6. The Holy Mountain (Jororowsky, 1973)
Counter-culture and revolutionary cinema would reach somewhat of an apex with Jodorowsky’s anarchic The Holy Mountain, which has enjoyed its status as a Midnight Movie-staple for over the past forty years. Infused with quasi-spiritual concepts such as enlightenment, suffering and alchemy, this picaresque tale follows a Christ-like figure known as The Thief as he and his followers make their way up a mountain, ostensibly to sacrifice him.
The plot can be somewhat incoherent at times, but this is part of parcel of the film’s themes: by crowding together as many disparate and jarring symbols as possible, it shakes viewers out of their complacency, instead, like conceptual art, making them contemplate why these ideas have been contrasted in such a way.
It is primarily a satire of consumerism, power and organised religion, which interrogates its own medium in order to make the viewer an active participant in what is going on. If Man With A Movie Camera was an example of modernism in film, The Holy Mountain shows one of post-modernisms natural endpoints.
Famous images include lizards replicating the Spanish invasion of Mexico, and a scene of mass killing being photographed by travelling tourists. They work in a dreamlike fashion that is as compelling as it is repellent. Nevertheless, although The Holy Mountain revels in grotesque and provocative imagery, it never takes itself too seriously, making it as visually amusing as it is profound.
Featuring an unforgettable ending that makes you reconsider everything that has come before it, it is a truly unique work of cinema. A subtle mention of this and Jodorowsky’s other works, including El Topo and Santa Sangre, is bound to inspire respect in the heart of any true cinephile.
7. Fanny and Alexander (Ingmar Bergman, 1982)
When it comes to foreign films, some directors loom so large that they become synonymous with the country that they are from. This is especially the case when it comes to Ingmar Bergman, truly the godfather of Swedish cinema.
Breaking into the arthouse scene, in the 50s, with films as diverse as the comedy Smiles Of A Summer Night, the road movie Wild Strawberries and the movie of faith The Seventh Seal, Ingmar Bergman’s output was such that he produced a new film nearly every year; leading right up to his final film feature, Fanny and Alexander.
A magical realist tale of two kids growing up in early 20th century Sweden, it boasts both a wealth of sublimely photographed detail as well as a riotous number of supporting characters.
It demonstrates the auteurs knack of understanding and directing actors; he would work with the same players again and again, thus by his final movie being able to choreograph large swathes of action — as characters host large dinner parties, and tumble through elegantly framed rooms — with consummate ease.
It is also the account of the world as seen through a child’s eyes, approximating ghost stories and fairy tales, yet all filtered through a realist, Dickensian approach to character and narrative. As a summation of the great man’s output, this film works as an expert introduction.
You are spoilt for choice here, as two different versions exist. The first, produced for the cinema, is over three hours long; but the TV version reaches a mind-numbing five hours, making it one of the longest films ever made.
8. Sátántangó (Bela Tarr, 1994)
You may want to stock up on popcorn before you start watching Sátántangó. Filmed in black-and-white and lasting long than seven and a half hours, this isn’t an easy film to get through. Yet, like reading an epic novel, the pleasures that come with the territory are manifold.
A primary example of Slow Cinema — in which long takes (the opening shot alone is eight minutes) are favoured, character development is rarely sudden, and there is a general sense of the film taking its precious time — Sátántangó uses its extraordinary length to depict a whole village in decline, in the process working as an immense allegory for the state of Hungary after the end of the Cold War.
It may be too slow for some, but if you allow yourself to be immersed by its idiosyncratic rhythms, there is much to be gained from the experience. More so than perhaps any other film, Sátántangó is the kind of work that begs to be seen in a cinema: not only would that inure you against any unwanted distractions, but it also allows you to become properly attuned to the way it portrays the gradual corrosion of the human spirit under a collapsing society. By the end, you’ll wish it didn’t end.
Additionally, once you have seen it, you will become the darling of all your cinephile friends. It’s the cinematic equivalent of reading Proust. This film is so daunting that even hardened film-lovers keep putting off the experience. Don’t. It’s really worth it.
9. Yi-Yi (Edward Yang, 2000)
Famed Taiwanese director Edward Yang’s final film, Yi-Yi, is often considered to be one of the best films of this short century so far. An unhurried, highly contemplative work, it looks in great detail at the lives of three generations in one family, who all react in different ways to the grandmother going into a coma.
Starting with a marriage and ending with a funeral, Yi-Yi creates a world of enormous detail — from the father rediscovering a lost love, to a young girl who develops a crush on a mysterious boy, to the little kid who is too young to process everything that is going on, but still displaying a wonderfully precocious attitude to the lives that are unfurling around him — making it one of the most fully-realised families in cinema.
Everything is here: from pathos to greed, from slapstick to immense sadness, from the highly mundane to the inescapably beautiful. At times you don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Or both. It sees to neither be happy or sad; the two somehow existing simultaneously in a harmonious fashion.
Complementing the film’s humanist themes is some ravishing cinematography, always knowing when to show a subject either in close, mid or far range in order to achieve a desired effect. It asks key question about why we make the choices in life we do, and if making those big choices has impacted our lives in any way.
Like Boyhood, which is predated by around 14 years, Yi-Yi manages in just under three hours to take in nearly the whole breadth of human experience, coalescing together to form one of the most bittersweet endings ever committed to film.
10. Under The Skin (Jonathan Glazer, 2014)
Scarlett Johansson has always been a great movie star, but Under The Skin truly showed her willingness and humility to adapt to new roles and cemented her status as an iconographic pop culture object as striking as either Audrey Hepburn or Marilyn Monroe. This is how good she is in Under The Skin, playing an alien from outer space who lands in earth in order to learn about our culture.
Still showing that there is innovation in film to be made, Johansson, dressed up in a woolly coat and donning a black wig, and being filmed by hidden cameras, would approach real Scottish men in the street or at the club and ask them to go home with her, expertly blending the lines between documentation and fiction, giving the experimental film a true feeling of alteriority.
British auteur Jonathan Glazer of Sexy Beast and Birth fame, took ten years to get this film made, eventually striking gold in almost every single aspect of the production. From the creepy sound design, to the ominous, ethereal score, to the hypnotic, Kubrickean camerawork, to Johansson’s otherworldly performance, Under The Skin truly deserves the title it has.
By processing the world through the eyes of an alien, one is forced to see how strange and disjointed contemporary life can be, making the film work as a type of social critique. An instant cult classic, by referencing Under The Skin in everyday conversation, you will be able to demonstrate that you keep up with some of the latest and best in contemporary cinema.
Author Bio: Redmond Bacon is a professional film writer and amateur musician from London. Currently based in Berlin (Brexit), most of his waking hours are spent around either watching, discussing, or thinking about movies. Sometimes he reads a book.