Hey, /Film. What’s a nice place like you doing in a girl like this? Wait, let me start over…
My name is Hoai-Tran Bui, and I’m just happy to be here. Before you ask me how to pronounce my name (not important, and you’d probably get it wrong anyway), let me tell you about my favorite films.
I struggled more than I probably should have over this list. See, I wanted to impress you, /Film. I wanted to list films that I thought were Important (capital “I” intended), but were also Important to Me. After hours of angsting, I narrowed it down to this list of 15 movies that if you’d asked any of my friends, they’d say, “Ah, that’s the most Hoai-Tran list I’ve ever seen.” (I did ask them, and they did say that.) It’s not just because there’s an abundant amount of time travel movies, or surreal fairy tales or sweeping romances. It’s because these movies embody, to me, the sheer wonder of cinema and all that it is capable of.
Now that we’re over the awkward pleasantries, let’s get to the meat of things, shall we?
15) Big Fish
A candy-colored magical realism story housed within a family drama, Big Fish is perhaps director Tim Burton at his most subdued — and his most moving. I cannot give enough credit to the influence Big Fish had on me as a budding movie lover; I was enamored by the grand fairy tale story and larger-than-life characters that were grounded by the poignant reunion of an estranged son and his sick father. While it’s easy to be distracted by the film’s stylish quirks, Ewan McGregor’s beautiful face and Albert Finney’s unreliable narrator, Big Fish is a fantastic and fantastical film.
14) Linda Linda Linda
Before I properly became a cinephile, I had a high-school obsession with Japanese dramas. This led to an obsession with Japanese movies — though sadly, I hadn’t yet discovered Akira Kurosawa. Instead, it was mid-aughts slice-of-life movies that I devoured, and one of those movies was Linda Linda Linda, directed by Nobuhiro Yamashita. Part whimsical underdog story, part ode to female friendship, Linda Linda Linda follows a four-girl rock band as they rush to prepare for their school’s annual music festival. With an injury incapacitating one of their members, they randomly recruit a Korean foreign exchange student (a pre-Sense8 Doona Bae!) to be their lead singer, despite her knowing minimal Japanese. The movie’s a slow burn, but it’s a droll, nostalgic love letter to the transience of youth.
13) La Jetée
It may be cheating to include a short film on the list, but La Jetée is so masterful that it deserves its place amongst the feature films. A 1962 French science fiction film that inspired 12 Monkeys, La Jetée is a beautiful meditation on the interplay between memory, perception and time — all woven together by that all-powerful emotion, love. If that sounds eerily like another cerebral sci-fi film that recently came out, yes, Arrival was originally on this list, but I had to knock it down to No. 16 (just to let you know, I really love Arrival and think it’s easily one of the best sci-fi movies of the past decade).
La Jetée is a 30-minute-long film by Chris Marker told almost exclusively in photomontage, as a narrator describes the story of a prisoner in a war-torn dystopic future who gets subjected to time travel experiments and is able to travel back to a traumatic childhood memory. The cyclical nature of the story is still one of the best depictions of time travel paradoxes — despite the abundance of movies that have tried to tackle it — and La Jetée’s influence remains apparent on sci-fi films today.
12) Mad Max: Fury Road
A feminist tour de force masquerading as a dystopic car chase, Mad Max: Fury Road is high-octane art. The action sequences — as perfectly edited and artful as they are — serve as easy distractions to the rich story underneath. It’s masterful how simple the storytelling is – each expression and gesture from Max (an understated Tom Hardy) or Furiousa (Charlize Theron, at the beginning of what is now the Theron-aissance) tells a lifetime of backstory and past trauma. Every frame is exquisitely composed, fully realizing the dystopian world of Mad Max through bold, saturated colors and magnificent CGI sand storms.
11) The Girl Who Leapt Through Time
The bulk of my favorite kind of movies are slice of life or time travel. So what better than a movie that combines them both? The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is a sweet, irreverent sci-fi anime film directed by Mamoru Hosoda that imagines what would happen if the power to time travel was given to an irresponsible girl. Exactly what you’d expect — she uses it to retake tests, eat her favorite meals and spend a few extra hours at karaoke. But she finds that the one thing she can’t do is stop time from passing, as she is faced with the pangs of first love and adulthood.