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.