6. The Shape of Water (2017)
The Shape of Water swept awards season, winning a plethora of awards. It even went on to be nominated for thirteen Academy Awards, winning four. Suffice to say – not only was it was very well received by critics, audiences loved it too.
Director Guillermo Del Toro is well known for the detail that he puts into his fantasy worlds and seeing his version of an early 1960’s America is a glorious thing in itself. There are the huge, shiny cars, the traditional diner selling quirky, lurid pies, and the beautiful, nostalgic cinema that Elisa lives above. But much like the mysterious creature that lurks beneath the waters, darkness lurks underneath this seemingly happy and simple world.
Once you see these small dark details start to seep through into the film, then you really start to see Del Toro’s unique touch. In this way, The Shape of Water certainly draws you in with its excellent visuals. It also has a smooth narrative – taking you seamlessly from scene to scene and building up the story in a clear, linear fashion.
The Shape of Water also benefits from a really strong cast. Sally Hawkins is captivating as lead character Elisa. As Elisa is mute, Hawkins has to rely solely on facial expressions to portray her emotions to the audience and she does this very well – without saying a word, we are able to root for and empathise with Elisa.
The supporting cast is also fantastic. Richard Jenkins brings some light-hearted relief, Octavia Spencer is a great as the antithesis to Elisa’s muteness, and Michael Shannon makes a chilling and convincing villain. Del Toro stated that he wrote the screenplay with Hawkins and Shannon in mind, and you can tell that the parts are made for them.
The Shape of Water is a dark, adult fairy-tale and it is unconventional and original – there have not been any recent films like it and it stands every chance of being a film that will be referred to as a classic in years to come.
7. The Handmaiden (2016)
South Korean erotic psychological thriller film The Handmaiden was initially released in South Korea where it achieved critical acclaim. And upon its general release, it was not long before critical acclaim followed from all over the world, with The Handmaiden appearing on numerous critics’ top ten lists for the year.
The Handmaiden is a perfect example of labyrinthine storytelling. Narratively, it’s incredibly multi-layered with twists and turns aplenty. And visually, it’s very strong with unique imagery. It has a certain depravity and perversity about it. This can either be seen as brilliantly open minded or uncomfortably inappropriate viewing. But it is a piece of cinema that is worth watching, even if it often feels more like an experience rather than a piece of entertainment.
The Handmaiden is another film that shows how Asian cinema has such rich characteristics and strong traditions. But whilst The Handmaiden is a great example of the impressive visuals and characters that audiences can often find in Asian film, The Handmaiden is not just an example of great Asian cinema but of great cinema in general. And director Park Chan-wook has created a masterpiece that will be watched, studied and discussed for years to come.
8. Ida (2013)
The first Polish film to win the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, Ida is a black and white drama film which uses the uncommon aspect ratio of 4:3. Upon its release, Ida received widespread critical acclaim. The film follows a young woman on the verge of taking her vows as a Catholic nun when she finds out that her only surviving relative is Jewish.
Ida has an eerily beautiful and atmospheric quality to it. It is a film that makes great use of still moments which feels unusual when audiences are used to films full of movement and fast cuts. Set in 1962, Ida is unique in that it feels like it was filmed in the time period in which it is set.
Ida is a film that is both powerful in its ideas, and powerful in the way in which it delivers them. Combining the striking and deliberate visuals with the short running time of less than ninety minutes, and Ida is a stunningly effective film.
Ida is the kind of film that feels like it should be watched for years to come. Not only on the weight of its performances and story, but it is a visual masterpiece that is cinematic perfection.
9. Leviathan (2014)
Applying the story of Job to modern Russia, Leviathan is a tragic, depressing and heavy film. But although it may be far from a film that leaves audiences happy and contented, it is a masterful and well-acted film that has an important and thought-provoking message to it.
Selected for Cannes Film Festival and Russia’s nominee for Best Foreign Language film at the 87th Academy Awards, Leviathan is one of the most impactful films to come out of Russia for a long time. Looking at the way in which those with power can use it corruptly and how it has ramifications on those who are powerless, Leviathan feels like it could be applied to any country in the world. But because of its Russian setting, a country which feels trapped in its brutal past, Leviathan feels even more poignant.
The cinematography is endlessly engaging and the contrast of the beautiful location against the film’s dark tone helps deliver the film’s message and makes it even more impactful. Unfortunately, people suffering is universal and ongoing and so a film such as Leviathan will be a film that can be applied to mankind for years to come. And Leviathan will be watched and related to for just as many years.
10. A Fantastic Woman (2017)
A Fantastic Woman or Una Mujer Fantástica won the 2018 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. It is the first Chilean film to win the award.
The film follows Marina, a transgender woman whose life is thrown into disarray after the death of her partner. In a lot of ways this film is very straightforward – the dialogue is simple yet effective and the narrative unfolds in a linear fashion. Yet in a lot of other ways, this film is very complex and thought provoking – raising issues of transphobia, identity and how we deal with grief.
One of the film’s biggest selling points is the central performance by Daniela Vega. Much like the title, she is fantastic in this. She gives a performance that will hopefully see the beginnings of a long and successful career for her.
The cinematography of A Fantastic Woman is really eye-catching. Vega’s face is often the focus of every frame, whether it is a wide angle or a close up – this hammers home even more how this is her story and her film.
With the combination of its subject matter, timeless quality, and stunning performances – A Fantastic Woman already feels like a classic.