List: 10 Films I Instantly Knew Were Special


Have you ever started watching a film that you click with instantly? Whether a simple but solid realization the film is right up your alley or a profound moment that sticks with you for life, the feeling is what counts. This is a pretty unconventional list based on a specific feeling. Some of these films I saw for the first time ten years ago. Some of them I saw for the first time within the past year. It is impossible to describe the required feeling that makes up this list. The best way to describe it is a surge of understanding or an eye opening intensity. I had to be able to recall having this specific feeling in order for a film to be represented here. I also had to be able to recall the moment during the film where the feeling occurred.  There are a number of things that must be pointed out. First, many films are not meant to have that immediate pull and function in different ways. Second, there are a great number of films I had an immediate reaction that are not in the list because I cannot recall that specific elusive and indescribable feeling even if I can assume it occurred. There are other instances where that feeling occurs and it can be recalled, but it is too far in the film to qualify. Some of the entries on this list correlate directly with the age I was during these first viewings. Personally, I found a lot more recent films popping up in my head while brainstorming for this. I believe that the stylistic innovations and use of elaborate camera work, music, pacing and more are geared towards this specific immediate reaction. There is a heightened drive from many modern filmmakers to grab audiences from the start. This is not to say that any which way is better. Some of my favorite films are purposeful slow burns. Others I did not start seriously loving until a second viewing. It must be pointed out above all, that these ten films are not necessarily better than the countless films not on the list. They are simply the ten films I recall being intensely grabbed by within minutes. Unsurprisingly, music is a big component on this list considering that music can be an extremely immediate and emotional experience. The great thing about this list is that personal stories come with each entry and that everybody’s list would be entirely unique between the films and the experiences, memories and importance attached to them. My question to anybody reading this is; what films would make your list?

10. The Graduate
The Graduate was a film that took me two viewings before I counted it amongst my favorites. I was very young when I first saw it and I wasn’t quite ready to relate to the film nor to fully comprehend the satirical aspects. Nevertheless that “feeling” made itself forcefully present during the opening credit sequence. “The Sounds of Silence” being one of my favorite songs from a very young age and being a dedicated fan to Simon and Garfunkel allowed me to be entranced as Benjamin rides the walkway remaining immobile and passive. I felt it was speaking directly to me.

9. Dawn of the Dead (1978)
I am not sure what I expected from the original Dawn of the Dead when I saw it for the first time last October. I had already seen several zombie films, including Snyder’s remake. There was a major assumption going in that it would begin either before the zombie attacks or in an post-apocalyptic environment. I did not expect the film to begin mere hours after the attacks begun and for the focus to be the chaos inside a TV station trying to stay on top of and cover what they can. It caught me off guard in the best way possible. My limited experience of the subgenre allowed the approach to be a refreshing way of throwing us right into the situation without reverting to either brief pre-apocalyptic character development or a series of now ineffective shots of stranded and void masses of land and cities.

8. Re-Animator
Our introduction to Herbert West and the subsequent kick-off of the stellar opening credits sequence set to Richard Band’s revamped version of Bernard Herrmann’s iconic Psycho score provided an immediate reaction on my part when I first saw it last October. I remember turning to my boyfriend, who was showing me the film, and saying “That was fucking awesome. I’m going to love this”. The scene immediately establishes the film’s off-kilter and charcoal black humor that will remain throughout.

7. Kicking and Screaming (1995)
Noah Baumbach’s first feature starts with a college graduation party that lasts for about 15 minutes and introduces us to all the major characters. “Cecilia Ann” by The Pixies perfectly starting things off as the ennui and neuroses of the characters shows itself in the immediacy of graduation. It was one of those moments that had me thinking within the first few minutes “Where has this film been all my life?”

6. Ghost World
Being a 15 year old girl who was cynical about my high school surroundings and weary of everyone around me, watching Ghost World allowed me to have a new role model in the form of Thora Birch’s Enid. We are introduced to her as she spins around and dances to “Jaan Pehechaan Ho” in her red graduation outfit in a celebratory moment before she leaves high school forever. I immediately connected to her in such a strong and long lasting way. I have since grown out of my admiration for Enid and as I get older I align myself more (sadly) with Seymour or even Rebecca. She remains one of my favorite film characters even if I don’t connect with her the way I once used to. That opening scene was a revelatory moment for me on a character based level.

5. Monty Python and the Holy Grail
I was about 12 when I first was introduced to Monty Python. I watched it at a sleepover with some friends. I had heard of Monty Python but had no idea what their type of humor was or what to expect from their work. I had also never been exposed to humor on an absurdist level. Some of the shows I watched when I was younger certainly employed anarchic humor of this kind, but I did not recognize this about said shows until revisiting them years later. The opening credits features a black screen and some rather odd music. Then some stuff starts to go down including sacked projectionists’, some Swedish inspired subtitles that contain nonsense about the moose and an in-your-face orange and yellow llama centric credit spectacle. None of it makes sense and as someone being introduced to their trademark style of humor, I was hooked immediately. After the film, we watched it again that night and came up with llama centric nicknames for each other.

4. House (1977)
Saw this for the first time last summer. At this point, between my twitter avatar, my blog header and its placement in my Top Ten favorite films of all time should make clear how strongly and quickly I fell in love with this film. The surge of feeling came as soon as the it started. On a fundamental level, I understood I had never seen anything like it, would never see anything like this again and that its place in my life would last indefinitely.

3. Magnolia
My first experience with Paul Thomas Anderson was when I was fourteen. The extended opening sequence about coincidence with the voiceover narration of Ricky Jay followed by another extended sequence set to Aimee Mann’s cover of “One” as all major characters are introduced left me astounded. The way Anderson uses tracking shots, montage and his use of the camera as hyperactive participant was love at first sight. I had never seen anything like Magnolia at that time and my primary thought was that I was extremely grateful that the film was three hours. I gave myself over to it completely and have many more times over the years.

2. McCabe and Mrs. Miller
This is a special case. I do not consider Altman’s revisionist Western among my favorite films. I think it might be Altman’s best along with Nashville but it was a film that overall I merely liked a lot and appreciated. I saw it about three years ago. It remains the profound moment for me on this list. It’s the only entry here that I would say legitimately changed my life. The reason for this is that it was the first time I heard the music of Leonard Cohen, now my favorite singer/songwriter of all time. Hearing “The Stranger Song” was like a world opening up for me. At first, I wondered if this should count because it was so closely connected to a musician. It’s not just the music though; the entire scene is entrancing beyond words. The song directly correlates to Beatty’s entrance and purpose within the film. It is the perfect start to this film and it has stuck with me ever since.

1. Requiem for a Dream
At the age of 15 I sat down to watch Requiem for a Dream with a friend who had been raving about it. I was not keeping up with much of anything regarding film at this point so I was unaware of what I was in for. The film starts off with split-screens being used in a way I had not seen before. Leto and Wayans take the television set and Clint Mansell’s “Summer Overture” kicks in as the film’s title slams down, pushing the image off the screen with a sound effect that can be likened to a prison door being shut on the viewer. The music immediately have a massive effect on me, with the soundtrack essentially taking over my life for the next several months. I didn’t know quite what I was in for once the film started, all I knew was that it was going to be intense. At that age, I didn’t know film could be used to produce the kind of overall effect Requiem had and to see what film could do made a considerable impact on me as a blossoming cinephile.

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4 thoughts on “List: 10 Films I Instantly Knew Were Special

  1. Great list! Magnolia and Requiem for a Dream were hugely influential for me as well. They were visceral movie-going experiences like no other.

  2. For me it’s films I’ve not heard much about before and as they unfold I just go “woah” – Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, La Haine…

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