Have you ever had a movie change your mood from bad to good? Perhaps you were going through a rough spot, frustrated by some aspect of your writing career.
But then you sit down and watch a movie. Afterward, all you think about are the endless possibilities life offers and the dragons you’ve yet to slay.
In anticipation of writing this article, I recently went on a bit of a movie-watching binge. My goal was to identify seven writing-themed movies that hopefully will inspire you to greater heights… or at the very least, entertain you. So I recommend you watch these seven movies when you want to:
- Use your imagination — London-born Beatrix Potter was not only an author and an illustrator, she was an avid conservationist. Nature inspired her and fuelled her imagination. Her best-known book is The Tale of Peter Rabbit. It’s been translated into 36 languages and over 45 million copies have been sold (it’s now in the public domain). She wrote over 35 books in total, the majority of them children’s books. The 2006 film Miss Potter, starring Renee Zellweger, Ewan MacGregor, and Emily Watson, focuses on her life around 1902 and her relationship with Norman Warne, her publishing representative. It’s not an action picture; it’s a well-made, well-acted portrait of the times that gives insight into the life of a truly fascinating woman.
- Overcome obstacles — Imagine if you had to use only your left foot to write. (Would you still be a writer?) That’s what Dubliner Christy Brown (1932–1981) faced every day of his life. Brown had a severe case of cerebral palsy. The 1989 movie, My Left Foot, starring Daniel Day-Lewis as writer and painter Christy Brown might not seem like that most exciting storyline for a movie, but as one reviewer said in his review on com, “You can’t feel sorry for yourself after seeing this movie.”
- Blaze a new path — If you’re an aspiring screenwriter, you’ve probably already seen it. Charles Kaufman was hired to adapt Susan Orlean’s 1998 book The Orchid Thief for the silver screen. Finding the book’s story difficult to adapt, Kaufman instead wrote about his ensuing literary struggle. The results are on display in 2002’s Adaptation starring Nicolas Cage (in a double role), Meryl Streep, and Chris Cooper. It’s quite brilliant.
- Follow your passion — In 1928, using the small inheritance she received from her mother, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings purchased a 72-acre orange grove in Hawthorne, a hamlet of Cross Creek, Florida. She moved there to write. The original stories she sent to her publisher were of the romance nature. He rejected them. Her writing, he insisted, only seemed to come alive in her letters describing the stories, people, and landscape of Cross Creek. Rawlings went on to write The Yearling, published in 1938 and which won the 1939 Pulitzer Prize for literature. The 1983 movie Cross Creek starred Mary Steenburgen as Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and also featured Peter Coyote, Rip Torn, and Alfre Woodward. Rawlings’ widower, Norton Baskin, makes a brief cameo at the start of the movie. Cross Creek is an engaging (and perhaps partly fictionalized) story of Rawlings’ life in Cross Creek and how she gradually found her voice as a writer.
- Let your wit roar — “I hate writing. I love having written” is just one of the many memorable quotes from American writer and satirist, Dorothy Parker. Parker was a key member of the Algonquin Round Table, a group of smart and witty writers who regularly met each day for lunch at Manhattan’s Algonquin Hotel from 1919 to 1929. The winner of the 1988 Best Documentary Oscar, the 56-minute documentary, The Ten-Year Lunch: the Wit and Legend of the Algonquin Round Table (available free to view on vimeo.com), examines the members of the group, highlights some of their best lines, and delivers an interesting glimpse into life in the 1920s.
- Put a smile on your face — Despite what you might think of Woody Allen, you can’t deny that he’s an extremely talented and prolific director and writer. One of his funniest films is 1995’s Bullets Over Broadway, which takes place in New York in 1928. Playwright David Shayne (John Cusack) approaches producer Julian Marx (Jack Weston) about getting financing for a play he wrote. Marx turns him down originally, but is subsequently approached by a mobster (played perfectly by Joe Viterelli) who agrees to finance the play on one condition: That the mobster’s girlfriend (Meg Tilley) gets to play the lead. The laughs are consistent throughout and of high quality. The storyline is equally inventive. Chazz Palminteri and Dianne Wiest both turn in outstanding performances.
Keep this list handy. I can’t promise you’ll slay a dragon after watching any of these movies, but I will guarantee that you’ll find something of value in each one.
And remember, you can learn a lot about the human condition from movies. They make us laugh. They bring us to tears. They educate us. They motivate and inspire us. And, possibly, help us strive to write better.