I am a cinephile and a director/writer of short films.My Letterboxd account. Go ahead, make my day.
Summer’s now officially over for me (it has been this way for 3 weeks already…). This summer I not only broke last summer’s record of viewing 50 films by seeing 62 films, I discovered some of my new favorite films of all time. I explored some brilliant filmmakers such as Krzysztof Kieslowski, David Cronenberg and Jim Jarmusch, and I also continued by exploration and enhanced my appreciation of other great filmmakers such as Guillermo del Toro, Richard Linklater and most importantly Lars von Trier. Lars von Trier has risen in the ranks of my favorite directors this summer becoming one of my new all time favorite filmmakers and artists.
Anyway, here are the top 15 best films I saw this summer:
15. Before Sunset (2004)
I watched both of these films as a back to back double feature and I must admit that although the first one is wonderful, it’s Before Sunset that killed me emotionally. Richard Linklater’s best film in my opinion and definitely one of the more sentimental experiences I had during a movie this summer.
14. Manderlay (2005)
Ah yes, Lars von Trier. Where in the world would we be without this man? One of the most controversial filmmakers of all time making some of the most disturbing movies of all time and Manderlay is no exception. An absolutely chilling discussion on the nature of slavery in America as told from a Danish man who hates America. Can’t get much more disturbing than that. (By the way, expect more von Trier on this list)
13. The Exterminating Angel (1962)
This film probably has one of the greatest plots of all time. It centers around a group of upper class people having a dinner party but when the dinner ends, none of them can leave the room. They don’t know why, and it appears that there is nothing physically stopping them from leaving and yet for some reason they just can’t. It’s a surrealist masterpiece from Luis Bunuel and is quite strange and yet also quite funny.
12. The Great Dictator (1940)
Another comedic masterpiece from the great Charlie Chaplin. This film focuses on the dictator Adenoid Hynkel and a Jewish barber, both played by Chaplin. It’s his first talkie yet it’s still hilarious and features some absolutely incredible physical comedy, including the famous globe dance scene. It’s also a daring and bold political film made at a time before making anti-nazi films was fashionable in Hollywood. America hadn’t even entered the war by the time the film was made. The film ends on perhaps one of the most powerful film speeches ever recorded and quite frankly, watching the movie is worth it for the speech alone (but the rest of the film is great too).
11. American Beauty (1999)
What hasn’t already been said about this wonderful film? It not only swept the Oscars in 2000, it also quickly became one of the most popular films ever made, already a classic in many film lover’s eyes. I held out a long time on this film and I now regret it. It really is as great as everyone says it is. Great performances (especially from Kevin Spacey, who’s always been one of my favorite actors), witty writing and a very powerful ending. It’s simply spectacular cinema.
10. Wings of Desire (1987)
Talk about a film that leaves an emotional impact. This Wim Wenders film is gorgeously shot and beautifully written. It focuses on an angel in Berlin who wants to become human after falling in love with one. The film brilliantly balances color and b&w photography and the lead performance of the film almost left me in tears. Not much else to say except that expect to leave this film with a wonderfully warm feeling of pure goodness within you.
9. In Bruges (2008)
The dark comedy to end all dark comedies. This film is bloody, violent, offensive, vulgar and fucking hilarious. Colin Farrell plays a hit man named Ray who has to hide out with his partner in the Belgian “fairytale” city of Bruges after a hit goes wrong. Within Ray’s mind the boring city of Bruges is often compared to some form of purgatory. This is seriously one of the funniest films I’ve ever seen and what makes it truly wonderful is how smart it realizes its audience is. It never sinks to a low level of humor and actually brings up some really fascinating questions. It also features perhaps the best comeback line of all time.
8. Videodrome (1983)
Holy fucking hell… this movie’s Canadian? David Cronenberg’s body horror masterpiece is a truly bizarre and gross film about violence and media. It features some truly disgusting yet spectacularly conceived practical effects as well as perhaps one of the most insightful looks into the dark relationship between how the media influences violence and vice versa. A very grotesque, smart horror film. Long live the new flesh.
7. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)
If a list was made of the top most beautifully shot b&w films of all time, Sunrise would be in the top 3, if not number 1. F.W. Murnau’s masterpiece is a true testament to the absolute power of silent cinema. It’s a rather simple story dealing with very complex ideas. It’s gorgeous to look at and it’s an emotional roller coaster. Pure beauty and pure cinema.
6. The Three Colors Trilogy (1993-1994)
I had to include all three as number 6 because it was too damn hard to choose just one for this list. All three of these films are brilliantly conceived, acted, written, and magnificently shot. They are all masterpieces, despite what people say about White. When one finishes watching the complete trilogy one almost feels as some deep secret to life has been explained to them. They are deeply intellectual, deeply emotional, deeply philosophical, and deeply poetic. Thats the power of Krzysztof Kieslowski. He can balance so many elements to a film without ever coming off as pretentious. Watch all three. It helps to watch them in a row, but isn’t necessary.
5. Melancholia (2011)
I was fortunate enough to catch a screening of Lars von Trier’s latest masterpiece Melancholia (a film that doesn’t come out in the USA until November) in a small theater in the valley. The valley is a horrible place and the actual experience of the seeing this film was awful. However, the film itself, despite everything thrown at me from the valley to ruin, was absolutely breathtaking. Its a story about the upcoming end of the world that focuses on the relationship between two sisters and one of the sister’s husband. The film felt very personal and von Trier claims much Kristen Dunst’s dialogue is based off his personal feelings on the world (right there you can tell this is gonna be dark with lines like “mankind is evil”). When this film comes out I suggest everyone go and see it, but don’t expect a happy film. It’s pretty much the antithesis of anything even resembling a happy film.
4. Dead Man (1995)
It’s kind of like the ultimate post-modern western… in a way. Its also extremely minimalist. Whatever it actually is, it’s simply ingenious. There is almost no real plot and yet I felt totally mesmerized the entire time while watching it.. I didn’t even realize it. When it was over I didn’t even really know what to think of it, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it. You know a film’s damn powerful when it won’t leave you no matter what you do. The performances are all great (Robert Mitchum’s final role is in this film) and the cinematography, based off the work of Ansel Adams is mind-boggilingly beautiful. I’m still not quite sure what it all means, but I know I had a religious experience while watching it.
3. The Decalogue (1989)
This was the most committed I’ve ever been to watching one complete movie. You have to be when the film is 10 hours long. It took me one week to finish. It’s divided into 10 one hour segments, each one based off one of the ten commandments, but set in modern times. The main characters of each segment all live in the same apartment building in Warsaw Poland. This is where cinema reaches beyond the limitations of filmmaking and into the realm of high art. It’s beyond masterful and proof that the early death of Krzysztof Kieslowski was a tremendous tragedy to the world and to cinema.
2. The Double Life of Veronique (1991)
Once again, a film by Krzysztof Kieslowski. See that still above this writing? That’s what the film actually looks like. Thats how beautiful it is. I cried one minute into the film just because of how beautiful it looked. That’s all that needs to be said.
1. Antichrist (2009)
And we return to the controversial genius that is Lars von Trier. Antichrist is without a doubt the single most disturbing film I’ve ever seen in my entire life. Not just for its graphic violence which has become so infamous in the film world, but also for the implications of the ideas it brings up. It’s a film that so powerfully talks about misogyny, many mistake the film to be misogynistic itself, a great fallacy among the film community. And no film has so polarized audiences at Cannes since its initial premiere where 4 audience members fainted from the brutality of its ending. But it doesn’t just deal with misogyny and the relationships between men and women, the entire story is also a brilliantly conceived perversity on the story of Adam and Eve from the book of genesis, which gives the film a bizarre religious edge that is absolutely fascinating. The film is also remarkably thrilling considering there are only two speaking actors, both brilliant performances by Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg. Its disgusting (yet intelligent) content mixed with the absolute beauty of its cinematography almost makes the film a paradox. Its consistently beautiful and disgusting at the exact same time. It’s very rare for me to be consistently thinking about one single film for 4 straight weeks after my initial viewing. I think that demonstrates the true power of this monumental work of art.