Chungking Express (1996) – Wong Kar-Wai

A melancholic film that is comfortable within its own set of rules, Chungking Express is silence suffused with expression. The film is soft in the way that it’s unrestricted. It is packed with dialogue that transcends normalcy and with colors that beget an eccentric reality.

The film materializes more than just a feeling. Hence, it stands as its own defense against the justification of that feeling. And so there’s no knowing what lingers within the surface of the film; at least not until the deep presence of each character’s realities is sought. And to do so takes much courage and empathy which isn’t well-suited for a light-hearted audience.

The film is ambiguous but with its own rare personality. It digs into everything from loneliness, loss, heartbreak, and expectation to what it means to earn a living and how one’s livelihood can never be one’s true reflection of self.

The structure of the film and its narration take up a poetic place. The cinematography pulls you in, from time to time, in an engaging and comfortable manner. Until finally, it drops you into its intricate elements so thoughtfully and sentimentally – it’s discovering life in its purest form.

If you pay attention, you will find that this film’s details contain its whole. The gestures, stillness, and generosity of the first story are portrayed alongside the second. But fate is such that they’ll never meet. Maybe this is what gives Wong Kar-Wai’s films a unique and nostalgic sense of wisdom. To watch it is to instill essence into the simple as much as the grand scheme of things. A gentle, corrective reminder that the proof of our existence is not in what happens to us, eventually, but what we do, as much in our thoughts as in our actions.

The Double Life of Veronique (1991) – Krzysztof Kieslowski

A film intricately shot, as the life of Veronica, and then the life of Veronique, is reflected back and forth in a dreamlike and hypnotic way. The Double Life of Veronique illustrates the power of unaffected beauty. It’s a pure and sentient film. It moves as you do, in time and feeling, just when you’re about to grasp the whole of its atmosphere and rhythm.

The film is like a reflection you’d see on a deep and translucent patch of water. And you want to lean in closer and closer and tap the almost-too-perfect surface until you realize that it’s perfect because it is still. A film that evokes such a sentimental canvas is a film that remains unforgettable. There’s no other way to understand it, but with profound love and empathy.

Love and empathy for the lives that live parallelly to our own. The faces we make up and shed and go back to and that, in the end, perish only because we evolve and the masks don’t fit anymore.

The film is about identity and becoming it. Which often collides with the possibilities of human destiny. What’s so cruel yet honest about this film is that we are only capable of loving others in our thoughts, feelings, desires, and fears. This is not because we’re made from the same star-stuff. But we carry within us all of nature’s vibrations and hues; intricate, boundless, and personal. And so we can never truly recognize others as they really are but only as we are. And in that, is loving and living, as we know it.

Eyes Wide Shut (1999) – Stanley Kubrick

Eyes Wide Shut forces you to imagine the unimaginable and allows such foreplay to solidify into ripples that often disturb a still surface. These ripples are made from the stuff of dreams, fears, desires, and fetishes. No matter how vehemently we deny such invisibles in life. Sometimes out of sadness, loneliness, ignorance, or fear. They are often celebrated in our subconscious and never deny to show up in dreams.

Eyes Wide Shut invents such a fable and as a film comprising of such profound and strong characters, it is fulfilling and cerebrally fictive. It illustrates how delusional, limited, and too ‘into our heads’ we can be. That our external surroundings become fragments of not an objective reality but a product of our own imagination and fancy. What we seek, we shall find.

Stanley Kubrick’s masterful stroke on a blank canvas is done in strikingly audacious colors. This film uses language and gesture in the most idiosyncratic manner. With ephemeral subplots like the pianist, the hooker, the daughter of the owner of the costume store, and Mandy, it gains its dreamlike personality as much from them as from the lives of William and Alice.

Where the mind uses reason and logic to curb the imagination. The imagination, too, has its own intellect and intuition. Eyes Wide Shut is the consummation of this abstraction of the self. And it often shoots up to the surface in symbols such as the face mask, drugs, money, Rainbow Fashions, William’s New York State Medical Board Card, and the Christmas trees.

To watch it is to unmask the repressed nature of human’s spiraling sexuality and desires. And how such impulses are often compromised because of what we think is good or bad for us.

The Master (2012) – Paul Thomas Anderson

The Master is one such film that I’d love to deconstruct over and over again to watch it from different perspectives. The film reiterates the hidden layers of one’s cognitive functioning veiling the boundaries of emotions. It’s a spellbinding film intended to introduce the concept of Scientology to those totally unaware of it. The concept of the “knowing” of knowledge. As vague as that sounds, the film makes a good show of it.

The movie has plenty of cues – elements if you will – that demonstrate an idea or a consciousness. Such as the motorcycle, the sand sculpture, and the intoxicating scene where Freddie Quell is made to walk to and away from the glass window. The film is coarse, imaginative, and persistent. But is it real? That remains a mystery – a reflection of its own inevitable path.

The Master is experimental and profoundly attached to its personality – which is nothing short of inventive and extraordinary. To watch it is to see the universe in a flux of fears, desires, emotions, and feelings. The pull of consciousness that separates a dream from reality as soon as you are caught in a wake. But is that necessarily an awakening? This is where the depth of the sea of limitations of knowledge runs the deepest.

The 400 Blows (1959) – Francois Truffaut

Watching Jean-Pierre Leaud as a young boy trapped between his defining moments with a friend and his duty as a son to detached and bleary parents is a journey. The film, The 400 Blows, is about identity as much as it is about the extraction of one’s self from conditioned consciousness. The agony of growing up is painful but surviving it is even more harrowing.

The boy, Antoine Dionel, seeks a relationship which is fundamental for all those who appear to be. But who are these people? And do they or can they love and appreciate us in the way we’d want them to? Do we truly know how we want to be loved? Such questions often rise to the surface of the film and they sink back in again just when you think you know the answers.

To evolve – for instance – in ways as if one rebels and seeks strange yet stimulating experiences is feeling free, even for a day. But then you’re back to playing a role; into setting a table in which you’re nothing but the spitting image of the chair next to you. Is that the good life?

The film is told in detailed melancholy. It’s expressive, intelligent, and amusing. It’s at a crossroads between being a sad and poetically modern film. The kind that redeems itself with every scene, that is, if you’re willing to open yourself up to exploring new dimensions in a black and white film. Because it arrives with a strange longing to be seen and understood. And departs as being one of the greatest and purest films about searching for one’s true identity.

Synecdoche, New York (2008) – Charlie Kaufman

Do not enter this film knowing that you know. But you can exit knowing that what you know is never known. Synecdoche, New York is a film that punches you in the stomach but only that you’ll never feel it. It’s the manifestation of the absurdity of life essentially after all your fears have materialized. And that you’ve imagined them to have unraveled right in front of your eyes. That unraveling of suffering, pain, loneliness, and isolation is what the story is about.

The film creates a world in which the protagonist, Caden, is impenetrable. His is a language that exists more in being understood rather than being spoken. And to accept that your fear is the only constant that runs with you. And that the ephemerality of shared togetherness is never really shared, to begin with, is profoundly ethereal and comforting.

The film does one hell of a job at playing a part of life that is philosophical – as being an unapologetic driving force. That consumes those who are not averse to it. And discards those who are. This philosophy as a way of life demands more as a whole than its fragments. This is to say that the film demands the “you” that is true and real.

To watch it is to never truly grasp the measure of the sincerity of existence. The film’s inevitability takes you to great heights from where you jump into deeper ones. But it is surely the stuff of genius; the brown tip of a matchstick that burns first in spite of knowing its end is built into its beginning.

Good Morning (1959) – Yasujiro Ozu

Cinema is good because cinema is true. What Good Morning does is it transcends a structure into a realm comprising of all too familiar moments of life. It presents to us a story, with a beginning and an end, firmly rooted in an introspective context.

I say “a beginning and an end” because it follows a line of thought until it follows through it. The film holds a spotlight thrown over the lives of the movie’s characters. With Isamu, Minoru, Setsuko and their relations that ground one as much as it uplifts the other.

The film is Yasujiro Ozu’s perspective of form over language. He wants you to lean in toward the film and not the other way around. And to reciprocate, the film feels luminously free-spirited and boundless. It’s a persistent film with subtle yet isolated characters. The film consists of many cues that are effective at delivering a message. Like the boys pressing each other’s foreheads to fart, the little boy saying “I love you” before leaving the house, the wives bitching about each other in a rather detached and forlorn manner or the husbands struggling to cope with retirement and authority.

It’s a wholesome film exhibiting exquisite personality. To watch it is to appreciate a film in its purest and subliminal form. This is a start. Discovering Yasujiro Ozu’s intricate, transcendental, and influential storytelling technique. I look forward to all his films, especially Tokyo Story.

Annie Hall (1977) – Woody Allen

An idiosyncratic and amusing film about the enigma that is love, Annie Hall is a revelation. It sort of feels like a fast-paced film – in terms of transitions – but takes its time to unravel – in terms of dialogue – to bring out the best of Alvy (Woody Allen) and Annie (Diane Keaton).

The beauty of the film rests in its unconventionality. And this motif seeps through and through in every aspect of the film. Making it one of the purest films I’ve ever seen. The pace is held in perfect balance with the vibe of the film. It’s funny, tragic, and unpredictable. Even though seen together, Alvy and Annie have distinct personalities that shine individually on screen.

Such a distinction is hard to present in a love story. At one time, you’re left to wonder what you’re actually exploring in the film. Is it Alvy? Is it Annie Hall? Or is their relationship? The film works a certain way in the first act and then suddenly shifts gear into the second act to make sense of the first one. It couldn’t have been a genius without such a structure.

Annie Hall is a story about everyone you meet. To watch it is to fall in love with the idea of love. And, in the same breath, question compatibility, affection, and pleasure – which sooner or later we imagine being the measure of our lives.

The Florida Project (2017) – Sean Baker

To transcend from the monumental details that could possibly shape a child’s life and land on a ground that’s most dense and affected by the microscopic living of life is this film’s beauty. It doesn’t define a “way of living” nor does it set any limitations against it. What makes The Florida Project work is its crispness and audacity.

Every character’s consciousness is deeply imbued by their capacity for understanding and sentiment. Leaving no scope for knee-jerk reactions or spontaneity. Rather, the lives of Moonee, Bobby, and Halley interweave in such a way that it seems unfiltered, brave, and yet hidden in plain sight.

It’s easier to regard this film as an account of a young mother’s struggle or frustration; mirroring that of a child’s or Bobby’s (William Dafoe). But that’s not it. Sean Baker has transcribed a film as if from a foreign language into a film with emphatic complexity.

It’s a film about perspective and the actor that holds the torch, from beginning to end, is Moonee played by Brooklynn Prince. An enigmatic and impressive soul who, at a time in the film, stood in front of a fallen tree and still marveled at its ability to grow when still bent.

The striking motels and the Magic Castle play coyly with the vibe of the film. Which not only recognizes this film as a masterpiece but also realizes the intensity of human relationships and how they’re never forgotten even when misplaced.

To watch it is to observe the slow descent of a life measured in seconds and not years. And to honor and guard it unflinchingly on one’s shoulders as if it’s not responsibility but the world’s greatest treasure.

Whiplash (2014) – Damien Chazelle

Whiplash is a powerful movie. Period. It’s the eye of the storm and the destruction that it causes. It’s the unmaking of a character and his making. Done in an unflinchingly brutal manner, the movie portrays a natural impulse, an inner voice, that exists inside each one of us. I see Fletcher as an embodiment of that voice – that tells us that we’re not good enough; that we need to try harder, work harder, come the closest we can to perfection. Because being anything of “enough” is simply unacceptable.

The movie cradles the relationship between Andrew and Fletcher in more ways than one. Each time Andrew and Fletcher step into a frame, it feels as if you’ve stepped into another world. It’s the perfect crime that the director, Damien Chazelle, has created for them. And it remains breathtakingly accurate inside and out. To watch it is to feel the ethos of personal upheaval and the destruction of the self crack the surface of the earth.

Does what goes on inside an artist’s mind ever fully requited? As if hope has finally crawled into the body of fear and bled it to death. Whiplash has invented such a malignant breed. With soul-crushing acting, the movie weaves itself into a fabric so real and impassioned and unreasonable that it shows every bit of skin.