Monday, August 16, 2010

My Top 10 Films (Part I: 10-6)

10. Days of Heaven (1978)

Terrence Malick is a visual master. He may as well be a painter, because the cinematography of his films are the most beautiful I've ever seen; Days of Heaven won an Oscar for Best Cinematography, and it couldn't have gone to a better made picture. The story of the film is simple, a steelworker (Richard Gere) from Chicago gets involved in a murder and flees to a farm in Texas with his girlfriend and sister. There they work for a rich farm owner during a seasonal harvest. The backdrop of the Texas plains is a perfect canvas for the story to unfold, allowing the actors to be like Malick's paintbrush, moving so purposefully across the screen as he so wishes. The ending of this movie is one of the best I've ever seen.

9. Wings of Desire (1987) 

I only saw this movie about a month ago, but it had such an impact on me I knew there would be a re-shuffle of my beloved top 10. The only foreign film in my 10, it is a masterpiece. Three languages are spoken throughout the film, German, French and English - however the film is German. The film begins with a black screen; a child recites poetry in German: "When the child was a child...", reads the subtitles. Wings of Desire is about angels who live in West Berlin (since the beginning of Earth apparently), looking over the world but with no power to interfere, only observe (akin to meditation). The films protagonist, Damiel (Bruno Ganz), falls in love with a French circus performer and desires to become mortal in order to have his turn at seducing her. Throughout the film Damiel and another angel have long scenes together, partaking in philosophical discussions - perfect dialogue. Another cool thing about this movie is the mixing of black and white with colour, showing the balance between life and death, mortal and immortal, human and angel. The 1998 film City of Angels is the remake, and after seeing the original, I don't really want to watch Nicolas Cage (as cool as he is) as Damiel; because if it aint broke, don't fix it.

8. Magnolia (1999)

Magnolia is my favourite P.T. Anderson film, however that doesn't make his others any less, this one is just my favourite. It features without a doubt the best performance I have ever seen by Tom Cruise, as the son of dying television producer, Earl Partridge (Jason Robards) - who lies at the centre of the film. Anderson is well known for his ensemble casts, and for using the same group of actors pretty consistently throughout his films. Regulars such as Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore and John C. Reilly are all fantastic. The film begins with three coincidences all ending in death. Throughout the film the cast cross paths in coincidences of their own, and ultimately leading to the death of Earl. The voice-over explains at the end of the film that perhaps these events (deaths) were not coincidences, but just "a thing that happens" - as Stanley (Jeremy Blackman) says somewhere in the movie. One of my favourite characters is Jimmy (Philip Baker Hall) as the host of a TV show called "What do kids know?", who is, like Earl, dying of cancer. The film is long and complex, but ultimately comes together perfectly, in a nice little bundle.

7. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

The first time I saw this movie I had two conflicting reports. First was from Lee, always a trust-worthy source for film recommendations and hasn't let me down yet; second was from my Mum and Sister - two people who know a good movie when they see it. I later found out that they actually hadn't seen it, but rather turned it off after 15 minutes because it was "boring" and "nothing was happening". After seeing the film I realised that that's the point! The film begins with Joel (Jim Carrey) waiting for a train on a frosty New York morning, supposedly going to work, and quickly (at the last minute) runs across to the other platform to catch a train that is going to the beach. On this train ride he meets (for the first time?) Clementine (Kate Winslet), and it is obviously love at first (or second?, third?) sight. The film brings together two outstanding artists, director Michel Gondry and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (he won an Oscar for the script). The mixture of Kaufman's mind-bending story with the trippy visuals of Gondry make for a film delight. Elements of science fiction and non-linear narration are used to tell ultimately a story about true love. Some of my favourite actors also appear with 10/10 performances, notably Tom Wilkinson and Mark Ruffalo. Oh, and to top it all off, the movie has David Cross in it, and he gets high, what more could you ask for!

6. Adaptation (2002)

Charlie Kaufman is a genius, period. No other screenwriter has written such thought provoking films in such a short amount of time as this man. Adaptation is the "true" story of Charlie Kaufman (played by Nicolas Cage) trying to adapt the novel, The Orchid Thief, by real life author Susan Orlean (Meryl Streep). In real life, Kaufman was asked to write a screenplay on the novel, however he experienced writers block, so decided to write a screenplay about him adapting the novel into a film. I didn't know that when I first saw it, so it made the film that much more confusing - but that doesn't matter, Spike Jonze is such a good director that you don't need to know anything going in to enjoy it (which is what all movies should strive to achieve). Adaptation features Charlie's non-existent twin brother, Donald (also played by Cage). Donald is an aspiring screenwriter himself, admiring as he is of Charlie, Donald writes a successful slasher film called The Thr3e, which gets picked up by a production company. A side story of the film is about New York Time's writer Orlean, and her meeting with the charismatic John Laroche (Chris Cooper) and her subsequent relationship with him. The novel The Orchid Thief is based on Laroche's character. I love this movie because it has an outstanding script, directed to perfection by Jonze; the acting is superb (Cooper won Best Supporting Actor); and the very fact that it dances with reality so closely that you are not sure whether you are watching a Documentary, Mockumentary, Drama, Comedy or some fusion of all four. The film builds to the third act which explodes in drugs, action and violence - three things that Kaufman/Cage say that you shouldn't do to get cheap thrills - but by putting them in his movie you're not sure whether he just ran out of ideas or he is a genius; I'll go with the latter.

Note: This list is a constant work-in-progress, if I see the greatest movie of all time tomorrow, it can very well go to number 1. That being said, my top 5 hasn't changed in around 5 years - so stay tuned for the next instalment!

To go to Part II, click here.

- Russell


  1. Cool list, I always thoughb adaptation was in your top 5. I think the craziest thing about adaptation is that it seems to write itself as you watch it. I still have no idea how Kaufman scripted it or how Jonze put it into a film. That and Eternal sunshine make me wish Jonze or Gondry had directed Scynechdoche New York

    I haven't seen 10 or 9 but maybe I'll check them out if i get a chance.

    Looking forward to seeing your top 5

  2. I'll have to keep Russ's top ten list handy for any movie quotes he might come out with.

    For the record, this is my line. "I can smell your cunt".

  3. Damn. I mean to say favourite line.

    Quotes are off topic. Sorry.

  4. Nice list Russ, the only one I haven't seen is 'wings of desire' but I think I'll check it out seeings how it's managed to grace your coveted top 10!

    I think Magnolia is my favourite P.T. film also, I love the part where all the characters are singing 'wise up.' On paper that scene must have sounded so cheesy, so it's a testament to P.T.'s wizardry that he managed to pull it off!

    Can't wait for the unveiling of the top five!

  5. Thanks Helly :)

    Yeah I love that scene too, it's like a little ray of sunshine after a bunch of disturbing scenes - makes it that much more effective.

  6. magnolia is amazing and gets better with more viewings. Awesome list so far