Friday, 17 October 2008

Ten Great Films and Some Reasons to Watch Them

This is by definition a highly subjective list and it would be well worth you thinking hard about what you consider your 10 greatest films are and why they may be different to this list. You might also want to look through this list-of-lists from Sight&Sound.

I do not want to offer you a list of the ‘greatest’ as that would be structured towards old hollywood greats so let me suggest the following for you to watch to consider the breadth of great films available. This list comes from my own media experience and is therefore coloured by my own preferences and tastes. It is worth noting that the lack of female directors amongst the film makers listed below isn't really my fault; the world of film making is very strongly dominated by men.

1 - The classic classic
Citizen Kane - dir. Orson Wells 1941
One of the most influential film drama’s of all time. Well’s critique of power in US society is scathing and the techniques he developed for this film influenced all subsequent films. There is so much to consider in this film that viewing it is the only way to begin to understand it.

2 - A English Thriller Classic
The Lady Vanishes - dir. Alfred Hitchcock 1938
Hitchcock was one of the all time great film makers and so many of his works could be considered here (Vertigo, Rear Window, North-by-North-West, Psycho, The Birds, etc, etc...) but for me The Lady Vanishes is a wonderful example of the master’s work.

3 - A mad satirical classic
Dr Strangelove or How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb - dir. Stanley Kubrick 1964.
Kubrick is another of the all time great directors and 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Shining, Paths of Glory or A Clock-Work Orange could all appear in this list. I have selected Dr Strangelove, however, because of the three perfect comic performances by Peter Sellers. Sellers, one of the greatest comic actors of all time, appeared in several films where either his presence alone elevated them to greatness or his performance pushed the works into the stratosphere (as was the case with I’m All Right Jack). The combination of Kubrick and Sellers means that Dr Strangelove is not to be missed.

4 - A modern romantic classic (with a bitter edge of protest and satire)
Strictly Ballroom - dir Baz Lurhman 1992
No-one ever believes me when I tell them that this seemingly innocuous Romantic-Comedy is one of the most political films ever made. Watch it, think about it, study the context of creation of the text, and try and consider the revolutionary call that is its subtext. Its true genius is only revealed when you think about it really hard.

5 - A master-piece of story telling
Tell No One (Ne le dis à personne) - dir. Guilliam Canet 2006
French cinema has contributed so much to world film culture that it seems odd to pick out this recent Thriller-Romance as one of the top ten films. The works of Jean Renoir, La Nouvelle Vauge (especially Truffaut & Godard) and a host of contemporary film makers place french film culture at the forefront of world cinema. The French, however, have always made great, great crime fiction (Rififi, Sur Mes Lèvres, Le Samouraï, Les Diaboliques, etc, etc, etc...) and so a nod to that great history seems appropriate here and Tell No One is such a well made and well told story that it deserves your consideration.

6 - A beautiful classic
Chungking Express - dir Wong Kar-Wei 1994
Watch it, watch it, watch it! Its just amazing!

7 - A documentary classic
Biggie and Tupac - dir Nick Broomfield 2002
Broomfield’s touching, effective, and engaged treatment of the deaths of Biggie Smalls & Tupac Shakur is a great example of the art of documentary.

8 - The genre classic
Shane - dir George Stevens 1953
Shane’s great strengths are its crystalline morality, beautiful locations, and sense of tragedy. The Western has thrown up so many amazing films (The Searchers, Once Upon a Time in the West, The Wild Bunch, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Little Big Man, High Noon, The Good the Bad & the Ugly, Rio Bravo, Rio Grande, etc....) and any or all of them could be on this list but the place of honour goes to Shane for the tragic beauty of its ending.

9 - The bitterest pill
Chinatown - dir Roman Polanski 1974
Polanksi is another great film maker and this 1974 response to the classic film noirs of the 30s & 40s shows this greatness to full effect.
It is not the great directing, dialogue, lighting, sets & locations, acting, and plotting that makes this film worthy of your consideration but its end and the awful inability of anyone to do anything other than accept that conclusion.

10 - The eighties movie
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off - dir. John Huges 1986
Nothing exemplifies the silliness of cinema in the 80’s better than Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The 80’s saw so many great comedies come out of Hollywood that it now look something of a golden-age; Ghostbusters, Trading Places (Dan Akroyd’s Loius Winthorpe III is a fantastic comic creation), the action-comedy Beverly Hill’s Cop, Heathers, etc. Ferris Bueller combines a post-modern sensibility with an old fashioned anarchic humour and a teenage high school setting to very great comedic effect.


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