Although it returned from the Oscars ceremony this past weekend without a prize to its name, Philomena has had an incredible run over the past few months. It’s the story of a disgraced journalist (Steve Coogan) who helps an elderly Irish woman (Judi Dench) track down the son who was taken from her almost fifty years before.
It’s a funny and moving film that got us thinking about true stories on the big screen. It occurred to us that most films based on real events are about world leaders, famous musicians or great sportsmen. And of course many of those films are incredible.
But there’s something quietly noble in those films about regular people: normal folk who aren’t prodigiously talented or internationally famous. A film like Philomena can make us see that people around us have their own compelling stories to tell, and that many of those tales are worthy of the big screen treatment.
Daniel Ruettiger grew up in an Illinois mining town with dreams of attending the University of Notre Dame and playing for their beloved American Football team. Without the money nor the grades to attend the school and lacking the physical size required for the game, this dream seemed impossible. Like all films about pursuing the American Dream, Rudy succeeds through a combination hard work, good luck and the occasional kindness of strangers.
Starring Sean Astin (Sam from Lord of the Rings), Rudy has been listed by the American Film Institute as #54 in their 100 Most Inspiring Films of All Time. It also features some of the earliest roles of Hollywood big-hitters Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn. In the States, the film has a somewhat mixed following thanks to the divisive popularity of Notre Dame’s football programme. Just go to a bar in Michigan and start chanting ‘Rudy! Rudy!’: you’ll see what we mean.
When Ken Carter returned to his old high school as the coach of its basketball team, he found a squad of talented players who struggled academically and were disrespectful both on and off the court. Determined to instil discipline and the value of education in his team, Coach Carter made headline news when he locked the team out of the school’s gymnasium in the middle of an unbeaten season. Going against the wishes of the kids’ parents and the local community, he refused to let his players on the court unless they attended classes and improved their grades.
Carter was played by Samuel L Jackson in this inspiring film based on his story. Keep your eye out for Channing Tatum in his first film role as one of Carter’s ill-disciplined players.
The Pursuit of Happyness
Chris Gardner is multi-millionaire stock broker with his own Chicago-based brokerage firm. But he wasn’t always a success. Back in the early 80s, he was a single father who often resorted to sleeping in homeless shelters while working full-time at Bear Stearns. His rags-to-riches story was made into a film starring Will Smith and his real life son Jaden. Although the film took some liberties with the facts of his life, director Gabriele Muccino positions Gardner’s life as a modern American Fairy Tale. One that takes a harrowing detour through the subject of urban poverty.
Julie & Julia
While this film serves as a biography of famed TV chef Julia Child (as played by Meryl Streep), it also tells the story of a woman whose life was affected by Child in a way she never expected. Julie Powell was an aspiring writer with an unpleasant secretarial job. As a form of escape, she set herself the task of cooking all 524 recipes in Child’s book Mastering the Art of French Cooking. She chronicled it all in a blog that quickly amassed a large following of readers drawn to her frank writing style and her insane dedication.
As played by Amy Adams in the film, her mission almost threatens to ruin her life before becoming the source of her greatest success. As framed by writer/director Norah Ephron, Julie’s personal story of triumph is every bit as significant as the life of her famous counterpart.
A former mid-west beauty queen, Erin Brokovich was an instrumental part of the largest direct-action lawsuit settlement in US history. As a legal clerk with no formal training in the law, Brokovich’s investigated a major gas company’s liability in contaminating a small town’s water supply. With her unusual manner and tenacious work ethic, she and her employer managed to secure a $333 settlement for the affected residents.
Julia Roberts played Brokovich in a film directed by Steven Soderbergh: a role that won her the Best Actress award at the 2001 Oscars.
On Boxing Day of 2004, Maria Belon was relaxing by the pool in a Thai beach resort. Metres away, her husband was busy playing with their three sons, unaware that moments later the coast would be hit by a devastating 30ft tsunami. The violent wave swept her miles inland, where she sustained significant internal injuries. Convinced that her family must have perished in the disaster, Maria’s struggle to survive and find her family was nothing short of epic.
For the big screen version of Maria’s story, her family’s nationality was changed to British in order for recognised international stars to be cast. She was played by a career-best Naomi Watts while her husband’s character was Ewan McGregor. Despite this, the film has been lauded for its authenticity and sensitive handling of a recent tragedy. This was one of 2013’s finest films.