Here are 5 that are at the top of my list:
Dazed and Confused (1993) – Richard Linklater
It is 1976 and it’s the last day of high school for a bunch of teenagers in Texas. This was Richard Linklater’s follow up to ‘Slacker’ and arguably his best and maybe his last ensemble cast / day-in-the-life-of type of script he has written to date.
I lived with my mom in my grandparents house in the mid to late 70’s after my parent’s divorce. My uncle was still a senior in high school in 1977. Granted I was only 4 years old, I still have some memories of that time, solidified even more by my mother’s great photo taking and scrap booking skills. This is where photos of me like this and this come from. Back then I can remember my Uncle turning me on to the sounds of Kiss and Alice Cooper … scaring the crap out of me but also engraining a love for that era of music into me. This film brings back those kinds of memories for me.
It’s also a great film to see some actors before they were stars (Ben Affleck, Adam Goldberg, Matthew McConaughey, Milla Jovovich, Joey Lauren Adams, Parker Posey)
Playtime (1963) – Jacques Tati
“Instead of plot it has a cascade of incidents, instead of central characters it has a cast of hundreds, instead of being a comedy it is a wondrous act of observation. It occupies no genre and does not create a new one. It is a filmmaker showing us how his mind processes the world around him” – Roger Ebert
This incredible film, with hardly any dialogue, illustrates a comic take on the sterility and confusion of modern urban life in Paris. Always moving and in constant motion, this film is almost entirely shot with long and medium shots allowing your eyes to wander over the entire screen searching for action in the foreground and the background. The coordination of the action in these long shots and takes is breathtaking.
‘Playtime’ has received multiple viewings from myself and I still catch something new every time I watch it.
Adaptation (2001) – Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman
A movie about a fictional writer trying to write a fictional screenplay based on a real novel by a real author that was inspired by an article in the New Yorker. Wow. This film and plot blurs the fine line between fiction and non fiction by telling many different stories at the same time; such as the story of the fictional film being made from the actually real life novel and also true events that actually happened in the novel. The viewer is bewildered and deceived trying to follow what is real and what is not … There are people in this film that are real but are played by actors, like Susan Orlean author of the said article and novel and Charlie Kaufman himself, screenwriter of this film and main character in the movie trying to write the fictional screenplay … then there are people in this film that are really real … actors, such as John Malcovich and John Cusak playing themselves filming scenes from Charlie Kaufman’s previous film ‘Being John Malkovich’ … and then there are people in this film who are apparently not real, like Donald Kaufman (Charlie kaufman’s fictional twin brother).
This film reminds me and assures me of how brilliant and entertaining the art of storytelling and filmmaking can actually be.
City of the Lost Children (1995) - Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro
Part Sci Fi fairy tale and part nightmare, this film brings to the screen a world that includes an evil scientist who kidnaps children for their dreams, a brain that lives in a sort of fish tank, one strong-man circus performer, several cloned orphans who cannot figure which of them is the original, some very nasty insects, and Siamese twins who control the orphans for nefarious ends. There are also deep-sea divers, performing fleas (yes fleas) and some Cyclops men who have one eye removed and replaced with a computerized hearing device that allows them to visualize the sound waves of others. All of these people live in a dark and gloomy universe constructed of much brass, wood, tubing, shadows and obscure but disturbing machinery.
I saw this in the old Rex Theater in the Southside back when they used to still show movies there. This was the film that introduced to me what a ‘foreign art house film with a very limited release’ actually was. I have been hooked ever since.
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1989) – Terry Gilliam
It’s hard to say which Terry Gilliam film is my favorite … but this one is up there. This was the third movie in Terry Gilliam’s trilogy regarding his own life … while ‘Tim Bandits’ was about his childhood and ‘Brazil’ was about his adult life, ‘Baron Munchausen’ tells a story of coping with old age and not letting go of the child inside of you. In this film, the aging Baron tells stories of his outlandish travels – from Turkey to the surface of Moon, to the heart of a volcano, and into the stomach of a sea monster. These stories, even though they are being told by an elderly man, they come across as being told by a child – wonderfully literal and very naïve. The brilliant use of simple special effects helps further engulf the viewer into the world of the Baron. The simple approach to telling these stories is what captivates me about this film.