Friday, June 12, 2009

My Favorite Thrillers

A good thriller should make my heart sink down to my stomach—at least once. I prefer thrillers that build on dread and suspense, rather than explosions and gore (though explosions and gore are, by no means, disqualifiers).

A good thriller seduces—just enough eroticism to play off its morbidity and pessimism—though it may sometimes contain elements as lushly romantic as Bernard Herrmann’s music in Vertigo.

The tone of the perfect thriller is a zen-like iciness. Full of quiet meditations on bleak details. Patiently sadistic. The celluloid equivalent of cold fingers touching the spine.

The characters in a thriller are edgy, yet ordinary too. Their ambitions, desires, and temperaments draw them to violence—and most of them fall into its maelstrom. A good thriller is nearly a tragedy in the classical sense, so its protagonists typically have a certain arrogance and presumptuousness.

Some critics see guilt as an important element of the thriller genre (especially in Hitchcock's films), but I am not so convinced. Instead, I'd say curiosity and voyeurism are the bases of most of the thrillers I like. Characters are drawn to their fates with the same irresistible and irrational magnetism one feels in dreams.

The best thrillers look and feel like a nightmare—though seldom (Lynch’s films being the most notable exceptions) slipping into surrealism.

Here are my favorites at the moment:

1. Irreversible (Noé, 2002)
2. Funny Games (Haneke, 1997)
3. Mulholland Dr. (Lynch, 2001)
4. Zodiac (Fincher, 2007)
5. Insomnia (Skjoldbjærg,1998)
6. Blue Velvet (Lynch, 1986)
7. Rear Window (Hitchcock, 1954)
8. Psycho (Hitchcock, 1960)
9. The Cement Garden (Birkin, 1993)
10. The Vanishing (Sluizer, 1988)
11. Lost Highway (Lynch, 1997)
12. Diva (Beineix, 1981)
13. Ripley’s Game (Caviani, 2002)
14. Vertigo (Hitchcock, 1958)
15. The Seventh Continent (Haneke, 1989)
16. Chinatown (Polanski, 1974)
17. Strangers on a Train (Hitchcock, 1951)
18. The 4th Man (Verhoeven, 1983)
19. Kiss Me Deadly (Aldrich, 1955)
20. Apartment Zero (Donovan, 1988)

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