The vast majority of films produced are made purely for money, and this isn’t really all that surprising when cash is still very much considered king in Hollywood. Nevertheless, every now and then a film comes out that commands your attention, engages your senses, and stays with you for quite sometime after it’s finished.
Some call it art, others proclaim it the work of a genius and some, rather more simply, refer to it as a decent film. Either way, it doesn’t really matter how you label them, one simple fact unites them all: some films are so good you have to see them at least twice, whether it’s to understand the complexities of the plot, or just to fully get your head around how good they are. Here are ten films that fall into those categories…
The film itself is concerned with time travel and its implications. However, the crux of the story is based on engineering and invention. Basically, how the process of creating something can sometimes yield unexpected results. In this case, it’s time travel.
The basic premise of the film is concerned with two friends, one of which is played by Carruth, who inadvertently discover how to manipulate the fabric of time. But it quickly gets out of hand as doubles, paradoxes, death and deep philosophical questions ensue.
Ex-engineer and mathematician, Carruth, isn’t afraid of using a bit of jargon either, and as a result, the film’s dialogue is almost as difficult to follow as the plot twists and paradoxes later on.
Nevertheless, this is a brilliant, shining example of just how good independent cinema can actually be. Sure, it’s confusing as hell, but this is exactly what makes the second and third viewing all the more satisfying.
The plot of the film is simple enough on the surface. A man known as Leonard Shelby is suffering from short-term memory loss and is out to find the people that killed his wife, which kind of sounds like your typical revenge film, right? Wrong.
As soon as the film begins, Nolan has complete control over your senses, dragging you into the hell that is Shelby’s life by forcing you to experience his condition, plight and paranoia firsthand as you inhabit a place where time, faces, relationships and surroundings have absolutely no meaning whatsoever.
The direction and script are amazing, as are the lead performances, courtesy of Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss and Joe Pantoliano.
Memento is terrifying, funny, disturbing and confusing. It raises questions about the nature of reality, our perceptions of it and how grief can affect one’s entire being. It’s also a fine example of just how good, and thoroughly meticulous, Chris Nolan is behind the camera, too.
This film is essential viewing for anyone that hasn’t yet seen it, plus, it’s just as good the second time round too.
Mulholland Drive (2001)
David Lynch is one of the greats when it comes to creating hangover-inducing films. In fact, this top 10 could quite possibly be made up entirely of Lynch films, but that wouldn’t be much fun. So, in the context of this feature, we’ve chosen Mulholland Drive.
Mulholland Drive starts off innocently enough, with Naomi Watts’ wide-eyed country bumpkin character, Betty Elms, taking her first tentative steps into the predictably seedy and profoundly disheartening world of Hollywood acting.
But before the lovely Betty can begin to make a name for herself on the silver screen, she’s sucked into a dark and sinister conspiracy involving a mysterious woman with amnesia, a seedy film director called Adam Kesher and an even more mysterious nightclub called, wait for it, Silencio.
On paper, Mulholland Drive doesn’t sound that complicated or confusing. But it really is/ So much so, that there’s even ten clues written inside the DVD case. But even with these helpful little tidbits of information, Mulholland Drive is still thoroughly taxing on the ol’ gray matter.
But what’s even more bizarre about the film is that it originally started out life as a pilot idea for a TV series. Just imagine what that would have been like. Twin Peaks in Hollywood, anyone?
Overall, Mulholland Drive is as likely to frustrate, as it is to delight, so be warned.
That said, it’s still an amazing piece of cinema and, as an added bonus, it also features possibly one of the greatest scenes ever committed to screen which involves two men, a diner, and something disturbing ‘round back…
12 Monkeys (1995)
If you thought Cormac McCarthy’s vision of the future in his novel, The Road, was pretty grim, trust us, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Compared to the one portrayed in 12 Monkeys, it’s practically a utopia.
Bruce Willis plays James Cole, a convict/survivor from the future, who is sent back in time by the new ruling class of feudalistic Nazi scientists to obtain information about the manmade virus, which wiped out humanity and forced the survivors to live in what can only be described as underground prisons. Needless to say, once he’s arrived, Cole doesn’t fancy going back.
On the whole, 12 Monkeys isn’t overtly complicated, it’s just a very good film and it explores the idea of time travel in a very gritty and unique way. There’s no fancy machines or friendly eccentric doctors. It is pure and unadulterated grimness with more than a few dollops of brutal violence thrown in for good measure.
The casting is brilliant, as is the direction, courtesy of Terry Gilliam. Brad Pitt impresses no end in a role that is probably one of his finest moments to date. Couple this with the finale of the film, which is easily up there with the best of them, and it’s easy to see why many, including us, feel that 12 Monkeys is easily one of the most notable sci-fi films of the last twenty years.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
There isn’t much you can say about Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey that hasn’t already been said a million times. It’s cinematically perfect, moving, and probably one of the finest depictions of the ascent of mankind ever depicted.
If you haven’t seen this film then it should be the first thing you do when you wake up tomorrow. Really.
The only thing that is unfortunate about 2001: A Space Odyssey is that Hollywood no longer makes, or seems to even bother funding, films of this calibre. It’s sort of like comparing Snow Patrol to Led Zeppelin, and then concluding that the former is somehow satisfactory enough, even though it lacks anything near what the latter had over four decades ago. And this, when you think about it, is extremely depressing.
Open Your Eyes (1997)Open Your Eyes, which was written and directed by Alejandro Amenábar, came out in 1997 in Spain, but was subsequently remade, either for money or because some people don’t like reading subtitles, a year later by Cameron Crowe.
Crowe’s remake was called Vanilla Sky, starred Tom Cruise, and like most remakes, it really isn’t as good as the original. But why? Well, it probably has something to do with the fact that repetition, in any walk of life, does not create originality, just conformity and boredom.
Sure, Vanilla Sky is a decent enough film, but if you haven’t see Open Your Eyes it will completely ruin it for you, and this is what makes the fact that a remake was made so soon after its initial release an absolute travesty.
Nevertheless, Open Your Eyes is a fantastic film in every sense of the word. It raises some very deep philosophical questions about the nature of consciousness, reality and the human condition, and in a much more refined and sensitive way than the remake.
In short, this is an immense film and one that is best served raw, that is, with no prior knowledge of Vanilla Sky.
Pi (1998)Pi, which is easily Darren Aronofsky’s best work to date, is concerned with numbers, patterns and how mathematics can explain everything around us, from nature, to the stock market, to the true name of God.
The film’s unlikely protagonist is Max Cohen, played by Seth Gullette, who lives a solitary life spent working on formulae and theories in his small inner-city flat. Max occasionally meets up with his aging mentor and friend, Sol (Mark Margolis), where the two play a board game (I’ve completely forgotten the name of) and discuss advanced mathematics, philosophy and the dangers of going too close to the edge, mathematically speaking, of course.
At least, that’s what he did before he discovers a pattern within a sequence of 218 numbers that can explain everything about nature, reality and the true essence of God.
Obviously, this is quite a valuable commodity, and once word gets out about Max’s discovery, he has sleazy corporate types and hardcore religious nuts dogging his every move. Cue paranoia, headaches, seizures, injections and one hell of an amazing sound track for the next 80 minutes or so.
The thing that makes Pi so good, though, besides the actual story, is the look, feel and overwhelmingly disturbing atmosphere of the film, which is conveyed so perfectly through Aronofsky’s direction and choice of camera and lighting.
In fact, the general look and feel of the film itself is probably best described as something you might experience during a particularly hellish nightmare.
Pi is essential viewing and because of the nature of the questions it raises, it simply gets better with each viewing. Plus, it only cost $60,000 to make.
Terry Gilliam’s Brazil was released in 1985 and has divided the opinions of all who have seen it since into two very distinct camps: people either love it, or absolutely hate it, at least in this scribbler’s experience, anyhow. But what else would you expect from the mind of Terry Gilliam?
Yes, Brazil is both surreal and funny in parts, but it is also a damning commentary on the ramifications of an over bureaucratised society. Think of it as a mixture of 1984, Monty Python and Franz Kafka.
The basic premise of the film follows Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce), a low-level, but highly aspirant civil servant at the Ministry of Information, who lives a normal life, happily trundling along as a cog in a wheel. But when Sam attempts to correct an ‘oversight’ by the MOI concerning the death of a man, his world is turned upside down and the barrier between reality and his dreams is blown apart once and for all.
Brazil is weird, wonderful, abstract and highly poetic and this is why we love it so much. The story isn’t complicated at all, but the themes and ideas explored are and this is why it is such a rewarding film to watch over and over again.
The sets are massive, the acting is brilliant, and Gilliam’s vision of the future, while not being highly original, is certainly very entertaining and there’s even a cameo from Robert De Niro as a plumber with a massive disdain for ‘big government’.
Brazil is Gilliam’s masterpiece, featuring an absolute stonker of a cast that includes Ian Holm, Michael Palin, Katherine Helmond and Bob Hoskins, all of whom put in brilliant performances, which is why every serious film fan should have at least one copy of Brazil on DVD somewhere in their home.
Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris might not be one the most well known sci-fi films of all times, but it’s easily one of the best.
Steven Soderbergh remade it in 2002 with George Clooney taking centre stage. The 2002 version definitely wasn’t as good as the original, but at least Soderbergh had the decency to let the original air for a good 30 years before remaking it for modern day subtitle haters.
The premise of Solaris is simple. A scientist is sent out to a top secret space station that’s located near what is thought to be intelligent life, after one of the crew members mysteriously dies.
However, there are no monsters, aliens, gunfights or mutiny in this film and this may disappoint some viewers. But it really shouldn’t, as Solaris is one of the most mind-blowing sci-fi films of all time, and it’s probably also one of the quietest too.
Some have said that Solaris is an answer to the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey. But it isn’t. And to simply pass it off as this doesn’t do it justice.
Solaris, in every respect, is an absolute masterpiece that is easily on par with Kubrick’s 2001. I got it on DVD whilst at university and watched it about four times in the first week of owning it. There really is just something very powerful about Tarkovsky’s Solaris. It hits you on a level that is usually only stimulated by very good literature. And this is why it is a film that is a pleasure to watch and absorb time and time again.
Inception (2010)Inception (like you don’t already know!) is concerned with ideas and dreams, which, as we all know, are quite confusing in themselves. Nevertheless, Inception steams into this subject full throttle as we join a team of thieves for hire, lead by a man called Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), whose job it is to get into people’s dreams, steal whatever idea his employers want removing, and get out without them knowing.
It sounds complicated and on the whole it kind of is, although, it’s nowhere near as complex as some people have been making out. That said, Nolan definitely doesn’t make it easy for the viewer, but that’s what makes the film so utterly brilliant. That and the amazing sets, overwhelming special effects, and massively powerful soundtrack, which are all brought together to create easily one of the best ‘mainstream’ films of the last 20 years.
This is a film that has to be seen in the cinema to be fully appreciated. It is absolutely massive, so make sure you pick a cinema with a gigantic screen. It’ll be the best £10 you’ve spent on the cinema in a long time.
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