There’s an expression in Serbian: “Kak na filmu.” It means “like in the movies.”
In other words, something has happened that only happens in the movies. The good guys win, the boy wins back the girl’s heart, or the underdog triumphs.
Most of our experiences in life are, well, pretty average. Things sorta work out. And then they sorta don’t. There’s troubles. There’s worries. There’s woes. Does she still love me? Is this job gonna work out? How am I gonna pay rent this month? I don’t have dental insurance anymore so what am I gonna do about this toothache?
Things like that. Things that wear you down.
And that’s why we have the movies. In the movies, things work out. She still loves you. The company does great and you get promoted. You buy a really nice house and stop worrying about rent or toothaches.
In other words, kak na filmu.
Kak na filmu is why we love the movies. That’s us up there on the screen. That’s the story we want to be told about our lives. The one where the underdog (you, me, all of us) triumphs. Here are our five favorites:
Before Rocky movies became almost self-parodying crap, there was the original. If you haven’t seen this in awhile, it’s time you give it another watch because this is a great movie. The film was nominated for ten (ten!) Academy Awards, and won Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Film Editing. Sylvester Stallone’s screenplay is a masterwork, and was nominated for an Academy Award. Screenwriting legend William Goldman said that Stallone could have become one of the greatest screenwriters of all time had he focused on writing instead of acting. The movie was made on a miniscule budget of about $1 million, which meant they couldn’t get big stars like Robert Redford or James Caan to play the lead and went with Stallone himself. For Adrian, they cast Talia Shire after rejecting Susan Sarandon because she was “too pretty.” See it again. Stand up and cheer all over again.
The best part about this movie is that it’s pretty much what actually happened. It’s based on the high school team from Milan, Indiana, and their thrilling run to the Indiana State Basketball Championship in 1954. There are a number of differences between the story in Hoosiers and the true story, but the final game in the film is nearly identical to what happened in the real game, including the final game-winning shot. Both were taken from identical places on the court. Wonderful performances here from Gene Hackman, Barbara Hershey, and especially Dennis Hopper, who was nominated for an Academy Award for his supporting role work. Also, pay close attention to Jerry Goldsmith’s incredible score. It’s a gem of film composition.
This is another ‘inspired by a true story’ movie that just about everyone loves, and, frankly, needs to watch again right about now. This story about the Jamaican bobsled team competing in the 1988 Calgary Olympics is just plain fun and more than a little inspiring. No, they don’t win the Gold Medal. They don’t even finish the competition. But the mere fact that Jamaicans go to the Winter Olympics is inspiring enough. In the movie, the team members are portrayed as sprinters on the Jamaican national sprint team who failed to qualify for the Olympics. The real story is even better: the real team members were not elite sprinters, just fast guys from the Jamaican Air Force. John Candy is marvelous as the fictional American coach.
Not all underdog movies have to be sports movies. And The Verdict is certainly proof of that. Frank Galvin (a luminous Paul Newman) is an alcoholic ambulance-chasing lawyer in Boston whose once-promising career was ruined by a jury tampering charge and lots of whisky. He lands a medical malpractice case that should be a simple settle-quickly-out-of-court case involving the powerful Archdiocese of Boston and one of their hospitals. And then, almost inexplicably, Galvan decides to do the right thing and fight. And fight. And fight. After setback, after setback. The cast is outstanding and includes James Mason, Jack Warden, Charlotte Rampling, Milo O’Shea, and Lindsay Crouse. It was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director (Sidney Lumet), Best Actor (Newman), Best Supporting Actor (Mason), and Best Adapted Screenplay (David Mamet).
An inspirational movie about a guy making a lot of money as a stock trader? Yes. But it’s more than that. This film, based on Chris Gardner’s memoir of the same name, is a gritty portrayal of overcoming incredible odds—including homelessness—to become successful. It’s Will Smith’s finest performance as an actor. The grinding sense of relentlessly fighting off failure is perfectly captured here by Smith. Unforgettable.
David Raether is a veteran TV writer and essayist. He worked for 12 years as a television sitcom writer/producer, including a 111-episode run on the ground-breaking ABC comedy “Roseanne.” His essays have been published by Salon.com, The Times of London, and Longforms.org, and have been lauded by The Atlantic Magazine and the BBC World Service. His memoir, Homeless: A Picaresque Memoir from Our Times, is awaiting publication.