My Top 5 Favourite Films

Top 5 Favourite Films List

Whiplash

With music being my second greatest love to film, Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash struck all the right chords with me (if you’ll excuse the pun). Especially as I also play the drums myself.

The story follows a young percussionist named Andrew Neiman who attends the Schaffer Conservatory in the hopes that one day he’ll become one of the great jazz musicians of his generation. In his attempt to achieve this dream he encounters Terrance Fletcher, a terrifying but very much revered music instructor. Terrance sees talent in Andrew and pushes him to the absolute breaking point in the hope that he will reach his full potential. This leads Andrew to question whether he has what it takes both mentally and physically to become one of ‘the greats’ such as Buddy Rich.

Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons who play Neiman and Fletcher respectively give incredible performances throughout. The dynamic between them is filled with so much tension that whenever I watch it, despite knowing what happens, I’m always on the edge of my seat still. What makes their dynamic so interesting is that regardless of the clear hatred Andrew holds for Fletcher at points, there is also a deeply rooted respect and yearning for approval. In the film, we learn that Andrew’s father is a failed writer who settled in life for a mediocre job. When comparing the relationship Andrew has with his father to that with Fletcher, there is a strong argument to be made that Andrew craves Fletcher’s approval more than his own father’s as he respects him more, and aspires to be like him. This idea is supported at the end of the film by the fact that despite all the animosity that occurs between both Andrew and Fletcher, they still bring out the best in each other. Andrew has achieved the greatness he was craving, and Fletcher’s relentless bullying to forge ‘a great’ has finally paid off. Meanwhile, Andrew’s father simply waits for him backstage by the sidelines forgotten after a brief hug.

One of the big questions raised in Whiplash is whether pushing someone to achieve greatness is worth it, even if it can break them. It seems an obvious answer that it should be no, as illustrated by the suicide of a previous student of Fletcher’s’ in the film, and Andrew’s degeneration in mental health throughout. Despite this, there is some weight to the claim that if people aren’t pushed towards greatness, then they’ll never achieve it. This is reinforced by Fletcher’s anecdote about Joe Jones throwing a cymbal at Charlie Parker’s head which inspired him to practice more and become one of the greatest musicians to have ever lived. This is mirrored in the film when Andrew can’t keep in time with Fletcher as he conducts, resulting in him throwing a chair at Andrew’s head.

Not only is the film engrossing, riveting and extremely enjoyable (even if very difficult to watch at times), but the actual filming is beautiful as well – the fast-paced shots of drumming and the scenes changing in time with the tempo of the jazz being played is just incredible to watch. It’s hard for me to determine my favourite film of all time, but this is certainly up there and I extremely recommend watching it if you ever have the chance. (Preferably with a good sound system so you can hear the final drum solo in all its glory!)

Into the Wild

I first watched Into the Wild on the recommendation of a friend. I must admit, when he told me about it, I had very little desire to watch it - How foolish I was…
Based on the true story of Christopher McCandless (played by Emile Hirsch), the film follows his life from when he graduates University to his eventual death in the Alaskan wilderness (sorry for the spoiler…). His story is incredibly inspiring and also one you can’t help but love until his untimely and tragic death.

For some reason, I’ve always had a devout love of America (despite all its flaws, but we won’t get into politics here…) and Into the Wild I especially love as it exhibits so many beautiful and less well-known rural places in America; A farm in South Dakota, the Alaskan wilderness, the Colorado River in Arizona, or even the man-made and charming Salvation Mountain in California - It’s refreshing to see a film which isn’t based in yet another big city. Again, in this film, the cinematography is beautiful too. I particularly loved the shots where the sunlight is blinding the lens giving it that more natural feel compared to a lot of the very polished shots you get in other films. This is emphasised even more when we are shown flashbacks to the past and a vintage style filter reminiscent of a projector is used.

The second thing I particularly love about this film is the relationships Christopher forges with the other characters which are heart-warming. A few examples of these beautiful companionships are between Christopher and a hippie couple named Jan and Rainey who become de facto parents to him after he runs away from his real family. Another is with Ron Franz. I must admit, I’m not one to often cry in films, but Christopher’s relationship with Ron gets to me every time… it’s heart-wrenching.
In an age growing ever more reliant on technology *he writes on his laptop whilst checking Facebook intermittently*, Into the Wild encourages you to take a step away from technology and the busy-ness of life for a second to appreciate the simple things. Whilst this leads to Christopher’s death because he takes it a step too far, it is a lesson we can all learn a little from (without trying to sound pretentious). Try and find the beauty and joy in things you usually wouldn’t – one of my favourite scenes in the film is when Christopher sits down and describes a simple apple saying, “You’re really good. You’re like a hundred, thousand times better than any apple I’ve ever had … You’re so tasty. You’re so organic. You’re so natural. You’re the apple of my eye!”

500 Days of Summer

We all have our guilty pleasures – for some, it’s a certain musician, others it’s a food, but for me, it’s a Rom-Com. I’m not particularly proud, but I love them. They nearly always make me laugh, they’re very easy to watch, and they always have incredibly satisfying endings. That being said, similar to horror films, it’s rare to find a truly good Rom-Com – 500 Days of Summer happens to be one of them, however.

The plot centres on Tom, a failed architect who settles for a job in designing greeting cards. One day at work, he meets a girl called Summer who he immediately falls in love with after they bond over The Smiths. As you would expect, they end up together despite having very different opinions on love – Tom believes in true love, whilst Summer believes love is a fantasy, and if anything, restrictive. This causes subsequent problems in their relationship when Tom wants commitment from Summer that she doesn’t feel she can honestly give. This leads them to break up and Tom to spiral into depression. After a long period of wallowing in heartbreak, Tom decides to try and reignite his passion for architecture. Towards the end of the film, Tom bumps into Summer and finds out that she’s now married and living happily which angers him due to her previous conception that love was a fallacy. She replies that he was right about true love, just that he wouldn’t have found it with her. Time moves on, and Tom applies for a job as an architect. Whilst waiting to go in for his interview, he meets a girl called Autumn who we are led to assume he ends up happily ever after with.

What I love about 500 Days of Summer is that it manages to convincingly convey the myriad of emotions everyone feels in regard to love in the space of a feature-length film. Not only that but to me, unlike other Rom-Com’s it has always felt a lot more grounded in realism. Tom doesn’t end up with Summer through some unrealistic grand romantic gesture which somehow salvages their relationship, but instead, meets someone new who is better suited to him in every way.

Whilst browsing Reddit, I happened to come across this beautiful theory regarding the film which is incredibly convincing and something I also picked up on across my numerous times of viewing it. This theory discusses in depth how the colour palette of the film helps to symbolise that neither Summer nor Tom was right for each other and that in order to be happy, you shouldn’t have to change who you are to make it work – it should be natural. In the film, Tom is represented by the colour brown, and Summer is represented by the colour blue (which are un-coincidentally exact opposites on the colour wheel) – this shows that they’re intrinsically different people and for them to be together, one of them would have to irrevocably change who they are. Instead, Tom eventually meets Autumn who is also represented by the colour brown so naturally fits into his world. I won’t patronise you by pointing out the obvious comparisons between her name and the colours associated with it for you to get the link. (https://www.reddit.com/r/movies/comments/2vt2jt/500_days_of_summers_color_palette_theory_why/)

In summary, 500 Days of Summer is just a very grounded, funny and enjoyable film that I could never get tired of watching. I also really love the soundtrack which features music from Temper Trap, Hall & Oates and more. It also doesn’t hurt that I love both Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel as actors, and the somewhat iconic ‘Expectation vs. Reality’ sequence will always be one of my favourite film scenes of all time.

Pulp Fiction

Where do I begin writing about a cult classic like Pulp Fiction? Most people have seen it, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest most people love it – But why do people love it? That I can’t say for sure, however, I can tell you the reasons that I do. Pulp Fiction is one of my favourite films ever made because when I first saw it, it was unlike anything I had ever seen before. I wasn’t familiar with any of Quentin Tarantino’s other films as I was still fairly young (to be honest, I probably shouldn’t have been watching Pulp Fiction either), but this film had me captivated from start to finish.

One of the things I loved most, which was a totally new concept to me at the time, was the idea plots didn’t have to be linear. As most of you will know, the film opens in the diner which is also where the film ends. I remember distinctly being amazed at how any director could be so clever to think something like this up. I was then even more astounded when I began to realise all the characters’ storylines were interlinked under this one larger plot. I now realise that Pulp Fiction is by no means the only film to do this, but because it was the first film to introduce me to these concepts, I’ve always had a fond nostalgia and respect for it.

As well as this, it was also the first time I’d seen this kind of hyper-violence which has become synonymous with Tarantino and his films. One of my favourite scenes in the film which illustrates this perfectly is when Jules and Vincent are driving with Marvin in a car, and Vincent’s gun accidentally goes off, resulting in Marvin being shot in the head. Not only did this take me completely by surprise as it was so unexpected, but their nonchalant reaction to it had me in stitches with Vincent simply saying, “Ah man, I shot Marvin in the face…”, as if it was on par with spilling some milk. 

I guess in summary the reason I love Pulp Fiction so much is that it was a film which introduced me to a lot more mature concepts in cinema – much more complex plot lines, sex, violence, racial issues, etc, and every time I re-watch it, it never gets old. I think that is a good place to start for identifying if you truly love something – no matter how much time you spend watching or being with it, you don’t get sick of it. (And so far I haven’t!)

Drive

Whenever I talk to someone about the film Drive, I almost always get one of two responses; I loved it, or it was incredibly dull. For me though, Drive is a piece of cinematic beauty. The story from start to finish is incredibly minimalistic and relies solely on a simple but brilliant plot along with great nuanced acting - something that is rarely done these days due to plots either being too convoluted or simply bland.

In a nutshell, the film centres around a nameless character who is often referred to as ‘The Driver’ and opens with him being the getaway driver for a small-time robbery. Unlike other getaway drivers in films, he doesn’t simply throttle the car and speed off doing elaborate stunts, but is calm and calculated, spending as much time driving at the speed limit to avoid detection as he does hurtling it down a highway avoiding other cars. The plot thickens when he develops a flirtation with his neighbour, Irene, and aids her husband who was recently released from prison in a robbery. As expected, the robbery is a failure due to them being set up, and it culminates in Irene’s husband’s death, and ‘The Driver’ is left with the million dollars they robbed. After Irene and her son are threatened by the mob whose money it is, ‘The Driver’ arranges to meet up with them to try and wipe the slate clean. Bernie, the mob boss shows up and tries to kill ‘The Driver’ after he has handed the money to him so that there are no ‘loose ends’. ‘The Driver, however, stabs Bernie back, killing him and leaving the money behind with the body as he drives off into the night, not to be seen again.

Part of what makes Drive so brilliant for me is that a lot of the emotional weight of the film is based on actions, rather than words. There are no long-winded monologues or cheesy lines which tug at the heartstrings – Instead, there are subtle actions. A great example of this is when ‘The Driver’ and Irene’s flirtation begins and they’re driving together, and instead of either of them saying anything, she simply places her hand on top of his and they interlock fingers – nothing else was needed to imply they’d fallen for each other and it’s very romantic.  

My favourite sequence in the film is when Irene, her son and ‘The Driver’ are cruising down a concrete culvert (it always reminds me of the one from the final car race in Grease) and ‘Real Hero’ by College is playing. Everything is shrouded in sunlight as you watch them all having fun and their relationships developing without a single word being said. It’s a beautiful piece of cinematography by director Nicolas Winding Refn.

Despite being a man of very few words, ‘The Driver’ is an incredibly complex character. Played by Ryan Gosling who has a natural babyface, it’s hard to ever view him as a true criminal throughout the film, yet this is exactly what he is. This is disguised even further through his relationship with Irene and how much he cares for her and her son. Ultimately, it’s his love for them that drives him (pun intended) to commit the incredible violence which seems so out of character, yet also completely natural to him. This is another reason I find Drive so compelling as I’ve never truly known what to think of ‘The Driver’ as a character, and this fascinates me. Is he indeed a ‘Real Hero’, or just another violent criminal who we happen to also sympathise with?

A final brief note on Drive is that it was the first film whose soundtrack I fell in love with – I listened to it on repeat for days on end. My three favourite songs from the soundtrack are ‘Real Hero’ which I’ve previously mentioned, ‘Nightcall’, and ‘Under Your Spell’ which I still listen to regularly.

Conclusion


Picking five favourite films was horrible as my list constantly fluctuates. These five films, however, are the ones which are consistently on it so I decided they made the most sense to write about. I’d love to hear back from those of you who made it to the end of this longer blog entry; what are your top five favourite films? Do you like my choices, and if not, why? Thanks for reading as always, and I look forward to writing my next article for you soon.  

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