Strictly Ballroom (1992)

Writer/ director, Baz Luhrmann, best known for his pinache, made his moviemaking debut with this one. And what a first impression! Let’s face it: regardless of medium, most first attempts are sincere but earnest and eschew anything flashy, which is understandable. Yet this gutsy storyteller somehow manages to fully develop his characters in a short amount of time. Though the movie is fast-paced it doesn’t feel the least bit rushed; Luhrmann knows exactly when and where to move the camera around his stylized set.

Though he gradually drifted into the realm of cinematic adaptations, this story is truly unique as a perfect synergy of any element you can name. I initially remembered it being a creative little daydream (i.e. a much classier version of Dirty Dancing) that someone more sentimental than I made me watch. Over the years it periodically surfaced in various conversations, referenced by everyone but cinephiles. I finally decided to rewatch it, assuming it would be a subtle precursor to Luhrmann’s hyper-stylized version of “Romeo and Juliet,” which I loved but hadn’t connected as being from the same visionary. Though many movies with vaguely similar elements came to mind, I couldn’t think of a single one to which this compares. In my humble opinion, it remains his finest work.

The Five Obstructions (2003)

Frequently bleak but always visually daring filmmaker, Lars von Trier gets the director of his favorite film to remake it with specific impediments, which von Trier chooses along the way. While such a creative project may seem strange, I remember numerous art classes in which a professor’s imposed obstructions—though infuriating at the time—pushed me to create in ways I never expected because I wasn’t challenging myself to push past the obvious. Isn’t that the essence of creativity? However, the social/ emotional dynamic between the two filmmakers is ultimately what holds the viewer’s attention.

Manifesto (2015)

This movie has the audacity to be a paradox unto itself.

The filmmaker’s literal manifesto (i.e. declarative philosophical statement) about the nature of Art is embodied by various characters—all expertly portrayed by actress, Cate Blanchett—who represent striking examples of culture influencers. They each, in turn, participate in the recitation of said manifesto. Blanchett utilizes her talent and experience to remain fully in character (voice, pitch, tone, attitude, posture) as different people in different situations while the impassioned narrative continues to demonstrate each point to be made.

I’ve seen vacuous films with breathtaking cinematography. I’ve seen heart-wrenching, gut-spilling performances in the hands of an amateur director like pearls before swine. This was neither heavy-handed in its message nor obtuse in its meaning. Every element was impressively in proportion to every other and each vignette both encapsulated a specific point while contributing to the overall theme.

A thoughtful presentation of ideas that will both challenge preconceived ideas about creativity and ultimately the meaning of existence.