Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Films every cinema fanatic should see

Lately I've been thinking and reading about the subject of film more than usual. At a certain point the question came up concerning which movies a film student or aficionado should study - or at least watch. Though a risky endeavour to attempt to distill the entire history of world cinema into a single list, here's my attempt at a good introduction which would promote general understanding and the desire for further study:

Early film:

The Muybridge race horse, the Lumiere brothers' first play bill, Melies' Le Voyage dans la lune, McCay's Sinking of the Lusitania


the Kuleshov experiment, Sergei Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin, Hitchcock's Psycho, Korine's Gummo


Crosland's The Jazz Singer, Hitchcock's Blackmail, Lang's M, Demy's The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, de Palma's Blow Out


Disney's Flowers and Trees, Fleming's The Wizard of Oz, Kurosawa's Dodes'kaden, the Coen Bros. O Brother, Where Art Thou?

The Development of the Hollywood Style:

Edison's The Great Train Robbery, Griffith's Birth of a Nation, Chaplin's City Lights, Welles' Citizen Kane, Spielberg's Jaws

Hollywood before and after the Production Code:

Kubrick's Lolita, Penn's Bonnie and Clyde, Bertolucci's Last Tango In Paris, Spielberg's Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, the Farrelly Bros. There's Something About Mary, Aronofsky's Requiem For a Dream

Important European movements:

German expressionism - Wiene's Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari, French New Wave - Godard's À bout de souffle, Italian Neo-Realism - de Sica's Ladri di biciclette, Russian Avant Garde - Vertov's Man With a Movie Camera, Eisenstein's October

National cinemas:

British - Reed's The Third Man, Greenaway's The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover and Leigh's Naked; Chinese: Zhang's Red Sorghum, Chen's Farewell, My Concubine, and Zhang's Beijing Bastards; Japanese - Kurosawa's Rashomon, Ozu's Tokyo Monogatari, Koreeda's After Life; Korean: Bong's The Host and Park's Oldboy; Russian - Tarkovsky's Andrei Rublev and Bekmambetov's Night Watch

Other major directors:

Capra's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Hawks' The Big Sleep, Ford's Stagecoach, Bergman's Wild Strawberries, Herzog's Aguirre, Wrath of God, von Trier's Breaking the Waves, Scorsese's Taxi Driver, Coppola's Apocalypse Now, Polanksi's Chinatown, Malick's Days of Heaven, Altman's Short Cuts, 
Billy Wilder's Some Like it Hot and Sunset Boulevard

American independents:

Bogdanovich's The Last Picture Show, Cassavettes' A Woman Under the Influence, Lee's Do the Right Thing, Soderbergh's Sex, Lies & Videotape, Romero's Night of the Living Dead, Anderson's Bottle Rocket, Tarantino's Resevoir Dogs, Russell's Spanking the Monkey

Avant Garde:

Deren's Meshes of the Afternoon, Brakhage's Dog Star Man (probably in excerpt), Bunuel and Dali's Un chien Andalou, Barney's Cremaster

Addendum: I actually find myself tempted to make a separate list for animated films that are worth watching for their cinematic and/or historical value, such as Sleeping Beauty, the gorgeous Waltz with Bashir, or just about anything by the unfailingly brilliant Hayao Miyazaki.


Janet van Eeden said...

Loads I haven't seen but will still get there. I must post my "Must Sees" from a more modern era. Will do that soon. Some essential viewing from Charlie Kaufman (his Adaptation is one of my favourite films ever) and Robert Altman (Short Cuts, The Player) and more.

Janet van Eeden said...

There is a huge hole in your list Mr Harding. :) What about a category for Screen WRITING? Vital, usually overlooked, and without a good script you can never make a good film. It is written.

To correct the imbalance a little, I thought I'd add my favourite films from a scriptwriters point of view. Of course, the ones I mention above are on my list because they deal with writing, especially the uber-meta aspirations of Adapatation, which deals with Writers dealing with Writing.

Charlie Kaufman takes this same theme a step too far in my opinion in Syndechdoche, New York, which I enjoy to some extent, and it should be watched by serious film writers. However Adaptation is much stronger.

Short Cuts, the Robert Altman film quoted above, deals with a multiple protagonist script. It was one of the first to do it so self-consciously and doesn't quite succeed as it's far too long. But it's a fascinating experiment into the multiple protagonist genre. Crash, the Paul Haggis film of almost a decade later, succeeds far more in maintaining the inner dynamics of a self-contained plot with his multiple protagonist masterpiece dealing with racism. It may be accused of being a bit obvious at times, but hey, you can't have everything.

The Player is another piece of Robert Altman magic, and in this one he doesn't overindulge in endless takes with celebrities. Okay, he does a bit, but his strong storyline about a writer who is ditched by a studio exec is brilliant. There are all sorts of in jokes, starting with the opening 8 minute shot which is an homage to Orson Welles' 3 minute plus super-obviously set up opening shot of A Touch of Evil. Film buffs will love it, as will writers who see that sometimes even a callous movie exec can be outsmarted by a clever scriptwriter.

Speaking of Orson Welles, one has to mention Citizen Kane. So I've done that now. Let's move on.

As for more modern films in which the scriptwriting is quite simply sublime, Little Miss Sunshine is a joy from the first frame to the last. It is also a superb example of the multiple protagonist genre without beating the viewer over the head with it. It was written by Michael Arndt. Who? I hear you cry? That's what I'm talking about! Scriptwriters seldom get the credit they deserve.

Then there is Alan Ball's equally sublime American Beauty. Seldom have so many depths been plumbed in such a short time. No pun intended. This film consists of absolutely brilliant writing, creating characters which stay with the viewer forever. A modern classic if ever there was one.

Lastly, I'm going to end with two Biopics which explode the genre of biographical film making. The Life and Death of Peter Sellers is a work of sheer genius. Based on the book by Roger Lewis, screenwriters Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely create a surreal, yet terrifyingly real, portrait of a man without a character of his own. Brilliant writing.

The second Biopic which I think is exceptionally well-written is La Vie En Rose. Written by Olivier Dahan (the director - oh and I can bet thereby hangs a tale) and screenwriter Isabelle Sobelman, this film recreates the world of a human being's psyche in an extraordinary way. The flashbacks and flashforwards are done so unobtrusively that one feels as if one is living La Mome's life oneself. Another modern classic.

Finally - these comment boxes aren't that big, you know! - I'll end with a screenwriter's director. David Mamet's name is synonymous with films such as Glengarry Glen Ross which I still have to see, I admit. But for me, his take on being a writer in Hollywood reaches comic proportions in the film State and Main. See it to know what it's really like to be a scriptwriter on a big Hollywood blockbuster. Brilliant.

JanetvanEeden said...

There are a few older classics that deserve mention. Forgot to say that Casablanca is one of those beautifully scripted films which endures and doesn't date. Thanks to scriptwriting brothers Julius J. Epstein and Philip G. Epstein, from a script by Howard Koch and Casey Robinson who remained uncredited.

And we can't leave out North, by Northwest, written by Ernest Lehman. Actually, this opens the door for all the Hitchcock films, such as Psycho and others. That makes me think of more perfectly written films from that era and I might go on forever. But I'll stop here and leave room for someone else to comment for now.

JanetvanEeden said...

Last, last, last comment - promise! Can't leave out Lawrence of Arabia, with the exquisitely sprawling screenplay by Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson. Such a wonderfully epic and evocative script, brought to life by the exceptional direction of David Lean. That's it. I'll stop now. Although I just know I'll think of a whole slew of unmissable films in a minute. :)