As we move into the top 4, the four films that will forever define this medium that I love so much, I wanted to take a quick break and look at the films that I love dearly, but are mostly lacking a personal connection which means they didn’t quite make it to the vaunted top 10.
Woody Allen’s best film period, Annie Hall is a riotously funny look at when smart people act like fools in love. The film has such a relentless boundless energy and a depth of clever filmmaking and ideas that you can’t help but discover something new to love every time you dive back in.
The best script ever written, Robert Towne’s tight-as-a-nun script gives one of the most compelling and intriguing cinematic mysteries a wealth of amazing details and great characters. But it’s Polanski’s able direction and the star-announcing performance of Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway that makes Chinatown a classic for the ages.
By the way, I didn’t mean to put Polanski and Allen back to back like this. Two directors who have had their crimes come to the surface in the years since these releases. This is not the time nor the place to discuss their actions, and the power of their art exists for now separate from the artist’s life, especially so in Chinatown’s case.
The Godfather, Pt. 1 & 2
Cheating a little bit here, but I do earnestly believe that Francis Ford Coppola’s crime masterpieces really are two halves of the same whole. They tell the story of the Corleone family across generations and their rise to power and the costs that entailed. It’s the film that revitalized the idea of the epic and showed that studio filmmaking could again tell stories that innovated, stories that had true deep resonant power, and moments that will live on immortal. Plus, any series that made the careers of Francis Ford Coppola, Robert Duvall, and Al Pacino deserves a little respect.
Holy Motors is one of those films that can’t be explained with words, only taken in through images. Leos Carax has made a film equal parts impenetrable and inviting, beautiful and ugly, and joyful in it all. For my money, no film has celebrated the sheer awe-inspiring power that cinema has with such wonder and verve and creativity.
Lost in Translation
For one brief moment, something more than love is discovered. A connection in a world that has isolated them both. Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson have one of the best cinematic loves, and being romantic is too basic to understand it. A story of being lost and being found, Sophia Coppola found a special magic with Lost in Translation, a film deeply personal and deeply beautiful.
Mad Max: Fury Road
While the freshest movie on this list, there’s nothing that announced itself from frame one quite like Mad Max: Fury Road. A film of loud, incredible spectacle and one of the most brilliant directorial minds directing every which way like a conductor of chaos. A film of hope and inspiration and rebelling against a domination too long felt. Mad Max: Fury Road is pure, unabashed cinema.
The Night of the Hunter
One of the greatest thrillers of all time, and the greatest sadness in cinema is that its director never worked again. Charles Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter is a film filled with purpose and energy and blessed with one of the best villains of all time in Robert Mitchum’s Reverend Powell. A noir and a German Expressionist film just a little too late to be included in both, The Night of the Hunter is a towering, terrifying monument to cinema as a storytelling medium.
Totally personal note, I was always annoyed that all I ever really saw from Persona in my film classes was the self-reflexive opening. As brilliant as that intro is, Persona is a masterwork of cinematic art, Bergman’s finest hour in a career filled with them. Mindblowing performances from Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann, amazing direction, and one of the most brilliant dives into the depths of the human psyche all add up to a film that absolutely needs to be displayed in the finest galleries of the world besides every other work of human art.
The apocalypse has always loomed a little heavy in my mind. So with that in mind, plus the brilliant humanistic touch of Jeff Nichols and two of the greatest working actors today starring (Jessica Chastain and Michael Shannon), it’s only natural that Take Shelter is a film that I would love. But it still doesn’t quite get out how good, how heartbreaking, and how powerful Take Shelter really is, as a man stands alone against the entire world falling down around him.
Where the Wild Things Are
Childhood isn’t necessarily the best time of your life. It’s sad and difficult sometimes, especially when you’re having to come to terms with a world you don’t control. Where the Wild Things Are gets that. Spike Jonze brings Maurice Sendak’s brilliant tale to life to tell a story that is melancholy and beautiful and everything you could imagine. It’s a film that has no right to be as brilliant as it is.