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Review: Movies to Inspire You in the New Year

There's something for everyone in this mix of 'oldies but goodies' and new to theaters and DVD films.

First, let Cinema Siren end this year by thanking readers and sending out appreciation to you. You who have become so loyal and have taken my opinions and suggestions to heart. Some of you have come to visit my alter ego Leslie at in Reston just to say "Hi." How wonderful!  

Moving on. Forget about the films of dark intensity members of the Academy tend to favor at Oscar time. There'll be plenty of those movies mentioned and recommended in January.  

As the new year begins, take a moment, no matter how the year has been for you, to pat yourself on the back for still being here, and for all the good you've done. Remember, even if it wasn't one of your better years, it could always be worse. If it was particularly great, start imagining next year being even more spectacular! In the next few days, we could all use some truly uplifting and positive cinema to help us focus on what we can accomplish for ourselves, through our new year's resolutions, or hard work, smart work, a positive outlook, belief in our own magic, and maybe a little help.  

Let's look at a list of films that can inspire us in our change and forward movement:

"Ground Hog Day" (1993) 
• Celebrates: It's never too late
Far deeper than just a comedy, Bill Murray's tour de force about a jerk who changes for the better after repeating the same day a few times over shows we're never too old to learn, and we can always change, no matter how stuck we become. The American Film Institute voted it as the Eighth Best Film in the Fantasy genre for good reason.  

"Strictly Ballroom" (1992)
• Celebrates: Taking a chance
Baz Luhrmann's romcom (that predates "Dancing With The Stars") is one of the most successful Australian films of all time. A maverick ballroom dancer uses new steps and an untested partner in ballroom competition. Sometimes we need reminding that we can succeed by listening to our own instincts and following our own passion even when we are told it's against the rules.   

"The Fisher King" (1991)
• Celebrates: Letting go
Terry Gilliam's cinematic ode to magical realism starring Robin Williams and Jeff Bridges is about loss, redemption and friendship. It is a visual stunner with depth in which most anyone will find meaning and clues to healing themselves or help the healing of those they love. Rolling Stone said, "It sweeps you up on waves of humor, heartbreak and ravishing romance." What could be a better way to start the new year?

"Sullivan's Travels" (1941) 
• Celebrates: Changing your viewpoint
A Hollywood director (Joel McCrea) experiences an epiphany when he goes on the road as a penniless hobo and discovers making people laugh is a great gift he can give the world. Written and directed by comic genius Preston Sturges, it features the gorgeous Veronica Lake and is in the National Film Registry as being "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant."

"Cast Away" (2000)
• Celebrates: Perserverance
The Zemeckis-directed movie starring Tom Hanks shows how one man can survive and adapt to any adversity. Wilson, the lead character's inanimate volleyball friend, was inspired by a volleyball that washed up onshore while screenwriter William Broyles had deliberately stranded himself on a deserted island for a week.   

"Pleasantville" (1998)
• Celebrates: Innocence and wisdom coexisting
A fantasy where two jaded teenagers (Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon) get sucked into a 1958 sitcom show akin to Father Knows Best is a beautiful statement about choosing innocence while still expanding your self awareness. This very inventive movie was seen as a social commentary but don't ignore the great messages about embracing who and what you want to be, no matter what your age.

"Shawshank Redemption" (1994)
• Celebrates: Keeping hope alive
This perennial favorite based on a Stephen King short story is the ultimate movie about keeping faith in the future when all seems hopeless. An incarcerated and wrongly accused man finds his way in an incredibly dark environment. This is always a great movie if feeling particularly hopeless yourself, or just if you want to end up feeling great.  

"Cinema Paradiso" (1989)
• Celebrates: Finding paradise in what you do
This Italian Oscar winner shows a young boy and old projectionist sharing the love of movies as they transport the townspeople in their movie house to the magic world their imaginations and the magic of movies provide. A great message to those searching for their calling, to move in the direction of what inspires you, and find beauty in whatever you do in the meantime.

"Saint Ralph" (2004)
• Celebrates: Miracles happen every day
A 14-year-old boy in a Canadian Catholic school decides winning the 1953 Boston Marathon will be the miracle that will wake his mother from a coma. This irreverent coming of age indie sounds sad, but is incredibly uplifting. 

"The African Queen" (1951)
• Celebrates: Overcoming the odds
Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn go up the river in Africa directed by John Huston. They play inflexible opposites who come together beautifully. This is great to show us there's always a way to get where we want to go, and if we don't get there, the journey might be worth it anyway.  

Ringing In the New: New to theaters and DVD

"The Way" 
• Celebrates: Getting on with it
A wonderful new movie starring Martin Sheen where he hikes in Spain in honor of his lost son and finds new friends and his own way in the process. (In theaters.)

"Midnight in Paris"
• Celebrates: Being here now
A time-bender by Woody Allen lovingly filmed in Paris that inspires us to choose this moment and see the opportunities present there. You'll love this warm positive Valentine to the city, featuring Marion Cotillard and Owen Wilson. (New on DVD.)

"Crazy Stupid Love"
• Celebrates: Forgiving yourself
Gorgeous, tan Ryan Gosling retrains an awkward male divorcee (Steve Carell) to be a playboy. Hearts and noses get broken, but a renewed belief in love and soulmates rises from the train wreck. Sometimes you need lots of laughter (and gorgeous pecs) with a bit of a lesson mixed in. This one's for you. (New on DVD.)

Chick Flick Honorable Mention:

"Under the Tuscan Sun" (2003)

• Celebrates: Finding your place 
This chick flick with gorgeous scenery of the Italian countryside and coastline is all about starting over and finding a new family of friends. To those who are thinking it's too late to travel and see the world, this one will kick start your motivation. Maybe 2012 is the year you are finally meant to go! 

So enjoy these lovely inspirational flicks as you ring in the new. And here's to the great new movies we can look forward to next year. Salud! May you have a wonderful safe New Year's Eve, and trust in your ability to see the many opportunities coming your way in 2012. Cinema Siren toasts you.  

Have a joyful one!

Other movies to consider: 
"Grand Canyon"
"Rudy"
"Whale Rider"
"Millions"
"Fried Green Tomatoes"
"The Green Mile"
"October Sky"
"Babette's Feast"
"Greenfingers"
"Chocolat"

About this column: Leslie Combemale, "Cinema Siren," is a movie lover and aficionado in Northern Virginia. Alongside Michael Barry, she owns , an animation and film art gallery in Reston Town Center. She has a background in film and art history. She often is invited to present at conventions such as the San Diego Comic Con, where she has been a panelist for The Art of the Hollywood Movie Poster and the Harry Potter Fandom discussion. See more of her reviews and interviews on www.artinsightsmagazine.com.

Sue Bernstein January 01, 2012 at 02:25 PM
Leslie, you have incredible taste in your film selections and your brief reviews are insightful. It was great to see your name on the Patch this morning, I read it everyday. I will be checking out some of your recommendations and take the opportunity to see again some of my favorite films.Sue Bersntein
Leslie Combemale January 01, 2012 at 03:10 PM
Wow! Happy New Year, everyone! Woke up this morning to emails from lots of you thanking me and commenting on some of your favorites to watch when you want a bit of extra positivity and inspiration. How lovely. Thanks! Feel free to post them here as well so other movie lovers can enjoy! YOU GUYS ARE GREAT! Lots more reviews coming in 2012!
Leslie Combemale January 01, 2012 at 03:12 PM
Sue!! Happy New Year! It was bound to happen eventually that my peeps would find me! Thanks for the positive message and you should check out the other reviews "Cinema Siren" has done for Patch~ maybe i'll push you into a theatre a bit more often!

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