I like to think that my taste in movies is really good, but the truth is that my favorite movies span all genres, all brows (from high to low), all languages. Below is a list of movies that aren’t just among my favorites, but that I consider to be somehow essential; they have contributed to my sense of self and how I view the world at large. (Mild spoilers.)
Talk to Her
Directed by Almodovar in 2002, this movie differs a bit in tone from his previous works. Talk to Her, like his other movies, is still a celebration of women–but the contemplative, ponderous pace is a bit less diverted by slapstick and sex. Whereas most of Almodovar’s other films are led, and largely populated, by women, Talk to Her follows the strong, sad-eyed Marco, a journalist who starts dating a bull fighter, Lydia. When an encounter with a bull lands Lydia in a coma, Marco befriends Benigno, a nurse at the hospital where Lydia goes to stay long-term.
Benigno, like Marco, is a long-term caregiver for another woman in a coma, Alicia. The title of the movie comes from Benigno’s encouragement to Marco, talk to her. The plot grows a bit more complex from that point, but not by much. The film is a lot more concerned with meditations about life, womanhood, love, and reality, but it touches all of these with a deft, even light, hand.
One of my favorite scenes (aside from the mesmerizing open–an excerpt of Pina Bausch’s Cafe Mueller) is one in which Alicia’s former ballet teacher describes for Marco and Benigno a new ballet she’s thought of, Trenches. In halting, American English-accented-spanish, she talks about ballerinas, clad in gossamer-thin dresses, rising from the bodies of the fallen soldiers of World War II. What was solid becomes smoke, what was darkness, light.
The film is warm, thoughtful, and beautiful–but not quite as dry as I’m afraid I’ve made it seem. The ballet teacher herself is a bit of a picaresque creature. The cinematography, editing, and score are also mezmerizing–another favorite scene is the one in which we see Lydia, the matador, getting dressed before the bullfight.
With Talk to Her, Almodóvar seems to begin playing with genre a bit more. Whereas his earlier films are very much focused on performance, strong women dealing with weak, abusive, or oblivious men, his films after Talk to Her are expanded abit into other genres–the semi-autobiographical Bad Education, the body-horror thriller The Skin I Live In, The Ghost Story Volver, and the recent Airplane-inspired I’m So Excited.
2046 is one of my favorite movies because it makes me hurt so good. Part of this is because Tony Leung and Zhang-Shiyi perfectly inhabit their characters, but it is also because Wong Kar-wai really takes his time with each moment and with every single feeling these characters have and try to hide from whan another. All of the characters feel fresh, and, although the movie is much less about plot than it is about feeling, each character’s motivations are clear and believable. Like Talk to Her, the movie is beautifully shot and scored, although it has a much looser relationship with the constraints of time and space.
Exit through the Gift Shop
I’ve seen a few people ask whether the movie was “A Hoax,” but that’s an obtuse question. It assumes that there was really only one level on which the movie was operating, telling you all about Thierry and what a wacky guy he was. Well, not only do I think Thierry is a real person (although, IMO, not a ‘real’ ‘artist’), but I think that the question is largely beside the point. Without having to say anything explicitly about the aims of art in general or grafitti in particular, Banksy shows us that his work, with real texture, real questions, and real challenges to society, has more substance, punch, and taste than anything created by “Mr. Brainwash.”
The Maltese Falcon
As much as I love Cumberbatch et al, I’m not sure if our generation yet given us a Humphrey Bogart. He’s the only reason why I would watch Casablanca more than once. The plot of the film itself is captivating–I can never just watch one scene, I’m always hooked to the end. One of the winning strengths of The Maltese Falcon is that you’re always sort of guessing about Sam Spade’s motives–is he a good guy? Bad guy? Does he want to get to the end of things, or does he want to profit?