Monday, August 20, 2012

Top 10 Film Recommendations That Require a Warning

What makes art, as an entity, so fascinating to study is that there are as many different opinions on it as there are people on the planet.  Everyone’s taste and acceptability varies in such enormous ways that it’s always interesting to see where different viewpoints come from and lead.

To me, film is the most accessible of all the art forms.  It has the ability to become the highest or lowest expression of both art and entertainment.  However, it is all subjective at the end of the day and one person’s Terrence Malick is another person’s Tyler Perry, or vice versa.

So when recommending films that I love I’m always cautious.  My opinions are exactly that: mine.  Over the years I’ve developed a list of several films that I love to recommend to people, to mixed results, and thus require some sort of caveat.  So here is a list my Top 10 Film Recommendations That Require a Warning.

10) Four Lions by Christopher Morris

Chris Morris’s Four Lions is one of the funniest films I’ve ever seen but it follows the most unlikely of protagonists: terrorists.  It is a subject matter that really skates around what is probably one of the most sensitive of subjects.  In this way, it isn’t for all but for those who check it out they will find an easily accessible film that really delivers on its laughs and premise.

9) Tiny Furniture by Lena Dunham

Tiny Furniture a film that walks the balancing act between self-indulgence and self-reflection that plenty of independent films end up failing at.  It is a film that I recommend whole-heartedly, as writer/director/star Lena Dunham has really created a wonderful piece on post adolescent life and the self-righteous entitlement that comes with that experience for many people in the world.  However, in doing so she has created a completely unflattering portrayal that will rub most people the wrong way.  She is a funny, young protagonist and someone that we expect to like but most of the time she just comes off as irritating.

8) The Mist by Frank Darabont

Anyone who has seen Frank Darabont’s The Mist will tell you that both the acting and effects will leave much to be desired.  Opting to move away from practical effects, the film utilizes CGI to create most of its creatures and does so in a way that was dated even when it was released back in 2007.  Many of the characters are more like caricatures and that translates to the bold and obvious themes as well.  Despite all of this, the film is still one that I recommend for its design, ideas, and incredibly bleak look at the end of the world.  However I know that these detractors might be enough to turn off the casual viewer.

7) The Mirror by Jafar Panahi

This 1997 Iranian film is one that I find myself recommending to more people than I’m sure have ever cared to watch it.  The premise of it is simple enough; it is about a little girl trying to find her way home from school after her mother fails to pick her up.  What follows is an hour and a half of this girl, Mina, wandering through the densely packed streets of Tehran.  It’s not the most action packed or narratively intriguing of stories, but it is really revealing about Iran’s culture.  However, what makes it a favorite recommendation of mine is the twist in the story about mid-way through that elevates it far beyond the simple story you’ve been following and into one of actual peril.  If watching a girl wander through traffic for an hour and a half already sounded like a barrier enough, the biggest caveat to the film is that Mina’s voice has to be the most shrill and tine to hit the silver screen.

6) Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father by Kurt Kuenne

If a film could be awarded a prize for being the most likely to crush your soul and end your faith in humanity, it’d be Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father.  This is a documentary that you have to go into on the best day of your life knowing that you will sacrifice all of your happiness for the incredible drama and heartbreak that it contains.  Even more heartbreaking is that it comes from director Kurt Kuenne, whose short Validation is amongst my favorite films to pick me up on a downer of a day.  To see such a director have to create such a work of incredible sadness just adds onto how upsetting the content of this film is.  That being said, I haven’t seen a more gripping and emotionally compelling documentary than Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father.

5) Dogtooth by Yorgos Lanthimos

Like a lot of films on this list, as you’ll see as you move downward, another concern I often have when I recommend a film is how it will reflect back on what people think of me.  My tolerance for violence and horrible acts of depravity on film are much higher than that of most people.  Film is a place where I can explore ideas and concepts that are foreign to my life with a safe distance.  Dogtooth is a critically beloved Greek film, it was even nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 83rd Academy Awards, but the subject matter in it is incredibly abusive and tough to watch.  Looking for a film that graphically demonstrates killing kittens, incest, mental abuse, and dentistry without numbing agents?  Dogtooth has it all.  However, it is also a frightening examination of nature vs. nurture, the power of film, and the resilience of the human spirit.

4) Dogville by Lars von Trier

I’m sure it comes to no surprise to anyone that I would feature a Lars von Trier movie on this list.  The director is known for his controversial films that often put women in incredibly compromising situations.  In terms of style, Dogville is his most challenging film, foregoing almost all scenery to strip down the film to its bare essentials.  It is this challenge, along with the harsh story content, that makes it a hard film to recommend, but one that I continue to do.  Sure, there are worse things in his other films, like Antichrist, but these aren’t films that I recommend as quickly as I do the rich and surprising Dogville.

3) Requiem for a Dream by Darren Aronofsky

Requiem for a Dream combines all of the elements listed above to create an incredibly emotional viewing experience.  Anyone who has seen it can marvel at its grand theme and powerful emotional resonance.  However, much of that is created by utilizing body horror and some of the most depressing and demoralizing moments on film.  Yet somehow it still manages to never dip too far into the depressing and needlessly violent territory that it overwhelms the powerful themes of the film. Nothing is as striking as its portrayal of American culture, reinforced by its color palette of reds, whites, and blues.

2) The Tree of Life by Terrence Malick

When I arrived to my theater to see The Tree of Life there was a sign posted out front that they would not be issuing a refund for anyone that didn’t like The Tree of Life.  I’ve never seen this before or since and I don’t expect to see it again, at least until the next Malick film is released.  The Tree of Life was my favorite film of last year and yet I rarely recommend it.  When people ask my favorite film of last year, I tell them the truth but quickly admit that it isn’t for everyone.  The film is challenging in its narrative structure, if you want to call it structure.  Imagine a 3 hour tone poem brought on life on screen and that's what you are getting with this film.  For me, just sitting back and letting it take effect on me proved to be one of the most powerful experiences I've ever had at the cinema.

1) Enter the Void by Gaspar Noé

While Gaspar might be a bit more infamous for his film Irreversible, it isn’t a film that I tend to recommend.  Enter the Void takes his style and camerawork to a whole new level with just as much shocking imagery, if not more, than Irreversible.  The content includes all manners of sexual deeds with the camera in places that only this year's The Dictator dared to go, a plethora of drug use, and some terrifying violence.  The film ends up a spectacular examination of the lives of two really troubled siblings all told through what it must feel like to trip on some incredible drugs.  It is a psychedelic experience that no other film can claim to offer but the subject matter will most likely be too intense for just about everyone. 

What films do you find that you have trouble recommending but nevertheless still do?

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