Sunday, October 20, 2013

My Top 100 Song Lyrics

For me, great lyrics are the difference between songs I only listen to casually and songs that are on constant rotation. There's no doubt that I can tap my feet to a hypnotic beat and let a melody sink its teeth into me. But that pleasure is only fleeting. When a song contains great lyrics—even if it's just one or two brilliant lines—you can hold onto them and carry them around even when your earphones are wound up in your pocket. In this post, I have compiled a list of my 100 favourite song lyrics of all time. I have listed them in rough order from least favourite to favourite. I did not try to hide my admiration for Neil Finn and Paul Dempsey. These geniuses are my two favourite songwriters, and their music has helped me immensely throughout life. That's why their lyrics constitute about a quarter of the entries on this list. For entries 100 to 11, I have simply listed the lyrics. For my top 10, I have briefly described why those particular lyrics mean so much to me. I think you can tell a lot about a person by studying their favourite lyrics. Here is your chance to psychoanalyse me. 

100. If you'll be my bodyguard / I can be your long lost pal / I can call you Betty / And Betty when you call me / You can call me Al. (Paul Simon - You Can Call Me Al)

99. Nothing really matters / Anyone can see / Nothing really matters / Nothing really matters to me / Any way the wind blows... (Queen - Bohemian Rhapsody)

98. And if I tell you something / You take me back to nothing / I'm on the edge of something / You take me back / And I'm happy when it rains. (The Jesus & Mary Chain - Happy When it Rains)

97. Sleight of hand and twist of fate / On a bed of nails she makes me wait / And I wait without you. (U2 - With or Without You)

96. And I find it kind of funny / I find it kind of sad / The dreams in which I'm dying are the best I've ever had. (Tears for Fears - Mad World)

95. Sweet wonderful you / You make me happy with the things you do / Oh, can it be so / This feeling follows me wherever I go. (Fleetwood Mac - You Make Loving Fun)

94. Mars ain't the kind of place to raise your kids / In fact it's cold as hell / And there's no one there to raise them / If you did. (Elton John - Rocket Man)

93. He is alive and kicking and screaming / Calls it gymnastics / Calls it velocity. (Something for Kate - Twenty Years)

92. The ashtray says / You were up all night / When you went to bed / With your darkest mind. (Wilco - A Shot in the Arm)

91. Though I know I'll never lose affection / For people and things that went before / I know I'll often stop and think about them / In my life, I love you more. (The Beatles - In My Life)

90. Strike up the band and make the fireflies dance / Silver moon's sparkling / So kiss me. (Sixpence None the Richer - Kiss Me)

89. I've got two tickets to Iron Maiden, baby / Come with me Friday, don't say "maybe" /  I'm just a teenage dirtbag, baby, like you. (Wheatus - Teenage Dirtbag)

88. 'Cause I don't want to be a container / Or a bastard with a ten-page disclaimer. (Something for Kate - Monsters)

87. Let us be lovers / We'll marry our fortunes together / I've got some real estate here in my bag. (Simon & Garfunkel - America)

86. I want to trip inside your head / Spend the day there / To hear the things you haven't said / And see what you might see. (U2 - Miracle Drug)

85. Hey, don't look now / But there goes God / In his sexy pants and his sausage dog / And he can't stand Beelzebub / 'Cause he looks so good in black, in black. (Crowded House - There Goes God)

84. We're after the same rainbow's end /  Waiting 'round the bend / My huckleberry friend / Moon river, and me. (Audrey Hepburn - Moon River)

83. I lost my shirt / I pawned my rings / I've done all the dumb things. (Paul Kelly and the Coloured Girls - Dumb Things)

82. Now it seems to me some fine things / Have been laid upon your table / But you only want the ones / That you can't get. (The Eagles - Desperado)

81. Come loose your dogs upon me / And let your hair hang down / You are a little mystery to me / Every time you come around. (Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - The Ship Song)

80. Eleanor Rigby picks up the rice in the church where a wedding has been / Lives in a dream /  Waits at the window / Wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door / Who is it for? (The Beatles - Eleanor Rigby)

79. Thoughts meander like a restless wind inside a letterbox / They tumble blindly as they make their way across the universe. (The Beatles - Across the Universe)

78. Give me reason but don't give me choice / 'Cause I'll just make the same mistake again. (James Blunt - Same Mistake)

77. It's a pretty pass / How you always seem to land on your feet / A little undone / Anybody else by now would be cold meat. (Paul Kelly - (You Can Put Your) Shoes Under My Bed)

76. She lives with a broken man / A cracked polystyrene man / Who just crumbles and burns. (Radiohead - Fake Plastic Trees)

75. But I'm in so deep / You know I'm such a fool for you / You got me wrapped around your finger / Do you have to let it linger? (The Cranberries - Linger)

74. I don't mind stealing bread / From the mouths of decadence / But I can't feed on the powerless / When my cup's already overfilled. (Temple of the Dog - Hunger Strike)

73. Sweet dreams and flying machines / In pieces on the ground. (James Taylor - Fire and Rain)

72. It's like you're trying to get to Heaven in a hurry / And the queue was shorter than you thought it would be / And the doorman says / You need to get a wristband. (Alex Turner - It's Hard to Get Around the Wind)

71. What the world needs now / Is some answers to our problems / We can't buy more time / 'Cause our tender isn't valid. (Bad Religion - Faith Alone)

70. She can't remember a time when she felt needed / If love was red then she was colour blind. (Savage Garden - To the Moon and Back)

69. I'm strangled by your haunted social scene / Just a pawn outplayed by a dominating queen. (Elton John - Someone Saved My Life Tonight)

68. There is no such place / If I lower mine to yours / Would you kiss me on the face? (Augie March - There is No Such Place)

67. I would go out tonight / But I haven't got a stitch to wear / This man said "It's gruesome that someone so handsome should care." (The Smiths - This Charming Man)

66. We gotta get out while we're young / 'Cause tramps like us / Baby we were born to run. (Bruce Springsteen - Born to Run)

65. I would love / To trouble you in your time of need / Lose your way / It's a pleasure when you're in my command. (Crowded House - In My Command)

64. I'm an alligator / I'm a mama-papa coming for you / I'm the space invader / I'll be a rock 'n' rollin' bitch for you. (David Bowie - Moonage Daydream)

63. We'll choke on our vomit / And that will be the end / We were fated to pretend. (MGMT - Time to Pretend)

62. In my life / Why do I give valuable time / To people who don't care if I live or die? (The Smiths - Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now)

61. Lover, there will be another one / Who'll hover over you beneath the sun / Tomorrow, see the things that never come / Today. (Neil Young - Birds)

60. The frozen stare / The clothes and hair / These make me taste like a man. (The Jesus & Mary Chain - On the Wall)

59. Your hills and valleys / Are mapped by my intrepid fingers. (Snow Patrol - Crack the Shutters)

58. Oh, isn't this exactly where you'd like me / I'm exactly where you'd like me, you know / Praying for love in a lap dance / And paying in naivety. (Panic! at the Disco - But It's Better If You Do)

57. I'm just a slave to ambition / Tension—your permanent condition / So much you've always wanted / Too much giving you a sore head. (Crowded House - I Walk Away)

56. If you wait / I'll give all my aches to you. (You Am I - Berlin Chair)

55. Colour is its own reward. (Crowded House - Fingers of Love)

54. So we are moving to a lighthouse, you and I / While seas drown sailors, we'll be locked up safe and dry / And though our doors may knock and rattle in the wind / I'll just hold you tight and we'll not let those fuckers in. (Josh Pyke - The Lighthouse Song)

53. I told you / That we could fly / 'Cause we all have wings / But some of us don't know why. (INXS - Never Tear Us Apart)

52. I'll know you by the thunderclap / Pouring like a rain of blood to my emotions. (Crowded House - When You Come)

51.  So you dance and you shuffle into the eye of the storm / Eyes all on fire as if you've never been here before. (Something for Kate - Reverse Soundtrack)

50. And I shall drive my chariot down your streets and cry / Hey, it's me, I'm dynamite and I don't know why. (Van Morrison - Sweet Thing)

49. All I ever wanted was to be your spine. (Archers of Loaf - Web in Front)

48. Could you learn to read minds? / In the case of mine / Do you read in the dark? (Grant Lee Buffalo - Honey Don't Think)

47. Last cigarettes are all you can get / Turning your orbit around. (Wilco - Jesus, Etc.)

46. I'm the next act waiting in the wings / I'm an animal trapped in your hot car / I am all the days that you choose to ignore. (Radiohead - All I Need)

45. I'll be your plastic toy. (The Jesus & Mary Chain - Just Like Honey)

44. And you know that I love you / Here and now, not forever / I can give you the present / I don't know 'bout the future / That's all stuff and nonsense. (Split Enz - Stuff and Nonsense)

43. I warn you, if cornered / I'll scratch my way out of the pen / Wired, an animal / The claustrophobia begins. (The Afghan Whigs - What Jail is Like)

42. Have you come here to play Jesus / To the lepers in your head? (U2 - One)

41. Your freezing speech bubbles / Seem to hold your words aloft / I want the smoky clouds of laughter / To swim about me forever more. (Snow Patrol - The Planets Bend Between Us)

40. Burn down the disco / Hang the blessed DJ / Because the music that they constantly play / It says nothing to me about my life. (The Smiths - Panic)

39. Hold me closer, tiny dancer / Count the headlights on the highway / Lay me down in sheets of linen / You had a busy day today. (Elton John - Tiny Dancer)

38. And you know she will trust you / For you've touched her perfect body with your mind. (Leonard Cohen - Suzanne)

37. Not much time has passed / But already she likes concrete better than grass / And I don't think we'll last. (Something for Kate - Pinstripe)

36. No more empty self-possession / Vision swept under the mat / It's no New Year's resolution / It's more than that. (Split Enz - Message to My Girl)

35. And the waitress is practising politics / As the businessmen slowly get stoned / Yes they're sharing a drink they call loneliness / But it's better than drinking alone. (Billy Joel - Piano Man)

34. And if a double-decker bus crashes into us / To die by your side is such a heavenly way to die. (The Smiths - There is a Light That Never Goes Out)

33. So I'll start a revolution from my bed / 'Cause you said the brains I had went to my head. (Oasis - Don't Look Back in Anger)

32. All I really, really want our love to do / Is to bring out the best in me and in you. (Joni Mitchell - All I Want)

31. There's a battle ahead / Many battles are lost / But you'll never see the end of the road while you're travelling with me. (Crowded House - Don't Dream It's Over)

30. Your waitress was miserable / And so was your food / If you're gonna try and walk on water / Make sure you wear your comfortable shoes. (Alex Turner - Piledriver Waltz)

29. She can take the dark out of the nighttime / And paint the daytime black. (Bob Dylan - She Belongs To Me)

28. How can I convince you it's me I don't like / And not be so indifferent to the look in your eyes / When I've always been distant / And I've always told lies for love. (Wilco - Reservations)

27. And these children that you spit on / As they try to change their worlds / Are immune to your consultations / They're quite aware of what they're going through. (David Bowie - Changes)

26. She's a jar / With a heavy lid / My pop quiz kid / A sleepy kisser / A pretty war / With feelings hid / She begs me not to miss her. (Wilco - She's a Jar)

25. I'm a name in a black book / Attached to a face / At the back of your memory's window display / It's on the tip of your tongue, I'm sure / But I must away. (Paul Dempsey - Fast Friends)

24. And if the gods desert us now I'll turn this chapel into flames / And if someone tries to hurt you I would put myself in your place. (Neil Finn - Try Whistling This)

23. And you run like a cat to the cream / And you're acting so nice it's obscene / You put on a wonderful show / Do you really, really think I don't know? / Black and white boy. (Crowded House - Black and White Boy)

22. There's no hypochondriac novelist / Scrawling messages in your DNA. (Something for Kate - Begin)

21. I can see / That you and me / Live our lives in the pouring rain / And the raindrops beat out of time to our refrain. (The Jesus & Mary Chain - About You)

20. There's no aphrodisiac like loneliness / Truth, beauty, and a picture of you. (The Whitlams - No Aphrodisiac) 

19. And did you exchange a walk-on part in the war / For a lead role in a cage? (Pink Floyd - Wish You Were Here)

18. Total surrender / Your touch is so tender / Your skin is like water on a burning beach / And it brings me relief. (Crowded House - Nails in My Feet)

17. I feel like I'm in love / With a stranger I'll never know / Although you're still a mystery / I'm so glad I'm not alone. (Neil Finn - Anytime)

16. As long as I gaze on Waterloo sunset / I am in paradise. (The Kinks - Waterloo Sunset)

15. Magnetism and mystery / Wishful thinking and fantasy / And I hope that you're not / Hoping for me. (Something for Kate - White)

14. Sooner or later, one of us must know / That I really did try to get close to you. (Bob Dylan - One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later))

13. You only hide because you know I'll find you. (Something for Kate - You Only Hide)

12. The guilty get no sleep / In the last slow hours of morning / Experience is cheap / I should've listened to the warning. (Crowded House - Into Temptation)

11. I could drink a case of you, darling / And I would still be on my feet. (Joni Mitchell - A Case of You)

If I could kill only the time
That truly deserves to die

                                                     ~ Something for Kate - Deep Sea Divers

This lyric by Paul Dempsey is exquisitely simple, but it conveys that innately human desire to skip all the crap in life and get to the moments that matter. When we speak of "killing time" in everyday parlance, we are generally referring to a situation where we arrive at a place early and need a way to fill the surplus minutes or hours. In Deep Sea Divers, the notion of killing time is more concerned with eradicating painful memories from our psyches. Or maybe it's about killing those everyday annoyances (conversations about the weather, long queues at the supermarket) that befall us all, and only existing in moments that we'll remember on our deathbeds.

As is once
Will always be
Earth and sky
Moon and sea

                                                 ~ Crowded House - Together Alone 

I don't have any tattoos, but if I ever decide to get one, this lyric will be it. I love it because it makes me feel so insignificant. I am just a speck in the universe. Earth was turning before I was born into it, and it will continue to turn once I have departed it. When everyone who knows me is dead, no one will talk about me. I will be forgotten. It is an extremely humbling thing to realise and accept this. Do you ever just gaze up at the moon and think about how indifferent the universe is to you? It doesn't care about your salary or your fancy car. You are nothing to the Earth and Sky. You are nothing to the Moon and Sea. 

Don't let it bring you down
It's only castles burning
Find someone who's turning
And you will come around

                                                            ~ Neil Young - Don't Let it Bring You Down

This is Neil Young's rendition of the proverb "This too shall pass." It's a fantastic chorus to a fantastic song, and it's that image of castles burning that really boosts it. Most people would think of castles burning as a catastrophic event, but Young just brushes it aside as a slight inconvenience. He implores us to find someone who's turning, which reminds us to be happy for our friends' successes rather than to envy them. I really like this notion of "coming around". It evokes the idea of starting afresh while still acknowledging the things that broke you in the first place. 

I should've consulted my local physician
I'm stuck now forever with this tunnel vision
My periphery is screwed
Wherever I look now
All I see is you

                                               ~ Tim Minchin - You Grew on Me

First of all, I believe Tim Minchin's You Grew on Me has the finest lyrics of any song ever written. It is the cleverest song ever written. From beginning to end, there is not a single flat spot. I strongly encourage you to listen to the whole song before reading my thoughts on the above lyrics.

As Minchin explains, the song is about the type of love that creeps up on you. It smashes the myth of love at first sight. What I adore about this song is how Minchin approaches love not as a sweet, blissful emotion, but as something dark and stormy...a twisted malady. When you become infatuated with someone, it isn't pleasant. Sure, you might smile when you hear that person's favourite song. Hearing that person laugh may fill you with enough joy to subsist on for the rest of the week. And hey, if the feeling's mutual, then infatuation may not be bad at all. Unrequited love, on the other hand, is something no one ever enjoys. Minchin's extended metaphor of a love interest as an illness is hauntingly beautiful. The lyrics I have chosen here provide an almost literal interpretation of not being able to get someone out of your head.

But you stand there so nice
In your blizzard of ice
Oh please let me 
Come into the storm 

                                                                     ~ Leonard Cohen - One of Us Cannot Be Wrong

This whole song is characterised by lyrical ingenuity. You've got rooms filling up with mosquitoes, a doctor locking himself into a library shelf, and a saint drowning himself in a pool. For me, it's the final verse where most of the magic happens. Most people would attempt to get out of a storm. Cohen cleverly subverts this idea, conceptualising a nude woman as a storm. Despite her being nude, it doesn't come off as cheap eroticism, and I interpret "Please let me come into the storm" as a way of saying "Let me be a part of your life." 

Sleeping on an unmade bed
Finding out wherever there is comfort there is pain

                                                                      ~ Crowded House - Four Seasons in One Day

This one's very self-explanatory, and yet it still makes me shiver whenever I hear it. What's great is that Finn uses the image of an unmade bed, something that all listeners would be familiar with. It's not only the image we relate to, but also that crushing disappointment of discovering the flaws to something we initially thought was untainted. I think this gels nicely with the song's title, perpetuating the notion of emotional turbulence and fluctuations in mood. 

I don't pretend to know what you want
But I offer love

                                                 ~ Crowded House - Distant Sun 

Yep, another Crowded House lyric—I told you I love Neil Finn! This lyric is testament to the idea that there is beauty in simplicity. It shows you don't need an extensive vocabulary to touch another human being. All you need is an underlying sentiment that listeners can call their own. Sometimes a friend or family member will come running to you for help, and you literally have no idea how to help them. You feel like a terrible confidant, as though you have failed in your duty as a person. But there's often nothing you can do except listen. Show your love for them by lending an ear. It is worse to pretend you know what they're talking about and offer half-hearted advice. 

The finger of blame has turned upon itself
And I'm more than willing to offer myself
Do you want my presence or need my help?
Who knows where that might lead?

                                                      ~ Crowded House - Fall at Your Feet

I swear this is the last Crowded House entry on this list! But surely you must excuse me when Neil Finn's lyrics are as good as this! I'm not sure if Finn has ever explicitly stated what this song is about, but most fans believe it's about a man who comforts a woman after a breakup, or after she's been cheated on. The man is romantically interested in this woman, but she only sees him as a shoulder to cry on. This beautiful verse hints that the man finally got to sleep with the woman, which in turn makes her a cheater, hence the finger of blame turning upon itself. It's all very dark and troublesome. I love the ambiguity of that last we're left with two fragile people trying to find some reconciliation. 

I am human and I need to be loved
Just like everybody else does

                                                         ~ The Smiths - How Soon is Now?

Isn't that what we all want? To find someone who won't kick us out of bed? We all want to be a part of someone else's life. Maybe not now, but being alone is only comfortable for so long. We want to be the reason someone cancels their plans on a Friday night. We want someone to come home to and sidle up with on the couch. We want someone who will accept our shortcomings because our virtues make them happier than anything else. We just want to be loved. Or maybe some of us just want to be liked. We want 10 new Facebook notifications when we wake up in the morning. We want someone to save a seat for us at the movies. We want to be told, "Hey, I like you. You're kinda funny." We want anything but the rejection of who we are at our cores. We want to be validated. That's why we get out of bed in the morning. If you don't get up and do something, no one will know you're alive. 

There'll be icicles and birthday clothes
And sometimes there'll be sorrow

                                                  ~ Joni Mitchell - Little Green 

This is it. This is the lyric that encapsulates the totality of existence better than any other. This sums up life's dizzying highs and its depressing lows. This lyric is every girl who's ever broken your heart. This lyric is finding ten bucks behind the couch. This lyric is dipping a biscuit into your cup of tea and having it break off and sink to the bottom. This lyric is the first sip of water after a long hike in the middle of summer. This lyric is peeing your pants in front of your classmates. This lyric is the time you fought the bully and won. This lyric is your grandmother's funeral. This lyric is a New Year's Eve kiss. This lyric is falling off the skateboard and grazing your knee. This lyric is putting sunglasses on your dog and laughing at how much he looks like a human being. This lyric is finding out there is no such thing as the Easter Bunny. This lyric is an electric blanket on subzero nights. This lyric is seeing your parents cry. This lyric is sucking the helium out of a balloon. This lyric is cancer. This lyric is the day you removed the training wheels from your bike. This lyric is a three-hour lecture on something you don't care about, like quantum physics or politics in Lichtenstein. This lyric is coffee with an old friend on Sunday morning. This lyric is "I think we should start seeing other people." This lyric is the smell of a library with heritage status. This lyric is your first trip to the dentist. This lyric is soft-serve ice cream from McDonald's. This lyric is the reason you check your closet before you go to sleep at night. This lyric is racing out of bed on Christmas morning and stubbing your toe on the way to the tree. This lyric is everyone you've ever known, and everything you could possibly be.    

Friday, October 4, 2013

My 10 Favourite Directors

There comes a time in every film buff's life where the emphasis shifts from favourite actors to favourite directors. When you're a kid, you get to know certain actors (especially comedic ones) and you seek out their work because it brings a smile to your face. As you get older and your appreciation for the film medium increases, actors take the back seat and you become fascinated with directors. Of course, this only applies to people with a serious interest in film. For many people, the names Akira Kurosawa and Raja Gosnell mean the same thing. But for those of us who truly cherish cinema, directors are serious business, and we cling to our favourites with boundless love and endless appreciation. The 10 directors featured in this post mean a lot to me. Their work has touched me in profound ways, and has often challenged me emotionally and intellectually. These ten people are/were masters of their craft, and the cultural sphere has been bettered by their presence.

Before I begin my countdown, here are 20 honourable mentions (in alphabetical order)—directors whose work is extremely worthwhile, but who fell short of my top 10:

* Pedro Almodóvar
* Noah Baumbach
* John Cassavetes
* Sofia Coppola
* Wes Craven
Alfonso Cuarón
* Clint Eastwood
* William Friedkin
* Jim Jarmusch
Krzysztof Kieślowski 
* Richard Linklater
* Terrence Malick
* Sam Mendes 
* Roman Polanski
* Michael Powell
* Rob Reiner
* Martin Scorsese
* Andrei Tarkovsky
François Truffaut
* Lars von Trier

10. Steve McQueen

Why I love him: McQueen has only made three feature films—Hunger, Shame and 12 Years a Slave. I have only seen the first two, but those were enough to convince me that this man is something extraordinary. McQueen's background in art and design means that his films are visual feasts. He knows how to create mood, and he can destroy you with a single image. He understands that sad stories don't need to be sensationalised. In other hands, his films would be hokey tear-jerkers, but McQueen knows how to subtly convey human tragedy. At only 43 years of age, this man has the potential to go down as one of the greatest directors who ever lived. 

Top two films:
2. Hunger (2008)
1. Shame (2011)

The master at work:

9. Alexander Payne

Why I love him: You may recall that my favourite film genre is the dramedy (drama + comedy). I believe few writer-directors have mastered this genre as well as Alexander Payne. Payne earns his spot as my ninth favourite director because he is wonderful at developing characters. His characters are never archetypal or stereotypical. They have virtues and flaws, and you spend most of the film trying to figure out whether or not you like someone. His films are rarely laugh-out-loud funny. They're funny in the way the people in your life are funny. When you talk to your friends, there is no camera on any of you. You make each other laugh, but you're never performing. It's organic joviality. Payne is an expert at conveying pathos. There's a scene in Sideways where Paul Giamatti's character describes the Pinot Noir grape to a woman he has romantic feelings for (Virginia Madsen). If you listen closely, you'll notice he's not only talking about the grape; he's describing himself, too.       

Top three films:
3. Election (1999)
2. The Descendants (2011)
1. Sideways (2004)

The master at work:

8. Paul Thomas Anderson

Why I love him: The first word that pops into my mind when I hear the name 'Paul Thomas Anderson' is "immersive". His films pull you into a unique world, or lure you into a particular disposition. I believe he is incapable of making a bad film. Hard Eight is the only Anderson film I haven't seen. Everything else—Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love, There Will Be Blood and The Master—ranges from quite good to brilliant. He is skilled at getting stellar performances out of his actors. Adam Sandler hit a level we had never seen from him before in Punch-Drunk Love. Daniel Day-Lewis and Joaquin Phoenix gave powerhouse performances in There Will Be Blood and The Master, respectively. Anderson is a precocious talent who has achieved more in 17 years than most directors achieve in a lifetime. 

Top three films:
3. There Will Be Blood (2007)
2. Magnolia (1999)
1. Boogie Nights (1997)

The master at work:

7. Woody Allen

Why I love him: Where do I begin? Here is a man who makes one film per year because he's afraid inaction will kill him. He has a very pragmatic approach to filmmaking. He doesn't strive to make good pictures. He shoots scenes depending on what is easiest, not what is best from an artistic standpoint. He hates change and unfamiliar surroundings. He CAN'T STAND the country (especially at night). He doesn't watch his own films and believes awards are meaningless because we will all be dead one day. He doesn't give many instructions to his cast and crew, and has a reputation for being one of the most laid-back directors of all time. He loves New York City more than you love anything. He's made several average-to-bad films, but he's made just enough outstanding ones to earn a place on this list and in my heart. 

Top three films:
3. Match Point (2005)
2. Annie Hall (1977)
1. Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)

The master at work:

6. David Fincher

Why I love him: It's very difficult to write about David Fincher because he doesn't have the consistency that other directors do with themes and style. He moves from film to film and seems to reinvent himself with each one. Generally speaking, he is fond of dark colour tones and he often constructs universes where cynicism reigns supreme. What's interesting about Fincher is how he can appease both mainstream film audiences and arthouse enthusiasts. His films are made with a beautiful balance of work and play. They're never too cerebral and never superficial. 

Top three films:
3. Se7en (1995)
2. The Social Network (2010)
1. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

The master at work (CONTAINS SPOILERS):

5. Michael Haneke

Why I love him: In my opinion, Haneke understands the dark impulses of humanity better than any director working today. He does not shy away from making an audience uncomfortable, and I would guess that he even gets a kick out of it. Haneke's Funny Games (1997) is still the most disturbing film I have ever seen. It made me feel hopeless and nasty. Haneke believes American cinema is responsible for the "dis-empowerment of the spectator," which is perhaps why his films are so involving. He is known for including long gaps of silence in his films. These may sound like tranquil reprieves on the surface, but they only make the viewing experience more unsettling. I have found myself saying "I can't believe he went there..." when watching Haneke's films, so I have learnt to abandon all expectations. A Haneke film is one of the most exciting, unpredictable things you can experience in this world. This man goes where others fear to tread. 

Top three films:
3. Funny Games (1997)
2. The Seventh Continent (1989)
1. Caché (Hidden) (2005) 

The master at work:

4. David Lynch

Why I love him: Lynch is all about blurring the line between fantasy and reality. He is about dreams and nightmares. He exposes the murkiness beneath all things that are seemingly idyllic. To call him a director does not do him justice. He is a Creative Person. Other than film, he dabbles in music and the visual arts. Of course, he is also responsible for the TV show Twin Peaks. Lynch's films are designed to stay with you. They will haunt your mind when you're in the shower, stuck in traffic, or waiting in line at the grocery store one week later. The film that best realises his artistic vision is 2006's Inland Empire, one of the most frightening films ever made. It's not my favourite, though. That distinction goes to the hauntingly beautiful Mulholland Drive, a film that will have you scratching your head until your scalp bleeds. Everyone needs some Lynch in their life. You may not like it, but I can almost guarantee you won't hate it. One last suggestion: watch his films at night, preferably after midnight. 

Top three films (not definitive; I find it really tough to rank his films):
3. Eraserhead (1977)
2. Blue Velvet (1986)
1. Mulholland Dr. (2001) 

The master at work:

3. Stanley Kubrick

Why I love him: This man was all about perfectionism. Rumour has it that Kubrick took 127 takes of the baseball bat scene in The Shining. This is denied by Steadicam operator Garrett Brown and assistant editor Gordon Stainforth. However, Brown says the scene where Hallorann explains to Danny what "shining" is was shot 148 times, which would make it a world record. Kubrick was a sucker for symmetry. His hallway scenes were always entrancing, and his set design was endlessly exquisite. He did a lot of genre-hopping in his time. He made some war films (such as Paths of Glory and Full Metal Jacket), a horror film (The Shining). a groundbreaking science-fiction film (2001: A Space Odyssey), an epic historical drama (Spartacus), a period piece (Barry Lyndon), a black comedy (Dr. Strangelove), and an erotic mystery-thriller (Eyes Wide Shut), among other concoctions. His influence on the field is indescribable, and he produced one of the most consistent bodies of work of any director who has ever lived. I believe he was the first person who I called "my favourite director". He has since slipped down to position no. 3, but I will always love him for his contributions to cinema, especially for The Shining—one of the first films to make me realise how exciting it is to be scared by moving pictures.

Top three films: 
3. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
2. Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
1. The Shining (1980)

The master at work:


2. Alfred Hitchcock

Why I love him: If you've never seen a Hitchcock film, stop reading this post immediately. I want you to go and watch Rear Window right now. I don't care how you obtain it. Just watch it (then come back and read the rest of this post). The Master of Suspense clocks in at no. 2 on this list because I'm yet to see a film of his that I haven't liked. That's pretty great going, considering I've seen 10 of his films. If you're a regular reader of my blog, you'd have read this before, but it bears repeating: Hitchcock once made a distinction between surprise and suspense. Surprise is when a bomb goes off under a table. Suspense is knowing a bomb will go off under a table, but not knowing when. In Hitchcock's films, the proverbial bomb was always under the table, and we never knew when it would explode. He had an impeccable understanding of how to pace a film so as to involve an audience. The action always unfolded at the perfect speed—not slow enough to bore you, and not fast enough to befuddle or encourage anticlimax. As creepy as his films often were, he always softened the intensity with comic relief. The man knew how to write snappy dialogue. Consider this line from Vertigo: "Only one is a wanderer; two together are always going somewhere." He has had an immense impact on popular culture, and I think it will be a long while until we see another director who fascinates the general public as intensely. Alfred Hitchcock is one of those directors whom even casual filmgoers can name off the tops of their heads. 

Top three films: 
3. Vertigo (1958)
2. Psycho (1960)
1. Rear Window (1954)  

The master at work:

1. Ingmar Bergman

Why I love him: It saddens me that so many people—even film-savvy people—don't really know much about Bergman. They've heard the name a million times, but they can't put a face to it, and they might name two of his films if they're lucky. Then I remember that I was that person until last year. The reason Bergman isn't talked about as much as he should be is because he was a recluse. He saw making films as a catharsis. The Swede is known for his grim subject matter such as death, loneliness, betrayal and insanity, and these dark themes turn a lot of people off his films. I consider his exploration of these themes quite liberating, myself. He had a way of phrasing things I have always felt but have never known how to express. I'm surprised he wasn't a psychologist in his spare time. There is an honesty in his dialogue that is delicately painful. I have noticed a series of what I call "Bergmanesque insults" which characterise his films. A textbook example is "Your callousness is perverse" from Through a Glass Darkly. There are no obligatory niceties or fancy turns of phrase. That is a strong, direct insult that cuts deep in the psyche of whomever it is aimed at. Bergman became my favourite director after I watched Winter Light in April earlier this year. That was very apt, considering Bergman once said, "I think I have made just one picture that I really like, and that is Winter Light." Every frame in a Bergman film is crafted with loving expertise, thanks largely to the skilled camerawork of Sven Nykvist. Any primitives who say "Black and white films are boring" should watch a Bergman film and see the way he works with light. Bergman worked closely with actresses Harriet AnderssonLiv UllmannBibi Andersson, and Ingrid Thulin. These women were his muses, and he could draw phenomenal performances from them with very little effort. Bergman believed that the close-up of a human face was the height of cinematography. He was fascinated with faces and I would pay to listen in on a conversation between him and John Cassavetes about the power of the human face in conveying information. Lastly, if you haven't read this Bergman quote before, you're in for something special:

"Film as dream, film as music. No form of art goes beyond ordinary consciousness as film does, straight to our emotions, deep into the twilight room of the soul. A little twitch in our optic nerve, a shock effect: twenty-four illuminated frames in a second, darkness in between, the optic nerve incapable of registering darkness. At the editing table, when I run the strip of film through, frame by frame, I still feel that dizzy sense of magic of my childhood: in the darkness of the wardrobe, I slowly wind one frame after another, see almost imperceptible changes, wind faster — a movement."

Top three films:
3. Wild Strawberries (1957)
2. Winter Light (1963)
1. Fanny and Alexander (1982)

The master at work:

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

September 2013 Film Wrap-Up

Happy-Go-Lucky (Mike Leigh, 2008) = 3.5/5

This was only my second Mike Leigh film, following the unforgettably brilliant Naked. It features marvellous performances from Sally Hawkins and Eddie Marsan. There's no distinct plot, so the film is characterised by free-flowing slices of life. This makes the film feel too fragmented, but it is definitely worth a watch. Oh, and if you love your films injected with quirk, you'll adore this.

Dead Ringers (David Cronenberg, 1988) = 4/5

It took me a while, but I finally got around to seeing a Cronenberg film. I had hesitated because I didn't think his unique brand of "body horror" would appeal to me. Well, Dead Ringers only features a tiny bit of what I would call "body horror". It's mostly a bizarre psychosexual drama that blurs the line between fantasy and reality. Jeremy Irons is fantastic playing twin gynecologists, and I found the film oddly touching. It made me want to see more Cronenberg!  

Freaks (Tod Browning, 1932) = 3.5/5

I don't think I will ever see another film like Freaks, and yet it didn't entirely win me over. It feels ahead of its time, but also rather dated, if that makes sense. Much of the appeal lies in the depiction of everyday circus life. What makes the film truly memorable is that Browning chose to cast real sideshow performers. He did away with costumes and makeup and instead called on people with actual physical deformities to play the eponymous "freaks". 

A Woman Under the Influence (John Cassavetes, 1974) = 5/5

As you will see later in this post, I watched a few Cassavetes films this month. Prior to this, I had only seen the solid but flawed Opening Night, and the irritating, draining Faces. I was beginning to think Cassavetes was not for me, which was a notion I didn't like because the man's work ethic and beliefs about the filmmaking process really appeal to me. But then I watched this one Friday night and I was blown away. This is Cassavetes' masterpiece, and everyone with a serious interest in film should see it. The performance by Gena Rowlands is frighteningly authentic. She reaches a whole new level of being here. Peter Falk is also fantastic. Richard Dreyfuss once described this film as "the most incredible, disturbing, scary, brilliant, dark, sad, depressing movie," and confessed that it made him vomit (in a good way, of course). Please, see this film.

Wonder Boys (Curtis Hanson, 2000) = 3.5/5

The plotting feels too deliberate and the characters just aren't likable enough. Still, it manages to be immersive with its darkly comic mood. It could have been so much more, though. I feel as though talent was wasted here. I contend that this is the archetypal "year 2000" movie. It wants to be really edgy but it can never escape its trappings as a drama about a washed-up writer. It also features the most cringeworthy final shot in the history of cinema. My really shows its age in that moment.   

Martyrs (Pascal Laugier, 2008) = 1.5/5

Seriously, just no. I hated this movie and its gratuitous self-indulgence. Martyrs is that kid in art class who draws a black square and tries to convince everyone of some outlandish underlying meaning. I was really expecting to like this, considering I loved Inside, another film belonging to the New French Extremity movement. Excessive gore isn't the problem. Excessive gore oozing from the wounds of boring characters trapped in a preposterous plot is the problem. Maybe the hype killed it for me, or maybe it really is that bad. 

Radio Days (Woody Allen, 1987) = 3.5/5

I've watched so many Woody Allen films now that I know where certain works will fit in his oeuvre. I knew Radio Days would be good but not great, and that's exactly what it was. The characters are mostly boring and the subject matter won't mean as much to anyone as it does to Allen. Still, this manages to be a funny nostalgia piece.  

The Lady Vanishes (Alfred Hitchcock, 1938) = 4/5

Oh how I love movies that are set almost entirely on a train! I was actually disappointed that Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train (1951) didn't feature more train scenes. In The Lady Vanishes, Hitchcock prioritises wit over suspense and it works. The dialogue is snappy and it has aged very well. This is the second-last film Hitchcock made in the UK before his move to the United States. 

Vivre Sa Vie (Jean-Luc Godard, 1962) = 3.5/5

This was just my second Godard film, after the impressive and groundbreaking Breathless. I didn't like this one as much as the first, but it still contains plenty of things to admire. Despite characters whom are not easy to warm to and a plot that meanders, the film is saved by thought-provoking dialogue, stunning cinematography and a nice score. I can definitely say I have a love/hate relationship with Mr. Godard. 

Zodiac (David Fincher, 2007) = 4/5

I finally got around to this atmospheric mystery-thriller from one of my favourite directors. It's not Fincher's best, but it's still a great offering. It's a moody cat-and-mouse game featuring well-drawn characters. It is hampered by being too long, but when those end credits roll, you feel as though you have walked out of the darkness and into the light. Fincher traps you inside this picture. In my opinion, it's the film that confirms his auteur status. 

Celeste & Jesse Forever (Lee Toland Krieger, 2012) = 3.5/5

I don't watch that many romantic comedies, but then again, calling this film a "romantic comedy" would be cheapening it with a label. It begins with forced quirkiness, but it wins you over with realism as it progresses. Great characters and a well-written script transcend a clunky plot. 

Inland Empire (David Lynch, 2006) = 4.5/5


Blue Jasmine (Woody Allen, 2013) = 4/5

When I saw Woody Allen's To Rome with Love last year, I stated in my review that the veteran's career would not be sunk by one dud of a film. And that's exactly what To Rome with Love was—a tired, half-hearted dud. Thankfully, my suspicions were confirmed with Blue Jasmine: one of the strongest films Allen has made in the past 15 years. Many would declare that that's no mean feat, as Allen hasn't produced many quality films in that period of time. That's not my point. My point is that this 77-year-old man, who could happily retire if he wanted to, has salvaged the willpower to follow a stinker (To Rome with Love) with a very solid picture in Blue Jasmine. It shows that he cares, and that he isn't just making films "because he can". Blue Jasmine is by no means a perfect film, nor one that will blow you away (unless there's some personal resonance with the characters). Rather, it's a tight, well-executed film that doesn't waste time in saying what it has to say. You can read my full review here.

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (John Cassavetes, 1976) = 3.5/5

Cassavetes' sleazy gangster film is tastefully moody, but the final product is too uneven. This is a strange, hard-to-classify film. There is a lot of dialogue, and it all feels natural (duh...Cassavetes), but much of it does not advance the story. I might have to check out the 108-minute edited cut one day! Also, why don't more people talk about how great an actor Ben Gazzara was? 

Pretty in Pink (Howard Deutch, 1986) = 4/5

I can't believe I waited this long to check out this iconic 80s gem. The general consensus on the Internet is that it is very weak compared to other 80s teen films that John Hughes either wrote or directed (or both). I strongly disagree and think this is right up there with the best works of that niche. This is more than cheap nostalgia. It's a sweet, quietly touching film with enough truisms to fill a prom dance floor. Also, while I have your attention, how about you listen to the song below while you read the rest of this post? It's one of my favourite 80s tunes from one of my favourite bands (don't you DARE call OMD a one-hit wonder!), and it really helps the film in its climactic scene.

Shadows (John Cassavetes, 1959) = 4/5

This is where it all started for Cassavetes—an improvised black-and-white film that was released as a creative accident. It was originally conceived as a learning exercise amongst Cassavetes and his buddies at acting school. They filmed a whole bunch of footage with no plot in mind. Cassavetes wrote the script AFTER the film's production, and that was only for copyright reasons. How refreshing it was to see a film where characters speak the way real people do! It's a milestone American indie film about interracial relationships, electrified by a pulsating jazz score.

The Crash Reel (Lucy Walker, 2013) = 4/5

I am not a fan of snowboarding, let alone winter sports. My friend Chloe-Amanda strongly encouraged me to check out this documentary and, well, it was actually a decent film. It gets a bit mawkish and exploitative at times, but it's ultimately a worthwhile examination of the battle between head and heart.

Kes (Ken Loach, 1969) = 4.5/5

My first film from Ken Loach, the English director known for his social realist style of filmmaking. It's about a working-class boy in England who finds and trains a pet falcon (kestrel, to be precise) as his only solace from a rough life of bullying. There's beauty to the cruelty, and sweetness in the sadness. If blood is thicker than water, feathers are thicker than blood.

Sunset Boulevard (Billy Wilder, 1950) = 4.5/5

Perhaps the greatest film about Hollywood ever made. Actually, Lynch's Mulholland Dr. is the only other film I've seen that addresses the myth of Hollywood so competently. This is a compelling character study dealing with chronic disillusionment. The performance by Gloria Swanson is something to behold. 

In Summary - The Must-See Films (4.5 or 5 Stars)

* A Woman Under the Influence
* Inland Empire
* Kes
* Sunset Boulevard