List: My 301 Favourite Movies (50-21)

Day Four brings us right up to the edge of the top 20, so the movies featured here are prized, one and all. This is also, perhaps, where the list gets most personal, identifying the titles that particularly make me tick (however damning that may be…) But, before we continue, a brief word on the notable exceptions in this list:

Star Wars – yep, sorry, no Star Wars. The original trilogy were considered, and The Empire Strikes Back nearly made the cut (well, sort of nearly), but ultimately I have to confess I’m simply not a fan. If you take that personally, I apologise.

Next, Martin Scorsese. Only The King Of Comedy and The Wolf Of Wall Street managed to rank. Hardly his most consistently honoured titles. The truth is that while I’ve seen the likes of Taxi DriverRaging Bull and Goodfellas, I’ve not seen any of them in the last ten years. This needs addressing, I’m the first to admit, but in the meantime my memories of them are too faded to judge fairly. So as not to misplace them, they’ve simply fallen by the wayside this time around (though I recall detesting Goodfellas – that may change when I get back to it).

Comic book franchise films. Yeah… I’m not convinced yet. I’ve warmed to the idea of the modern blockbuster’s most comfortable staple… but I’ve yet to be truly blown away by any of them. And while the Marvel universe sporadically drops something incredibly fun, I just can’t call any of it exceptional. Perhaps time will tell on that score.

Disney / Pixar. What can I say? I’m just not into it. I know. I’m sorry / not sorry.

The Room. Man, where do you even rank a film like that…?

Oh, and if you were looking for ‘modern classics’ AmeliePan’s Labyrinth or Fight Club, well, they all nearly made it. I guess the point is that we all find our pleasures our own way. In that spirit, here’re more of mine…

 

Donnie Darko

50. Donnie Darko (2001, Richard Kelly) – Quietly appeared out of nowhere in late 2001, mixing up the memories of a handful of other cult high school movies (Heathers) and sci-fi experiences (Back To The Future) but weighted by its own intimate pathos. It single-handedly gave the world both Gyllenhaals while also allowing late blooms for the likes of Patrick Swayze and Katherine Ross. Richard Kelly’s name looked, for a brief time, to be one to watch also. In the years since it’s become ubiquitous with budget priced DVDs and conversations about ‘weirdo’ movies, so much so that it can almost be taken for granted. Sit down with it again. It’s a lot better than that.

49. Dead Ringers (1988, David Cronenberg) – Following a run of queasy, visceral thrillers that earned him the moniker ‘the master of body-horror’, Cronenberg took a slight sidestep for this subdued drama based on a true story. Jeremy Irons is astonishing as the Mantle brothers; twin gynaecologists who follow one another on a dangerous downward spiral of drug addiction. It’s bleak and dark, but it’s a profoundly moving and exceptionally well crafted film, featuring one of Howard Shore’s loveliest scores.

48. Lost Highway (1997, David Lynch) – This might’ve featured outside the Top 50 had I not recently rewatched it for the Why I Love… series. The film that gave this blog its name is easy to shrug off for its pulpy tone, especially in the second half, yet get up close to it and Lynch’s hypnotic first entry in his identity trilogy (continued with Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire) is a chain-smoking, short-dress wearing concoction of vices and temptations. Slick, sinister and mesmerising.

47. Princess Mononoke (1997, Hayao Miyazaki) – An epic, mythic tale brought to the screen with such incredible care and attention to detail that it’s possible to get lost in it completely. Miyazaki’s grandest, most ambitious picture depicts a war behind man and nature with two souls wrestling with their place in the world stuck in the middle. It’s a sprawling feat of animation (over 2 hours long), but more than that it’s a creative, evolving, constantly engaging fantasy experience.

46. Crash (1996, David Cronenberg) – Simply put, the most hypnotic film I’ve ever seen. Cronenberg’s take on J.G. Ballard’s cult novel about a group of people discovering sexual possibilities in car wrecks is a masterpiece of cinematic storytelling; sound and images moving together with precision fluidity. Another attention-grabbing score from Howard Shore, combined with Peter Suschitsky’s cool, controlled cinematography make this movie shimmer like the grills on the automobiles within. Kudos to the actors also, not least Deborah Kara Unger and the phenomenal Elias Koteas as Vaughan.

Film and Television

45. Big Trouble In Little China (1986, John Carpenter) – While some films have gravitas or seek some level of prestige, there are others which are just out there to put a big, goofy smile on your face. Enter Big Trouble In Little China, Carpenter and Kurt Russell’s bizarre comedy actioner. 20th Century Fox clearly didn’t know what they had on their hands when it was released, the promotion was botched and the movie tanked. It has since grown a loving cult following and, just recently, a comic book spin-off with input from Carpenter himself. What the hell happened? Don’t tell me.

Nosferatu

44. Nosferatu (1922, F.W. Murnau) – Murnau’s silent bastardisation of Dracula got him in trouble with the Stoker family, but this is one of the finest screen versions of the story ever produced. For those tentative about watching old films, don’t let the production year concern you; Nosferatu is a timeless, ageless piece of gothic cinema, wrought all the spookier by Murnau’s expressionistic eye and Max Schreck’s incredible physical performance.

43. The Conversation (1974, Francis Ford Coppola) – Universally overshadowed by The Godfather Part II, it’s incredible to think that Coppola produced this movie in the same year. Whatever possessed the man? This is far from a throwaway secondary feature. The Conversation is one of the finest movies of the 70’s; a soulful character piece in which Gene Hackman’s surveillance man Harry Caul wrestles with his conscience when he thinks a piece of work he’s done might be the cause of murder.

42. An American Werewolf In London (1981, John Landis) – Blending comedy and horror is no easy task; their two of the hardest genres to nail when considered independently, let a lone swirled together. Landis makes it look easy here. The film lives on in infamy for the werewolf transformation sequence (which still impresses), but it’s at it’s finest when colliding the two sensibilities together. At times delightfully daft, this will remain a favourite of mine for a very, very long time. Watch out for a brief appearance from the late Rik Mayall.

Marilyn

41. Some Like It Hot (1959, Billy Wilder) – Often referred to as the greatest comedy film of all time, it’s a hard statement to argue against. Wilder creates magic with Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis escaping the mob by disguising themselves as female musicians. Throw into the mix Marilyn Monroe’s bubbly Sugar Kane and you’ve got yourselves a smash hit. It’s like a ‘best of’ for all concerned, so much so that picking highlights becomes almost absurd. If pushed I’d go with the scene on the train where a discreet, intimate party gets completely out of hand. In a class of its own.

40. Tokyo Story (1953, Yasujiro Ozu) – A film of quiet, understated elegance. That was par for the course with Ozu, who made a career from tempered familial stories, yet here everything seems to shine with greater permanence than even his finest other works. A strict formalist, Ozu’s films combine a soulful heart with the rigorous eye of a genius. Every shot is perfectly judged, every narrative pause as welcome as a balmy breeze. As ever with Ozu the biggest surprise is how emotionally affecting it is. Every. Damned. Time.

Adaptation.

39. Adaptation. (2002, Spike Jonze) – Nicolas Cage (yes, Nicolas Cage) giving one of the finest performances of recent times in the dual role of Charlie and Donald Kaufman. Maverick screenwriter Charlie Kaufman struggled to adapt Susan Orlean’s novel The Orchid Thief into a coherent screenplay… so instead he externalised the struggle, creating this delirious manifesto on writer’s block that also resonates as a profoundly humane picture about internal struggle and our persistent search for understanding in others. If that sounds highfalutin, I don’t care. I love this movie and more people should see it. It adds colour to the world.

38. Zodiac (2007, David Fincher) – Fincher attained Kubrickian levels of OCD for this true story crime drama, meticulously aiming for a level of exacting detail which pays dividends on the final film. Is taking a former survivor of the Zodiac killer back to crime scene too much research? This serial killer thriller breaks from the established pattern (the one Fincher himself helped to template) and achieves greater things through character investment. It also becomes a study in obsession, making it perhaps Fincher’s most personal film to date.

Death Proof

37. Death Proof (2007, Quentin Tarantino) – Potentially the moment that this list loses all credibility, but fuck it. I love Death Proof. It’s my favourite Tarantino movie. Part of that comes from my affection for grindhouse movies, part of it comes particularly from the key influences on this picture being among my favourite films also (Vanishing Point, Faster Pussycat…), yet importantly I feel that Death Proof works as more than just goofy homage. Repeat viewings reveal, believe it or not, a lot going on. The cafe scene in the second half is one glorious shot, the movie modernises as you move further through it (all those gimmicky scratches disappearing bit by bit) and to those who say Tarantino films have no emotion… just watch the slow push-in on Abernathy (Rosario Dawson) in the backseat during the ‘ship’s mast’ set-piece. That there? That’s heart.

36. Repulsion (1965, Roman Polanski) – Rosemary’s Baby gets a lot of the glory, but it isn’t Polanski’s sole dabbling with slow-ratcheting horror. Catherine Deneuve is spellbinding in this exemplary look at how one woman’s fear of male sexuality and aggression turns inward, brought to shocking life by the apartment she walls herself up in corroding around her. Polanski aims to provide us a window into a particular, insular sensibility, then shocks us with how easily such a person might come apart at the seams without aid.

35. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (2010, Edgar Wright) – The film snob in me says this is too disposable, too lightweight to be considered with some of these other titles. Well screw that guy. Lovingly adapted from Bryan Lee O’Malley’s (fantastic) comic book series, Edgar Wright’s film plays like the mash-up of a video game with high school musical… or high school fightsical. Packed with visual Easter Eggs, overstuffed with gags and with enough heart to sell it all, it’s a movie that, at the time, kind of defined me. Even if Scott Pilgrim is, well, kind of a jerk sometimes.

Vivre

34. Vivre Sa Vie (1962, Jean-Luc Godard) – A film made up of a collection of scenes. Well, that could describe almost any film, but in Vivre Sa Vie‘s case it is quite accurate. A sequence of connected vignettes surrounding prostitute Nana (Anna Karina), Vivre Sa Vie was the first Godard film I saw, and it had a startling impact. The way he plays with the language of cinema is as breathtaking as the framing of his subjects. This was a massively influential movie to me and so it remains. You want to see cinema trying to break out of conformist confines? Check out films like this one.

33. The Good, The Bad & The Ugly (1966, Sergio Leone) – The big one. Leone closed off the Dollars trilogy with this epic yarn in which three strangers of differing temperament search greedily for a lost buried treasure. Eastwood is his steely self, bringing the charisma. Van Cleef plays wicked games with the stare of the Devil himself. But the film really belongs to Eli Wallach, whose rascally Tuco provides such an abundance of entertainment. And then there’s that three-way stand-off. Oh yes.

32. McCabe & Mrs Miller (1971, Robert Altman) – And now for something completely different. Proving the diversity of the Western, could there be two films in the same genre more different in tone that The Good, The Bad & The Ugly and McCabe & Mrs Miller? Altman’s film is a decidedly wintery picture, depicting prospectors and frontiersmen as frail, fallible men battling impossibly against both the elements and the unstoppable modern world. Leonard Cohen’s “The Stranger Song” provides the haunting theme for this melancholy depiction of a time, a place and a man.

31. Last Year At Marienbad (1961, Alain Renais) – Last Year At Marienbad recalls the sensation of dreaming like few other pictures. It has the uneasiness of a nightmare just as much as it has the sensuality of an erotic dream. Its portentous, suggestive, provocative in equal measure.

30. 12 Angry Men (1957, Sidney Lumet) – For all intents and purposes a one scene film, 12 Angry Men centres around the kind of simple set-up that by all accounts is maddening for a director; a lot of people sitting around a table talking. If Lumet struggled with this it certainly doesn’t show. Henry Fonda shines as the one man with a reasonable doubt against eleven eager to get out of the heat. Utterly superb and rightfully regarded as a classic.

suspiria

29. Suspiria (1977, Dario Argento) – A psychedelic gut-punch of a movie. Quite how Argento’s bonkers horror about witches at a ballet school was received on release I can only imagine. The thunderous audio assault of Goblin’s prog-rock score… the dazzling, lurid colour palette… that interior design… Suspiria is an aesthetic wonder. Nevermind the duff acting or frankly amateur dancing, this is the very essence of style over substance. But what style.

28. Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (1979, Werner Herzog) – One of the most atmospheric movies ever made, Werner Herzog’s hallowed remake of F.W. Murnau’s silent movie(featured above) actually trumps the original, in my opinion, for sheer reverent beauty. An astonishing score by Popol Vuh, combined with Herzog’s misty-mountain visuals take the viewer to another realm entirely. Central to the whole enterprise are both Klaus Kinski as the rigid, rat-like titular menace, but also Isabelle Adjani’s, whose incomparable pale beauty is matched by her commanding performance as Lucy.

Blade Runner

27. Blade Runner (1982, Ridley Scott) – Ridley Scott films are strange beasts. The man excels at aesthetics, coming from a background in advertising where you have to nail an idea or image quickly. Fortunately this lends nearly all of his films a signature, distinct look. Here, along with his creative design team, he more or less invented the future, certainly most of the 80’s. This time however, there’s more than just the beautiful images. From Philip K Dick’s source, Scott and the film’s screenwriters built a film awash with ideas, philosophy and, yes, soul. He’s not made a film as well-rounded since. Keep reaching for that unicorn, Ridders.

26. The Big Lebowski (1998, Joel Coen) – There’re films you watch for the suspense, the drama, there are films you watch for their ideas, for their innovation, their beauty… And then there are films that you watch because it feels good to. The Big Lebowski is like a familiar dressing gown, a drink mixed in your favourite glass, an old recording that you know note for note, word for word. Knowing it so well doesn’t diminish it; it only makes it more yours every time. Abide.

25. Fargo (1996, Joel Coen) – Just, *just* pipping The Big Lebowski comes the Coens’ superb black comedy crime thriller set in the seeming forever-winters of Minnesota. Everyone brings their A-game here, from William H Macy as put-upon weasel Jerry Lundegaard and Steve Buscemi as motormouth crook Carl Showalter to Frances McDormand as heavily pregnant, perennially chipper sheriff’s deputy Marge Gunderson. And the Coens too? You betcha!

Chinatown

24. Chinatown (1974, Roman Polanski) – Polanski rejuvenates the dusky world of film noir for this period mystery starring Jack Nicholson as irascible private eye J. J. Gittes. The film sticks tightly to formula, but pushes the boundaries of taste when the revelations start piling up come the last half hour. It’s an incredibly stylish, wholly accomplished picture that blends the sensibilities of the movies that inspired it with the irrepressible pioneer spirit of filmmaking in the 70’s.

23. Vanishing Point (1971, Richard C Sarafian) – Sarafian captures a certain spirit here that’s difficult to quantify but definitely palpable. On the surface this is a car chase movie designed around the 1971 Dodge Challenger. As a showcase for that vehicle, it’s terrific. But there’s more going on here, besides superb stunts and kinetic camerawork. Sarafian’s film is a requiem for the ’60’s, a film about escaping the fallout of Vietnam, presidential assassinations etc, etc. Sometimes you’ve just got to drive until the world disappears…

The Lion In Winter

22. The Lion In Winter (1968, Anthony Harvey) – Katharine Hepburn and Peter O’Toole go blow for blow, ripping through some of the best dialogue written for a movie (okay, for a play, but y’know) in Anthony Harvey’s historical drama. Two actors at the peak of their powers, surrounded by some notable upcoming talent, including Anthony Hopkins and Timothy Dalton in early roles. If you’re looking for superlative writing then look no further. Deserves more attention than it’s really received.

21. Blue Velvet (1986, David Lynch) – After the disaster of Dune (maybe that’s a little harsh), Lynch returned to the burrows of his own mind for this investigation under the surface of American suburbia. Kyle MacLachlan plays the director’s alter ego, peeking beneath the veneer of society’s facade; part detective, part pervert. However, the lasting memories are those of Dennis Hopper, a horrifying powerhouse as id-incarnate Frank Booth. All together now… “LET’S FUUUUUUUUUUCK!”

 

And with that we’re ready for my twenty favourite films. The final part of this marathon will be online tomorrow…

 

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