IMPORTANT NOTE TO THE READER....!:
This will be the final post before I reveal the #1 film. I decided that since it's the #1 film, it needed its own post. That way I can dedicate a little more time to that pick.... I just hope it's the right one! Cheers!
DISCLAIMER: Joel's 'Top 50 Films Of All Time' is a subjective list. This list can change at any time and is not set in concrete. As Joel watches films on a weekly basis, this list is a living organism. This current incarnation of the list is also only as of the time of creating it. Thank you for reading and enjoy! (I do expect some backlash from my decisions, especially the last 10 films.)
On this list, you will find instances where more than one film is listed. This is because either there was a tie or the films somehow tie in with each other and make one selection in my mind. At each occurance, I will do my best to explain the reasoning behind my decision.
# 5: 'Dancer In The Dark'
A musicial, no matter how minimalistic, in my top 5?!?! Who would've thought? I am not a fan of musicals, yet a couple of them cracked my top spots. Now, both films aren't traditional musicals and have very little music in them, but they're musicals.... none the less. What sets this film apart and puts it so high on my list is Bjork. I have always been a fan of her music, even as far back as the Sugarcubes and her Icelandic jazz record.... she is a top 5 female vocalist for me. Her singing and songs lend themselves so well to the soundtrack of this film and they help to bring the story to a whole new level. She, herself, also elevates the film. She is not typically thought of an actress, but this film was made for her. She is Selma. Another thing about 'Dancer In The Dark'.... it makes me cry. Every single time that I've watched it, I've cried at the end of the film. It is so incredibly hearthwrenching and sad that I don't know how you couldn't cry. The funny thing is, even after I'd seen the film and knew the ending.... it will still just as powerful and packed the same kind of punch as it did the first time I saw it. Not too far off from my 'Blair Witch Project' feelings. A film that continually packs a wallop. Lars Von Trier, the director, is known for his bizarre storytelling, depressing storylines and gut punching endings. Every one of his films gets to me in one way or another. I can't say that I love everything he's ever done, but I have the utmost respect for him as a film maker. Catherine Denuve and Peter Stomare also lend credibility to Selma and her plight. Mr. Stomare plays against type in this film and plays a really good guy with a big heart and a deep love for Selma. He really impressed me with his turn as a nice guy in this film.... something he should do more of, I think. I think everyone was excellently cast. Something kind of unique about this film is the way it was shot. It's all done on anything but 35mm film. It also proves the point that you don't need the standard film making fare to make a landmark film. He uses this new medium to his advantage and uses it well.
This cautionary tale is about Selma. She's a single parent living in a little apartment behind her landlords home. She works in a factory with her best friend and has just agreed to play the lead in 'The Sound of Music'. The only problem is, she is going blind and it's happening quicker than she'd hoped. She is quickly running out of time to make as much money as possible to get her son an operation to avoid the same fate happening to him. Meanwhile, she's beeing wooed by a gentle and friendly man. She is struggling to not let on to her boss that she can't see and her landlord is broke and realizes that Selma has saved a fortune in money and he wants to know where she keeps it. Once he's taken her money, she has to decide what to do to get it back and get her son the operation, before it's too late. I'll just let you know that all of the rest of the films on this list are all 5 star selection and 'Dancer In The Dark' is no different. This is a film that needed to be made. It may just mark the highest point in Lars Von Trier's career. I only wish that it never had to end, so that what happens to Selma wouldn' have to happen. I guess I just never wanted her story to end.... she's just so likable and the world she lives in is so interesting to watch. Oh and the soundtrack is amazing, Bjork even has a duet with Thom Yorke from Radiohead.
# 4: 'The Fisher King'
This is yet another selection on this list of films that once was at my #1 position in the 'Top 50'. It sat there for quite a while and still remains one of my favorite films to share with people. It just never seemed to reach that wider audience outside. It's more of a cult classic than anything else. I don't know why that is.... perhaps it was too "ahead of it's time", or it was just a bit too strange for some people or maybe it just wasn't a film that people could pigeonhole so they chose to hate it instead of giving it another chance. It has an amazing cast of talent whom all fit their roles to perfection. The storyline is truly original and there are real emotions involved in this film. It deals with love, mental illness and the holy grail. It has full frontal male nudity and fire breathing horses. Despite all of that, it's still just a love story at the most basic level. What I think sets this film apart from others is the direction of Terry Gilliam. He's known for his outlandish film making and storytelling, but he handles this subject matter so delicately and with such finesse that you can hardly tell that he's even given the actors any direction at all. They are just fluid.
Jeff Bridges plays a radio shock jock that helps push an unstable man into taking a shotgun and killing people in an upscale restaraunt. Because of that, he has a mental break and leaves his job and moves in with a woman who runs a video store and he tries to start over. Meanwhile, a psychotic man played by Robin Williams, is living on the streets and is looking for the holy grail. The two soon meet and begin to eventually work together to find the grail. During the course of this all, he tries to find love for the psychotic, he also learns that the psychotic's wife was one that was murdered by the man he pushed over the edge and because of this.... he feels even more inclined to help him get back on his feet. This all sounds like a slightly off center romantic drama, but it goes so much deeper than that. This just provides a framework for all the other stuff going on in the film. You leave this film, after viewing it, as a changed person.... someone with a new perspective on life. It changed my life and I will be forever gratful to Mr. Gilliam for that. This film is a masterpiece.
# 3: 'Dead Man'
Here is another film that was at my #1 spot for quite a while. I am, generally, not a fan of westerns.... but this is so much more than that. It's been called a 'metaphysical western' and I suppose that is the most accurate description of this film. It is a slow burning candle that isn't so much about action and adventure as it is about just living in the moment and watching the candle burn. Haven't you ever just stared at the trees blowing in the wind and just kind of get lost in that moment? That is kind of like what this film is. It's a mixture of the screenwriting, the music by Neil Young, the direction, the acting and the black and white photography. Actually, the use of black and white film makes so much sense with this film. It's like looking at an Ansel Adams print brought to life. Every frame of film is something that you could blow up and hang on your wall in a frame. Everything is so well thought out and executed. I kind of wonder of this film would have had the same impact if it wasn't for the acting of Johnny Depp. He embodies William Blake and lives and breathes his life for the entire film. He is a lost soul that is thrust into a situation that he didn't wish to create and has to figure a way out of it. He is an everyman, but a fish out of water in the time he was living.
In the film, William Blake travels to the last town at the end of the line, Machine. He'd been sent a letter to accept a job there, but once he was there he found that the job had already been filled. At this time, he had spent everything he'd had to make the trip out there.... he has nothing left. This sad fact leads him to a bar where he somehow ends up being mistaken for a murderer and ends up on the run. He is alone in a place he doesn't know and is doing everything he can to stay alive, while being hunted by bounty hunters and is soon befriended by a native American named Nobody. Nobody helps to guide William Blake down the path towards being a poet with a gun and his ink was the bullets in the gun. William has to decide whether to embrace his new life or to try and reclaim what he had before. This entire film is about one man's journey to find out who he is and where he belongs. A perfect example of how a film maker can use music, dialouge and cinematography to paint with pictures. It's like seeing an emotion brought to life. I cannot get enough of this film. I have the soundtrack to it as well and it's a wonderful backdrop to think to. It just allows your mind to wander freely, just like the film does. This is not a really well known film, but I hope that this brief review gets a few more people to see it. It's well worth your time. Bring an open mind when you decide to take the journey, you won't need anything more than that.
# 2: 'Leaving Las Vegas'
(I have this film poster in my poster collection. Sadly, I cannot hang it as it was severely water damaged. Damn.)
John O'Brien was an obviously tortured soul. He wrote one book, 'Leaving Las Vegas' and then he took his own life. What he left behind was a sad tale of a man who didn't want redemption, didn't want love.... he just wanted to die. What he found along the way was love, a chance at redemption and a chance to live. This film is beautiful to me. Despite the sad pedigree that it holds, it left it's mark on me. I have since read Mr. O'Brien's book version and I can feel his pain throughout it. I am sad that he died so early in life, before he had the chance to give us other pieces of literature. I wonder what else he could have created? Perhaps it was his destiny to burn out and leave only this behind. It seems that some of the greatest and well known art in this world only became this way after the death of the creator. I don't know why that is, but it is a sad state of affairs. Regardless of all that, this film is a love letter to all of those tortured souls out there to show them that there is always another chance at life, you just have to accept it with open arms. If you choose not too, then you may just end up the same way that Ben did.... dead on a mattress with your lover left behind to wonder why you left her alone. I can't think of a more tragic fairytale than this one. It shatters my heart every time I watch it and although I can relate to the broken characters within the world created, I will never totally understand why they made the decisions they did.
In 'Leaving Las Vegas' we see the continual fall from grace of Ben. He's a former Hollywood exec, father and husband who looses everything due to alcohol. After he's been fired from his executive job and given a huge bonus check upon leaving, he decides to take that money and sell everything else he has and go to Las Vegas. The reason? To literally drink himself to death. In the first few nights of being there, he meets an escort named Sera.... S-E-R-A, Sera. They spend a good portion of the night together. When Sera returns to her pimp, she is beaten and told never to do that again. After a while, her pimp is killed and Sera is left able to do anything she wants. She runs into Ben again and they begin a relationship. He tells her point blank that she can never ask him to stop drinking. She agrees, knowning full well that he was there to kill himself. Over time, she begins to fall in love and eventually makes an attempt to stop him from drinking himself to death. He leaves her, she gets assaulted and raped. A short time later, she tracks Ben down again and he is so far gone that he's practically a zombie. What happens next is so incredibly sad, but at the same time it speaks volumes about the characters and the original author. It's the only way that this story could have ended. We're all flawed and sometimes the happy ending is not the ending we get.... so we take it the way it is and move on. No matter what the outcome.