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Variety's ""The Movie That Changed My Life"": 120 Celebrities Pick the Films that Made a Difference (for Better or Worse) Paperback – February 10, 2009
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Skyscraper, Spring 2009
“Hofler compiles engaging glimpses into the minds of sports stars, politicians, humorists, directors, musicians, journalists, writers, and other VIPs, finding out what motion pictures have had an impact, negative or positive, on their lives, their hopes, even their nightmares…What makes this collection of anecdotes, insights, and impressions so readable is the unexpected choices…Easy to skim through…Encapsulates what movies mean to everyone, celebrity or not, without belaboring the point, and recognizes all sorts of people, from opera directors to quarterbacks, can be disturbed, uplifted or transformed by the silver screen.”
Curled Up with a Good Book
“If you are a movie addict, this book will ring your chimes. The best thing about it is that it reaches across so many genres, age groups, vintages, and viewpoints…It’s nicely organized and spiced with many photos to remind us of the monumental films and the stellar actors of the past 70 years…[It’s] the kind of book you can carry around and thumb through at random—great reading for the doctor’s office or a weekend getaway.”
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"How interesting," you think. "You admire Atticus Finch?"
Oh, very much. A safe answer: Gregory Peck's character in the film is, in fact, the most admired man in American film.
"You do recall that Atticus Finch took the case knowing he'd lose, yes?"
Slight confusion here on the part of the public figure.
"Can you tell me, sir," you ask, "when you took on a cause knowing it was the right thing to do --- and knowing you couldn't prevail?"
The public figure suddenly remembers he must make an urgent call.
For that reason alone, I much prefer the format of the feature that "Variety" invented: 20 celebrated Americans chatting at some length about their favorites. These public figures are divided into 15 categories --- romantics, comedians, fashionistas, doctors and lawyers, Wall Streeters, athletes, historians, and more. There are only a few politicians on the list, and one of them, John McCain, happily turns out to be a real film buff. And there is only one language-challenged respondent, who is, not surprisingly, Donald Trump.
The value of "The Movie That Changed My Life: 120 Celebrities Pick the Films that Made a Difference" is not just anecdotal, though it's immensely enjoyable to read Isaac Mizrahi rave about the dresses in "Imitation of Life" and Steve Carell rhapsodize about seeing his first semi-clothes female in "Ryan's Daughter". It's far more useful as a field guide to old movies that you ought to be renting or buying --- unless, that is, your weekend is made joyous by "The Fast and the Furious 10" or "Terminator 12".
Dave Barry reminded me of the great depth in "Animal House". Kurt Vonnegut had a unique appreciation of "Bridge Over the River Kwai". I had no idea Valerie Plame Wilson's brother fought in Vietnam --- which explains her special interest in "Born on the Fourth of July". Tim Gunn reminds me I want to see "Blowup" again. Veronica Webb sends me back to "Two for the Road". And Nicole Kidman makes me want to revisit "Breaking the Waves," the movie that broke my heart in 1996.
I loved that John Waters makes a strong case for Margaret Hamilton in "Wizard of Oz". Of course Jack Nicholson talks about "On the Waterfront". Dominick Dunne's interest in "Compulsion" and "Now, Voyager" is as personal as you might expect --- and he shares all, of course. Paul Krugman sees "Chinatown" as a business movie. But Perez Hilton and "Willie Wonka"? Surprise: his reasons make sense.
Serious people have surprising choices. A noted art curator, now at Sotheby's, praises Andy Warhol's "Trash". Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Haydn Planetarium, votes for "All That Jazz". In each case, the background is as fascinating as the choice.
We're talking here about films these people saw when they were young and impressionable. So if you're a parent and your kids are gaga over Hannah Montana and her ilk, this book may be especially helpful. Rent one of these classics, show it on Family Movie Night and don't ask anything deeper than "buttered or plain". As you reconnect with greatness, you might just be bending the twig.
Some of the films that made important impacts on this group of celebrities were surprises. "To Kill a Mockingbird" is a powerful film, to be sure, but I was surprised that so many people of substance--such as Howard Dean, Robert Kennedy Jr., and Gloria Allred -found its message something that they sought to inculcate into their own lives. The same is true for "All the President's Men" and "Chinatown." Dr. Phil MacGraw was the only person to hold up "Judgment at Nuremberg," and I applaud his choice but wish more in our political leadership would embrace it and its perspective on good and evil. It is not surprising, although it is disappointing, that Perez Hilton loved "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" and that Newt Gingrich adored the John Wayne/John Ford cavalry trilogy ("Fort Apache, "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon," and "Rio Grande." Certainly understandable, singers and dancers tended to like musicals, athletes tended to like sports movies, and comedians often celebrated comedies.
"Variety's The Movie That Changed My Life" is an enjoyable way of spending a couple of stray hours. It doesn't take long to read this book, and staying with it more than an afternoon is a waste of time, so have a good time. Don't take it too seriously. After all, just as interesting and insightful book could have been written by taking a poll of random people on the street or at a summer cookout. In fact, try that. The next time you have a party, ask each of your guests what were three of the most influential movies they have ever seen. I think you and your guests will find the result fascinating.
I'm certainly not going to give a book like this more than 3 stars, for the simple fact that it took little skill to write and edit.
Use the book as a tool. Expose yourself to films you previously deemed "not my thing."
And you get many Hollywood dabblers (Tim Burton) who pressed for a title, daisy-chain through numerous tiles breaking out in flop sweat, before failing to answer the question.