1.  Innocence (Lucile Hadzihalovic, 2005)

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A surreal evocation of life at a girls’ boarding school, this spellbindingly beautiful French film is loosely adapted from Frank Wedekind’s 1888 symbolist novella Mine-Haha: The Corporal Education Of Young Girls. The film views events through the eyes of six-year-old Iris as she arrives at a mysterious institution bounded by an impenetrable perimeter wall. A sense of menace lurks beneath the ritualized existence of the girls, who appear to be being groomed for some unseen purpose. Dreamlike and governed by its own inner logic, Innocence is both a successor to Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock and a precursor to Jordan Scott’s 2009 Cracks.

2.  Prince of the City (Sydney Lumet, 1981)

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This epic foray into the world of narcotics, police corruption and wire taps was made 25 years before The Wire hit our screens. Treat Williams is rivetingly intense as New York cop Daniel Ciello, caught between loyalty to his dirty partners and the desire for redemption. Based on a real life internal investigation, Lumet’s film exposes in forensic detail the complex human pyramid propping up the drugs trade, from street punk to high court judge.  That this stone cold classic is currently unavailable on DVD is, well, criminal.

3.  Onibaba (Kaneto Shindo, 1964)

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Evoking extremes of sex and death with a unique visual poetry, Onibaba is among the most beautiful howls of despair ever committed to celluloid. In war-torn 14th century Japan, a woman and her widowed daughter-in-law eke out a miserable existence in a susuki grass swamp. They survive by killing samurai for their armor and disposing of the bodies in a pit.  When a comrade of the girl’s dead husband returns from the war, lust and jealousy begin to poison the women’s relationship. The black and white cinematography is breathtaking, particularly the feverish nocturnal scenes in which the girl runs, terrified, through the eerily undulating grass to reach her lover. No less remarkable is Hikaru Hayashi’s dissonant soundtrack, which deploys found sounds including pigeons chirping.

4.  Primer (Shane Carruth, 2004)

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This US indie, written and directed by former mathematician Shane Carruth for $7,000, is the story of two engineers in a Dallas suburb who accidentally invent a time machine in their garage.  Initially, the pair use their new toy to play the stock market, but as they explore its potential further they find themselves embroiled in a nightmarish world of endless paradox. A smart, funny and frightening film about the relationship between ethics and science, Primer picks up where the mind-bending narrative twists of Christopher Nolan’s Memento left off.

5.  The Dresser (Peter Yates, 1983)

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Set in London during the Blitz, The Dresser is based on playwright Ronald Harwood’s experiences as an assistant to legendary Shakespearean actor-manager Sir Donald Wolfit.  Tom Courtenay plays the eponymous “dresser”, a long suffering dogsbody to Albert Finney’s tyrannical, ailing, alcoholic actor, referred to only as “Sir”.  By turns hilarious and deeply moving, the film brilliantly captures the interdependence between the two men, who function like a married couple and increasingly resemble Lear and the Fool. You could cut yourself on the dialogue, and both Courtenay and Finney are magnificent.

Ten great films you haven’t seen, no’s 1-5

 

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