I seemed to have come into film by accident. I entered film school on a whim. Not sure what I actually wanted to do with my life, and choosing my school sort of by chance, but since then have never turned back. What I love most about cinema is how much it can teach you. How personal and honest the filmmaker can be via the medium. There are so many films that have taught and shown me different characters and worlds. Whether it be a harsh world through the eyes of a child, or that the real monsters actually are back on the island, or that even if you know what the future holds sometimes it can still be worth it . Film exposes us to a world through the perspective of others. What follows are five films that have touched me and brought me to appreciate the art of cinema in ways I’ll be thankful for, for a long time. In no particular order:
The Squid and the Whale
(Noah Baumbach, 2005)
Growing up in a separated household, The Squid and the Whale reached me at a very personal level. The film feels so brutally honest and too close to home, and that’s because it is. There is a powerful intimacy with the material and an attention to the details that make The Squid and the Whale almost feel like a non-movie. Not only that, but the performances by Jeff Daniels as the failing father trying to hold it all together and Jesse Eisenberg as a son who wakes as a man make The Squid and the Whale a beautifully, tightly-knit portrait of divorce in the most unique way.
(Greta Gerwig, 2017)
There are so many ways to tackle this movie. You could watch it from the point of view of Laurie Metcalf’s character, Marion McPherson, or even Beanie Feldstein’s massively underrated performance as Julie. I have seen this already enough times to catch how each character has a deep and meaningful thread tied within Lady Bird’s overarching story. Greta Gerwig, who wrote an original draft of this at around an eye popping 500-pages, created such real and genuine characters it is hard not to peg this as an autobiographical film, but then again, what art isn’t autobiographical in some way.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
(Michel Gondry, 2004)
What is so remarkable about Eternal Sunshine is how with each viewing it grows and evolves. Each time I have seen this, be it a date night, a night alone with my go-to junk food, or… no that’s about the two times I watch this, but that’s okay, that is still not enough times. Charlie Kaufman and Gondry created a powerful and moving film about what love can push us to do and why we shouldn’t forget a moment of it. The ending house breakdown scene will forever be one of the most emotionally powerful scenes I’ve ever seen.
(Barry Jenkins, 2016)
One of the most beautiful looking, sounding, feeling… This is just a flat out breathtaking film. Each frame is filled with some purpose or importance to a character. Every moment is neatly timed and executed in a way that feels just right. It makes sense, of course; Jenkins used basically all of Wong Kar-Wai’s filmography as influence. Happy Together and Moonlight share the same song, Caetano Veloso’s “Cucurrucucu Paloma.” Moonlight’s opening speaks so much to the central theme of the film. We begin with Chiron alone, in a dark abandoned motel room, the world hounding at him, until finally the light shines in and he is able to walk out, himself.
(Derek Cianfrance, 2010)
This is not an easy film to watch, but that is what cinema is able to do so well that other media just can’t. In Derek Cianfrance’s painfully real and simple look at two lovers falling in and out of love at two different points, we get a portrait of love at its worst. From emotionally charged scenes like the ones in the “future room” to the fight in the doctor’s office, Blue Valentine does what few films are bold enough to do: show love in an ugly, honest shape. Not only is the score for Blue Valentine excellent, but the performances by Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling are spot on. Cianfrance had the actors spend months living together, on the budget the characters would have lived on, to capture an authentic feeling.
And finally, it wouldn’t be a top five list without five more I wish I could write forever about.