As simple as it sounds. So now then: Shall we dance...?
100. Woman in the Dunes
“What a terrible trick!”
Hiroshi Teshigahara’s exceptional Woman in the Dunes sews a seed of drama unlike most others: A situation of inescapable clarity- two people trapped together in a house at the bottom of a sand dune- that is equally haunting in its ambiguity. The possibility of escape, or even natural defeat as the walls of grit cave in on them hangs in the balance throughout.
The internal angst held between the two captives of this Sisyphean nightmare is externalized in shots of the sand that surrounds them- perfectly presenting the ebb and flow of their relationship and shift in mental states as the prison around them aches and melts day by day. It’s one of the most masterful touches in cinema: A visual metaphor that so effortlessly emphasizes the way these people think and feel at every moment- and in doing so also shows us exactly why.
There is a deep, uncomfortable fear that lies in the belly of Woman in the Dunes. An omnipresent terror of inevitability that sits and waits, unwilling to strike and yet unwavering in its form. This infinite hell is all the more frightening in that neutrality- needing to be provoked by an attempt at escape in order to swallow its captives whole. Moreover, Teshigahara finds hideous ways to contort the human form. Take that awful lower back shot from Steve McQueen’s Shame and imagine an entire sex scene filmed in such a way- eerie and moaning and intensely close to sand-speckled skin.
One of the scariest films ever made- and packing my pick for cinema’s greatest use of multiple exposure- Woman in the Dunes is not a movie to be missed.
99. Le Samouraï
“Who are you?”
The epitome of cinematic cool, Le Samouraï succeeds on its smoothness and succinctity. Starting off with 15 minutes of total genius and introducing us to Melville’s characteristically complete world with understated shots and a very, very smooth key invention- the film does fall down slowly after that strong start.
But is it intentional? Is Jeff Costello’s thin little world crumbling around him meant to be enjoyable for us as an audience? Melville does not tip-toe around the people his films are marketed for and perhaps that has contributed to his relative lack of fans over the years. Personally: I think the stylish, brooding and remarkably understated worlds of crime he so meticulously crafts- and the unspoken tension that rattles beneath each of them- is worth a watch for any lover of cinema.
This list begins with a request: Give the works of Jean-Pierre Melville that appear here a go. Whether you love them, hate them or walk away with relative indifference- They are seminal works we should all be paying a hell of a lot more attention to.
“I must get this crack mended…”
It seems I just like eerie movies. There is something about creating an air of ominous, foreboding terror that Im just so naturally drawn to (see. My endless affection of Silent Hill 2) and few films do it as effectively as Repulsion. Its technique in doing so is not as effortless and elegant as, say, Last Year at Marienbad- but it’s no less confident in its ability to subtly chill me to the bone. I think the best way to compliment director Roman Polanski’s ingenious work here is to pick out a few simple moments from the film; since any five minutes of Repulsion easily ensure its place among the finest films of the 1960s.
In one scene, he devotes a good minute to just watching the other sister make breakfast. I’m sure other directors would have observed this from a different perspective, perhaps up-close or from a master-shot inside the kitchen with inserts of knives and produce dancing across the frame to quickly establish the subtext of violence or conflict in the scene. No. Instead: Polanski sits in the hallway, with us barley even seeing the sister’s shadow, let alone her actual action, for a minute. The hallway is hollowed- it almost appears as a painting like you’d see in Ford’s old western sets- only conversely cast in a drab, dull monochrome. The suspense the shot builds and more importantly the isolation it impresses sets up the aforementioned two weeks alone Carole will have to spend there and totally warrants the inclusion of such a bizarre establishing shot for how effective it is. Polanski’s mastery of doing it the other way that at first may appear strange but slowly asserts itself as masterful movie-making and Repulsion best demonstrates his exceptional strength in taking the lesser-trodden path.
Another example: early on in the film there is a reflection of Carole distorted on the rounded metallic surface of a kettle. Shortly after this she looks outside through a peep-hole in her apartment door and sees her old neibour return from walking the dog. Later in the film, the imagery is repeated but now when Carole attempts to bridge the gap to the outside world the old woman’s face greets her in the peep-hole, hideously contorted by its concave lens. It’s a miraculously understated way of externalizing the stages of Carole’s collapse on-screen and speaks volumes of Polanski’s expert visual style in terms of expressing emotions not only through the subjects of his story- but what they interact with and how. Its impressive film-making on its own but considering that Repulsion was only his second film, the palpable effect and definition in his technique is nothing short of incredible.
97. The Vanishing
“You start with an idea in your head and you take a step… then a second… Soon, you realize you’re up to your neck in something intense but that doesn’t matter. You keep at it for the sheer pleasure of it. For the pure satisfaction it might bring you…”
Sluzier makes most everything work here. Lemorne is as intriguing, morbidly amusing and seriously scary a psychopath as they come, Rex’s desperation will never fail to move and oftentimes frighten me and god damn if the general atmosphere and writing of this film doesn’t strike all the right notes.
From its creepy opening sequence to the final, shattering revelation, The Vanishing lived up to its hype for me and years later Sluzier’s Dutch classic still manages to fire on all cylinders, pull all punches and yet retain a respectably haunting portrait of madness and what drives us to it in-between. Style, substance and one of the scariest endings in movie history- what more could a person ask for?
96. City Lights
Chaplain’s comedy is one of the few things about silent cinema I can stand. Exceptional dramatic examples like An Andalusian Dog, The Passion of Joan of Arc, Metropolis and especially Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans stand above the rest of the silent shite- but otherwise I loathe most of the mini-medium. Other than, as said- the comedy.
Charlie Chaplain was a genius- and City Lights his magnum opus. The brilliance of The Great Dictator, The Gold Rush and Modern Times are eclipsed entirely by his definitive silent statement, made after the advent of ‘talkies’ in 1927, and the lofty peaks of both comedy and emotion it aspires to.
I know a lot of people, old and young, who miss out on the silent comedians like Keaton and Llyod. They “just don’t ‘get it’”. Fair enough- but even if you hate the humor and despise the charming little tramp that bumbles around Chaplain’s world- few can deny the power of City Lights’ final scene. The perfect Hollywood ending and if anything a refreshing reprieve from a list filled to the brim with eerie, ominous and often terrifying conclusions.
95. au hasard Balthazar
“He’s a saint”
One thing the films I love have taught me, above all else, is that cinema is without rules. For everything scholars set down in stone there is a movie to prove wrong. Story is essential? Meet Mirror. Characters are vital? Three words: au hasard Balthazar.
Robert Bresson is a bit hit and miss for me. He’s made one of the 5 best films I’ve ever seen- exceptional in skill, finesse and- somehow- soul. He’s also made several movies far too cold to connect to in any way. That being said- few flicks are more human, and indeed say more about us as a species, than this one about a donkey. Ironically enough a film that focuses entirely on an animal speaks strongly about our integrated abuse of power- and demonstrates with painful clarity the ease in which we can beat those weaker than us for the sake of it.
Balthazar’s agonizing story and torturous portrait of a young girl forced into adulthood by those who's animal cruelty spills over into human abuse- fuse together for a symmetry and intense emotional power few films can match. It’s a film without measure- one that stands out in cinema as totally unique and yet splices together a hint of every theme, drama and style we know. Everybody should see this before they die.
94. Eyes Wide Shut
“There is something important we need to do as soon as possible”
Met with hostility and disdain in some circles and welcoming hands in others- Eyes Wide Shut is a divisive, often polarizing work who's detractors are easy to understand: Tedious, painfully paced and often jarring in its progression and plot. It’s also the perfect Kubrickian study of love.
What I mean is: We see so many endearing portraits of love on screen, from the Before Trilogy to 500 Days of Summer and The Apartment. Stuff like Antichrist can take it a little too far- but Kubrick returns in his final film to the cold, museum-esque air people often pin on him and embraces it to take a long, hard look at the concept of love and marriage. I’ve yet to see anything quite like it- and certainly no cynical explorations of relationships handled with such skill and virtuosity.
Scored to the exceptional Waltz no. 2 and an eerie, oblique piano-based undertone- Kubrick takes us through massive masked orgies, mystically colored scenes and what I’d argue could be his single greatest set-piece- in the form of Cruise and Kidman recounting a trip to the coast in their bedroom. Sitting opposite, the pair lay out one of the most immaculately written exchanges in cinema- one we should all be paying a hell of a lot more attention to- and from there the tale of adultery, trust and lies spirals out of control. It’s an unmatched catalyst that sparks one of Stanley Kubrick’s very finest works.
My least favorite on this list- but undoubtedly one of his best.
93. Throne of Blood
I love William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, both on film and in his gorgeously written play. Despite that fact- I think Akira Kurosawa’s transformative take on the tale is even better. The written work, painted in a coat of black and red- simply cannot compete with Kurosawa’s monochromatic mini-masterwork.
Perhaps Kurosawa’s most stylistically extreme flick- Throne of Blood features prevalence of retardation, as well as some of its decade’s most haunting imagery in the form of a walking forest and Lord Washizu having fallen from his castle, shrouded in a moat of mist in front of an army of awed onlookers. Mifune is exceptional as the far more believable, controlled Macbethian character- who much like Lord Hidetora descends in an expertly controlled arc that’s a far cry from the almost abrupt insanity of Shakespeare’s piece.
It’s a film steeped in fog and shrouded in Häxanic mystery. A movie that is never truly extreme- always hanging on the precipice of intensity and then drawing away at the last moment. As a result: It’s arguably the most dangerous and suspenseful movie Kurosawa ever mounted- and more than worth a watch as a result.
92. The Jungle Book
“You’d better believe it kid”
Watching this year’s live-animation version of The Jungle Book reinforced my utter adoration of Disney’s classic. This list will be full of films I will praise for their subtlety, complexity and nuance- but it’s refreshing to find a flick that cuts away the importance of ‘messages’ like those which so bluntly dominate The Lion King and instead just focus on having a fuck-ton of fun.
There is no time quite as jazzy and entertaining as that spent with The Jungle Book. Endearing characters, gorgeous jungular backdrops, breathless pacing and the finest soundtrack animation has ever had to offer. It’s a film that physically beats with an electric blues-infused heart every step of the way.
What’s more- this is my childhood film: A movie I watched every week, without fail, at my Grandpa’s for many, many years. Every time I return to it I think of him- and yet these warm memories do not mask critical thinking- getting to know the medium of film has, as explained above, actually deepened my love for it. No contrived ideas, no pretentious monologues staring off into the sunset- and no bullshit to pad out the pace. It’s fast, fun and wickedly enjoyable- and that’s all it ever needed to be.
91. Blazing Saddles
“We’re shooting a Mel Brooks movie!”
Speaking of fun: Allow me to introduce the wittiest film ever made. Packed to the brim with sight gags, slapstick, scatological humor and every sample under the sun that would make any connoisseur of comedy run wild- Mel Brooks’ beaming magnum opus is as tight and terrific as comedy films get. Aided by a magnetic turn by Gene Wilder and an embracement of the absurd and surreal (see. Nazis, medieval executioner, the quote above) that lifts it far higher than all the funny films that try to play it safe. Never anything short of an absolute blast.