We’re into part 4 of 5 now, and I’ll let you in on a little secret; a lot of my favourites overall are in this section. As I said at the very beginning, the whole point here was to celebrate how diverse modern movie making can be, so there are choices here from the very best of pop culture cinema right through to obscure art house favourites. Chances are you’ll see a few you know (and hopefully agree with their presence on the list), but if you see something you don’t and it sounds intriguing. Well, you know what to do.
Continuing alphabetically then…
Melancholia (2011, Lars Von Trier)
The Gist: Justine (Kirsten Dunst) is getting married and suffering from depression. Soon after doing her best to sabotage her own wedding party, a new planet appears in the sky which may threaten to destroy all life on Earth.
Watch It For: Von Trier at – arguably – his most off-the-wall pretentious; Dunst and Von Trier’s current muse Charlotte Gainsbough on top form; Keifer Sutherland’s hilarious exasperation.
Memento (2000, Christopher Nolan)
The Gist: A man with no short-term memory (Guy Pearce) works tirelessly to find the man who murdered his wife in order to exact revenge, but comes to suspect he is being used along the way.
Watch It For: Character driven Nolan (something that’s all-but-disappeared from his work); the bravura sequencing which almost necessitates a second viewing; a director announcing himself to the world.
Mommy (2014, Xavier Dolan)
The Gist: A widowed mother (Anne Dorval) must come to terms with the return of her son (Antoine-Olivier Pilon) from juvenile detention and his friendship with one of her neighbours (Suzanne Clément).
Watch It For: Canadian wunderkid Dolan at his form-bending best; searing performances from all; the uncanny wallop of sourced pop music to pack an emotional punch.
Mulholland Drive (2001, David Lynch)
The Gist: A mystery woman suffering from amnesia (Laura Elena Harring) meets naive ingenue Betty (Naomi Watts) and the two of them try to determine what happened to her.
Watch It For: The best film of the 21st century so far; a head-spinning mystery which deepens the more you investigate it; Watts’ star-making turn; Peter Deming’s sumptuous visuals; Angelo Badalementi’s moody, romantic score. Just everything okay?
Munich (2005, Steven Spielberg)
The Gist: After the massacre at the 1972 Olympic games, five men are hired by Mossad to track down and take out those believed responsible.
Watch It For: Spielberg in riveting grown-up mode; moody pre-Bond Daniel Craig; a heavy-handed but thoroughly immersive unpacking of the murky ethics of espionage, revenge, terrorism and assassination.
No (2012, Pablo Larraín)
The Gist: 1988: An advertising expert (Gael Garcia Bernal) is hired by the ‘No’ campaign in Chile to tip public opinion and oust Augusto Pinochet.
Watch It For: Larraín’s inspired decision to shoot on videotape in order to incorporate archival documentary footage seamlessly; Bernal’s committed and involving central turn; a rare uplifting political experience.
No Country For Old Men (2007, Joel Coen, Ethan Coen)
The Gist: When Llewyn Moss (Josh Brolin) finds the remains of a drug-deal gone wrong in the desert, his decision to make a run with a briefcase full of money sets him up against a ruthless assassin named Chigurh (Javier Bardem).
Watch It For: The realisation that the Coen Brothers and Cormac McCarthy are a match made in heaven, or possibly hell.
Oldboy (2003, Park Chan-Wook)
The Gist: A man (Choi Min-Sik) is inexplicably imprisoned for fifteen years. He is then just as swiftly released, and given just five days to learn the identity of his former captor and the reasons behind his imprisonment.
Watch It For: The spikiest, most infamous part of the vengeance trilogy; the brutal corridor sequence; that revelation; the dynamic cinematography; the gut-wrenching misuse of scissors.
Old Joy (2006, Kelly Reichardt)
The Gist: Two old friends reunite for a trip to a natural spa near the Oregon Cascade Mountains. Oh, there’s a dog with them. No, really, that’s it.
Watch It For: Reichardt – she is one of the finest American directors working today; this low-key gem is a quiet gateway into her thoughtful, reverent body of work, in which savouring the moment is half of the journey; dreamy music by Yo La Tengo.
Only God Forgives (2013, Nicolas Winding Refn)
The Gist: Bangkok Drug-dealer and boxing club owner Julian (Ryan Gosling) is pressured to avenge his brother’s death when his domineering mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) arrives in town, but local policeman Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm) isn’t about to let that happen…
Watch It For: Refn’s defiant middle finger to anyone expecting more commercial material post-Drive; a neon nightmare; yet another propulsive yet dreamy Cliff Martinez score; Scott Thomas, who is positively frightening.
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006, Guillermo del Toro)
The Gist: Spain, 1944: a young girl (Ivana Baquero) escapes into a fantasy world with the aid of a mysterious fawn (Doug Jones) as her family are threatened by a sadistic Nazi officer.
Watch It For: This dark fairy tale has quickly become a beloved modern classic.
Persepolis (2007, Marjane Satrapi, Vincent Paronnaud)
The Gist: Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical comic series about her own experiences growing up during the Islamic Revolution in Iran is brought to the screen.
Watch It For: Err… did you read the last part? Beautiful; wise; funny; brilliant.
Pitch Perfect (2012, Jason Moore)
The Gist: Becca (Anna Kendrick) arrives at college with hopes of becoming a renowned DJ, but ends up caught in the whirl of the perennially uncool world of competitive a cappella singing contests.
Watch It For: Kendrick’s cup routine (pictured) is one of the simplest but most delightful moments in modern cinema; a whole load of fun; a feel-good comedy classic in the making.
Post Tenebras Lux (2012, Carlos Reygadas)
The Gist: An examination of the class system in Mexico told via a series of vignettes following a well-off family who routinely hire day labourers. Also some stuff with a kids’ rugby game in England. Er. Yeah.
Watch It For: ART; Reygadas’ cinema defies catagorisation and Post Tenebras Lux features some incredible, indelible imagery, not least of which is the evocative tone-setting opening in which the director’s own daughter wanders a field as a lightning storm begins.
Punch-Drunk Love (2002, Paul Thomas Anderson)
The Gist: Barry Egan (Adam Sandler), a novelty toiletries salesman with serious personality problems falls in love with a woman one of his seven sisters knows, and buys a lot of pudding.
Watch It For: PTA’s undervalued rom-com gem is gloriously oddball, but frequently beautiful; Sandler’s (steady now) awards-worthy turn. Seriously. He’s inexplicably that good here.
Queen Of Earth (2015, Alex Perry Ross)
The Gist: Following the death of her father and the break-up of a serious relationship, Catherine (Elisabeth Moss) convalesces with her old friend Virginia (Katherine Waterston) by the lake in upstate New York, but instead of finding rest, she risks descending into madness.
Watch It For: The two towering central performances from Moss and Waterston; Ross’ continued evolution into one of the prize directors of the current American indie set.
Requiem For A Dream (2000, Darren Aronofsky)
The Gist: Over the course of a year, four interlinked individuals suffer downward spirals in their lives thanks to drugs both illegal and prescription.
Watch It For: What the young folks these days call “the lols” – no, just kidding. Requiem For A Dream will shatter your soul, but Aronofsky’s technique is startling. Just make sure you have something fun planned as an antidote afterwards.
The Revenant (2015, Alejandro G. Iñárritu)
The Gist: Frontier America; Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is scout for a group gathering pelts. After they are attacked he is viciously mauled by a bear and left for dead. However, he survives his ordeal and struggles on, consumed by a desire for revenge.
Watch It For: The mastery of technique presented by Iñárritu; Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography; Tom Hardy’s pitiful villain Fitzgerald; the feel of a classic frontier epic.
The Royal Tenenbaums (2001, Wes Anderson)
The Gist: A peek at a family formerly known for their prosperity in various fields, who have come upon hard times following the break-up of the parents.
Watch It For: Wes Anderson has become a brand all of his own, but this is probably the most complete example of his inimitable style.
Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (2010, Edgar Wright)
The Gist: Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) falls for Amazon delivery girl Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), but in order to earn her love, he must defeat her seven evil exes.
Watch It For: Wright’s blistering frenetic style in sync with the comic book sensibilities of the source material; so many colours; so many fights; so many laughs.
To be concluded…