|Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom
|Pier Paolo Pasolini
|Do the Right Thing
|SHAO LIN SA LIU FANG
|L' Âge d'or
|In the Mood for Love
|Wong Kar Wai
I knew my first choice had to be a David Lynch film. Although I have written a book on Fire Walk with Me, and have been a Twin Peaks obsessive for decades, I chose Blue Velvet because I think it encapsulates Lynch’s style of ‘American Surrealism’ and his constant return to the theme of what lies beneath the veneer of suburban bliss. The film perfectly captures the Reagan era’s nostalgia for a supposedly lost America but exposes that vision as one that contains a dark underbelly of violence and perversity. Our intrepid hero Jeffrey must learn to strike a balance between the forces of light and dark, reconciling his dark fantasies with his capacity for love and kindness.
A testament to the beauty of horror cinema. We are plunged into a nightmare, assaulted by colour and sound, yet the experience is one of orgiastic aesthetic pleasure.
A film about bodies in space, at once constrained by strict regimentation whilst also burning with repressed desire. The final scene where Denis Levant finally breaks free is one of the most ecstatic, and intensely moving, moments in cinema history.
Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom
Pier Paolo Pasolini presents us with a vision on Hell on Earth, taking the Marquis de Sade’s most depraved fantasies and revealing how easily they can become reality when power goes unchecked.
Do the Right Thing
An incendiary masterpiece, charting the fracturing of a community over the course of a single day. The rising temperatures exacerbate the already simmering tensions, which director Spike Lee shows in all their complexity, providing no clear answers.
An investigative journalist enters a mental health institution in order to solve a murder. What he finds there is a cross-section of American life, revealing the nation itself as one huge insane asylum. The realisation of this is enough to make you go mad.
SHAO LIN SA LIU FANG
Opening with a credits sequence showcasing the beauty and balletic qualities of martial arts on screen, the film that follows imbues the art of kung-fu with profound spiritual and philosophical elements. Protagonist Liu Yu-de’s voyage through the titular 36 chambers becomes one of self-discovery, which ultimately leads to a deeper connection with others.
L' Âge d'or
I cannot think of another film that holds within it all forms of cinema: known as a classic work of the avant-garde, it begins as a nature documentary, transforms into a tale of amour fou, then ends as a literary adaptation, capped by a truly blasphemous punchline.
In the Mood for Love
I need some romance amid what is a rather dark list!
At the centre of cinema is desire, and this film expresses it at its most painful and exquisite. Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung are cinema’s most beautiful couple, brought together by betrayal. Role playing as their adulterous spouses, they go through motions of falling in love and in the process succumb to it. But the most intense desire is one that is never fulfilled and exists only in fantasy.
Not only is Get Out a potent social critique of how America’s history of racism still exists at the heart of contemporary society, it stands as a testament to how genre, horror in particular, provides the perfect vehicle to deliver such important messages. It has already become an important cultural landmark, informing social discourse as well as subsequent films, assuming an influential place in the history of horror cinema.
Coming up with this list has been its own form of agony. My first concern was whether to submit a list of films that were more objectively ‘great’, or to make it more personal. I decided to go with the latter and fight for the films that mean so much to me.
The list has changed multiple times and I am already anticipating the regret that waits once I click ‘Submit’. I still cannot reconcile that there is no space for Cronenberg, Herzog, Leone, Hitchcock, Wilder, Tarkovsky, Kubrick, Kurosawa, Scorsese, Carpenter or DePalma on my list. My 16-year-old self is very angry with me about the absence of Pulp Fiction. I lament the lack of comedies (The Big Lebowski is my pick for the greatest of all time), and I really wanted to acknowledge the greatness of Singin’ in the Rain, a film I have shown to students every year I have been teaching and which never fails to enchant. I also feel some disappointment that there are no films from Africa or Australia, with Touki Bouki, Mad Max 2 and Wake in Fright all at one point appearing on earlier drafts. More recent films such as You Were Never Really Here and Portrait of a Lady on Fire also vied for a spot, as did older films I only recently discovered, such as The Ox-Bow Incident.
But for right now, at 3pm on 22 August 2022, this is my list.