Sam’s 10 Films You Must See (the ones I can remember)

To usher in the latest chapter of Season of the Bliss, we decided to renew our efforts to tackle movies.

We figured this Top 10 idea had merit since it’ll help you gauge what type of films we like, and therefore what type of films you can expect us to comment on in future. It’ll also give you plenty of opportunity to rib and cajole the fuck out of us for our choices.

I underestimated how laborious and painstaking a process this would be, but I think I’ve narrowed it down enough to give you, at the very least, an indication of my tastes. Here, in alphabetical order, goes nothing…

Amelie (Le fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain)

Audrey Tautou | Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet | 2001

Lovely and whimsical, this French film is a real treat. Directed by the awesome Jean-Pierre Jeunet (who co-directed Delicatessen and City of Lost Children), Audrey Tautou gives an inspired performance as a young woman on a mission to help others, with varying degrees of success. My teenage crush for her remains unabated, and unfortunately un-satiated.

Down By Law

Tom Waits, Roberto Benigni, John Lurie | Directed by Jim Jarmusch | 1986

Jim Jarmusch is a true arthouse director, a journeyman who cares little for convention. His films are meditative and slow (I could give you three grams of the purest, grade A Columbian marching powder and you’d still fall asleep during The Limits of Control). But when it clicks, the result is phenomenal.

The premise of Down By Law is simple: Tom Waits, Roberto Benigni and John Lurie are inmates in a Louisiana prison. I won’t give much more away, except that it’s beautifully shot in black and white and full of wit, engaging dialogue and features a great ending.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet | Directed by Michel Gondry | 2004

Eternal Sunshine is a helluva trippy movie, with visionary music video and filmmaker Michel Gondry (Be Kind RewindScience of Sleep) at the helm, Jim Carrey in top form and the ever-great Kate Winslet changing her hair color more often than I changed this list, all propelled by a great concept around erasing memories.

Life is Beautiful (La Vita et Bella)

Roberto Benigni, Nicoletta Braschi | Directed by Roberto Benigni | 1997

A film sure to make you cry, Roberto Benigni gave his character such a heartwarming, compassionate soul – so often lacking from one-dimensional Holocaust weepies – in order to shield his son from the horrors of World War II enveloping them. As the tribulations get worse, he sacrifices himself more and more for his son’s wellbeing. Tinged with humor and touched by genius, I implore you to watch it, or watch it again.

Mulholland Drive

Naomi Watts, Laura Harring, Justin Theroux | Directed by David Lynch | 2001

A twisted, mysterious movie like no other, the plot is so chaotic that numerous fan sites  out there try to understand what the fuck is going on. Then, David Lynch (Twin Peaks, Blue Velvet, Elephant Man) goes and teases us with nuggets about clues in the opening credits, even though it’s just an odd couple dancing a waltz, and the mystery continues afresh.

Mulholland Drive merges gritty 90s films like The Usual Suspects and Fight Club with mind-bending fare like Memento and Donnie Darko into a dream-like bliss all its own. And really, it’s in an artistic class of its own. If your mouth isn’t agape by the time Llorando blasts out, you should get yourself checked out.


Pan’s Labyrinth (El Laberinto del Fauno)

Ivana BaqueroAriadna GilSergi López | Directed by Guillermo del Toro | 2006

A dark yet whimsical fable, Pan’s Labyrinth will ensnare you like the monster with eyes in his hands, in its web of breathtaking, gothic beauty. Set in 1944 with the Franco regime as the backdrop, Ivana Baquero plays the innocent girl consumed in her books, no doubt to escape the horrors surrounding her. As the film develops, strange creatures interact with her and lead her down dark and challenging paths all their own.

The Royal Tenenbaums

Gene Hackman, Ben Stiller, Luke Wilson, Gwyneth Paltrow | Directed by Wes Anderson | 2001

I’m an unabashed Wes Anderson fan. I’ve seen all his movies and love every one of them, due in part to his use of color and attention to detail (no stone is left unturned; his set designs are wonderful). I strongly considered Moonrise Kingdom and Rushmore but ultimately this gem won out. Full of vibrancy, warmth and dark humor, the ensemble cast straddle that line between comedy and tragedy like thespian masters. And the actors are dazzling…Bill Murray is great as the existential philosopher, Gene Hackman as the scheming patriarch.

And then there’s the soundtrack, one of the best of any movie, period. Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Lou Reed, The Beatles, Elliott Smith, Nick Drake, The Clash, Van Morrison, Nico, The Ramones, Paul Simon. What a selection! And the tracks fit perfectly. I still get goosebumps when Gwyneth Paltrow, in her fur coat, hops off the Green Line bus to meet brother  Luke Wilson (wearing, as always, his tennis headband) to Nico’s These Days, or when Gene Hackman takes the kids round NYC to Paul Simon’s upbeat Me & Julio Down By the Schoolyard.


Take Shelter

Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain | Directed by Jeff Nichols | 2011

When Take Shelter came out, I would never have expected it to be included on this competitive list. But it really grabbed me and knocked me for six. Rarely does impending doom pervade a film with such viscous ferocity. The power and physicality, along with the blurred reality throughout, packs far more of a punch than any big budget, special effects-ridden film can muster, and its message about the environment and climate change is to be commended.

Michael Shannon plays a father and construction worker, living a ‘normal’ suburban life. But he’s filled with dread and increasingly disturbing nightmares. His family, too, has a history of mental illness. Meanwhile, Jessica Chastain plays his supportive and worried wife with heart and resonance – it’s no surprise she’s become one of the hottest actresses around, and one of my favorites. Jeff Nichols (Mud, Midnight Special) directs all this with confidence, each scene a Cezanne-like brushstroke inching us closer to the climactic conclusion.

V for Vendetta

Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving | Directed by James McTeigue | 2005

I’ve long been a fan of dystopian themes and V for Vendetta employs these to magnificent effect. Set in not-too-distant-future London, Natalie Portman encounters V, a ruthless freedom fighter intent on his form of populist justice. I have yet to read the graphic novel on which this film is based but I appreciate the comic book visuals, as well as the intelligence, heart-pounding thrills and raising of ethical questions about terrorism and totalitarianism.


Penelope Cruz, Carmen Maura,  Lola Dueñas | Directed by Pedro Almodovar | 2006

Like Wes Anderson’s back catalogue, it’s a tough choice to pick from Pedro Almodovar’s numerous works. Todo Sobre Mi Madre and Habla Con Ella are close contenders but Volver takes the cake, thanks to Penelope Cruz’s riveting performance as a woman dealing with all manner of issues, both from the dead and the living.

Almodovar shows off all the tricks of a master filmmaker (his ubiquitous vivid red coloring and off-beat dialog are here) and the result is a warm, rich and feminine film that’s hard to beat.

The Longlist

Ok, I lied, this is impossible. I might as well give you a few more while I’m at it.

Classics: The Passenger, Lawrence of Arabia, Casablanca, 12 Angry Men, Gandhi

Animation: Howl’s Moving Castle, Waltz with Bashir, Grave of the Fireflies

Comedy: Superbad, Pineapple Express, Little Miss Sunshine, Nebraska, The Castle

Cliched picks: Shawshank Redemption, The Godfather (I & II), Star Wars Trilogy

Best of 2015: Youth, Me & Earl and the Dying Girl, Room, Spotlight

Honorable mention: Requiem for a Dream, Boyhood, Inception, Skyfall, City of God, Cinema Paradiso, Magnolia, The Big Lebowski

What are your thoughts? Any glaring omissions? Let me know, or move on and read Bee’s Top 10 now.

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