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Words To Remember

December 16, 2009|By Randee Dawn
  • Marlon Brando's classic line, "I'll make him an offer he can't refuse," from "The Godfather" is unforgettable.
Marlon Brando's classic line, "I'll make him an offer… (Paramount Pictures / Getty…)

"I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul." Stirring words -- the final couplet of a William Ernest Henley poem called "Invictus," which just so happens to be the title of a likely Oscar contender this year. Films can be inspired by quotes, and quotes from films can turn around and inspire audiences (or render them helpless with laughter). But why is that?

"A good quotation boils down the common wisdom or the wisdom of an age into a short, memorable few words," explains Steven van Leeuwen, creator and chief executive of Bartleby.com, one of the Internet's best homes for quotations. "We structure our morality in our mind in terms of short quotations that everyone can agree on -- the Ten Commandments are quotations. The mind can't remember large sections of text to guide our lives by, or organize our past. We need quotations."

Who can't immediately place "You complete me" or "Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship" or "I'll make him an offer he can't refuse"?

That last one (Marlon Brandon in 1972's "The Godfather"), says Van Leeuwen, may be the most oft-quoted line from that Oscar-winning film, but what makes it memorable is how it comes just after Brando's Vito Corleone says, "Act like a man." The "offer" quote is "the quote everyone uses -- but 'act like a man' is the best. It's funny, it's surprising and it encapsulates the family."

Still, quotes do more than just organize the world's knowledge: They help point like minds toward one another. A person who can quote 1975's "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" might be someone you'd want to say "Ni!" to, or it might be someone who makes you want to break into song.

"They serve as a generational or cultural shibboleth, which helps people to recognize others of the same age or generation," says Van Leeuwen. "A person quoting 'Caddyshack' might be of a different mind-set than somebody quoting from ' Casablanca.' Whatever social gathering you're at, if you throw out a movie quotation without any context, you're going to know who responds to that."

Have movie quotes displaced the literary bon mot? Perhaps not yet. But likely more people know that Gerard Butler howled, "Tonight we dine in hell!" in 2006's "300" than can remember who wrote "Invictus." And if you have to go back to the top of this story to check, the point is well made.

So, just how well have you been paying attention to 2009's best film utterances? Take the quiz below and find out. Three points are possible for each question: Match the quotes to the correct film, name the actor who said it and the character's name -- without peeking at the photo captions. And be sure to check your answers below to see whether you're Oscar-worthy.

calendar@latimes.com

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