While some variety exists in my top 10, I should say that you’ll find a good bit of similarities between many of them. Maybe I should’ve compiled a list of 10 exceptional films with vastly different backgrounds, themes, styles, etc. for the sake of variety so films I adore such as The Young Girls of Rochefort, To Sleep With Anger, The Muppet Christmas Carol, and countless others could have been discussed. Unfortunately, my taste is what it is and I tend to gravitate towards a certain type of movie. Apologies if I repeat myself on some of these, at the very least I hope you seek out any that catch your eye.
Entranced Earth (1967)
Nothing less than a political masterwork, Entranced Earth delves into the murky shadows of Eldorado (a clear allegory for Brazil constructed to curtail censorship) and lays critiques on all ends. Not in a centrist fashion, mind you, rather from an extreme leftist perspective that urges the audience to actually consider how their own politics and level of political action can lead to the grips of fascism taking over. False promises, false populism, weak movements. It’s not a film that will give you many answers, in fact it’s quite a bleak painting of failure and rot that surrounds us. But how is one to improve if they aren’t aware of how others have failed. It’s a film of constant revolution, constant struggle; a reminder of our responsibility to always seek justice, but not an indication of how we should rather a portrait of how others have failed. Many more knowledgeable than me have spoken at length about the specific metaphors to Latin-American politics and figures, I urge you to read their words as all I can really provide is my admiration.
No other film has influenced my task for the maximalist quite like House has. It’s just about everything a movie could be for me. Read any description of it, see any still, hear any song from its soundtrack, and you’ll understand. Of course it’s not all insanity, there’s the often discussed sadness inherent in the trauma from the atomic bomb undercutting the film. But the exploration of it is more interesting to me, as no other movie quite captures the perspective of adolescence like House does (we have the director’s daughter, Chigumi Ôbayashi, partially to thank for that). It’s horror in the common, the everyday. The haunted house as a concept is effective as there is no one singular entity to fear, rather the entire environment that you exist in. Where House may be a horror-comedy to most adults who see it, to a child these are all real fears manifest. The insanity of it is the manifestation of the boundless imagination we all once had. House’s greatest accomplishment is rekindling that lost imagination to some extent up there on the screen. There’s nothing quite like it, it’s a once-in-an-artform type deal.
I know this list isn’t ranked, going chronologically affords me the leeway to let my opinions shift around as they always do. But as it stands right now, Moving is my favorite movie of all time. If there is one movie you don’t know from this list that you watch because of it, make it Moving. It’s a coming-of-age movie contemplating family dynamics not with slow contemplation, but rather with the raging chaos that is adolescence. And why shouldn’t it be? Dealing with a divorce you didn’t ask for and can’t control at a young age forces you to mature quickly, mixed with rebellion and it’s a recipe for chaos. That’s not to say the film isn’t contemplative, of course. It lingers, lets imagery and silence answer questions, and especially in its second half we have a lot of Renko just sitting, looking, and listening. One moment that just crushes me is when she’s riding home with her dad on a motorbike. As the city lights fly by and she notices something off, she asks “Hey, Daddy. Is this really it?”. Her dad can’t bring himself to answer, we pull back and the camera shakes uncontrollably as they ride through the city until they disappear from frame. It’s a simple moment, but god does its execution just sell it. This movie means more to me than I could ever tell. Maybe it’s an escape for me, living vicariously through this girl who rejects having to grow up and goes violently into maturity while I handled mine with a shrug and unproductive therapy sessions. Irregardless, remains one of the pinnacles of filmmaking and one of the most criminally under seen films out there. Please do yourself the service of watching it.
Whisper of the Heart (1995)
For my graduation party my mom’s side of the family rented out a small movie theater in her hometown and let me bring any Blu-ray I had to play for everyone. I had yet to see Whisper of the Heart despite having one of those nice Ghibli steelbooks of it, so I figured it would be a good pick. 2 hours later and my heart is full. By all accounts an incredibly simple story, but there’s just so much heart at its center that I can’t help but have absolute adoration for this. This movie should reverberate within the heart of every artist that has ever felt unsure of their path. I’ll keep fighting on, you should too.
Taste of Cherry (1997)
The most fundamental film to me when it comes to my consideration of humanism in films. Remember that you too are human, just as much as those around you. We are transient and flowing like the earth. May it one day envelop me after I have tasted all the cherries it has offered.
Spirited Away (2001)
It’s a coming of age tale like many others, but there’s just something about it. Sure it’s the whimsical wonder of the sheer beauty that we’re being shown, but there’s just something else here. It just presents slightly differently each time I watch even a segment of it, every tiny detail of life on screen. Though I call it my comfort movie it doesn’t only deal in comfortable topics. It’s emotionally turning, putting Chihiro through trial after tribulation. But she somehow rises to them, and comes out with a resolve and a sense of who she really is. It’s so much more than that, of course, but my ultimate comfort in it comes from the resolve it gives me in whatever situation I’m in. My friend Jack put it best: “It’s hard to imagine my life without Spirited Away”. Though it’s only been in my life for a few short years, I can’t think of any movie that I’ll carry closer to my heart.
Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring (2003)
It’s hard not to be poetic about a film like this one. It’s a stunning achievement of images, some of the most beautiful ever put to screen. It’s a story of silence. Growth, yes, but the in-betweens as well. It’s life told through the story of a retreat on the water. Healing and hurting, disrespect and reprimand. Mistakes and life. Nothing can really describe this film quite right, it’ll mean something different to you depending on which doors you’ve walked through in life. But Spring, Summer… is always waiting for you, it’ll always be here.
Thank you for opening my eyes, Satoshi. My dreams, memories, and films are forever in your debt.
The Wolf House (2018)
Many films on this list are highly experimental with the medium of film, but you’d be seriously hard-pressed to find anything that even comes close to matching just how much The Wolf House pushes things. It’s a work of haunting that itself is haunted by Chile’s past. Like paint on a wall, it may be covered but it’s still there. I don’t know if the form has ever matched the theme so perfectly before or since this. More than anything, it inspires me to never become complacent. How can you rest on filmmaking traditions when something like this was just made 5 years ago?
Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)
The newest film on here and also the one I’ve seen most recently. It’s a movie about moments, encounters, love, and a thesis on why maybe holding onto a memory and cherishing it is more important than chasing a feeling when the time has already passed. It’s so many things intertwining, so many emotions that I can’t quite sum up here. If you’ve seen in you know its beauty, cherish it.