A Binary Day Top 10

Since it is October 10, 2010, I feel inspired to write some sort of top ten list. About what though, I’m wasn’t quite sure at first. I could, as my friend Kim, write about the top ten worst sequels. But that would require me to have seen certain sequels. I even considered writing about movies that have something to do with numbers. Of course, that means I would have to include A Beautiful Mind, a film I detest so that list just was not happening.

Then it dawned on me. This past week, I began going through my first blog posts and editing them. I’ve noticed, among other things, that my writing skills were horrible, my proofreading skills were lacking, and every movie was one of my favorites. I had a severe inability to dislike or critique anything. Today things are different. At least I hope four years of college and a Film Studies degree have noticeably improved the quality of this blog.

In the over five years since I have been a blogger, I have never written a definitive top ten list of my favorite movies. I’ve posted and commented on plenty of other movie lists but never my own. I have my reasons. “Joanna, what are your ten favorite movies?” is a question I hate to answer because it puts me on the spot to think of something creative and insightful. On top of that, my cinematic interests and thus my list is are always changing. What I loved years ago, I could rewatch and hate today. With all of this in mind, here it is. My top ten favorite movies and why I love them.

1. Bringing Up Baby (1939, dir. Howard Hawkes)

It’s the movie I talk about and have seen more than any other. It’s the movie that made me fall in love with Hollywood. To say that Bringing Up Baby is NOT my absolute favorite movie would be an utter lie.  It is a screwball comedy so perfect and so hysterical that you’ll ask yourself, “Is this really happening?” Susan Vance (Katharine Hepburn) is arguably one of the best female comedic characters of all-time and for that reason alone, Bringing Up Baby the greatest film to me.

2. L’Avventura (1960, dir. Michelangelo Antonioni)

When I think about time and pacing in a film, I think about Antonioni’s work. His long takes can be off-putting for some and I’ll admit I didn’t always love Antonioni’s films. The first time I attempted to analytically approached L’Avventura, I was disappointed with what I wrote. I just didn’t get it and I left it at that. Then I saw L’Avventura at the Cannes Film Festival. The experience of seeing this film in a theater at Cannes affected me in such a profound way, I will never be able to view L’Avventura the same way ever again.

You are meant to watch this film in theater. It is only there that you realize and appreciate that time, the world, and experience just is.

3. Killer of Sheep (1977, dir. Charles Burnett)

When I began researching for my senior thesis at Mount Holyoke, I started with this film. If I was to write about Neorealism and American independent cinema, I had to see Killer of Sheep. Filmed for less than $10,000 with a mostly amateur cast, Killer of Sheep is a gritty, Neorealist film about life in the inner city of Los Angeles. It is Burnett’s response to his experiences and the frustrations he felt. To me, it is the greatest American film.

4. Goodbye Solo (2008, dir. Ramin Bahrani)

After seeing Killer of Sheep, I then approached contemporary American independent cinema and how these filmmakers articulate current political, economic, and social concerns in their work. In Goodbye Solo, a Senegalese cab driver, Solo, strikes up a friendship with  William, an elderly white man determined to commit suicide. Over the course of the film, we see their odd couple friendship develop. Throughout the course of the movie, the issues of family, achieving the American dream, and the idea of American identity are subtly approached and dissected by Bahrani. Goodbye Solo is just a charming and heartfelt film.

5. Frozen River (2008, dir. Courtney Hunt)

As with Goodbye Solo, I focused on Frozen River in my independent research. This film tackles current political issues – the smuggling of illegal immigrants – but in a way that is powerful and heartbreaking. Two single mothers, one white, one Native American, are driven to smuggle illegal aliens to support their children. Through this Neorealist film, we see how economic situations affect the home in sometimes drastic ways. Frozen River is in every way a political film as it is a maternal drama.

6. Meshes of the Afternoon (1943, dir. Maya Deren)

I have seen more experimental cinema than I care to admit. Some of it I love, some of it I hate. A surrealist film where reality is impossible to determine, Meshes of the Afternoon stands out as some of my favorite experimental filmmaking.

7. Rear Window (1954, dir. Alfred Hitchcock)

Every film list should include Hitchcock. Rear Window takes the concept of voyeurism and reminds us why it can be a dangerous thing. We are as much as a voyeur as Jimmy Stewart’s character. For that reason alone, this film is significant because it takes a basic concept of cinema, one that we sometimes forget exists, and turns it upside it down.

8. Citizen Kane (1941, dir. Orson Welles) – Citizen Kane is one movie that people either love or hate. Today, its innovative cinematography and even plot seems outdated and boring. But Welles achieved is something remarkable. I have found that once you know what “Rosebud” refers to and the mystery of Charles Foster Kane’s life becomes just someone’s ordinary existence, the film hold its ground.  For me, the best moment of Citizen Kane and one of the greatest moments of dialogue on screen is this.

For everything Citizen Kane achieves cinematically, what it drives home the most effectively at time is the experience of life and how moments can just pass you by.

9. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007, dir. Cristian Mingiu)

I have fallen madly in love with Romanian cinema. I go to great lengths to seek out any current Romanian film4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days stands out to me because of how it approaches female experience in 1980s Romania. In cinema, female protagonists facing real problems can sometimes be hard to find. Găbiţa and Otilia’s struggles are a metaphor for the secrecy of the Romanian political situation in 1987. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is acting and directing at its best.

10. Matador (1986, Pedro Almodóvar)

When you have seen every Almodóvar film, picking your favorite is nearly an impossible task. I have my favorites – favorite characters, favorite shots, favorite themes, favorite Carmen Maura scene – for different reasons. Although I love the films that tackle female solidarity, Matador, a black comedy about an ex-bullfighter turned on by killing, seems so twisted on paper. But under Almodóvar’s skillful eye, Matador is just the opposite. It is an abstract film and one that can frustrate you, but if you allow yourself to see Matador as an exploration of freedom and desire, you can find yourself embracing it as your favorite Almodóvar as I have.

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