Get out the popcorn, turn down the lights, and settle back for a feast of “personal history” films. These movies vary in quality but are all worth viewing. They address issues that we have an interest in as personal historians. I must admit my two favorites are Big Fish by American director Tim Burton and The Barbarian Invasions by Canadian director Denys Arcand.
If you have some favorites that aren’t on my list, let me know. I’d love to hear from you.
Must Read After My Death. (2008) “While raising a family of four in 1960s Connecticut, Allis and Charley tried to repair their marriage by turning to therapy, the consequences of which are revealed in a bombshell collection of audio diaries, left to the children after Allis’s death. For filmmaker Morgan Dews, what began as a simple documentary about his grandmother becomes a shocking portrait of one American family, as well as a detailed rendering of a bygone era.” ~ Netflix
51 Birch Street. (2006) “Married 54 years, Mike and Mina Block were the picture of if not wedded bliss then at least rock-solid stability — or so thought their son, documentary filmmaker Doug Block. But when his mother dies unexpectedly and his father swiftly marries his former secretary, Doug suddenly realizes there was more to his parents’ union than met his eye. Turning his lens on his own family, he discovers much he never knew about the people who raised him.” ~ Netflix
Uncle Nino. (2005) “An elderly Italian peasant who barely speaks English, Uncle Nino (Pierrino Mascarino) travels to America to reconnect with nephew Robert (Joe Mantegna) and his family (played by Anne Archer, Gina Mantegna and Trevor Morgan). Trouble is, nobody communicates because they’re too busy leading hectic, disconnected lives. It’s up to wise Uncle Nino to bring them together and teach them what’s important in life: each other. Robert Shallcross directed. ” ~ Netflix
The Notebook. (2004) “Two young lovers (Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams) are torn apart by war and class differences in the 1940s in this adaptation of Nicholas Sparks’s best-selling novel. Their story is told by a man (James Garner) who, years later, reads from a notebook while he visits a woman in a nursing home (Gena Rowlands). Nick Cassavetes directs this heart-tugging romance about the sacrifices people will make to hang on to their one true love.” ~ Netflix
The Final Cut. (2004) “Robin Williams stars in this futuristic tale as Alan Hakman, a “cutter” who edits people’s digital memories into compositions fit for viewing at their funerals — but things change when he finds his own childhood memory in the databank of a client. This thriller also stars Mira Sorvino as Hakman’s girlfriend and Jim Caviezel as a former cutter who is in search of a corporate bigwig’s incriminating footage.” ~ Netflix
Big Fish. (2003) “In this Tim Burton fantasy based on the novel by Daniel Wallace, William Bloom (Billy Crudup) tries to learn more about his dying father, Edward, by piecing together disparate facts from a lifetime of fantastical tales and legends of epic proportions.” ~ Netflix
The Barbarian Invasions. (2003) “When 50-something divorcé Rémy (Rémy Girard) is hospitalized for terminal cancer, his estranged son, Sébastien (Stéphane Rousseau), returns home to make amends in this Oscar-winning sequel to Denys Arcand’s Decline of the American Empire. As Sébastien steers through the moldering health care system to bring comfort to his father, he finds common ground with Rémy as he learns about the man through friends and lovers from his complicated past.” ~ Netflix
Iris. (2001) “Iris Murdoch (Judi Dench and Kate Winslet, in Oscar-nominated roles) was l’enfant terrible of the literary world in early 1950s Britain — a live wire who thumbed her nose at conformity via a voracious and scandalous sexual appetite. In this snippet of her life, an aging Murdoch (Dench) faces the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and the loss of memories about her younger self (Winslet). Jim Broadbent won the Oscar for his portrayal of her husband.” ~ Netflix
In the Arms of Strangers. (2000) “Filmmaker Mark Jonathan Harris’s Oscar-winning documentary tells the story of an underground railroad — the Kindertransport — that saved the lives of more than 10,000 Jewish children at the dawn of World War II. Through interviews and archival footage, the survivors movingly recount being taken from their families and sent to live with strangers in the relative safety of England. Judi Dench narrates.” ~ Netflix
After Life. (1999) “At a way station somewhere between heaven and earth, the newly dead are greeted by guides. Over the next three days, they will help the dead sift through their memories to find the one defining moment of their lives. The chosen moment will be re-created on film and taken with them when the dead pass on to heaven. This grave, beautifully crafted film reveals the surprising and ambiguous consequences of human recollection.” ~ Netflix
Nobody’s Business. (1996) “Director Alan Berliner takes on his reclusive father as the reluctant subject of this family documentary. Through interviews with his father, mother, sister, and other family members, Berliner examines his father’s personality, family dynamics, and history.” ~ Library Media Project.
My Life. (1993) “Advertising executive Michael Keaton has it all: a beautiful, pregnant wife (Nicole Kidman), a great job, a stately house … and three months to live. Tears are jerked in this affecting drama as Keaton tries to make up for lost time and come to terms with the inevitable end of his life. Screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin (Ghost) makes his directing debut here.” ~ Netflix
Defending Your Life. (1991) “After Daniel Miller (Albert Brooks) crashes his BMW convertible into a bus, he’s transported to “Judgment City,” where he meets the love of his life, Julia (Meryl Steep). Unfortunately, Daniel needs to defend his life on Earth before he can ascend to heaven with Julia. He frantically attempts to explain the positive things he’s accomplished, but soon realizes that Julia may be too good for him.” ~ Netflix
On Golden Pond. (1981) “An aging couple Ethel and Norman Thayer (“Ethel Thayer, I almost didn’t marry you cause it sounded like a lisp.”), who spend each summer at their home on Golden Pond. They are visited by daughter Chelsea with her fiancé, where they drop off his rebellious son. The story explores the relationship, among other things the relationship that she had with her father growing up, as well as what can happen to a couple in the later years of a long marriage.” ~ The Internet Movie Database
I Never Sang for My Father. (1970) “Hackman plays a New York professor who wants a change in his life, and plans to get married to his girlfriend and move to California. His mother understands his need to get away, but warns him that moving so far away could be hard on his father. Just before the wedding, the mother dies. Hackman’s sister (who has been disowned by their father for marrying a Jewish man) advises him to live his own life, and not let himself be controlled by their father.” ~ The Internet Movie Database
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