Saturday, 12 September 2015

My Top 20 Favourite Films | The Small Desk

On my way back from Cornwall I was chatting to my friend about foreign films, indie films and documentaries. We were exchanging recommendations on what films we loved, hated and thought were alright. After this chat it made me realise how different my taste in films is to a lot of people. Although I like to think that it's not different taste, it's just I look a bit harder for films, I don't just watch the big blockbusters. Therefore I thought it would be nice to share with you my top 20 favourite films.

There are some blockbusters in the list, but there are also a lot less well-known films. I'd be fascinated to know if you've seen any on the list and what you thought of them. Also, please leave your film recommendations below, especially as it's starting to get colder and darker, and the need for film nights is increasing!

1. The Lives of Others
Language: German
This is my all time favourite film. It is set in 1984 East Berlin, and involves spying, love affairs, political betrayals, Brecht, and so much beautiful cinematography. The acting is also second-to-none; sadly though the lead actor died before he knew how successful the film would become. There are so many unexpected moments in this film and before you know it it's over, and you want to watch it over and over again to notice more and more of the clever subtleties littered throughout.

2. Goodbye Lenin
Language: German
Warning: the actor who plays Alex in this film is drop-dead gorgeous! Again, this film is set in East Berlin, but this time a bit later in 1989, just before the fall of the Berlin wall. The film sees the fall of the wall, but Alex's mother does not, as she is in a coma. However, when she awakes from her coma eight months later, they must pretend that the wall is still intact, so as not to send her into shock. Not as easy as it sounds, considering all the East Berlin brands have quickly become relics of history. Hilarious, joyful and historically accurate, it is a genius masterpiece of German filmmaking.

3. The Imposter
Language: English
This is a documentary. I kid you not it is one of, if not the best, documentaries I've ever seen. It is shocking, confusing, terrifying and thrilling. It is a thriller documentary... if that's a genre. It tells the story of a French man who pretends to be a missing child from the USA. The family from the US take him back to the US, despite not being 100% convinced that he is their child. It is a spine-tingling story, that you cannot believe even happened. It is worth watching the trailer.

4. The Edukators
Language: German
It's set in Berlin, again, sorry! But this time it's set in 2004! It follows three anti-capitalist activists who want to educate the capitalists of Berlin about the effects of having too much money. They do this, controversially, by breaking into people's houses. Accidentally they take one of their targets' hostage. Political ideology and romance are the main themes of this film. With surprising twists and turns and a stint in a mountain cabin, you'll have to watch the film to see if the activists ever trust the capitalist hostage.

5. Catfish
Language: English
The first major blockbuster in my list that I think most people have now heard of, considering the MTV show. Nev Schulman directed and starred in this documentary that follows his search for his online girlfriend. Catfish is all about finding out who the person behind the screen really is. It follows Nev's emotional reactions when he finds out she is not really who he thinks she is, all the way to where he finds out who she really is, and why she felt she had to hide her identity. It is a film that shows all the different types of human emotions and reminds you how different peoples' lives are.

6. Lust for Life
Language: English
This is a bio-pic of the life of Van Gogh, made in 1956. Van Gogh is played by Kirk Douglas, the father of Michael Douglas! I am pretty sure one of the main reasons Van Gogh is so famous is because of his tortured life; it completely plays into the hands of 'the tortured artist' stereotype. But his tortured life is what makes this film so fascinating. It is an excellent and easily digestible way of really understanding the artist's work and life. Considering his stuff is everywhere, it's pretty important to know a bit more about him!

7. Dark Days
Language: English
You'd be forgiven for thinking this film was filmed in the 1970s, as the quality of the film is so grainy and it's all in black and white. It was actually filmed in the 1990s with a 16mm camera and Kodak film. It is a documentary that shows what life is like for the homeless living in the underground tunnels of New York City. Crime, drugs, and mental health are all topics, which are sensitively but at the same time grittily portrayed by filmmaker Marc Singer. With a soundtrack by DJ Shadow, this film has become a bit of a cult classic.

8. Kolya
Language: Czech, Russian, Slovak
There are so many 'awww cute' moments in the film, just take a look at the DVD cover for one! It is a 1996 film set in Czechoslovakia. It follows the troubles of a fledgling concert-cellist, Franta, who is a bachelor and ladies' man. He runs into trouble when he agrees to marry a Russian woman so that he can make some money... she leaves her five year old son, Kolya, with his grandmother but when the grandmother dies, Franta is the one who has to look after him. It follows the pair in awkward, hilarious and sweet adventures. If you're having a bad day, this film will definitely cheer you up!

9. Le petit nicolas
Language: French
This is an amazing French comedy about a little boy called Nicholas who gets up to all kinds of mischief with his friends. His life is turned upside down when he finds out he is going to be a big brother. He doesn't really understand what this means, which results in some hilarious antics. Plus it is narrated by the little boy! It is utterly heart-warming!

10. Micmacs
Language: French
This film is insane. I remember loving it but find it really hard to explain, so I've had to do a bit of research to write this! Released in 2009, Micmacs is about Bazil, whose life has been ruined by weapons of war. His father was killed by a land mine, and he himself gets a bullet lodged in his skull when finding himself in the middle of a crossfire. His mission is to get revenge on the manufacturers of the weapons that have affected his life so much. He meets a band of eccentric junkyard dealers that help him on his mission for revenge. The acting, and cinematography is like nothing I've seen before. There are a lot of special effects and it's hard to differentiate reality from fantasy.

11. A Serious Man
Language: English
A Coen brothers film (the guys who did the Matrix), A Serious Man is set in Minnesota in the 1960s. It follows Jewish physics professor, Larry Gopnik, through his divorce and the trials and tribulations he has to face. It is a black comedy, and is said to be the closest to an autobiographical film that the Coen brothers have ever done. The cinematography is what made me put this film on my Top 20 list. It is a slow, but beautiful film, that you need to give time to.

12. Into the Wild
Language: English
Released in 2007, Into the Wild is an adaptation of a 1996 non-fiction book of the same name. It is a real-life story about Christopher McCandless who decided to leave home and travel across the Alaskan wilderness. Christopher meets many different characters on his travels, but when he ends up in the complete wilderness of Alaska, we see the struggles he faces living life alone, with no-one to rely on, or talk to. It is a powerful and emotive film that leaves you talking and thinking about it for days afterwards.

13. Amelie
Language: French
I reckon this film is now one of the most famous films of all time? Well, like I said I do like Blockbusters, and this is one of my all time favourites. It never fails to bring a smile to my face. I just Googled it and it came out in 2001! What?! It's 14 years old! Ugh, that makes me feel old! It is a romantic comedy set in Paris and follows the life of Amelie; a timid woman who most enjoys helping others. She was raised by eccentric parents who thought she had a heart defect, so wrapped her cotton wall with the result that she developed a very active imagination. She finds a treasure in her kitchen and we follow her story in her quest to re-unite it with its owner. 

14. Marshland
Language: Spanish
I only saw this for the first time last weekend at the Electric Cinema in Shoreditch (HIPSTER!). It follows two cops trying to solve the disappearance of two sisters from the Guadalquivir Marshes in Spain in 1980. It is a dark thriller that has many layers to the story, and the most incredible cinematography I have ever seen. I know that is a big statement, but I mean it. It is quite gory in parts, but it is worth seeing for the cinematography. Every shot could easily be a photograph in an art exhibition.

15. Breakfast at Tiffany's
Language: English
An absolute classic, if you've never heard of it, where have you been!? Released in 1961 it's a rom-com starring Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly, an eccentric society girl. She has amazing parties and ends up in an incriminating relationship. It's a cult classic, and it's everything you hoped for.

16. The Parent Trap (old one)
Language: English
NOT THE ONE WITH LINDSAY LOHAN, THE ONE WITH HAYLEY MILLS. For most of my childhood there was only one Parent Trap, and that was the one with Hayley Mills, and then came along Lindsay Lohan and ruined my favourite film. Ever since I have been telling people how much better the old version is! It was released in 1961 and is far less glossy than the new one, but 10x better acting! Rant over, sorry!

17. Run Lola Run
Language: German
1998 German thriller, Run Lola Run, sees Lola try to find 100,000 Deutsche Mark in 20 minutes to save her boyfriend's life. It is a highly stylised film that shows three different scenarios of what could happen to Lola in her pursuit of the money. It's a very clever film, that is for anyone who enjoys films for its artistic capabilities.

18. Spellbound
Language: English
This is a fantastic documentary about the national spelling bee in America. It follows the lives of some of the finalists up to the national competition which is televised on ESPN! The finalists are all children under the age of 15, and it documents interviews with them and their parents. It is an enjoyable and gripping ethnographic piece of filmmaking. 

19. Garden State
Language: English
Written by Zach Braff, you know the guy from Scrubs, Garden State is about Andrew Largeman who returns to his hometown after his mother dies. It is set in New Jersey and follows his time at home where he meets a woman who is a pathological liar (played by Natalie Portman). It is a journey about health, love and family, with some obscure scenes put in for good measure. It is now considered a cult classic and I can see why.

20. Mary Poppins
Language: English
Released in 1964... I'm actually surprised that they haven't tried to re-make this one yet! What do you bet? 2016? Mary Poppins is a British super-nanny who comes to the rescue of the Banks family. She looks after Michael and Jane and takes them on all sorts of magical adventures with the help of the local chimney sweep! With some classic tunes, such as 'Feed the Birds', this is a film that always reminds me of my childhood, God knows how many times I've watched it!

I hope you enjoyed reading through this list, and like I said earlier, let me know if you've seen any, and leave me your film recommendations!


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