Feature Blogs

My Imaginary Film Festival


As I promised last week, I'm about to take a look at my favourite 10 films from the past 1,100 reviews (almost 7 years).  This was a tough list.  I've only awarded 30 films an A+ rating so I had to refine that list even further and it wasn't easy.  In fact, I've given myself a little slack and included 11 films below.  They are in alphabetical order because when films get this good, I think it's unfair to differentiate.  All these films must (and I repeat must) be seen.  Here we go:



American Beauty

Released: January 26, 2000

When Did I First See It:  January 21, 2000 at 6:40pm at the old Greater Union City Cinemas.


You see a street that looks like any other street.  Look closer.  You see a man who's hardly there.  Look closer.  Look closer.  Look closer.  With a balanced mix of both comedy and drama, this film manages to make us think about life and how "beautiful" it is.  All the characters are nuts and yet we can understand what they're going through which makes it feel so special.  In such a sort space of time, the film has become an enigma with make copy-cat films trying to revive the feel.  They have failed.


There's an abundance of great scenes and lines I could single out.  When the "psycho next door" Ricky Fitts keeps appearing from nowhere and is obsessing over Jane with his videocamera.  When Lester is sitting at the dinner table and asked about his day - "Today I quit my job.  Then I blackmailed my boss for almost $60,000.  Pass the asparagus."  When Lester is working at Mr Smiley's and sees his wife with her lover drive up to the drive-thru window.  When Angela and Lester bicker constantly at the dinner table and in bed.  My favourite line has to be the catchphrase spoken by Ricky - "sometimes there's so much beauty in the world, I feel like I can't take it."


It was director Sam Mendes' first film and he's since gone on to make The Road To Perdition.  It was writer Alan Ball's first film and he's since gone on to make the TV show Six Feet Under.  These achievements prove that American Beauty was no one hit wonder.  The film was a shoe-in for every major award winning both the Oscar and the Golden Globe.  Nothing else stood a chance.



Being John Malkovich

Released: December 26, 1999

When Did I First See It:  December 19, 1999 at 6:30pm at the Village Twin New Farm.


An absolutely insane film.  Craig Schwartz is very good at filing and is working at a job on floor seven and a half of an office building.  Behind a filing cabinet, he finds a doorway that is portal into the mind of John Malkovich.  That's only the start of things to come.  This is the most unpredictible film I can imagine.  Just when you think you've seen it all, the film changes tangents and I don't know how writer Charlie Kaufman wrote this madness.


It look a long time to convince Malkovich to take the leading role.  If he refused, they were going to offer it to Steve Buscemi.  Somehow Being Steve Buscemi doesn't have the same ring to it.  I love the whole film but the nice twist in the final 3 minutes was the icing on the cake.  Those closing credits underwater to the music of Carter Burwell is hypnotic.  I can remember sitting in the cinema feeling both drained and stunned.


As I type, I'm looking at an original poster from the film on my wall and just behind me on the shelf is the DVD which has received a lot of use.  Even the trailers and TV ads were original.  In America, the film was promoted with fake infomercial adds asking the question - "Ever wanted to be someone else?  Now you can!  Call JM Enterprises today!"  Nominated for 3 Oscars but missed out - probably because of a lack of star power and commercialism.



Billy Elliot

Released: November 2, 2000

When Did I First See It:  October 29, 2000 at 6:50pm at AMC Stafford City.


This is easily the best feel good movie I have seen.  It found its place in the heart of everyone thanks to the amazing first-time performance from Jamie Bell in the title role.  A poor kid from a working-class mining town in England discovers he has a knack for ballet and makes it his passion.  Against all the odds, he succeeds.  But there's an added senitmentality to the film as his story inspires his local community and then brings them back down when he leaves their lives and heads to ballet school.  That scene late in the film with Julie Walters standing on her own in the boxing hall is one of my all-time favourites.


At the British Academy Awards, 12-year-old Bell was nominated for best actor against Russell Crowe, Tom Hanks, Geoffrey Rush and Michael Douglas.  He won.  So too did Julie Walters for best supporting actress.  I remember the excitement this film gave me and the numerous times I was recommending it to others.  In all, I saw it 5 times at the cinema - a record for me.


I've had a quiet smirk on my face seeing Bend It Like Beckham compared as "this year's Billy Elliot".  Already, Billy's story has become the benchmark against which other English feel good flicks will be judged.  The film score was never released in Australia and I had to spend $10US on ebay acquiring it from overseas.  There's an indiciation of how strongly I feel for this film.



The Ice Storm

Released: December 26, 1997

When Did I First See It:  December 26, 1997 at 1:00pm at the Village Twin New Farm.


I can remember seeing this film on Boxing Day 1997 and being emotionally destroyed.  Few people have seen the film and it's become a personal conquest of mine to make sure people know about it.  That's where my email address comes from - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


The film stars accomplished actors from two generations - Kevin Kline, Signorney Weaver and Joan Allen from the older and Tobey Maguire, Christina Ricci and Elijah Wood from the younger.  Incidentally, this was Katie Holmes' first ever film.  Made by Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon director Ang Lee, it's set in America 1973 and a look a people exploring their sexuality.  It's very spooky and with its icy setting, shivers were sent down my spine. 


Like most films I admire, the final scene leaves the most lasting impression - Tobey Maguire getting off an overnight train to see his mum, dad and sister standing at the station.  You'll understand once you've seen it.  Sadly the film hasn't been released on DVD in Australia but video stores still stock the VHS version.  There's many hidden undertones and while we laugh, there's much pity to be felt for its characters.



Leaving Las Vegas

Released: February 29, 1996

When Did I First See It:  March 1, 1996 at 1:10pm at the Birch Carrol & Coyle Cinemas Toombul.


Nicolas Cage won the Oscar but it's been a downhill slide for him ever since.  This is certainly the most depressing film of the bunch.  It's about a guy who's life has fallen apart, so he goes to Las Vegas to drink himself to death.  He goes, drinks, drinks, drinks, night after night and yes, he dies.  But whilst he expected to be easy, it was complicated by the fact that he meets a hooker (Elizabeth Shue) who he feels a connection with.  They start seeing each other but she has to promise never to make him stop drinking.


Mike Figgis was behind the camera and the film was bypassed at the Oscars despite winning a string of lead up awards.  Like other films in my list, it was considered too arthouse to reward with film's highest honour.  Rated R for its strong sexual content, this is effectively a love story - but not a run-of-the-mill one.  Developed from a true story, it'll tear you up.


Shue and Cage share wonderful dialogue.  Ben: "I came here to drink myself to death", Sera: "How long will it take you?", Ben: "I'd say about three to four weeks".  Sera: "Is drinking a way of killing yourself?"  Ben: "Or, is killing myself a way of drinking?"




Released: March 9, 2000

When Did I First See It:  February 25, 2000 at 8:30pm at the Birch Carrol & Coyle Cinemas Indooroopilly.


Here's a really different film.  I had free tickets to a sneak at 8:30pm and expecting to be out around 10:30pm, I walked out at 11:45pm.  It's a film about a bunch of people who go about their lives only for us to find they are connected in some way.  There's a boy genius on a quiz show with an overbearing father, there's a wife who's married an old man for money and is now having regrets, there's a gay loser trying to pick up a young bartender, there's a male nurse caring for a dying man, there's a guy who hosts seminars on how men can pick up women, there's a police officer looking for love and there's a young drug addict girl coming to grips with demons from her past.


There's so many little things to appreciate about Magnolia and of all the films in my DVD collection, I've seen this one most of all.  Not a month usually go pasts before I pop it in and look at some of my favourite scenes over and over again.    It won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Festival and earned Tom Cruise an Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe victory.  It's fresh and inventive and something I'd expect from the director of Boogie Nights.


Don't let me spoil the ending which will surprise you.  It's open to interpretation too.  The music is exceptional from the opening montage to Amiee Mann's Oscar nominated song which rounds out the credits.  I love Roger Ebert's comments "Leave logic at the door. Do not expect subdued taste and restraint, but instead a kind of operatic ecstasy. At three hours it is even operatic in length, as its themes unfold, its characters strive against the dying of the light, and the great wheel of chance rolls on toward them."



Mulholland Drive

Released: January 31, 2002

When Did I First See It:  January 26, 2002 at 4:00pm at the Dendy Cinema.


I've had to send explanations to many people who have seen this film.  I don't think there is a definite answer as to what the film means but there are some answers that seem to make more sense than others.  The film is completely anti-Hollywood and in a rare event - makes you think about it and talk about it after leaving the theatre.  The admission price is well worth it even if you don't know what's going on.


It's my favourite film of the current year and a freaky one at that.  The DVD came out a few weeks ago and has some cool special features.  One is an interview where director David Lynch is quizzed by a French press guy who has absolutely no idea.  Lynch is sarcastically mocking the stupidness of his questions but the interviewer doesn't pick it up.  I'm elated to see this on the DVD as it's a great feature to add to the film's hype and mystique.


It's two and a half hours long but it'll take me even longer to explain it all to you.  So why bother?  Take the time to see it since it's so fresh on video store shelves.  And if you figure out what it all means, let me know!



The People Vs. Larry Flynt

Released: February 20, 1997

When Did I First See It:  February 20, 1997 at 9:20pm at the Birch Carroll & Coyle Cinemas Toombul.


He may be a scum bag but porn magazine creator Larry Flynt is a hero in my eyes.  He's taken on the American legal system and won.  Why has he done this?  Because he has money and "that gives him the power to shake up the system".  His magazines were supressed and a priest sued him for defamation but he's still around today and this awesome film made by Milos Foreman tells his tale.


There's a zillion quotes I'd love to list right now.  There's a scene where he tells everyone at a political rally how crazy our perseptions are in that sex is legal and can't be shown in film and yet murder is illegal and can be shown.  One of my favourite actors, Edward Norton, plays Alan Isaacman, his attorney.  The conversations between Woody Harrelson and Norton are superb.  To single out one scene, here's Isaacman's closing argument to the jury at his case before the Supreme Court - "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, you have heard a lot toady, and I'm not gonna go back over it, but you have to go into that room and make some decisions. But before you do, there's something you need to know. I am not trying to suggest that you should like what Larry Flynt does. I don't like what Larry Flynt does, but what I do like is the fact that I live in a country where you and I can make that decision for ourselves."


It's a very important film and will become more important in years to come.  I enjoy movies that end with words on the screen.  This film has some beauties before fading into the credits and the song Dream Weaver.  Awesome.



Requiem For A Dream

Released: February 8, 2001

When Did I First See It:  February 3, 2001 at 8:45pm at the Dendy Cinema.


The word hypnotic is best to describe this film.  I sat in the cinema, the film began and I lost complete track of where I was and what I was doing.  I was glued to the screen and it took me several moments outside the cinema to let it soak in and get back in touch with reality.  The film is a look at four people (Jared Leto, Jennifer Connolly, Marlon Wayans and Ellen Burstyn) and how their lives have been torn apart my drugs.  It's horrifying to endure and not for the squeemish at all.


It's a masterpiece with its artistry.  Based on a novel, I love the quote from the book they use in the film's trailer "They held each other and kissed, and pushed each others darkness into the corner, believing in each other's light, each other's dream."  Leto and Connolly are both doomed individuals but in each other they find some comfort and the strength to keep going.  Don't expect it to end happily though.


There's people thinking their refrigerators are haunted, people selling their bodies for sex, people on the run from the police and people with needle marks all up the sides of their arms.  It's the best anti-drug message possible and told in a form that will hopefully reach a wide audience.



Romeo & Juliet

Released: December 26, 1996

When Did I First See It:  December 22, 1996 at 11:00am at the Hoyts Regent.


A landmark film because it made Shakespeare stylish again.  This film capitivated audiences and I remember Margaret and David on the Movie Show both giving the film 5 stars.  Starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes (who were both relatively unknown at the time), it was a breath of fresh air for the film world.  Nothing like it had ever before been seen and how proud that an Aussie director, Baz Lurhmann was responsible.


It started like gangbusters with heaps of loud blaring music but retained the Shakespearean dialect.  The film's best scene was when Romeo and Juliet caught their first glimpse of each other at a party through a fish tank.  Romeo utters "Has my heart loved 'till now? Forswear it, sight! For I never saw a true beauty 'till this night."  The costumes, the sets, the make-up, the acting, the direction - all perfect.

It was such a gamble and it payed off with huge box-office numbers in Australia.  Lurhmann went on to use similar techniques in his award winning Moulin Rouge.  I guess Romeo & Juliet was slightly ahead of its time and missed out on the acclaim it deserved.  Havest thou seen it?




Released: December 18, 1997

When Did I First See It:  December 14, 1997 at 11:00am at the Hoyts Regent.


There was a sense of deja vu here.  Two years in a row I had won tickets to see a Leonardo film the week before Christmas.  Both make this list.  I know everyone has seen this film.  It made $600m at the box-office in the U.S. and was number 1 for 13 weeks - still a record.  The film won 11 Oscars - still a record.  The soundtrack (which features only instrumental music) was the highest selling album in America for the year.  Go figure?


I've received plenty of criticism for liking this film has much as I have but I stand by my decision.  It is the perfect love story set against a perfect tragedy.  Leo and Kate Winslet are dynamite together and make the story work.  I don't care if people think the story is riddled with cliches and soppy romance.  That scene at the edge of the boat where they both put their arms in the air agains the sunset is amazing filmmaking.  Like it or leave it!



So there you have it.  The line up for my own imaginary film festival.  It's funny to note that of the 11 films above, 8 were released in either February or December.  Must be good times of the year?  What will this year throw up?