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This is my list of films that demonstrate the complexity of human life and emotion and show us parts of ourselves we may have never even considered.
No movie better encapsulates the pain and tragedy that is childhood. Rather than a sympathetic, nostalgic portrait of somebody's "wonder years," The 400 Blows shows what growing up really is; disappointing, hurtful and traumatic. Truffaut created one of the most lasting portraits of human drama ever with this film.
I dare you to watch this film and not tear up at least several times. The story of a man who feels his life was wasted uses his last days to create something lasting that will bring happiness to people. And through this act, the preconceived notions of this man begin to fall away to reveal who he truly was the whole time. What can be more beautiful and heartbreaking than this?
Both L'Atalante and In the Mood for Love are perfect examples of cinematic love stories that take a turn for the dark. Unrequited love, disillusionment, infidelity. Human emotions stretched to the breaking point and how quickly beautiful things can fall to pieces. These movies are both heartbreak incarnate.
Emotions can be such a complicated and impossible to explain thing. La Strada is the story of two people caught up in an abusive and oppressive relationship who, despite all the pain they cause each other, can't help but care about one another.
One of the most painful things for me to consider is to grow old and regret the life I lived and how I treated the people in it. Wild Strawberries is a painful portrait of what happens when one man lives an inconsiderate life only to look back on it in sadness when it's all said and done. Ingmar Bergman has many incredible films that could have been included in this list, but I find this one to be the most affecting.
Michael Fassbender is one of the greatest actors currently working and this film shows precisely why. Hunger exemplifies the extents people will go for the causes and people they care about. Self-sacrifice as a means of political change. Whether or not you agree with Bobby Sands, you can't ignore his story and what he put himself through for his country and friends.
Every film Terrence Malick has made deserves to be on this list. The Thin Red Line shows what happens when people are pushed to brink of human endurance and pain. Not only does the film address the futility of war, it also explores many other aspects of war and fighting that most war films can't even begin to discuss.
This visual cinematic poem may not necessarily have a specific or clearly spelled out message, which is just one thing that makes it so interesting. You can take from it whatever you want, whatever speaks to you. But one thing it clearly shows is the connectedness of humanity and how we all experience certain things similarly.
Despite the films he's making now, David Gordon Green was/is one of the most important filmmakers of the current independent American film scene. George Washington, All the Real Girls and Undertow are slow burning and thoughtful films. George Washington shows the aimlessness of youth and how inconsequential actions seem until they're too late to take back. Much like The 400 Blows, Green shows how complex and "adult" childhood really can be with this film.
Werner Herzog's film's and books are explorations of humanity in all it's facets. No one can deny the power of his films. But this documentary about the making of his film Fitzcarraldo shows a man who will sacrifice everything for the sake of a dream. Watch this film and read Herzog's journal of the making of the film, Conquest of the Useless. It's an account of a man who faces constant and ridiculous adversity for the sake of cinema and his own dreams.
And finally, a film that explores the darkest recesses of the human mind. A dark, wandering odyssey through England with a nihilistic guide. If you ever want to bum yourself out and lose hope in humanity, this is the film to watch. Even hopelessness is an important part of what it means to be human.