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Choosing a Top 10 and ranking them in order of merit is a pointless exercise. At least for me it is. Every film is subject to a whim, easily swapped or exchanged with a different, equally great work.
No, what I've done instead is borrow a page from John Cusack in High Fidelity and select the most formative titles and catalog them autobiographically. Some have been with me since childhood, others are very recent additions. Each holds a fond place in my memory and continuously influences the way I reflect on film and life.
This Is Spin̈al Tap introduced me to the power of parody. It was also a film I bonded over with my late, childhood best friend when growing up. I've seen it countless times and Tap never ceases to be hilarious. What's more, the deleted scenes (which are cumulatively longer than the film itself) are possibly even funnier than what made it in to Reiner's rockumentary (see: autographing Smell The Glove with a Sharpie) not to mention the in-character DVD commentary by Michael McKean, Christopher Guest, and Harry Shearer.
When I saw Being John Malkovich for the first time, I didn't know who the hell John Malkovich was. So you can imagine how confusing everything else going on in Charlie Kaufman & Spike Jonze's debut was for me as an adolescent. The mind-bending and fetishistic take on sexuality left a distinct imprint upon my psyche (probably not a good thing) and it solidified my eternal crush on Catherine Keener (definitely a good thing) and opened my eyes to the potential of film as a storytelling medium.
Tequila slammers. Sliding down a banister firing off duel pistols. Doves. Hard Boiled's vivid visual language was one I distinctly tuned into as an adolescent. The tea house massacre, solo garage raid by Chow Yun Fat's reckless detective, and the hospital takedown finale, complete with explosive shotgun rounds, are all masterful action sequences that have left an indelible impression on my brain.
The first epic action film I ever saw with a heart. Akira Kurosawa's mastery in Seven Samurai was appreciable even as a teenager. As time and multiple revisits passed by, Seven Samurai's humanist themes resonated deeper but two things remained constant with every viewing: I had to see another Kurosawa film and Toshiro Mifune, who here plays Kikuchiyo the aforementioned beating heart, is a juggernaut of an actor.
It always seems my introduction to a filmmaker leaves the biggest impression upon me and so it is with Wes Anderson's The Royal Tenenbaums. Everything works in this one: the ensemble cast, the idiosyncrasies, the off beat humor, the score. There's never a false step or an over indulgence. Sublime.
Never has bureaucracy seemed so whimsical or soul crushing. Brazil is, bar none, Gilliam's finest work. It so effortlessly soars during the fantasies and daydreams of a man hopelessly trapped by the system and is absolutely heart wrenching (in a dry, British way of course) when Sam Lowry is ripped out of them. Brazil was a wake up call for what a film could stand for and is every bit as potent upon every subsequent viewing.
Forget Citizen Kane; Orson Welles blew my mind with F for Fake. Welles's brilliant film investigating an a documentary about notorious art forger Elmyr De Hory by none other than Clifford Irving, the man who faked an authorized Howard Hughes biography (a fact made public as Welles assembled his footage), is graceful even as it contorts your brain with its puzzling twists on reality. The last hour, in particular, is a mind blower.
Something clicked somewhere along the way in Stephen Frears's London mobster/Spanish desert road-trip film, The Hit. Perhaps it was the moment suspended in time where Terence Stamp stares stoically at a waterfall while John Hurt's hitman points a gun at the back of his head or their subsequent conversation about life and death but whatever the case, The Hit elevates itself beyond the typical, and typically great, English gangster flicks to become a resonant and unforgettable meditation on death.
Roughly 45 minutes into Certified Copy I realized I had no idea what the hell was going on; it was a most delightful surprise. Abbas Kiarostami's bold conversation film on the subjectivity of reality and relationships is a masterful boundary pusher, subverting the narrative tropes of the romantic comedy genre to create an unsolvable puzzle box of a film that will be imbued with different meaning on every revisiting.
I never got Brian De Palma fans until I saw Blow Out. This twisty noir tale of a foley artist who happens upon a political assassination is a stylistic tour de force. Between the shots of John Travolta aiming his microphone at nocturnal noises in the woods leading up to the titular blow out and the swirling, mournful embrace under a sky of red, white & blue fireworks, there was already enough in Blow Out for me to love unabashedly. To throw in a compelling romance, conspiracy thriller twists, sociopolitical commentary, and that tender yet bittersweet score solidifies its place in my top ten as one of the most artfully assembled films I've ever seen.