Stranger Than Paradise (1984)
No film I have encountered so far matches the sweet simplicity of Jim Jarmusch's Stranger Than Paradise, arguably his most focused and effective effort. It has been said that it was Jarmusch's intent to create a foreign film about America, to see familiar institutions and social norms in the slightly skewed filter of the quirkily observant. The film lavishes attention on awkward pauses, false starts, aimlessness, and hipster posturing in such a confident and curious manner that the smallest gesture or exchange or action wonderfully fills the screen that is usually occupied these days by a cornucopia of spectacular distractions. And because of Jarmusch's ever-present sense of wry humor, unintentional nihilism has never been so funny.
A bombastic celebration of adolescence that charmingly coerced me into placing it in my favorite's list before the curtains closed on the film's final shot, no doubt the best of director Wes Anderson's trademark slow motion endings. In this one moment slowed down, no less than a dozen or so characters are given more life and endearment than most other film personalities get in an entire two hour period. Expressive stylization at its liveliest, Wes Anderson at his freshest, and Schwartzman and Bill Murray both at their best, hitting and underplaying each unconventional beat perfectly. The film's heart, though, is Schwartzman's Max Fischer, the silver screen's most lovably wormy teenager. His flagrant personality flaws and general inexperience with life are equally matched by his soaring, nerdy ambition and earnest, rehearsed confidence.
Before Sunrise/Before Sunset (1995/2004)
These two films are inseparable, one made in 1995, one made nine years later in 2004. Together they portray the chance meetings of Jesse (Ethan Hawke), and Celine (Julie Delpy), characters so real they threaten to overtake their respective actors and film they inhabit to become two would-be soulmates whose lives we happen to have the privilege of joining for a few fleeting hours. If When Harry Met Sally represents the Hollywood take on romantic connection through insightful conversations fraught with undertones and overtones, Before Sunrise and Before Sunset is like having one of those treasured experiences yourself. Director Richard Linklater's style of structure also lends a certain magical quality to the films, the first takes place over the course of one night in Vienna, and the second takes place in real time (!) over the course of one afternoon in Paris, as the sun just starts to drop. The lives they lead outside these encounters, which they frequently allude to, are wonderfully drawn but serve only as a distant reminder that their time together is both beautiful and tragic because of its transience.