The magazine published by the American Bar Association has assembled a list of the 25 best movies about the law, with another 25 on the list of runners-up. I am a lawyer from a family of lawyers and we all love movies about the law. Just about every lawyer I know would agree with the ABA’s assessment that “To Kill a Mockingbird” is the all-time best.
I am partial to the movies based on real-life cases like “Philadelphia,” “Amistad,” and “Erin Brocovich.” Another of my favorites, “Inherit the Wind,” includes dialogue lifted straight from the court transcripts. “Anatomy of a Murder has the additional distinction of being based on a book by a judge and having a real-life judge and American hero playing the part of the judge on screen. And it is the only law movie I can think of where one of the highlights is a lawyer finding the right precedent in the law library.
I know it is a popular movie, but I was surprised to find “The Verdict” on the ABA’s list, even with Paul Newman’s Oscar-winning performance. It is wrong on so many points of law that my law professor sister said she could ask her students to find all the errors as an exam for her Civil Procedure class. All of the movies on the full list, including the honorable mentions, are worth watching. There is something inherently gripping about a courtroom drama, as “Law and Order” shows several nights a week.
Interestingly, though, one of the most widely seen and highly regarded of the films takes place entirely outside the courtroom: 12 Angry Men. A friend recently gave me a copy of a a special issue of the Chicago-Kent Law Review dedicated to the 50th anniversary of that classic movie.
In , all but a few moments of the film take place in one room as a dozen men deliberate in a murder case. A teenager has been charged with stabbing his father to death. In the initial vote, all but one (Henry Fonda as Juror #8) vote “guilty.” I go on jury duty myself for the first time after Labor Day and will keep this movie very much in mind as I try to live up to one of society’s most important responsibilities.
10. The Heart of the Game A dedicated girls’ basketball coach and a talented player with some daunting challenges make this an unforgettable story.
9. 16 Days of Glory Bud Greenspan’s documentary series about the Olympics give you a front-row seat and a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the stories behind the competition.
8. “Freedom’s Fury” In 1956, the Russians were fighting in Hungary. And that year the battle moved to the sports arena in the most brutal water polo competition of all time, the one still referred to as “blood in the water.”
6. Step into Liquid (and don’t forget The Endless Summer) These brilliant films about surfing will make you feel like you are inside the waves — and introduce you to a range of wonderfully colorful characters.
4. When We Were Kings This Oscar-winning documentary about the “Rumble in the Jungle,” the famous1974 heavyweight championship bout in Zaire between champion George Foreman and underdog challenger Muhammad Ali, is mesmerizing.
3. Dogtown and Z-Boys In the 1970’s, a rag-tag group of kids invented modern-day skateboarding and the era of extreme sports began. This engaging documentary includes vintage footage and superb narration by Sean Penn.
2. Murderball Wheelchair basketball turns out to be one of the most brutally hard-fought, all-out competitions on earth.
1. Hoop Dreams “People always say to me, ‘when you get to the NBA, don’t forget about me.’ Well, I should’ve said back, ‘if I don’t make it to the NBA, don’t you forget about me.'” This unforgettable movie follows two talented young basketball players from one of Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods and their dreams of using their skill to change their lives.
Sarah Gavron is the director and Tannishtha Chatterjee is the star of the new British film “Brick Lane,” based on the best-selling novel by Monica Ali. While the book covers three decades in the life of its heroine Nazneen, a Bangladeshi girl who comes to London for an arranged marriage, the movie shows us just one transitional year. I spoke with Gavron and Chatterjee in Washington D.C.
In the US, everyone but the Native Americans is very aware of his connection to the immigrant experience, though that does not necessarily translate into being welcoming of newcomers. How is it different in the UK, which had a very homogeneous and colonialist way of looking at the world for so long?
SG: London is now a fascinating place to live because it has so many cultures, even if you’re a born and bred Londoner, you’re growing up around people who have been displaced, so you get it once removed. Sometimes you have to wait quite a long time to hear English being spoken.
Naznnen is homesick for much of the movie and yet when she has a chance to go back, she does not. Why not?
TC: There is an image she has of Bangladesh, but that Bangladesh is gone, it’s changed. The image they have in their minds is not what it was.
Do women and men find different challenges in navigating a path between assimilation and identity?
TC: In certain ways yes, especially women like Nazneen who are homemakers and don’t have an outlet outside their home or make friends through work or get to know the culture from outside. Creating a home is a bit claustrophobic because they don’t connect to anyone outside. Men in some ways have a connection but in other ways face the harsh reality of the outer world, and feel more like an outsider. Nazneen does not even know their world.
I want to believe, too, but this movie did not make it happen. Six years after the record-breaking television series ended its run, this attempt to carry the franchise forward is unlikely to make any new fans or entirely satisfy the old ones. The series made an advantage out of the disadvantages of television budgets and technology by recognizing that it is scarier to leave a good deal to the imagination than to give too much away. By deftly allowing the audience to project its own fears onto the show’s ambiguities, it tapped into its era’s skepticism and paranoia.
But its success means that expectations will be high, and so this movie disappoints with its familiarity and by simply giving too much away in both the dialogue and plot.
It still charts its course between doubt and faith. Five years have gone by and both Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) have left the FBI. Scully is practicing medicine at a Catholic Hospital called Our Lady of Sorrows, desperately trying to save a boy dying of a rare disease. The FBI asks her to find Mulder because an agent’s life is at stake. His investigation into the paranormal has been discredited and he is living as a recluse, clipping out newspaper stories, but he and Scully are persuaded to come back to help the FBI determine whether a priest named Father Joe (Billy Connolly) is really having psychic visions about the abduction of the missing agent or whether he is faking, delusional, or a perpetrator. Mulder thinks Father Joe is worth listening to, but Scully does not because of her natural skepticism and her revulsion at his record of child abuse. Still, as another woman disappears and Father Joe’s comments about the case — and one to Scully herself about not giving up — seem to have meaning, they continue to rely on him.
The question of giving up is a theme throughout the movie as several characters have to decide when future effort is pointless or too painful. But the theme is pounded too hard and too often — we end up wishing the film-makers would just give up themselves and move on to something else.
Duchovny and Anderson are magnetic personalities and gifted performers with great chemistry. A scene where they snuggle together under the covers has a welcome natural vibe that keeps us rooting for them. (Be sure to stay all the way through the credits for some additional insights.) There are some striking visuals, particularly in the first scene, with a row of black-suited FBI agents crossing a vast snowy field, stamping with poles as they follow Father Joe, in search of a clue. But part of what made the series work was the sense that the plots were almost or even about-to-be possible. This one is at the same time too pedestrian and too far-fetched. It can coast on the affection of its devoted fans, but won’t make believers out of anyone.
Women Talk About Making Movies The New York Times talked to women in Hollywood about making movies. Some of the highlights:
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SAG Awards 2015 The Screen Actors Guild awards for television and movies in 2014 are in and it looks like Patricia Arquette, Julianne Moore, and J.K. Simmons are in line to bring home Oscars on February 22. The tough one to call right now is Best Actor, down to the wire between Eddie Redmayne and Michael Keaton.
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