Compiling a list of favourite films is a near impossible task. The list will never be accurate beyond the nanosecond of its compilation. It suffers from my own impermanent moods, cultural zeitgeist, cinematic trends and many more ever-changing factors. It’s simply a matter of taste. That said…
10. MULHOLLAND DRIVE
Mulholland Drive is the ultimate mind bender. I remember seeing this film and not understanding much of the plot yet feeling entirely comfortable in my confusion. Lynch’s ability to take the audience into the subconscious is surpassed by none.
This scene, the audition scene, is a masterclass in a director proving that the lines mean little; it’s what is between them that’s important. And this scene, the Diner scene, might just be the best two-characters-talking-at-a-table scene ever filmed.
Mulholland Drive showcases a truly breakout performance by Naomi Watts, who displays a vast array of acting chops rarely seen in a film without Meryl Streep.
9. THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS
This timeless thriller boasts one of the all-time great female protagonists in FBI rookie, Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster). She’s making her way in a man’s world and the film constantly reminds us of that fact visually via the juxtaposition of Starling and the mis-en-scene. The men repeatedly get things wrong in Silence; even Buffalo Bill wants to be a woman.
This film is all about the characters. Five great characters: Starling, Hannibal Lecter, Buffalo Bill, Dr. Chiltern and Bill’s potential victim, Catherine Martin. Each to them leap off the screen as truly fleshed out souls with believable motivation for their actions.
Then there is Demme’s confident direction. Breaking of the fourth wall is a rarity, especially in a serious film. The technique is predominantly used for comic effect as this video illustrates.
The phrase “It’s as relevant today as the day it was filmed” has been applied to so many films that it has become a tired cliché. With Network however the phrase is apt. Treading similar themes to Netflix’s outstanding true crime documentary Making a Murderer, Network satires the unscrupulous motives and methods of a FOX-style newsroom. This classic film is now 50 years old and little has changed other than a confirmation of the visionary gifts screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky. This BBC article labels the film as one which ‘predicted the future’.
Australian actor Peter Finch also earned himself a posthumous Oscar for his turn in the role of crazed new anchor, Howard Beale. His line, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” is immortalised in film history.
7. ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST
Sergio Leone’s spaghetti western has the best opening of any film ever. There can be little argument with that. Except for 2001: A Space Odyssey, that is.
Once Upon a Time in the West is a film of epic proportions both in front of and considering the talent behind the camera. The original story comes from the collaborative minds of Leone himself, Bernardo Bertolucci and Dario Argento; three kings of Italian cinema. The cast boats Claudia Cardinale, Charles Bronson, Jason Robards, Woody Strode and, perhaps best of all, Henry Fonda against-type as the villain Blue Eyes.
Oh, and then there’s that score by Ennio Morricone.
6. POINT BREAK
Yep, I love surfing. Love bank robbery movies. Love action films, chase films, Keanu Reeves, Patrick Swayze, Red Hot Chilli Peppers. This film is so 90’s and is never going out of style.
Most of all, though, after this film I have been mesmerised by every film Kathryn Bigelow has made since. She is still the first and only woman to win the Oscar for Best Directing and I argue she should have won it again for Zero Dark Thirty. Her cinematic taste is impeccable, and her timing breathless and ability to create tension is unsurpassed. The foot chase scene in Point Break is still the greatest one-on-one chase scene of all time.
5. NOTTING HILL
Notting Hill is a classic. Get over it.
Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian seems to agree with me.
4. ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN
Whilst this is undisputedly an amazing piece of filmmaking, I think that the reason this film is so compelling still comes down to the gobsmacking story of the uncovering of multiple abuses of power.
My love for the film eventually convinced me to read the original novel by Woodward and Bernstein, published in 1974 and I found that to be equally as gripping – even more unlikely as we all know the ending! For a non-fiction book to read like a thriller is rare. Capote’s In Cold Blood comes to mind as a rare exception, so too Graysmith’s Zodiac.
The film, directed by Alan J. Pakula, hangs on the pairing of Redford and Hoffman as two junior journalists in over their head. The cinematography is an especially strong aspect of this dialogue driven film. Gordon “The Prince of Darkness” Willis’s signature is everywhere but nowhere more so that the icon rendering of the informant “Deepthroat”.
3. MAD MAX 2 (a.k.a The Road Warrior)
Perhaps it’s that I’m Australian that this film resonates with me so much? This previous article I wrote gives an insight into just some of the personal reasons that it may be so.
Cinematically, however, the film is worth of its top ten spot. Why? Here’s a list:
- Its one of those films that I keep returning to again and again.
- I can recite all the dialogue verbatim.
- The Interceptor is the coolest vehicle in the history of cinema.
- There’s so little dialogue that the visual storytelling is on another level.
- Every character is unique.
- There’s a razor-blade boomerang.
- The final 40 minutes is the greatest chase scene in all of cinema.
- Mel Gibson – love him or hate him – is riveting.
- There’s no CGI. It’s all practical effects. Mind. Blown.
- It’s Australian.
2. THE GRADUATE
Mike Nichols’ classic contribution to cinema is 50 years old this year and still seems as fresh as the year it came out. The Graduate is one of a few films that heralded in the “New Wave” of American cinema.
The visual techniques on display by Nichols, in only his second film, are beyond his years. His use of long-lens camera and the widescreen format fills the frame with subtext at all possible moments. He almost never resorts to the standard shot-reverse-shot, as most dialogue-driven film do. Nichols, a veteran of stage direction, works his actors with the touch of a magician.
The two lead performances from Dustin Hoffman and Anna Bancroft are alive with anger, pain and nuance but are always at the service of both the camera and the story. The support cast, too, brim with excitement.
Nichols won the Oscar for Best Direction for The Graduate and wit, both verbal and visual, is present in every frame of the film.
1. 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY
Here is a film that is so profound that the author (Arthur C Clarke) and director (Stanley Kubrick) dare to say “We have a theory of how life on Earth might have been started and another theory on where we might be headed, if only we don’t blow ourselves up first”. It’s such an audacious document of humanity that can be compared to any sacred text.
For me, I watch it probably once a year. I’ve seen it in all formats from a laptop computer to a 70mm print and it is always a spectacle. it probably doesn’t belong in this list because its much, much more than a film. It’s a profound life experience.