When I was doing my Top 55 favourite movies of all time I realized that I was listing films that I love and cherish for whatever personal reasons. But I was leaving out films that are strong, important and powerful films because while they might be the “stronger” films I can’t say I “enjoy” them as I do with the other films. However I think they deserve to be pointed out. So here are my top 10 most powerful films of all time.
Let’s get this thing finished!
5. PRINCESS (2006)
Director: Anders Morgenthaler
Writers: Mette Heeno, Anders Morgenthaler
The other half of the successful comic strip ‘Wulffmorgenthaler’ (or Wumo nowadays), Anders Morgenthaler made a Danish animated movie about a missionary priest August who returns home after her porn actress sister Princess dies after years of drug abuse, leaving behind her 5-year old daughter Mia. August blames her sister’s profession for her death and starts a violent and bloody vendetta against the seedy underbelly of the Danish porn industry. However these violent acts affect the only thing August cares anymore, her niece Mia. This is a very dark adult animation with heavy thematic contents like social critique, moral ambiguity, violence and incest. The animation is spectacular and the story is gripping. The techniques making the film are bold (like the fact that the flashbacks with August’s sister are live-action) and make the film unpredictable. A very polarizing piece of world cinema; some hate it, some embrace the action and the complexity emulating from the screen. It makes me feel conflicted, but ultimately makes me glad I saw it.
4. THE ELEPHANT MAN (1980)
Director: David Lynch
Writers: Christopher De Vore, Eric Bergren, David Lynch
Based on books from Sir Frederik Treves and Ashley Montagu, The Elephant Man recounts the true life of John (Joseph in real life) Merrick, a deformed man living a humiliating life as an attraction at a freak circus. When a medical doctor Frederick Treves has an encounter with John he is intrigued by this timid man who prefers to be covered by a hood. The good doctor takes Merrick to hospital for medical studies. He gets Merrick to communicate and finds that John is sensitive and good-hearted fellow who yearns to be treated normal. To Trevers’ and Merrick’s dismay, the society treats John as a freak and even at his days at the hospital is John subjected to humiliating instances where he is ridiculed by a dickhead janitor who sells tickets for drunken people who came to see the hideous abomination. John Merrick’s desire to be treated as a normal man is universally relatable and if the viewer doesn’t feel the deepest empathy for this character is he’s emotionally handicapped. David Lynch directs without most of his eccentric moody stylization, but rather shoots the film relatively straight-forwardly. He injects so much emotion to the film and the actors are outstanding. Anthony Hopkins gives a stellar performance as the doctor and John Hurt gives a performance that is incredibly nuanced and sensitive. The ending scene is one of the most heartbreaking scenes ever and left me in tears. This should be mandatory viewing for everyone. ”What do you mean everyone?”
3. LA HAINE (1995)
Director: Mathieu Kassowitz
Writer: Mathieu Kassowitz
The viewer spends one day in the French suburban ghetto with three young guys: Vinz, Hubert and Said. They all come from different cultural or religious backgrounds but they live in a neighborhood that mixes all creeds and races. The day-to-day encounters with the oppressive and racist police force keep the suburbs at the brink of chaos and violence. During a riot where their friend was seriously injured does Vinz (unpredictable Vincent Cassel) find a gun that a police officer lost. Vinz gains respect, as most young thugs with guns do and threatens to kill a cop if their friend ends up dying at the hospital, raising the tensions even higher. Director Mathieu Kassowitz opts to shoot the film in black and white and mostly with handheld cameras, making the film feel like a documentary. The improvisational approach the actors use enhances this feeling, and the film benefits for it. La Haine is a realistic portrayal of the tough street life in France during furious rioting and it’s no picnic. Hard, relentless and surprisingly poignant even almost twenty years later, this film is a clear win for storyteller Mathieu Kassowitz.
2. RAN (1985)
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Writers: Akira Kurosawa, Hideo Oguni, Masato Ide
A Japanese Lord decides to step down from his throne in order to make room for his three sons. The youngest of his sons warn his father of this impossible situation to divide his power to three men. The father won’t have any of that noise and banishes the youngest son out of his lands. However his warning comes true when the oldest son decides that this power is not enough when the father is still highest in the hierarchy. He conspires with the second son for a deadly coup d’état. And as you’d expect the brothers turn their swords against each other as well in order to gain more power. Kurosawa saw similarities between William Shakespeare’s ‘King Lear’ and an old Japanese story about a warlord and this compelled him to do this film and it’s a glorious success. His passive point of view makes the bloody war scenes absolutely gorgeous to watch and the story, while a bit on the long side, carries out remarkably well. A great lesson in greed, this movie is a truly strong experience and should be watched by any movie afficianado.
1. DANCER IN THE DARK (2000)
Director: Lars Von Trier
Writer: Lars Von Trier
Our friend Lars once again appears on this list, taking the number one spot with his gripping musical-kick-in-the-gut-to-the-american-justice-will-prevail-attituted-viewer. An east European Selma (Björk) immigrated to America and works at a factory. She and her young son suffer from the same disease that will eradicate their eyesight leaving them completely blind. Selma has saved her hard-earned money for an operation that would save his son’s eyesight. When their neighbor and landlord Bill (David Morse) gets a dire need of money he does a loathsome deed and steals Selma’s life savings. Selma, who fantasizes of living in a fantastic world of movie musicals has to face the real world after his confrontation with Bill ends with devastating consequences. If you don’t know what the word ‘unfair’ means, you should REALLY watch this film. It will teach you how. The juxtaposition of the fantastic musical numbers and the brutal bluntness of the real world build a great contrast for the film which is evidenced most exemplary when Selma gives her last song of the film. This is without a doubt the most powerful film I’ve ever witnessed, giving great music and powerful drama that will haunt you long after you watched the film.