We checked in with 8 creatives spanning the fields of art, photography, design and film to find out what their top 5 films are and why. Their choices are fascinating and unexpected at times and, it’s safe to say we’ve got a lot of watching to do – which is fine by us!
Wim Steytler | Director, photographer and filmmaker
Days of Heaven (1978), Terrence Malick:
This film is ethereal, gorgeous, and evocative. I remember seeing it for the first time and being blown away by the power of Linda Manz’s masterful and poetic narration. Her voiceover runs sporadically throughout the entire film and all of it was improvised in the edit room.
Gummo (1997), Harmony Korine:
I wanted to hate it, but I ended up loving it… For me it’s a cult classic wonder. Problematic, troubling, dangerous even, but breathtakingly original, and absolutely true. It doesn’t hold back any punches. It’s a stylish, brutally honest portrait of an American underclass whose desperation is overlooked.
Blue is the Warmest Colour (2013), Abdellatif Kechiche:
Its biggest charm lies in the understated yet giving, uninhibited and raw performances of its leads. Give the graphic sex scenes a skip, but stay open for an emotional and engrossing experience told in extreme close-up.
Fish Tank (2009), Andrea Arnold:
The film is remarkable for its depth. It’s not preachy about the hopelessness of poverty, nor is it stylising the lifestyle of those living on council estates. The film connects with difficult truths and sheds light on magical moments in the ordinary.
The Kid with a Bike (2011), Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne:
This movie is a frank, no-nonsense drama filled with compassion. The simplicity fused with moral force and emotional gravity is rare and beautiful. There is not a wasted shot in this stripped down fable. Yet, it accrues a deep and lasting power.
Daniella Mooney | Artist
Daniella selected these films together with her boyfriend Ryan Sweke, who is a theoretical physicist.
Holy Mountain (1973), Alejandro Jodorowsky:
This film has the wildest sets and the most beautiful colours. There is a spectacular scene where the Alchemist, played by Jodorowsky himself says; “You are excrement, you can change yourself into gold.”
Permanent Vacation (1990), Jim Jarmusch:
There is a great scene where the main character, Allie, dances to a lively jazz record in his apartment. He kicks off his shoes and launches into all out exuberant boogying until he collapses on a mattress on the floor. He’s gets so self-absorbed he doesnt even notice his girlfriend who he hasnt seen for a couple of days.
The Wild Blue Yonder (2005), Werner Herzog:
This is so good. It is advertised as a science fiction film but I love how the recontextualized documentary footage of deep sea diving and space exploration make the story of an alien abandoned on earth all that more believable.
Paris is Burning (1990), Jennie Livingston:
This is an inspiring documentary on the New York city drag balls of the late 1980s. Drag as a complex performance becomes an amazing expression of identity.
Last Train Home (2009), Lixin Fan:
This is a really powerful documentary about the lives of migrant workers in China. It’s a very brutal look at the effects of capitalism.
Friedl Kreuser | Film Student and Illustrator
“Choosing favourite films is like Sophie’s Choice for me, so I decided to narrow the field by listing the five biggest game changers I’ve discovered since moving to New York to study film.”
Sherlock, Jr. (1924), Buster Keaton:
There is no end to the genius of Buster Keaton and, though everything in his filmography is worth exploring, this 45-minute fantasy comedy is bursting with fresh ideas and cinematic creativity.
The plot is irrelevant when you have Buster Keaton – as a haplessly in love wannabe detective / film projectionist – sleepwalking into a movie screen and experiencing first-hand the magic (and, in his case, danger) of film editing – a technically brilliant piece of Meta self-reflection long before Charlie Kaufman made it cool. As if that wasn’t enough, he finds time for a splendid, Bond-esque chase sequence and a perfect, quietly subversive ending.
Strike (1925), Sergei Eisenstein:
The visceral power of undiluted Soviet montage should be a compulsory life experience, and there is no better place to start than Eisenstein’s masterpiece (far greater in scope, if more lacking in focus, than Battleship Potemkin). Throwing all the rules Hollywood was writing about cinema out the window, Eisenstein needs no protagonist – the humble crowd of factory workers is his hero – makes minimal use of dialogue and simply arranges his endless stream of images as six searing mood pieces of escalating tension.
And he goes for the jugular – throwing at you, by turns, some of the most beautiful, brutal, surreal and disturbing images you’ll ever see. The devastating climax is a clear influence on both Apocalypse Now and Schindler’s List (and Spielberg owes much of his career to one of Eisenstein’s favourite tricks – cutting to close ups of children at just the right moment).
The only thing wrong with it is that it is blatantly manipulative propaganda (but then, isn’t everything?) – so be careful, or it may turn you into a commie.
L’Atalante (1934), Jean Vigo:
This quiet, gentle film – a favourite of both Francois Truffaut and Michel Gondry, who loved it so much he illustrated this poster for it – is the only full length feature by Jean Vigo (arguably the great tragic Van Gogh of film directors, who died of tuberculosis aged 29 while a butchered edit of L’Atalante was being released to lacklustre response).
Beautifully marrying gritty naturalism with just a touch of lyrical poetry, Vigo takes a simple story of ordinary, working class newlyweds (on a barge, filled with cats, and a decidedly strange cabin mate with a splendid cabinet of curiosities) and crafts it into a subtly complex portrait of two stubborn, brittle humans figuring out whether they can belong to one another. Filled with extraordinary detail, surprising sensuality and the most vivid, authentic acting you’ll find that side of Elia Kazan.
Do The Right Thing (1989), Spike Lee:
This is a film so in touch with its time and place, it could stand simply as a document of early 90s cool (a fashion manifesto for young hipsters everywhere), but of course it’s so much more than that. It’s not just about Spike Lee’s invigorating visual style, or the Altman-esque, “plotless” narrative either – what makes Do the Right Thing so great is Lee’s willingness to have something honest and complicated to say about the racial tension he felt around him in early 90s Bed Stuy.
As his central premise, he presents contradictory philosophies from Martin Luther King Jr and Malcom X, and tries to figure out what it means to “do the right thing.” Rather than give us an easy answer, Lee’s confrontational film demands that we have an opinion. With gentrification still creeping across Brooklyn and cops still shooting kids on the street for no reason other than being black, these are conversations that are sadly as critical in America today as ever.
There is also important food for thought here for South Africans. Though I doubt I could ever agree with those who call Mandela a traitor (he saved our country’s soul), Spike Lee’s film – if you let it – does offer some uncomfortable insight into the plight of those on the receiving end of (historical and on-going) racism who are constantly required to smile, forgive and forget.
Love and Death (1975), Woody Allen:
This is a bit of a cheat, because I saw it right before I moved to New York, but it is the great Woody Allen film that I somehow never knew was this great.
What could be better than Woody Allen channelling Tolstoy via the Marx Brothers and Ingmar Bergman via his New York neuroses while dragging Diane Keaton, Mother Russia, Napoleon Bonaparte and the Grim Reaper along for the ride? Epic, irreverent and, most importantly, hilarious.
Agata Karolina Niemkiewicz | Design Culture Initiator, Curator, Occasional maker
Black Cat, White Cat (1998), Emir Kusturica:
I love Black Cat, White Cat for the kindness and light hearted realities of life. It touches on all the absurdities of my family and stories I was told as a kid. My family is from Eastern Europe, and even though they aren’t smugglers or profiteers somehow the randomness of many situations in this movie often reflects in our lives. Takes me back to some of the best summers in my life.
Tampopo (1985), Juzo Itami:
This movie is a visual dream! Such a simple story, still so in-depth in its execution. Each ingredient tells its own story, creating never ending subplots. It’s absurdity is as strong as the reality of each situation, and the over emphasis and focus on human condition is what makes it such a success!
Air Doll (2009), Kore-eda Hirokazu:
A friend from Belgium introduced me to this movie. He told me one thing, that what happened to him, would happen to me – that this movie would make me feel more and cry more then I ever had before.
Royal Tennenbaums (2001) and The Life Aquatic (2004), Wes Anderson:
What can I say about these two films? Each are so different but I love them equally, and so they take 4th spot on my list together. I’m a big Anderson fan, these have always been my most loved features, the plots the characters, the cinematography all of it.
Funny Games (1997), Michael Haneke:
The original Austrian version by Michael Haneke is amazing! It’s a dark, incredibly twisted film. Being a psychological thriller one would expect a certain amount of mind twisting, but this film takes it to the next level. The characters play with their audience like I have never seen before, its the extent to which I am gripped by these characters, so involved in their plot that makes this movie so amazing. Not for the faint-hearted or weak minded.
Bogosi Sekhukhuni | Artist
Pitch Black (2000), David Twohy:
One of the more stylistically daring mainstream Hollywood sci fi releases, I’m also a big Vin Diesel fan.
Y Tu Mamá También (2001), Alfonso Cuarón:
The style of narration in this film got me seriously interested in writing.
Pièces d’identités (2000), Mweze Dieudonné Ngangura:
I spent a lot of time as a child hanging out with the film students my mother was responsible for when she ran a film programme in Newtown in the 90s and early 2000s. I had an intimate relationship with the curriculum and collection of films from the continent that made up the library. I think Mwenze Kanguri’s humourous way of dealing with serious social matters impacted on the way I approach my practice.
Donnie Darko (2001), Richard Kelly:
I used to watch this regularly throughout high school, the soundtrack introduced me to bands like Echo and the Bunnymen.
Viridiana (1961), Luis Buñuel:
One of the most fulfilling cinematic experiences I’ve ever had, the narrative unfolds with a subtle and simple poetry, it got banned by the Vatican when it came out.
Gabrielle Guy | Graphic designer specialising in art books
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Stanley Kubrick:
It is perfection. I am obsessed with the Monolith.
Hotel Chevalier (2007), Wes Anderson:
The short film before The Darjeeling Limited – everything is just so beautiful… the interior of the hotel room, the soundtrack, the view from the balcony, the dialogue…
The Virgin Suicides (2000), Sofia Coppola:
Sofia Coppola is iconic.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986), John Hughes:
The movie that I have re-watched the most in my life. My sister and I could probably recite and enact the entire movie on the spot – the censored version though – we video taped it in 1993, and only ever knew the PG13 version!
Untitled (2009), Jonathan Parker:
A 2009 under-the-radar movie set in the New York art scene. I find it hilarious.
Joe Paine | Product designer-maker
Monty Python’s Meaning of Life (1983), Terry Gilliam:
Irreverence, satire, surreal musical scenes and skits about the various stages of life. I was definitely too young when I first watched this one.
Withnail and I (1987), Bruce Robinson:
A tragic and comic journey into oblivion and depravity. “Balls! We want the finest wines available to humanity. We want them here, and we want them now!” “Chin Chin!”
The Good The Bad and The Ugly (1966), Sergio Leone:
Sergio Leone’s slow and beautiful cinematography. Violent and uncomplicated Lee van Cleef and Clint Eastwood are the original badasses. Ennio Morricone’s score is one of the greatest ever.
From Dusk Till Dawn (1996), Robert Rodriguez and Sarah Kelly:
Vampires, vampire strippers, vampire bats and condoms filled with holy water. Trash too is an art, and this movie is a triumph of vile over content.
Being John Malkovitch (1999), Spike Jonze:
A surreal movie that continuously surprised me throughout. A great film to re-watch.
Laura Windvogel, aka Lady $kollie | Artist
Billy Elliot (2000), Stephen Daldry:
My father took me to see this film when I was 12 and I am still able to relate to the trials and tribulations of a boy whose father is a mineworker but all he wants to do is be a ballerina.
Matilda (1996), Danny Devito:
As a huge fan of Roald Dahl, I enjoyed and obsessed over Danny Devito’s seamless screenplay of the novel. I can also recite the entire movie word for word and that is a sign of real love.
Run Lola Run (1998), Tom Tykwer:
My love of Berlin is easily satiated through every single scene in this film. As a viewer, being given the chance to choose your own ending is rewarding.
25th Hour (2002), Spike Lee:
Everyone wonders what they’d do if they had one last day. Ed Norton as a hardened criminal is also really refreshing and thought provoking.
The Hunger (1983), Tony Scott:
Susan Sarandon, David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve as vampires. No other explanation needed!