|Au hasard Balthazar
|The Night of the Hunter
|Bonnie and Clyde
|A Woman under the Influence
|Fear Eats the Soul
|Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Au hasard Balthazar
My list always shifts, even day to day, let alone trying to order from 1-10.
Today, since Bresson's best movies are so utterly unique, so deceptively simple yet also deeply mysterious and moving in unexpected ways. Transcendent. Inimitable.
The incredible spare restraint to his approach is all the more impressive as we slide more and more into excess via all the extra tech tools now, and too often, a lack of substance underneath all the fireworks.
An animal as the central character and a young woman. Also a brilliant and poignant statement about basic human kindness, what we all need the most these days.
Bresson wanted people to feel a film before understanding it. The exact inverse to the mainstream Hollywood approach.
The Night of the Hunter
A true one off. Impossible to imitate. Unfairly banned. A staggering talent put-off-course and a warning to the entire film community and culture at large - we will now never know, nor experience the many other wonderful films that this genius was obviously once capable of giving us.
Blend of real horror, fairytale horror, exactly like experiencing a vivid haunted dream. 'Elephant Man' comes to mind as does "Psycho' - the unshakable image of the sinking car in the black bog and music matched to imagery equivalent to Mitchum's chilling scream in the ink-black water. Yet the large foot firmly planted in childhood only further elevates this movie. Stands it apart.
When it came to this trailblazer and champion of cinema, I also struggle choosing this over 'Raging Bull' and 'Goodfellas'... even 'King of Comedy'.
Yet this movie is perhaps the greatest and most powerful marriage between voice over, music score, and cinematic imagery. A similar reason I chose 'Badlands'. And wish I could include 'Apocalypse Now' for the same reason - they are the holy trinity that magically coalesce these triangular cinematic tools.
The explosive mix takes one on a journey so deep inside the damaged psyche of its character, where it feels one is reeling about inside of and trapped within Travis Bickle's own head. A neo-noir whose sheer audacity and blistering performances forever holds up a broken mirror to America's broken dream.
Another neo-noir of broken dreams but this time under the relentless sun, soaked in sweat, a muggy atmosphere where one can smell and feel it. The past is brought so vividly to life. Corruption oozes from every pore. Towards the end it contains one of the greatest and most disturbing lines delivered by John Huston to Nicholson.
Of course John Huston often pops up on my top list. 'Maltese Falcon' and 'Fat City' and more anti-heroes dazzlingly brought to life... a true master of cinema.
'Chinatown' elevates contemporary noir with a masterful screenplay and performances. It binds you into a sticky spider’s web.
Bonnie and Clyde
A movie that changed everything. Fused European new wave with American genre at its best. Perfectly evoked the inner turmoil behind such turbulent and violent times - the late 1960s.
Myth making and myth exploding. The manner in which these iconic characters are exterminated is still one of the most shocking and powerful endings in film history. It helped pave the road to another magnificent and violently cathartic ending, the pure mayhem in Peckinpah’s 'The Wild Bunch'. Another masterpiece and scorching commentary upon America’s inescapable marriage to violence, its primeval story of regeneration through violence.
The movie that also was instrumental in shaking up the old Hollywood studio system and helped prepare for the Renaissance of American filmmaking that flourished throughout the 1970s.
A classic of the American film Renaissance from the 70's. Another neo-noir. Lost souls searching. A refreshing lyrical approach to violence, storytelling and genre, hence so massively influential. Breathtaking cinematography together with a superb use of sound and music captures the head-in-the-clouds aspect to one of our characters and the unnerving unhinged narcissism to the other.
The juxtaposition of a naive youth and her lonely inner voice adrift in fantasy against the casual brutality of a charismatic psychopath who thinks he is James Dean is one of the best in cinema. The performances superbly express the explosive cocktail between pop culture, glamour, and especially fame with alienated outsiders on the outer edges of society. "The rich have got their channels in the bedrooms of the poor" as Leonard Cohen puts it. Another dark twist upon the American Dream.
A Woman under the Influence
A superbly accurate depiction of an emotional breakdown from a true cinema rebel. Cassavetes stood for genuine independence with a sense of freedom and fearlessness so palpable. His other masterpiece 'Killing of a Chinese Bookie' is more often than not in my top list. A great humanist like Robert Altman (and Renoir, De Sica, Rossellini); they celebrate the human spirit, the full mess, the fragility, and complexity to everyday people. 'McCabe and Mrs. Miller' or 'The Long Goodbye' or 'Nashville' or 'Short Cuts', too many to fit in or make a choice. I feel shamed by not including one...
Gena Rowlands gives one of the greatest ever performances. So unfiltered that one can’t separate it from real life. With such a trusting and brave performance that is in free fall, one cannot help but think the clear love between her and her director husband brought out the best in each other. Peter Falk is also heartbreaking since these characters' love for each other runs so deep yet he is so overwhelmed and confounded by what is most terrifying for all... to start to lose one’s mind. They each try so hard to connect with each other. Mesmerizing.
Fear Eats the Soul
Another true trailblazer filmmaker. Relentless, obsessive, subversive and the most prolific filmmaker in history. The quality to his output is also staggering. Like Pasolini - another in and out of my top list - genuine champions for the underdogs. Not just within their work, they lay down their lives for the oppressed.
An ingenious remake. The layered commentary upon race, class, and gender carries an authenticity and pathos rarely seen today in cinema. Subversive, keenly human and sublime. Like many of his movies, this was not only inspired by the great Douglas Sirk's work, but is a radical remake that more than rivals the original. They both masterfully dissected society's impact upon its more vulnerable individuals. They both utilized yet transcended the art of melodrama. And like Sirk, R W Fassbinder was in a class of his own.
Another neo-noir in rich color and wildly inventive sound. Often underrated, it is in fact a towering fevered dream. It takes Lee Marvin, an icon from out the past, from original noir classics, and together they reinvent the genre.
It is a vision to behold on a big screen. European existential dread brought into the heart of Hollywood via the great John Boorman. A Kafkaesque mission that goes full circle. Was it all a dream or was it all a near-death experience? Modernist glass buildings, rooms in marble or shiny wood, veneer, velour, satin, mirrors, windows - reflections everywhere questioning reality itself. It is all carefully colour coded giving everything a strange otherworldly feel, the underworld in the netherworld. Vengeance attempted within time disjointed.
The audacious visual innovation together with the even more audacious subjectivity of the sound design, helped shake it all up for America cinema.
Perhaps the greatest walking scenario in cinema. 'Walker', Lee Marvin's character stalks about like a caged animal. A rare movie that shows the futility of revenge. A visionary movie that foretold the hopelessness, unspoken rage, and frustration of individuals in the face of overwhelming corporate power.
A foot in neorealism and a foot in something far more poetic. Also a Cormac (McCarthy) favourite, 'La Strada', translated as 'The Road', and like his book is another profound journey of the human struggle to survive, albeit under very different circumstances. The naked fragility of a person, and again, basic human kindness, under pressure, under attack.
The uninhibited passionate performances. Masina’s clown evokes Whitman’s “Some people are so much sunlight to the square inch.” Hence the cruelty of Quinn's Strongman is all the harder to bear. Quinn's finest performance. He turns his back on her, the only one that gets him and could comfort him. He kills the Fool and then goes mad, ending up alone on a beach, all grounded in reality yet powerfully moving, mythic, and lyrical.