31. Strings (2004, Denmark/Sweden/Norway/UK) Dir. by Anders Rønnow Klarlund
You’ve never seen marionettes like these. Here, they are keenly aware of the strings they are attached to, as the strings are the lifeline of the characters, and enable them to move and live.
This creates a stratified class society, where the oppressed are kept as string donors. Everything is strange and unique about this puppet world-couples make children out of wood, and everything is geared towards the strings that are so vital to the heroes. It’s highly symbolic and memorable.
32. Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were Rabbit (2005, UK/USA) Dir. by Nick Park and Steve Box
A very deserving Oscar winner. At long last, the Aardman studio made a feature starring their two most famous characters. This very British claymated world is a non-stopping romp of comedy and parody.
The loud and often obnoxious inventor Wallace and his silent but brilliant dog Gromit start yet another business venture, protecting the town’s beloved vegetables from pests, but get more action and adventures than they bargained for. All the best Aardman elements are here to be enjoyed.
Other works: Wallace & Gromit shorts are worth watching-A Grand Day Out (1989), The Wrong Trousers (1993), and especially A Close Shave (1995). A spin-off, Shaun the Sheep, comes out later this year. Beyond that, see Creature Comforts, both the Oscar-winning short and the TV series.
33. The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes (2005, Germany/France/UK) Dir. by Stephen and Timothy Quay
There are films that almost defy description-Parajanov’s “The Color of Pomegranates”, Tarsem’s “The Fall”, many of Guy Maddin’s works, simply because the visuals have to be seen and experiences. Add this Quay feature to this list. Officially listed as live-action feature, it’s really a continuation of the world of their stop-motion shorts.
As it’s becoming harder for the Quays to get funding for the shorts, they occasionally branch out into feature-making. An opera singer’s death is staged and she is transported to a mysterious villa filled with automatons and other wonders.
That’s about as much of the plot as needed to be described, as it is really a film of phantasmagorical stylistics and audiovisual experiences-the lunar rustle at night, the ocher-misted gold, the tangible darkness. The weird and amazing universe.
Other works: their only other feature is the similarly unique Institute Benjamenta (1995). The must-see shorts: The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer (1984), The Epic of Gilgamesh (1985), Street of Crocodiles (1986), the Stille Nacht tetralogy (1989-1994), and the harrowing In Absentia (2000).
34. Renaissance (2006, France) Dir. by Christian Volckman
The futuristic Paris that’s so cool, it’s ice-cold. In this inhospitable world of shimmering monochromatic surfaces, a police captain begins a search for a missing woman that results in him stirring a hornet’s nest of corrupt politics and megacorporation. The use of motion-capture and CGI is artistically stunning here-it recalls the aesthetics of etchings and lithographs. A cynical neo-noir that soars high on style.
35. Persepolis (2007, France/USA/Iran) Dir. by Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Parronaud
Satrapi is the perfect directing choice for this as she is the author of original and highly personal graphic novel. It chronicles her upbringing in the late shah/early Islamic revolution Iran, as well as her experiences in Western Europe and coming of age.
The deceptively simple black and white drawings touch on many themes-culture clash, personal growth, the position of women in both Islamic and Western societies. They manage to be poignant and meaningful without being overtly sentimental.
The first-person narrative plays out like a conversation with the reader/viewer. We see how even the act of being a fan of Iron Maiden can be one of personal expression and defiance. This film may be black and white, but it’s vivid and colorful in its themes.
36. Chico and Rita (2010, Spain/UK) Dir. by Fernando Trube, Javier Marical, and Tono Errando
An Oscar-nominated tale of love, tango, and jazz. Will take you over the decades and across the world-Havana, Paris, New-York, Las Vegas. Particularly striking and atmospheric are the backgrounds and the music (Nat Cole and Charlie Parker, among others). Will inspire you to drink mojitos and enjoy love and music that much more.
37. The Illusionist (2010, France/UK) Dir. by Sylvain Chomet
Films like these are rarely made these days. The sometimes funny, others-sad and melancholic tale of the illusionist who adopts the little girl that really believes he’s a true magician and dedicates his life to make her world magical and better is presented here virtually without any dialogue, because words are often useless.
The mood, the feelings, the atmosphere-that’s Chomain’s territory. This hand-drawn world doesn’t need to be explained, only experienced. And when we learn that it’s based on the real-world story of the great French actor and director Jacque Tati’s guilt over his estrangement with his own daughter, it stays with us even longer.
Other works: wish there were more. The Triplets of Bellville (2003), is Oscar nominated and more acclaimed than Illusionist. A must-see, though more on the funny side. The surreal short The Old Lady and the Pigeons (1997) first introduced the world to Chomet’s unique gift. His works are few and far-between, but are always worth the wait.
38. Wrinkles (2011, Spain) Dir. by Ignacio Ferreras
A deceptively simple gem. In the style of a realistic graphic novel, it deals with the very un-cartoon subjects of aging, loneliness, the onset of Alzheimer’s, and the need for friendship. Towards the end, we see these problems through the eyes of the heroes and experience understanding of their plight.
39. Ernest & Celestine (2012, France/Belgium/Luxembourg) Dir. by Stephane Aubier, Vincent Patar, and Benjamin Renner
Old techniques are good techniques at times. As evidenced by this gentle masterpiece. An adaptation of the acclaimed children’s story by author and illustrator Gabrielle Vincent, it’s a treat for the eyes and the soul.
A bear and a mouse become friends in the world where their kinds live in a state of hostility towards each other. Their friendship, their connection is strengthened by both of them being soulful, creative, and misunderstood by their own kinds. But they have each other for companionship and understanding, and that helps them to survive and express themselves in a cold and indifferent world.
This film brings to life Vincent’s illustrations using the old cel method, and leaves behind a warm and sweet aftertaste. Though it lost the Academy Award to Frozen, it won the hearts of those lucky to see it.
Other works: Aubier and Patar are the creative force behind hilarious TV series and a feature film A Town Called Panic (2009), which tells a story of a cowboy, and Indian, and a horse living together in a zany manner of utilizing stop-motion figurines.
40. The Congress (2013, France/Israel) Dir. by Ari Folman
Addresses the issue of real vs. generated better than the likes of S1m0ne and Final Fantasy. A colorful adaptation of Stanislaw Lem’s novel, it shows a fictionalized version of Robin Wright selling the rights to her image and thus reviving her career-but it’s only a start of the chain of unforeseeable events. Like Folman’s previous masterpiece, it’s stunning in both style and substance.
Other works: Folman also made the powerful “animated documentary” Waltz with Bashir (2008).
Author Bio: Leo Poroshin is a Russian-born aspiring writer/director (film and theatre), residing in Michigan. He enjoys life, and, naturally, the arts, as they are one of life’s best manifestations.