Saturday, 6 December 2014

The Top 10 Film Titles

What’s in a name? If the hype surrounding yesterday’s announcement of the new Bond film title as ‘Spectre’ is anything to go by, quite a lot. Here are ten of the best in film history:

10 Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
There are plenty of mysterious sounding long names for films, but none that flow quite as nicely as this one. In fact, such is its quality that it could have been written by Shakespeare; with ten syllables and a bouncing rhythm, it is, like the work of the Bard, written in Iambic pentameter. Then there’s its meaning, which increases in profundity as the film explores its themes of memory and happiness.

9 À bout de souffle
Known in English as Breathless, a more accurate translation would be ‘Out of Breath’. That’s certainly an accurate way of describing the experience of watching Jean Luc Godard’s seminal French New Wave film, which thrills and exhausts with its manic editing and radical dismissal of conventionality. No film since has delivered as successfully on its promise of taking your breath away.

8 Dude, Where’s My Car?
Proof that great names don’t necessarily have to come from great films. In four small words Dude, Where’s My Car? manages to perfectly evoke the kind of dense, nonchalant attitudes and speech patterns of the characters in stoner comedies, while at the same time establishing the scenario from which the rest of the plot will unfold. Kudos also to the planned title for the unmade sequel, Seriously Dude, Where’s My Car?

7 Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song
43 years on and the title of Melvin Van Peebles’s hugely influential film remains as bracing as ever. Its brazen disregard for the limitations of correct spelling reflected the independent and rebellious spirit of the movie itself, which gave black people a voice in an industry that was dominated by white men.  

6 The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
The title of Andrew Dominik’s 2007 Western may at first sight come across as over-the-top and a bit silly, but by the end credits it becomes clear that this was the intention. The film is about the making of myths and how certain individuals are mythologised and others villainised, and how however much the sympathetic on-screen protagonist tries, he is doomed to be forever remembered as the 'Coward Robert Ford’.

5 Rebel Without a Cause
Although the phrase ‘rebel without a cause’ had been coined a decade earlier by author and psychologist Robert M. Linder, the choice to name Nicholas Rey’s groundbreaking 1955 film after it was inspired. This was a film title that came to represent not only a generation, but several subsequent generations of teenagers up until today. The rebel in question was James Dean, who did more than anyone to define what the idea of a ‘teenager’ - a word only invented as recently as the 1950s - was to be.

4 Ladri di biciclette
How you translate the misleadingly simple sounding title of this famous Italian film significantly alters how is it interpreted; is it The Bicycle Thief, about the individual that steals the protagonist's bike, or is it The Bicycle Thieves, about more widespread crime? Either way, the devastating moment at the end when the protagonist succumbs to desperation and himself steals a bike flips the title on its head, and prompts us to reconsider who exactly it is referring to.

3 Aliens
Never has one letter said so much. Whereas Ridley Scott’s 1979 sci-fi horror Alien was characterised by slow-building tension and a minimalistic approach, the sequel Aliens - as you’d expect from a James Cameron film - was all about action and excess. Adding multiple Xenomorphs to the first film’s sole antagonist did dilute the creature’s invincibility, but made for a thrilling spectacle nonetheless.

2 Snakes on a Plane
Half the job of making a successful B-movie is coming up with a name that will instantly amuse and attract the target audience. Hence the plethora of titles like Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! and Surf Nazis Must Die. But never has the public’s imagination been so captured as it was by the brilliantly concise Snakes on a Plane, which became an internet sensation in the run-in to the the film’s release. Aside from giving us what is perhaps the greatest title drop of all time (see video above) the eventual film was a disappointment, but its name remains a classic. 

1 The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
Even people who have not seen the film will have heard of the now commonly-used phrase. Its genius lies in the expansion of moral codes to go beyond the simple good-bad dichotomy and introduce a third dimension - ugliness, and therefore also its opposite, beauty. Although the film’s characters are given names as simplistic as ‘The Good’ and ‘The Bad’, the presence of ‘The Ugly’ prompts us to reconsider what is usually meant by such adjectives. The film does, after all, and in contrast to more traditional westerns, take aesthetic beauty a lot more seriously than codes of morality.

A special mention also to Sergio Leone’s other great film title, the fairy-tale evoking Once Upon a Time in the West, which has inspired many copycats. 


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