At first glance, the category of “Movie Drama” brings to mind films with a good deal of sorrow, regret, and emotional weight. However, there’s far more variety to movie Drama’s then you may initially notice. Drama’s are an avenue that can lead to stores of inspiration, or something uplifting, maybe even relatable, and above all … they have a special human touch we can connect with on a personal level. As such, my personal favorites of the Movie Drama category really aren’t what I’d labile as “tear jerkers”. I like certainly like films with sobering moments, but I love it best when a Drama leaves me with a positive outlook. Sometimes, a good Drama can motivate me to push myself, while other times, they can leave me feeling warm or touched. With all that firmly established … here are my own personal top 10 Favorite movie Drama’s.
#10 Dead Poets Society (1989)
Robin Williams plays a new English Teacher named John Keating, who’s just taken a position at an all-boys preparatory school. In a unique twist, he uses “Unorthodox Methods” to connect with his students, who are all facing enormous pressure from their over-bearing parents and strict school. Thanks to both his teaching and friendship, the boys lean to break out of their shells, and pursue their real dreams, versus what everyone else is telling them to do. This is one of those special movies that connected with me at a certain time, as I was taking High-School courses with no idea what I’d be doing, and this film met me at eye level and said … just do what you want to do. Robin Williams is also one of those talents who always brings something special to the table, and this is my favorite of his movie Drama’s by far. He still brings the same energy and delight to the role that we associate with the actor, but he’s also restrained in this performance, and never goes too far to the point where he feels cringe. The cast all around is excellent, as everyone gives both a sense of weight and charm to their roles. It’s touching, it’s humble, and it’s a special case in which an inspiration drama dose exactly what it sets out to do … inspire.
#9 Apollo 13 (1995)
In this historical drama, three Astronauts are on their way to the moon, but their expedition is abruptly called off when an oxygen tank explodes. Stranded in space orbit, tensions within the crew arise, and numerous technical problems threaten the survival of the astronauts, as well as a safe return home. Director Ron Howard simply hit it out of the park when he brought the tragic failure to the Apollo 13 space mission to the theater. With an all-star cast giving solid performances all around, this is one of those historical Drama’s that submersed me into situation, and made me feel like I was living-out the events. Tales of human space travel of always captivated my interests, and this is the motion picture classic that hit all the right notes, making this outer space adventure feel as human as possible. Beyond that, it’s a relatable story about trying to reach a goal that seemed impossible to grasp. In the case of Tom Hanks Astronaut named Jim, the moon is quite literally that unreachable goal that’s always in sight, but he can just never touch. Thus, in order to guarantee everyone’s safe return home, he has to stop reaching and look to the needs of his comrades. Part exciting space adventure, and part relatable human drama … “Apollo 13” achieves perfect lift-off.
#8 Amadeus (1984)
Winner of eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture … it’s the story of one Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart … his life, and classic music. Mozart needs no introduction, as he’s one of the most legendary music composers to ever live, and this film gives us a peek behind the curtain of his life, the struggles he endured to bring his music to the stage, and his rivalry with fellow composer Antonio Salieri. Arguably one of the more epic and theatrical movie drama’s, “Amadeus” highlights the influence, both positive and negative, of the renowned artist, resulting in an experience that’s just as entertaining, as it is powerful. With its lavish set design, absorbing atmosphere, and classical music heard throughout, this is one of those films that just feels “perfect”. Granted, there’s some debate on the historical accuracies of the film, but it’s such an engaging character study of the man, and the performances are so sharp that it largely makes-up for any faults in the historical presentation. Then again, the movie is presented as historical fiction, which makes it easier to appreciate it as simply a good story as is. Like any one of Mozart’s classic songs, “Amadeus” is a work of art, with engaging character arcs at the center.
#7 It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
It’s the classic everyone loves watching around the Christmas season … but it’s so much more than that. It’s the timeless story about how one man’s ordinary life could have such a huge impact on the lives of others, which is just as inspiring as it is enduring. Local Banker George Bailey is a man with great ambitions, but his commitment to helping the people of his tiny town always seem to keep him from fulfilling his dreams. In the end, this film reminds us what a wonderful and beautiful life we truly do have, even if we don’t see our dreams through to the end. A life in service to others is still a rewarding one, and George certainly gets his due at the end. With a solid direction from Frank Capra, an outstanding lead performance from James Stewart, and a brilliant premise, “It’s a Wonderful Life” still proves to be a near flawless film, and has a little something for everyone. Being honest, I never even look at this film as one to be tied to the Christmas season … it’s simply a great movie that can be viewed any time of the year, and resonate with anyone weather they celebrate Christmas or not.
#6 Rocky (1976)
Small-town, down-on-his-luck boxer Rocky Balboa is arbitrarily chosen to take on the running heavyweight champion, but can this nobody rise to the challenge and become a somebody? While the plot of “Rocky” is formulaic and admittedly predictable, a down to earth tone, air-tight script, relatable characters, and an iconic leading performance from Sylvester Stallone all add-up to something special. It’s a movie that’s been celebrated over the years as one of the all-time great underdog stories, and it’s still being used as the main template for sports Drama’s to draw inspiration from. When it comes to a conventional “hero archetype”, I’m always drawn to the underdog the most. The hero’s that rise to the challenge, the ones that face all odds, and for me, Rocky will always be the pinnacle underdog hero. This is a character that inspires me to do more with myself, to break out, and make a difference. Even if it’s something small, Rocky has always encouraged me to stick to my passions, and follow them through to the end.
#5 Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
When a young Indian Teen is accused of cheating on “Who Want’s to Be a Millionaire”, it sends us on a trip down his troubled memory lane, and we discover that beyond having an exceptionally rough life of going from the slums to the streets, he also has a great memory that allowed uniquely specific details of culture, literature and history to stick with him. Thus, with his stored-up knowledge, he went on the game show in an effort to be spotted by a young woman he’s madly in love with … and one who’s had an equally difficult life-journey. This was yet another winner of eight Academy Awards, including best Picture, and it’s always stuck with me as a decade favorite. Few other movies mix relentless and intense emotion, while also being extremely entertaining and fun to watch, quiet like “Slumdog Millionaire”. While set in the real world, and featuring genuine real-world drama, the story is structured like a fantasy, as the events are woven around varying emotions and feelings, rather than logic or plausibility. The structure works largely thanks to Director Danny Boyle’s visually stylized direction, which gives the film a “fantastical” personality. The film is also structured with a great deal of comedy, and we find ourselves drawn to the characters through some genuinely funny circumstances. Yet, the comedy never over steps it bounds, so we can still appreciate the more tragic and heartbreaking elements. With a talented ensemble cast, a rousing musical score by A. R. Rahman, an engaging character journey, and you get a movie experience that’s every bit as exciting as it is emotionally resonate.
#4 12 Angry Men (1957)
When a young man is accused of murder, he faces the death sentence, and his only hope lies with the final verdict of twelve Jury members. Most of them believe he’s guilty of his charge, but one single man played by Henry Fonda believes the boy may be innocent, and is determined to convince his peers the same. This is one of those incredible cases in which a movie gives you so much with so little. The whole film is set in this one location, with just these twelve characters, and it is a deeply thrilling experience. There’s no action, no layered plot, just these twelve guys debating if one man should either live or die. The dialog, the staging, the performances, the varying peaks and valleys, the direction, and progression of the arguments … it all just clicks in this perfectly executed masterpiece. It’s the textbook definition of “less is more”, and in my opinion, I’d call “12 Angry Men” one of the top three greatest ensemble movies ever made.
#3 The Truman Show (1998)
Truman Burbank lives in a picture-perfect world, with a lovely wife, nice neighbors, and the material trappings of a good job. Yet, despite having what seems like a perfect life on the surface, Truman wants to challenge himself and push his limits, only to find himself more and more trapped in his perfect world. The real truth is that Truman’s life is a fake, as he’s the victim of a reality TV series that’s been broadcasting his life sense birth … which he’s been unaware of. This is one of my favorite Drama’s because it raises questions that are grounded and relatable, even if its setting isn’t real. It also raises a number of questions … how far do we push the limits of reality TV before it becomes unethical, are our lives so empty that we take more joy from watching the lives of others, and do we choose to live in a perfect world that’s made of glass versus the tangible real world, despite all its dangers and hardships. All these questions build to an emotionally resonant ending that always leaves me feeling a little wiser and more humbled. This was also one of the first times Jim Carry departed from his usual brand of comedy, giving us something more emotionally griping, and yet was still just as delightful a screen presence as he’s ever been. In the end, “The Truman Show” is what I go to the movies for, it’s a film about ides, creativity, thoughtful questions, a unique presentation, and no shortage of human subtext at its center.
#2 To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)
Here’s a story told from the perspective of a little girl named Scout Finch. Her father Atticus is a well-respected layer, but opinions on him get increasingly less favorable as he defends a black man against fabricated rape charges. Suddenly, the girls cheerful outlook on life gets challenged, as both the trial and ensuing events expose her to the evils of both racism and stereotyping. In general, I know there’s really no such thing as a perfect movie … but never the less … “To Kill a Mockingbird” is absolutely a film that I’d label as “Perfect”. It’s the gold-standard of a “Message Movie” done right, as the social themes presented are meaningful, but it’s never at the expense of the gripping drama between these characters. Seeing racism unfold through the eyes of a confused and innocent child help give this movie a distinct strength and quality. Everything else from the direction, to the atmosphere, and especially the performances are all top-tear material. The cast all-around is fantastic, but it’s Gregory Peak in the role of Atticus Finch who leaves me speechless. His closing argument alone is one of the all-time great movie speeches, and personally one of my favorite individual scenes. It’s all around a powerful movie, with timely themes, great characters, and allows leaves as impact every time I watch it.
Before I crown my Number One favorite, here are some quick Honorable Mentions …
The Grapes of Wrath
Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
#1 The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Andy Dufresne is accused of killing both his wife, and a man she was secretly having an affair with … as such, he’s sentenced for life in Shawshank prison. While there, he makes friends with inmate named “Red”, and the two make the most of their life behind prison walls. In some respects, they improve on the lives of both themselves, and all their fellow, hard as nails inmates. They only need to weather the harsh treatment of a wicked captain of the Guards, and a slimy Warden who aims to break everyone’s spirits with false hope. For me, when it comes to Drama’s that tackle themes of hope, despair, and strong friendships forged in the face of adversity and harsh reality, nothing has left quiet an impression, or felt as human as “The Shawshank Redemption”. Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman have dynamite chemistry on screen, and both deliver what I believe to be their best performances in this film. Bob Gunton and Clancy Brown also make for an imposing pair of human villains. Despite being an adaption from a Steven King novel, this is very different from his line of work, and is absolutely my favorite of his book to film adaptions. All around it’s a tale of how strong friendships can help keep hope alive when all the odds seem stacked against you. It also explores the humanity in people who are at fault for doing some terrible things in their life-time, and it makes the characters all the more interesting to analyze and explore. It’s one of those simple, yet powerful experiences that just leaves me feeling warm and inspired. The context can be harsh and unpleasant, and yet, it’s somehow an instant feel-good movie whenever I watch it. For all this and more, “The Shawshank Redemption” has remained one of my favorite movies, and it absolutely takes the cake as my personal favorite movie Drama.
Thanks for reading my countdown ... and let's try finding some value in the movies we watch.
Thanks for reading my countdown ... and let's try finding some value in the movies we watch.