...Ambitious "My Epic December"
For all you dedicated cinephiles (big word!), I have big news. Conceived on Thanksgiving, and fully realized by January 1, I have dubbed this next month – “My Epic December.”
See, every Thanksgiving I watch my fave ol’ American epic film called “Dances With Wolves” (1990). Ah, what beautiful landscapes. Ah, the wispy plains of Nebraska and South Dakota. I can hear that tall grass whispering circa 1860 something.
“Dances With Wolves” is my Thanksgiving jam. I watch it faithfully every year, typically while I’m cooking fresh cranberries on my stove. Mmm. So delish. And I love the way they POP!
Anyway, winning seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, apparently I’m not the only “Dances” fan. And this movie even made my Top 25 Favorite Films post back on January 10, 2016. It’s #22. I call it an – “epic story of America that needs to be told… sprawling, grand, gorgeous.”
Starring Kevin Costner as traumatized Civil War soldier, turned hero, turned Sioux Indian sympathizer and convert, this movie is chock full of rich American history. It has excitement, danger, romance, as well as regret and sadness. And as mentioned, this is all set in an absolutely breathtaking region of the US.
“Dances With Wolves” ultimately chronicles the final decade or so of the Sioux Indians living freely in the US, and as a viewer, you can’t help but heave a deep sigh when reading this film’s post-script. You’ve gone on a two-plus hour adventure with Kevin and (spoiler alert) even though you’re relieved that he and his new Sioux wife will survive, the magnificent nomadic culture of the Sioux people is vanishing. And would vanish. See, that’s the thing with epic films, right? We often know the historical ending even before the cinematic story has begun. Another sigh.
Oxford Dictionary defines the word “epic” in a few ways – the first being “a long poem, typically one derived from ancient oral tradition, narrating the deeds and adventures of heroic or legendary figures or the history of a nation.” And another way? “A long film, book, or other work portraying heroic deeds and adventures or covering an extended period of time.”
Bingo. “Dances” certainly fits the bill of an epic, which got me thinking – “What other grand epics do I have all cozied up in my film collection?” Turns out I have a lot. So, my friends, with all of us pretty much back in lockdown again with rising coronavirus numbers, I find myself plotting out my cinematic December. If I’m relegated to these four walls essentially for the next four weeks, well, I’m determined to make the best of it.
And maybe you’d like to join me? While quarantining at your own house, of course. If you’re so inclined, below is my “epic” December movie itinerary. If you don’t own these treasures yourself, you might have luck on your cable’s On Demand service, or the usual standbys like Amazon Prime or Netflix. You might even run across them on YouTube. Good luck!
MY "EPIC" ROYAL FLUSH
Week 1 of December – "Doctor Zhivago" (1965) – RUSSIA
Lucky #11 on my Top 25 Favorite Films list, I describe it as a – “breathtakingly poetic epic love story of the winter wonderland variety… ‘Nobody loves poetry like a Russian.’” I also wrote an individual post on ol’ Dr Z. on November 19, 2016. Starring charismatic, enigmatic Omar Sharif as the title character, this movie is so visually beautiful, and the story is so tragically arresting, that I’m getting all choked up just writing this. The mood of this film transports you to "turn of the century" Russia in a big way. I am forever in love with a yellow daffodil, and the jingling of a horse-drawn sleigh. And (can’t forget to mention) actor Alec Guinness as the “narrating” brother to Dr. Zhivago is brilliant. He’s truly, perfectly haunting.
Week 2 of December – "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp" (1943) – GREAT BRITAIN
A spin-off from an actual black and white political cartoon called “Colonel Blimp,” this movie is magically colorful. It’s also so unbelievably sweet, witty, clever, and touching. (Can you tell I’m a fan?) It traces the complicated life of a British soldier, Major-General Wynne-Candy, starting with the Boer War in 1902, then World War I in 1918, and then World War II in 1939. Deborah Kerr plays three characters in three different time-frames, and each is a romantic interest of Wynne-Candy (Sugie). It’s uniquely tender. And Wynne-Candy’s friendship with actor Anton Walbrook’s German soldier character is also uniquely tender. Mostly, though, to watch a movie about World War II shot during World War II, and in color, and in a war zone (Europe), is pretty remarkable. This film is a national treasure and historical artifact. Sidebar – rumor has it British Prime Minister Churchill despised this movie for its “kind” portrayal of a German soldier, and this movie wasn’t even released in the US until two years later in 1945.
Week 3 of December – "Evita" (1996) – ARGENTINA
We all have that iconic image of actress Madonna standing on the pink balcony of the Casa Rosada in Buenos Aires, and singing – “Don’t cry for me, Argentina!” A film adapted from the popular stage musical, I once was obsessed with this movie (and its music). The Andrew Lloyd Webber score is superb, and for me personally, actors Madonna and Antonio Banderas were excellent casting choices. I feel like the ‘90s were a great decade for “epic” films, and “Evita” doesn’t disappoint. For those not “in the know” about Evita, her full name was Eva Peron, and she was a beloved, though controversial, political and spiritual figure of Argentina back in the 1940s and ‘50s. And (spoiler alert), she died at a painfully young age. Yes, her life was the “stuff of legend.” Watch Evita and guaranteed you’ll be hypnotized by the music, and yes, the color baby blue.
Week 4 of December – “Australia” (2008) – AUSTRALIA
If you’re a fan of director Baz Luhrmann, then “Australia” is without a doubt a “great watch.” It’s got awesome Baz hallmarks – creative visual effects, larger-than-life characters and settings, and a grand “wisp o’ magic.” Baz is in his home country of Australia, and is telling us all about its tough history of colonization, race relations, war, and harsh but beautiful terrain. And it’s all told through the lens of a handful of clashing characters – helmed by Aussie actors Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman. It’s gorgeous film-making, and there's over-the-top adventure. Get your fix of bouncy kangaroos, stampeding cattle, and the sweaty Outback. I know this film received mixed reviews, but I like it. Worth noting – like “Dances With Wolves,” the post-script of “Australia” also makes me sigh. Epics are serious business, after all.
And A Bonus Film...
December 28 – December 31 – “The Sound of Music” (1965) – AUSTRIA
Now I know this film is popular at Easter, but I actually prefer to watch “The Sound of Music” at Christmas. There’s something about watching this movie as a soothing balm to all the “Xmas Chaos.” Imagine sprawling yourself out on your sofa with a blanket, a glass of egg nog, with your Christmas lights blinking, and you're eating some European chocolate (maybe Austrian or neighboring Swiss?). If you live in New England like me, there might even be festive snow jingling down outside your window. Can we say heaven? You then get whisked off to the stunning Alpine land of Austria, where you learn about a spunky nun-in-training, turned governess, turned reluctant love interest to a truly intimidating and gorgeous man named Captain von Trapp. Set right before World War II, and in those amazing mountains called the Alps, this movie just makes me smile – and sing! Further, like so many epics, this movie also brings the serious political gravity of the time to the foreground, making this film all the more riveting. And it’s a true story, even triple riveting. (Is that possible?) Final note – I adore the puppet show!
What are some of your fave "epic" films? Drop me a line in the "Hola" comments section. Maybe I'll do a follow-up post!!!