Monday, July 15, 2024

Ranking: Zita Short’s Top 10 Fantasy Films

George Miller fans across the nation have been eagerly anticipating the release of Three Thousand Years of Longing ever since it first premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. Miller has experimented with the conventions of the genre in the past and even adapted John Updike’s The Witches of Eastwick into a film. In anticipation of the release of Miller’s new opus, I felt that it would only be right to discuss a handful of classic entries in the genre.

10. The Tree of Life

Terrence Malick’s early-2010s output polarised critics and audiences. Longtime fans of his lyrical, highly philosophical arthouse films were delighted by the fact that he had given up on traditional narrative filmmaking altogether. However, individuals who were less enamore of his trademark aesthetic were more inclined to mock the ever so slightly pretentious touches that could be found in his meticulously crafted tone poems. The Tree of Life is one of those Malick epics that requires its audience to completely give themselves over to his vision. If you’re willing to tolerate the utterly extraneous sequences set in the present day, you will be rewarded with compositions of extraordinary visual splendor and moving passages that capture the fraught bonds between different members of an ordinary Texan family. This is the sort of sprawling, ambitious masterwork that rarely receives funding from a major film studio and you’ve got to admire Malick for sticking to his guns.

9. Big

This outrageously funny body exchange comedy is primarily remembered as the blockbuster that cemented Tom Hanks’s status as America’s most beloved movie star. His zany, imaginative performance remains immensely likeable and Elizabeth Perkins turns in a layered, finely modulated turn as a depressed yuppie. Director Penny Marshall can also be credited with bringing a surprisingly sensitive touch to the picture. Big  is warm-hearted and sweet without ever losing its edge and it engages adult viewers on an intellectual level in a way that few family films do.

8. The Emperor’s New Groove

This tossed off Disney classic exceeded expectations upon first release. The film had been in development hell for seven years and went through several extensive rewrites before developing into the gloriously anarchic romp that children of the early 2000s came to know and love. Instead of coming across as a hastily put together mess, it emerged as a fast paced lark that gets away with avoiding the strictures of a traditional three act structure. It’s one of those near-flawless masterpieces that makes you wonder why every troubled production doesn’t result in a sensational finished product.

7. The Exterminating Angel

Luis Buñuel’s boundary pushing exercise in surrealism ushered in a new age of satires about the selfish behavior of aristocrats and served as a significant influence on future entries in the horror genre. The screenplay takes a fairly simple premise and uses it as a jumping off point to explore the privileges enjoyed by the wealthy and the brutality that they must exhibit in order to remain in a position of power. Gabriel Figueroa’s cinematography is hauntingly beautiful and Silvia Pinal’s odd performance has a highly disturbing effect. It can even claim to have inspired a highly successful opera. You can’t say that about most Mexican arthouse classics.

6. The Blood of a Poet

Jean Cocteau was never especially concerned with producing accessible art but The Blood of a Poet is slightly less impenetrable than the trippy, near-incomprehensible Orpheus. Everybody is aware of the iconography associated with the film, from the justly celebrated shot of a woman’s mouth speaking out of a man’s hand to the delirious vision of an artist falling into a door that suddenly transforms into a pool. These individual moments come together to produce a stunning fifty-two minute fever dream of a film. There’s a reason why he is consistently ranked among the most influential directors of all time.

5. The Purple Rose of Cairo

Mia Farrow delivers one of her most deeply affecting performances in this bittersweet romantic comedy about a Depression-era housewife who takes refuge from the mundanity of her day-to-day life in the wonderful world of cinema. The high concept premise ends up taking a backseat to the period-specific mise-en-scène and analysis of the role that entertainment plays in shaping the identity of middle-aged women. The screenplay expertly deconstructs the appeal of whimsical fantasies and benefits from the fact that it’s only eight-four-minutes long.

4. Peter Ibbetson

Peter Ibbetson is primarily distinguished by Charles Lang’s cinematography, which perfectly conjures up the dreamy, hallucinatory atmosphere that leaves audience members on edge. For most of its running time, this fanciful experiment plays around with several different tones and flip flops between weary romanticism and nihilistic despair. All of this tonal inconsistency eventually adds up to something brilliant, instead of devolving into madness. This is that rare chick flick that will appeal to viewers of all ages. It still pierces through the defences of cynical viewers who insist that realism should be valued above all else.

3. The Double Life of Véronique

The Double Life of Véronique deals with weighty themes but never feels heavy-handed in the manner of other projects that attempt to introduce poeticism into the cinema. This film is never pompous and features subtle, evocative homages to works that inspired it. Krzysztof Kieslowski deploys a surprisingly light directorial touch while weaving allusions to his previous films into the plot. It’s difficult to pin down exactly what Kieslowski is trying to get at, but this is one of those cases in which the journey is the destination.

2. Pandora and the Flying Dutchman

Pandora and the Flying Dutchman might be the most visually ravishing picture that Jack Cardiff ever worked on. That’s really saying something when you consider the fact that he applied his considerable skillset to The Red Shoes, Black Narcissus, and A Matter of Life and Death. He crafts unbelievably beautiful images that convey the full sweep of the melodramatic love story at the film’s center. It doesn’t hurt that the lovers are played by James Mason and Ava Gardner, who were both at the height of their comeliness in the early 1950s.

1. Portrait of Jennie

The troubled personal life of legendarily maniacal producer David O. Selznick has all but overshadowed his work within the film industry. He achieved great success with Gone with the Wind and Rebecca but his self destructive tendencies dragged him down and the projects that he produced during the latter half of his career are typically written off as acts of sheer folly. The media coverage of the conflict between Selznick and his collaborators ended up obscuring the fact that a hidden gem like Portrait of Jennie benefits from the fact that it seems to be at war with itself. Selznick’s vision for this film was clearly different than that of director William Dieterle and cinematographer Joseph H. August but they were able to create something that is more than the sum of its parts.

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