These are my 20 favourite films since the dawn of man. Results based on an empirical, peer-reviewed study done by Johns Hopkins University. I’ll write a little bit about the top 5 for anyone who isn’t bored yet:
1. Dazed and Confused
This film has my favourite opening shot of all time. Not only does it set the tone for the film (the bulk of which is spent in cars listening to music), it also immediately positions the viewer into the time period that Linklater is trying to evoke. Right from the start the soundtrack is the glue that holds this film together throughout its meandering, dialogue heavy, plot light story. I’ve heard complaints that this film doesn’t go anywhere; that it is all aimless dialogue that doesn’t serve a higher purpose. But that is exactly why I love Linklater’s writing here and in Before Sunset/Sunrise—the pointless dialogue is the plot. When his writing style tries to serve a higher purpose, like in Waking Life, then it comes off as sanctimonious and tedious, but when it comes out of the mouth of the great philosopher Slater, it is perfect.
Tarantino called this one of the greatest “hangout” movies ever made, which succinctly sums up my feelings about it. Out of all the films on this list it has the most replay value for me because it is simultaneously elegiac towards a lost era and youth through its use of iconic music, but brutally honest about the boredom that comprised most viewers high school experiences. One of the biggest conflicts in the film is whether or not a football player will sign his pledge to the football team. Linklater doesn’t trivialize this decision (although it is trivial), rather he makes the character approach it as if it will determine the future of his life. Which is exactly how it should be presented through the eyes of a high schooler; Initiation rituals, a cancelled party, a keg, a fat joint—these are the things that matter to these characters. By just presenting these as facts, Linklater lets the viewer make their own choice about whether that is sad or not. As for me, I think the film can work as both a great party film to smoke a joint and watch with friends as well as a deeper introspection into what High School meant.
2. Days of Heaven
Another great film to get high and watch with friends. One of the most beautifully shot films ever made. Nestoer Almendros and Haskell Wexler combined to shoot two different parts of the film but it flows together so well that I didn’t even know there was a second DP until I read about it. The voice over by Linda Manz was grating at first but now I can’t imagine any other accent narrating a story of this nature from this time period. Terrence Malick’s films often get compared to pastoral paintings, which is an earned comparison. Take the shot of the caravan entering the wheat farm and put it in an art gallery and it would fit right in.
3. American Movie
Anybody who loves the production aspects of film, wants to be a filmmaker, knows independent filmmakers, or has any interest in the film industry at all should see this. Not only is a great documentary that follows the trials and tribulations of a struggling independent filmmaker, it is also funny as hell. Mike Schank and Mark Borchardt are two characters that a screenwriter would have a hard time creating, yet they are real people. That is not to say that they are caricatures and are there to be laughed at, but rather the absurdity of their situation is comical in a “if you don’t want to cry, laugh” way. Mark has to borrow money from his uncle to finance his film, he has to get his mom to be an extra, he has to deal with actors who he feels aren’t invested in the project. There are all these obstacles that he feels he has to overcome to finally “get there” (in a melancholy scene he tours Milwaukee’s upper class neighbourhoods dreaming of the day when he will live there). Even if you aren’t interested in becoming a filmmaker, it is easy to feel a kinship with Mark and his pie-in-the-sky dreams, and root for him to make it the entire time.
4. Come and See
This is one of the greatest horror movies ever made, and it is classified as a war movie. It follows a 12 year old boy through the genocide of Belorussians at the hands of the invading German army. I remember one reviewer calling it Space Odyssey meets Apocalypse Now. It is haunting, disgusting, depressing, and one of the best films I’ve ever seen. The steadicam work done here is amazing for its time and adds to the dreamlike, ethereal quality of the film. The main actor begins the film as a 12 year old boy, but by the end it looks like he has aged 20 years due to the atrocities he has seen (maybe getting fired at by live rounds of ammunition during filming will help speed up the aging process).
5. The Shining
I think that this is my favourite Kubrick film because of the framing. Every scene, every conversation, every establishing shot is framed in such a way that it adds to the claustrophobic, panicked feel of the film. How can a great hall at a hotel be claustrophobic? How can a simple shot-reverse-shot conversation between Dick Halloran and Danny, or Delbert Grady and Jack look so unsettling? The conversations themselves don’t help matters, but the way the camera is always set a little bit off and angled to the side has an effect on me that I still don’t understand. In one of the documentaries on the DVD there is a discussion about the use of wide angle lenses during medium shots, and as well during hallway scenes. The standard for horror is to show compressed, close up shots that create a sense that terror is just outside of the frame. But in The Shining Kubrick shows as much of the space as possible, showing vast empty hallways and rooms with nothing in them, which creates a larger space for the viewer to wonder where the terror is hiding. It is something that I did not pick up on which makes me enjoy the film even more than I did before.Read less