Director / Screenwriter
|Francis Ford Coppola
|Monty Python's Life of Brian
|La dolce vita
|The 400 Blows
|Paul Thomas Anderson
The streets of my hometown have never been more frighteningly beautiful than in Buñuel's coming-of-age masterpiece, set in the lower depths of Mexico City. It also has one of the best dream sequences ever shot.
The first time I saw Apocalypse Now as a teenager, I felt ill. Physically ill. The following day I wanted to watch it again. I still feel that way about it - it repels and fascinates me endlessly (it's impossible to hear The Doors now without a sense of dread).
In my mind, it's the most successful adaptation of a novel into a movie. Perhaps the reason for it is how detached the movie is from the source material which, paradoxically, is what allows it to arrive at the Heart of Darkness's heart. How Coppola throws himself completely - family and all - into his movies sets an example for all filmmakers to come. I don't think anyone has made such grandiose (and expensive) studio films in such a personal, authorial way.
Walter Murch's trance-inducing sound design and editing make this movie more an experience than a piece of storytelling. Though I think I prefer the original cut, every iteration of it has been a perfect excuse to dive into it again and behold with wonder what horror humans are capable of.
Monty Python's Life of Brian
Probably the film I've watched the most - and keep going back to, whenever I get the blues.
From the opening scene of the Three Magi mistaking Christ's manger for Brian's, to the climactic "Always look on the bright side of life" musical number at the crucifixion, this movie has more meaning than madness (and there's plenty of that too). Also some genuine Cinema moments, like Brian's brief alien abduction...
La dolce vita
Fellini is probably the director I watch the most (together with Kurosawa). I could have filled the whole list just with Fellini movies... Each one brought Cinema a step forward into the future. But perhaps this is his very best. Everything about it: the statue of Christ flying over Rome, the fontana di Trevi scene, the final party by the beach, the cars, the dances, the political comment, the sex, the humour, the atmospheres, the decadence ... I think this is what films were made for. And the girl's smile in the final scene and Marcello who can't face her out of shame ... sad and beautiful.
The 400 Blows
Truffaut has always been my favourite among the Nouvelle Vague - his humour, his humanism and compassion pour out of every frame of this, his first movie. It is to Cinema what The Catcher in the Rye is to literature - the most beautiful portrayal I know of growing pains. What a kid! What a face! What a character!
One of those films you can't believe you had not watched before. It feels like the redefining of film grammar. It's not only the astounding set pieces (the departure of the soldiers off to war, the 360 degree shot of Boris running up the stairs to kiss Veronika, or the grand finale when the soldiers return to a parade of flowers and broken hearts), but the emotion that runs through the whole sweeping epic in the face of Veronika - like a Tolstoy novel that perfectly balances the intimate with the grandiose. Like with I am Cuba, it feels as if a whole country is involved in the making of a movie - a nation's project to define itself.
PTA's most revered film is probably There Will Be Blood, but Punch-Drunk Love saved my life. I can't remember a film that made me literally cry and laugh, at the very same time. Such an original masterpiece - I can't think of any movie that is quite like it. Funny and sad. Violent and tender. Expressionistic and sordid. It really pushes counterpoint to new limits. It's pop and profound, nostalgic and silly - perhaps the finest Trojan horse of a movie ever to use a popular comedian to make such a weird and idiosyncratic piece of art.
Again, I could have filled the list with just Kiarostami movies. It's hard to pick from among Taste of Cherry, Where is the Friend's House? and even his late Certified Copy... but Close-Up is unlike any other movie I've seen. Beyond how it blurred the boundaries between fiction and documentary in a new way, it is a genuinely moving love letter to cinema and to cinephiles. Its poetry comes from the most unexpected places.
The moment when the film shifts from the sequence of stills to 24 frames per second as the woman is waking up is perhaps the greatest magic trick cinema has given us.
What Mike Leigh and his actors achieved in this movie is perhaps some of the greatest acting in the history of cinema. David Thewlis's journey into the underbelly of London is one the most painful and engaging portrayals of the human condition: doomed to roam the earth alone, spiritually alone. It's also hysterically funny.
This is so unfair! Leaving out Kurosawa feels just dumb. I hate doing these desert island lists. But once I start doing them, I can't stop thinking about it.
I'd have included all of Kurosawa, as well as 2001, Dr. Strangelove, Tarkovsky's Stalker, Woody Allen's Annie Hall, Duck Soup by the Marx Brothers, Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, Welles's F for Fake and of course Kane, Lynne Ramsay's Ratcatcher, Clouzot's The Wages of Fear, Steve Mc Queen's Hunger, Vanishing Point, Von Trier's The Five Obstructions and The Idiots, Lucrecia Martel's Zama, Zemecki's Back to the Future and even Deep Throat ...