It’s holiday season! And considering this list has taken me almost a year of careful consideration and revisions to compile, now is the perfect time to sit back and soak in some inspired artwork in the form of film. I give to you 33 + three quarter fantastic films that will ignite your fantasy:
1. Pan’s Labyrinth
Produced in Spain by a Mexican director this dark fantasy film delicately intertwines reality with fairy tale, leaving you wondering what is really real, the way that dreams do. The directly translated name of the film is The Labyrinth of the Faun which is set a few years after the Spanish Civil War and a young girl who has to pass through the trials and tribulations of the Labyrinth in which she has to make moral choices in order to save her mother and unborn brother, eventually sacrificing her life. The actress who played the main character, Ofelia, when she was only 11, said she thought the film was “marvelous”, and that “at the same time it can bring you pain, and sadness, and scariness, and happiness”. Even though it is a fairy tale, I wouldn’t recommend this film for young children as the dark parts are quite gruesome, but the story itself and beautiful scenery and special effects are heavenly and delicious.
2. Cloud Atlas
This film pulls a very tender and special cord in my heart, because it reflects a love story of my own and was passed onto me by the very beloved who was involved in this story. I fondly recall our first date in which he shared with me his intuitive feeling that we had met in many lives before and that we will again in many lives to come. Yet, somehow, our love story never gets to finish. In Cloud Atlas, we follow the love story of a couple who reincarnate across 7 different lives to meet, recognize each other and fall in love, only to have something come between them. It’s a love story that never ends, exploring the many threads that connect us across space and time all of which lead us to love, and spans an enormous expanse of life and fantasy. So truly beautiful and touching, I have tears in my eyes every time I even just see the trailer.
3. The Fountain
A spiritual odyssey of sorts on death, love and feeling whole and enlightened when the time comes to leave our bodies and this planet. Again, The Fountain is a love story of sorts, and the cinematography and concept are breathtaking. Presented across three stories which appear as past, present and future, we follow a man who is in pursuit of eternity to hold on to love. For me, the message here is that it is once you let go, that you realize that the idea of separation was merely an illusion after all. Love is eternal and everlasting, whether we are physically with that person or not. Let go of the idea that there is an end and become aware that everything is light, and you are released from the shackles of suffering for love. Directed by the creator of Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan, you can imagine the bitter and twisted turns this love story will take you on, only to finish on an ethereal plane of freedom and sheer abandonment.
4. Moonrise Kingdom
The sweetest of stories you might ever see, I recommend to watch this film when your brain needs some down time and loving care. It’s easy to watch, the story and characters are incredibly endearing and the film has been put together beautifully. Naturally, this is not a surprise since the director is the one and only Wes Anderson, who also created The Royal Tannenbaums. A comedy-drama set in the mid-1960’s, we follow two “troubled” children embarking on adolescence as they discover their own distinct personalities and run away from home together to explore the little island they live on. An all star cast brings color and life to every character, no matter how small and will leave you with a sweet smile on your face and a skip in your step for the rest of the day.
5. Marie Antoinette
Oh, the cinematography, the costumes, the hair, the lighting and the effervescent decadence of it all! There is nothing that I don’t love about this film, except maybe that I want it to go on forever. Director Sofia Coppola fulfills a girls cotton candy colored dreams of a true love story that goes terribly wrong. Born in 1755, Maria Antonia, an Austrian princess (I like to believe we’re distantly related, ahem) fulfills her duty to unite the two countries and marries the Dauphin of France, Louise-August. Bound by obligation to bear children and ensure an heir she is severely disappointed at her difficulties since her husband, is rather cold and awkward around her. I personally believe that he was secretly gay, but the film never touches on such ideas. In rebellion, for the lack of attention received from the Dauphin and the coldness of the people in the French court, she begins to live a decadent lifestyle spending money frivolously on hair, costumes, parties, gambling, champagne and begins to hang out with “colorful” characters to keep herself amused. This is a beautiful film that you must watch, which will leave you wanting to be an eccentric show pony full of eclectic ideas and tastes!
6. Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind
The power of love is truly something. This film is so touching, and heart breaking and real. Serendipitously a man and a woman fall in love after meeting in a train, yet for whatever reasons they cannot be together. But being so deeply in love and not being able to let go can be a painful experience and so Clemetine, played by Kate Winslet decides to erase her memory. I’ll leave the rest up to you to find out but be prepared to be enchanted and to shed some tears.
7. Perfumé: The Story of A Murderer
I read the book about 8 years ago and was mesmerized by the exquisite writing style that left me smelling every scent that was described throughout the story. Then, a few years later when I was living in Barcelona, I stumbled across a film set, which serendipitously was the making for the movie version of Perfume. Obviously, I had to go see it and was pleasantly surprised to discover that the film was curated so well that it didn’t leave me saying, like I normally would, “well, it was nice, but the book was much better!”. No, this film fills all your sent-ual, visual and fantasy needs with a colorful and twisted plot full of incredible scenery, costumes and unbelievable cinematography. The story line? It’s a bit complicated to explain but as one film critic articulates, it’s a story about “an obsessive French perfumer with a highly developed olfactory sense and an all-consuming drive to capture the essence of love eventually resorts to murder in his unrepentant quest to find the key ingredient for his recipe”.
I have mentioned my everlasting love for this film before here and can only urge you to go see it as so many parts of my life feel like they reflect the sentiments of this film. And in my next life I want to be a chocolate goddess/healer/magician just like Vianne Rocher played by the seductive Juliette Binoche. And clearly my plans involve falling in love with a river gypsy, just like Roux played by none other than Johnny Depp. This story is about the whimsical sentiments of family, love, gypsy and Mayan magic melded together and infused with chocolate. It will leave your with a spring in your step and the inspiration to conquer the world with your own magic!
9. Walk the Line
This film brings back the funniest memory: I think I was 23 or 24 when my sister and I started dating these two best friends whom we renamed Whaley and Penguin. Willy (renamed Whaley for no obvious reason) was my date and Penguin (whose real name I simply cannot recall, but was named thus because of his walk) was my sisters. One day Whaley decided to take me out without his doppelgänger Penguin, and he took me to this film.
Walk the Line is incredibly powerful and Joaquin Phoenix is absolutely spectacular in representing the wild and worn life of Johnny Cash. I really don’t like country music but somehow that wasn’t even an issue as I was mesmerized through the love and pain of a creative man who just wanted to give his talents to the world and be loved for it. Mangold’s story of the relationship between Johnny Cash and June Carter, played by Reese Witherspoon is deliriously romantic, exhilaratingly entertaining, as a musical it invites and earns comparison and profoundly moving–all set to a spectacular soundtrack. Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon are both brilliant as Cash and Carter, but not only in the ways you would expect. Their most impressive achievement is to convincingly portray two people falling in love in a manner that’s sincere and sweet but never cheaply sentimental. Please watch this!
Animation is clearly not just for children and I can’t wait to watch this film with some little girls to see if they love it as much as I do. Who doesn’t want to be wild, free and accepted they way they are? Merida is the red-haired and fiery daughter of a Scottish king, who loves to climb trees, shoot arrows and explore her kingdom on horse back. While her mother is trying to mold her into becoming a suitable princess Merida rebels and accidentally places a terrible spell on her mother. The story follows as the mother daughter relationship as they start to see each others point of views and become closer to the effect of a happy ending. Charming in every way!
12. The Lorax
If you were ever a child, you are probably familiar with Doctor Seuss’s ‘The Lorax’, a tale of a world where man’s greed and selfishness has eradicated all the trees in favor of their escapist man-made town. It’s a charming yet somewhat depressing book as the main character realizes what he’s destroyed, yet leaves a glimmer of hope at the end as he passes off the last tree seed to a young boy to plant. I loved the bittersweet end, as it got the message across and made me want to care about preserving nature. The premise of the story is in proper Seuss fashion as we realise that the environment is very important to humans and nature, corporate greed can lead to losing yourself within the mass amount of madness you created and most importantly, if you don’t care enough to change the problems you see in today’s society, nothing will change. And I like that message.
Make no mistake about it, Avatar is a deeply spiritual movie. While giving us a natural world of beauty, it also forces us to deal with the shadow side of life. It vividly depicts and condemns the blindness, selfishness, and destructiveness of the path of warfare, violence, and use of technology to destroy the Earth and others considered to be subhuman or “collateral damage.”
This story celebrates diversity and other ways of knowing. The “People,” like other tribal cultures, value harmony, simplicity, community, the spirit in nature, the sacred feminine, and an Earth-based cosmology that is totally in sync with contemporary spirituality movements: reverence for Gaia (earth) as a living being and the Oneness movement that celebrates the interconnection of all beings.
Spiritual Lessons from the Na’vi:
1. Seeds, trees, animals, insects, water, leaves are all part of the web of life. Everything is alive and conscious and interconnected.
2. It may be necessary to kill for food. A clean kill involves a respect and a ritual for any animal that gives itself to you for food and other uses.
3. Even vicious and seemingly violent animals have the right to protect their turf and participate in the dance of life.
4. Having a good heart and being fearless are part of being a warrior.
5. Signs are all around us in nature and in our own experiences: they are meant to be read and interpreted.
6. Using the power within us is the way of the sacred feminine.
7. A greeting is an act of engagement with another. Open and active presence is conveyed by the words “I see you.”
8. It is important to listen to the voices of the ancestors.
9. Everyone is born twice: once at birth and once again when he or she earns a place within the community.
10. Energy is pulsating in and through all forms of life.
11. Mother Earth doesn’t take sides; she protects only the balance of life.
12. Healing is an act of the community calling upon the divine.
13. Everyone needs to train in attunement to the spirit in nature.
14. The magical flights of the shaman invoke spirit helpers.
15. The world is a collaborative work in progress in which each individual in the tribe has something to contribute to the whole.
14. The Golden Compass
To be completely honest, I haven’t watched this film all the way through. But I really want to! (I have this amazing ability to fall asleep within the first 10 minutes of any film, which just shows how good this list of movies actually is, as this is the only one I haven’t completely watched at least once!)
The Golden Compass is set in a retro-futurist version of the real world: a faintly Gilliamesque place of bizarrely crowded neo-classic cities and Heath Robinson flying machines. Here, human beings all have their own “daemons”, like witches’ familiars, but benign, shape-shifting essences that incarnate that person’s human spirit.
It is a world ruled over by the Magisterium, a powerful mind control cult. Boldly contesting the Magisterium is Lyra’s adored uncle and guardian, the gallant Lord Asriel, who, like Indiana Jones, has a glamorous career portfolio. Asriel is a man of action, mystical seer, anthropologist and Oxford don. From his travels in the frozen north, he has found evidence of other worlds, other existences. He is thus suspected of heresy by the Magisterium, keen to impose a kind of Vatican-Caliphate-Soviet rule over all minds. Its agent, Mrs Coulter, is set to work on Lyra and also pursues a horrible plan against children generally. I love the spectacular colours, sci-fi special effects and grandeur of all the characters and can’t wait to watch it again in full.
15. V For Vendetta
In those moments when we need a little bit of girl-power oomph, and encouragement to stick up for our beliefs and values, V For Vendetta will come in perfect timing. I love Natalie Portman in this, as she graceful displays her skillful acting and completely embraces her role, fighting for freedom and liberty in the widest sense of the word.
The movie is multiple layered, filled with symbolism and deeper meanings but with one clear main message in it; People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people. It shows that if enough people are behind something, things can be achieved. Even killing and acts of terrorism can be justified. As the character V’s says it; A building is a symbol, as is the act of destroying it. Symbols are given power by people. A symbol, in and of itself is powerless, but with enough people behind it, blowing up a building can change the world.
16. A Good Year
My sister put me onto this film and it gives me that nostalgic feeling that we al sometimes get when we miss our families. Besides that, it’s a beautifully narrated film about a high-flying stockbroker (Russell Crowe) who cares about no one, loves money and especially loves being an arrogant git. But when his uncle Henry dies and leaves him a vineyard in France his initial thoughts are how much can he sell it for; over the course of the film awakens within himself distant memories he thought he’d buried and begins to see things a little differently. Splashed with a little tragedy as well as the humour the film does make you think about some of life’s big questions such as; is money important? Or is love important? What makes someone happy? Ultimately it is a film about one mans struggle with his identity in a world where he thought he had to behave a certain way. It is his interaction with the people he meets and the lessons he realises he learnt from Henry as a child that in a way were detrimental to start with but eventually lead him to make the right choices.
17. The King’s Speech
I love, love, love this film. It’s innocence, sweetness, and naturally awkward clumsiness of the characters completely fills my heart and makes me tear up every single time. I especially love the part where King George learns to swear and instead of saying fuck, he says fornicate. Makes me laugh so hard!
The story gives us a fascinating look into the struggles faced by George VI on his way to becoming king of England. The story line is all about his stuttering, but underneath all that are suppressed memories from childhood, growing up in the shadow of an elder brother, perpetual negative reinforcement from a domineering father, etc. The heart of the movie however, is the relationship between George and Lionel Logue, an unconventional speech-therapist who is helping him overcome his speech problems. Firth is brilliant as the aloof, initially reluctant and distrustful monarch, while Rush shows wink-of-the-eye humor and irony, relishing the sheer inequality of their positions yet knowing the extent to which George is dependent on him. Ultimately a true friendship develops between the men, and since they are both such endearing characters, it’s a joy to watch.
18. Finding Neverland
A fictionalized account of the love story that led to the infamous creation of Peter Pan, not only do I love Peter Pan, as I feel like I’ll never grow up either, but as you may have noticed by now, am in adoration of many of Johnny Depp’s works of art. He has an incredible taste in scripts and knows how to bring characters to life in the most authentic and vulnerable ways. This film is full of sensitive moments between the family and playwright, James Barrie which will leave you filled with love, creative writing impulses and the desire to speak like Shakespeare.
Closer is an unusually honest film, which is why I like it. It strikes you in the heart and makes you question the frailty of the human condition. This is a film that focuses less on individuals, and more on the relationships between those individuals. If the four characters in Closer were represented by four points on a map, this movie would be a study of the lines that cross between those points, rather than the points themselves. In this way, we can easily see ourselves and each other in what happens on screen: you don’t have to be a photographer to relate to Julia Roberts’ self-loathing adulterer, because the film doesn’t strive to tell the story of where she came from or why she takes pictures. For her character, it strives to tell the story of someone completely overcome both with lust and with the guilt that accompanies it. These two compulsions feed off of each other so feverishly that she cannot find happiness either in acting on her lust or in abstaining. Telling this side and only this side of her story helps it become more universal, as do the stories of her surrounding characters. If you want to philosophize about life, this will inspire you.
I love dreams. I love dreaming. I love talking about dreams and this film is all about living in the dream world. From architecture to story line, this movie will have you in edge and wondering even more, how much of our other dream lives are part of our everyday reality.
21. Hearts in Atlantis
This is a gentle, innocent film about the reflections of an aging man, who returns to his home town after the death of his best friend. This film is perfect if you’re ready to get all cosy and shed a few tears on the love and wonderment of life. I’m not usually a fan of any of Stephen King’s work because I generally find it too gruesome but the paranormal is quietly and beautiful woven into this story in way that makes it believable and relatable to me. If you look closer, Stephen King is not just a mere auteur of horror but rather, all his stories are melancholic tales about the loss of childhood innocence, which you can see as you become gracefully enchanted by the characters in Hearts in Atlantis and led into opening your eyes wider to the beauty of life. By the many subtle touches throughout, filmed in gloomy blue and grey tones, and golden sepia treatment, you are left with a sense of incredible, heartbreaking and shattering beauty.
If I told you the entire plot of this film it really wouldn’t matter as it is an exquisite paean to the subjectivity of memory and therefore is in itself ambiguous; the ‘truth’ of it is up to you. You come out questioning yourself, your memories, your truths. Nothing in this film is as it seems, and yet paradoxically everything is as it seems. We see everything through Guy Pearce’s characters’ (Lenny) eyes, unfortunately he has no short-term memory so cannot form new memories. He would have already forgotten the first sentence of this review. He lives in snapshots of life; his only form of memory is his Polaroid camera, just like in the excellent German film Wintersleepers; also (partly) about a short-term memory disorder.
For 20 years Jean-Pierre Jeunet collected small astonishing and intriguing moments in his life, taking notes in his diary, not knowing that he was up to co-write and direct one of the most successful film in French film history. Jean-Pierre Jeunet fell in love with the story and the film he titled Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain.
This movie is for everyone who understands passion or who has lost his/her childhood somewhere along the way. If you love art, music, sunshine and poetry than you are qualified for seeing this movie, be warned though… It will change your life.
24. The Princess Bride
This film marks the first time I ever fell in love. I was 6 years old and completely enamored by the man in the mask and had fantasies of growing up and getting married to this mysterious stranger. It seems my affinity for the mystical as never changed and I still prefer my life and men to have a magical, alluring sense to them.
The story is a classic tale of love and adventure as the beautiful Buttercup, engaged to the odious Prince Humperdinck, is kidnapped and held against her will in order to start a war, It is up to Westley (her childhood beau, now returned as the Dread Pirate Roberts) to save her. On the way he meets a thief and his hired helpers, an accomplished swordsman and a huge, super strong giant, both of whom become Westley’s companions in his quest.
25. Almost Famous
There was a time in the US rock circuit before music videos and online marketing. That was the time when several little-known bands toured all over the country… accompanied mostly by drugs and groupies. Writer-director Cameron Crowe takes us to that infamous scene of sex, drugs and rock n’ roll in the 1970’s with this semi-autobiographical work, which is not only equipped with his brilliant direction and screenplay, but also by amazing performances by some relatively lesser-known actors. It’s a terrific coming-of-age story, it’s a bittersweet love story, with beautiful dialogue, but it’s Crowe’s obvious love for the music, and for the people who love it, that makes ALMOST FAMOUS the best thing ever.
26. Stand By Me
Stand By Me takes place in the summer of 1959, the general time period that Stephen King is most skilled at presenting, and four friends set out to find the body of a kid who was killed by a train, hoping to find what they predicted would be astronomical fame. Unfortunately, the town’s bullies are also out to find the body for the same reason, which leads to the films ultimate final climax. Even though this is a very clever story with which to tell a fall from innocence story, it is the brilliant characterization and the incredible acting that really make this a classic film. It is extremely rare that a film comes along that stars young kids and is so moving and powerful.
Magic. Art. Love. Paris. Amazing cinematography. Martin Scorsese. And the most beautiful child I have ever seen. What more do you need to know to go and watch this film immediately!
Hugo is a young boy who lives inside the walls of a train station in Paris in the 1930’s. His father dies, leaving behind a mysterious automaton that, when fixed, can write. Hugo makes it his mission to fix it, believing that it will reveal a message from his father. With the help of an eccentric girl named Isabelle, he tries to uncover a magical mystery about the old man at the toy booth (Isabelle’s godfather) and enchanting early films. If you love imagination, mystery and wonder, you will fall in love with this film, just like I did.
28. Much Ado About Nothing
Some love stories are built on passion, some on courage and some on hope. Very rarely do you come across a love story that encompasses itself around an Elizabethian comedy. Much Ado About Nothing introduces us to the world of Shakespeare, who mirrors the most innocent of sentiments which lie locked up within the depths of our heart. He wins us over in the first frame, because he is one among us. It is not his heroism which makes him surreal, but his vulnerability which makes him endear-able. We fall in love with these characters because they are scared of the unknown just like us. What makes them heroes is their conviction and spirit, which makes them embark on a wide-spread journey for the search of love and faith.
29. Romeo and Juliette
I think the best thing about this movie is that it brought Shakespeare to millions of people who would never have normally appreciated it. Baz Luhrman took the story and threw it into modern times, cast fresh young actors, gave it a modern soundtrack and directed a masterpiece. The story otherwise remains exactly the same, word for word. Most of the people who see this don’t even realise they’ve just had an English lesson by the end of it!
30.Waiting For Forever
This might just be my most favorite love film of all time. The characters are honest and real, with insecurities, emotions and problems that we can all relate to, but towards the end, when the boy realizes that loving without expecting to be loved in return, is what true love really is, shatters my heart as it splinters in many little pieces. I love the vulnerability of it all, the honesty and the fact that life is raw, and messy, and confusing and we can love on too of all that and then still let go. My words are not enough to share the deep feelings evoked through this touching tale, so you’ll just have to see it for yourself. It’s a bit slow, and an indi film, which is exactly how I like it.
31. August Rush
I remember coming across this film years ago, when I was sick at home and looking for something to entertain me. What as surprise it was to discover this beautiful film about an child who has unbelievable talents as a musician. “August Rush” is sort of a feel good, modern day fairy tale involving a parent/child separation and a boy’s unrelenting search to be reunited with his parents. But the primary theme is Music as a healing force in the Universe that draws us all together. The film stars Freddie Highmore, as the orphaned musical prodigy; Keri Russell, as the sheltered cellist from Juliard; Jonathan Rhys Meyers, as the Irish singer/songwriter/guitarist; Robin Williams as Wizard, the street performer who takes August under his wing; and Terrence Howard as the social worker who works with the orphan boy and his mother.
32. The Island
The island is a futuristic action thriller. Set in the year 2019, residents the the last human city live sheltered lives after a disease has contaminated most of the globe. They know the ocean, grass, insects, and all of the worlds wonders only from pictures and looking outside the window. None of them have ever smelled fresh air. The only drive in their lives is that some day they could move to the last habitable island in the world. I like this film especially because it highlights how we are being programmed and brainwashed to believe things that are entirely untrue, and how much strength and courage it takes to break out of the mold that we are ever so comfortably squeezed into. The Island will leave you thinking about the choose you make it your life and whether you’re actually living on your own terms or not.
33. The Labyrinth
My first memory of this film is being 5 years old, at a friends house, and being so scared of the creatures in the labyrinth that I cried. I’m a sensitive child! My friend teased me for being such a baby but the film left such a strong effect on me that a few years later, at the ripe old age of 7, I was compelled to watch it again and this time was mesmerized. David Bowie is incredible and I will forever adore complex labyrinth and mystical creatures that surprise you over and over throughout the tale.