6. La Cienaga (Lucrecia Martel, 2001)
Lucrecia Martel’s film, La Cienaga, is one that is most certainly not for everyone. The pacing is slow, not much happens and some of what does actually happen is never resolved, including the most tragic moment of the story, but anyone familiar with Martel’s style will feel right at home seeing this.
La Cienaga is just beautiful. It is as visually arresting as all hell, with such a bizarre tone that bounces between this dark humour to being seriously distressing at times, and yet underneath there is this comic element that never really goes away. A lot of it comes from the performances, which are either strangely quiet and subdued or incredibly loud and aggressive, but either way, the film is just enthralling.
With the stellar sound design, which really places emphasis on the characters and their surroundings, cinematography and editing so fluent that they’re simply to die for, with a feeling that, as an audience member, you’re really there, seeing these events first hand in a way that few films can really give. It’s a fascinating piece of work, and one well worth seeking out.
7. La La Land (Damien Chazelle, 2016)
Damien Chazelle’s 2016 musical is admittedly quite divisive among film buffs, some absolutely adoring it, falling under the film’s spell and being charmed by it, and others failing to connect with it.
The main reason for this disconnecting comes from people feeling that La La Land was a mixture of The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg (Jacques Demy, 1964) and classical Hollywood musicals, however, for those who weren’t familiar with Demy’s musical masterwork, or for those who didn’t find it irritating for La La Land to be using Demy’s film as a blueprint for his own, the film was enjoyable (so long as they weren’t irritated by Gosling’s saving jazz, either…).
La La Land is a film that really captures the spirit and joy of movies, it’s exciting, quickly paced, loud and colourful, and considering that musicals, especially good ones, have been quite hard to come by for many years now, it’s just so enjoyable to see a great one appearing, and from mainstream Hollywood no less! It is just wonderful escapism at its peak, with the catchy music, the wonderful dance numbers and the carefully structured, emotional plot. A must see for any musical fan, whether you fall in love with it or despise it. The film is just bursting with passion and joy, it couldn’t be much more suitable to see on holiday.
8. Somewhere (Sofia Coppola, 2010)
Sofia Coppola is an excellent filmmaker. She hasn’t been making films for too long, however she has proven herself over the past fifteen to twenty years as one of the most consistently great American voices in contemporary cinema. Her work is simply thrilling, and Somewhere is the best of them all.
Whilst it is quite dark in subject matter, focusing on a man who has essentially given up on his life, cutting off all emotion and relying on drugs and alcohol to feel any semblance of life, the film is just beautiful. The locations are stunning, the cinematography is laid back and yet simultaneously shockingly intimate, just as the story is, and the performances are just wonderfully honest.
It’s a stunning film, both formally and emotionally, and seeing how this character comes to try to fix his life is one of the most interesting, emotional stories to come out of modern American cinema. It is Sofia Coppola’s crowning piece, in a filmography full of terrific works.
9. A Room With A View (James Ivory, 1985)
Merchant/Ivory were bound to come up somewhere on this list, and why not go with one of their most visually stunning films, the 1985 released costume drama classic, A Room With A View.
Very few films look this good. The costumes are absolutely stunning, the cinematography is just so incredibly beautiful and the set design is astounding. It’s a film so easy to just relax and enjoy, thanks to the quick, witty dialogue and the wonderful performances all around.
The film is charming, sweet and frequently mesmerising. I honestly can’t really see anyone who isn’t a fan of ensemble costume dramas not finding something to enjoy in this one. It’s brief, immersive joy, and memorable joy too. Give it a watch, and if this one isn’t a film you end up loving, there are plenty of other Merchant/Ivory works that are worth seeking out and giving a watch. You’re bound to find at least one that you enjoy.
10. Russian Ark (Aleksandr Sokurov, 2002)
This one may be the last film I’d recommend, but that’s why it’s last on the list. Russian Ark, directed by the excellent Aleksandr Sokurov, is one of the most immersive films ever made. Why? One simple technical idea completely seals the deal. The entire film is done in a single take.
And no, I don’t mean like in Inarritu’s Birdman (2014) or Hitchcock’s Rope (1948), I mean literally a single shot. No hidden edits. The film, which clocks in at over ninety minutes (99 minutes to be exact) is simply breathtaking, with this exquisite shot that constantly flows just perfectly. It is almost impossible to put this stunning feat in to words, as it is just so ridiculously impressive.
As the film’s tagline says “2000 cast members, 3 orchestras, 33 rooms, 300 years, all in one take”, and just trying to process this information is daunting, but the film has this insane, beautiful flow to it that feels like the finest stroke of a brush on canvas, and it is just absolutely stunning. The planning for this film must have been simply towering, and the product to show for it is one of the most astounding films ever made. It is seriously stunning, and somehow it isn’t even Sokurov’s finest hour.