Top 5: Jim Jarmusch Films
The Dead Don’t Die has us digging up the bones of Jim Jarmusch’s filmography. Though all his films are arguably American, more often than not, Jarmusch often synthesizes European and Eastern film with that of Hollywood, creating a unique form of world cinema in the process. No matter the story or subject matter, his style and themes remain largely intact, with a strong existential or mystical current running through nearly all his films. Typically, his films are slow moving with a cool swagger to their rhythm and pacing, and explore the everyday through an existentialist lens with deadpan wit. Below are our five favorite flicks from the indie hipster!
5: Mystery Train
Mystery Train is a triptych of disparate stories set in the same run-down Memphis flophouse overseen by a night clerk played by legendary bluesman Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, who is the lone constant in an otherwise transient world — aside from the presence of Elvis. Conceptually ambitious, its offbeat characters, solid cinematography, and narrative structure make for a thoroughly entertaining viewing experience. The fragmented narrative helps maintain interest, and each story unfolds in interesting ways that keep the viewer wondering where it will tumble next. It’s also sharply funny and maintains its hip sense of cool throughout. To quote Shawn Levy, Mystery Train is “as much a valentine to the allure of the American way of pop culture as it is a cheeky bit of structural legerdemain without terribly much resonating significance.”
4: Dead Man
With a phenomenal cast, including Johnny Depp, Gary Farmer, Billy Bob Thornton, Iggy Pop, Crispin Glover, John Hurt, Michael Wincott, Lance Henriksen, Gabriel Byrne, Mili Avital and Robert Mitchum (in his final film role), and an improvised, guitar dominate soundtrack provided by Neil Young that rattles and strikes like a snake, Dead Man is a Jarmusch acid western that offers a profound and unique revision of the western genre. Unlike many Westerns, Dead Man’s portrayal of Native Americans is extremely well researched and presents a nuanced and considerate representation free of the common stereotypes. The film is as bleak as its black and white cinematography and has a haunting quality unlike any of Jarmusch’s other films, with moments of beauty and poetry that have become Jarmusch staples. In classic Jarmusch fashion, it’s slow moving and riff with literary allusion and subversion, but it marks a noticeable shift toward the mystical and transcendental. We’ve always loved the film for it’s realistic imagining of the Wild West as an hellish landscape of death.
3: Only Lovers Left Alive
Jarmusch impresses his quirky hipness on the vamps, and it’s so darn delightful; vampires have literally never been so cool! The film is ultimately about survival, as two centuries-old lovers try to stay alive in a world that’s collapsing around them. Its narrative meandering snaps more and more into focus as it leisurely moves along, and by the end, I was as satisfied as a vamp who just got a fang full. Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston’s performances are terrific and are worth a watch on that alone, with Anton Yelchin and Mia Wasikowska also brighten up the screen whenever present. Jeffery Wright and John Hurt are also cast in minor roles that don’t get much quality screen time, but they each do what they can with what little they’ve been given. With a soundtrack of gothic rock from Jozef van Wissem, Yasmine Hamdan, and SQÜRL, Only Lovers Left Alive has a surprising amount of bite.
2: Down By Law
An esoteric exploration of deadpan, outsider existentialism, Down By Law features three extraordinary performances from its three leads, John Lurie, Tom Waits, and Roberto Benigni (in his first international role) and gorgeously lensed in crisp black and white by Dutch cinematographer Robby Müller (who subsequently worked with Jarmusch on Mystery Train, Dead Man, and Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai). A minimalist jailbreak film that subverts every expectation along the way, Down By Law the film centers around three inmates in seedy Louisiana prison, two of which were imprisoned for crimes they didn’t commit. Instead of focusing on the mechanics of the inmates escape, it focuses on the relationship between the three men (two of which dislike each other with the third being the bridge between the two) and what life in prison is like for them before they embark on an unpredictable, fablesque journey across southern swamplands. Languid in the best possible sense, with viscerally felt poetics and a sharp, dry wit, Down By Law is memorable romp through the American wildness.
Before we get to our #1 pick, here's a few that just missed the cut:
Stranger Than Paradise
Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai
Coffee and Cigarettes
And now, our favorite Jim Jarmusch film is…
Unpretentious, heartfelt, and genuine, Paterson is our favorite Jarmushc film. It’s a refreshingly plain and straightforward entry in Jarmusch’s catalogue that explores the beauty and wonder of the Quotidian, and a portrait of simple life and a man who uses poetry as a means to appreciate the small, often overlooked things around him. The film centers around Paterson (Adam Driver in an outstanding performance), a bus driver in the city of Paterson, New Jersey, and his wife Laura (played by the infectious Golshifteh Farahani), who dreams of being a country music star and opening a cupcake business. Chronicling one week, beginning with Monday, in Patterson’s life, with every day following pretty much the same pattern with minor variation. It’s a gentle and fairly undramatic film that relishes in the discreet poetics of the day-to-day with viscerally felt emotion. We love how Jarmusch gives such a small and simple package an overwhelming sense of feeling. We also love how the story builds up to something that doesn’t appear to be a big deal on the surface, but within the protagonist’s tiny universe, it carries so much weight. The film champions the everyday in such a beautiful way, and it always leaves us with a deeper appreciation for our own life and everything it consists of, which is why it’s our favorite Jarmusch film of all time (so far).
Well, that’s our list! What do you think? Did we leave your favorite Jarmusch film off this list? We want to know. Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and as always, remember to viddy well!