So many missed out, but who made it in?
5) Before Sunrise, Sunset and Midnight (1995, 2004 & 2013):
These films are some of the most natural I have ever seen, and all offer their own perspective on love and how time changes this. Therefore, I felt it only right to pick the trilogy as a whole. Whether it be the relationship between Hawke and Delpy, the effortless dialogue, and the realness and wisdom of the films, everything feels authentic. No matter who you are you can relate to these characters on some level. They feel emotions you’ve felt before, they see the world in a way you’ve seen it at different times of your life.
One of the best things about these films is how little director Richard Linklater does. He doesn’t try and dazzle us with fancy cinematography (although the films are beautifully shot). We are shown our leads, and the camera is always following them and their movements. The camera is often static and lingering, giving us a chance to solely view them and their romance. We are immersed in their relationship, and get to know and care for them as they get to know and care for each other. These characters are incredibly well crafted, and this is contributed to by the fact that Hawke and Delpy helped write them, meaning that they fully understand and can embody these characters perfectly.
The fact that they were each released 9 years apart makes each film individual in its own way. The first film shows us an idealised view of love, where both characters have some optimism and believe that anything is possible. Our leads then have another ‘chance’ meeting in the second film (Jesse, Hawke’s character, and Celine, played by Delpy, both knew where to be and when), and due to this being only their second day together retain the freshness of their romance, but because of their older age and having experienced some of the harsh truths of the world, they have a somewhat more cynical outlook. The third film shows us Celine and Jesse with two children. Their love is no longer new and has become a new kind of romanticism. They both have things they dislike about each other, and both know what to say to hurt the other. And yet, this love is the most real version we’ve seen yet. They love each other despite their shortcomings, and we see a real development of love.
These films are mesmerising, and whisk you away. Your love for the characters grows as they grow as people. They manage to retain the realism in the characters and in their feelings, whilst retaining also their wonderful chemistry. This truly is one of my favourite cinematic love stories to date, and my only criticism is that I didn’t see it when it first came out.
Favourite scene(s): The end scene was my favourite in each movie. Whether it be the shots of the locations in Before Sunrise where the youths spent their romantic night together, now desolate and deromanticised. Or Celine’s beautiful song in Before Sunset, where Hawke gives his best moment of acting in the trilogy, simultaneously conveying his love, and yet his heartbreak at having lost Celine before. Or whether it be the reconciliation between the couple in Before Midnight, where they shrug off their argument, realising that their love is worth keeping.
4) The Illusionist (2010):
Based on a screenplay for a never made Jacques Tati film, this is a touching homage to the great Frenchman, perfectly capturing his moments of humour, sadness, and humanity. Our lead, the illusionist, even looks like Tati, with the animation faithfully mimicking his stature, expressivity, and clumsiness. Sylvain Chomet directs this beautiful hand-drawn animated feature, which fully captures the whimsy of Tati’s cinematic worlds.
This film, despite its comedic elements, is a melancholic tale of a new culture emerging to replace the old guard. This is highlighted from the get go when the illusionist’s act is shunned for that of a trendy modern rock band. He searches high and low for his place in this new world, even going to a remote Scottish town, but ultimately his style of entertainment no longer fits in. Instead, he selflessly sacrifices his own career to give a new prosperous life to a young and awestruck girl from this small Scottish town. Through the illusionist she sees the real world she’s been cut off from, and with his help, she grows into a young, beautiful, modern and independent woman. The illusionist’s heyday has passed him by, but he finds some meaning through helping another.
Jacques Tati’s career ended with a more pensive feel to his films. This film perfectly highlights the middle-ground between his moments of hilarity, and his more reflective, sorrowful moments. Through the sad ending, where the illusionist releases his rabbit, a symbol of his career, into the wild, and leaves on a train, we are also treated to a more optimistic view of our other lead finding love for the first time. This is a perfect homage, made with passion and care, and is a great and deeply affecting, though delayed sendoff to a cinematic great.
Favourite scene: The beautiful animation makes every second of this film a delight to watch. However, my favourite scene is when the illusionist releases his rabbit into the wild. It’s a heartbreaking and symbolic moment, representing the end of an era.
3) Lost in Translation (2003):
Lost in Translation is a lovely, moody, melancholy film, with a wonderful downbeat score to enhance the atmosphere. It also features possibly the best and most reserved Bill Murray performance ever. Murray’s subtlety fits the equal subtlety of the film’s moments of humour and emotion. This film is more about the raw feelings and the pathos that it manages to evoke through its wonderful visuals, score, and performances than it is about a complex plot.
This tale is about culture shock, with Murray playing an unhappily married, ageing Hollywood star called Bob Harris, in Tokyo to film a lucrative whisky commercial. He wants an escape from the intensity and alien nature of his newfound environment – the culture shock and Murray’s deadpan acting are where the humour comes from – and a temporary escape from his passionless marriage. He finds this through an unlikely source, Charlotte, a young newlywed seemingly regretting her marriage. The two strike up a friendship, one which blossoms in a nuanced manner, with little dialogue, but an unspoken connection.
Do they love each other, or are they just using one another as an excuse to momentarily escape the reality of their lives? This is what makes their dynamic so interesting, as we can never truly pin down the nature of their relationship. The famous ending, in which Bob whispers inaudible words to Charlotte, emphasises the mysterious and ambiguous nature of their bond. The title ‘Lost in Translation‘ refers to both the differing cultural landscape and the lack of clarity in their relationship.
Equally emotive and funny, and with revelatory performances from two of Hollywood’s most loved stars, this is a film that proves that Sofia Coppola is not just a relative of her father, Francis, but a director with her own staggering artistic vision, capable of creating her own brand of beautiful cinema. What we have here is something truly unique and touching.
Favourite scene: The karaoke scene perfectly exemplifies the subtlety of this film’s humour, and the growing connection between our leads. Also, who doesn’t want to see Bill Murray sing a Bryan Ferry song?
2) 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968):
This is arguably the most significant sci-fi film ever made by arguably the greatest director ever and is a masterclass in subtlety and atmosphere, much like Lost in Translation. On paper, little happens for much of the movie. Instead, we are left to marvel at the beauty of the visuals and the epic score, leaving us time to mull over what we have seen and what it means. Few movies with a 160-minute runtime can afford to be slow paced, and yet still be immersive and breathtaking. This one can.
This film does not portend to be a narratively driven, clearly linear structured work. It is art, with every frame as beautiful as the best work of the Picasso’s, Van Gogh’s and Michelangelo’s of the world. One of the first things to stand out are the effects of the space age setting. Although comprised of miniature figures, Kubrick made these small props more incredible than anything CGI could conjure up and is still as beautiful now as it was in 1968. We are also treated to one of the most iconic, electronic ‘antagonists’ of all time (HAL is merely following orders). HAL 9000, the onboard computer, is a nightmarish enemy, a sign of humanities inferiority and need to evolve into a more superior being. He is just a small red light, but through Kubrick’s immense genius, he is transformed into a formidable foe.
The film contemplates humanity and the ways in which man may possibly evolve. In the novels by Arthur C. Clarke (co-writer of the screenplay), written after this movie, the Star Child at the end of the film is David Bowman, our protagonist. He has been turned into a being comprised of a metaphysical body, meaning that he can withstand any physical obstacles and communicate with the alien life form responsible for leaving the obelisks – these obelisks being left as a challenge for humanity, a sign that Earth has the intelligence to reach outside of their own planet and forge a destiny in the stars. He has essentially mimicked HAL’s bodiless, more intelligent form.
This is explicitly stated in the books and is also the film’s message. The film, however, instead goes for a poetic and ambiguous tone, one which has left audiences contemplative, yet equally awestruck for years. It is a movie aiming to ask questions, not to answer them, and it sticks in the mind like nothing else. It’s one of the most forward thinking, ambitious tales ever put to film, and deserves all the praise it has gotten over the years. Although the year 2001 is now long gone, the influence and brilliance of this film hasn’t left us.
Favourite scene: My favourite scene would have to be the exchange between Dave and Frank, which Hal discreetly lipreads. It’s one of the tensest and most nightmarish scenes I have ever seen, using fantastic cinematography to tightly frame the two actors and highlight their confinement and hopelessness – a tone indicative of Kubrick’s cinema – and highlights why and how HAL has become one of the most iconic characters in film history, as he’s such a malevolent and intelligent enemy.
1) Paris, Texas (1984):
Wim Wenders’ beautiful tale of love, loss, and sacrifice is top of my list. Its gorgeous cinematography and soundtrack compliment the wonderful performances from not just Harry Dean Stanton and Nastassja Kinski, but the entirety of the cast.
The film follows Stanton’s protagonist, Travis, as he attempts to rebuild his relationship with his son Hunter, and his wife Jane, after mysteriously going missing for years. What ensues is a moving portrait of a man who must ultimately sacrifice his own happiness for that of those he loves.
This film is a contemporary Western, using the genres features and translating it into a modern-day setting. What we get because of this is both a beautiful look at the American South-West and a poetic journey with a mysterious, flawed protagonist, who ultimately redeems himself, a clear play on the Western genre conventions. It mimics films like Shane and The Searchers through the nature of its lead.
This film, despite its 150-minute runtime, is incredibly rewarding even after multiple watches. Because it plays on such well-recognised genre features, we know how this film will end. He will take Hunter to Jane, and due to his jealous and manipulative personality, he will leave so that those he loves can live a happy life. Film to me is less about the destination and more about the journey, and for a road movie like Paris, Texas this is perfect. We experience what Travis experiences, we feel his emotions, see the world with him, and are crushed by the finale despite the inevitable nature of it. What rewards us is not the finale, but the road to it. Just describing this masterpiece cannot do full justice to it, it is a must see for lovers of cinema.
Favourite scene: My favourite scene in this film is the phone conversation between Travis and Jane. It is one of the most spectacularly shot and edited scenes I have ever seen and has some of the best dialogue and performances of all time. It is the emotional crescendo of the film and does full justice to what has come before it.