Organizing and Internalizing: A List of My Favourite Films

I am, by nature, a creature who seems to be growing more and more obsessive about organizing things as I age. Whatever my bookcase holds will eventually find itself organized somehow – alphabetically, by date, by author, band, etc. Having returned to my apartment in Montreal from Newfoundland with a full suitcase of DVDs to add to said bookcases, I find myself embarking on the unavoidable re-organizing of materials.

While flying back to Montreal last evening, having this inevitable re-organization in mind, I set about jotting down the first 10 films that seemed to be movies that have stuck with me over time. The list stalled and ballooned with everywhere from 5 to 20 films making appearances; I worried about excluding some while including others and the whole task became fraught with anxiety. In order to simplify things I decided to stick to the films that immediately and indisputably came to mind.

I take for granted that anyone who finds this blog may be familiar with me in some way: who I am, what my tastes are, what sorts of films I enjoy more than others, what themes stick with me, or images, etc… but, this is the internet where mostly everyone is a stranger.

As such, I put this list forward with the substantial caveats that:

A) this list very well could change daily and, moving forward through time, maybe some films will resonate less while others take on more weight in my mind, and,

B) that this is in no way a list of the “BEST” films I have ever seen. To my mind any strictly quantifiable  list of best films is well beyond me; I lack both the knowledge and the breadth of exposure to make any sort of claim as to the best of anything.

So, without further ado, and of course alphabetized, a list of 9 of my favourite films.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Adaptation (2002)

Adaptation PosterDirected by Spike Jonze, Written by Charlie Kaufman/Donald Kaufman (screenplay) and Susan Orlean (novel), Starring Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper

I am a very big fan of Charlie Kaufman‘s work, he hasn’t written a movie that I have not immensely enjoyed. This film, however, is the one that I hold closest to my heart. Being a writer, the film’s use of the duality of the Kaufman twins speaks to me, Charlie’s struggle with his creative process and the attempt to strike a balance between truth and sensationalism all resonate. The film’s meta-cinematic strokes are genius and the acting is stellar. There is also this scene which I’ve taken up as a sort of template for life and living. That Donald even receives a credit for the writing of the film illustrates Kaufman’s brilliance and the movie’s ability to reach beyond the screen to comment on the creative process.

Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972)

Aguirre PosterWritten and Directed by Werner Herzog, Starring Klaus Kinski

The first of Herzog‘s films I viewed remains among my favourite films ever. Kinski‘s eyes burned their way into my heart and mind while watching the film and have not relinquished their grasp ever since. Aguirre, alongside the equally brilliant Fitzcarraldo, stands as Herzog’s voyage into the heart of man and madness; the film’s first shot of the descent of the conquistadors takes on graver significance when one consider’s Aguirre’s last raft-bound and bent soliloquy. Herzog leads his film crew through the jungle and the rapids, undergoing many of the perils depicted by the camera to get the shots, an Aguirre of his own, seeking out the El Dorado of his own ecstatic truth.

Buffalo ’66 (1998)

Buffalo '66 PosterWritten and Directed by Vincent Gallo, Starring Vincent Gallo and Christina Ricci

Vincent Gallo can be a pretty divisive figure – see the controversy surrounding the Brown Bunny for example. However, his work in Buffalo ’66 hit a nerve somewhere down deep in me. The first film to really move me toward independent cinema, Buffalo ’66, and its desperately lonely and injured Billy Brown, is as wryly hilarious as it is heart-breaking and touching. Gallo makes use of actual locations from his childhood as well as filming techniques – different film stocks, interior decor – to capture the wounds implicit in nostalgia and growing up and how family may alienate someone from affection. The film expresses a yearning that spans time and is eminently relatable.

Exotica (1994)

Exotica PosterWritten and Directed by Atom Egoyan, Starring Bruce Greenwood, Mia Kirshner and Elias Koteas

Exotica first entered into my consciousness as I entered into adolescence, a sort-of late night skin flick on the CBC. Re-visiting the film later in life I was enraptured by Egoyan‘s precision in unfolding the narrative of the film, in revealing the relationships of the characters and the emotion behind an ostensibly removed tone. The film’s final moments when everything comes together are sweepingly moving as Egoyan pulls back a seemingly seductive veil to reveal a web of injured hearts connected in unspeakably sad ways. The themes of the film nod toward his later (and better) The Sweet Hereafter, but the skill and subtle sensitivity on display in Exotica are what first hooked me on Egoyan’s films.

Happiness (1998)

Happiness PosterWritten and Directed by Todd Solondz, Starring Jane Adams, Dylan Baker, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Lara Flynn Boyle, Cynthia Stevenson, Ben Gazzara and Camryn Manheim

Perhaps the most ironically titled film ever, Solondz‘s dark satire of the pursuit of happiness goes to great pains to undermine many tacit assumptions held about the general goodness of unassuming or upstanding people. Beginning with a painfully awkward situation between a couple on a date and spiraling down from there, Happiness pulls no punches in seeking to unsettle, shock, and, ultimately, hold the mirror up to its audience. A uniformly excellent and fearless ensemble brings Solondz’s vision to life on screen, challenging the audience to be honest enough to admit that there is more than a small piece of themselves reflected somewhere in the films’ characters, leaning out towards acceptance and happiness while society, family and even themselves, conspire against their attempts.

Night of the Hunter (1955)

Night of the Hunter PosterDirected by Charles Laughton, Written by James Agee (screenplay) and Davis Grubb (novel), Starring Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters and Lillian Gish

Certainly the only American Gothic German Expressionist Fable  in film, this is a singularly strange and hauntingly beautiful picture. The love-child of John Ford and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Night of the Hunter utilizes light and shadow, canted angles and a leitmotif to underscore the ineffable malevolence of Mitchum‘s Harry Powell and his pursuit of the children. Part thriller, part chase film, part moral tale, there is nothing like Night of the Hunter in existence; sadly Laughton‘s only directorial effort, the film’s influence can be seen in works as disparate as Do the Right Thing and The Elephant Man. Some of the film’s images have lodged themselves into my brain (and the front page of my blog, subsequently).

Oldboy (2003)

Oldboy PosterDirected by Chan-wook Park, Written by Chan-wook Park, Jo-yun Hwang, Chun-hyeong Lim (screenplay), Garon Tsuchiya (story) and Nobuaki Minegishi (comic), Starring Min-sik Choi, Ji-tae Yu and Hye-jeong Kang

Oldboy stands as the happiest of my accidental viewings. While working at a video store, I stumbled across our one copy of Oldboy on the shelf, seeing both Roger Ebert and Quentin Tarantino‘s names on the box moved me to take the film home. My view of Asian cinema was never the same after. Fueled by Park‘s direction and Choi‘s indelible performance, the film moves slowly toward a conclusion of Shakespearean proportions. This film spurred me to check out numerous other Asian films by Takashi Miike, Ki-duk Kim and others, opening many doors that I am thankful were opened. Though other films came after none (even Park’s other films) matched the effect visceral and provoking effect Oldboy had on me.

Paris, Texas (1984)

Paris Texas PosterDirected by Win Wenders, Written by Sam Shepard and L.M. Kit Carson (adaptation), Starring Harry Dean Stanton, Dean Stockwell and Nastassja Kinski

Opening with perhaps a perfect metaphor for its central character, Paris, Texas represents the cinema’s ability to make explicit implicit states of those it presents. Gorgeously shot, sparse and with sunsets unlike any I’ve seen presented in film, Wenders marries Shepard‘s words with evocative images to paint the emotional desolation of a man. Along with Ry Cooder‘s plaintive score, the film builds incrementally towards its understated and powerful conclusion. Stanton‘s face seems deep and haggard, his wounds deep, his performance close to immaculate. His pursuit of a Utopian perfect un-existing place leads him to his ex-wife in an unforgettable exchange and the inevitable sunset that follows.

Re-Animator (1985)

Re-Animator PosterDirected by Stuart Gordon, Written by Stuart Gordon, William Norris and Dennis Paoli (screenplay) and H.P. Lovecraft (novel), Starring Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Bruce Abbot and David Gale

A result of curiousity; I was watching American Beauty with a friend when Lester mentioned this film to Ricky. The description of the film lead us to investigate whether or not it actually existed and then, subsequently, to seek it out. A ridiculously grotesque and surprisingly hilarious film about re-animating the dead anchored by an amazingly perfect performance from Jeffrey Combs. My soft spot for horror films is large and very soft and this films hits harder than any other; as clever as it is perverse, Re-Animator stands as one of my guiltiest and most pleasurable pleasures; I have watched this at least a half-dozen times. The major players from this also got together the following year for another Lovecraft adaptation called From Beyond that is nearly as good as this film and much less well known.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

A little heavy on films made after I was born, I suppose, but each speaks to its role in my taste and the development of it. Painful exceptions from the list included films such as Le Samourai, Cache, Persona, Ikiru, Hiroshima Mon Amour, Jackie Brown, There Will Be Blood, The Fly, Notorious, Talk to Her, 2001: A Space Odyssey… and the list could probably go on a long time. But, hopefully someday I’ll have a chance to give each of those films their own spotlight.

6 Responses to “Organizing and Internalizing: A List of My Favourite Films”
  1. Scott says:

    The list reads like billboards on our post-adolescent, cinematic journey. Each film sparks memories of times, locations, and mindsets that evolved with every new director/style that we discovered.
    What a great stroll down memory lane.

Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] my favourite film, still, for all the reasons that I mention here. Vincent Gallo‘s auturist piece still resonates with me in all the ways that it first did. As […]

  2. […] like Happiness that I keep sharing with new friends. I’ve written enough about this here and here to spend too much time outside a thorough review now. And I don’t have time for […]

  3. […] Always one of my favourite films to watch with new friends, it functions, somewhat, as a litmus test: if the other people watching appreciate it (if not enjoy it outright) then the future is bright. I dealt with this in my list of favourite films and the kernel of its appeal withstands multiple viewings. I consistently find myself taken back by the humour and, at times, tenderness and truth in the film; a scene between Dylan Baker and his son explaining his behaviour, in particular, kills me every time. Other thoughts can be read here. […]

  4. […] I said before, Night of the Hunter is, to my mind, a singular film. It is a singular not only insofar as it was […]

  5. […] reunites with Brian Yuzna, Jeffrey Combs, and Barbara Crampton – all essential parties from Re-Animator, a Lovecraft adaptation from a year earlier – to adapt another Lovecraft work, the short story […]

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