Once again, the gleam of newly polished pick-up trucks dazzles the eye. Fresh Carhartts with coat-hanger creases still upon them grace the physiques of stylish men and women alike. Once again, the sophisticates of Cheyenne and the Beautiful People of Boise flock to Hardyville in anticipation, eager to see and be seen.
Yes, it's time once again for the annual Hardyville Freedom Film Festival -- the world-renowned moment when my little mid-nowhere town of Hardyville becomes bigger than Cannes, Venice, or Telluride. This is the stellar event, the only one of its kind, that annually showcases great freedom films of every era and any part of the globe.
You, too, can participate in this much-heralded film fest -- without even having to brave the perils of Lonelyheart Pass or the probings of the TSA. Because as usual, all our films are not only about freedom in some way; they're also on DVD where you can get your hands on them even if you never venture beyond Two Guns, Arizona, or Lost Cabin, Wyoming.
This year, a nominating committee of three -- yours truly, BHM webmaster Oliver Del Signore, and liberty-loving pop-culture maven Wally Conger -- have chosen finalists in a seven categories -- a total of 35 films.
And you, valliant reader and festival goer, can help determine the winners just as you did last year. Both a Judges Award and a Readers' Choice Award are given in each category. Your ballot is below. So vote early and ... well, Deputy Sheriff for the Duration Oliver will see to it that not too many people "vote often."
Now, without further ado, we present the nominated films for 2005:
Billy Elliot. In a gritty industrial town, in the midst of a hard-fought strike, a young boy discovers that he's more interested in the ballet class in the next room than the boxing class he's been enrolled in. A great, heart-soaring story about being a self-determining individual in the face of scorn and opposition.
Jerry Maguire. A ruthless and highly successful sports agent gets an attack of personal integrity. You can imagine what it does to his career. But like little Billy Elliot, he stands for what he believes and damn the torpedoes. (And he gets the girl, besides.)
JFK. Oliver Stone's powerful, complex, intense, conspiracy-laden tale of the assassination of a president. JFK tells the fictionalized story of a real-life prosecutor who tried to prove that there was more involved that day in Dallas than one "lone nut" with a cheap mail-order rifle.
Traffic. An American drug czar copes with drug abuse in his own family. A Mexican cop tries to stay alive and uncorrupted. A drug-dealer's wife takes over his business after he's busted by the DEA. This Oscar-winning, documentary style film shows the problems of both drug abuse and the abusive war on drugs.
Tucker: The Man and His Dream. Ebulliant, enthusiastic, filled with ideas, Preston Tucker has an idea for a car that will knock the lesser products of the big automakers right off the map. But powerful business interests with even more powerful government connections don't like any Johnny-come-latelies horning in on their business. (Based on a true story.)
Office Space. You think your little gray cubicle is a hellhole? Just come to work here, where Dilbert and Kafka join forces and 10 minutes with a boss or co-worker makes you want to scream. Three poor working slobs decide to get back at their company by pulling off a high-tech embezzlement scheme -- which naturally goes awry on them. (NOTE: Expect vulgar rap music)
Saving Grace. Prosperous, respectable housewife Grace Trevethyn is suddenly left with nothing but debt when her husband dies. Well, nothing but her famously green thumb, that is. And locals persuade her to put that to good use growing ganja. Yes, marijuana.
Team America: World Police. A team of All-American marionettes (yes, marionettes; don't ask why) saves the world while blowing up everything within sight. This odd spoof mocks everything from Alec Baldwin to Mission Impossible to the war on terror. (NOTE: Extremely potty-mouthed and sometimes sexually warped work by the creators of South Park)
The Castle. Darryl Kerrigan and his slightly strange family are delighted to live right at the end of the Melbourne, Australia, airport runway where the "big beautiful machines" fly so close overhead it's almost as if they're going to drop on the house. When a private-public consortium conspires to get Darryl's entire neighborhood condemned for an airport expansion, Darryl -- the ultimate "little guy" -- fights back.
Wag the Dog. A president facing a sex scandal starts a war to deflect attention from his pecadillos. Hm. Where have we heard that before?
SCIENCE FICTION (any era)
A Clockwork Orange. Alex DeLarge and his "droogs" roam the streets beating, raping, drugging -- and listening to Beethoven. You'd think their world was hell on earth. But there might be one thing even worse -- the supposed psychological "cure" for such violence. A stylish, bleak, disturbing Stanley Kubrick film with one of the world's great sound tracks.
Equilibrium. War is such a dreaded thing that all emotions have been strictly suppressed to avoid any feelings that could lead to conflict. That means no art, no music, no books -- just mandatory emotion-killing drugs. All is calm until one of the government officials in charge of enforcement misses a dose of his own medication.
Minority Report. What if police could predict crimes before they happen and hunt down the "criminals" who haven't committed them yet? A lot of elements in this late-21st-century action thriller are starting to look frighteningly familiar today.
Serenity. This film is our one exception. It's not on DVD yet. Heck, it won't even be released in theaters until two weeks after the film festival begins. But we had to put it here because ... well, having seen the tragically canceled TV series on which it is based we weren't about to let Serenity go a year without being heralded in Hardyville. So catch it in theaters or watch the series on DVD. You won't be disappointed in the TV show. And the thousands of fans who've previewed Serenity in theaters say the movie's even better.
Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope. Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, we all met Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Darth Vader, and two quirky 'droids. We pay tribute to the freedom fighters and to Hollywood history with this nomination.
ACTION-ADVENTURE (any era)
Conspiracy Theory. Sometimes even paranoids have real enemies, as Mel Gibson proves in this fast-paced, stylish, painfully romantic, and often downright terrifying thriller.
Red Dawn. When a group of high schoolers witness Soviet and Cuban troops invading their Colorado town, they grab food and weapons and become guerrilla warriors, using their knowledge of hunting, firearms, and other native skills to defeat the enemy. "Wolverines!!!"
The Outlaw Josey Wales. Weary Confederate veteran Josey Wales (Clint Eastwood) becomes an outlaw at the hands of vengeful Federals in this sweeping western that manages to be both an action film and a character study at the same time.
The Patriot. Widower and farmer Benjamin Martin wants only to live in peace -- until a cruel British officer brings the American Revolution to his home and family. Then he arms his children and takes to the woods as a guerrilla warrior.
Three Kings. A group of American soldiers in the first Gulf War sets off on a mission of pure self-interest. They've found a map they believe will lead them to stolen Kuwaiti gold. But along the way, they have to make moral choices about war and humanity. A dark and very stylish comic-drama. It has heart, but never gets maudlin.
ANIMATED FEATURES/FAMILY FILMS
A Bug's Life. An inventive and unconventional ant named Flik has never been popular with his conforming colony. After he accidentally destroys the huge tribute of food they've prepared for their grasshopper overlords, things look grim. Flik undertakes to find a group of warriors to help fight off the grasshoppers -- completely unaware that the bugs he brings back to the colony are really only a troop of inept actors recently fired from a flea's circus. But together they all win the day, of course.
A Little Princess. When her beloved father goes off to WWI, Sara is left at a New York boarding school. Word comes that he has been killed in action -- meaning no more tuition will be forthcoming. So Sara is yanked out of her privileged world and put to hard labor by the cruel headmistress. But Sara's imagination is still full of hope and magic. She continues to believe, and to teach others, that every girl can be a little princess, no matter what her circumstances.
Lemony Snicket's a Series of Unfortunate Events. Alas for the poor Baudelaire children! When their wealthy parents die, their clueless guardian thrusts them into the homicidal arms of an unheard-of relative, Count Orloff, who "loves" them only for the money he hopes to get after their deaths. Violet, Sunny, and Klaus gradually learn that the adults supposedly in charge aren't going to save them, and they must take charge of their own lives in this dark and witty comedy of misfortune.
The Incredibles. Mr. Incredible, his fiancee Elastigirl, and his best friend Frozone are among the many superheros who daily save the world from mayhem. But times change. Rescuees complain and sue. Public opinion says it just isn't fair for some people to be more special than others. Fifteen years later, after enduring a miserably "unspecial" and middle-class life in the Superhero Relocation Program, Mr. Incredible is lured into what he believes is an adventure that will use his powers once again. It's really a trap -- from which Elastigirl and their two frustrated super-children will have to rescue him (and, with Frozone's help, save the day).
The Iron Giant. It's 1957. The first Russian satellite is in space and Cold War paranoia is in the air. One night, something crashes off the coast of Maine and an enormous robot emerges. A little boy, Hogarth Hughes, later finds this Iron Giant in the woods, befriends it -- and ultimately (with a little help from his mom and a beatnik sculptor) defends it against the entire might of the U.S. government.
CLASSICS (More than 30 years old)
Duck Soup (1933). The Marx Brothers pillory politics as Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) rules -- and misrules -- the imaginary nation of Freedonia. Chico, Harpo, and Zeppo play a confusing array of spies and counterspies. When the ruler of the competing nation of Sylvania declares his love for Firefly's well-heeled patroness, Firefly declares war in a film that many people consider height of Marxist wit and satire.
The Manchurian Candidate (1962). Raymond Shaw is a Korean War hero. He's also a man with a deadly secret: He's been brainwashed into being a sleeper agent for the communist Chinese. With one phone call, the Reds can transform Shaw into a deadly assassin -- unless a fellow veteran can stop them. This stark political thriller is as gripping today as when it was released; far better than the recent remake.
The Mouse That Roared (1959). The tiny Duchy of Grand Fenwick is in economic trouble. A California firm has produced a cheap knockoff of the wine that is their only export. The solution: Declare war on the United States -- and lose. After all, Americans are known to be astonishingly generous to former opponents. There's just one problem; through a collosal happenstance, Grand Fenwick wins. Peter Sellers plays three roles in this charming farce.
Shenandoah (1965). Jimmy Stewart plays a proud Virginia widower with an enormous family of mostly-grown sons. At dinner, they thank the Lord for food -- with a reminder to Him that they did all the work themselves. The family is even less beholdin' to government than to God. When the Confederacy wants his sons to fight, this strong, loving father tells the recruiters that neither his family nor his farm belong to any state. But when his youngest son is taken prisoner by Yankees, the family must fight after all.
The Mark of Zorro (1940). If this doesn't buckle your swashes, then no movie can. Don Diego Vega returns from Spain to California to find that his father has been forced out as alcalde (mayor). Evil, greedy men are in power. They torture peasants in the cause of squeezing more taxes out of them. So, pretending to be a useless fop, Don Diego takes on the identity of Zorro -- the Fox, avenger of the tormented citizens -- and takes his father's realm back from the usurpers.
FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILMS
Burnt by the Sun. It's the terrible Stalinist era of the 1930s, time of famine and political purges. But Col. Kotov, a hero of the revolution, and his family are enjoying a summer idyll in their dacha, surrounded by a chatty and madcap group of relatives and friends. Then his wife's former lover Mitia enters the scene. Mitia brings with him an ominous, though unspoken, political agenda that casts a dark shadow over the beautiful summer. (Russian with English subtitles. Winner of the 1994 Oscar for best foreign film.)
East-West. This film is one of the few to show the depths of the brutality of Stalin's Soviet Union. When Stalin invites Russian emigres to return to their motherland after WWII, those naive enough to accept are killed or imprisoned. Alexei, a doctor, is spared because he is useful to the Soviets. Unfortunately, the KGB suspects Alexei's wife of spying. People who were there say this movie conveys the real horror of that time. (French and Russian with English subtitles.)
Life is Beautiful. The first half is perhaps the most delightful romantic comedy you'll ever see, as an Italian waiter, Guido, meets and dramatically woos the woman of his dreams. They marry and have a son. Then the Fascists cart Guido off to a concentration camp. Through a fluke, Guido keeps his small son by his side, hides him, and -- to save him from ever understanding the horror of his plight -- persuades the little boy that all their privation is part of a huge game that the child can win if he can be strong and endure. Not a realistic film about the Holocaust. But a great film about love and hope. (Italian with English subtitles)
To Live. An ordinary Chinese family endures through years of revolution, privation, and Communist rule. Its members manage to hold together, to cope, and to grow in love through hardship. Rather than focusing on the worst horrors of Mao's China, To Live shows how ordinary life goes on even as catastrophe rends a nation and a culture to the bone. (Mandarin with English subtitles.)
Z. In Greece, a "progressive" politician with a heroic image threatens the conservative, militaristic political establishment. When he is beaten to death after a rally, officials first dismiss the beating as an auto accident, then as the action of a pair of drunks. But a relentless and principled examining magistrate keeps asking questions that lead to the top of the Greek establishment. An unabashedly "left-wing" film, but a first-class political thriller based on real-life events. (French with English subtitles.)
And that, dear reader-judges is it. Now, you have five weeks to watch and vote. So go rent, buy, or borrow those DVDs, then come back and cast your vote by October 20.
All of Hardyville is waiting to hear your voice.
Experience the brand new novel by Claire Wolfe and Aaron Zelman: RebelFire: Out of the Gray Zone. It's the story of one boy's dangerous quest to fulfill his dreams in a world where dreams are dulled with prescription drugs and everything, everyone, everywhere, is watched and controlled. First four chapters and reader reviews are online.