It’s a new year, which means that we’ll all have resolved that this is our chance to finally exercise more, eat healthier and generally get better at life — and it’s also the start of a new year, which means that we’re still pretending that we’re really going to try this time.
With that in mind, here’s a playlist of movies to aid you in your short-lived quest: ten documentaries about people or situations that will inspire you to make dramatic changes in your own life… or, at least, feel even more guilty when you decide to settle for that snack-food-for-dinner one more time. Cue them up while your intentions are still good — but don’t feel too bad if you don’t make it through all ten. We understand.
MAN ON WIRE (2008)
In telling the story of Philippe Petit’s 1974 walk between the World Trade Towers via high wire — soon to be fictionalized in the upcoming Joseph Gordon-Levitt movie The Walk — director James Marsh managed to bring Petit onboard to create something that actually manages to make the idea of following your dreams seem like an exciting (if utterly dangerous) prospect. Of course, most of our dreams are a little more down to earth (No pun intended) than Petit’s, but nonetheless…!
I AM (2011)
If any movie was actually likely to break you of the addiction to a consumer culture that is likely responsible for the computer that brought you to this very website, it’s possibly Tom Shadyac’s first-person story about his recovery from a 2007 bike accident that left him unable to handle urban life and abandoning his L.A. lifestyle to open a homeless shelter in Virginia. Inspirational? Sure, but there’s also the possibility that you’ll end up mad at Shadyac for being such a good guy that he makes the rest of us look bad in comparison.
Perhaps you’re thinking that 2015 is the year for you to rediscover your spirituality. In that case, you need to check out Vikram Gandhi’s none-more-cynical movie, in which he grows a beard, starts using a fake Indian accent and manages to convince far too many people that he is, in fact, a spiritual guru from a village that doesn’t even exist. On the other hand, if you’ve been thinking that 2015 is the year to set yourself up as a cult leader, this movie’s kind-of a how-to. (It is, nonetheless, weirdly uplifting despite its premise.)
The reason people try to re-engage with their spiritual side is, of course, because they want to be happy. Don’t get put off by the (ironically) overly-upbeat title and poster for Roko Belic’s crowdsourced movie — there’s something both charming and, yes, inspirational about watching so many different people try to work out how to find their personal bliss. If nothing else, it should remind you that you’re not alone in trying to make this whole thing work.
JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI (2011)
True happiness, it turns out, comes in the form of pursuing your obsession to the end — or, at least, that’s one lesson to be learned from David Gelb’s fascinating, fun and effortlessly touching documentary about Jiro Ono, an 85-year-old sushi master who knows that there’s still more to learn. If you watch one movie from this list, this is the one.
HUNGRY FOR CHANGE (2012)
And after thinking about sushi, it’s time to come back to earth with the kind of bump that comes from realizing that your diet is very possibly killing you. There is, to be honest, a somewhat sensationalist, scolding tone about Hungry for Change that’s a little off-putting, but if there’s a better time of year to watch something like this than after the holidays when you’re feeling a little bloated anyway, I don’t know what it is.
TINY: A STORY ABOUT LIVING SMALL (2013)
At some point during the holiday season, you — or someone close to you — will have thought, “Hey! Why don’t we just give it all up and downsize? We can do that, right?” This movie, directed by Kevin A. Fraser, will make you realize just how difficult a prospect that actually is (and, arguably, how rewarding it is when you actually manage it). Admittedly, downsizing to life on a 130-square foot lot is maybe pushing it to the extremes a little…
ALIVE AND WELL (2013)
At first glance, Alive and Well isn’t immediately obvious as an inspirational piece; a look at the lives of seven people with the degenerative disorder known as Huntington’s Disease, it’s a sobering and wonderfully touching movie, but “inspirational”…? As it goes on, however, you see the bravery of everyone in the movie — those with the disease, their families and friends, and the doctors and medical professionals around them. Director Josh Taft has created something that both humbles the viewer and makes them promise to themselves to try harder. It’s something to see.
THE UNBELIEVERS (2013)
The one resolution no-one ever pledges — and the one that most people should — is to be smarter with every new year. This look at scientists and noted skeptics Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss is as frustrating as it is entertaining (Dawkins, in particular, might make you want to punch the screen at times), but it does demonstrate the value of questioning assumptions and trying to find a way to make the world make sense to you.
ADVANCED STYLE (2014)
No matter what resolutions you make, of course, that old bitch called the aging process is going to happen anyway. This movie is a reminder to attempt to stay as vital as possible, no matter what age you might be. Look at it this way: should you live to a ripe old age, then you’ll get to celebrate many more New Years, complete with attendant resolutions. With any luck, at some point you’ll get them right. What are the odds, right…?