In the summer of 1987, my best buddy and I left the Deep South for Hollywood.
We went in search of fame and fortune in the movies.
We wound up burning popcorn at the Mann Theatre in Tarzana.
Full Metal Jacket, The Untouchables and Beverly Hills Cop 2 were popular that summer. So were Robocop, Predator and Dirty Dancing.
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We worked double shifts to pay the rent and often found ourselves star struck. At the concession stand, we met Pat Benatar, members of the Jackson 5, and Michael Winslow, the actor known as “the man of 10,000 noises.” You probably know him from all of those Police Academy movies. I knew him as the guy who made a fire alarm noise when I served him popcorn the color of coal.
I felt bad about burning the popcorn, but mainly I was homesick. My buddy and I wrote increasingly forlorn letters each week to our families back home. We called the letters “Tales from La La Land.” We didn’t make it very long there. We were back home just in time for the fall semester of college.
Flash forward 30 years and our pet name for Hollywood has resurfaced: La La Land is one of the best picture nominees.
Although Hollywood sent me packing for home, I’ve never lost my love of the movies. I write about business topics now, but I’m often looking for that intersection of film and commerce. So in these next pages, I offer five strategic lessons to learn from this year’s Academy Award nominees.
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Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
What’s it about: Aliens have landed! The aliens have landed! Military regimes around the globe want to blast twelve alien spheroids back to kingdom come, but a linguistics professor (Amy Adams) wants to break their code not their spaceships.
Why watch it: For the Amy Adams performance. Her character slowly understands things, information that the audience begins to piece together as well, in heartbreaking fashion.
Interesting factoid: Octopuses, whales, elephants, and spiders were all sources of inspiration when it came to creating the aliens, Abbott and Costello.
Business lesson: The art of communication. Of all the movies I watched this year, Arrival connected with me the deepest on a business level. So much of the financial services industry hinges on clear communication, being heard, but also being understood, and the chasm we all have in communicating with one another is palpable in this film.
Memorable scene: I have to be careful here to not give away the ending, but it’s a moment where the linguistics professor has a conversation in Mandarin, and, as the saying goes, the die is cast.
Dr. Louise Banks: “Purpose requires an understanding of intent. We need to find out: Do they make conscious choices? Or is their motivation so instinctive that they don’t understand a ‘why’ question at all? And biggest of all, we need to have enough vocabulary with them that we understand their answer.”
Manchester By the Sea
Starring: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler
Directed by: Kenneth Lonergan
What’s it about: An uncle is asked to take care of his teenage nephew and serve as his guardian after the boy’s father dies.
Why watch it: The strong bonds that form. They don’t come easily. Instead, they take their time to knit together. It follows that these relationships are more like real life than the stuff of movies.
Interesting factoid: This is the first film distributed or co-distributed by a streaming service — in this case, Amazon — to get an Oscar nomination for Best Picture.
Business lesson: Mentorship. One of the common threads I hear from advisors is their belief in mentorship programs. So many advisors point to a mentor as a huge reason for their success and they are committed to returning the favor by mentoring other advisors.
Memorable scene: The scene around the ping pong table where a gang of rowdy guys are having a bit too much fun and single mom Randi Chandler (Michelle Williams) breaks up their party and shows the guys that one woman can have as strong a voice as ten men.
Patrick: “You don’t want to be my guardian, that’s fine with me.”
Lee: “It’s not that. It’s just the logistics.”
Patrick: “All my friends are here. I got two girlfriends and I’m in a band. You’re a janitor in Quincy. What the hell do you care where you live?”
La La Land
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Rosemarie DeWitt
Directed by: Damien Chazelle
What’s it about: Boy meets girl. Boy and girl look for their muse and struggle with the choice between a once-in-a-lifetime love or the spotlight.
Why watch it: The music, the song and dance. La La Land is a throwback to the films of the golden era of film when characters were faced with problems or obstacles and they dealt with it by breaking into dance, allowing themselves to be swept away by the beauty of music.
Interesting factoid: La La Land equaled the record for most Oscar nominations, with 14, tying the record previously set by All About Eve (1950) and Titanic (1997).