My Favorite Movies of All Time, circa age 30 – #60-51

60. The Trial (Orson Welles, 1962, France/Italy/West Germany)

My favorite literary adaptation, based on its act of representing the ideas behind Kafka’s unfinished novella in such a dynamic and profoundly visual manner that the idea this was a story ever told on the printed page feels like it would have seem alien to me if I hadn’t read it first. Adopting the dramatic lines of Zagreb’s architecture and the expressionist art direction of Jean Mandaroux, Welles and cinematographer Edmond Richard invented an realistic landscape that nevertheless affects our mind so severely as to feel alien and drops poor old Anthony Perkins in his growing fatigue within the cage that is his life. There’s a contingent of Orson Welles’ audience (or at least Citizen Kane‘s audience) that seems to claim he lost his mojo once he was unceremoniously forced to work in Europe… those people should ostracized and mocked as some of Welles’ most dynamic and inspired work happened there. Behold one.

59. Joan of Arc (Georges Méliès, 1900, France)

A Trip to the Moon gets all the attention, surely, and I wonder how much of that is due to this being lost until 1982. But for my money, this is the more impressive work of Méliès screen magic. The artifice is no different from his usual whimsical fantasy but the context – portrayed in a tight and dramatic 11 minutes – now provides hefty cosmic grandiosity to the proceedings. Feels like a primitivist approach to what we consider today effects showcase cinema, but the core concentrated drama is of an ecstatic reverent subject. The end result feels like one of the highest religious experiences one can get from a movie, short or feature.

58. The Beyond (Lucio Fulci, 1981, Italy)

I like my horror movies the way I like my bill: no cents. Italians are among the finest manufacturers of nonsensical nightmare logic in their horror movies and Fulci’s Gates of Hell trilogy remains what I consider the ne plus ultra in letting you slowly watch the illogic collapse from a tangible and real world. It’s also of course filled with his characteristic bloodletting (though not what I’d consider the quintessential Fulci gore film, that still goes to Zombi 2 in my eyes) and mixing that with the untethered soundscape taking advantage of Italian horror’s regular prog score inclinations and the industry’s overdubbing traps us into an ongoing cinematic apocalypse long before we reach the helpless downer finale.

57. Paris, Texas (Wim Wenders, 1984, West Germany/France)

I am an American, but I am not from America. That’s a dichotomy I think informs my interest in stories about this country as presented by artists from abroad like my high school obsession with Preacher or the music of David Byrne. In films, probably my largest obsession is the works of Wim Wenders and particularly his cinematographer Robby Müller who capture the American landscape with a sense of loveliness and alienation all the same. In Sam Shepard’s screenplay about a broken identity piecing together both the dreams and sins of his past and Harry Dean Stanton’s embodiment of that journey, it gives a profound sensation of the Southwest as a place where one can lose himself before the slow walk back to familiar but unsteady metropolitan landscapes gives the illusion of finding oneself again. It’s only the final moments that truly depict both the repair of a few lives that euphoria is achieved to the sacrifice of a domestic fantasy.

56. In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai, 2000, Hong Kong/France)

I could elaborate on the emotional profoundness of its “will they, won’t they” anti-romantic center, but the real appeal for me is simpler than that: we are watching gorgeous people sit in melancholy stillness with gorgeous designs and lighting around them. That’s certainly not nothing, as my number 1 in the 2010s – (Mandy) – will insist and even my upcoming number one of THIS list, it is the aesthetic sensations of the movie that should motivate the emotional states and THAT’s what speaks to me. Not talking about desire, but representing that desire in the empty air between, the shadows, the colors, and the music. But the fact that the movie is very easy on the eyes certainly makes it even more pleasurable of an experience, embodying that now evergreen Nicole Kidman line “somehow heartbreak feels good in a place like this”.

55. Tokyo Story (Ozu Yasujiro, 1953, Japan)

There really was a time where I saw my future in this movie: ignored distance between me and my parents (and even my siblings) simply because life and time stresses that gap and there’s nothing to say to fill the space in between. I still feel that’s constantly a threat, but I didn’t have that anxious recognition in my last viewing. Nevertheless, it feels like the strongest human drama I can think of in sound cinema while being completely unassuming in how it captures the complexity of the character’s non-conflict. It’s also arguably one of the underspoken masterpieces of film editing, flagrantly disregarding what we associate with shot-reverse shot film construction in Western film industries to only confront the viewer with the intense remoteness with which characters in the same room address each other and disregard that remoteness as something to be handled eventually.

54. The Cameraman’s Revenge (Władysław Starewicz, 1912, Russia)

The Beyond, in spite of its shots of quicklime melting flesh and tarantula’s tearing off meat from a living skull, is probably not the most grotesque movie on this post. That’d have to go to this morbid act by Starewicz of animating dead bugs into an otherwise recognizably human melodrama of betrayal and revenge in way only a cuckolded filmmaker could commit. Uncomfortable, funny, and genuinely unlike anything I’ve seen made in the 111 years since Starewicz’ fevered mind decided to perpetrate it on us.

53. My Neighbor Totoro (Miyazaki Hayao, 1988, Japan)

Look… I feel like of all the 101 entries on my list, this is the one that needs no justification. It’s simply the nicest, the nicest masterpiece I can ever imagine in its relaxed atmosphere, its delicate and detailed backgrounds, and its fluffy and warm creature designs. It’s so easily an inviting world that I’d love to live in, where so many worries that would be grave in reality (the idea that this is a conflict-free movie is not wrong but it’s oversimplifying a bit) are quick to resolve in the safety of the forest. A friend of mine asked me to get some movies for his kid and I didn’t even think twice of making it this one, that’s how deeply comforting it is.

52. Le Million (René Clair, 1931, France)

As filmmaking became more sophisticated and shot for realism through the sound era, Clair’s musical hits me as a masterpiece of maintaining arch theatricality in the sound era. There’s no doubt that its vision of Paris feels rooted in what the makers and audience could recognize walking down the street but just heightened enough to properly amplify the youthful fancy of its running comic and romantic energy. And then the action leads to that wonderfully idyllic moment of the briefly clashing couple slowly reigniting their amorous feelings for each other in the artificial and flat paradise against the bold emotions of the aria performed just behind the curtain and that sort of self-aware sincerity embeds itself deep in my heart as a thesis statement on how the right basic components of art can manipulate a pair of souls to their serenity. Beautiful stuff.

51. The Marriage of Maria Braun (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1978, West Germany)

My favorite sound work in a non-war film, albeit in a movie that’s a wartime and post-war melodrama. Those melodramatics were already so natural to Fassbinder’s storytelling sensibilities at the turn of the decade that it’s no surprise he can turn those tropes on their head. The purpose of that subversion for indicting the way that post-War Germany strangled any sentimentality from even the most optimistic personality and left only shrewd pragmatism for anyone who wanted to stay above water, using that aforementioned soundscape to surround Maria and threaten her from every direction with the ruinous reality that Europe was. Even in that tragic bitterness, Fassbinder’s dramaturgical hand crafts a drama as watchable as any other he’s made with a hell of a central performance to fix us on (big up Hanna Schygulla).


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