and stupidity in the face of stacked odds while zooming out to showcase the psychological impact of such high-stakes work on those who do it. To many at home, the prospect of defusing bombs for a living seems almost too insane to comprehend, but Renner shows that it and its life-changing effects on a person are not to be handled lightly.

Public Domain
The Hurt Locker (2008)

“The Wolf of Wall Street” (2013)
Directed by Martin Scorsese

Now, I probably shouldn’t be seen publicly advocating for watching this movie as it singlehandedly redefined what sex, drugs and rock and roll can mean in a feature film, but, if your own personal powers at be permit it, I implore you to check out director Martin Scorsese’s delivery of a bittersweet bungee jump of a masterpiece that shows that, while absolute power may corrupt absolutely, too much money may corrupt even more. Lead actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill create a bromance that is hilariously tragic when understood in the context of the thrill ride that the two men are embarking on, replete with all the bells, whistles and tragic realities of the American capitalist dream. Scorsese also seeks to understand just how risque a Hollywood blockbuster can get, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.

“Leave No Trace” (2018)
Directed by Debra Granik

This story of a father and his daughter living off the grid in the Pacific Northwest combines an utterly irresistible setting with an undoubtedly serious tone that shines a spotlight on the inability of American institutions to accommodate veterans who struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder and homelessness while also showing the individuals in those institutions who try nonetheless. The film is almost an anti-action work, fusing very little forward movement with a brilliantly developed father-daughter relationship into something truly special: an eerie quiet that does all the talking.