Amy Brenneman
Amy Brenneman

September 26, 2011

Not This Week

I had so much I was going to write about this week. Someone on Twitter asked me how it was that I was pro-choice but anti-death penalty. An awesome question, which I want to answer.


But not this week.


Then I was going to write about how low I felt this week — Friday in particular — so that I had to call Brad from a street corner, tears in my eyes, and demand of him, “Tell me some good news.” Troy Davis’ death laid me low. Heckling gays in the military at the latest GOP debate laid me low. Then reading that the certain folks in Congress want to do away with the Clean Air Act — something which my father had a hand in creating — so that our air quality would be the worst it’s been in 40 years. Well, that’s what prompted the phone call.


The good news that he gave me was age old. Hang in there. Do what you can. Surround yourself with support. But — and this was the most useful — know that it’s all cyclical. That now, in the midst of economic panic, everyone is acting panic-y. Like I do, when my children are in danger or my blood sugar is low. It’s reacting to an emergency feeling in our corporal body.


But I don’t want to write about that. Not this week.


I’m going to list some movies that I love. Mostly, because I want to hear about the movies you love. This list is in no particular order, formulated in a coffee shop today as I wait for my daughter at some various activity. And please know, I am no cinephile. This is partly by accident, partly by design.


As an actress, I don’t like to have lots of movies in my head all the time. Makes me self-conscious. When I was cast in “Heat” to work opposite DeNiro, I honestly didn’t know many of his movies. That helped me because I met him as Bob, not as an icon, and responded to the lovely, generous actor he was. One year later I finally saw “Taxi Driver” and was totally overwhelmed. “Holy crap, I thought, “I’m so glad I didn’t realize I was kissing Travis Bickle.”


So all of that is to say: this list is spontaneous, incomplete and in no particular order. I’ve also limited the list because we all have busy lives.


So here it is, with feeling:

1. “Ordinary People”

I think this came out when I was in my early teens. I remember going to see it with my mother and brother Matt. There was trouble a-brewing as my brothers and I sailed into adolescence. Nothing was exploding, yet. But being the sensitive tyke that I was, I knew that many things were not being said and many impulses were not being expressed. I sat in the backseat on the car ride home, shellshocked that a movie could embody the feeling in my own home. Also, that Mary Richards could be such a shrew. It made me realize the power of movies. Also made me realize that I wanted to be an actress.

2. “Hannah and Her Sisters”

Just saw it again the other day. I love this movie so much. Vintage Woody Allen — smart, sexy, neurotic, humane. Cinematography makes you feel like you are literally a fly on the wall. Someone told me at that time that I resembled Barbara Hershey. I walked on air.

3. “Walking and Talking”

Nicole Holefcener’s first movie, it holds a special (somewhat painful) place in my heart because I passed on being in it. I was getting married, couldn’t schedule it, blah blah blah. I regretted it for years EXCEPT that it is absolute perfection as is. Catherine Keener and Anne Heche playing best friends who are navigating the moment when one of them makes a commitment to marriage. Sounds simple, but it’s not. It’s also crazy funny and brilliantly observed. I’ve loved everyone of her moves, and this is the one that started it all.

4. “Moonlight Mile”
Also, not an objective choice, as my husband directed this one. It is so gorgeous and soulful and SEXY (always makes me blush when people say my husband really knows how to direct a good love scene …not that I take any credit … okay, maybe a little..) Jake Gyllenhaal, Ellen Pompeo, Susan Sarandon and Dustin Hoffman bring to life a story of grief and grace. Somewhat autobiographical, I was amazed to watch Brad perform alchemy in transforming his own story to a piece of art which touched so many

5. “Fearless”
I am a fan of everything Peter Weir does, and it doesn’t get better than this one. Jeff Bridges is sublime as a man transformed by a near death experience. It came out early in my courtship with Brad and became a touchstone for us. I’m thinking about the last scene now with tears in my eyes.

6. “Seventh Seal”
High minded, I know, but I’m listing it for one specific reason, which I now realize is applicable to the low state of mind I mentioned earlier. I saw it many times in college (the bad news/good news about living in Cambridge, Mass) but one time in particular stays with me. I was feeling low one night and went by myself. The story was familiar to me — the chess game with Death that gets mighty creepy, the weird hand-hold parade. But what got me was the little family in the circus. They spent the stormy night in their little camper as the storm raged. Terrible things happened that night, of which they were oblivious. That viewing, I was at the edge of my seat. I couldn’t remember if they’d survived. Suddenly my own survival was dependent on the outcome.
So at the point in the film when the sun comes out the next morning and they poke their heads out of these little curtains — happy to see the sun, happy to begin their day — I burst into tears. “The family survived!” I told the popcorn guy. The family survived. God bless Ingmar Bergman. The family survived.

Okay, honestly, I didn’t think a theme would emerge, but I guess here it is: I like movies where the family survives. I don’t mind if they get beat up in the process, or get taken down a few pegs, but the beating heart pulls through. My human family is getting beaten up these days, but hopefully we will get a script revision where our family survives. And we should definitely consult our children in those script revisions as it is their future we’re creating. I’m sure Charlotte and Bodhi would want the family to survive. Charlotte would probably want more princesses in the movie, and Bodhi, a few more space ships, but they’d definitely want the family to survive. Let’s make that happen!


And now over to you, o brilliant ones: tell me your top five movies?