Monday, December 26, 2011

The Top Ten (of the 500 Movies)!

Finally! A full year in the making, I can now publish my top ten favorite films from the 500 movies that I watched between November 1st, 2010, and October 31st, 2011.

Brace yourself...

 #10 - The Red Shoes - dir. Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger - 1948
Directors Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger have appeared numerous times over my list, and not for the last time, either. The Red Shoes is a beautiful film - shot if gorgeous technicolor - that follows the rise of a talented ballet dancer, showcasing the joy and pain that comes from the level of dedication that some people put towards their art. The film is about more than just ballet, it is about what some people will sacrifice to achieve the highest levels of perfection. In the case of Vicky Page (played wonderfully by Moira Shearer), it comes to choosing between love and her art.

The following link is easily one of the best moment in any film, ever:

#9 - The Holy Mountain - dir. Alejandro Jodorowsky - 1973
Certain images from The Holy Mountain have probably stuck with me better than any other film on this list. I'm not entirely sure how to describe it... I suppose I can sum the plot up to being about a Christ-like figure undergoing a meta-physical quest towards enlightenment in a world full of perversions and religious symbolism. And, be warned, this is not a film for the faint of heart, or the easily offended.

The visual aesthetics of this film are extraordinary - the set pieces especially. Incredibly imaginative - in an acid trip sort of way - Jodorowsky tries to connect a lot of very different ideas: from alchemy and mysticism, through cynicism, poetry, surrealism and satire, making this film an extremely ambitious achievement. Whether or not it is successful in those ambitions would probably vary wildly from person to person, as this film certainly isn't for everyone.

The Holy Mountain is fascinating, entertaining, and incredibly grotesque. It also has a scene of toads re-enacting the conquest of Mexico. I have attached the link... view at your own discretion:

#8 - Shallow Grave - dir. Danny Boyle - 1994
Shallow Grave, Danny Boyle's directorial debut, is also his best film. A fast-paced, stylish, tightly written thriller about three roommates who find their fourth roommate dead with a case full of money in his room, the film works as both a black-comedy and an effectively scary thriller, with the dynamics between the three friends ever changing. The three main actors are terrific (Ewan McGregor, Kerry Fox, and Christopher Eccleston), with Eccleston giving a performance so good that I'm tempted to go back and watch him on Doctor Who again. Having had seen and liked almost every other Boyle film (whilst turning a blind-eye to The Beach), I had high expectations when watching this, and the film managed to completely exceed them.

#7 - Pierrot Le Fou - dir. Jean-Luc Godard - 1965
Godard, one of the leading directors during the French New Wave movement of the late 1950's and 1960's, shows up multiple times on my list, with Pierrot Le Fou ending up as my favorite of his films.

Following a man and his ex-girlfriend as they are pursued by gangsters, the film becomes a road-trip movie as the characters travel south whilst committing crime on a journey of both re-creation and self-destruction (figuratively and literally). At once part gangster film, part musical, part crime-road-movie, Godard ignores typical narrative conventions and instead improvises much as it goes along, making Pierrot Le Fou both messy and a little bit maddening (in the best way possibles).

A scene early in the film shows a conversation with the director Samuel Fuller (The Naked Kiss, Shock Corridor), who plays himself. Fuller says, "Film is like a battleground. Love. Hate. Action. Violence. Death. In one word: Emotions."All of these emotions run high throughout Pierrot Le Fou, and as a result, it ends up being the finest Godard film I've seen yet.

#6 - Stalker - dir. Andrei Tarkovsky - 1979
Stalker may be the best science fiction film ever made. It follows a guide known as the Stalker as he leads a Writer and a Professor through a mysterious land known only as The Zone, an area where the laws of physics no longer apply. The men travel in search of a place called The Room, where their deepest desires are said to come true, and each holds a different reason for why they have come.

The film may be slow but is highly rewarding. It is a science-fiction film that has no explanation of science or futuristic technology, instead developing an atmosphere than can be both as harrowing as it is beautiful, and concluding with one of the best final shots of any film ever made.

#5 - The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp - dir. Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger - 1943
The Archers appear more times throughout this list than any other director. The fact is, I have yet to see a film directed by the duo that I did not, in fact, love. So that The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp manages to be my favorite of their films says an awful lot about just how high of esteem I hold for it.

The film spans forty years, detailing the life of General Clive Candy, a military man first seen in his  year of old age - fat, bald, and sporting a walrus mustache. What first appears as a caricature develops into a fascinating persona as the life of Candy is laid out before us, revealing him as both the ideologist and the romantic that he is. The finest part of the consistently excellent Colonel Blimp may be the miraculous performance of Deborah Kerr, playing three different roles that intertwine with Candy over the course of his life.

#4 - Playtime - dir. Jacques Tati - 1967
Playtime is a movie without a story. It is a movie where things are constantly occurring, but nothing actually happens. It also may be the single greatest comedic achievement in cinematic history.

The sheer number of visual gags in Playtime is astounding. The film takes place in a variety of locations over the course of a day, and is only linked together by a couple of characters (including Jacques Tati's Monsieur Hulot), whose paths cross on occasion. Yet the focus of the film remains on the people and technology around them, turning the most mundane of situations into brilliant comedy. It's a film that takes multiple viewings just to pick up on all of the jokes. The choreography that Tati must have put in to setting up some of the gags is astounding, with many being built up so naturally that you won't even realize something is coming until it actually occurs. That the humor carries additional weight by holding a message on both tourism and the excesses consumerism only improves the quality of this already perfect film.

#3 - Chungking Express - dir. Kar Wai Wong - 1994
Like Playtime, Chungking Express is the type of film you really need to watch multiple times to get the most out of it.

Comprised of two overlapping stories - the first, about a love-sick cop who encounters a mysterious woman (who also happens to be a drug smuggler), carries an almost noir-feeling, and ends where the second story begins, at a snack bar known as Midnight Express. The second story, about a second love-sick cop, centers around a girl (in a miraculous performance by Faye Wong) who falls for him, and genre-shifts the movie into almost a romantic-comedy.

The direction of the film is stylish and full of energy; the camera work is kinetic, showcasing some fantastic imagery of the metro Hong Kong area, and the soundtrack (with its constant repetition of 'California Dreamin') is wonderful. However, the unconventional format of the film makes it so that some details - especially in how the two stories overlap - may not stick the first time. As a result, Chungking Express becomes one of those rare films that gets better every time you watch it.

#2 - Brand Upon the Brain! - dir. Guy Maddin - 2006
Guy Maddin's films are a sort of reinvention of the age of silent cinema. Brand Upon the Brain!, his best film, is like a dream that borders on becoming a nightmare. Almost hypnotic in nature, the film weaves the story follows a fictional Guy Maddin as he returns to the island with the lighthouse-orphanage that he grew up in, only to have his mind flash back to his childhood. What follows is a story that weaves together a tyrannical mother, children detectives, a mad scientist, lesbian lovers, and orphan nectar, held together by the fantastic visual aesthetics that make Maddin's films unlike any other working director.

#1 - Elevator to the Gallows - dir. Louis Malle - 1958
My number one film! Easily one of my favorite films ever, too (though I guess I could say that about all of my top ten)! Elevator to the Gallows, Louis Malle's directorial debut, is simply one of the coolest movies ever made. It has one of my all time favorite scores (composed by Miles Davis, who pretty much improvised the entire thing), and could very well be considered as the first film of the French New Wave, having been released nearly two years before both Godard's Breathless and Truffaut's The 500 Blows.
A superb noir crime-thriller, Elevator to the Gallows follows two separate crimes that intersect: a carefully planned murder by one man who finds himself trapped in an elevator, and the theft of the murderer's car by a young couple. What follows is storytelling at its finest, and I would hate to ruin it with spoilers.


So there you have it... my film list is complete. At least for this year. Even though I am no longer on my 500-in-a-year challenge, I'm still watching an awful lot, so I may make another best list once next November comes around. AndI do plan on making a best of 2011 list around Oscar time.

However, I have further plans for this blog, as I will be launching my original animated web-comic Fluff & Bone hopefully in the near future! So be excited!

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