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A fan's guide to favorite movies

March 16, 2009 |  8:22 am

Imitationoflife_posterIn "Variety's 'The Movie That Changed My Life,'" the Hollywood industry rag compiles bits of interviews from actors, celebrities, directors and politicians, all talking about their favorite films. The snippets of conversation are amusing, and for a casual movie viewer, a nice guide to some outstanding films of the past.

Predictably, perhaps, people generally stick to their own fields. Actors were moved by films with outstanding acting, Tim Gunn looks to classic fashion, the head of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation likes "Brokeback Mountain" (2005), and thriller writer James Patterson is a fan of Hitchcock's suspense.

One film that crops up with surprising frequency is "Imitation of Life," the 1959 version directed by Douglas Sirk. The candy-colored melodrama deals with mothers, daughters, race and ambition, and is chronicled in the new book "Born to Be Hurt: The Untold Story of 'Imitation of Life.'" Its political message deeply affected both Sherry Lansing, former CEO of Paramount Pictures, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who said, "I cried when I saw that movie." But Isaac Mizrahi, who was "a tiny, tiny boy" when he first saw it, adored it for another reason: "I remember loving that movie ... not even understanding the race content. I just loved looking at it. The colors, the composition, and, of course, the dresses, the dresses, the dresses."

In a few cases, the movies that celebrities cite seem to come out of left field. Robert Downey Jr., who gives a nod to his father's films, cites "Bad News Bears" (1976), saying it's "about a bunch of weirdos winning, and really got off on that. It's interesting to me that it seemed like nobody even really liked each other until the end of the movie. I liked it because the weirdos win." Bill Richardson, governor of New Mexico, mentions "Field of Dreams" (1989) and "The Natural" (1984) -- turns out he used to be a baseball player.

Actress and producer Salma Hayek was thinking bigger. "I was very little when I saw 'Willy Wonka' [1971]," she told Variety, "And because of it, for the first time ever, I realized there really is a place where we can make anything happen. You can have a river of chocolate. It's a place with no limits. You can let your imaging go and escape. You don't have to settle for what life has given you, as wonderful as it is. You can explore things that even defy the laws of nature and physics."

In a book that treads firmly in the casual and anecdotal, it's nice to read that some people find movies a place for possibility and imagination. Of course, Willy Wonka's chocolate river did come from a book.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

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