Top Ten Favourite Film Titles

 

One of the most attractive things about a movie can be its title – now, I know that the proverbial book should not be judged by its cover, but a lot of people judge movies by their title, often unintentionally. A title is an important part of a film, so here my ten favourite film titles, because of the way they sound, or what they mean, or anything nice about them, really. In no particular order, but starting with my favourite:

A Brighter Summer Day (1991)

Edward Yang is the greatest Taiwanese filmmaker who has ever lived, and one of the greatest general filmmakers. He is also one of the most underrated. This is partially due to the fact he only made eight films, but I’ve seen two of them and they are both utterly magnificent. A Brighter Summer Day is his best film, and a film I find myself constantly recommending. I won’t go into the plot, since the plot is so diverse and indescribably lengthy, but it is definitely worth seeing. The film itself is not as beautiful as its title, but that does not take anything away from the film’s brilliance. Just think about that title… how it feels. Isn’t it so…

Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

A senseless mindfuck, I was at first bothered by the title of Stanley Kubrick’s fantastic final film. But then I thought about it, and I realized how perfect it was. The film is about dreams… it doesn’t deal with them directly, but dreams are an undeniable theme. The whole film just feels like one big dream, a feeling which is strongly supported by Nicole Kidman’s line in the final scene: “We’re awake now,” and the strange way the New York city streets look at night; you could swear this was shot on location, but something about those streets makes it feel… strange.

Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

Kubrick’s second consecutive appearance on this list is with what is undoubtedly one of the most memorable titles ever written. As madcap and farcical as the film itself, the title is a gleeful reminder of all the film has in store, and Kubrick’s ability to fuck with the audience even before the film has begun. Think about it: what kind of film is named after a character who doesn’t appear until almost an hour through it?

Inland Empire (2006)

People who haven’t seen this film and know little about it will not understand what is so special about the title. It has absolutely no meaning; director David Lynch thought of it based on something star Laura Dern said, and it has little if any relevance to the plot. If the film can be said to have a plot, which I believe it does. The movie is such a labyrinth of assorted scenes, seemingly unrelated, all constructed within this construction, this inland empire, if you will, which keeps all the tiny details together for the audience to discover and decode at their own pace.

Through a Glass Darkly (1961)

Ingmar Bergman’s stirring tale of mental illness and its effect on a family is also peppered with the eerie religious doubt that would connect his “Faith trilogy,” followed by the sombre, brilliant Winter Light and the fascinating, disturbing The Silence. Though the film has more connections to its predecessor, The Virgin Spring, rather than the films that follow it, Through a Glass Darkly is nevertheless an important staple of Bergman’s Chamber Trilogy. The title is a reference to the dirty mirror through which the characters view themselves and the people around them; the dirt which clutters up the mind of the mentally ill, and what we see when we look through this fogged glass at what at first seemed to be normality but is now darker and more revealing.

I Stand Alone (1998)

Gaspar Noe’s first feature, another underrated gem, is superior to the more famous Enter the Void, and is a nice little prequel of sorts to the more famous Irreversible. Following the story of a butcher who is distraught at the state of society and his sadly distant daughter, the film deals with depression and suicide in a manner wholly unique, special, and very moving. The title refers to the Butcher, a lonely, lonely man who stands on a proverbial hilltop, looking down at a burning civilisation and trying to pull a small piece of rubble from the wreckage and polish it so that maybe it might be new again.

The 400 Blows (1959)

This title is actually a mistranslated French proverb meaning “to raise Hell,” but I think the English title works just as well, if not better, than its French counterpart. It implies the film’s hero Antoine Doinel, and the situation he is stuck in, being beaten ruthlessly by society to be something they want him to be or to do something other than what he is doing, and how each blow to his spirit makes him want to fight even more for freedom.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

This is the one most people think of, and indeed, it is deserving of this list. The film is about a special treatment that allows people to have parts of their memory erased, and Charlie Kaufman picked the perfect title. As the film’s main character goes through the process of having his memory destroyed, the title implies the unending light that envelops the empty mind, the stupidity and worthlessness of having no memories, and the blankness that covers the brain when there is no imagination or memory to fill the space.

Man Bites Dog (1992)

Though the original French title translates to “It Happened in Your Neighborhood,” English-speaking viewers prefer the adopted title Man Bites Dog, which is a metaphor known in journalism. The film’s main character is a heartless psychopathic serial killer, the likes of which is both unseen and unlikely; equally as unlikely as the news story of a man biting a dog, or a documentary crew being as fanatical and accepting of the atrocities committed by the man they follow.

Un Chien Andalou (1929)

I love the films of Luis Bunuel, and the titles are always brilliant. Un Chien Andalou is the best; it translates in English to An Andalusian Dog, which is a perfect example of the utter chaos, senselessness, and madness of this 16-minute short film in which completely random things happen and absolutely nothing makes sense. There are no dogs, nor is there any important mention of Andalusia, so why is the film given that title? Why not? Exactly.

Those are my ten favourite titles; now I want you to name some of yours that haven’t been mentioned here. Leave a comment below, with some of your titles as well as what you think of the ones I’ve listed.

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Posted on October 2, 2011, in Lists, Movies and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 28 Comments.

  1. Awesome list man! I have seen a good amount of these films, but there are also some I have been planning on seeing, like I Stand Alone. Your blog is very impressive.

    • Thanks. I definitely recommend I STAND ALONE, especially if you are a fan of Gaspar Noe’s more well-known work, such as IRREVERSIBLE or ENTER THE VOID.

  2. i think i had a different interpretation of Eyes Wide Shut than you

    • Perhaps. It’s definitely a film that’s up for debate.

      • One of the reasons the setting in Eyes Wide Shut felt weird was Stanley was shooting London for New York as he didn’t leave England in his latter years. It does feel off dosen’t it? What’s amazing is that the entirety of Full Metal Jacket was shot there!

        Tyler, I gotta say you’re the only other person I know who’s seen I Stand Alone. Being into all thing dark I actually own it. Also. Enter The Void is one of my favorite title sequences of all time. Have you seen Drive yet? Pretty cool. Love the style. Director Winding Refn asked Noe how he shot the fire extinguisher scene so he could shoot something similarly gruesome.

        Dave

      • I plan to post my interpretation and my reasons for it in a blog post soon

      • @ackackattack: I haven’t seen DRIVE and that fact about Refn and Noe I did not know! That’s really interesting. I love I STAND ALONE.

        @dirtywithclass: I look forward to that post.

  3. Great list and as usual a couple of movies I have never heard of. An important reason for me to regularly visit as it broadens my vision of movies I still have to check out. THere aren’t any titles that jump to mind at the moment.

  4. Great list, Ty, these are some interesting titles indeed. Dr Strangelove is one that came to mind when I saw your title post so glad it’s in it.

    • Of course! How could I forget DR STRANGELOVE? It’s the mother of all classic film titles. Although it’s a rare time indeed when I refer to it by its full name.

  5. My favorite is They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

    I also like Dial M for Murder, Kill Bill, North by Northwest, Requiem for a Dream, Some Like It Hot, There Will Be Blood to name a few.

  6. I think my winner in this contest goes to “Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key”

  7. First of I have to point out your comment “a lot of people judge movies by their title, often unintentionally,” when you so intentionally snubbed the title of I Am Love when I mentioned it a while back. I wont hold it against you, all people are oxymorons.

    A good film title should allude to either,

    1) The story
    2) The Character/s
    3) The Theme/s

    A great title will encompass all three.

    Such as The Visitor, El Topo, Ronin or The Mask.

    I like that you put Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb as there was a trend of those ‘or’ duel titles for a while. Another good one being Polanski’s The Fearless Vampire Killers or: Pardon Me, But Your Teeth are in My Neck. At film school my short was called Cheating Death or: How Useless Movie Trivia Saved My Life.

    As you say some titles just sound good, and this is true for many. None more so than Reservoir Dogs. If you don’t know already, back when QT was slogging away in a rental store he recommended Au Revoir Les Enfants to a customer who misheard him and replied “I don’t want no Reservoir Dogs.”

    Most effective titles for me would be, I Heart Huckabees, Mystery Train, Alexandra’s Project, Colour Me Kubrick, The Fisher King, Grave of the Fireflies, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, No Country for Old Men, Ravenous, Spirited Away, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada and The Wicker Man. Too name a few that first popped into my head

    This needs to be followed up with a Top Ten Worst Film Titles such as AVP: Requiem. Requiem? I don’t think the writers even knew the meaning of the word.

    • I agree that a good title should refer to the film itself, as in its plot, characters and themes, but it’s difficult to avoid a film if it’s title just… sounds good. I think INLAND EMPIRE is a perfect example of a title that both sounds intriguing and is relevant to the themes and emotions of the movie, although Lynch claimed he chose it very early on based on something someone said, rather than the film itself.

      I’ll consider doing a ten worst titles list, and I think I’ll use AVP: Requiem, if you don’t mind.

      • I insist that you do. I am certain that they chose the word ‘requiem’ because it sounded good and that their target audience would never think to question it.

        Another to add to the list of crap titles is Rat Pfink a Boo Boo. It is supposed to be Rat Pfink AND Boo Boo but there was a typo on the film print and they couldn’t afford the $50 to fix it. And lets face it, it wouldn’t have helped much if they did.

        A lot of films from the 60s and 70s have really bizarre titles that make you want to watch them. I saw someone mention They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? which is a prime example. Grindhouse films have great titles too like Faster, Pussycat – Kill! Kill! (all Russ Meyer’s titles for that matter. Oh, and the wonderful Frankenhooker

        Oh I also for got my favourite ‘or’ title, Gas! Or: It Became Necessary to Destroy the World in Order to Save It. AKA Gas-s-s-s

        You should give I Am Love a go, let me know what you think of the score if you do.

      • I think the purpose of these titles is like the purpose of annoying advertising: even if it pisses a person off, it sticks in their mind and they don’t easily forget it.

        I do love those grindhouse titles. FASTER PUSSYCAT… is definitely one of my favourites.

        I’ve walked past that DVD of I AM LOVE too many times. Time to finally see it!

  8. I love The Pope Must Diet with Robbie Coltrane. There was such a furor over the original title The Pope Must Die that the filmmakers just added a T that looked like a cross on the end of the title. Even though it made no sense they basically got their title across anyway. Score one for the good guys.

    My favorite is probably Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia.

    Dave

    • Hehehe clever little buggers!

      That Peckinpah title was one that did originally spring to mind; I was waiting for someone to mention it.

  9. Great list…those titles really eye-catching,except from Through a Glass Darkly because it reminds me of Alice sequel, Through a Looking Glass.

  10. Hey, I haven’t seen the Lynch film, but I live in Riverside, CA or as it’s sometimes known, “The Inland Empire.” Riverside is more working class than it’s beachy brothers and sisters and is both grittier and livelier.

    • I think that’s where the name came from – a friend of Lynch’s mentioned the place and it stuck in his head. Before you go rushing to rent the DVD, I’ll tell you now the film has nothing to do with that place. I don’t think so, anyway. It’s a really screwed up movie.

  11. Interesting topic Tyler. I love short titles that seem to convey a lot in a short and snappy way. The Omen or The Exorcist or Scream are great horror film titles. I do love the title for Stand By Me though – I think it represents the film really well and just has an air of ‘hope’ about it.

    • Yeah, I do like more ominous and thought provoking titles (INLAND EMPIRE) rather than ones that tell you exactly what you’re going to get (CRASH).

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