Sure, Hollywood is full of movies like Disaster Movie, Fred Claus, and whatever new rom-com Gerard Butler is in, but every now and then a movie comes out that tries to educate the audience about a social issue via a true story. While documentaries are usually the go-to medium to convey a little-engine-that-could story, sometimes a few big-name actors are needed to help spread the word. That’s why many have realized that to tell a true story about social issues to the public -- one that may not have gotten as much attention as it deserves -- a major motion picture might be the way to go.
The most recent film to do so is Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave, a drama based on the 1863 autobiography of the same name that tells the story of a free black man (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor) who was kidnapped in 1841 and sold into a slavery. It is a story that, unfortunately, not many people knew of before the film was made. But thanks to those who thought the story was worth telling, the public now has the opportunity to reassess the issue of slavery and witness a story of true importance.
If a film based on a true story is done well (such as 12 Years a Slave), and if it stays closer to non-fiction than fiction, at the end of it we are more well-informed than we were when we entered the theater, and really, who wouldn’t want to be smarter?
Here are some of our favorite movies that shed light on real-life stories of importance:
12 Years a SlaveThe subject of America’s history with slavery has long been at the core of numerous movies, yet this story seemed to slip through the cracks until now. McQueen’s film tells a powerful human story of tragedy as it follows a free black man named Solomon Northup who is sold into slavery. The film reminds us of the horrors of America’s past and lets us reflect upon the unbelievable cruelty of others. It also reminds us that not every story about slavery has been told yet.
ArgoWhile this adaptation of CIA operative Tony Mendez's book The Master of Disguise and Joshuah Bearman's Wired article "The Great Escape" took flack for transgressing from the facts of the rescue of six U.S. diplomats during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis, the movie did it’s job: It brought to light an untold story of American and Iranian hostility.
Hotel RwandaBased on real life events in Rwanda during the spring of 1994, the film follows Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle) as he attempts to rescue his family and thousands of refugees from the horrors of the Rwandan Genocide. It brings to life the issues of genocide, the results of violence, and the political corruption that ran rampant at the time.
The Killing FieldsThis drama is based on the experiences of two journalists (Cambodian Dith Pran and American Sydney Schanberg) during the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. The film successfully sheds light on a totalitarian regime and the mass murder of millions of Cambodians.
Fruitvale StationIn another recent real-life story portrayed through film, Fruitvale Station follows the 2009 shooting of an unarmed young black man named Oscar Grant in Oakland, California, and in the process tells a powerful story of police brutality.
Erin BrockovichWhile Erin Brockovich is definitely a little lighter in tone than the other five films, it nevertheless tells a dramatization of the true story of woman (played by Julia Roberts) who went up against a big corporation, PG&E, that was knowingly harming citizens with contaminated groundwater. Plus, Roberts won an Oscar for it.
Set in a world inhabited only by motor vehicles Cars is sort of a cross between Michael J. Fox's Doc Hollywood and NASCAR. The main hero is a hotshot rookie race car named Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson)--an obvious homage to the late fast-driving Steve McQueen--whose one goal in life is to win the Piston Cup and bask in fame and glory. Yet on his cross-country trip to the Piston Cup Championship in California to compete against two seasoned pros (real-life legendary racer Richard Petty voices the reigning champion The King) Lightning finds himself unexpectedly detoured in the sleepy--and forgotten--Route 66 town of Radiator Springs. There he meets its colorful denizens--including Sally (Bonnie Hunt) a snazzy 2002 Porsche who owns the local “rest” stop; Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) the town’s rusty but trusty tow truck; and Doc Hudson (Paul Newman) a 1951 Hudson Hornet who rules the town with a steady hand er wheel. Together they all help the cocksure Lightning realize that there are more important things than trophies fame and sponsorship. If Pixar calls you come running so it isn’t at all surprising how impressive the Cars vocal line-up is starting with legendary screen icon Newman as the Doc. Come on being the race car driving nut that he is you think the 81-year-old actor would say no to voicing a 1951 Hudson Hornet who has his own mysterious past in the racing world? Hell no. The rest of the cast also seem to have a good time channeling their inner car from Wilson’s snarky speedster to Hunt’s cute and sexy Porsche a big-city lawyer who decides to get out of the fast lane. Supporting voices include Cheech Marin and Tony Shalhoub as Radiator Springs’ low-riding body shop and Italian Fiat tire shop owners respectively. Even George Carlin gets into the act as a groovy ‘60s VW wagon who sells “organic” fuel. Good stuff. Of course what Pixar flick would be complete without its comic relief? Although he’s no Ellen DeGeneres as a short-term memory impaired fish Larry the Cable Guy fills in nicely as the dim but sweet Mater the ultimate hick tow truck. Having been out of the directing loop since his 1999 sequel Toy Story 2 Cars marks Pixar’s golden boy John Lasseter return--and this is his big love letter to the splendor that is the automobile. Of course his demand for perfection took its toll. The animators had to come up with a new technique called “ray tracing ” which allows the car stars--that are metallic and heavily contoured--to credibly reflect their environments. Even with a sophisticated network of 3 000 computers and state-of-the-art lightning-fast processors that operate up to four times faster than they did on The Incredibles the average time to render a single frame of film was 17 hours. Still all that time spent pays off. Cars is a real visual treat with another firm grasp in storytelling. Sure it’s a bit of a vanity project and may shoot way over the kiddies’ heads making them squirm a little during the “slow” parts. But as one of the recently appointed top guns at Disney Lasseter can do just about anything he wants these days--and we are going to love it dammit.
Newcomer Norah Jones, whose album Come Away With Me has been touted by critics and fans alike since it was released last March, was weighted down with five miniature gramophones when she left Madison Square Garden last night after the 45th Annual Grammy Awards--and that's just her personal stash. The album and its producers and writers took three more.
The self-effacing musician, a mere 23 years old, took the honors humbly, visibly blown away by sharing the stage with some of music's all-time greats, including Aretha Franklin and Bonnie Raitt, who presented Jones with the record of the year award for the single "Don't Know Why."
"I can't believe this," a starstruck Jones said in her acceptance speech. "Bonnie Raitt and Aretha Franklin. This is freakin' me out."
In addition to the record of the year award for the single, Jones' debut album won the night's top prize, album of the year, presented by heavyweights Elvis Costello and Peter Gabriel. Jones also won for best new artist, best pop vocal album and best female pop vocal album.
New York, New York
Although Jones was the night's big winner, there's no question that the Big Apple crowd was behind Jersey boy Bruce Springsteen all the way. His passionate rendition of his nominated single "The Rising," written after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, brought the entire audience to its feet.
Even as the music industry acknowledged those who died in the attacks, there was a clear call for peace from several performers and presenters. Fred Durst, presenting the best hard rock performance award, prefaced the announcement by saying, "I just really hope we are in agreeance [sic] that this war should go away as soon as possible."
Raitt followed suit. "Enough about building a mystery," she said. "Let's build some peace."
Rocker Sheryl Crow, who took home a Grammy for best female rock performance, wore a large peace sign around her neck and, during her performance with Kid Rock, a guitar strap with "No War" written on it.
As usual, the Grammys featured an "In Memoriam" segment, paying tribute to the stars the music industry has lost since the previous show. Members of boy band 'N Sync performed a medley of Bee Gees songs in honor of the Grammy Legend Award honorees, and when Robin and Barry Gibb received their award, they delivered a tearful tribute to their brother Maurice, who died in January. His son joined his uncles on stage for a brief speech.
Later, a highly anticipated tribute to Joe Strummer of The Clash, who died in December, brought Costello, Springsteen and former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl, now lead singer for the Foo Fighters, together for the first time. The trio, along with Steven Van Zandt of the E Street Band, Tony Kanal of No Doubt and Pete Thomas of the Attractions (recently renamed the Imposters), growled their way through punk classic "London Calling."
A list of major Grammy Award winners follows:
Record of the Year
Norah Jones, "Don't Know Why"
Album of the Year
Norah Jones, Come Away With Me
Song of the Year
Norah Jones, "Don't Know Why"
Best New Artist
Best Female Pop Vocal Performance
Norah Jones, "Don't Know Why"
Best Male Pop Vocal Performance
John Mayer, "Your Body Is a Wonderland"
Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocal
No Doubt, "Hey Baby"
Best Pop Collaboration With Vocals
Santana & Michelle Branch, "The Game of Love"
Best Pop Vocal Album
Norah Jones, Come Away With Me
Best Female Rock Vocal Performance
Sheryl Crow, "Steve McQueen"
Best Male Rock Vocal Performance
Bruce Springsteen, "The Rising"
Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocal
Coldplay, "In My Place"
Best Rock Song
Bruce Springsteen, "The Rising"
Best Rock Album
Bruce Springsteen, The Rising
Best Alternative Rock Music Album
Coldplay, A Rush of Blood to the Head
Best Hard Rock Performance
Foo Fighters, "All My Life"
Best Metal Performance
Korn, "Here To Stay"
Best Female R&B Vocal Performance
Mary J. Blige, "He Think I Don't Know"
Best Male R&B Vocal Performance
Usher, "U Don't Have To Call"
Best R&B Song
Erykah Badu featuring Common, "Love of My Life"
Best R&B Album
India.Arie, Voyage to India
Best Female Rap Solo Performance
Missy Elliott, "Scream a.k.a. Itchin'"
Best Male Rap Solo Performance
Nelly, "Hot in Herre"
Best Rap Album
Eminem, The Eminem Show
Best Female Country Vocal Performance
Faith Hill, "Cry"
Best Male Country Vocal Performance
Johnny Cash, "Give My Love to Rose"
Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocal
Dixie Chicks, "Long Time Gone"
Best Country Song
Alan Jackson, "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)"
Best Country Album
Dixie Chicks, Home
The Producers Guild of America bestowed its top honors on the musical extravaganza Moulin Rouge Sunday night at the 13th Annual Producers Guild Awards. The wild Rouge--about a turn-of-the-century Parisian nightclub and produced by Martin Brown, director Baz Luhrmann and Fred Baron--is also nominated for an Academy Award. PGA best picture winners have gone on to win the Oscar nine out of 12 times.
Other winners of the evening included NBC's The West Wing, winning best television drama, HBO's Sex and the City, winning best television comedy, and HBO's Band of Brothers, winning best television movie, miniseries or other long-form television.
Grammy winner Alicia Keys, Luther Vandross, Gerald Levert, India.Arie and comedian Cedric the Entertainer will kick off this year's Essence Music Festival at New Orleans' Louisiana Superdome. The three-day event starts July 4, while other performers such as Mary J. Blige, Al Green and comedian Steve Harvey will take the stage over the course of the festival.
Roger Moore, the suave '70s and '80s James Bond, will be taking on a new role in his next film--an over-the-top gay man. The 74-year-old actor will appear in the Cuba Gooding Jr. comedy Boat Trip, about two straight guys who end up on a gay cruise, due out this summer. Moore told the Associated Press he hopes his performance "will make the audience raise their eyebrows a little bit." Sounds like a good bet.
Akira Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai is getting another Hollywood treatment from Miramax Films and MGM, Variety reports. The classic Japanese epic about a small village hiring seven samurai to protect them from thieving bandits was remade into 1960's The Magnificent Seven, starring Charles Bronson, Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen. Miramax Films co-chairman Harvey Weinstein described Samurai as "the mother of all 'guys on a mission' movies."
In the world of celebrity boxing matches (yes, apparently there is one), ice-skating terror Tanya Harding, who had her opponent Nancy Kerrigan's knee smashed prior to the 1994 Olympic trials, will fight Paula Jones, the first woman to accuse former president Clinton of unwanted sexual advances in 1991. Harding was supposed to have fought Amy Fisher, the young girl who shot her lover's wife in 1992. But no can do. It's Jones and Harding all the way. Fox Television will air the match March 13.
After the South African premiere of Ali, South Africa's former president Nelson Mandela praised the legendary boxing champion Muhammad Ali as being one of the people he most admires. Mandela told Reuters, "He (Ali) brought a new kind of legend to boxing, and I am very happy indeed to be here to join you in paying tribute to my hero and the hero of millions right across the seas."
President Bush and leading politicians were treated to an evening of entertainment Sunday to showcase American pop culture. The gala event, held at the legendary Ford's Theater and hosted by Frasier's Kelsey Grammer, had an all-star line-up, including performers such as Stevie Wonder and David Copperfield.
U2 lead singer Bono met with White House National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice to discuss African debt relief in his ongoing campaign against Third World poverty. He has been trying to get Washington to drop the debt of some of the world's poorest nations for many years and has been using the success of his band's music to help the effort. U2 just won four Grammy awards, including record of the year.
A documentary about the hard-rock band Metallica is looking to be as juicy as Madonna's Truth or Dare. Filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky have been trailing the band since last April, while the band was in the studio cutting a new album. Since filming began, however, traumatic events have shaken the band, including the departure of bassist Jason Newsted after 14 years this past January and lead singer James Hetfield's rehab woes. No release date has been set.
Pop star Will Young, the 23-year-old singer who was discovered on the reality-based TV show Pop Idol, has sold more than a million copies of his first record in a week, making it Britain's fastest-selling single ever. The single "Anything Is Possible/Evergreen" has sold 1,108,269 copies. Who is Will Young, you ask? Guess we'll get to know more about Will soon enough.
In regard to the death of a teenager at a Sydney, Australia, concert Jan. 26, 2001 where Limp Bizkit and other bands were playing, Alexander Murdoch MacLeod, Limp Bizkit's tour manager, blames the concert venue for being understaffed and poorly managed. At an inquest into the death of 15-year-old Jessica Michalik, who was caught in a rush to the stage and suffered a heart attack, he told the court he thought the staff was insufficiently trained for a crowd breakdown.