I'm still working on my list. It's coming along pretty well, though it's certainly daunting... Is There Will Be Blood really all that much better than Pan's Labyrinth? How seriously should I take polished Hollywood-fare like the gorgeous King Kong or Atonement? How about more manipulative and sentimental films like Crash or Hotel Rwanda?
I'll somehow figure out a way to justify their placement, hopefully.
Below are some more films that will definitely be (somewhere) on the list. These are perhaps more questionable choices, but I certainly stand behind them...
Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
Director: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
Writer: Michael Arndt
Producers: Peter Saraf, Marc Turtletaub, Ron Yerxa, David T. Friendly, Albert Berger
Starring: Greg Kinnear, Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Paul Dano, Abigail Breslin, Alan Arkin
Little Miss Sunshine is a gem of a little film. At first underrated then highly overrated (and immensely popular due in part to it's ubiquitous, all-yellow, "indie-film" marketing campaign) but now underrated again; not only is it heartwarming, touching, and philosophically well-rounded, it's also very, very funny. Don't hate.
My review from a few years back (edited) below...
I almost completely forgot about writing a review during and after catching a screening of the new transcendentally funny (look up "transcendentally" on dictionary.com and use the third definition) indie dramedy Little Miss Sunshine. I couldn't help but forget to think about the film critically and just take it in for what it was. As my friends and I stopped for some milkshakes (yes, milkshakes) following the film, instead of zoning them out and concentrating on my movie "experience" and what it meant (as I usually do), I found myself reminding myself to simply live and enjoy the time we were sharing right then and there. I almost forgot about the film entirely all the while applying one of its principle points, to enjoy the moment at hand, and I ended up having a blast. In retrospect, it was definitely a memorable experience. Little Miss Sunshine is a film that makes you forget about the frivolities of life and helps you focus on what truly matters. A film I saw recently, The Devil Wears Prada, carries a similar message; but while that film scratches the surface as a morality tale, with stereotypical characters and sophomoric symbolism, Little Miss Sunshine is truly a complex and thoroughly enveloping work.
It’s been said that it’s possible to make a great film about anything and everything. The premise doesn’t matter, it’s what you do with the basic material and how ambitious you want to be with it that ultimately determines whether a film is great or not. Little Miss Sunshine has what one might classify as a typically indie premise. A family embarks on a road trip to fulfill a little girl’s dream to compete in a beauty pageant. And yet there is so much to be picked apart, studied and analyzed, all while being completely engrossing and entertaining. And that's what Little Miss Sunshine achieves so precisely; first time feature film directors Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton know exactly how much of the intellectual to put in while still maintaining a thin and recognizable base that keeps your attention indefinitely.
While the laughs don’t come around quite as often as the trailers may let on, when they do come around the jokes are not only hilarious but memorable in their unmistakable charm and freshness. The entire cast is pitch-perfect. Steve Carell’s character is of the most subtle hilarity; with more quirks than any supporting player has a right to have. Abigail Breslin, who plays 7-year-old Olive, is enchanting on screen as the heart of the film and the last shred of innocence and hope left in a family that always seems on the brink of falling apart. Finally, the choice of casting Alan Arkin in the grandfather role is brilliant. With some of the funniest lines from any film this year, he delivers laughs every time he opens his mouth.
One of the keys to understanding the film is an unconventionally straight forward “meaning of life” conversation towards the end of the film between Paul Dano's and Carell's characters. We learn, along with Dano's character Dwayne, that the best part of life is the struggle to become who you want to be, once we're there we tend to become complacent and retrogressive, forgetting how we got there in the first place. Little Miss Sunshine teaches us to never forget, if only for an unforgettably compelling hour and forty minutes.
Marie Antoinette (2006)
Director: Sofia Coppola
Writer: Sofia Coppola
Producers: Sofia Coppola, Ross Katz
Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Marianne Faithfull, Steve Coogan, Judy Davis, Jason Schwartzman
Ever since it's release, I've touted Sofia Coppola's third film, Marie Antoinette, as a misunderstood modern masterpiece. Many viewed the film as her worst film to date, an indulgent mess that only an overconfident young filmmaker could produce (the fact that she's the Francis Coppola's daughter didn't help any either). If I'm not mistaken, it was even booed at Cannes. The unorthodox, modern American dialogue, MTV-styled cinematography, and sheer lack of respect for the original subject matter turned many critics, and even more moviegoers, off. That is, if the candy-bright colors, young and popular actors, and hip 80s-inspired soundtrack didn't steal their attention first. There's even a pair of Converse sneakers in one of the shots! However, all this was done in good fun and, what's more, in the name of good art.
Below is my (edited) review of the film from when it was released...
Nothing matters more than the present, something Sofia Coppola is well aware of, regardless of whether she's making a period piece set in the 18th century or a romantic drama set in the 21st. Via Marie Antoinette's short and tragic life, Sofia (she is “Sofia” as there is only one “Coppola”) has produced a humorous and cleverly conceived film, a sumptuous and visually stunning indictment on our society and its ever diminishing treatment of the “lesser sex." She presents Antoinette, not as the arrogant beast so many have come to learn and read about, but rather as a girl (and eventually a woman) caught in a world of ridiculous protocol and overbearing monotony. A girl that attains every material possession she’s been taught to desire and eventually, a woman who learns to live it up and enjoy her time as best as she can within her depressingly mundane circumstances. We all know how Marie Antoinette dies. We might know why. This film doesn’t care about any of that, not even caring enough to show her death. Sofia is much more interested in making a remarkably introspective film that’s as much about our times as it is about 18th century France (which isn’t completely due to it’s killer soundtrack).
Kirsten Dunst’s Antoinette is purposefully too modern in a role she was born to play. Essentially a girl of the 21st century stuck in the 18th century, Antoinette is torn between what she wants to do and what she is told she must do. To cement the Franco-Austrian alliance, she is sent off to Versailles at age 14 to be married to the Dauphin of France (Jason Schwartzman), the hilariously sexually uninterested next king of France (his hobby, an obvious and hilariously clever innuendo, is the study of locks and keys). Her purpose as his wife is to produce an heir, more importantly a male heir, and when this proves difficult she feels backed into a corner and helpless. Simultaneously she finds herself confounded by endless monotony and predictable routine, and amongst some of the most heartless and gossipy people in her or any other court. There is nothing left for her to do but use the power she has, once settled in, to live her life far away from the consuming cares of the court and enjoy it the best way she knows how: first through the avid possession of material things and eventually through physical pleasure.
The entire film is cunningly told from Antoinette's perspective alone, only telling us what she would know in her sheltered existence. The film is lost in her world and thus we only get bits and pieces of the “real world” outside of Versailles. We learn of French aid to the Americans fighting the Revolutionary War, and it’s suggested this is the actual culprit for France’s growing debt and not Antoinette’s horrific amount of spending. Sofia suggests Antoinette was merely the scapegoat, a role women have been playing since antiquity. Towards the end we are given a glimpse perhaps at her true feelings towards the people of her country and thus further sympathize with the unfortunate situation she’s been placed in.
Even in a historical period piece there is no time like the present. This would explain the film’s various connections to the present: it’s mostly post-punk and New-Wave filled soundtrack, the actor’s modern accents and dialogue, the seemingly random inclusion of a pair of Converse All-Stars amid more common shoes of the time in a particular scene. Many, if not most, will complain about this film’s superficiality, claiming it’s without purpose or true meaning. But when a society promotes and sells the shallow and superficial more than anything else what do you expect most women will end up becoming? Today there are more “Marie Antoinettes” than ever before. This film is not about one woman’s life as much as it is about the frivolous female masses our world has, and continues, to produce. The trick is to break away from the convention. This is where Sofia’s daring cinematic achievement and Marie Antoinette herself find redemption and practical meaning.
We feel sorry for Antoinette, as much as we feel sorry for those pageant girls at the finale of Little Miss Sunshine. But more than that, we like her, or at least I did, and encourage and understand her actions however superficially misguided they might be, eventually envying the small but rich slice of life she enjoyed before her death. What would you do if you were in her Chucks?
La science des rêves (The Science of Sleep) (2006)
Director: Michel Gondry Writer: Michel Gondry Producer: Georges Bermann
Starring: Gael Garcia Bernal, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Alain Chabat
Another severely underrated, wonderful, wonderfully odd film. It's unconventional in various ways including narrative style, visual style and cinematography, method of acting and others, and it's hard to classify. It's a film I appreciated immensely and yet it's not a completely enjoyable film, at least not in the traditional sense, that is, what one would expect from a romantic movie starring two attractive young people (ie. a classifiable and immediately satisfying ending, great emotional highs and lows, etc.). I appreciated its honest nature and realism and can fully relate to the film's main protagonist; someone who sees nothing but monotony and suffering in "real-life" and uses his dreams as a means of escape. Of course, not having a good handle on this dream world and a good defining line between dreams and reality could be disastrous, particularly with one's relationships.
The Science of Sleep is a cautionary tale and might be considered a tragedy by some (not me). We learn from it just how crucial this line is. That is, the line between ourselves and our relationships; between our thoughts, desires, and inner feelings and what we show and how we act around others. We can't show too much at a time but we can't hide ourselves completely either. Stephane, played brilliantly by Gael Garcia Bernal, is very immature in this regard (perhaps choosing immaturity over the vulnerability of age and eventual death). He is a boy trapped in a young man's body. He hates his life and buries himself in his dreams as a creative outlet.
In the film it is suggested that artists create so that they won't be forgotten (Freud also said this) and this implies an inner yearning to be accepted. The Science of Sleep negates this through Stephane. He creates (art, inventions, thoughts, etc.) to get away from reality, at times portraying death as a joke or something transient probably to forget if only for a short while the pain it has caused him.
As I said before, some viewers might consider this film a tragedy or perhaps full of romantically confusing situations and with an ending that leaves much to be desired. While I can understand how someone could come to this conclusion I in no way agree with it. I believe the film and its protagonist end in growth, understanding, and triumph.
The Science of Sleep is a young, thinking person's film (a rare breed) and thus won't find itself with a large fanbase any time soon. It requires much more attention than usual. If you can't follow the narrative strings from dream to reality and back again then you're just not paying attention. The way things pop into and out of Stephane's dreams is inventive, as are the dream sequences themselves thanks to the creative mastery of director Michel Gondry. If you feel empty or confused by the end of this film than, simply put, you need to see it again (rewind if you can). The dream sequences, while entertaining and possibly distracting, are vital to understanding the film and following its narrative threads. Putting in the time and energy into understanding Gondry's best film (yes, better then Eternal Sunshine) is well worth it.