Since tomorrow is my birthday and I probably won’t be posting anything here on the blog, I thought I’d do something themed around the quarter of a century I’ve spent here on this world. The idea came to me almost naturally to examine the twenty five most important films – not necessarily the best twenty five, but the ones I think should be seen more than any others – of the last twenty five years; films that have been released during my lifetime and that have thoroughly impressed and stunned me. Some of the titles on this list will be nothing new to you if you’ve been reading my blog for a while, but I’ve tried to make things more interesting by writing about my experiences with the twenty five films and how it feels to have such wonderful creations borne into existence during my lifetime. The films are listed in chronological order of their release date.
- A Short Film About Killing (1987)
There have been a lot of films made about the controversy surrounding the death penalty. But none have been more simpler or more effective than Krzysztof Kieslowski’s stunning tearjerker A Short Film About Killing, in which a young man for no apparent reason brutally murders a taxi driver and must face the consequences. Kieslowski does a difficult thing by making the audience cry when the murderer is executed, a scene that remains one of cinema’s most heartwrenching deaths.
- Evil Dead II (1987)
“Groovy.” Quite possibly my favourite horror movie, Evil Dead II (and its predecessor) has always been an important staple of my filmgoing experience, and while this film might not be perfect, it is damn entertaining and absolutely vital viewing, whether you love horror or not.
- Damnation (1988)
As depressing as its title implies, Bela Tarr’s Damnation is not a perfect film either, but there are moments of profundity in this movie that are rare in the filmgoer’s general experience, and Damnation captures the feelings of complete isolation, loneliness and sadness perfectly. It’s not the sort of film that’s going to make you want to kill yourself, but there are some moments of beautiful sadness that make the film unique and strong.
- Sex Lies and Videotape (1989)
In general, I am not a huge fan of Steven Soderbergh, but Sex, Lies and Videotape was the film that reaffirmed my faith in the director. A quiet but shocking indie gem, the film deals with sexuality in a refreshingly new but startlingly cold manner, with interesting results. One of my top fifty films.
- The Seventh Continent (1989)
Few directors are capable of evoking pure emotion from shots that seem completely emotionless, and of the few that are capable, none do it as well as Michael Haneke. The Seventh Continent is a film best watched when you know absolutely nothing about it, and while the huge gut-punch in its final act might not make sense to some, it is nevertheless a powerful and shocking finale that won’t be forgotten.
- Goodfellas (1990)
Martin Scorsese’s greatest film and a movie that on repeat viewings only gets better and better, Goodfellas paints a unique, painful, funny and bloody portrait of gangster life and does so with pure class, attention to detail and a fantastic cast and crew.
- A Brighter Summer Day (1991)
A Brighter Summer Day is a rare film directed by the greatest director not enough people have heard of. At the too-young age of 59, Edward Yang passed away leaving in his wake only seven feature films. I have seen two, and both are on this list. A Brighter Summer Day is a film I would nominate as the best movie of the nineties. Perhaps I wouldn’t pick it as my best, but it simply does not get enough attention. It is one of a handful of movies that really changed my life.
- Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)
“You stupid fuckin’ cunt.” Viewing this film for the fourth time a few nights ago, I realized I had seen it enough times to be able to judge it properly as one of my favourite films. Everything about this small movie is perfect. The cast, the direction, the fucking screenplay… few movies attain a level of utter brilliance as Glengarry Glen Ross does. I could watch it over and over and over. It will always stay with me.
- Three Colours: Blue (1993)
If with the tongues of men I speak,
and of angels,
Love I do not have,
I have become a gong resounding or cymbal clanging.
And if I have the gift of prophecy,
and know mysteries all,
faith mountains move,
Love I do not have, nothing I am.
Love is generous, virtuous,
Love does not envy, boast, not proud is.
All she protects, all she trusts, all she hopes, all she perseveres.
Love never she fails. Be it prophecies, they will cease,
Be it tongues, they will be stilled, be it knowledge it will cease.
So remain, Faith, Hope and Love, these three. But the greatest of these is Love.
- Satantango (1994)
Bela Tarr’s Satantango is a seven hour film, but its greatest lesson and its most profound moments lie in its final thirty minutes. A drunken doctor, the only remaining resident in town after an unprecedented exodus, is roused by the distant sound of bells. He leaves his home to investigate. The meaning of what he finds is not explicity stated, but many interpret it as a harbinger of an incoming apocalypse. The doctor, a notorious voyeur who almost constantly spies on the other townspeople and records in his notebook their activities, then does an astonishing thing. What does he do? You’ll have to watch the film to see.
- Taste of Cherry (1997)
Abbas Kiarostami is a director you either connect with immediately or don’t. If you’re looking to discover his work, Taste of Cherry is probably the best place to start. A heartfelt and saddening story of hopelessness and the contemplation of suicide, Taste of Cherry’s style, acting and dialogue are all perfectly composed and executed, and even its bizarre ending which confuses many is instilled with a brilliance that few other directors could pull off.
- Magnolia (1999)
“I loved her so. And she knew what I did. She knew all the fucking stupid things I’d done. But the love… was stronger than anything you can think of. The goddamn regret. The goddamn regret! Oh, and I’ll die. Now I’ll die, and I’ll tell you what… the biggest regret of my life… I let my love go. What did I do? I’m sixty-five years old. And I’m ashamed. A million years ago… the fucking regret and guilt, these things, don’t ever let anyone ever say to you you shouldn’t regret anything. Don’t do that. Don’t! You regret what you fucking want! Use that. Use that. Use that regret for anything, any way you want. You can use it, OK? Oh, God. This is a long way to go with no punch. A little moral story, I say… Love. Love. Love. This fucking life… oh, it’s so fucking hard. So long. Life ain’t short, it’s long. It’s long, goddamn it.”
- Werckmeister Harmonies (2000)
The best. Ever.
- Code Unknown (2000)
Michael Haneke’s Code Unknown is a film I suspect understands the flaws in society better than any other film. It knows there are no solutions to our biggest flaws; they are issues instilled in us from birth. It simply mourns the horrific acts many of us commit and the sadnesses that go on unnoticed in our busy world. This is best exemplified in a scene where the main character, Anne, is ironing clothes and watching TV. Suddenly she hears a noise and turns the TV down. She listens closely and we hear, coming from the next apartment, the screams of a child during physical abuse. A mortified Anne listens for a while, then does what so many of us do: she turns the TV up and forgets about it. Haneke never forgets.
- Songs from the Second Floor (2000)
Has a film with no plot at all ever been as entertaining as Roy Andersson’s Songs from the Second Floor, a bitter satire that makes us laugh, gasp and think? Andersson’s first feature in more than 25 years, Songs from the Second Floor makes use of expensive sets to enhance the realism of a series of funny, dark vignettes about modern life. In my favourite, a businessman who has burned down his shop to claim for the insurance money is spinning lines and lines of bullshit to men from the insurance company when his annoying voice is gradually and slowly silenced by the sound of men in suits who are passing by the street and whipping each other, moaning and screaming in pain. Why are they doing this? Who knows? Andersson makes it hilarious to watch, though.
- Yi Yi (2000)
Edward Yang’s final film before cancer overtook him, Yi Yi is a three-hour masterwork about life in modern Asia, a film that remains constantly interesting, moving and saddening for every minute of its runtime, and a film that, like A Brighter Summer Day (1991), brings me to tears with each viewing.
- Mulholland Dr. (2001)
“This is the girl.” There is a moment somewhere in the second act of David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. where Justin Theroux, as a film director, exchanges a long and lengthy glance with Naomi Watts’ character, an actress. The glance lasts a long while, or seems to, and the expression on Theroux’s face during this glance is something I am unable to put into words. It’s… wow.
- Waking Life (2001)
“There’s only one instant, and it’s right now. And it’s eternity.” Richard Linklater, one of the most important American filmmakers working today, shot the film Waking Life in 2001, and had it animated on a Mac computer. The result is one of the most thought-provoking, awe-inspiring film experiences you are likely to ever have. Certainly I have never experienced anything like it, nor do I expect to again. If you let yourself sit back, relax and think, you will enjoy yourself and the film will stay in your head for days.
- Russian Ark (2002)
“Look… the sea is all around. We are destined to sail forever… to live forever.” Aleksandr Sokurov’s masterful Russian Ark is much more than a stunt. Consisting of a 90-minute unedited single take, it explores Russian history in a way that is thought-provoking, interesting and extremely, extremely beautiful. The final ballroom sequence remains the most impressive set piece of recent years, but is only a fraction of the film’s remarkable whole.
- Inland Empire (2006)
David Lynch’s wackadoo experiment with the digital medium, Inland Empire is a film that has bored many and will continue to do so. However, a lot of viewers (including myself) have found it to be an intriguing, gripping film that, while making little sense at all, is still engaging, horrific, dramatic, dark and wondrous. Laura Dern gives an acting performance unlike any other in this enigmatic, unforgettable movie.
- 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007)
Cristian Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is minimalist, eerily atmospheric, contains dark themes, disturbing content and a powerful message. But its biggest success is that is completely, utterly horrifying. Its camerawork evokes Michael Haneke and its subject matter is reminiscent of Lars von Trier, but the film is surprisingly different and refreshing. In painting a story of a nightmarish chapter in Romania’s history, it succeeds in spades and provokes deep, serious thought.
- There Will Be Blood (2007)
Paul Thomas Anderson’s most recent film (not including the upcoming epic The Master) is one of the swiftest, most interesting, dark and thrilling tales of human greed I’ve ever encountered. The performance by Daniel Day-Lewis in the leading role is revelatory, and Anderson’s direction coupled with Robert Elswit’s cinematography is a winning combination.
- Synecdoche, New York (2008)
The fantastic writer Charlie Kaufman’s directorial debut is absolutely perfect. Everything about it, from its poster (which Christopher Nolan may or may not have stolen for Inception) to its acting to its direction to its screenplay to its final frames. A film that demands repeat viewings, Synecdoche has a logic and understanding of human life that few films capture quite as well.
- Le Quattro Volte (2011)
There is not a single legible word of dialogue in this 84-minute Italian film, and there doesn’t have to be. It is so visually beautiful that human words would’ve ruined it. Not only are its visuals stunning, it also has a powerfully poetic message about the nature of life, existance, and how life passes on through human life, animal life, plant life and into a fourth indescribable realm, where existence never ends and life always goes on.
- The Turin Horse (2011)
There are about 1,400 words of dialogue in this 150-minute film from Bela Tarr, which he has announced will be his last. Much of this dialogue is spoken in one or two scenes, and many long sections of the movie feature only the roaring wind on the soundtrack. The Turin Horse is fantastic, the best movie of last year, and a film that shook me to the core, like all of Bela Tarr’s other films. It left a mark on me that I won’t forget, and when the DVD is released on July 17, you can guess who will be among the first to buy it.
So those are my 25 films, for 25 years. What do you think?