Monday, October 3, 2016

#Top10...with Ella Donald

#Top10 is a brand new feature to Movie Critical. Each week we will be chatting to a film lover or a member of the film community about their #Top10 favourite films and discussing what makes these films so special to them. We all have different tastes in film and watch movies differently depending on who we are. The object of #Top10 is to share the love of film and hopefully you the reader can find some new favourites.

Our guest for today's #Top10 is writer, journalist and film critic, Ella Donald!

Here's a few words from Ella describing herself...

"When I'm introduced to people I meet as “the movie one”, I know my reputation precedes me. I grew up watching everything, particularly old Hollywood musicals (if you ever want an in-depth discussion on MGM's back catalogue, you know where to find me) and comedies, and today (as well as studying at university) I'm a freelance journalist and film critic . I can talk way too much about everything, from how that perfect swell in the music at the end of Laurence Anyways ALWAYS makes me cry because it feels so much like the ache of being in love, to how Velvet Goldmine is really the film that encapsulates the mysticism and euphoria of fandom in your teenage years, to how I watched Seven Brides for Seven Brothers most days before I started school.

My life feels lived through films, each favourite somehow intertwined with a part of my story. Where do I start to compile this list? Asking me to name my favourite films is never definitive, it feels more like a snapshot in time than a list that is in any way permanent. Every time I pick I feel like I'm leaving off something incredibly important. So, think of this as less of an all-timer, and more of a right-now list. These are the films I've been coming back to lately, that I can't get out of my mind. The list is alphabetical, because I'm not a fan of ranking things, it intensifies my anxiety about coming back five minutes later and changing everything. Although, if you've taken a look at my social media in the past year, you can probably guess which one rises above the rest... I'm nothing if not obsessive."

10 Things I Hate About You (1999)

This one needs little introduction, because it's one I'm sure many have seen! So let me tell you the story of how I first saw it, which is one of the reasons why I hold it so dear. I was on holiday when I was 11 and it was our final night. My parents had booked a hotel that looked MUCH better on the website, but turned out to be a sketchy single room where the only overhead light was in the bathroom and our neighbours seemed intent on having an argument all night. So we sat up and watched hotel room cable TV (I remember also watching Pleasantville) until we fell asleep and this was the second one we watched. I told you, life lived through movies here. This one just gets better the more times I watch it, the dialogue and references just get funnier. Combine the charisma of Heath Ledger here and in I'm Not There (another favourite), and damn, I just miss him more and more as the years go by. My latest thing is I like to imagine that Kat, who talks about Bikini Kill, was a fan of Sleater-Kinney too. 

All That Jazz (1979)

Here lies a film that shouldn't work. An eerily prophetic portrait of how Fosse himself would die only 7 years later, it's autobiographically self-indulgent to a fault. Is that the highest act of art itself, death as depicted on screen?

Roy Scheider plays Fosse (not fresh faced, young Bob Fosse of Kiss Me Kate and My Sister Eileen)'s proxy Joe Gideon, a drug and alcohol-addled, brittle multi-hyphenate who drives himself off the edge from exhaustion while editing a film and staging a new Broadway show. The film is based on Fosse's experiences while he was rehearsing "Chicago" while editing Lenny in the early 1970s. Ann Reinking and Leland Palmer play thinly-veiled versions of Reinking herself and Fosse's longtime partner Gwen Verdon, respectively. There's also the incredible 13-year-old Erzsebet Foldi in her first (and only) film role as Fosse's often-neglected daughter. But why, how on earth does it work? Like many films that exert a manic, impossible genius, it's hard to say. It's a dizzying, kaleidoscopic journey, one that's continually walking the tightrope between triumph and failure and somehow failing. Plus, it has some of the most incredible editing I've ever witnessed, making sense of the madness on screen. 

Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight (1995, 2004, 2013)

I graduated from high school in 2013, the year that Midnight came out. That was the year I became
obsessed with these films. There were so many days where I'd come home, cry and put Sunrise and Sunset on. Linklater's strength in these films is the sense of place and time, how quickly one gets attached to these characters.

The story is simple. Celine, a Parisian student; meets Jesse, an aimless American, on a train through Europe. Through an impulsive decision, they decide to get off the train in Vienna and spend the night together. Their story picks up again nine years later, and then another nine years after that. Each rewatch feels like a catch up with friends, a homecoming to a place where one is always welcome, but it always feels spontaneous. There's something always new and magical happening, like those afternoons and evenings are unfolding before my eyes for the first time. A relationship formed, rediscovered and explored, waiting for me to return to whenever I want to. No matter what, Celine and Jesse will always be wandering around the capitals of Europe, falling together, apart, and together again.

Carol (2015)

Todd Haynes is undoubtedly my favourite director and most of his films rank in my favourites, but I've restrained myself to just one in this list for the sake of some variety. This one will be completely expected to anyone who has talked to me for a minute, let alone knows me quite well, over the past year (psst...I've seen it 14 times. I was good to do fact-checking from memory after about four). It's a film I could write endlessly about and still not feel like I quite perfectly articulated why exactly I love it so much, one that's profoundly affected me personally. Here's an extract from my 2000 word monster of a sort-of-review/essay about it when it was released earlier this year:

As I watch it again and again and sit down to try describe the indescribable, to try capture the magic of this film, I’m convinced that indeed, this is the film I’ve been waiting the first twenty years of my life for. Why, exactly, is beyond objective reason or description, writing about it is a never ending task fraught with failure. Every time I settle into my cinema seat, hear the first longing notes, I am utterly transported to another world. It’s a world of understanding, a world of love, a world that feels straight from the depths of my heart, too familiar to actually exist. I look into Therese’s eyes and see something about myself, something ephemeral. I drink in the surroundings, trying to catch every minute detail, and failing. No matter how many times I see it, I can’t get enough.

It's one of those perfect films, those ones I adore so much. Every time I watch it feels new but still familiar. Its wonders are bottomless, that I can't wait to continue to discover in years to come.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

It's a film I know few feel passionately about and if it's passion one feels about it, it's mostly of the negative kind. A sentimental love story in the midst of David Fincher's typically cold and violent nihilism, I've read plenty of dismissals of it as being overlong, hokey, Brad Pitt's voiceover being a little too Forrest Gump-esque... But there's a real melancholy here, a sadness and groundedness to the story that Fincher brings. The idea of time slipping away slowly, without knowing when it will end. The feeling of constantly missing one another or something, that there is never enough time. The inevitable loneliness of life. Plus, Cate Blanchett plays a dancer, and there's something that Fincher and screenwriter Eric Roth, as well as Blanchett, get oh-so-right about that storyline and characterisation. It achieves something ephemeral about being a dancer, something moving.

High Society (1956)

The Philadelphia Story is also a favourite! But I love this semi-musical version of it that's been one of my favourites since childhood. It gives Grace Kelly, one of my favourite actors, some fantastic sharp dialogue to work with and a wardrobe that is to die for

Lilo and Stitch (2002)

It was an unintentional choice by my parents, but I didn't see any Disney Princess movies or anything like The Lion King until I was 13, but I saw this at the cinema, for some reason. Maybe it was the Elvis music? But in any case, it's a small wonder. Only 75 minutes long, it's hilarious and heartfelt, and despite it being half about a blue alien, it's one of the more realistic Disney films. 

Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day (2008)

Another one I saw at the cinema and have loved ever since. A 50s comedy somehow crafted with perfection in 2008, it's infectiously delightful and rewatchable. The titular Miss Pettigrew (Frances McDormand) is a middle-aged London governess who stumbles into the fast-moving world of American actress and singer Delysia Lafosse (Amy Adams, fresh off breaking out with Junebug) for one memorable day. Songs, laughter, tears, delightful actors doing comedy for once aplenty. Does one need anything more?

Paris is Burning (1990)

A snapshot of a New York long gone, a tribute to a culture absorbed into the mainstream without being acknowledged to where it's from. Jennie Livingston's documentary chronicles the ball culture of New York City in the late 1980s and early 90s and the gay and transgender African-American and Latino communities involved in it. The third 'act' of sorts, where Livingston returns a year later to find that the ball community has been appropriated by white, straight people (eg. Madonna popularising voguing) is devastating. 

Titanic (1997)

Beautifully escapist. Particularly watch it in a cinema and it's just so...spectacular. Spectacularly overwhelming, gorgeous, romantic, an emotional experience like no other. It's just completely immersive, a finely constructed world to get lost in for three hours. Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio. Their chemistry is mind-blowing, it's a joy to watch them fall in love again and again. But also, Jack is ultimately a bit of a boring character. The story isn't how Jack saves Rose, it's about how Jack, who with a happy-go-lucky attitude and a knack for being good at everything, gives Rose the strength she needs to control her own life going forward. Jack's merely an accessory to her storyline. Jack didn't save Rose. Rose saved herself.

A shortlist, because why not: Cafe de Flore, Go West, Kiss Me Kate, On the Town, Centre Stage, An Education, Laurence Anyways, Monsieur Lazhar, Fantastic Mr Fox, Mustang, His Girl Friday, I Love Melvin, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Fincher), The Social Network, Velvet Goldmine, Etre et Avoir, Persepolis, Stories We Tell, The Odd Couple. Heavenly Creatures, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Paper Moon, Take This Waltz, Hugo, Girl Walk // All Day, The Descendants, What Maisie Knew...and the list goes on.

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