Sometimes we all feel like Hollywood makes the same movie over and over again – shallow characters, memorized scenes, and exhausted story lines. But, once in awhile, a film comes along that stands out from the rest; one that reminds us of a film’s true purpose, not to make money, but to make art.
I promise I’m not mounting a high horse. My list of favorite movies includes “The Dark Knight”, “The Way Way Back”, and “Airplane!” and I’m not even frustrated with Hollywood. At the end of the day, production companies are just that – companies, and the point of a company is to make money. While most movies may seem repetitive or impersonal, I’m not going to blame the studios for doing what they know generates revenue. Still, I do admire movies like the few below that remind us what the film medium is all about.
1. Gravity (2013)
Alfonso Cuarón’s 2013 space adventure “Gravity” starts off this list as a blockbuster that you might not have seen as artistic as it actually is. While most people admire this movie for its action, its story also explores religion and the resilience of the human spirit. Admittedly, I hated this movie the first time I saw it. I thought it was grossly inaccurate and used slower scenes only as a buffer between the intense action sequences it used to reel in larger audiences. Yet, even after the first viewing, there was one scene I absolutely loved – when Sandra Bullock’s character realizes how helpless she is in the vacuum of space and a single tear is whisked off her cheek and floats around the escape pod. Deciding to rewatch the movie for this scene alone, I fell in love with its depth and complexity.
If you have already seen “Gravity”, you may also like Cuarón’s “Y Tu Mamá También”, a Mexican film that tells the story of two teenagers road tripping to a beach with an older woman while taking an unapologetic look at adolescence and sexuality.
2. Only God Forgives (2013)
This next film is one that most people probably haven’t heard of even though it’s backed by Ryan Gosling’s star power. “Only God Forgives” is a film by Danish director Nicolas Refn and stars Gosling as the lead role. Sound familiar? Refn and Gosling made another movie two years earlier that you may have seen called “Drive”. In “Only God Forgives”, Julian—played by Gosling—runs a boxing club in Thailand as a front for his drug dealing when his older brother is brutally murdered by a Thai police Lieutenant. Just as violent as Refn’s “Drive” (if not more so), this movie is notorious for polarizing its audiences between love and hate for the film. Some find that Gosling’s character was not relatable, as he remains silent through most of the movie, while others were able to use his silence to project themselves onto his character and find his performance to be a reflection of their own personalities. Regardless of how much you appreciate the characters or the storyline, it’s guaranteed that you’ll find the film visually appealing – the movie was filmed on location in the supersaturated city of Bangkok.
If you’ve already seen “Drive” and “Only God Forgives”, you may also like “The Usual Suspects” and just about any Tarantino movie.
3. Hero (2002)
While we’re on the topic of stunning visuals, “Hero” is one example of beautiful Chinese cinema. The movie is set in ancient China and tells the story of Jet Li’s character, a nameless swordsman, revealing to the emperor how he killed the three assassins who previously tried to murder the ruler of the Qin dynasty. The film uses color as a breathtaking tool to depict different perspectives of the same story – that story being about warriors with mystical powers fighting to the death. Even if you’re not a huge fan of action movies, you’re sure to enjoy the emotional performances throughout the film and the stimulating cinematography.
4. Under the Skin (2013)
The second science-fiction film on this list, “Under the Skin” is a movie starring Scarlett Johansson as an alien who comes to Earth disguised as a woman to lure men into her home and murder them – at least, that’s what I think she does to them. As the film progresses, Johansson’s character unintentionally begins to use her time on Earth to discover what it means to be human. While most of the movie was scripted, certain scenes were filmed with hidden cameras as Johansson drove around Glasgow asking men for directions and surprising them with seemingly innocent yet deeply personal questions. While this film may at times be too artistic for the average moviegoer, it’s an original spin on classic science-fiction that doesn’t involve aliens and robots attempting to extinguish the human race.
If you’ve already seen “Under the Skin,” or you want to take baby steps before seeing a sci-fi movie that’s so artsy, “Ex Machina” is an excellent take on AI that doesn’t have the genre stereotypical destroy-all-humans plot and “Her” follows the story of a man dating his fully artificially intelligent operating system as it discovers emotions and attempts to achieve the human experience.
5. Last Year at Marienbad (1961)
While most movies seek to immerse the viewer in their story by refusing to remind them that they are indeed in a theater, some films use the characteristics of the medium to tell their story. “Last Year at Marienbad” is an example of the latter, using creative editing, jump cuts, and purposeful flaws in continuity to guide the audience through its enchanting, poetic, and disorienting story. The film takes place at a chateau where a man sees a woman and tells her that he could swear they had met a year earlier in the Czech town of Marienbad. However, certain details of his story change as he’s telling it and his narrative doesn’t always match the version of the story that is being portrayed on screen.
Regardless of whether you can follow the story through your first viewing, or you feel the immediate need to watch it again, you’re sure to walk away from the movie feeling as if you’ve just woken up from a mysterious, monochromatic dream.
Am I overlooking one of your favorite movies? Did I secretly make you want to watch art films? Let us know. PUT THEM IN THE COMMENTS!