TOP TEN FAVORITE FILMS
After much delay, here is the list of my ten favorite films.
10) David Holtzman's Diary (Dir. Jim McBride)
This is the first of several films that fit into the "films about making films" (or 'self-reflexive' works, for you academic types) genre. This movie is unfortunately relatively unknown, and is long overdue for re-discovery. It's an incredible mock-documentary about an independent filmmaker named David who is making a film about his life while subsequently alienating the people around him. A powerful critique of "subjective" filmmaking styles (Cinema Verite; Neo-realist) that were popular at the time for being "direct truth at 24 frames per second"
9) Midnight Cowboy (dir. John Schlesinger)
This was one of the first films that made me interested in cinema as an art form, and one of my first experiences with "experimental" film style. "Midnight Cowboy" was truly a revolutionary film, one of the first features to address homosexual themes, commercialization, 60's NYC counterculture, etc. It was also the first "X" rated film to ever win an Oscar for Best Picture (though it's a pretty tame film by today's standards and would probably garner an R or even PG-13 rating today). "Midnight Cowboy" was also the first big-screen roles for Jon Voigt (now better known as Angelina Jolie's dad) as the hick hustler Joe Buck and Bob Balaban (probably best known as the NBC exec on "Seinfeld") as a gay teenager. Most importantly, it was arguably Dustin Hoffman's greatest film role, as the TB-ridden con-man with a heart of gold, Ratso Rizzo.
Oh yeah, and did I mention that the "Exploding Plastic Inevitable"-esque party scene uses actual Warhol Factory members such as Viva, Ultra Violet, Paul Morrisey & Taylor Mead?
8) Annie Hall (dir. Woody Allen)
Woody Allen is one of those filmmakers you either love or hate. I put myself in the latter category. While he's had a pretty inconsistent output as of late, he's still one of the most productive filmmakers in the biz & even his worst films are more entertaining than most of the drivel being churned out of Hollywood studios.
It was hard choosing just one Allen film for this list. I thought of "Manhattan", with its beautiful B&W cinematograpy and Gershwin score; the Bergman-esque "Interiors"; the lovely "Hannah and Her Sisters; the brilliantly complex relationship drama "Husbands and Wives"....but I always end up going back to "Annie Hall". It's Allen at his best and most creative, mixing Brechtian direct camera addresses, inner-dialogue subtitles & even animation sequences into a hillarious comedy with some deeper issues weaved throughout. While it's one of Allen's best on-screen performances, Diane Keaton steals the show as the adorable Annie Hall. Also look for cameos by Paul Simon and then-unknowns Sigorney Weaver, Christopher Walken and Jeff Goldblum
7) Untitled (For Marilyn) (dir. Stan Brakhage)
While it's tempting to choose an epic like "Dog Star Man" or "Text of Light" or a classic like "Cat's Cradle" or "Mothlight" as my favorite Brakhage film, I usually come back to the shorter "chamber works". Whether it's "Kindering's" anamorphic lens distortions and creepy modulated child singing, "Black Ice's" beautiful shifting fields of color and depth or "Commingled Container's" transformation of the banal to the beautiful, I tend to find a tremendous amount of depth in these seemingly simple films. "Untitled (For Marilyn)" probably has had the greatest influence on my own work (most obviously in Solah #3 & 4) in its bold mixture of hand-scrawled text, hand-painted film & film footage.
I hated Brakhage in college. I was big into political documentary filmmaking at the time and thought that Brakhage's "pure formalism" was escaping having to address bigger political issues (despite his "Psalms" film, created as a response to the Vietnam War). But the images never left my mind. And I soon came to realize that Brakhage was doing something much deeper than political rhetoric ever could. Political films can change ideologies; changing the way people see can change the world.
6) Red Shovel/Wood/Glass (Memory of Water)
My mentor in film school, Simon Tarr, turned me on to Leighton Pierce in my junior year. Pierce makes short experimental works that rely on a combination of simple imagery (most footage shot in his backyard or kitchen) with subtly complex effects work. Pierce uses a ghostly, fluid effect to his imagery, a technique I explored myself in my music video for The Interior called "Gossip of Flames". Zen-like, slow, gentle shifts of perception and reality make for a deceptively deep and transformative viewing experience.
Pierce's films were previously near impossible to get a copy of, but he just started his own website (www.leightonpierce.com) with compilations of his work for sale on DVD. Highly recommended.
5) Don't Look Back (dir. D.A. Pennebaker)
I've been fascinated with the "rock documentary" genre for as long as I can remember. It's a combination of my two greatest passions, music & film, and it's always a great way to explore a creative process that is not normally seen. It doesn't hurt that rock stars are born actors; they know the importance of creating a persona and selling it to an audience. It certainly explains Elvis movie and Ice-T on Law and Order.
"Don't Look Back" was an incredibly innovative film that initiated the verite, "behind-the-scenes" rock documentary movement that followed & that is stil popular today. The film also (arguably) contains the first music video: the famous "Dylan with cuecards" opening sequence for "Subterranean Homesick Blues". While many "rockumentaries" are near and dear to me (Maysles' "Gimme Shelter", Demme's "Stop Making Sense", Jem Cohen's "Instrument" and "Benjamin Smoke"), "Don't Look Back" will always be my favorite for catching Dylan at a turning point, going from folkie poster-child to rock rebel at the peak of his career.
4) Faces (Dir. John Cåssavetes)
Cassavetes is the man. The first true American "indie" filmmaker, a hard-drinking man's man & a damn good artist. He's like an Italian, clean-cut pretty-boy version of Charles Bukowski. And like Bukowski, he had a very unique & insightful take on human relationships, especially those between men and women.
In "Faces", Cassavetes explored the ups, downs and ups-again in a marriage, delving into the way that men & women love, cheat, flirt & hurt. Certainly not an original theme by any means, by Cassavetes explored it in a way that, while structured (the idea that Cassavetes' films were completely improvisational is a myth; they were actually carefully scripted) left a lot of room for truth and spontaneity to shine through, capturing the idiosyncracies and embarassments that define true human beings as, well, human.
3) Weekend (Dir. Jean-Luc Godard)
It was tough to pick just one Jean-Luc Godard film for this list. JLG is the man, the absolute arbiter of cinematic hip starting with "Breathless", the film that almost single-handedly (along with Truffaut's "The 400 Blows") launched the film movement known as the French New Wave. His early films dealt mainly with youth culture, language, art and society, with a political undercurrent that would soon overtake his work.
"Weekend" was the true turning point for Godard. An apocalyptic prophesy of a world overtaken by global capitalism & bourgeois greed, the film explores a surrealistic journey of a young, rich Parisian couple who are headed to the country to plan the murder of the woman's parents to collect their estate. On the way, they encounter historical political figures, philosophers & Emily Bronte, along with a Mozart snob who plays his grand piano to the salt of the earth and group of cannibal revolutionaries with a drum kit. Add in some beautifully saturated cinematography by Raoul Coutard and an 11-minute tracking shot of the most bizarre traffic jam in human history & you have one of the most unique films ever made.
"FIN DU CINEMA" indeed.
2.5) Persona (Dir. Ingmar Bergman)
Ok I cheated with the "2.5". But Bergman's experimental masterpiece exploring fragile psyches and the concept of duality & transference of souls was too good to pass up. All of the trademarks of Bergman are here--the stark landscapes, the beautiful cinematography by Sven Nykvist, the gorgeous blonde Swede actresses. But "Persona" is one of Bergman's most experimental works, especially the avant-garde opening credits sequence. And it's also one of his most penetrating psychological studies (alongside "Through A Glass Darkly" and "Hour of the Wolf").
2) 8 1/2 (Dir. Federico Fellini)
Fellini's ode to the art of filmmaking, "8 1/2" is a deeply autobiographic film that explores not only Fellini's art but his childhood, Catholic guilt & sexual relationships, along with his deep fascination for magic & mysticism. An incredibly influencial & oft-imitated film (Woody Allen's "Stardust Memories" pays direct homage), "8 1/2" is a dream-like labyrinthine trip through the mind of a filmmaker trying to follow up after his masterpiece. Is it a "film-within-a-film"? Is it a "film-about-making-the-film-itself"? Either way, it's an amazing experience.
1) Lost Book Found (Dir. Jem Cohen)
Jem Cohen is easily the most under-appreciated filmmaker working today. He is a master of intensely personal character study & landscape cinematography, and has helped to revolutionize the rock documentary and music video genres. But what appeals to me most about his work are his city portraits, where he can bring a New York street or small European town to a hyper-realistic state despite using the most non-realistic of mediums: Super8, 16mm & DV.
His short film "Lost Book Found" is one such city portrait & is also one of the truest examples of cinematic beauty that I have ever experienced. It captures a fragile New York in the 1980's, the schizophrenic pre-Gulliani days when you feared mugging more than a terrorist attack. It's a now-lost world of discount shops & street vendors & dirty strets & manic pamphlets & old immigrant women. If the breathtaking Super8 visuals were not enough, a beautiful gamelin soundtrack (a collaboration between Cohen & Fugazi's Ian McKaye) & a perfect story that seems simple on the surface (a mysterious book of lists) but takes on Biblical allegories and explores whether there is a grand plan or order in the chaos of our lives, and the ridiculous strives we make to make the false connections to try to prove that there is a logical answer to why we are here.
This film is not commercially available on DVD or VHS so I'm going to post it here. If Mr. Cohen or anyone representing him has any issues with me posting this, please contact me at email@example.com & I'll remove it immediately.
The file is pretty large (355 MB) so expect a long download even with a cable internet connection. It's worth the wait.
(Right-click & "Save As")
Lost Book Found (355MB)