Lists of this type are impossible to create. After flirting with “greatest” and “important” and other false measurements, I decided to list my favorites. These are the films that make me want to go to the movies. Recently I’ve been researching French poetic realism and the Italian neo-realists and this list reflects my affection for those flicks. Next week, the list could reflect a different set of movies. Resisting the urge to be obscure or more cinema-than-thou is difficult and I did what I could to avoid it. The list isn’t in any particular order; think of it as just a bunch of films.
- La Dolce Vita (1960) .. Federico Fellini
Citizen Kane? The Rules of the Game? The Godfather? No way. This is the real deal. An absolutely amazing piece of cinema.
- To Sleep with Anger (1990) .. Charles Burnett
Written and directed by Charles Burnett (“Killer of Sheep”). “To Sleep With Anger” is an exploration of good and evil in an African-American middleclass family and is one of the best of its kind.
- Chocolate (2008) .. Prachya Pinkaew
A one-man-army martial arts movie featuring an autistic teenage girl as the army. Great fun from
- The Ballad of Narayama (1983) .. Shohei Imamura
I could pick “Vengeance is Mine,” “The Pornographers” or many other films by Shohei Imamura as he’s one of my favorite directors.
- Scrooge (1951) .. Brian Desmond Hurst
Alistair Sim breaks me up. I’d watch that old guy eat soup. I could watch this film in July.
- Shadow of a Doubt (1943) .. Alfred Hitchcock
The only Hitchcock movie that I really like.
- À Bout de Souffle (1960) .. Jean-Luc Godard
The most impressive first film by any director and one of the coolest films ever made.
- The Passenger (1975) .. Michelangelo Antonioni
Antonioni’s most accessible film and the cinematography – even without that legendary tracking shot – is just perfect. Could have gone with many other Antonioni movies.
- Last Tango in Paris (1972) .. Bernardo Bertolucci
Brando’s best acting and best role. Bernardo Bertolucci also made the incredible “The Conformist” but “Tango” – with that fabulous score – is the one I’m going with.
- Le Quai des Brumes (1938) ..
of Shadows is an excellent example of the true film noir. A classic of poetic realism and a great example of why Jean Gabin was a world-class actor. Marcel Carné Port
- Double Indemnity (1944) .. Billy Wilder
Billy Wilder’s best film and one of the best films from 1940’s
- Flaming Creatures (1963) .. Jack Smith
Jack Smith’s production is the definitive and probably the best “underground” film. Warhol was a poseur. This is the real deal. This film was denounced on the floor of the US Senate and became a cause celebre for free speech.
- The Third Man (1949) .. Carol Reed
Carol Reed and Graham Greene get it right. Not as gritty or moving as “Germany Year Zero” yet a really entertaining post-war look at
- 8½ (1963) .. Federico Fellini
Or anything else by Fellini from “I vitelloni” to “Giulietta degli spiriti.”
- Harold and Maude (1971) .. Hal Ashby
Hal Ashby isn’t one of my favorite directors but he did my kind of rom-com in this flick.
- The Producers (1968) .. Mel Brooks
Mel Brook’s only really funny film. Zero Mostel and Gene Widler are priceless.
- Ossessione (1943) .. Luchino Visconti
Visconti’s version of The Postman Always Rings Twice launched the neo-realism movement in
. The best version of the James M Cain story on film. Italy
- Greed (1924) .. Erich von Stroheim
Riveting flick and Erich von Stroheim’s masterpiece.
- The Wild Bunch (1969) .. Sam Peckinpah
Peckinpah’s bloodbath and the cowboy swansong. Frankly, I think the director’s cut is too sentimental and the studio cut is a better film. Except for the telegraph office scene.
- It Happened One Night (1934) .. Frank Capra
Pre-Code screwball comedy from back when they knew how to make them.
- King Kong (1933) .. Merian C. Cooper & Ernest B. Schoedsack
The one and only big ape movie. See the uncut version where Kong is a bit less sympathetic.
- The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) .. John Huston
John Huston’s best flick. Could have gone with “The Maltese Falcon” but that’s a tad creaky these days.
- Sunset Boulevard (1950) .. Billy Wilder
The best movie about
. Norma Desmond is right, she’s still big; it’s the pictures that got small. Hollywood
- 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) ..
Every criticism of this film is true and yet it’s still fascinating. Kubrick had a brilliant career and “2001” is my favorite.
- The Conversation (1974) .. Francis Ford Coppola
Francis Ford Coppola’s best film. Even as a derivative of “Blow Up,” this film finds its own center and its own solution.
- The Lost Weekend (1945) .. Billy Wilder
Jean-Pierre Chartier, the French critic, mentioned it as a film noir in 1946. He’s right and everybody who writes about film noir missed the boat on this one.
- The Thing from Another World (1951) .. Christian Nyby
This Howard Hawks production is one of the few 1950’s sci-fi flicks done with intelligence and style. And it has a real woman instead of female monster bait in heels.
- Bicycle Thieves (1948) .. Vittorio De Sica
De Sica just flat-out nailed this movie into cinema history. Could go with “Umberto D,” De Santis’ “Bitter Rice” or even Pagliero’s “Roma Citta Libera.” Just love those neo-realist films.
- La Bête Humaine (1938) .. Jean Renoir
Another true film noir from the poetic realism school and my favorite Jean Renoir movie.
- L'Avventura (1960) .. Michelangelo Antonioni
Caught this film one day while playing hooky from high school. It got a second run when “Blow Up” was released. Haven’t looked at movies the same way since.
- The Wages of Fear (1953) .. Henri-Georges Clouzot
Henri-Georges Clouzot has done many really good films and this is my favorite. I even liked Friedkin’s remake “Sorcerer.”
- The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) .. Carl Theodor Dreyer
Carl Theodor Dreyer was a master. Just look at the faces, the set and the camera work. Stunning, moving and classic.
- The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962) .. Tony Richardson
My favorite kitchen sink flick. Could have gone with “A Taste of Honey” or “Saturday Night and Sunday Morning” or “This Sporting Life” or any number of others. Mike Leigh’s “All or Nothing” reminds me of those films.
- Boyz n the Hood (1991) .. John Singleton
Neo-realism with a hip-hop beat. Singleton never matched the energy and anger of this film again. Not many could. Uncompromising look at South Central,
Los Angelesthat’s a short drive from Hollywoodand a long way from Hollywoodmovies.
- The Battle of Algiers (1966) .. Gillo Pontecorvo
Taut, tight and one of the most sophisticated war movies ever filmed. The film was so convincing, French censors added a disclaimer stating that it wasn’t an actual documentary.
- L'Atalante (1934) .. Jean Vigo
If someone else made this film it would be utter treacle. Jean Vigo – who died way too soon – found a place between the sea and the sky and forged an innocent love story that is a treat to watch.
- Napoleon (1927) .. Abel Gance
Haven’t seen this film in 20 years. One day, Francis Ford Coppola, Ken Brownlow and the others with settle the rights issues and get this restored masterpiece on DVD. This is the kind of film that makes you want to go to the movies.
- Diary of a Lost Girl (1929) .. G.W. Pabst
GW Pabst is a great director and he was known for casting strong female leads. Greta Garbo and Brigitte Helm come to mind. And then there’s Louise Brooks and she is still riveting. “Pandora’s Box” is the more famous pairing of Pabst and Brooks but “Diary” is my fave.
- The Last Wave (1977) .. Peter Weir
Peter Weir’s follow-up to his breakout film “Picnic at Hanging Rock.” When Aussie films began attracting international attention they delivered some winners.
- City of God (2002) .. Fernando Meirelles
Cidade de Deus is one of the best crime movies ever made. It is violent, unrelenting, unforgiving and brilliant.
- Bande à Part (1964) .. Jean-Luc Godard
Godard is Godard. “Breathless” is one of the most influential films for good reason. But it doesn’t have Anna Karina dancing the
with Claude Brasseur and Sami Frey. My favorite Godard film. Madison
- Blade Runner (1982) .. Ridley Scott
Even after all the endless director cuts, I still love this film.
- Faces (1968) .. John Cassavetes
John Cassavetes gets indie flicks some respect. Could have gone with “Husbands.” Down and dirty cinema just the way I like it.
- Drunken Angel (1948) .. Akira Kurosawa
Mifune and Kurosawa’s first movie together. “Stray Dog” and “Yojimbo” are runners-up.
- Stalker (1979) .. Andrei Tarkovsky
Andrei Tarkovsky can be a pain in the butt to watch. It’s always worth it. “Stalker” is my favorite.
- Rodan (1956) .. Ishirô Honda
Rodan is not a monster movie. It’s a love story with the only rubber-suited monster suicide. A thinking and feeling radioactive pteranodon trapped in a hostile world he can’t understand. Who can resist?
- The Usual Suspects (1995) .. Bryan Singer
Tight, smart, fun. This is exactly what a script should do.
- Chinatown (1974) .. Roman Polanski
Along with “Alphaville” and “Kiss Me Deadly” my favorite private eye film.
- The Wizard of Oz (1939) .. Victor Fleming
Over-riding reason: Bert Lahr.
- The Ones I Forgot (1910-2009)
Lists such as this one are impossible to create with any confidence of their being inclusive or even accurate. So the last slot is for the other 50 films I could add without thinking too much about it.