Burnout has been talked about a lot over the last year in relation to dealing with this pandemic. I’ve felt it in every sense, including when it comes to watching movies. “How can it be hard to watch a movie?” you might ask. And the answer is, in a way, that it’s really not. You go on Netflix, pop in a DVD, rent something from RedBox, and boom, you’re watching a movie, simple enough. But for someone like me, who’s decided to build her entire career around movies, it’s just not that easy anymore.

I am one of those film people that champion the theater experience. It’s what creates the magic. And that magic is part of the reason why I have any drive to do what I do. I’ve since lost the reason. I don’t have the drive to watch movies because I can’t experience them in a way that makes me feel whole. As cheesy and cliche as it might sound, there’s truly a piece of myself missing without it.

That’s why I wanted to take a moment to remind myself –– and maybe you too, reader –– why film is still as magical as I have always believed it to be. So, here are some movies whose magic helped shape who I am today.

Barbie of Swan Lake (2003)

Barbie of Swan Lake is probably one of the earliest instances of me being enamored with a film for reasons aside from it making me laugh. It was the first time I had ever heard Tchaikovsky’s music and it has since become a favorite of mine. More importantly, though, it introduced me to my dream of becoming a dancer. The way Odette moves with the music as if she were gliding across the notes themselves was mesmerizing. From this point on, when I would daydream about being someone else, it would come in the form of me dancing. Kind of like in Sucker Punch (2011) where the main character Babydoll imagines her and the women around her to be warriors fighting in this imagined realm when in actuality, they’re dancing. There was a point in my life where I went through the “rejecting feminity” phase. Films like this, though, never let me forget how enjoyable it is to like pretty things. That however I wanted to perceived as a woman was my choice and mine alone.

Hairspray (2007)

Musicals are an integral part of who I am as a person and it would be ridiculous of me to not include at least one on this list. Hairspray is my favorite movie musical for a few reasons. It’s the first one (excluding Disney movies) I remember seeing, I’m pretty sure I saw this in theaters, the music is iconic, and it touches on an important topic like race relations in the 60s. I’m not saying it does it masterfully. But for someone who was 7 years old, it got the point across. Unbridled joy is the magic that musicals present. The experience of watching one is just so freeing and I love it so much. I know that musicals are pretty unfavored within the film community but I honestly don’t get why. Why wouldn’t you want to get up and sing and dance spontaneously for absolutely no reason? It’s cathartic as hell. If I could sing I probably would’ve been a theater kid, but I can’t so I was a band kid. In my mind, band kids are just theater kids who can’t sing.

Coraline (2010)

My Coraline DVD came with 3D glasses. At the beginning of the film, the Other Mother is creating her Coraline doll. As she sews the button eyes into the head, the needle pops out of both the buttonhole. It would also pop out of the TV screen. It’s an image that has never left me. The gothic horror coupled with the stop-motion animation gives this film a wholly unique aesthetic. It elevates it above your typical animated kids’ film and tapped into something that I didn’t know I enjoyed so much. Sometimes, I would put it on just to look at the trippy visuals and eccentric colors. Coraline may or may not have been the start of my affinity for creepy things. But it was definitely the beginning of my understanding that animation wasn’t just movies for kids, but a medium unlike any other.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

MARTIN FREEMAN as the Hobbit Bilbo Baggins in the fantasy adventure “THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY,” a production of New Line Cinema and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures (MGM), released by Warner Bros. Pictures and MGM.

I know that it’s borderline sacrilegious to say that I prefer any of the Hobbit films over any of the Lord of the Rings films. But the book was my first introduction to the Tolkien universe so An Unexpected Journey is my Fellowship of the Ring. I read The Hobbit when I was in 7th grade and I fell in love with it. This film came out that same year and I still remember the way I felt sitting in the theater and seeing those words come to life right in front of me. Do I even have to say it, reader? It was magical. The sense of adventure, the scale of the world, the ensemble of characters, it’s got it all. If it wasn’t obvious by now, fantasy is my favorite genre of any medium. The way this film was able to sweep me off my feet and launch me into an entirely new dimension was unlike anything I had ever experienced before.

Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

I tried not to pick any films that I’ve already written about but that’s just not possible when it comes to Spider-Verse. This is one of the greatest films I have ever seen. Am I being dramatic? A little. Am I right? Probably. The ability to not only make a holistically unique superhero movie in the age of superhero movies, but a Spider-Man movie at that, is such an incredible feat. But to then make it one of the most emotionally driven and human stories on film is on another level. The “anyone can wear the mask” sentiment is so rich and important and necessary in this era of people trying to find their way in the world. Couple that with the “leap of faith” theme, first spoken by Peter to Miles and then used by Miles back at Peter in a full-circle moment that never fails to make me cry every single time I see it. And then add the slick animation, fantastic voice cast, and every other aspect of the film? What more can I say. It’s simply a masterpiece.

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