This is part of my continuing series looking back on films from the years before I began this blog. The ten films below are unranked and listed in no particular order. Enjoy
"La Haine" - A generation-defining film that still impresses, thanks to its deft camera work, invigorating performances, and stark portrayal of three kids growing up in bad circumstances. Socially conscious in every regard, the film was made as a response to police violence and escalating tensions in Paris's immigrant communities. However, it's the innovative, energetic filmmaking that continues to impress, the way it captures the lives and the worlds that the characters inhabit.
"Ghost in the Shell" - One of the most thoughtful Japanese anime films presents a vision of the near future where humans have embraced technological enhancements to the point where they may be compromising their own souls. When a rogue AI begins wreaking havoc, our heroine faces both an existential and social crisis. Filled with iconic imagery, fascinating concepts, and disturbing implications, there's nothing out there quite like "Ghost in the Shell," animated or not.
"The City of Lost Children" - The film that best encapsulates the joyous weirdness of Jean-Pierre Jeunet, a fantasy adventure about misfits, clones, mad science, and dreams. I love the use of child's logic, the beautiful production design, and the utterly go-for-broke oddity of those characters. The clones in search of "L'originale" (all played by Dominique Pinon, of course), big-hearted Un, and tough little Miette have stayed with me after all this time. And so has their movie.
"Toy Story" - The first big CGI animated film, and still a charmer. While the novelty of the technology was certainly a factor, the film's success has just as much to do with its creation of memorable heroes, careful worldbuilding, and attention to detail. You could have made the film with traditional or stop-motion animation, with very little compromise in quality. So while CGI animation has improved over the years, "Toy Story" still remains an impressive achievement.
"Seven" - Few crime thrillers have managed to stick in the popular consciousness the way that "Seven" has. David Fincher taps into the disturbed mind of a serial killer, creating a nightmarish atmosphere of easy depravity and moral decay. It's a challenging film to watch, but a rewarding one in its own sick and twisted way. This is best exemplified by the climactic finale, one of the most violent scenes I've seen in any film, despite only a single, brief violent act taking place onscreen.
"Babe" - This is undisputedly a children's movie, but one that is so exquisitely executed on every level, it's no wonder that viewers of all ages fell in love with it. A combination of live and animatronic farm animals tell the tale of a little pig who changes his destiny, making this a technological as well as an artistic marvel. Chris Noonan's perfect storybook visuals are so charming and lively, it's disappointing to discover that the director as hardly made any other films since.
"Before Sunrise" - So begins one of cinema's great love stories, as Ethan Hawke's Jesse and Julie Delpy's Celine meet by chance on a train to Vienna one night. They walk, converse, and carry out their romance while being trailed by the movie camera and director Richard Linklater. The simplicity of the premise belies the richness of the story, which now extends to two subsequent films. "Before Sunrise," however, stands on its own as a love story and as an unusually absorbing film.
"Underground" - Emir Kusturica gets both political and patriotic in this madcap fable about the ups and downs of recent Yugoslav history. The filmmaking is fabulous, the satire is ferocious, and some of the images are just unforgettable. The monkey in the tank and the roving oom-pah band remain personal favorites. In certain circles the film remains controversial, but there's no doubt that it comes from a place of great affection for the Serbian people, and great filmmaking.
"The Usual Suspects" - I've been a little cool on this film over the years, since the famously twisty ending never struck me as all that much of a shocker. However, upon rewatch, I'm come to appreciate all the little moments of humor, and all the little instances of style that Bryan Singer so neatly deploys. And Kevin Spacey's performance as Verbal Kint just grows more iconic as time goes by. So here's the "The Usual Suspects" and the enduring legend of the great Keyser Soze.
"Welcome to the Dollhouse" - My black little heart will always have a soft spot for Dawn Weiner, a miserable teenager who never wins and sees her hopes dashed again and again. In Todd Solondz movies, after all, the world is unfair as a rule, and the usual teen movie tropes are gleefully torn to shreds at every opportunity. And once you understand what the movie is doing, it is very entertaining to watch it be as horrible to its characters as it possibly can.
The Bridges of Madison County
Sense and Sensibility
Whisper of the Heart
Leaving Las Vegas
A Little Princess