BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW (2010)
I love this movie. I love this movie, I love this movie, I love this movie. I love its colors and its shapes, its oppressive geometry and soul-crushing reds. I love its sound, the soundtrack by Sinoia Caves burning into my brain and staying there forever. I love its villain, a man-shaped hatred in a plasticky skinsuit and a wig that may as well be carved from wood. I love its story of structure and ideology that seeps from the screen in dialogue-minimal scenes of visual storytelling. I love the metaphors built into the reflective walls of the facility itself. When I first watched this, I liked it well enough. I didn't know if I'd watch it again but it was good. And then I couldn't stop thinking about it. Now I have no idea how many times I've seen it, and where I was once unsure about calling Beyond the Black Rainbow a good movie, now I'm comfortable calling it its own little unique perfection. Nothing else will ever feel like Beyond the Black Rainbow again. A tragedy, maybe, but it's the roses that don't grow that make the rose that grows special(?).
GOOD TIME (2017)
This. Movie. Is. Sweat. It's a panic attack starring Robert Pattinson. It's running and thinking on your feet and trying not to get caught. It's an all-night scramble for money that flings its main character from location to location, scurrying from the bright light of White Castles and hospitals as he tries desperately to protect his brother. He is a hypocrite, and a liar, and not a good dude. But he loves his brother, and that can't be denied. So his desperate, foolish plans drag us along for the ride, because we want to see Connie's brother get what's best for him. Unfortunately, the best thing for him is for Connie to be far away from him. If only Connie had seen that earlier.
DEAD MAN (1995)
Dead Man feels like poetry. Each scene fades in and out from black like the spaces between stanzas, its slow and methodical pace brings out the art in every shot, its fluid path makes it feel almost mystical. After getting shot, a man named after William Blake is escorted by a native man named Nobody on his path to death. The film follows them through a country at war with itself; settlers, natives, and the wild and untamed nature that splits them. Its realistic view on the west is unfortunately unique in a genre that usually romanticizes and sucks all complexity out of a time of strife and conflict; it's unique as well in its use of real and untranslated Cree and Blackfoot language used by several characters. Accompanied by a mix of acoustic and electric guitar by Neil Young, its black-and-white photography is simply stunning. The path of death unmakes William Blake and the film unmakes the western genre in a way that feels more real than what any other western has done, and its quiet lyricism is one I'll return to again and again.
EVIL DEAD II (1987)
I think that if you're going to call something "one of the best of the medium," it has to make great use of something unique to that medium. I think the best painting has to use brush strokes in a way you can't replicate with charcoal, and the best novel is prose you can't write in song. So with that criteria, what makes movies unique? I think it could be best described as "perspective." A play for instance has motion, time, place, angle, but the director can't control those things. It moves in real-time, locked into specific places, and the audience always views from the same angle. With film, the director can do anything with your perspective. They can move forwards and backwards in time at will, the space can continuously change, the camera can be moved in so many ways to change the angle. In that context, I feel confident saying that "Evil Dead II" is one of the best films of the medium. No other movie has ever used the camera like it has. It's constantly surprising and creative. The camera moves at speeds and angles I've never seen in another film. At times the camera is in itself a character in the scene. It's startling even after watching it so many times, it gets funnier every time too. Some of the best physical comedy exists in the middle of this movie's horror, and nearly every horror trick from throughout film history is used pitch-perfectly. Like, seriously, honestly. I'm arguing that Evil Dead II is one of the best movies ever. Fight me on it.
GREENER GRASS (2019)
It's been a while since I watched a movie and it immediately became one of my favorites. Greener Grass is something so independent, something so unique, that I feel almost lucky to have been able to see it. It's a movie unlike anything else. It's hilarious, and has several scenes that make me laugh out loud. It's uncomfortable, and has things that just make me sad. And it's familiar, with so many of its reflections of suburban American life ringing true to anyone who has experienced it. Everything's presented so nice and clean yet violence and murder lie just outside the story's edge. It's concerned with America's settler mindset, of the country being a thing to conquer, and to conquer means to best everyone around you. In a hyper-individual world where everyone competes with everyone, it's ironic that everyone ends up looking the same and acting the same; we're all just trying to be each other, but better. I can't think of an image in film that hit me so vitally and so accurately as every adult in Greener Grass wearing braces. Remember, your smile has to outshine everyone else's.
I don't think I'd call Eraserhead my favorite movie. If given the chance there's maybe dozens of things I'd choose to watch first. But Eraserhead is the only movie I've ever watched where the first thought in my head when the credits rolled was That was the best film I've ever seen in my life. I was already kind of familiar with David Lynch's work before watching, so I was familiar with his brand of symbolism and visual punnery. Whereas some of Lynch's other work just baffled me through multiple viewings, Eraserhead somehow hit me straight on and left no questions. I felt like I understood its metaphors and imagery on a subconscious level, like poetry itself was woven into its scenery and I knew all the right words. It just clicked. I've never had an experience like it before or since and I never will. And if any other movie gives me that same thought that Eraserhead did, hell, I'll be surprised.
THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (2014)
The only complaint I've heard about The Grand Budapest Hotel is that it's style over substance. And all I can think is dude, we're talking about art, style is substance. And The Grand Budapest Hotel is damn substantial. In any of the most well-shot movies I've seen, I think this is the only one I've seen where nearly every single frame could be hung on a wall on its own and still stand on its own as a piece of art. It's a movie that grabs my attention from the first second and never lets it go. It's a fun ride, it's a meditation on travel and a changing world and the melancholy nature of storytelling, it's simply gorgeous. If I could buy a frame on my wall that just plays this movie 24/7 I'd buy it.
THE HIT (1984)
I don't know if Tarantino has seen The Hit but I'd bet money he has. A gangster road trip movie where a man on the way to his execution discusses life, death, and Zen with his captors, The Hit feels so light and so heavy at the same time, so bright and dark simultaneously. The violence inherent in the trip is contrasted with the calm of the Spanish countryside, and as the captive smiles and philosophizes it's easy to forget he's not in control. The performances are all sublime (Tim Roth's first film, more evidence for Tarantino fandom) and its characters feel real and unique. The views on life they espouse are easy to understand even if you disagree, and the respect and understanding that blossoms between assassin and target is so intriguing to see. I've only ever heard one person mention this movie and it was the person who recommended it to me, so I'd say it's pretty underrated. Check it out!
Zodiac is perfect. Some people are stingy with the word "perfect." I'm not. But even if I wasn't, I'd still have to describe Zodiac as perfect. There's not a single flaw in this film, there's not one thing it could've done better. It's perfect. The cinematography, the editing, the storytelling, it's all perfect. Fincher made Jake Gyllenhaal throw his drawings on the car seat like 2,000 times and it shows because it lands perfectly. It's an incredible portrayal of the fear and paranoia of the Zodiac years and the confusions and dead ends that led it down so many strange paths. It's an incredible portrayal of the aspects of the case that compel people even today to drive themselves crazy trying to solve it. And while, like in real life, the film can't give a solid final answer on the Zodiac case, it's able to find a satisfying conclusion to Gyllenhaal's obsession. I don't know what else to say really. Perfect?