Pictures of Perfection
To call a movie perfect is impossible. To get universal agreement on individual tastes even more so. But judged against the torrent of flawed to down right horrible films, it is a worthy endeavor to pick out the rare breed of almost perfect films. What qualifies films for such a list is not popularity or box office receipts, but a rare coming together of potential elements to form a visionary and distinctive whole. Crafting films is not just the work of an inspired director, like a painting that can be attributed to a single artist, but culmination of events any one of which can doom an inspired project no matter the skill or vision of the director. From the casting, production logistics, re-writes, music score, to the weather on any particular day of shooting, so many factors go into the finished product that banking on a films success is a gamble at best, and a blend of skill, luck and serendipity at it's very best.
The following, in no particular order, is not necessarily a list of the best films of all time, but a list of rare events, where screenplay, set artists, actors, editors, post production and slew of unforeseen happy accidents all came together to form a more perfect union of a directors vision. To drop these films into your Netflix que may not guarantee you'll come away saying "I loved that movie", as viewers taste and movie watching frame of mind is the last pice of the puzzle that is a perfect movie watching experience, but it they will leave you with an appreciation that you just watched something distinctly authentic and flawless in it's final culmination. Even if they are not your cup of tea, it can not be denied that they are the perfect result of what they set out to be.
Since the early days of film, directors have been experimenting with surrealism, having been inspired by other forms of surrealism art. In Mulholland Drive, David Lynch perfectly executes how surrealism should be translated into film. The movie is comparable to a disturbing dream, blurring the lines between dreams and reality. Film critic Robert Eggers commented that the film “Works directly on the emotions, like music.” There are so many memorable scenes in the film that leave the audience glued to the screen, with BBC naming it the greatest film of the 21st century so far.
The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford
Regarded as one of the most underrated films of the time, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is a different approach to the Western genre. It takes its time, focusing more on the characters rather than typical Western gunfights. With each frame being able to pass as a painting, the film follows the celebrity Jesse James (Brad Pitt) and his struggles with mental illness, and his relationship with an unstable fan (Casey Affleck). Cinematographer Roger Deakins even invented a series of new lenses to get the shots that he wanted with critics Scout Tafoya describing it as “somewhere between a tintype and an oil painting.”
The Lord Of The Rings Return of the King
It’s no secret that Peter Jackson’s adaptation of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy was one of the greatest undertakings in film history, yet he managed to pull it off. However, it was the third and final movie of the trilogy that really stands out. The film was astronomical in scale, chock-full of epic battles, beautiful cinematography, and a score that tied everything together. The second-highest-grossing film of all time, it took home 11 Oscars including Best Picture and has been named the most influential fantasy film of all time. Few films since have yet to come close to comparison.
Written by Bill Landcaster and directed by John Carpenter, The Thing follows a group of researchers in an isolated area of Antarctica. There, they encounter “The Thing,” a parasitic lifeform, able to take on the image of other organisms. Since “The Thing” takes on the form of any of the researchers, they are overcome by paranoia, unable to trust each other. Although originally the film received negative reviews for its graphic special effects and cynicism, after some time, people began to understand its complexity and worth. Today, it is regarded as one of the most pinnacle horror films ever made, cementing itself in film history.
Written and directed by the renowned Quentin Tarantino, the film has an ensemble crew including Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman, and John Travolta, among others. The film tells several different crime stories taking place in Los Angeles and gets its name from the pulp crime novels popular during the 20th century. While the acting is fantastic, what really sets Pulp Fiction apart from other films is its non-linear plotlines that all come together in the end. You never know where the film is going or what point of the timeline you’re actually in. To make it even better, Tarantino adds his own extra flare with a soundtrack that most fans know by heart.
The Big Lebowski
Written, directed, and produced by the Coen Brothers, The Big Lebowski tells the unbelievable story of “The Dude” (Jeff Bridges), who finds himself caught in a web of misunderstandings and failed plans in an attempt to get a new rug. The film’s plot is all over the place, leaving the audience just as confused as “The Dude” as he tries to put the pieces together. While the storyline may be amusing, what really makes the film unique is its eccentric characters that have become iconic among viewers. Its incredibly witty and hilarious dialogue has also provided audiences with an endless supply of ridiculous quotes that only fellow Big Lebowski fans understand.
A dark fantasy directed by Guillermo del Toro, Pan’s Labyrinth takes place five years after the Spanish Civil War. History then begins to blend with a mythical world as the young protagonist Ofelia encounters magical creatures that lead her to her ultimate destiny. The film was praised for its story, visual effects, cinematography, and acting. It’s a truly beautiful film to watch although violent and emotionally taxing at times, it made on numerous top-tens list in 2006. Today, it’s considered one of del Toro’s best works and is revered by the film community.
No one else could have turned the story of the Titanic into a film in the brilliant way that James Cameron did. Cameron had his hand in arguably every aspect of the film’s creation, acting as the director, writer, co-producer, and co-editor of the 1997 epic romance and disaster film.Titanic was nominated for an incredible 14 Academy Awards and won 11 Oscars, tying Ben-Hur (1959) for the most Oscars won by a single film. While some records held by Titanic may be broken or tied in the future, it will forever be the first film to hit the billion-dollar mark, grossing $1.84 billion.
Before Slumdog Millionaire came to the big screen in 2008, the mass majority of Americans weren’t familiar with the culture of the slums in India. The drama follows the life of two brothers growing up in the slums of Mumbai and screenwriter Simon Beaufoy emersed himself in the culture to make sure the film’s authenticity was on target. The year it was released, the film won the most Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and has grossed a total of $377 million.
A memorable film requires a well-written script, and it’s worth noting that many great films on this list were adaptions (even loosely based) on novels. Schindler’s List is one of them. The brilliant script by Steven Zaillian, paired with Steven Spielberg’s directing genius, made this 1993 film so hauntingly beautiful. The story follows Oskar Schindler as he saves thousands of Polish-Jewish refugees from the terrible fate of the Holocaust by hiring them to work in the factory he owned. The incredible cinematography and score featuring violinist Itzhak Perlman make Schindler’s List a film that’s practically flawless.
The Godfather Part I & II
The Godfather Part II is a rare example of a sequel film done correctly. This film is an absolute classic, directed by Francis Ford Coppola with an all-star cast including Al Pacino and Robert De Niro. Paramount Pictures immediately jumped on creating a sequel after The Godfather was a smash hit. The sequel is cemented as one of the best gangster films in history, and is even recognized by the Library of Congress for its accuracy. However, even Al Pacino wasn’t certain that The Godfather Part II would be a hit. Just before filming, his lawyers contacted Coppola, unsatisfied with the script. He rewrote it, turning it around in twenty-four hours to keep Pacino on board.
Get Out is widely acclaimed as one of the best films of this generation. Jordan Peele not only found a way to represent African-Americans and their experiences but also does a chilling job of putting the viewer in their shoes. Daniel Kaluuya plays Chris, a photographer who visits his white girlfriend’s family and from the moment he arrives at their estate, everything seems off. What at first seems casually racist with a few laughs, quickly turns into anyone’s worst nightmare. Peele’s screenplay keeps audiences at the edges of their seats with a horror film that puts a spotlight on the real horrors of American society.
There were probably a lot of people who felt that the Rocky franchise didn’t need another installment but 2015’s Creed proved them otherwise. According to Cinefix, the seventh film in the franchise was “a Hollywood primer on how to pass a torch” and is largely considered the best film since the 1976 original. Michael B. Jordan was an up-and-coming actor when he took on the role of Adonis Creed, who turns to Rocky Balboa in order to prove himself. This film didn’t just give us another version of Rocky Balboa and instead gave us a fresh protagonist with his own goals, all while revitalizing quintessential Rocky scenes for the 21st century.
Shaun Of The Dead
Before there was Hot Fuzz, there was Shaun of the Dead. The 2004 horror-comedy was another Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg original about a slacker named Shaun who is forced to grow up when the zombie apocalypse descends on his town. Pegg and Wright brilliantly brought the zombie genre back to life and instead of merely making it about gore (which there’s still plenty of), they add the perfect mixture of drama and comedy as well. There’s plenty to laugh about in this film but when you least expect it, there are scenes that will pull at your heartstrings.
At the time that Fight Club debuted in 1999 it was considered controversial and received polarized responses from critics. Still, the film has stood the test of time to become a cult classic that upholds the 1996 novel of the same name. Edward Norton plays a white-collar worker who finds himself entangled with a soap salesman played by Brad Pitt. The two end up forming an underground fight club that becomes more than what the audience expects. This film made audiences uncomfortable and does an excellent job at steering them away from the plot-twist ending.
One might be hard-pressed to include a Disney movie on this list but 2004’s The Incredibles really brought something new to the table. A Pixar film about a suburban family trying to keep their superpowers under wraps unravels when the frustrated patriarch is lured to a far away island to relive his glory days as a superhero. This film was not your typical Disney film with colorful princesses or talking animals. Instead, it changed the way superheros are viewed and everything from the computer animation to the plot is what makes The Incredibles, well, incredible.
2014’s Whiplash was highly acclaimed by critics and audiences alike and it’s easy to see why. This grossly emotional film sees Miles Teller as jazz drumming student Andrew Neiman and his relationship with his abusive instructor Terence Fletcher, played by J.K. Simmons. From the music to the impeccable acting, director Damien Chazelle did an excellent job at making the audience feel a movie rather than seeing it. It could have been just a film about teaching people never to get discouraged from their passions but it has done so much more with beautiful shots and impeccable acting.
One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was the second movie in history that swept all five major Academy Awards categories and is ranked at #33 on the American Film Institute’s “100 Years… 100 Movies” list. Critics describe Jack Nicholson’s masterful, “completely uninhibited” performance as dominating the movie, while at the same time drawing attention to all the supporting characters’ personalities. Not many who’ve seen this film will ever forget Louise Fletcher’s performance as Nurse Ratched, for example.
Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind
When out-there director Michel Gondry and existential screenwriter Charlie Kaufman came together in 2004, the result was Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The film features Jim Carrey as Joel Barish, a lonely man who becomes romantically involved with an outgoing woman named Clementine, played by Kate Winslet. After their relationship turns sour, the two undergo a procedure to erase each other from their minds, but it’s not as easy as it seems. The result is a highly emotional film and an incredibly original take on storytelling, with Kaufman’s script taking home the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Unsurprisingly, The Grand Budapest Hotel was not only director Wes Anderson’s highest-grossing film but the first to get him an Academy Award nomination for Best Director. It takes almost all of the aspects that make his films unique and combines them into one. The film is packed full of aesthetically pleasing establishing shots, witty dialogue, and quirky characters. It focuses on a lobby boy named Zero (Tony Revolori) who finds work at the Grand Budapest Hotel, run by the eccentric Monsieur Gustave (Ralph Fiennes). From there, you are thrown into Anderson’s world where nothing can be predicted.
One of the hardest topics filmmakers have attempted to tackle is the existential questions regarding religion, the meaning of life, morality, and one’s purpose. This is exactly what Martin Scorsese aimed to do in his film Silence. The film follows two Jesuit priests (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) who sneak into Japan to find that their mentor (Liam Neeson) has supposedly renounced his faith. After being discovered, Garfield’s character is forced either to recant and risk damnation or watch his fellow priests tortured to death. The film is shot like a work of art by Rodrigo Prieto with contrasts between beauty and brutality and explores the deep concepts of doubt, suffering, and faith.
If not for Steven Spielberg and his incredible team, Jaws could have become easily become a summer B-movie flick, forgotten by the next spring, but it wasn’t. Instead, it became a cultural phenomenon that has continued to prevent people from going into the ocean. Spielberg’s style of shooting building tension until it’s palpable, paired with John William’s now-iconic score produces a movie of an entirely different caliber than the public was used to. Even 40 years later, people still hesitate to go in the water, reflecting on Quint’s horrifying story of the USS Indianapolis, or the boy on the raft that never made it back to shore.
Clint Eastwood got his start in the Western genre. However, he was never any typical gunslinger. This is most evident in Unforgiven, a film he directed and starred in. The movie tells the story of a former outlaw played by Eastwood, who has given up on his old ways to raise his children. However, in desperate need of money, he takes up one more contract, but it’s more than he bargained for. It’s a tale that Eastwood describes as showing the true ugliness of violence, not glorifying it like typical Western tropes. It provides the audience with a realistic experience of what it’s like to kill and to die.
There Will Be Blood
Director Paul Thomas Anderson brings the hunt for oil and greed for money in the late 19th century to life in his film There Will Be Blood. Starring the revered Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano, the two men battle for the control of oil, with Day-Lewis’ character slowly but surely becoming more unhinged. It’s a commentary on the negative effects of capitalism on American society, and the depraved things greed can drive people to do. Day-Lewis’ astonishing performance is perfectly backed by Robert Elswit’s shooting and Anderson’s screenplay, creating a film that looks and feels as black and grimy as oil.
You Were Never Really Here
You Were Never Really Here follows Joe, (Joaquin Phoenix) a hammer-wielding hitman hired by a senator to rescue his daughter from a sex trafficking ring. However, he soon discovers that he’s fallen deep into a dangerous conspiracy. While the plot may not seem all that original, the way the characters are handled and how the film subverts expectations is what makes it stand out among the rest. Phoenix beautifully shows his character’s suffering while simultaneously being a loving son and a ruthless killer. It’s his ability to do so and the plot’s unexpected turns that takes the film to new heights.
Set in the 1630s, after being banished from their Puritan Plymouth community, a father and his family set off into the wilderness where they establish a farm on the edge of a vast forest. After their infant son mysteriously disappears, the family tears itself apart while simultaneously being manipulated by a supernatural force in the woods.For his directorial debut, Robert Eggers spent four years researching for the film, making it as realistic and equally as horrifying as possible, right down to the dialogue. On top of the impending sense of doom that the film evokes, it wouldn’t have been nearly as effective without the outstanding performances of the cast both young and old.
Manchester By The Sea
Manchester by the Sea isn’t exactly the kind of film you watch for entertainment, or to walk away feeling talkative and satisfied. Written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan, the film follows Lee Chandler, (Casey Affleck) who is forced to return to his hometown after the death of his brother. Learning that he now has custody of his teenage nephew, he is also confronted with his past, an event that created a wound that will never heal. Rightfully, Affleck won an Oscar for his performance as did Lonergan for Best Original Screenplay. As amazing as it is, the film evokes emotions you never want to have to experience in real life.
Mad Max: Fury Road
Today, it’s easy to become desensitized to CGI explosions and action sequences, but that’s not the case with Mad Max: Fury Road. The fourth installment of the Mad Max franchise, the film follows Max Rockatansky, (Tom Hardy) a borderline feral human, living in a post-apocalyptic world. He finds himself in a heist with Furiosa (Charlize Theron) to save five women from the grips of an evil warlord, and chaos ensues. Although the plot is enticing, it’s the action and effects that make it a cut above. The majority of the stunts are real, as well are the out-of-this-world vehicles sweeping across the wasteland. Furthermore, the world-building is incredible with the cinematography making everything feel a little too real.