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.
The amount of pure deliberation I’ve gone through in considering this list is something akin to an existential crisis. Was I looking for cred, being inauthentic, pretentious, or just completely full of shit? Is my description of making a simple list hyperbole? Absolutely, but it’s surely a form of torture, nonetheless. This all occurred even before I began to settle on which films would make up this list. Most of the work came from settling on my approach to these choices. For weeks now, The Twin Geeks has served host to an array of top tens from writers, editors, and guests. The films discussed cover a wide range in terms of style and genre. Many chosen for their personal attachment to that writer, while others because of how celebrated they are within the history of cinema.
Given that these top tens were conceived in the wake of Sight & Sound’s “once every decade” event of lists, debate, and tears; it seemed appropriate that I follow the approach given by the many critics and directors there. However, the debate comes once I consider whether my own personal top ten should reflect the greatest contributions to the artform or just a list of my favorite movies. To me, there is clear distinction between them. I finally settled on what I view to be a marriage of these approaches. What I can safely attest to is that these films are distinct from one another, at least to a certain degree anyway. I’ve tried to keep a variety that can stand as a summation of my cinematic taste. More than that, I would go as far as to say that these movies serve as a window into myself as they mirror my current interest, passions, debates, and artistic progression both creatively and as a fan.
10. Straw Dogs
Of course, I already hesitate because I’m following up that last sentence with a film such as Straw Dogs, which is enough to make my own eyebrows raise. I’m not saying that I agree to or sympathize with the themes that Mr. Sam Peckinpah was going with here, far from it. To be honest, this selection may involve a part of my brain that I’m not ready to reconcile at this time. This is what would normally be the Taxi Driver slot. That gritty piece of New Hollywood that veers on the edge of acceptance and indulges in controversy. I’ve lived with Taxi Driver for quite a while, so Straw Dogs is a bit more fresh for me. It’s a thrilling work that tackles toxic themes that exist in a toxic world, while being superbly crafted. If there is one part of the film that resonates with me on a personal note, it would have to be the final scene. The story of a man that adhered to the rules that society promised would see him prosper. The very same society that leaves itself open to corruptions, and finally push that man to break bad and join the rest of the animals. Sometimes the way back home gets lost.
9. The Bride of Frankenstein
I’ve held an interest in the macabre side of filmmaking for as long as I can remember. Often, the effects of this can be heightened with a good dose of levity. I sincerely believe that the Bride of Frankenstein is the greatest sequel ever made, and it was produced during a time long before cinema became invaded with words like “franchises and universes”. The original Frankenstein was an accomplishment for its director, James Whale. It would have been so easy to just do “more of the same” with a follow up. Instead, he reached for the heavens and found himself in a world of God’s and Monsters. It serves as a proper continuation, expanding the world established in the original with incredibly memorable characters, plots, and themes. It flips the notion of Frankenstein on its head, and infuses it with something a bit more entertaining, funny, emotional, and completely insane.
The film that caused my uncle to be so afraid of water that he was terrified of the bathtub. It’s truly one of the landmark films of the last century, the greatest creature feature, and the pinnacle of the blockbuster. It’s a bit easy to point blame at Jaws for the sins against the artform that were created in the wake of this Megalodon like box-office behemoth. Spielberg has taken more than his fair share of the blame for the current state of cinema, which is where every game in town are chasing the largest returns. I can’t hold him responsible for this based on Jaws alone though. Yes, it is an absolutely thrilling crowd pleaser that’s full of spectacle and suspense throughout its runtime. It is also a lot more than that. The beauty of Jaws lays with its characters and their interactions. It’s the smaller moments like infamous Indianapolis speech, or Brody asking for a kiss from his son that have caused it to resonate for decades now. These moments give the film a pulse that heightens when the action happens, and unfortunately it’s an aspect that modern blockbusters have sometimes forgotten in their imitations.
7. The Passion of Joan of Arc
Despite being the oldest entry on my list, this is the one selection most guilty of recency bias. I was absolutely gob smacked by this movie. Many would claim that silent cinema is at a disadvantage with its inability to communicate through dialogue, especially with how that’s at times counteracted through over exaggerating by its actors. To dispute that claim, I would only have to point them in the direction of Dreyer’s silent masterpiece. The Passion of Joan of Arc is most likely the most expressive film ever made. That’s a bold claim to make, sure. However, I’ve not come across a sequence, set piece, reveal, or piece of dialogue that can rival what Maria Falconetti accomplished with the slight movement of her face. It’s a performance for the ages and directly connects the viewer to the passion mentioned in the title. The complete anger, despair, fear, and sadness on display is a complete assault on the senses and shows the potential cinema holds as a means to move us.
6. Seven Samurai
It’s as synonymous with the Samurai genre as Jaws is to the creature feature. I would say that this one of many accomplishments from Kurosawa is as equally viable to modern filmmaking as Spielberg’s blockbusting opus is. Seven Samurai is an epic chock full of thrilling action, tight editing, larger than life characters, as well as a healthy dose of pathos. Like Jaws, it’s much more than just a thrill ride. Leaving questions along the way about the ethics of vigilante justice, what’s right and wrong, the laws of society, and the cost of it all. With the runtime screaming passed the three-hour mark, it’s notable that Seven Samurai is probably the easiest watch on my list. A grand-scale action/adventure that absolutely delivers on its promise and has never been toppled in its weight class. Thinking over it, it’s amazing how much mileage Akira Kurosawa was able to get from one part of genre filmmaking. Which goes to show how genre-based filmmaking it just a tool that can be utilized in displaying the many intricacies of being human.
5. McCabe and Mrs. Miller
Boy, do I love a good western. Just from mentioning the term “Western” I would assume that most people conjure up imagery of vast landscapes that are completely covered in dirt by which tumbleweeds continuously roll on by. Perhaps with two “equally as covered with dirt” gunslingers ready to throw down at high noon. Despite such imagery, Robert Altman’s subversive contribution to the genre stands above the rest by showing a different kind of western. There is still gunslinging and duels, but Altman’s exist in a world that seems closer to reality. It still feels dirty, largely in part of Warren Beatty’s titular McCabe, but the vast landscapes are replaced with northwestern foliage, rain, and snow. The tale, itself, is forever poignant as we see the work of an ambitious, opportunistic businessman being taken by a group of opportunistic businessmen. It’s a fable that accurately displays the greed and power of our modern society. What helps push Altman’s film over the top for me, outside of its flawless direction, innovative recording of dialogue, and greater acting…is how the production and set designed was utilized in telling this story. We see a town get built right before our very eyes, and it feels very much alive in pulling the audience into its world.
This is probably the one entry of this list that is the closest to my heart. Everybody that knows me, knows me as the “Halloween Guy”. While it represents one of my greatest loves of cinema known as the horror genre, it’s endearment to me goes way beyond that. Sure, it’s expertly crafted, features a kind of suburban horror that reverberates with its audience, and has an all-time villain. What connects the most with me is how it was made. John Carpenter was able to take a fraction of the budget that most productions would use and do more with less. While his pockets were limited, his imagination was not. He surrounded himself a crew that was equally as impassioned as he was. He knew exactly where to put the money they had such as the still celebrated cinematography by Dean Cundey and made up for it in other areas (such as the musical score) by doing it himself. Not only did it save money, but he was exceptional. There isn’t a piece of art that inspires me more creatively than what these renegade filmmakers accomplished with just a little “knife movie”.
The man known publicly as the “Master of Suspense” decides to dig deep into the dark recesses of himself and makes the quintessential film on obsession. While it’s not the most thrilling or entertaining of his works, it is the most interesting. It took years for Vertigo to make its mark in the canon of cinema because of its lack of immediance. I had a similar experience with it during my first viewing as a teen. I watched it because of how celebrated it had become, and once it was over I just kind of thought “that’s it?” A decade flew by, and I rewatched it in High Definition to give it the presentation it deserved, and with a little maturity and experience to go with that it was like watching it for the first time again, except with a new perspective. Despite it being the end of their great partnership, Jimmy Stewart in this is probably the greatest casting decision made in Hitchcock’s filmography. Who better to tell the story of a man’s passion and dark descent than the actor who everybody wished they knew in private life. Bernard Herrmann turns in what is probably his greatest composition of music, and under Hitchcock’s eye it is perfectly married to the visuals to create some of the cinema’s greatest moments.
As much as I like to pretend that I’m an optimist hidden inside the shell of a cynic, reality is that I’m just cynical. It’s no surprise that I respond to art that shares in my cynicism. Chinatown is the most “New Hollywood” movie. I’m of the belief that the New Hollywood movement in cinema is the greatest period in the history of the medium. Roman Polanski was able to take the incredible screenplay from Robert Townes and make neo-noire magic. The coolest and best actor in the room, Jack Nicholson, is perfectly cast in the role of Jake Gittes, who is a seedy detective that finds himself neck deep in the flood of corruption and tragedy as he investigates what began a small mystery. He wants to solve it and be the hero, but he’s being optimistic in a world that doesn’t reward such things. Chinatown is bleak, shocking, rage inducing, and tragic as the mysterious thread gets unraveled. It expertly draws the viewer into its world and mystery, and by the end shows us how tragedy is inevitable in some situations. The kind of situations that lead us with the resolve that perhaps we’d been better off doing “as little as possible” instead.
1. Mulholland Dr.
The place where dreams are made of and nightmares flourish. I’ve long connected with the dreamlike vistas of David Lynch’s mind and his surrealistic, esoteric, and state of consciousness approach to filmmaking. Lynch isn’t the kind of artist that graduated from USC film school, instead he was artist who just decided to tip his hat in making movies. It’s as if someone handed him a book of rules for being a filmmaker, but by then it was too late, so he just laughed in their face (in between sips of coffee and puffs from his cigarette). I believe what fascinates the most with his filmography is that despite how unconventional his style and approach are, he is intrinsically connected to the human condition. Be it with his juxtaposition of the “Leave it to Beaver” like suburban lifestyle with the seedy underbelly of a city’s darkest alleyway, or in this case Hollywood. It’s his ability to stretch the medium to display all of our hopes and dreams. His capability and artistic vernacular have never been better displayed than with Mulholland Dr. This was just a pilot that was originally set to be a Twin Peaks spinoff and was directly in line with his other work. The pilot wasn’t picked up and he was left with a small story that went nowhere. That didn’t stop him from dreaming though and even though time had passed he acquired a little funding and completely transformed the story he originally set to tell. It can be as complex for the brain as it is the heart, but he was able to highlight all the advantages cinema has an artform.