Part 4 of a new series – each Film & Media teacher will list their favourite films and explain why. What better recommendation for all film students than an amazing selection of films from film teachers?
Part 4 is brought to you by Nicki Komorowski.
Lost in Translation (Coppola, 2003, US) – Hands down, my favourite film. And the director is a woman. The film has empathetic characters with an enigmatic, undefinable chemistry developing a relationship against a backdrop of the beauty and chaos of Tokyo with cultural misconceptions and an unforgettable karaoke sequence. In the final sequence, Coppola reduces the dialogue to simply a whispered undecipherable murmur and denies the audience a chance to earwig on the conversation. It’s their moment, we’re not allowed to truly spy on them which reminds us that we are not entitled to know the heart and mind of any screen characters. It’s in what is not said, the pauses, the looks, the performance. Oh yes, and it helps that it stars Bill Murray and Scarlet Johansson!
Amores Perros (Inarritu, Mexico, 2000) – Before there was ‘Babel’, ‘Birdman’ and The Revenant, there was ‘Amores Perros’, Inarritu’s first feature length anthology film set in a violent underworld of Mexico City. It is gritty, bloody and realistic, focusing on the lives of three characters who are linked by an opening car crash and causing some outrage as the dog fighting scenes have been deemed to be too graphic (although no dogs were harmed in the shooting of this film). The narrative weaves backwards and forwards to reveal each individual as morally suspect, but you can’t help but warm to their lives and loves. As one of the self-proclaimed ‘Three Amigos’ (he is best friends with Alfonso Cuaron and Guillermo Del Toro), Inarritu works primarily outside of Mexico these days, but his debut movie is poignant … love can really be a bitch at times (ok, it’s not an exact translation of the title, but it’s close enough).
The Breakfast Club (Hughes, US, 1985) – The Brat Pack, young, wealthy and partying hard! What is not to like about this film set during a Saturday detention where five stock teen film characters have to write an essay about themselves, look beneath the surface and connect with each other on a different level? The film tackles so many teen issues, arguably superficially, but it does bring them to the fore. And social boundaries/cliques are crossed, even if poor old Brian has to write the essay for everyone in the end! The soundtrack is immediately recognisable and made bigger stars of their young cast. Although I will always be upset by the fact that Ally Sheedy has her black eyeliner removed to attract the jock!
Alien (Scott, 1979) – I am not a lover of horror, but Scott’s film, with its strong, resolute hero, Ripley, the kick arse woman who is not defined by the men around her, resonates with me even today. Even though it is essentially a haunted house narrative (albeit set in space), t’s aesthetically intricate with the grungey and industrial off-Earth set and alien design by Swiss artist H. R. Giger. Dare I say it’s a beautiful but terrifying film? I just did.
Beetlejuice (Burton, US, 1988) – In fairness, I could have put any Tim Burton film here, and even as I write this I am doubting my choice rather than ‘Edward Scissorhands’ or ‘Sleepy Hollow’ as my decision is based on the same thing: Burton’s style. His auteur status is undeniable. Dark, quirky, gothic fantasy, his tales bring an other worldliness to life. In this comedy horror, Beetlejuice is an obnoxious, devious ghost who tries to manipulate a newly deceased couple to scare a family out of ‘his’ house. The exaggerated characters, outlandish costumes and extreme set design influenced by German Expressionism, make this film, and his others, a true visual spectacle.
Cry Baby (Walters, US 1990) – Teen musical romantic gold with a ‘singing’ Johnny Depp before Captain Jack Sparrow starring alongside a young Ricki Lake paying homage to teen films like ‘Rebel Without A Cause’, ‘West Side Story’ and ‘Grease’. With classic lines such as ‘you may look like a square, but inside you are hip’, ‘we’ll get married and live in Suburbia’ and ‘Uncle Belvedere, you’ve made me the happiest juvenile delinquent in Baltimore, ’ Walters dialogue challenges and plays with his audience and his characters as extreme versions of stock teen film characters. It’s fun, cheesy and a chance to revel in the fact that love transcends all barriers (in teen film).
Black Narcissus (Powell and Pressburger, UK, 1947) – I wanted to put Brief Encounter, but David beat me to it. However, this film is filled with similar tensions and is beautifully shot; both the cinematography and art direction won Academy Awards. The film was shot in vibrant colour and revolved around the growing growing tensions within a small convent of Anglican nuns who are trying to establish a school and hospital in an old palace on an isolated mountain above a fertile valley in the Himalayas. One of the lasting shots for me is in the final segments as Sister Clodagh rings the bell high above the mountain range, the drop in itself is devastating. But it is the use of shadows heavily thrown across Sister Ruth’s face as she descends into madness that haunts me as her intensity is only heightened through the manipulation of light.
Into The Wild (Penn, US, 2007) – I couldn’t choose a documentary so I chose this film instead: a biographical drama. ‘Into The Wild’ is adapted from a book of the same name that tells the story of Christopher McCandless, a man who hiked across America and into the Alaskan wilderness in the early 1990s. It’s a road trip movie, revealed in a series of flashbacks, with a soundtrack written and recorded by Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam. It’s a perfect combination for me!
Joker – (Philips, 2019, US) – I am not a fan of superhero movies or films that feature characters that have spilled from the pages of comics, but Joker is different for me for two main reasons. One, it’s an interesting character study, an up-close exploration of Arthur Fleck’s descent into madness. And two, it stars, Joaquin Pheonix with a brilliant and engaging performance. He’s one of my ‘go to’ actors whether it is a role in ‘Her’ or ‘Walk The Line.’
The Dark Crystal (Henson, 1982, US) – Ok, a film with puppets. But not any old puppets. The Muppet Show was part of my Sunday night viewing as a child, and although Henson’s puppet creations in ‘The Dark Crystal’ are a far cry from Kermit and Miss Piggy, I fell in love with the dark fairy tale aesthetic, the creatures from an unknown time seeking to fulfil a prophesy to right the wrong in their world. The family entertainment I loved as a child was dark (‘Watership Down’ anyone?!), but it is the other worldliness of the mise-en-scene that I adored. Science Fiction and Fantasy films often have to build diegesis that not only can we escape to, but also recognise: homes, transport, language for example drawing from a wide range of sources for material. No, I didn’t and don’t identify as a Skesis or a Mystic, or even a Gelfling and I know the Garthim don’t exist, but it was fun believing they could for a while.
Honorable Mentions: Blade Runner, Once Were Warriors, St Elmo’s Fire, Rebel Without A Cause, Brief Encounter, Girl Interrupted, Melancholia, Blue Valentine, Donnie Darko, Hero, Eternal Sunshine of A Spotless Mind, Lord of the Rings (animation).