In my ‘About’ section, I have posted my top ten films list. It’s difficult to pinpoint and weigh the various factors involved in why certain films make the list. Films like Oliver Stone’s Platoon, Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, and David Fincher’s Fight Club were on the list years ago. Modified tastes, interests, and exposure to different filmmaking styles have altered the top ten over time. But a list is just a list unless it has explanation behind the selection, which this article provides. I give you my current top ten favorite films (subject to change):
10. Sauna (2008)
Sauna is a strange little-known Finnish psychological horror film – key word: strange. Two brothers are tasked with helping draw up map borders in a post-war land. They both suffer from the after effects of war – Eerick having to learn to adjust after killing, and Knut with leaving a young girl behind to die. As they travel, they encounter a strange abandoned sauna as well as an odd pagan town. What happens in the town and the sauna is unsettling. Needless to say, this film stuck with me. I watched it again and again. It has elements of arthouse, J-horror, and oozes religious allegory about sin, guilt, and regret. Recommended for fans of Christopher Smith’s Black Death and Nicolas Winding-Refn’s Valhalla Rising.
9. Vital (2004)
Director Shinya Tsukamoto is best known for his pioneering Japanese cyberpunk film Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989), a film I adore. Over the years, Tsukamoto has tackled similar subject matters and genres with different material: A Snake of June (2002), Haze (2005), Nightmare Detective (2006), and Kotoko (2011). However, his dreamy Cronenberg-esque film Vital may best encapsulate his career work. A car accident that killed his girlfriend finds a man, Hiroshi, in the hospital with memory loss. He decides to become a medical student. While dissecting cadavers, he realizes the dead girl on the table is his deceased lover, Ryoko. While working on her, Hiroshi starts to regain memories. The film’s implied body-horror coupled with beautiful dream-like memory sequences pushes into must-see territory. Recommended for fans of Cameron Crowe’s Vanilla Sky, Michael Greenspan’s Wrecked and David Cronenberg’s Spider.
8. 964 Pinocchio (1991)
Director Shozin Fukui was a member of the film crew for Shinya Tsukamoto’s Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989), so the cyberpunk influence in 964 Pinocchio comes as no surprise. Fukui’s film is heavier on the hallucinogenic atmosphere and a different dose of weird. The film’s title is the name of the protagonist, a cast-off sex slave experiment with no memory nor means of communicating. He runs into Himiko, an impovershed woman whom takes him in and tries to help him regain speech. After a breakthrough with the “therapy”, 964 Pinocchio begins to transform deeper. While borrowing classic Japanese cyberpunk settings, such as broken-down industrial buildings, one may not see this film as being very “cyberpunk” in nature. But that’s exactly what I love about Fukui’s vision. There is tons of allegory and sybolism here for hardcore genre fans – even with the over-the-top vomiting scenes (fair warning!). Recommended for fans of Shozin Fukui’s sequel Rubber’s Lover and Shinya Tsukamoto’s Tetsuo trilogy.
7. World On A Wire (1973)
Who would have thought a profound, precise and eerie film based on the novel ‘Simulacron-3’ by Daniel Galouye existed back in 1973? World On A Wire, directed by Rainer Werner Fassbender, was a made-for-TV mini-series that spans four hours in length. It’s tantalizing imagery, complete with reflections in mirrors and windows, still competes (and triumphs) today’s CGI world. Dr. Fred Stiller is tapped to head the new simulation supercomputer project after its previous leader disappears. Stiller seems to find strange nuances with the simulation world as much as his own. One of the simulation units commits suicide and sets off a detective game that leads to a fearful discovery about the reality of our own world. Picked up and given a proper release by The Criterion Collection, World On A Wire is not one to be missed. Recommended for fans of The Wachowski’s The Matrix, Josef Rusnak’s The Thirteen Floor and David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ.
6. Possession (1981) *formerly Vertigo (1958)
Director Andrzej Zulawski’s masterpiece Possession is the most beautiful display of martial destruction. Mark (Neill) returns home from a lengthy business trip of unknown origin and suspects infidelity on the part of his wife Anna (Adjani), whom only comes to visit him periodically. Various phone conversations with Anna’s friend Margit confirm an affair with a man named Heinrich (Heinz Bennett). Upon arrival at his place, Mark discovers Heinrich has not seen her in weeks. Obsessed with finding Anna’s whereabouts, Mark hires a private detective and discovers her bizarre trail while coming psychologically undone himself. A rare art house horror gem that everyone should experience. Recommended for fans of David Cronenberg’s The Brood and Roman Polanski’s Repulsion.
5. Days Of Heaven (1978)
Has director Terrence Malick made a ‘bad’ film? That’s debatable. But what nobody can refute is his eye for breathtaking imagery. Starring Richard Gere and Sam Shepard, Days Of Heaven is a film that took four years to produce and left Malick so exhausted that it was 20 years later until The Thin Red Line surfaced in 1998. Gere plays Bill, a laborer who takes his girlfriend Abbey and sister Linda to Texas after killing his boss in Chicago. The trio end up on a rich farmer’s land as seasonal workers to harvest wheat. A plan is hatched for Abbey to marry the dying farmer and try to steal his money. However, his health stabilizes and raises suspicion that Bill is Abbey’s lover. The result is a battle between the two men to win Abbey’s heart, whom has fallen in love with both. With all Malick films, his focus is less on story and more on image. There are wonderful shots of the house agains the field during a sunset, with workers continuing to harvest. The field fire scene is easily one of the most horror-filled sequences in a non-horror film ever. Recommended for fans of Terrence Malick films, David Gordon Green’s Undertow, Ang Lee’s The Ice Storm.
4. Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
Kidman. Cruise. Kubrick. Controversial upon news of the project and it’s subsequent release, Eyes Wide Shut is still an exercise in the mind of the late genius director. Upon learning of his wife Alice’s infidelity, Dr. Bill Hartford sets out on a night of sexual fantasy, which includes an uninvited entrance into a masked ritualistic orgy by an unknown upper-class cult. Kubrick held rights to adapt the film as far back as the 1960’s, but finally filmed and released at the tail end of the 20th century. It’s vague symbolism, which includes touches of the Illuminati, is still powerful and contemplative. While 2001 and The Shining may place first in people’s minds when they think of Kubrick, I always go straight to this film. Recommended for fans of Alain Resnais’ Last Year At Marienbad and David Lynch’s Blue Velvet.
3. Casino (1995)
Casino continued a long-standing collaboration between director Martin Scorsese and actor Robert DeNiro. Scorsese’s film catalog is wide and full of acclaim – from Mean Streets to Hugo. But it’s in the second half of Scorsese’s career where I feel he had found a niche in the mobster crime drama genre. Nobody does movies like Casino, Goodfellas, The Departed quite like Scorsese and any attempts are always compared to his efforts. Sam Rothstein is tapped by the mob to oversee operations at the Tangiers casino in Las Vegas. Meanwhile, Nicky is sent down by the mob to ensure money is taken and the mobsters do their job. When a scandal breaks out with their fictitious Casino manager, Rothstein is pulled into the spotlight and the FBI starts investigating a massive mob corruption case at the casino. Also, Rothstein’s home life takes a turn for the worst as his prostitute wife continues to see her former pimp. When I watch the film, it’s more like watching a documentary unfold. That’s literally how well this film is put to celluloid. Recommended for fans of Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas, Jonathan Hensleigh’s Kill The Irishman, Mars Callahan’s Poolhall Junkies.
2. Oldboy (2003)
Formerly no. 1 on my top ten list, director Park Chan-wook’s beautiful and bloody revenge tale Oldboy is a thing to behold. Out of the blue, Oh Dae-su is kidnapped and locked away in a room for fifteen years, only given food, water and a TV. Upon his release, he is given a suit, cell phone and a message to find out who did this to him in five days. Oh Dae-su sets out on a quest of vengeance to kill the man who stole his life from him. A simple revenge story, but the plot grows thicker with each and every turn. Towards the end, when the reasoning for the imprisonment becomes clearer, it’s both shocking and grotesque. Park Chan-wook has gone on to do many other acclaimed films, but Oldboy is easily his magna opus. Recommended for fans of Kim Ji-Woon’s I Saw The Devil, Na Hong-jin’s The Chaser, and Lee Jeong-beom’s The Man From Nowhere.
1. Martyrs (2008)
Considered one of the most distubing horror films ever made, director Pascal Laugier supplanted his name into the minds of horror fanatics with Martyrs. This film is my top choice for many reasons, mostly because of the first time I saw it. Gripping my seat tightly and having my stomach churn was a foreign feeling to me when watching a movie – the feeling of unease. And believe me, I’ve seen tons of horror films. We are shown an opening scene of a young girl, starved and badly beated, running while crying out for help. Her name is Lucie, a survivor from what…we don’t immediately learn. Whatever occurred, it has left her withdrawn, unable to speak of the things she saw. Furthermore, the events paralyze Lucie’s ability to interact and socialize with others until she meets Anna. They form a necessary, sometimes difficult, friendship. Flashfoward years later and Anna is found bound in a quest for vengeance upon Lucie’s captors. What Anna doesn’t realize is she too will experience exactly what Lucie did. While the film is off-putting for many, there is an excellent multi-layered story here. Also, the film’s soundtrack tugs at you, especially when Anna is starting to fade from sanity and tries “talking” to Lucie. Until I find another film that displays such disturbing images so beautifully, Martyrs will stay cemented atop my list. Recommended for fans of Alexandre Bustillo’s Inside, Xavier Gens Frontiers, Gaspar Noe’s I Stand Alone and Tom Six’s The Human Centipede.