7. Animation – Waking Life
Waking Life, directed by Richard Linklater, is difficult to define. Following the same pattern of his previous film, Slacker (1991), Waking Life creates an ethereal sensation that parallels the unnamed protagonist’s search for some guidance in a twilight state between dream and reality. The narrative also permits drawn details to enhance some elements of the dialogue.
The director’s use of animation is somewhat controversial—he chooses style over actual technique—and some viewers might not consider it a properly animated film. The film demonstrates that animation can be viewed in a dazzling and spectacular manner, as well as a timid imitation of reality. The film touches unexpected and unconventional topics and helps subtly manifest an internal world. Linklater, in his adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly (2006), repeats similar techniques.
8. Superhero Movie – Super
Superhero movies are similar to modern mythology as both follow certain expected patterns about heroes and villains. Directors of Superhero films have attempted to not only answer the question, “What would happen if superheroes were real?” but also create many diverse subversions of the expected formula. Yet, many of these subversions usually rely on expected audience outcomes, which include conventional and satisfactory conclusions.
James Gunn’s Super portrays aspiring superheroes with good intentions, but they are dangerously deluded people. Despite their wishes to serve justice, superheroes are unaware of the danger and their reckless actions they bring to themselves and those around them.
Despite the bleakness of the superheroes, Super manages to hit a high note: a satisfactory ending. The conclusion is not, however, accomplished through well-executed, near-impossible acts of violent heroism with a tacked-on romance at the end. Instead, the film ends by depicting caring and understanding characters who selflessly help the weak and needy without seeking any reward.
9. Mafia Film – Once Upon a Time in America
Mobsters, thugs, and other similar antiheroes are creatures of habit. The audience obsesses over them because the characters are able to commit despicable crimes that are outside of normal social conventions. They live fast, die young, and do a lot in between. Yet, as creatures of habit, they are bound to a curse; the worst that can happen to a mobster is getting old, irrelevant, harmless, and forgotten.
Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America contrasts the past and present of two childhood friends who become short-lived, successful mobsters. While trying to keep themselves afloat, others die. The world the two dreamed about vanishes, leaving behind only memories. This film is a tragedy of those characters who briefly achieve their goals and manage to outlive their own joy and success for many years after.
10. Drama – Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
Jaques, one of the characters in William Shakespeare’s play As You Like It (pub. 1623), famously expressed these words in Act 2, Sc. 7, “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women are merely players. . .” Thus, when the focus of a great story sets on important figures—whether historical, mythological, or symbolic—those who make possible their achievements are just myths. For example, all the soldiers who Julius Caesar commanded, and all those Spanish villagers for whom Don Quixote caused so much trouble simply existed to enhance the strength of the illusion.
Directed by Tom Stoppard and based on his own well-received play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead focuses on two minor characters from Hamlet, who ponder the meaning of life while interacting with the events from the Shakespearean play from afar.
In a postmodern twist, a travelling theatrical troupe (the very same that dramatizes the death of Hamlet’s father in the climax of the original play) narrate how the two characters cannot exist without an audience or outside action.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are somewhat aware that because Hamlet is the protagonist, they cannot live without him and his limelight—even though Hamlet condemned them to their own deaths. After all, it was the mere existence of Hamlet—the protagonist that set the course of the play—who maintains the illusion of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern brief existence.
11. Murder Mystery – Blow Up
There is something oddly comforting about murder mysteries. More often than not, the genre follows a certain criteria that are expected by the audience resulting in a series of “controlled surprises” that manages to deliver a satisfactory conclusion by solving the mystery. What happens, however, when there is not a solution—nothing unheard of but rare—and the mystery cannot even be grasped?
In Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow Up what matters is not “who done it,” but how the murder affects the protagonist—a London fashion photographer in the Swinging 60s who accidentally photographs a man getting shot.
At the end, the protagonist never manages to piece the puzzle together and his own amateurish involvement in the fiasco only makes it more confusing and difficult for the audience to resolve. The biggest mystery, then, is not about the killing, but how the protagonist attempts to discover his own life as a castaway in a sea of hedonism.
12. Film Noir – The Man Who Wasn’t There
Film noir, as a genre, generally is hampered by its own imagery: the typical Fedora wearing, trench coat-clad detectives who cruise somber streets full of seductive women and scheming mobsters. The dark streets are accompanied by the occasional neon light or lonely streetlamp to light up a world bustling with deranged corruption. The mise-en-scene is deeply integrated into the popular imagination, especially because of films like The Big Sleep (1946), Double Indemnity (1944) and, of course, The Maltese Falcon (1931; 1941) have shaped the genre to what is known today.
Although the last few years neo-noir are not invisible, with productions like Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City (2005) or David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence (2005), The Man Who Wasn’t There succeeds as an homage, subversion, and vindication of classic noir. Set in 1940s sunny California, the film portrays a story of love, betrayal, revenge, and death. The harmless characters and environments also seize the opportunity to meditate on the significance of human actions.
The protagonist is a laconic chain-smoking barber (Billy Bob Thornton). He is stuck in this harmless trap, and nobody can believe that he, just a simple barber, is capable of any harm.
Author Bio: J.E. González is a writer and journalist from Venezuela. With a degree in Social Communications, he has a passion for world culture and narrative arts. You can follow him on Twitter at @maxmordon.