The idea for this blog post came from my good friend Rachel who recently posted up a link to Spike Lee’s kickstarter project where he compiled a list entitled: ‘Essential List of Films for Filmmakers.’ He describes the list as imperative viewing for people who want to make films. You often see films pop up under headings such as ‘Movies to see before you die’ and these lists, despite some minimal switches, are largely the same in content, the shared understanding that these films are quintessential in the art of film-making. When i first saw the link to the Spike Lee list, i had high hopes as for some reason, i decided to assume it would be his favourite films as he is such an opinionated and passionate guy, i really didn’t expect to see this same list of largely white, american, middle aged men that always dominate ‘top film’ lists. Once i realised it was me making assumptions and that the list was for his film school graduates and was specifically about the film-making process rather than consumption and enjoyment etc, i started thinking how i’d love to see more people discuss the films they’re glad to have seen in their life. Not necessarily, you must see these films to appreciate the art of cinema or a list of films you rate as perhaps the most well-made in terms of film theory or study but instead the films real people are so glad they got to see, that hold great memories, associated feelings, excitement and a list you’ll always give the hard sell on. I studied film and completed a degree in Film and Media Production back in 2007 and still get so excited about cinema in all of it’s forms. I managed to whittle my favourite ever films down to 20, which was quite the task. Every single one of these films i’ve gushed about wildly to multiple people, quoted often and still on repeat viewings have enhanced feelings be it tears of preciousness, genuine fear or jaw ache from laughing.
The Freebie (Katie Aselton, 2010)
I wanted to start off with ‘The Freebie’ a film about a young married couple who realise they haven’t had sex for some time. It starts them thinking about what they like about sex and despite their clear love and attraction for eachother, why is it that is isn’t happening as much as it did. It’s a totally refreshing, thought provoking and relatable story of modern love, the strength of a relationship, the importance of communication, attraction, sexuality and an individual’s sense of self. It’s an exploration into monogamy, fidelity, what love – that ambiguous and multi-faceted term can mean, marriage, life plans, goals and fulfillment. The feel of the film is very much idiosyncratic of the mumblecore genre (the director Katie is a long time co-creator and wife of Mark Duplass, she also plays the female lead) and so it is dialogue heavy which itself creates the rich mood and atmosphere, keeping the truths of the characters and their emotions as the sole driving force of the film. It evokes a real emotional reaction throughout, drags you deep into both the main character’s thought processes and constantly tears you from one side to the other. It also leaves you with many questions to ask yourself, what you would do, how you’d react in that situation and the bigger questions about life, love and happiness.
So I Married An Axe Murderer (Thomas Schlamme, 1993)
This film is one of my favourite ever films because it ticks so many of my boxes. I’m a total Mike Myers nut and this film, in my opinion, is him at his very best. He plays the main character who begins dating his dream girl but quickly becomes concerned that she may be the serial husband murderer that is all over the news. It’s one long ridiculous and over the top sequence of silly situations, quotes a plenty and also choc full of plenty of romantic scenes, precious dialogue and super cute depictions of the first stages of dating. It also has extra added appeal for me as it is set in San Francisco and a number of my favourite things about the city are shown such as the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and numerous hot spots that i have so many memories of. Even though i know everything that is about to come, i will still cry with laughter every time i watch this film and it makes me so happy.
Hedwig and The Angry Inch (John Cameron Mitchell, 2001)
I have to say it was very hard to choose between Hedwig and Shortbus (another of JCM’s films from 2006) both are such amazing films and fill me with such joy. He has a way of telling a story with such feeling and depth that you can’t help but see the beauty in all of the characters, even the ones that are notably flawed or portrayed as ‘the bad guy.’ Hedwig is a musical which is why it narrowly won Shortbus into the top spot, a rock musical at that. Hedwig is a fabulous frontwoman to her touring band ‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch’. The film tells the tale of her early days growing up as a unhappy boy in East Berlin and how she found her way to the USA via a botched gender re-assignment operation and a sugar daddy. Her life story is the main focus running alongside her path to success, love and happiness. It’s so funny, ridiculously funny even and you’ll pick up the word to the songs fast and not be able to hold yourself back from singing along. There’s even a tribute album of the songs covered by rad bands like Sleater Kinney, Rufus Wainwright, The Breeders and Bob Mould.
When The Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (Spike Lee, 2006)
If there was one film that i believe every single person in this world should watch, it would be this. It’s made up of four chapters and each one is feature length, so it’s a long and very heavy experience but so very important. It is a documentary made by Spike Lee about Hurricane Katrina. Each chapter focuses on a different angle such as the politics of the levees pre, during and post Katrina, the response by the American government and aid to the disaster, the aftermath for the city itself, it’s buildings, businesses, culture, heritage and most importantly it’s people. It’s a challenging and incredibly hard to watch at times documentary that digs deep into racism in America and also worldwide, class, social justice, accountability, greed, politics and also, hand in hand with focuses on the real experiences of people from all backgrounds and involvement in Katrina, survival, family, love, work and hope. It’s the most powerful piece of film i have ever seen.
Badlands (Terrence Malick, 1973)
Badlands is a lesser known film than others that have since taken undoubted influence from it, such as Natural Born Killers, Heathers and more. Badlands tells the story of a girl who meets an attractive older guy who is smarter and cooler than anyone she’s ever met. She takes his hand and they run away together in what becomes a cross-country killing spree. The whole thing has an eerily normal feel, she narrates over the violent scenes with stories of love, how romantic he is, a childish lovestruck innocence and his voice is the voice of truth, wisdom, an explanation of the world and life that she doesn’t doubt. The backdrop to the plot is gorgeous too, desert plains, treehouses in the woods, expansive fields and roads and a great soundtrack too. This film often finds itself on those top films of all time lists and was actually on Spike Lee’s list too.
Scary Movie (Keenen Ivory Wayans, 2000)
There’s no way i could write a list of my favourite films and not include Scary Movie. It is easily my most quotable piece of media ever, more than any books, tv shows, anything, it just keeps on giving. When it was released i was in my early teens so you can imagine how extra naughty and silly it seemed at that age and apparently i never grew out of finding all the daft jokes, references and scenarios funny. I often bother friends and new people i meet to this day with a quote or reference then i’ll be like ‘WHAT, you haven’t seen Scary Movie? It’s the best film ever!’ and be met with a blank and confused response. Basically, it’s a parody of a bunch of films around at the time, when American horror films starring tv stars and the same actors/actresses that were in every teen film out there had a new film out every few months and the plots pretty much overlapped into one big teen horror, rom com, jape that lasted 3/4 years. The Wayans brothers made this film everything it is, their specific brand of comedy and humour is what is most funny and the if anyone else had made the proposed parody at that point, i doubt it would be as funny as this, That point can be proven i guess with ALL of the sequels from 3 onwards as they left the project ha!
The Puffy Chair (Mark and Jay Duplass, 2005)
Ok so this is my 2nd favourite film of all time SO FAR (my all-time favourite is up next). A few years ago a friend recommended to me a new genre i had never heard of that they thought i’d really like based on my DIY appreciation, lof-fi interests and especially my interest in people, real life, human emotion and conversation/communication. This genre was called ‘mumblecore.’ The Puffy Chair was the first mumblecore film i saw and i completely fell in love with it, the idea of mumblecore, the feel, the dialogue heavy screenplays, the look, the soundtracks, the cultural references, the relatability and more. The film itself holds a special place as it was the first one i saw and it pretty much made me think about and consume film in a new way with a new appreciation, it also got me really excited about cinema again after the detachment that finishing a film degree inevitably leads to. The plot follows a guy who finds the perfect birthday present for his dad on ebay and decides to embark on a road trip to collect the chair and deliver it to his dad. The journey brings with it a bunch of drama, confession, self discovery, feelings towards family and relationships and a bunch of precious moments thrown in.
Me, You and Everyone We Know (Miranda July, 2005)
I am so completely in love with Miranda July’s vision, the way she sees the world, how pure at heart she is and also how she tackles difficult situations or ideas with a truly honest approach. In this film she dares to explore unconventional approaches to relationships and passion in several forms from child sexuality to self immolation, unafraid to show us humans at our most excitable, determined, motivated and also vulnerable when it comes to love. There are too many scenes to mention where you feel such warmth and can’t help but smile. The film leaves you wondering about your own approaches to love, maybe question your methods, your current situation or even realise that you have to get out there and grab what you truly want. The film also looks gorgeous, the cinematography is so dreamlike, golden with sunrise and sunset scenes, colour blocking and washed out pastels.
The Shape of Things (Neil LaBute, 2003)
It’s quite hard to talk about what is so brilliant about this film without ruining it as the end is such a prominent part of why. A brilliant social commentary piece both as part of the plot and also for what the film itself says as a package. The search for the perfect self or partner and obsession with our own looks and others’ too. How we read people, how we think we are read, how we want to be read. One of the strongest features of this film is the clear theatrical influences on La Bute’s screenplay. As a playwright he approaches the plot, dialogue and delivery from a wealth of theatrical experience and this gives the film so much style and class. The cast is perfect too and Paul Rudd’s character is easily my favourite role he’s ever played (aside from Tayne of course..!)
Mister Lonely (Harmony Korine, 2007)
I have a lot of time for Harmony Korine, i’m so curious as to how his brain works, how he sees things the way he does, it always continues to intrigue me. I have spent numerous occasions searching online for interviews with him and the wild shit he comes out with and does. My favourite short of his is the one about kerb dancing, if you haven’t seen it, i’d totally recommend it. This film, i think, demonstrates his beautiful and signature way of celebrating humanity, the innocence, naivety but also strength and courage. The film is about a group of people who live their lives as certain personalities, often famous people or characters, alive and dead. They find an island to live on where they can be the people they want to be full time and be accepted in the way they want to. I love the premise of the film anyway, it’s such a good idea and the interactions between characters and the unity explored is just so heartwarming.
Beautiful Losers (Aaron Rose & Joshua Leonard, 2008)
I was chatting to a friend recently about my go-to list for instant inspiration and this film was right up there at the top. Beautiful Losers is a documentary about art and creativity, detailing the ways several celebrated artists stay inspired, how they live and breathe art, how they have made a career from their passions and how important it is for resisting psychic death and being yourself, survival.
Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001)
Since i was a kid, i was always drawn to the media, to cinema and showbizness in general. I was always too shy and awkward to be a ‘star’ it wasn’t in that sense. I never wanted to be in films or on tv in an acting gig, i wanted to be a part of the buzz, the action, the glitz and glamour and with that, old Hollywood quickly became something i was attracted to. I love old cinema and theatre buildings, classic starlets and the social and cultural histories in certain locations in certain eras. Mulholland Drive is my dream visual, everything i love the look of, it mixes classic Hollywood, such as the Chateau Marmont with current LA views and lifestyles, from Club Silencio to the stripped bare behind the scenes ‘real’ Hollywood. To look at, it’s cinematic porn to me. David Lynch also injects his many layers of mystery, intelligence and genius into the other areas too, making it a film i can always watch and pick up on new things with every viewing. Despite reading ridiculous amounts of theories, speaking to friends and studying it from a film studies perspective, my ideas always change and i love that this film provides that. I can’t think of any other film that boggles my brain as much as this and makes me press pause to often in a frenzy of WTF moments.
Pepi Luci Bom (Pedro Almodovar, 1980)
It was very hard for me to decide on my favourite Almodovar film as i actually haven’t got a bad word to say about any of his films, if anything, they’re ALL totally wild and infectious and yeah, controversial in a lot of ways but none are at all bad in my opinion. I decided on Pepi Luci Bom because for me, it’s the quintessential example of everything i love about his work and contains all the tropes i love the most. The film celebrates sisterhood, strong female characters, female sexuality, passion, the power of friendship, community, desire, hate, obsession and ruthlessness. Also anything with a gang of fierce girl punks looking for revenge gets my vote and the pee scene is just a moment in cinema that totally deserves more recognition.
Vicky Cristina Barcelona (Woody Allen, 2008)
A lot of this list has had me debating my favourite films by my favourite directors and auteurs so much it’s taken me 3 days to complete so far and i’ve still got a bunch to go. I know i had to feature all my top directors in the list but trying to only include one film by each of them has been a real struggle, especially with someone as prolific as Woody Allen! Obviously, what i love the most about his films are the screenplays. I think it’s pretty clear at this point on the list that i love a good dialogue, i love relatable conversation, well rounded characters and interaction (with others and ourselves too). In Woody’s films, you get not only what is happening between the characters but also the narrator too and again, that theatrical vibe i’m so attracted to. Vicky, Cristina Barcelona is set in a beautiful location and contains so much passion it’s ridiculous. It also has a real Almodovar feel to it with it’s strong female characters, super charged passion and overt sexuality. I think the film also shows that whatever age you are, wherever you are in the world and your experiences, love and sex are timeless and can always be explored in new and creative ways.
Serial Mom (John Waters, 1994)
I got a TV in my room in my early teens and stayed up late A LOT watching films and TV shows i was pretty young to be watching such as Eurotrash, soft porn frolics, horror films and adult comedies i didn’t really understand at all. One of the first films i stayed up and watched on my new TV was Serial Mom. I had always had an interest in crime and anything that seemed to be about serial killers was a total must-see for me so without really understanding what this film was about, i gave it a bash. I had never seen anything like this before, such a wild and bizarre story with stand out caricature style characters and a strange dark humour throughout. It stuck in my head for years and felt like a weird dream, as if i must have made it up. I’d bring it up with friends and everybody would look at me blankly and a bit concerned. Watching it back as an adult and discovering it again was awesome and especially when i found out more about the awesome John Waters and delved into his filmography. This film was an early indicator of my type of humour forming, my attraction to the weird and dark nature of the world and people too. Also, can you imagine my excitement when i watched it again after discovering riot grrrl and realise the band that’s playing at the live concert is L7?!
Kamikaze Girls (Tetsuya Nakashima, 2004)
I was lucky enough to come across a Japanese cinema season at my local independent cinema and this was on the programme. A tale of two totally opposite girls who form an unlikely friendship set in a comic style world of adventure, ridiculousness and hyper reality. The characters of the girls are so well written and executed and the whole vibe of the film is totally on it’s own i believe, i’ve never seen anything like it before or since.
Storytelling (Todd Solondz, 2001)
OK, so another difficult fight between picking this and ‘Welcome to the Dollhouse’ happened. This narrowly won just because i love dual story element of this film and the literary feel. Its filled with intelligent quips and satirical nods to cultural appropriation, tokenism, societal pressure, ridiculous and over-used stereotypes and it’s all done in a super smart way. Solondz is of course, pretty controversial but i appreciate that he makes the films he does in the same way Miranda July creates too, they have a very specific and unashamed approach to truth and honesty in life and it’s refreshing to me.
Cable Guy (Ben Stiller, 1996)
This film is fucking brilliant. Like 12/10. Can i just write that? There aren’t many films like this, it’s genius and cannot be put into boxes easily. It’s a dark comedy but also a thriller, a love story, a weird take on a buddy film and more. I first saw it at a sleepover when i was about 14 and it totally went over my head because it’s so out there. When i re-watched it as an adult i was surprised at exactly how mental it really is, it’s amazing. Directed by Ben Stiller, it’s essentially a crew of mates making a silly film probably from an in-joke they have and it shows. Full of signature Carrey silliness, loooooads of weirdness and a bunch of amazing cameos including two brilliant scenes with Owen Wilson, Cable Guy will not disappoint. I’m a total fangirl for it and hung around outside the Medieval Times in Orlando, FL with no money until i managed to find a man dressed as a knight and gave him a sob story for a free tour, YES! Give me a week and you’ll be sure to hear a few direct quotes in there from as conspicuous as how to pronounce ‘orange juice’ or the way to sing the hits of Jefferson Airplane.
The Dreamers (Bernardo Bertolucci, 2003)
Possibly the most strangely romantic film i’ve seen. Set in the 1960s with a backdrop of the student riots, an American film student meets a pair of siblings with a similar passion for film and the arts as well as a general love of love and life.Without spoiling it, their friendship goes through various changes but the gorgeous Parisienne architecture, interiors and smoky 60s atmosphere teamed with the almost childlike way the characters interact provides a dreamy experience. The den scene and the shared bath are two not to be forgotten fast.
Abre Los Ojos (Alejandro Amenábar, 1997)
When i know a film is a Hollywood re-make i always like to watch the original first and then right after, watch the Hollywood version. This film is the original that was eventually remade into ‘Vanilla Sky’ starring Tom Cruise. If you’ve seen Vanilla Sky and not this and are currently thinking what is she on about, that film sucks, then that is exactly why i’m glad to have seen this film and why i’d recommend you see it too. I’m no film snob, i’ve been hit by many an enraged face when admitting i prefer certain remakes (The Ring is a million years better than the original Japanese Ring in my opinion) but this film is SO good and so when watching the re-make, to find it to be so sucky, despite the director working on VS and Penelope Cruz also reprising her role, it’s unbelievable. I guess this entry is my inclusion of ‘always watch both versions’ as your favourite film could actually be even better in a different version, imagine that!