As more movies are being produced than ever before, it’s easy to miss some of the best ones. Many excellent low-budget films don’t come to our attention simply because they often are not well promoted.

Steven Jay Schneider, editor of two books on movies and a producer at Paramount Pictures, has an insider’s perspective into some of the great inspiring movies of recent years. His top choices…


Ever wanted to patch things up with a family member? In The Straight Story, Alvin discovers that his estranged brother Lyle has suffered a stroke. Alvin, played by Richard Farnsworth, is 73 years old, and Lyle, played by Harry Dean Stanton, is 75 years old.

The problem is that Lyle lives about 300 miles away, and Alvin can’t legally drive because of his poor eyesight. But riding his lawn mower isn’t illegal, and that’s what Alvin does. Traveling at about five miles an hour, Alvin’s 300-mile journey is filled with events that are as unexpected as his choice of vehicles.

Made in 1999, The Straight Story inspires because, while the obstacles faced by Alvin may seem small in relative terms, they are huge to him.


The best young golfer in Georgia, Rannulph Junuh, volunteers to serve in World War I, but returns home to Savannah with crippling depression. Played by Matt Damon, Rannulph is unable to pursue his promising golf career and has even lost interest in Adele, once the love of his life.

Fast-forward to 1931, when Savannah is going through harsh economic times. Adele’s father has invested his fortune in a golf resort and now faces bankruptcy. To salvage the resort, Adele wants to stage a match between the best golfers of the day, Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen.

Old friends in Savannah insist that Rannulph also play. Out of nowhere, a mysterious caddy, Bagger Vance, appears, telling Rannulph that he’ll coach him for the tournament. Played by Will Smith, Bagger does just that, and the match proceeds in scenes that will take your breath away.

Directed by Robert Redford, The Legend of Bagger Vance was made in 2000.


No matter how difficult our lives can be at times, they might not seem too difficult after you watch The Wind Will Carry Us. Don’t expect a tightly constructed plot. In fact, the movie leaves a huge amount to viewers’ imaginations.

The main character, an Iranian named Behzad, goes to a small village in his country. Behzad’s mission isn’t fully explained, but in the village, he meets people to whom city dwellers often condescend. In scenes that are often dramatic and beautiful, Behzad changes his views about the villagers. The Wind Will Carry Us lets us share Behzad’s insights and experience rare glimpses of the harsh realities of rural Iran.

Made in 2000, The Wind Will Carry Us is in Farsi with English subtitles.


If you enjoy rooting for an underdog, Gattaca will motivate you in a way that few movies could hope to do. The film takes place in the near future, when genetic engineering enables people to be born with very high IQs. Those who are not genetically engineered, however, are stigmatized and permitted to have only menial jobs.

One of these “in-valids,” as they’re called, is played by Ethan Hawke, who concocts an ingenious plan that he hopes will beat the system. Suspense follows in nearly every scene. In the end, we learn that success has less to do with IQ than with other human traits.

Gattaca was made in 1997 and also stars Uma Thurman and Gore Vidal.


We all know that today’s schools are a far cry from what they were a couple of generations ago. In many urban areas, high schools are particularly violent, and many students drop out.

Stand and Deliver is based on actual events that occurred after a new math teacher came to Garfield High School in East Los Angeles, an area long known for gang violence. Played by Edward James Olmos, the teacher has faith in his students’ abilities, and defying the odds, they pass the rigid Advanced Placement Calculus Exam.

The results, however, are called into question when authorities discover similarities in the exam answers. Instead of caving in, the teacher asks the students to take the test again — even though they have only one day to prepare. In the final scenes, the students do indeed “stand and deliver.”

Made in 1988, the movie also stars Lou Diamond Phillips and Andy Garcia.


Most Americans study the Civil War in school, but few of us learn about the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment. The 54th was the first black regiment to fight in the war. Unlike many other films about the Civil War, Glory, the story of the 54th, was meticulously researched for historical accuracy.

As he puts the regiment together, Captain Robert Shaw, played by Matthew Broderick, discovers that any white Northern officer captured while leading black troops against the Confederacy will be executed. The troops, meanwhile, learn that any blacks captured wearing a Union uniform will also be hanged. Shaw gives them a chance to back out, but not one soldier leaves. Battles fought by the 54th inspire other volunteers, and by the end of the war, some 300,000 African-Americans are fighting on the side of the Union.

The 1989 movie also stars Denzel Washington, Cary Elwes and Morgan Freeman.

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