I don’t know whether its age or I’ve just seen too many movies, but I can’t remember them as well as I used to. I have quite a few movies in my collection which I couldn’t even tell you what they were about and I have probably hundreds I couldn’t tell you anything meaningful about. There’s even some movies I’ve apparently loved (given them nines on IMDb), but can barely remember anything about.
For example, there’s a Japanese thriller called Kokuhaku (or Confessions in English) I’ve given a nine to and have on my shelf, but couldn’t tell you anything about.
For a (admittedly pretty short) while this bothered me, but I got over it. Now I feel I’ve had those experiences and they’ve left their mark on me. I don’t need to have a conscious memory of each of them. My memory has limits. Remembering details on over two thousand movies would be pretty hard.
Also, on the bright side, this means I’ll always have something “new” to watch. Of course I’ll always remembers stuff from the movies I rewatch, but there’s still more of a surprise factor than before. The flipside of this is that I can’t necessarily put pieces together the same way repeat watches usually let me do.
16. Rear Window (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954, USA)
Memorable moment: The introduction to the block.
LB Jefferies has been in an accident while trying to photograph the action at a racing event. He’s now detained in his apartment with a broken leg. He begins to spy on his neighbors. One day he witnesses a series events he believes to be a murder. Unable to do anything about it himself, he recruits the help of those close to him, who are not quite sure he knows what he’s talking about.
A nice claustrophobic movie. Everything within the film happens either in the apartment or it can be seen from the apartment. As Hitchcock wasn’t interested in shooting outdoors at this stage of his career (or ever), everything was built in a studio, so that he could have complete control or everything (and comfort of working inside, of course).
It all works marvelously. LB is visited by his housekeeper, his fiancé and his detective friend and he has very different interactions with each of them. He is confided into his apartment, so he needs their help to do the investigating.
Its Hitchcock, so its not horror even if the situation might easily go that way, but it is excellent suspense. As usual, you know how many scenes are going to end, but Hitchcock’s approach still manages to squeeze every bit out of each situation.
15. The Nightmare Before Christmas (Henry Selick, 1993, USA)
Jack Skellington is a bit sick of Halloween. While wondering around in the forest, he stumbles upon Christmas Town and is inspired. He takes over Christmas, but as he doesn’t have experience of anything outside of Halloween, he doesn’t really get the concept, which leads into chaos. Meanwhile, Santa Claus is in grave danger as Jack chose the wrong people to guard him.
I’m not the biggest fan of Christmas. I don’t like consumerism and neither do I like the religious aspects of it. At least this movie puts a little bit of fun into it.
The folk of Halloweentown are an imaginative people, but they can’t work outside of their limited experience, so in a way this is a movie about creativity. The more you know, the better you can create something new. On the other hand, it might also be a defence of art brut, or outsider art, where you can create something unique specifically because you don’t have the baggage influences bring.
Oh yeah, its also a musical, which there aren’t too many of on this list (the only other one being South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut).
14. A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick, 1971, UK)
Memorable moment: The brainwashing sequence.
Our hero, Alex, has been a very naughty boy, and thusfar has gotten away with it. However, his little gang of delinquents betray him and leave him to the cops. Alex ends up in prison, where in order to shorten his sentence he takes part in an experimental treatment, which brainwashes him to feel nausea every time he even thinks about the things he used to do for fun. After getting out, everyone seems to enjoy abusing this new trait of his. He gets the full brunt of the situation on the streets he helped create.
Alex represents pretty much everything a cliched elder person fears the youth is about. He’s not above stealing, raping and even murdering just for the sake of fun. He’s completely amoral, but has learned to lie his way out of trouble, until one day it just doesn’t work anymore. However, there will always be gullible people, which is just great for someone like Alex.
What happens to Alex after his release has a very strong element of karmic justice, as he’s confronted by the victims of his pre-prison adventures. He nearly dies, but the more liberal elements of society save him from his new affliction. In the end, however, he has not learned anything, but remains the same gleefully evil person as before.
The world here is a bit outdated as it looks very 70ish version of the future, but Kubrick knows what he is doing, making this as timeless as his other major movies (which would be most of them).
13. Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941, USA)
Charles Foster Kane dies. His last word is ‘Rosebud’ and a journalist is given the task of finding out the meaning of this very important man’s last word. To do this, he digs into Kane’s history by interviewing the people who knew him.
If you haven’t seen it, I don’t know why you are even reading these. Although it lost its first place in the Sight & Sound Poll in 2012, it held that position for decades. In many ways, its the quintessential classic movie and among the true classics both mass audiences and the more selective crowds can appreciate.
… but this list is about me. I think my appreciation for this film stems from seeing it at the right age. I was just taking my first steps into more artsy stuff and this just happened to be shown on Finnish TV.
There haven’t been many instances of a major studio letting a director have totally free reign over their movie. This was one of the very few. It backfired in many ways (the media magnate Kane was based on did his best to destroy the movie), but it also lead to this gem, this one perfect movie.
12. 12 Angry Men (Sidney Lumet, 1957, USA)
There’s been a murder and these 12 men are stuck together to decide whether to convict the accused. Most of the men are for the conviction, but there’s one guy who thinks otherwise, which leads to tension and debates while each of their thinking is forced into light, bringing with it a lot of baggage.
The characters don’t even get names, they simply get numbers. Juror #8, played by Henry Fonda, goes beyond the call of duty (actually, though its not mentioned in the movie, his personal investigations on the matter are illegal in the US) to see to it that the accused kid isn’t convicted just for the sake of convenience and prejudice. The movie never moves away from the room set aside for the jurors, making the whole movie quite intense. The way its shot definitely reinforces it the feeling, because the shots are made gradually tighter and tighter as the movie goes along.
I like these movies, where the unique restrictions (the twelve characters and the rooms they are in) force the moviemakers to go into different directions and use the resources they have (in storytelling terms) in a unique way. By choosing not to go outside of the room and the toilet they are given, they need to find ways to make what they have count and here it works remarkably well.
11. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Stanley Kubrick, 1964, USA)
Memorable moment: Major Kong riding the bomb.
A paranoid officer, Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper, with other mental problems in the US decides that a nuclear war is necessary first step to guarantee a win for the US because Russians have contaminated the water. Since there are all sorts of security fail-safes to stop any possible enemies from stopping the attack, the officer is able to make it equally impossible for forces on the ground. This leads to several concurrent storylines, one in the presidential warroom, one playing out in Ripper’s base as a foreign exchange officer is trying to defuse the situation, and one in the plane carrying out its mission.
Kind of the quintessential black comedy (which I guess begs the question why its not even higher on this list). What darker than nuclear war? What requires making fun of more than nuclear war? Probably a lot of things, but bringing levity to subject like this can actually make people think about it, when they would otherwise just disregard it completely otherwise, because it feels too heavy.
It doesn’t hurt that Kubrick was on the helm and although the character of Dr. Strangelove seems like a bit too much for me, Peter Sellers works well in his triple lead role. It was supposed to be a quadruple role, but in the end the role of Major Kong was given to the right man as well.
10. The Unforgiven (Clint Eastwood, 1992, USA)
Memorable moment: Munny taking control of a saloon full of his enemies.
Bill Munny is a retired gunslinger. Times are bad, so when an offer for a job to kill a couple of men accused of cutting up a prostitute comes along, he takes it reluctantly to get the funds to keep his farm going and feed his children. Together with an old partner and an inexperienced, short-sighted wannabe, he goes out to murder people for one last time. Meanwhile, another old acquaintance, Little Bill Daggett, has become the sheriff of the town they are going to and doesn’t want his authority questioned.
Its all about shattering the myths of the old west. There’s a traveling writer, who interviews the old gunmen, building on the legends those people have already built of themselves. Munny and Daggett have moved on and pretty much destroy the facade. According to Munny, he doesn’t even remember most of the things he did, because he was always too drunk.
It does show life on the borderlands as very rough, but it does also show more organization then what we are used to in these movies. Maybe its because the wildest days are already over and things are more settled now.
Still, despite all this, Munny’s legend still holds in the end. He can walk into a saloon full of people who are there to kill him, and not even flinch. Maybe its not a beautifully executed assault done with poise and grace, but it works. Both in the movie and for the viewer.