When I'm feeling low and uninspired, these films can usually help to get me back on track. Of course, anyone's "Top 10" list is up for debate, but these are a few that work for me:
10. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1997). This movie is less about writing than it is about the writer who inspired it. Get out the LSD, folks--you're gonna need it. Johnny Depp stars as the trippy journalist Raoul Duke, based on the '60's Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson. Thompson pulled no punches with his renegade approach to writing and politics. He was a true individual who had little respect for convention (after he died in 2007, his ashes were launched into space. Depp, a close friend, helped make it happen.) Depp is joined on screen by Benicio del Toro, who plays the equally wigged out Dr. Gonzo.
9. Freedom Writers (2007). A film about the healing powers of journaling. Hilary Swank stars as an inner-city English teacher who helps her students to find their inner voices and putting them on paper. Based on a true story.
8. Misery (1991). Stephen King takes a walk through the dark side of literary stardom in this classic. James Caan plays Paul Sheldon, a writer who veers off the road during a snowstorm and flips his vehicle. Fortunately (or unfortunately, as he later finds out), he's rescued by Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates), his unabashed "biggest fan". Annie, a little mentally unstable to say the least, holds Paul prisoner in her house. He is forced to write his way to freedom and churn out a final Misery book to appease Annie. Writer's block isn't an option for him this time around.
7. Moulin Rouge! (2001). Although a bit over the top, the heart of this film lies with Christian (Ewan McGregor), a penniless writer who strives to find truth, beauty, peace, and love. He finds it with Satine (Nicole Kidman), a beautifully tragic showgirl at the glamorous Moulin Rouge. Set in turn-of-the-century Paris, the film's soundtrack includes some classic tunes re-worked and performed by both Kidman and MacGregor (both have surprisingly amazing voices!) Best song by far is "Come What May". I wanted to like this film much more than I did, but I enjoyed MacGregor's tortured poet character. John Leguizamo also appears in the film as artist Toulouse Lautrec.
6. Possession (1998). Based on A.S. Byatt's bestselling novel, this film has all of my favorite elements--love, passion, intrigue, libraries, and, of course, writing! Aaron Eckhart plays Roland Mitchell, a research assistant who comes across secret love letters written by Randolph Henry Asch, the 18th century poet Mitchell happens to be studying. He enlists the help of Maude Baily, a snooty fellow English professor, played by Gwyneth Paltrow. The two stumble across a love affair that Asch kept hidden for years. An enjoyable literary love story.
5. The Paper (1994). A glimpse into the fast-paced world of big city journalism. Michael Keaton takes the lead as an overworked, underpaid reporter working for a struggling city daily. When the paper stumbles upon a big scoop, Keaton gets the chance to prove himself. Will he stick with his boss and mentor, played by Robert Duvall, or go with the new opportunity? I thoroughly enjoyed this film, though it didn't set the box office world on fire. A stellar all star cast--besides Keaton and Duvall, Marisa Tomei and Randy Quaid also star--put in solid performances.
4. The Hours (2001). Based on Michael Cunningham's novel about three characters in three different time periods directly or indirectly linked to Virginia Woolf's book Mrs. Dalloway. Nicole Kidman won an Oscar for her portrayal of the tragic author (I think her fake nose sealed the deal). Julianne Moore plays a 1950's housewife who sacrifices everything to start a new life. Meryl Streep plays the modern-day best friend of a dying AIDS patient (the son Julianne Moore's character had abandoned thirty years ago).
3. Sylvia (1996). A biopic about the tortured and tragic poet Sylvia Plath (Gwyneth Paltrow). Life, writing, loves (including a tumultuous marriage to writer Ted Hughes), this beautiful film captures the highs and lows of the author of The Bell Jar.
2. Miss Potter (1996). I hadn't given much thought to the life or work of Beatrix Potter before, so this film intrigued me. Part biography, part love story, and part animated fun (some of Potter's drawings come to life), this film was really enjoyable and, in my opinion, was sorely overlooked. Renee Zellweger plays Beatrix Potter and Ewan MacGregor plays her publisher and eventual love interest. A glimpse into the life of the creator of some of literature's most beloved characters.
1. Shakespeare in Love (1998). One of my favorite films ever, not just about writing. What I like most about this movie is that it humanizes William Shakespeare, played by Joseph Fiennes, in all of his womanizing, tormented, writer's block-suffering glory. It also provides a good idea of daily life in Elizabethan England. The film focuses on Shakespeare's years in London as a hired player and playwright. In my humble opinion, no other movie best captures the beauty and torment of producing a literary work. The rest of the cast--including Ben Affleck, Judi Dench, Rupert Everett, Geoffrey Rush, and Gwyneth Paltrow--are at the top of their game. (OK, so maybe I'm biased.)