Hoai-Tran Bui’s Favorite Movies of All Time

5) Pan’s Labyrinth

Pan's Labyrinth

Haunting and horrifying, Pan’s Labyrinth is perhaps the only movie on my list that I’ve felt the need to see only once (I still get nightmares about the Pale Man). With Pan’s Labyrinth, Guillermo del Toro tapped into the best and worst of fairy tales, imbuing the movie with a nightmarish, lush visual style that cements him as one of my favorite directors. See, the wonderful thing that del Toro captures about fairy tales in Pan’s Labyrinth is not the happy ending, but the boogeyman that the story hides underneath. Many fairy tales in their original form are metaphors for adolescence or warnings for young women to beware of the dangers of the world (Red Riding Hood is a cautionary tale about both sexual awakening and sexual predators) — and Pan’s Labyrinth manifests these metaphors and brings them into the reality of a war-torn 1944 Spain. Many call Pan’s Labyrinth the subversive fairy tale, but I think it’s the most loyal rendition of the original, dark and twisted fairy tales on the silver screen.

4) Before Sunset

Before Sunset

In an act of cinematic sacrilege, I actually watched Before Sunset before I was even aware that Before Sunrise existed. But I was immediately enraptured by the story of Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy), whose verbal sparring hid a wounded romance underneath the surface. Taking place in real time over the course of an afternoon in Paris, the two former lovers get slowly reacquainted, alternately jabbing at and flirting with each other while philosophizing about life, love and humanity. There’s an immediacy present in Before Sunset that is not in the other Before entries, and arguably most of Richard Linklater’s other works. It’s not just because of the limited time frame in which Jesse and Celine can spend time together, but the fact that these two dreamers from Before Sunrise have now lived in the world, and are now bound to its realities. But there’s still a sense of hope for reconciliation and redemption apparent throughout the film, which makes it easier to swallow than the depressing Before Midnight.

3) Memento


Christopher Nolan’s best movie is still one of his earliest. Memento is so tight and methodical down to the tiniest detail – it’s like watching a master clockmaker at work. Starring Guy Pearce as Leonard, a vengeful amnesiac hunting down the man who raped and killed his wife, Memento is absolutely riveting as both a neo-noir and a character study on the drive for revenge. The two alternating timelines, one going forward, one going backwards, plays into Leonard’s jumbled perceptions and his struggle to differentiate truth from reality. It’s a mind-bending and gripping film that proves that Nolan works best on a smaller scale, when the his lofty ideas aren’t weighed down by blockbuster budgets.

2) Spirited Away

Spirited Away

I can praise for hours the stunning animation in Hayao Miyazaki’s magnum opus, Spirited Away. I can laud the lovely coming-of-age story of the main character, the stubborn Chihiro. I can compliment the wealth of symbolism, the eye-opening depictions of Japanese spirituality, that breathtaking flying sequence.

But my favorite part of Spirited Away is perhaps its quietest and most mundane: the virtually silent four-minute scene — except for the melancholy score by Joe Hisaishi — in which Chihiro sits on a train, looking out at the flooded landscape and the crowd of faceless spirits walking in and out of each other’s lives. It doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the rest of the ostentatious plot — in fact, it could easily be plucked out and you wouldn’t notice. But to me, it’s the heart of Spirited Away and its musings on youth, loss of innocence, and life and death. It also embodies to me what animation has lost nowadays: the ability to stop, take a breath, and just let the story play out.

1) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

There’s no better movie for me than a good love story, except for perhaps, a sad love story. And not a sad story torn apart by tragedy, or cancer, or Nicholas Sparks — sad story in which the biggest obstacle is reality. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, for all of its bold visual flairs, time-warping narrative structure and fantastic performances by Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet, is at its heart, a sincere and bittersweet love story — one in which our two main characters, Joel and Clementine, find themselves repeating the same mistakes over and over again, for love. But despite discovering the truth of their wiped memories and their scattered romance, they would do it again, every time. It’s so sad, and real, and human.

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