6/02/2009

10 Best Speeches from Movies


So many great movie speeches to choose from!  Fortunately, my job is made easier by the fact that I haven't seen a lot of them.  So here it is, with (I'm sure) many omissions ... my nominees for the 10 greatest speeches from movies.  For the sake of brevity am excluding one-liners ... would need to do a top 100 list to catch all of them!
  1. "Greed is Good" - Wall Street (1987).  Decades from now, scholars won't need textbooks and analysis to understand the 1980-2010.  That era's narcassistic, Darwinian flaws are all laid bare in this marvellously succinct speech by Michael Douglas in his role as Gordon Gekko, an unrepentent arbitrageur, stock trader, and corporate raider. 
  2. "America Isn't Easy" - The American President (1996).  They should make this speech part of the required curriculum in every civics classes in every high school in America.  It reminds us that democracy is hard, that our election process is dangerously superficial, and that we need serious people to address the serious problems that our nation faces.   [Michael Douglas again: the man knows how to pick a role!]
  3. "People Will Come" - Field of Dreams (1989).  "For it is money they have, and peace they lack ..." intones James Earl Jones in this paoen to the nostalgic (albeit impossibly sentimentalized) notion of a past time when our country was simple, people were innocent, and we still embraced the possibility of magic.   
  4. "St Crispin's Day" - Henry V (1989).  Probably unfair to throw this one in, since it was authored by Shakespeare!  While Kenneth Branaugh does a brilliant job of delivering this powerful speech, it's the soaring rhetoric of the language that catches your breath and wrenches it out of your lungs.  Each time I replay this scene, I'm struck anew by the realization that people join the military today for basically the same reasons they did 1000 years ago:  for honor, for glory, for love, and for the hope of immortality.
  5. "Today We Celebrate Our Independence Day" - Independence Day (1996).  Another speech designed to rally the troops, but with a more global message.  Because, face it, if we can't all agree that aliens intent on destroying humanity deserve to die, what hope is there that the nations of the world will ever find common ground?
  6. "The Most Important Discovery of My Life" - Beautiful Mind (2002). What truly is logic? Who decides reason?  This speech is a powerful reminder that mankind's pursuit of science and understanding must be tempered by humanity and, yes, love. 
  7. "I'll Be There" - Grapes of Wrath. (Sorry, don't have video clip for this one.)  We intuitively know that the people we love go on living even after they leave us, but this universal truth has never been stated with such simplicity and grace as in this scene from the immortal John Steinbeck classic.   The text of the speech is as follows: Well, maybe it's like Casey says. A fella ain't got a soul of his own, just a little piece of a big soul, the one big soul out there that belongs to everybody. Then....(Ma Joad: "Then What, Tom?") Then... it don't matter. I'll be all around in the dark. I'll be everywhere…wherever you can look. Wherever there's a fight so hungry people can eat, I'll be there. Wherever there's a cop beating up a guy, I'll be there. I'll be in the way guys yell when they're mad. I'll be in the way kids laugh when they're hungry and they know supper's ready…And when the people are eatin' the stuff they raise, livin' in the houses they build, I'll be there too.
  8. "I'm the Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth" - The Pride of the Yankees.  This speech is a lovely reminder that happiness isn't about getting everything you want; it's about being wise enough to appreciate everything you have. 
  9. "Closing Argument" -To Kill a Mockingbird (1962).  Lots of great courtroom speeches in the movies (indeed, this spot almost went to the great Bible speech from Inherit the Wind), but none that can hold a candle to this lyric plea for social justice, delivered with brilliant reserve by Gregory Peck.
  10. "Was it over when the Germans Bombed Pearl Harbor?" - Animal House.  I had to include this speech because it is just so uniquely American.  How like us, as a country, to charge into the breach armed only with a shaky (at best) understanding of history but an unshakable sense of moral authority!

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