Diamond-Cut Life

How To Be Rich In What Matters

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The Five Best Movies You Haven’t Yet Seen

October 13th, 2013 by Alison · 10 Comments · entertainment

What if real life scenarios could provide compelling entertainment? Stories that you and I could inhabit? Movies without exploding helicopters, not set in millionaire mansions, about people who neither commit nor solve spectacular crimes?

These five movies I love are about people with lots of heart, and without lots of money. They face hard things, and their responses to those hard things transform them. The characters in these movies end up being rich in what matters.

Finding wholeness via horses in Mongolia.

Horse Boy

Meet the Isaacsons, whose autistic little boy has violent fits that endanger him and those around him. Western medicine hasn’t helped, but it’s clear the boy is calmed by contact with animals. The family sojourns to Mongolia, where the first horsepeople tamed the horse thousands of years ago. Mongolian shamans see the boy’s illness as spiritually based. Their cure involves an uncanny analysis, unusual cleansing rituals . . . and horses. Horse Boy is a documentary adventure that bridges the divide between two different cultures and two different kinds of creatures. As often happens in life, bridging the divides leads to wholeness, even joy.


The title character is actually an artist whose medium is pie (OK, she’s also a waitress). I hungrily wished I could eat the pies I watched her making. At any rate, she lives in a small rural town and is married to a bullying man who controls her and all the tips she earns. She gets pregnant, which spikes her unhappiness and desperation to new levels. Interestingly, she’s the only waitress who can get along with the cranky, wealthy old customer played by Andy Griffith. This heroine makes both good choices and poor choices, similar to the title character of my novel Revelle. Also like Revelle, her choices lead to an ending that is surprising but satisfying.

Sunshine Cleaning

“In high school you might have been hot shit, a cheerleader. But now? You’re nothing.”  This is what the main character, a vulnerable, working-class Amy Adams, is told by another woman. Her fatherless son licks walls and gets ousted from schools, her  younger sister can’t keep a job, and her father, played by Alan Arkin, is a loving, frustrated, would-be entrepreneur. The heroine, strapped for money, starts a business cleaning up after suicides and crime scenes. The way she describes Sunshine Cleaning to a reunion of cheerleaders is a startling, luminous moment, a window into the fact that the most humble, menial job can be a spiritual calling. I don’t want to give any more away. Quirky, compelling, heartfelt entertainment. 

The Road Home

Set in rural China with English subtitles, this visually gorgeous, soft-spoken movie is a love story in which the only nudity is that of the heart. My husband introduced me to this movie shortly after we first met eleven years ago. We sat there at the end, holding hands, our faces glistening with tears, sent into a deep, soulful place beyond words. Stories like this one make us remember how similar and connected all of us are, no matter in what time and place we happen to be living.  

Searching For Sugarman

This is the most surprising true story I’ve ever encountered. In the 70′s, Rodriguez was a rock artist that nobody had ever heard of. Or at least, that was the case in the U.S. It turns out his albums were famous and beloved in South Africa, unbeknownst to Rodriguez. None of his many fans knew what had become of him, or whether he was even still alive. The search for this humble, gifted man, and what ensues after he is found, had me riveted to the screen, and smiling deep inside myself after we left the Laurelhurst theater.

What movie would you recommend that you bet the rest of us have never seen? How does that movie depict being rich in the things that matter most?

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10 Comments so far ↓

  • Alison

    Two of my email subscribers replied directly to this piece with movie suggestions.

    Alli H. suggested “Lars And The Real Girl”, so Thor and I watched it last night. It had a fresh take altogether on a small town being inclusive of diversity. Highly original!

    Jenny S. suggested “Young At Heart”, an upbeat story about a chorus composed of seniors. I plan to watch it, too. Thanks Jenny.

  • Alice

    Horse Boy was a great movie - but the book is even better! Definitely recommend it!

    • Alison at Diamond-Cut Life

      Alice, I’m imagining the movie would have been based on the book — which tends to work out a lot better than the other way around. I’m going to Powells tomorrow to get “I Am Malala”. Sounds like I should get “Horse Boy” too. Thanks for the tip.

  • Jeri

    I’ve seen and immensely enjoyed Waitress and Sunshine Cleaning. I think I’ll add your other three suggests to my NetFlix cue :)

  • Mike

    Ironically, I just watched one of my alltime sleeper movies ‘Always’. With Dreyfuss and Hunter. It depicts and let’s me escape back to my dad’s love of flying. And it’s an incredible spiritual message for me of it’s what we give to others not what they can do for us. Good post, Alison :)

  • Debra Yearwood

    My husband has been raving about Searching for Sugarman sent he saw it, so I’ll be sharing your list with him.

    The movie that came to mind as I was reading the post was Tampopo. I can’t describe it and do it justice, but it’s a Japanese comedy that follows a central story line and mixes in various short stories. It explores people and food, but is not as straightforward as that sounds.

    • Alison

      Thanks, Debra. Now I’ve got Tampopo on my list. Sometimes the films that defy easy description are the best.

      Going over to visit your blogsite now. Your posts are always good.

  • Nancy Brandt

    Alison, I remember you writing movie reviews when we were both on the staff of our high school newspaper.

    Our family has been members of the Spiritual Cinema Circle since it started back in (2004?). Members pay $24/month to get a DVD they may keep with one feature-length movie and three shorts. I think you would really enjoy them: Lots of variety: comedies, documentaries, dramas, spiritual teachers, good stories.

    I could send you some of the DVDs we have if you’d like to watch then return them.

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