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6 films which prove that Jim Jarmusch is one of the greatest filmmakers of our time


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Throughout the course of his career, Jim Jarmusch has created some of the most distinctive and original films of the last century. His unmistakable style and the truly profound and interesting subject-matter of his works, make him one of the greatest filmmakers of our time.

The Ohio-born screenwriter, occasional actor, editor, producer, composer, and film director has won almost every Cannes award there is.

Jarmusch is a minimalist director, who works with great attention to detail. The narrative of his films often incorporates dream-like sequences and settings, whereby the director often ignores strict narrative structures and traditional plot development. His films mainly focus on emotion and aesthetics.

All of his works are charged with deep existential meaning, whereby the characters seemingly drift on peculiar adventures, mostly by themselves. Jarmusch’s characters are outsiders, to put it broadly, who are unapologetic, fearless, and oddly relatable.

His complete oeuvre exemplifies that Jim Jarmusch creates the films he truly wants and loves, instead of trying to fit into any given style, genre, or approach. Hereby are some of the director’s most idiosyncratic works.

1. Permanent Vacation (1980)

Shot on 16mm film, Permanent Vacation is perhaps what every aspiring film-maker should be aiming for with their first film. Jim Jarmusch wrote, directed, and produced it right after dropping out of film school. The film later won the Josef von Sternberg Award at the Mannheim-Heidelberg International Filmfestival (1980).

Permanent Vacation is considered the founding stone of Jarmusch’s pioneering style and specific character schemes. The plot revolves around Allie, a young man who roams the streets of New York, and the interactions he has along the way. The film itself is beautifully shot, whereby the raw allure of old New York comes to life. Permanent Vacation is notoriously underrated, but still remains one of Jarmusch’s most riveting works.

2. The Limits of Control (2009)

Hardly any other film comes this close to a perfect representation of a lucid dream. The impeccable cinematography, intensely saturated colors, and perfectly arranged setting all contribute to the visual perfection of this work. The plot advances through a constant and pleasant air of mystery, without ever becoming confusing of tedious.

The viewer follows a secretive hit man, who travels around Spain, meeting different people who give him clues about his next destination. This tasteful thriller might be developing at a slow pace for some, but there is a reason behind it. The deeper meaning of the film lies not within the final reveal, but the main character himself and the people he meets along the way.

It’s certainly not a film for everyone, but any Antonioni fan will surely appreciate it. Although The Limits of Control might be a challenge for some viewers, it is hard not to be inspired by the calm and surreal atmosphere of the film.

3. Coffee and Cigarettes (2003)

Since this black-and-white masterpiece includes the following cast: Iggy Pop, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, Tom Waits, Jack and Meg White, RZA and GZA from Wu-Tang Clan, and Steve Buscemi, it is hard to imagine how it could be anything but simply good.

The film itself presents a collection of eleven vignettes, which all have in common what the title indicates: coffee and cigarettes. The interesting and often quite odd conversations arising from either chance encounters or pre arranged and expected meetings, all appear to be quite genuine and touching.

Jarmusch’s anthology film strangely resembles another personal favorite of mine- Ten Minutes Older: The Trumpet - where he also makes a contribution with his short film Int. Trailer. Night. Coffee and Cigarettes is one of those films which might make you laugh and cry in a time span of 5 minutes, but is certainly not bad for your health, as the title’s vices might suggest.

4. Dead Man (1995)

Dead Man tells the story of the rather shy accountant William Blake (Johnny Depp) who sets off on a journey west. After a number of events, including an accidental killing, Blake disappears into the wild, only to be found and befriended by the imposing Native American called Nobody, who later on states that Blake is actually the poet William Blake, whom he greatly admires.

The film is a peculiar post-modern western with surreal and psychedelic hues, overall remembered for its poetic and tender existential essence. This work’s cult film status proves that Dead Man will remain one of Jarmusch’s quintessential masterpieces, as will its haunting soundtrack by Neil Young - 'Dead Man Theme'.

5. Paterson (2016)

This work is best described by Jim Jarmusch himself in the following statement: “I think Paterson is more of a film in the form of a poem rather than a poem in the form of a film, if that makes any sense.”

Paterson is a film about the unusual patterns and events that happen in our everyday lives. The main character Paterson (played by Adam Driver) is a bus driver in a small town of the same name (wry absurd- another specific directorial trait for Jarmusch), but in his heart, he is a gentle poet. His everyday life is documented in a subtle and nonintrusive way. Paterson’s life might seem repetitive at first, but at a closer look it reveals the complexity and inner chaos of everything around him, captured masterfully in his poems.

6. Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)

Set between the romantic urban wasteland of Detroit and the alien enticement of Tangier, this film is much more than a gothic vampire love story. In fact, the extraordinary element in the film is only a means of describing Adam and Eve’s (another one of Jarmusch’s entertaining indirect references) fascinating relationship.

The lovers’ unconventional story marked by literature, music, existential crises, blood, and the intertwined love and death is sure to submerge you in pleasurable melancholy. As with all of Jim Jarmusch’s films, the soundtrack is remarkable, but a personal favorite of mine is Jozef Van Wissem’s evocative and dark 'Our Hearts Condemn Us'.

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