Among the seemingly many tasks films are supposed to accomplish for us as an audience, including entertaining us, making us laugh, making us think, scaring us, and exciting us, another important role that films seem to have acquired is that of inspiring us. These inspirational films might be incredible true stories of a select distinguished individuals who dared and withstood great personal peril and emerged victorious in the face of great odds, or simply fictional movies narrating a great tale of kindness, bravery and unbridled dedication. The after effects of watching such a film include a hair rousing sense of positivity, a wide grin, a lump in the throat, an adrenaline rush, and more often than not, all of these at once.
All of this being said, I think we can all agree that movies that are especially inspirational in troubled times such as these are overwhelming experiences, and all the more needed for the inherently positive values they bear. After all, one doesn’t always go the cinema to be deeply affected or have their eyes opened to a social calamity. The films that follow inspired many with their thoughtful retelling of some of the greatest true stories this world has seen, and even fictional ones that made us realise how sorely the world needs more of these. So, without further ado, here is a hybrid list of the best motivational movies of 2018. On this list, you will find inspiring movies based on true stories and also inspirational sports movies.
10. I Can Only Imagine
If you are a person of faith, look no further for this might just be the inspirational film of the year for you. I admit that it took a bit of research in landing the film and knowing the story behind it, and that it required me as a reviewer to keep an open mind given this being a completely new genre of film for me to get my head around, but once it ended, I realised that Christian or not, this film should appeal to you as a simple story of forgiveness, redemption, and coming to terms with any faith. The movie charts the journey of Bart Millard, the lead singer of the Christian Gospel band MercyMe, right from his early days as a child with an abusive father, to eventually struggling and coming out with the song this movie is named after, ‘I Can Only Imagine’ widely regarded as one of the best Christian songs of all time.
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9. Hichki (Hiccup)
‘Hichki’ (or hiccup) is a delightful little film with a big heart. The story is about a woman with Tourette’s Syndrome who aspires to be a teacher and serve her alma mater with the same, except that the syndrome causes her to make noises that she can’t control, often sounding like a hiccup, and mostly seen as a disability by her peers and the underprivileged students she eventually teaches, becoming the butt of jokes and several pranks that they play on her. Despite that, Naina, played with charm and efficacy by a feisty Rani Mukerjee in her comeback film, fights through and inspires her students to rise up and warm up to her, even performing exceedingly well for the school to recognise them the way it does other students. Yes, most of it is formula, predictable, and maybe even too utopian and do-good-be-good, but sometimes for a seemingly regular story to be inspiring, that is what is needed, rather than a hint of realism.
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‘Adrift’ treads on familiar territory and spends almost its entire runtime fending off a ‘been there, seen it’ feel that it inadvertently has, owing to its plot involving a shipwreck and being stranded at the sea. The familiar tropes of such a film, the helplessness upon being lost in the vastness of the seas, the hallucinations, the crying for help, the regaining of an undying spirit and finally making it ashore are all present, and quite frankly this is what the narrative of the film is all about, except that it is all based on an incredible true story, and the romantic angle, even though done to death before, succeeds in adding a lot of pathos to the events in the film. To add to the film’s credit, the non-linear cycling of the film between the present sequences of peril at the sea and the stranded and separated couple’s lives before the unfortunate event add great emotional depth that in a way makes the struggle more meaningful.
However, all of it could have been in vain if it were not all seamlessly tied together and held in place by Shailene Woodley’s incredible act. Her performance doesn’t have a single false note, even when the film hits many. Being a survival flick, it is bound to be by its very definition, an inspiring film, but through Woodley’s act and some tender moments elevated by an eloquent background score, you will come to admire the resilience of the human spirit of survival at every step that this film celebrates, even in the face of great peril.
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‘Raazi’, agreeably has the trappings of a commercial film, but where it excels and is especially worthy of commendation is its display of nationalism. It’s unapologetically, unabashedly patriotic and there is a song about it too. Yet still, ‘Raazi’ impressively steers clear of the trappings that usually accompany a patriotic film and the unnecessary jingoism and staged dialogues that more often than not have the opposite effect of invoking nationalism. The film is dedicated to the unsung heroes of India, in that one individual in particular, Sehmat Khan, who went deep undercover as the wife of a Pakistani officer from a high ranking family of officials in Pakistan during the Indo-Pak war in 1971.
Alia Bhatt gives a commendable performance as the hapless girl thrown into the situation, yet emotes like a charm in scenes that require steely determination or a show of vulnerability. There are some false notes, and even the script would give out a ton of loopholes upon closer examination, not to mention that it still has some over the top melodramatic bits. However, all of that unseen for the sake of one of the better Hindi language films of 2018.
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6. Bohemian Rhapsody
Are you seriously going to try and convince that a film on one of the greatest rock singers of all time, ending with possibly the most innovative band of all time singing ‘We Are the Champions’ at the Live Aid concert with a stadium full of fans virtually in the palm of Mercury’s hand isn’t hair rousingly inspirational for you? Freddie Mercury was a legend, a man who revelled in his own unique identity and embraced it, and ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ leaves out no opportunity to tell you that. Yes, there have been questions on the film’s credibility on what it represents as facts regarding Freddie’s life, and how good or well made the film is in totality. However, I am an unapologetic fan, and ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, just like the notes in the song, for me was an emotional rollercoaster from start to end. The sheer pleasure of seeing one of the greatest songs ever come to fruition, signature Freddie style, right up to the Mamma Mia and Galileo bits had me giddy in my seat. That coupled with a bravura leading act by Rami Malek turned out to be one of the most credible cinema experiences this year.
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5. Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero
The story of Sgt. Stubby is as legendary and inspiring as it gets. A war hero and the only veteran canine to hold the title of Sergeant ever, Sgt. Stubby’s inspiring tale deserved a retelling exactly this warm, sensitive and yes, animated. The film unfortunately didn’t perform too well at the box office, but don’t let that stop you from venturing into this movie with an open heart and coming off with a full one. You have to know the exploits of Stubby including sniffing gas bombs, catching infiltrators, and even search and rescue ops to fully appreciate the World War I hero this animated film is celebrating. But even if you don’t, this is a story worthy of celebration and the film does full justice to it. More than that, the film celebrates the bond that humans and their inseparable canine companions share. A wonderful film for kids that is as informational as it is entertaining.
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4. Welcome to Marwen
Steve Carell and Robert Zemeckis is a dream team of talent powerhouses that I don’t know why didn’t materialise earlier than this. ‘Welcome to Marwen’ is the inspiring true story of Mark Hogancamp who was beaten within an inch of his life and left for dead by a group of five men when he confessed to being a cross dresser. Recovering from a coma days later, he doesn’t have any recollection of his past life, and in an effort to chalk out new memories and as a therapeutic outlet, he builds a fictional town called ‘Marwen’ on a 1:6 scale using dolls and models in his backyard. Steve Carell owns the part in this feel good, partly animated film and I don’t know if I can see anybody else in the role. It might do you a world of good if you could get your hands on ‘Marwencol’, a documentary film based on Mark’s work that later became the inspiration for this film.
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3. Creed II
Michael B. Jordan’s rise to the scene has been astronomical, his sheer talent, determination and one incredible performance after another ensuring his spot with the Hollywood A-listers. 2018 especially was his year, featuring two incredible acts in big movies, ‘Black Panther’ in February and ‘Creed II’ in the second half of the year. For both, MBJ sculpted a physique that alone should inspire you to hit the gym. About the film, ‘Creed II’ is a solid entrant in the Rocky franchise of films and quite literally packs a punch. Yes, it does fall short of the deftness in hand and the exhilarating experience ‘Creed’ was, but this one is definitely bigger and has more pomp and show. The final fight between Adonis and Viktor Drago is explosive to say the least and is alone worth the price of admission.
However, if the ‘Creed’ series of films can develop into a separate sub franchise of its own, it would be known as much for small humane moments of intimacy as it would be for excellently choreographed fights and equally excellent camerawork during those sequences. Plus, there is always “It ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward”, the immortal piece of dialogue that just echoes through all films of this franchise.
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2. Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot
Another inspiring true story on the list, ‘Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot’ is based on the eponymous memoir by artist and cartoonist John Callahan who underwent a transformation and found and nurtured his gift of art following a drunk accident that left him a paraplegic. The movie encompasses all the stages of any film dealing with recovery, namely the act, denial, acceptance and eventually living it up, and it does so beautifully, portrayed to perfection by Joaquin Phoenix who displays a rare mix of vulnerability, desperation and the euphoria of recognition.
However, as well handled this film is at the hands of director Gus Van Sant minus a few bumps in the staring of the film, I accept that it wouldn’t have made half the impact had it not been for the impeccable performances from a well curated cast including Joaquin Phoenix playing Callahan himself, Rooney Mara, Jack Black and Jonah Hill, with Phoenix and Hill stealing the show, which should be no surprise given the sheer range of roles they have embodied and how well they have done it.
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1. First Man
I would have wanted to describe ‘First Man’ as the standard biopic on the inspirational films list and I would have too, but the film itself is far from standard. One of the most potent biopics in years, we all know what ‘First Man’ was about, and what the final outcome marking a momentous occasion for humans as a population was. Yet still, Damien Chazelle chooses to tell the story in a deeply personal and engaging way such that Niel Armstrong’s hard earned victory seems like your own, his struggles too. The film is filled with silent moments of quite introspection depicting Niel’s current and frequently conflicted state of mind, moments of doubt that are key that precede any sizeable achievement, and they could easily be construed as fillers between key scenes had Ryan Gosling’s visible dedication to the part been absent. Visually breathtaking in its final 20 minutes or so and well shot otherwise, ‘First Man’ is a win win on all technical fronts of film, a sound and heartfelt retelling of one of the most celebrated true stories of all time, and that of the indomitable human spirit.
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