Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Blog #9 Guest Blog from Producer Jennifer Westin

Hi all, in my next guest blog I promise to back track and give a bit of insight into the producer’s story behind The Lake Effect but this entry will be a bit of a tangent. Hope you’ll come along.

Today I’ve been wondering if going into film producing was the wrong thing to do with my life. 

Before we get all Xanax, let me explain:  today is Election Day here in the States and while the country debates the future of our education and health care systems I’m looking at examples of DVD box cover art.  I’m a fairly political person, or at least I care a lot about the social and financial challenges we face. Which every election cycle makes me ask the question—should I be doing something more…Significant with my life?

I bat around the idea of becoming an errand girl for the Sierra Club or delivering water for Doctors Without Borders in Haiti.  But then I realize I’ve come to a place where my skill set is pretty specific.  I don’t know anything about water safety or medicine or saving jellyfish (other than I support all those things).

And then I remember the other side of the coin—art is significant.  True, it’s not as necessary as clean water, but historically once a society has got the basics under control, they start creating art.  They need the water to live, but they live for the art.  Yes the world would have survived without 500 Days of Summer, but it was very funny and sweet.  Which leads to the two great potentials of Movies as Art: entertainment and social commentary (best done together!).  When times are tough, people need diversions. You get great 1930’s comedies like Bringing Up Baby and great 2009 comedies like The Proposal.  The incredible reach of cinema makes it a powerful instrument.

And it is exactly that reach that gives social commentary films such power.  There’s nothing quite like a great film made at just the right time to kick off a necessary society-wide discussion.  And so in honor of Election Day (and so I don’t have to change career paths) I give you:

Jennifer Westin’s list of the 10 Best Social Commentary Movies of All (my life) Time.

Philadelphia—quintessential Hollywood at its best. Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington confront homosexuality and the AIDS epidemic.  With stars that big, the whole of America had to pay attention.

Do the Right Thing—race relations in the troubled 80’s in Brooklyn. Spike Lee depicts how things can spiral out of control on one hot day.

Three Kings—my generation’s war movie. Ironic, sad, funny, a little sexy, David O. Russell picks apart the first Gulf War.

District 9—sci-fi parable with an anti-apartheid message in last year’s wonderfully inventive South African indie.

Heathers—classic critique of 80’s Me Generation values, Shannon Doherty + Christian Slater + Winona Ryder = a wicked dark comedy

Boys Don’t Cry—Kimberly Peirce’s harrowing drama tells a real-life story to spark empathy for its tragic subject and gender identity issues.

WALL.E—Pixar’s brilliant dystopian children’s story has dark undercurrents for the parents.

Boyz in the Hood—stark tale of an urban ghetto in LA, John Singleton’s first feature shed light on how tough it was.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner—not made in my lifetime but remade in my lifetime (Ashton Kutcher & Bernie Mac anyone?) so this classic about liberals confronting their hidden racism slips in.

Safe—one of my personal absolute favorites, Todd Haynes’ movie starring Julianne Moore as a detached housewife with mysterious ailments touches on Virginia Woolf, Charlotte Perkins Gilman and loads of feminist theory.

Notes on the list:
-Of My Lifetime:  Arbitrary? Perhaps but if I didn’t limit the possibilities somehow there’s no way I could choose just 10.  Plus I’m partial to my generation and didn’t want to make an All Vietnam War movies list.
-I didn’t include any movies based on novels because someone would surely write “Hey, that’s based on a novel” in the comments section.  But that did knock off a lot of great ones (Blade Runner, The Hours, Children of Men)
-I didn’t include any documentaries because they are so often social commentaries that they’d take over the list.
-I didn’t include TV because it’s outside the scope of this blog (until we run out of movie stuff to talk about).
-I’m a child of the 80’s, sue me.

Final Disclaimer: There are plenty of great ones that I haven’t seen or am forgetting or that I personally just don’t like. Leave your suggestions in the comments.

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