Well, it has been one heck of a run. We are now 250 films (and probably nearly 200 shorts/skits/etc.) in on a venture that was thrown together unexpectedly over a lunch. In recognition of reaching the quarter-millennium mark I’d like to take a look back at my “best Cinema 1544” films from the first 250. I was originally going to make it a Top Ten list, but the calliratiometric draw of doing a “Top 5%” was a bit too much (and allowed me to select three films I was having trouble excluding), so it will be a slightly unorthodox Top Twelve-Point-Five list.
But let me make one caveat perfectly clear – these aren’t necessarily my favorite films. Cinema 1544 was established under the premise that everybody out there knows at least a handful of films that most people wouldn’t normally watch, but are absolutely worth watching. It was somewhat selfish of me (though I certainly hoped that everybody else would get the same benefit that I did), but I wanted to be shown great movies I wouldn’t have watched otherwise. As such, nothing that I presented counts (so no Ikiru). Only movies I first saw at Cinema 1544 count (so no Casablanca). And only movies I am reasonably confident I would never have checked out had they not been presented count (so no To Kill A Mockingbird). This is a list of my favorite films from the first 250 that I would likely never have seen without Cinema 1544. In that way, it’s not only a list of top recommendations, it’s also a thank you list.
Film #12.5 – La Jetée
Yes, I do think that the gimmick of picking a 12.5th film set itself up perfectly for me to select a short film. But La Jetée was eminently qualified to make this list. A time-travel narrative told (almost) exclusively through still photographs it builds to a surprising but retrospectively inevitable ending.
Film #12 – Viridiana
Viridiana is the oldest film on this list (now 54 years old) and aside from La Jetée, the only film that is not in color (for whatever that’s worth). It’s a Luis Buñuel classic that follows a young nun whose intended entry into a convent is diverted by her uncle. Oddly enough, this film was apparently intended to be a strong rebuke of Catholicism, though I really don’t see it.
Film #11 – Dancer in the Dark
Dancer in the Dark is easily the bleakest film on this list. Björk plays a Czech immigrant working as a factory machinist who is slowly losing her sight due to a degenerative disease and saving all of her money in order to get her young son an operation to prevent him from suffering the same fate until another’s greed derails all her plans.
Film #10 – Kick-Ass
I’m not much of one for super-hero movies, so I would probably have steered well clear of Kick-Ass had it not been presented at Cinema 1544. And I’d have been wrong. It’s more of an anti-super-hero film that dares to ask the question “What would happen if some dumb teenager put on a spandex suit and pretended to be a super-hero?” and then answers it in about the most entertaining way possible.
Film #9 – Departures
Departures is a film that came from an angle I’d never have expected to deal with issues of social ostracism – through the eyes of a ceremonial preparer of the dead. It’s a movie that doesn’t really have many thematic peers in my mental film library. While the subject matter is entirely different, I can’t describe it better than as a Japanese version of The Best Years of Our Lives.
Film #8 – The Secret in Their Eyes
The Secret in Their Eyes is a detective story that doesn’t fall for basically any of the common Hollywood clichés. It follows a detective who catches – and then loses – a brutal rapist and murderer, only to get another chance at finding him and at reconnecting with a former lover 25 years later. It’s both compelling and it aggressively resists the temptation to throw in a “twist”, which is perhaps the bane of Hollywood these days.
Film #7 – Waltz With Bashir
If you had told me that one day I’d put a film about the Lebanese War of 1982 made entirely with flash animation on a Top Twelve-Point-Five list…well, I guess would have had to believe you, because who could make up such a bizarre circumstance? But I think I still would have absolutely no inkling of the raw emotional power of the film.
Film #6 – Moon
While this film may not have the most boring title in movie history, it may well be number one in film quality to title quality ratio. A lone staffer at a lunar mining operation towards the end of his three-year stint gets thrown a twist and finds out he’s not alone. And yes, I know that I threw some shade at the “twist” a few paragraphs up, but this one comes early in the film and drives the film’s narrative. Brilliantly, no less.
Film #5 – Relatos Salvajes
I wanted to give the untranslated title of this film as the translated version (“Wild Tales”) kind of misses the “untamed” connotation. Rather than one film this is six unrelated short films, all dealing with the theme of revenge, most of them with an incredible eye for the dark humor underlying the situations. Despite the seemingly serious topics, it’s possibly the most laugh-out-loud film on the list.
Film #4 – Seven Psychopaths
A screenwriter, trying to write a screenplay about psychopaths, comes to find out that his buddy is one of the craziest psychopaths of all. It’s frenetic, it’s inventive, and despite the subject matter it’s incredibly light-hearted. If there’s a film that challenges Relatos Salvajes for most laugh-out-loud film on the list, it’s this one.
Film #3 – A Scanner Darkly
A very faithful adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s best novel (my opinion, at least) which employs the unusual technique of rotoscoping the entire film – a technique that allows some of the shape-shifting devices in the novel to work on screen. In short, a futuristic junkie lives a double life as a anonymized narc whose life gets turned upside down when he is asked to do surveillance on himself.
Film #2 – King of California
This film is nearly unknown but turns out to be one of the best hidden gems I’ve ever found. In it, a frustrated young woman goes along with her mentally-unstable father’s delusion of being on the trail of a California-Mission-era buried treasure, partly because she can’t dissuade him and partly just to spend some time with him. The wistful tone of this movie is just perfect throughout.
Film #1 – The Fall
The plot of this film is good, following a stuntman, suicidal over losing his girlfriend, who weaves a fantastical but manipulative tale to a young girl confined to the same hospital. But the true strength of this film is in the cinematography. The palette and the locations that this film presents to the viewer are bar none the best in movie history. Bar none. How The Fall didn’t win (or even get nominated) for an Oscar for Best Cinematography is completely beyond me. It should win over any movie ever made, ever. Strong words. Watch this film and tell me I’m wrong.