It almost goes without saying, and yet we should say it more often, that being a cinephile is a bit of an ironic designation. Anyone who loves cinema (or even television, which is just as cinematic) is a cinephile! That being said, there are still plenty of films whose names are thrown around under illustrious categories such as 'canon' and 'classic'. We're going to take a look at films within and beyond these, to create the beginnings of our very own, alternate canon: Clout Films.
This is not to say, in any way, that these aren't fantastic films. What separates them from other fantastic films is that, today, they have – or should have – just as much clout as anything from your usual canon– your Gone With The Winds, Sunset Boulevards, and Citizen Kanes. A lot of these films have also been included in alternate canons but are far too often expected to just stay there. The ultimate triviality of this 'clout' is what makes it so potent in influencing conversations about film, and what calls us to redefine it.
1. Shirkers (2018)
A moving, gentle film that any fan of cinema or filmmaker will surely fall in love with. The film is a documentary, directed by Singapore born filmmaker Sandi Tan, about an independent film she made when she was just 19. The less you know about this film, the better, but do be prepared for the story to go to unexpected places. The film is nostalgic, vulnerable, and personal, and in being so, makes you attach yourself to it like almost nothing else.
2. Set It Off (1996)
Gary Gray's 1996 crime film, featuring Queen Latifah, Vivica A. Fox, and Jada Pinkett Smith, used the heist genre to tell complex, inner-city stories of Black women. The friends-turned-bank-robbers are compelling, detailed characters, and the film's freshness carries it past any missteps.
3. The Juniper Tree (1990)
This black-and-white, fantasy drama film from Iceland happens to be the debut of genre-bending, experimental pop music artist, Björk, and whilst that is enough of a hook for many, especially considering her wonderful performance, the last thing this film should be remembered as is trivia. Written and directed by Nietzchka Keene, based on the fairy tale "The Juniper Tree" collected by the Brothers Grimm, this small production tells the story of two sisters, in a medieval setting, who are forced to escape their home.
4. Persepolis (2007)
Brilliantly animated, highly acclaimed, and an innovative adaptation, Persepolis, a coming-of-age story, set against the Iranion revolution, is a gripping, feminist tale. Co-director Marjane Satrapi, author of the graphic novel the film is based on, chooses to style her autobiographical narrative as if the source material itself had come to life, leaving us with a breathtaking piece of cinema.
5. Tokyo Drifter (1966)
Seijun Suzuki, prominent B-film director, channels all his quirks and influences with cool effectiveness into this gem of a yakuza film. The story follows a reformed hitman who is forced to wander around Japan to escape being killed by various gangs. A unique and significant voice in the history of cinema that deserves much more love.
6. Clueless (1995)
One might not expect an adaptation of Jane Austen's Emma to be just so… pop. Clueless is exuberant, funny, loving, and delights in the possibilities of its title. The film is very much a time capsule of a very particular 1990s America, and writer-director, Amy Heckerling, makes a rom-com that's hard not to like. What makes the film truly special is its commitment to characters that it both ridicules and celebrates, ultimately embodying a confidence that very few other films have.
7. The Watermelon Woman (1996)
A landmark in the queer film canon, Cheryl Dunye's rom-com drama is a heavily self-reflexive, lively, and dizzyingly charismatic. Along with being the film's writer, director, and editor, Dunye also plays the protagonist – named Cheryl – and owns every moment on screen. It's a special film, and you won't regret giving it a watch.
8. The LEGO Movie (2014)
A poignant children's film, which injected American animation with a surge of energy, style, and confidence, The LEGO Movie took the most surprising stances, and went in the most surprising direction. Charming characters, voiced by a talented, cast of fan favourites like Chris Pratt, Will Ferrell, Elizabeth Banks, Alison Brie, Will Arnett, Chris Offerman, Liam Nesson and Morgan Freeman, are just a bonus (albeit, a big one).
9. Court (2014)
Chaitanya Tamhane's directorial feature debut (which he wrote too), proved to be a silent, observational, and devastating film. The multilingual, legal drama dances between the real and the absurd, using the spaces between them to interrogate law and life in India. This 'National Award for Best Feature Film' winner is a gem which will undoubtedly be seen as a classic in the future.
10. Touki Bouki (1973)
Djibril Diop Mambéty's fantasy-drama is beautiful, magical, and prophetic. It depicts a 1970s Senegal playing host to two lovers who plan to leave Dakar for France. Do they ever make it? Touki Bouki, with its vivid imagery and fresh rhythm, is not just one of the most important African films but one of the most important films ever.
11. Ship of Theseus (2012)
Anand Gandhi's art film, told through three stories that explore the paradox of the same title as the film, interprets the question on several levels, relating it to humanity and the nature of being. It's a delicate, powerful film that belongs up there.
12. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
George Miller, at age 71, returned to deliver another instalment of his iconic Mad Max franchise, and ended up doing something we've never seen before. The film, despite being a soft reboot, turned out to be one of the greatest action films of all time, with many trying to praise it by calling it an 'art' action film. And the film was not short of praise: it won 6 awards at the 88th Academy Awards. Despite all the buzz, everyone knew it would never win Best Picture. This remarkable film, led by an instantly iconic Charlize Theron, with Tom Hardy's titular character taking a backseat, almost sounds too simple on paper. You'll have to watch it to see how it took us to new heights of energetic, ambitious, emotionally resonant, intelligent, exhilarating, and political filmmaking.
13. Funeral Parade of Roses (1969)
Situated in the broad Japanese New Wave movement, Toshio Matsumoto's nonlinear film about a young, trans woman, is an experimental look at queer culture in 1960s Tokyo. The striking originality of the film's voice, which dips into documentary as and when it feels like, produces an absolutely captivating experience. It might be hard to watch at times but if you can, you should.
14. Possession (1981)
Though Possession has developed a massive cult following, and is a highly regarded horror film, Andrzej Żuławski's psychological drama about a wife who asks her husband for a divorce – an intentionally reductive description – is disturbing, enchanting, thrilling, and opens itself up to multiple readings. Whilst it doesn't have to be viewed as anything more than an engaging piece of work, many continue to view it as only a genre film (with the typical condescension towards 'genre' films attached). If you have a bug for horror, give it a go!
15. Jennifer's Body (2009)
Whilst this might have been a surprising pick a decade ago, recent critical reevaluation has shone a light on this classic, teen horror film, now viewing it as us fans always have. The film, written by Academy Award winner Diablo Cody (Best Original Screenplay for Juno), directed by Karyn Kusama, starred Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried, and one can't help but suspect that the general public was ready to dismiss it before it came out. It was marketed with the most heteronormative, male gaze possible, which Cody has spoken out about later. An example would be how the kissing scene between the leads was heavily pushed to appeal to adolescent boys. This scene actually embodied some of the best themes of the film: confusion between friendship and love, the relationship between desire and fear, and bold, feminist strides. All of this was wrapped up in a fun, tense, and poignant story.
16. Hedwig and The Angry Inch (2001)
Often touted as the spiritual successor to the iconic, cult film The Rocky Horror Picture Show, this film carved its own niche, cult following, largely thanks to writer-director-star John Mitchell. He plays Hedwig, a genderqueer East German rock singer, and their backing band, the Angry Inch. It's a lovable film with plenty of personality, humour, and heart.
17. Love, Sex Aur Dhokha (2010)
A masterpiece of Hindi cinema, Dibakar Banerjee's anthology film started the 2010s off with a bang. It's an original story, coming from an original voice. The subject matter itself – including 'honour killings', non-consensual recording and selling of sex tapes, and sting operations – makes the fact that this film even exists, a little bit of a miracle. Fun fact: this was also Rajkummar Rao's film debut.
18. Gangs of Wasseypur (as one film) (2012)
Anurag Kashyap cemented his name in the history of Hindi cinema with this 5 hour long, multi-generational, family, revenge saga. It breathes with the ferocity and depth of a classic like 'The Godfather', or a more recent film like 'Gangs of New York', but tells its own, very singular story. Darkly comic, brutal, and impactful, the film also features one of the greatest casts seen in a Hindi film: Manoj Bajpayee, Richa Chadha, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Piyush Mishra, Pankaj Tripathi, Reema Sen, Huma Qureshi, Rajkummar Rao and many, many more.
19. The Tale of Princess Kaguya (2013)
Amongst the many Studio Ghibli classics, Isao Takahata's anime, fantasy film, based on a 10th century Japanese story, is the only one which stands shoulder to shoulder with Spirited Away. The film holds a timeless, magical quality, along with being thematically heavy and looking absolutely marvelous. Go in blank, let it unfold.
20. Anomalisa (2015)
To be perfectly honest, one could make the case for most of Charlie Kaufman's filmography – as either writer or director – being remembered as exceptional, and deserving of all the praise in the world. The visually unique, stop motion animation, Anomalisa, rooted firmly in the 'Kaufmanesque' genre, is about Michael Stone, a lonely (duh) customer service expert's one-night stay at a hotel. The film features just three voices: David Thewlis as Michael, Tom Noonan as the voice Michael hears out of everybody else in the film, and Jennifer Jason Leigh as Lisa, whom Michael meets at the hotel, and is the only voice he hears as different to all the others.