An exciting film category, overfull with potential yet often overlooked, is the portmanteau picture or anthology film. Consisting of several vignettes, often connected in thematic ways, or with the same premise or bookend situation, the anthology film can be a compelling, often outre experience, packing intense emotions and modes, never specific to any one genre, and often showcasing dynamic and avant-garde enterprise and entertainment.
25. Sin City (2005)
Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City offers great atmospheric looks and hammy, over-the-top performances that are easy to enjoy (Mickey Rourke’s Marv is so goofy it’s inspired). Though the snazzy visuals are oversold and, at over two hours, outstay their welcome, the CGI-infused vistas, and digitally rendered environments (aesthetically in keeping with Frank Miller’s gritty and smutty comic book), amount to much style over very little substance. But isn’t that what fans liked about Miller’s ultra-violent, seedy, jingoistic revenge fantasies in the first place?
24. Free Fall (2014)
Hungarian filmmaker György Pálfi (Hukkle,Taxidermia) continues his tendency towards absurdist horror-comedy in his anthology film Free Fall. Landing squarely in the dark and hypnogogic realm populated by the likes of Roy Andersson, and Terry Gilliam, Pálfi’s dark tales subsist on satire, slapstick, gross-out imagery, bizarro plot twists, and omfg visuals.
Set within an austere seven-storey building in an unnamed Hungarian city, Free Fall’s energetic 89 minutes offer glimpses into the lives of different tenants, each in their own genre, from science fiction, to sitcom — complete with uncomfortable laugh track — to horror, each with splashes of playful savagery and astute social treatise on modern life.
23. Coffee and Cigarettes (2003)
Jim Jarmusch’s Coffee and Cigarettes, comprises eleven vignettes, shot over a 17 year period, beginning in 1986, and originally intended as a single short film for Saturday Night Live. That original short, Strange to Meet You, starring Roberto Benigni and Steven Wright, discussing caffeine and nicotine, was shot around the time Jarmusch was making Down By Law (also with Benigni), thus beginning a trend for the director wherein he’d regularly shoot segments for this project while doing other features and videos and the like.
The resulting film, a treat for Jarmusch fans especially, is, admittedly, uneven, but frequently enjoyable, too. As with all Jarmusch fare, the cast is a who’s who of cool — including Iggy Pop, Tom Waits, Jack and Meg White, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, and Steve Buscemi among others — while the black-and-white cinematography recalls his early films. Despite what they say, Coffee and Cigarettes won’t kill you, but it might crack you up.
22. Paris, Je T’Aime (2006)
An omnibus film about the City of Lights and the distinctive numbered neighborhoods therein, as the title suggests, Paris, Je T’Aime is a love letter to France’s capital. This ambitious international film comprises eighteen short films inside of two hours, with 22 directors, including Alfonso Cuarón, Sylvain Chomet, the Coen brothers, Alexander Payne, Tom Tykwer, and Gus Van Sant.
While there are a few clunkers, the notable moments really do stand out (Chomet’s Tour Eiffel is a tiny tour de force, live-action, but surreal, like his animated opus, The Triplets of Belleville), and the rich premise has thus far fuelled one sequel.
21. Night on Earth (1991)
An enjoyable omnibus, each story occurs in the evening, in taxis all over the world. Buoyed by a fantastic soundtrack courtesy of Tom Waits, highlights include a sidesplitting comedic foray from Roberto Benigni in Rome, and a Helsinki stopover with Matti Pellonpää that recalls the cinema of Aki Kaurismäki (doubly fitting as Jarmusch is often likened to Kaurismäki, a noted influence, and Pellonpää is a regular of the Finnish filmmaker). A deadpan delight that doubles as an obliquely entertaining art house diversion, Night on Earth is a colorful character study with several sharp turn surprises.
20. Cloud Atlas (2012)
Easily one of the most ambitious undertakings in recent cinema, this adaptation of David Mitchell’s deeply imaginative novel, Cloud Atlas, is a rousing, sprawling spectacle, make no mistake. With three acclaimed directors, Tom Tykwer and the Wachowskis, this is a film that’s artistry is admirable, and whose flaws should be easy to forgive, considering its breadth and scope, and yet is one of those divisive films that audiences either love or hate.
Both lauded and derided critically, Cloud Atlas deserves a reappraisal. Its blending of action, romance, mystery, science fiction and satire make it worthwhile, let alone its reverence of the source material. Cloud Atlas offers an elaborate, well-paced and beautifully structured narrative that blends together six stories spanning centuries (in many ways not dissimilar to D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance, listed below), from the Pacific Islands in 1849, to Neo Seoul in the year 2144, even beyond that, in a post-apocalyptic and atavistic dystopia.
It’s so rare that a production of this size gets mounted, an international production with a huge name cast (including Halle Berry, Tom Hanks, and Hugo Weaving), and that it is so odd, eccentric, and enthusiastic all at once. If only more movies took such risks as this.
19. Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask) (1972)
A who’s who of comedians and celebrities of the early 70s help elevate this early Woody Allen compendium of oft-times hilarious sketches, loosely inspired by Dr. David Rueben’s sex manual of the same name.
Certain to upset the uptight and the puritanical amongst us, highlights, of which there are many, include Gene Wilder’s sheep-loving lonely heart, Burt Reynolds and Tony Randall as NASA-like switchboard operators in the brain of an aroused male, and an Antonioni parody with an orgasmically challenged Louise Lasser that’s a scream (literally).
18. Heavy Metal (1981)
Offering an adult-oriented animated experience with generous servings of sex and violence, elegant design work, and a European aesthetic, Heavy Metal is like no other “cartoon” that came before it.
Framed around an evil precious stone, the Loc-Nar, at the crux of these sci-fi and fantasy emblazoned tales, which include barbarian civilizations, dystopian metropolis’ of the future, WWII bombers overrun with zombies and more. Appealing mostly to a fanboy audience, Heavy Metal also has a dated-but-nostalgia-soaked soundtrack, and some impressive artistry (the Mœbius tale alone is worth the admission price), adding up to a shit ton of adolescent fun.