TG10 Vaughn’s List: Magical Evocation on Celluloid

Welcome to TG10s. This year, echoing another publication, we are posting our top 10s, and taking votes from you. Keep reading The Twin Geeks for lists from our regular writers, as well as some extra special selection of lists from some amazing guests.

I love learning about people’s favorite films. Finding art that resonates with you is so personal and so specific and yet it opens so many doors, grants such insight into what speaks to you, what is meaningful to you, what evokes something in you. It’s why this project was so exciting to me, to aggregate what is meaningful to the people that make up this website and what is meaningful to many of the friendships this space has formed. It is an endless joy to be a part of this space, to have a platform to share my passion and adoration for cinema and to be able to do it with such a wonderful group of writers and creators. It’s a joy to be able to share my favorite films like this, to offer my own window into what is at the foundation of what cinema means to me. Cinema, after all, is not monolithic, and nor is criticism. As critics we are shaped by our subjectivity and that is what makes it a joy, to offer our perspective on how film speaks to us as individuals.

These are my favorite films of all time. It is cinema that speaks to me, cinema that evokes pure emotion, cinema that is visually stunning and sonically moving, cinema that reflects my existence and my experiences. They define me as a writer, they define me as an endless enthusiast for the medium, and in many ways they define me as a person. They are not ranked or even organized in any particular way, just a collective of what I’m most passionate about. I’ve written about each of them in the only way I know how.

Before Sunrise

Before Sunrise. Dir. Richard Linklater.

The fantasy, the memory, and the reality of love, three perfectly crafted slices of enduring cosmic magnetism woven over eighteen years. Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy is one of the greatest evocations of the vast complexity of everything that love means but there are few things more magical than the dreamy fantasy of Before Sunrise. Romantic optimism and youthful idealism colored with all the many pangs of sorrow, the little hesitations, and the unspoken anxieties that come along with it. A film constructed by its liminal glances and its nearly imperceptible motions, the little fractional moments in between where your entire life becomes a single instant between you and someone else.

The distilled ineffable notion of love, wandering aimlessly through the moonlit streets of Vienna as the fleeting hours tick away with every little smile and touch. The lingering brush of heartbreak always present but ever fading within the celestial magic of it all, the impossible perfection of the moment. Like the effortless love it shares it is never loud or overstated, just two people quietly colliding and bringing everyone they come into contact with into their gravitational pull, the infectious radiance of it all. We may know how Jesse and Celine’s story continues from here but what happens next never quite matters as the sun finally rises over the longing gazes as two trains begin to speed away from one another. What a special thing.

Fallen Angels

Fallen Angels. Dir. Wong Kar Wai.

Life’s transient ephemera, an ethereal and hazy evocation of everyday liminal magic through the lens of the lonely souls who wander the rain-slicked, neon-soaked nighttime streets in search of meaning. Here everything blends into a drifting watercolor impression, an effortlessly hyperstylized traversal through a vibrant fog bound by moonlit gunshots and dreamy Cantopop. Played as a series of tumbling instants colliding in the cosmic web of the city, people falling into and out of each other’s lives ad infinitum as they navigate existence.

The most purely distilled of all the works of sonic neon auteur Wong Kar-Wai, flawlessly evocative in its endeavors to extract a completely intangible and indefinable longing from its hazy celluloid. Stripped of all but its effervescent emotion it is a constant deluge of every pang of humanity, all the little indescribable desires and all of our listless endeavoring for companionship, this meandering but eminently urgent drive for the intoxicating flashes of warmth through our eternal cold night.

Nobody is capable of delivering pure cinematic bliss in the way that Wong does, at his best when his narratives escape into the misty drizzle and become so beautifully ineffable. Wong defines the impossible, putting to film the essence of the moving power of cinema through visions of existence made with floating synths and step-printed flashes of memory. Forgotten yet extant, liminal yet eternal. Its power never fades.

The Social Network

The Social Network. Dir. David Fincher.

David Fincher’s digital apocalypse, a perfectly tuned collision of the past and the future that remains chillingly prescient in its thematic assertions. Its rhythmic cinematic unfolding matched only by its ability to deconstruct the mythos of genius and wealth, shattering the façade of false idolatry to reveal the same destructive misogyny that has built hateful empires for millennia. The Social Network is a critical capturing of the most pivotal moment of our time, where the upheaval of the old world and our rapid acceptance of a digital existence was constructed by one man whose self-serving ideology framed the future beneath his pitiful loneliness. 

“Hand Covers Bruise,” the title of the first track on Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ perfect blend of traditional harmony being overtaken by digital feedback and rapid fire synthesizers, but also perfectly symbolic of the film’s wider construction. An ego so bruised that nothing could possibly stand in the way of the towering and hateful construct that will be born of it, but the bruise will persist no matter how much you try to cover it, an internal stain, a mark on the soul that will linger while you surround yourself with endless wealth and million dollar speeding tickets to silence your detractors.

Dynamically enrapturing without fail, The Social Network always enamors me with its precision and rhythm, what it represents ever enigmatically shifting as I change, as I learn, and as the destructive ripple of what it defines continues to saturate our digital lives.

Blow Out

Blow Out. Dir. Brian De Palma.

A textural cinematic indulgence that inverts the ideas from Antonioni’s 1966 Blow-Up, cultural malaise and an existential lack of meaning crushed down to celluloid powder and repurposed into a pointed deconstruction of America’s corroding corruption. Paranoid psychosis worms its way through De Palma’s relentless onslaught of sentient film stock, hedonistic direction that employs every cinematic technique possible as it ramps up in tension while the chase for truth runs rampant. Split screens, split diopters, tactile mechanisms clicking and whirring, film stock spinning and tape scratching, zooming closer and closer in an endless reveal of more and more reality that exists behind the false construct of a failed state.

There’s little more deliriously captivating than De Palma’s complete adoration for cinema, opening with a trashy send-up of 70s slashers before endeavoring to slowly piece together the death of America through the confines of filmmaking. It is a love letter to its own form and pointed aggressive frustration at the destruction of our society by way of hateful greed pushing people down to protect those in power. A heartbreaking image of a rapidly decomposing world but one that also reminds us of cinema’s importance in capturing our collective existence in time.

Certified Copy

Certified Copy. Dir. Abbas Kiarostami.

The sublime beating heart of love and existence, shattered into a million iridescent pieces, shimmering through kaleidoscopic obfuscation. Iranian master Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy is an unsolvable puzzle, a hazy reflection of life in gently rolling waters. His steadfast directorial endeavor to remove the camera from cinema on dazzling display as he weaves a moment of liminal perfection without any preconceived notion of structure. It is an impossible and inscrutable film, stepping invasively into the lives of its protagonists as you desperately try to search for the foundation that constructs their infinitely complex relationship – but this is Kiarostami’s pursuit of the human condition, the idea that we can not and will not know. The question is, does that matter at all?

Certified Copy’s beauty is in its impossibility, and the more its enigmatic haze washes over you the more potent it becomes, because the film’s truth – as is often Kiarostami’s truth – is that life is not a singular and objective thing, it is a listless and ephemeral search for understanding, a mercurial understanding that we will never reach. Life’s warmth is in the pursuit, in our ever-shifting perspective, in the moments that we free ourselves from caring about the blurry line between the original and the copy. Each of us a complex formation of copied genetic code and absorbed knowledge, little pieces of everything that came before us, hoping for a gentle hand on our shoulder to guide us. The truth doesn’t matter so much when existence is portrayed with such tender comfort.


Burning. Dir. Lee Chang-dong.

The great hunger consumes us all. Esoteric and ethereal like the quiet countryside sunset at its center, Lee Chang-dong’s Burning deconstructs our pained modern existences through the lens of the collapsing society around us. Metronomic and hypnotizing its tendrils worm through the mind, a misty truth that intoxicates with its wispy allure, driving our innate desire to construct a narrative around our imperceptible glimpses into the world around us. We spend our days writing our lives and our nights writing the lives of others, and we have nothing to show for it. The manifestations of our dreams will take root in our responses to the external pressure. The slowly crumbling nature of mankind’s insatiable consumption. The suffocating generational toxicity that we cannot seem to escape. The persistent condescension of those above, looking down and laughing at the pitiful masses barely keeping themselves afloat. Eventually, a spark ignites, and the burning begins.

Burning’s protean nature makes for something eminently beautiful, ever changing as it unfolds through the beguiling perspective of its protagonist, never letting on to a singular reality but asking you to imprint your own understanding as Jong-su does while the film floats through the morning fog of Korea to the haunting discordant twang of Mowg’s mesmerizing score. Entrancing like the flickering rhythm of the flames, the film sinks into memory and constantly forms and reforms, impossible, a shifting cloud of ever-dissipating smoke that you yearn to find objective truth within, but all that’s there is what you imagine, that formless tangerine that requires complete belief to exist. Lee Chang-dong’s filmography is full of these quietly poetic musings on the world around us but Burning sears into the mind like no other.

Spirited Away

Spirited Away. Dir. Hayao Miyazaki.

There’s a real, tangible magic imbued in the lush animation cells of Spirited Away, the gentle notes of its piano driven score lifting you off your feet as a little sedan buzzes across the countryside in search of its new home. Slowly drawn into its increasingly vibrant world, Hayao Miyazaki captures the vast emotional tumult of growing up in one dazzling adventure, starry-eyed wonder and limitless innocence forced to reconcile with life’s harsh realities and boundless joys before moving on to the next stage of being.

Seeing beyond the once immaculate vision of our parents and being face to face with their flaws; finding ourselves lost in the labyrinthine landscape of existence, unsure of who to trust or what to believe in, crossing paths with opportunity, violence, pain , greed, and joy, desperately hoping to put it all together and make sense of ourselves. Miyazaki crafts every frame with infinite reverence, stunning visions of how we once used to see the world before we became so weighed down by the exhaustion of it all. There’s hope in Spirited Away, hope through the eyes of Chihiro as she navigates all the chaos around her. Her hope lifts everyone and everything around her: hope for her parents to escape their entrenched selfishness; hope for Haku to be free once again; hope for Yubaba and Zeniba to reconcile; hope for the bathhouse to rescue the spirits whose lives in the beyond have been so consumed by guilt and pain. Most of all, Chihiro has hope for herself, that she can make it through the hardships of adolescence and become a fully realized person, with dreams for the future and glowing memories of that one summer day.

Inside Llewyn Davis

Inside Llewyn Davis. Dir. Joel and Ethan Coen.

The exhaustion and anguish of creative pursuit in the face of capitalistic impossibility, slowly sinking beneath the surface in a desperate grasp for air while a blind commitment to personal destiny sends you into a spiral of self-destruction. An eternal state of limbo, constantly in search of some indefinable spark that will propel you from scornful obscurity to some empyrean state of being where everything is fulfilling and meaningful. Trapped in this unending cycle it’s easy to only become further entrenched in these ideas the more adversity we face, convinced that to give up on what we perceive to be our only purpose would be to give up on ourselves. It’s a limbo we’ve created for ourselves, unable to let go and accept that though we may just be another everyday person in a sea of everyday people.

Life can be so tiring, especially when you work yourself into a fever of aspiration, sprinting full tilt towards a nebulous destination that you imbue as finality, but there is no end to any of it. Life continues moving and flowing and we are so prone to becoming lost in ourselves, forgetting about the people we love while stuck in our own misery, unable to move forward until we stop moving for long enough to make meaningful change. Through all the muted sorrow of Inside Llewyn Davis there are brief glimmers of escape, liminal moments where the world beyond this purgatory of melancholy shines through. There’s a better world out there for Llewyn, and there’s a better world out there for all of us.

The Young Girls of Rochefort

The Young Girls of Rochefort. Dir. Jacques Demy.

The melancholic romance of life in motion on pastel-tinted celluloid, a longing for something better and the pursuit of the ineffable ideal that consumes us. Light and effervescent like a summer sea breeze but infused with vibrant energetic magic and boundless optimism, a spark present behind every somber glance that believes fully in the wonder of it all. Jacques Demy’s steadfast belief that there will always be beauty in music and motion despite all of life’s frustrations. We are prone to chasing constructed fantasies and false ideals while the joys of sight and sound and love surround us, losing sight of simplicity in the midst of it all, but there’s even a beauty in the search, in the aimless wandering.

There’s a belief in the rhythm of everything in Demy’s work, that every movement is a part of something more grand, always spiraling outwards in every direction. An endlessly colorful expression of what it means to be human and to desire, how it drives us and moves us. It is a film with such adoration for all of its characters, such hope for them to find what they seek, knowing they may not all find it just yet but also knowing that is part of it, that life is full of those little ebbs and flows. Few things are more delightful than Demy’s musical evocations of life, but The Young Girls of Rochefort is in a tier above the rest, a beautifully expressive dance of existence slowly fading into the warm summer air.


Alien. Dir. Ridley Scott.

It’s always been Alien and it always will be Alien. Captivated from the moment the hypersleep pods open into still air like a blossoming flower until the moment Lieutenant Ellen Ripley records the final message of the USCSS Nostromo, drifting back towards home. A defining film for science fiction, for horror, and for myself, so enthralling in its atmospheric rip and tear through the industrial crew of the ship as they desperately fight for their lives. The destructive force of the complete unknown, the hateful terror of familiar greed, lives suddenly secondary to corporate interest as you are cast aside in favor of discovery and weaponization, all of it under a blanket of persistent sexual dread as fear is deconstructed by an exoskeletal vision of violence.

It’s all so immaculately crafted, each corner of every frame precision perfection by way of its structure and design, the ship a beautifully mapped and constructed being that exudes as much extant energy as its inhabitants, familiar cold industrialism slowly supplanted by the grotesque organic design of the Xenomorph ship and the foggy planet it sits on. It’s stunning every time: every moment of discovery, terror, and realization, every blip and whir of the analog machinery on board, every image of H.R. Giger’s terrifying vision and every moment of survivalist rage from the crew desperate to make it home. Alien is cinema, and cinema is home.

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