This list is in alphabetical order and not in order of least best to best, because it is arbitrary to even attempt to put these in any order. These films are fantastic for their own reasons and it would be nearly impossible to compare so many films of so many genres, styles and concepts.
Forgive me, but there is an onslaught of text coming this way. I suggest skimming through the entire list at first to see which films you like or dislike made the cut, and then read up on the films you like/dislike/want to know more about. Otherwise, you’ll be here all day and it won’t do me any good (I don’t get paid per visitor).
So, without further ado, here are what I feel to be:
The 100 Best Films of All Time
8 1/2 (1963)
Directed by: Federico Fellini
Actors: Marcello Mastroianni, Sandra Milo, Anouk Aimée, Claudia Cardinale
What does a director do if he has run out of movie ideas? He makes his protagonist suffer the same fate. Guido is a struggling director who is unable to come up with his next big movie, although he promises everyone he already has ideas ready. He tries to justify his mind being elsewhere by having numerous affairs, but in the end he can only blame his troubling past that attacks him continuously through flash backs. His want to create a science fiction film mixed with his troubling past intertwine into surreal hallucinations for both Guido and for us. In the end, through a beautiful tale of being left in the dust with both his movie and his life, Fellini instructs Guido and the audience to do what he did with 8 1/2: If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.
400 Blows [Les Quatre Cents Coups] (1959)
Directed by: François Truffaut
Actors: Jean-Pierre Léaud, Albert Rémy, Claire Maurier
Boys will be boys: This is a phrase that feels limiting when it comes to children, as if they are supposed to misbehave. This is the lifestyle Antoine follows in Truffaut’s French New Wave classic. He begins to get into trouble by accident for other peoples faults, but his in turn causes him to be rebellious rather than speak out. He ends up getting into many troublesome situations due to his “immaturity”, but in the end Antoine is possibly the most mature character in the film as he wills for an existential world where there is no organization and no plan for life. What makes this film especially wonderful is how we all relate to Antoine. We never want to get up for work. We never want to get groceries or gas. We never want to go with the flow of life, but rather go at our own paces. Although some of Antoine’s methods are unorthodox, 400 Blows gives us the chance to escape the regulations of life through a child that is more bold and also more innocent than we can be.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Actors: Douglas Rain, Keir Dullea, William Sylvester, Gary Lockwood
This is probably the most metaphorical film ever released. That, and it is one of the most inexplainable. Try coming up with a 100% logical story line. I’ve gotten 95% explained then have had enough loose ends to make my theory implausible. 2001 wasn’t supposed to have a story, really. Kubrick himself said that the movie was supposed to be a viewing experience. We most certainly get one. 2001 is more than this, though. It is our own journeys through time. Because these journeys are our own, we, in the end, come up with our own stories and interpretations, making 2001 the most personal movie that defies, yet also encourages, reality ever made.
Aguirre, the Wrath of God [Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes] (1972)
Directed by: Werner Herzog
Actors: Klaus Kinski, Ruy Guerra, Helena Rojo
Herzog is recently known for his hyper realistic films and documentaries, especially Grizzly Man: A true story about a mans obsession with bears that eventually killed him. Herzog takes this realism and more with even his feature films, and Aguirre is no exception. The crew battle storming floods and more, while Herzog is there to film everything. However, nothing seems more real than Kinski’s performance as Aguirre. It is easy to have a character turn from bad to good, or good to bad. Kinski turns Aguirre from bad to even worse as the short, to the point, film ends with one of the creepiest endings ever recorded: A madman’s mind warping beyond repair, and there is nothing we can do about it. Aguirre may be very punishing on the first view, but that is what makes it so incredible (apart from Popol Vuh’s tremendous score and the magnificent cinematography). You get sucked back in and wish to watch this horrifically-true story over and over.
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Actors: Sigourney Weaver, Harry Dean Stanton, Ian Holm, John Hurt
The Alien franchise may seem like a gimmick now, but back when it first came out, there was nothing like it. Usually horror movies have the monsters coming to the protagonists, but with this film they went to the monsters. Ridley Scott now may be known for his action films like Gladiator, but back then he was the master of claustrophobic suspense. The Giger-ian environment that surrounds the explorers is enough to make the atmosphere terrifying, but the ambient sounds of drips, wind, and even a pulsating siren, make every turn more frightening than the previous one. The scariest thing about the film is its statement on our situation with rapid technological advances: If you go too far with it, it will always be right behind you and nothing will ever be safe again.
Apocalypse Now (1979)
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
Actors: Martin Sheen, Robert Duvall, Marlon Brando, Dennis Hopper
Coppola suffered his own wars because of this film. He had to continuously battle with actors and crew members. He lost a fortune of money on this film and spent years trying to gain all of the money back (infamously leading to the third Godfather film), as his film went over and above (including what may still be the most expensive explosive special effect in film history). Many films take you into the heart of war, but none brought the sense of isolation in unknown territory that Apocalypse Now brought. Willard’s quest to hunt and kill Colonel Kurtz makes him go from a shell shocked alcoholic to a man set on following animalistic instincts. The lack of order. The colourful trails of missiles and flares. The creepy electronic music. War will never be this artistically frightening again.
Directed by: David Hand
Actors: Donnie Dunagan, Paula Winslowe, Hardie Albright, Ann Gillis
Snow White and the Seven Dwarves broke new ground by bringing animated films to the masses as a serious form of story telling. Pinocchio and Dumbo carried the tradition of making stories for children and adults while Fantasia tried to change the rules of the game again. Bambi mixed the charm of Snow White with the magic of Pinocchio and Dumbo with the natural beauty the people at Disney discovered through Fantasia. Everybody remembers the cute young Bambi and his friends Thumper and Flower. They also remember the very tragic event that shatters Bambi’s youth. The movie is more than that, though. It is a well told coming of age story that shows, through wildlife, that people come up with many theories on what makes them grow up and mature. It can be when one discovers fun, or when one discovers a world outside of theirs, or even when they discover relationships and love. As the audience witnesses Bambi’s entire life until he is a mature adult, they come to learn the real point when people mature: When they take what they have learned through their experiences, friends and family to better themselves and others around them.
Barry Lyndon (1975)
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Actors: Ryan O’Neal, Marisa Berenson, Patrick Magee
Kubrick’s underrated masterpiece, Barry Lyndon is perhaps the best period piece film ever created. The gun duels resemble Leone-isc western gun fights. The war scenes resemble the Russian revolutionary films of the silent era. The scenery, of which every single shot may very well be an aristocratic painting, is all Kubrick. Redmond Barry leaves for Dublin to avoid arrest and starts life all over again with absolutely nothing. He gets to the very top of the world single handedly, but does he ever reach that state mentally? Barry Lyndon is about how trying to fix personal matters with self reward will only turn into greed: A modern day concept turned into a tragic historical tale that has paved the way for virtually every period film made since.
The Battle of Algiers [La Battaglia di Algeri] (1966)
Directed by: Gillo Pontecorvo
Actors: Jean Martin, Brahim Haggiag
The Battle of Algiers is the closest look one can have at the Algerian War of Independence that occurred during the 50’s. The exploding bombs are in your face. The showers of bullets ring in our ears and make us cover our eyes. The screaming crowds seem to hit too close to home, reminding us that this could happen to anyone. The only catch is, this film is not a documentary. That’s right. The majority of the people on screen are common civilians hired to be actors by Pontecorvo. Since it’s not a documentary, this should mean that the movie is incredibly biased since anything can be added in now. That is not the case. The Battle of Algiers is perfectly balanced and allows the viewer to have their own opinion on the events that happened in French Algeria. The hyper realistic hand held camera work mixed with Ennio Morricone’s angelic soundtrack makes this film one of the most moving ever made.
The Battleship Potemkin [Bronyenosyets Potyomkin] (1925)
Directed by: Sergei Eisenstein
Actors: Aleksander Antonov, Grigori Aleksandrov, Vladimir Barsky
If civilians of a country have their artistic expression taken away, what is the first thing one does as soon as they have their rights back? No, not create an experimental film that takes advantage of freedoms. If you’re Eisenstein, you create a film that attacks the previous government, the current government, and any like it. He comments on Soviet Russia with his story about the crew members of the Battleship Potemkin that rebelled against their abusive authorities. The film caused quite a stir back when it was released. Maybe it was because it showed the government as heartless. Maybe it was because of its Odessa Steps scene, one of the most revolutionary scenes ever filmed, with its over abundance of disturbing violence. Wether or not parts really happened or were made up by Eisenstein is not the case, as the movie showed the world that movies could not only speak on behalf of the director, but they don’t have to shy away from the truth (or how the truth is perceived by said director).
Being There (1979)
Directed by: Hal Ashby
Actors: Peter Sellers, Melvyn Douglas, Shirley MacLaine
Peter Sellers passed away a year after his second last film Being There. Sellers was best known for his chameleon-like talent of becoming someone new in every single way. Before this film, he was known for his silly impressions of humans, for instance his role Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther films. His role in Being There could have been just as exaggerated and visually hilarious, but instead he plays the role perfectly as always. He paves the way for comedic actors as Chance: A man who has literally worked as a gardener for a rich man his entire life. He has never stepped off the property. All he does is tend the garden and watch television. Once the rich man, who is never revealed, passes away, Chance is thrown into the world he’s never seen before outside of a television set. At first he seems to flounder about, but his innocence and untainted mind, along with his obliviousness, seems to get him by. He becomes popular within hours as the world around him is fixated on his ability to live so purely. The movie is absolutely hilarious. When the clever script is not making us hurt our sides from laughing, it is being insightful and oddly enough philosophical. However, the movie ends up always being beautiful. People have mentioned that the ending credits cost Sellers the academy award that year because, after an incredible finish, a blooper reel is played. I personally think he was robbed of the award and the credits should have had nothing to do with it, especially since they came after the film. It’s so sad how quickly people can forget an important message, as the credits, showing Sellers as an actor, only reminds us of the films message: That “life is a state of mind”.
Bicycle Thieves [Ladri di Biciclette] (1948)
Directed by: Vittorio De Sica
Actors: Lamberto Maggiorani, Enzo Staiola
What would you do if you had nothing left and still had to take care of your child? During early cinema, problematic situations almost always had a happy ending. If the ending wasn’t happy, it would at least be resolved even for the worse. Vittorio De Sica didn’t like this idea. Bicycle Thieves tells the story of Antonio Ricci who loses his ability to work once his bicycle is stolen. Trying to take care of his family, he takes his son around town to lunch and sight seeing to ensure that everything is okay. The hurt in Antonio’s eyes crushes the audience. This is because the actors are not professional actors. They were picked up by De Sica because of how they looked and how he imagined the characters to be. The hurt then seems so much more real, even without knowing this. The struggling story is so heart wrenching with one of the most emotionally charging endings in film history. If it is so sad, why is it worth watching? Not only is it well written, well shot and well acted, you may never feel more connected to a movie you have nothing to do with and that’s the beauty of De Sica’s filmmaking.
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Actors: Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Daryl Hannah
Philip K. Dick’s novels about dystopian futuristic worlds have been made into movies left right and center. Scott’s loose adaptation of “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” takes an idea and applies it to the cinematic world as best as he can, with Bladerunner as the result: A movie that breaks ground with special effects and creating neo noir. In a future where androids are so well made that they can be mistaken for humans, bladerunners are needed to weed out who is fake amongst the city’s population. The question raised is, if technology gets ahead of us, will it be too late to try to get ahead of it? Using film noir narratives and science fiction effects, Bladerunner is a movie that may have influenced many cheap imitations, but it will always surpass each and every one of them as, like Deckard hunting the replicants, you have to start with what is real to find what is fake.
Blue Velvet (1986)
Directed by: David Lynch
Actors: Kyle MacLachlan, Dennis Hopper, Isabella Rossellini, Laura Dern
There are two sides to David Lynch. There are his films that are hyperbolically experimental, and his films that are surrealistic masterpieces. Blue Velvet is more than just a surrealistic masterpiece. Apart from the experimental shots and transitions, the most surrealistic part of Blue Velvet is the dreamy vision of America that everyone strives for, with the white picket fence and the blossoming flowers. Jeffrey, an everyday boy living in suburban America, gets himself caught in the signature American nightmare through curiosity of the unknown, as he winds up in trouble with deranged psychopath Frank Booth. Lynch’s script is flawless with a complete lack of waste that mirrors Towne and one liners that stick that ring Tarantino. The most disturbing thing about Blue Velvet is how easily this could happen to any of its viewers if they aren’t too careful. Lynch warns everyone to live life the way it should be lived, but if they ever want to be like Jeffrey Beaumont and peek through the closet doors into the world of danger, they are to do it with Blue Velvet: The best combination of dream and nightmare.
Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
Directed by: Arthur Penn
Actors: Faye Dunaway, Warren Beatty, Gene Hackman, Estelle Parsons
The story of Bonnie and Clyde is fairly well known, so a historical film about it would probably be fairly decent. What audiences got instead was the bloodiest, raunchiest, choppy film ever made at that point (or to be sold as a feature length to be shown in theaters anyways). It was sold as a B movie that would not go anywhere, but audiences loved it so much that it was shown in feature theaters, furthermore creating careers for Faye Dunaway and company (and boosting already set careers like Gene Hackman’s). If you are squeamish with seeing people being shot on screen, suggestive themes, and disorienting editing, thank Arthur Penn. However, if you want to know how biopics were redefined, how experimental filmmaking made it to the mainstream audience, and how any limitations on what can be shown in a movie were removed, you may also thank Arthur Penn.
Directed by: Terry Gilliam
Actors: Jonathan Pryce, Kim Greist, Robert DeNiro, Michael Palin
Terry Gilliam, best known as the animator and only American in Monty Python, went on to become not just a director, but an auteur. He continues to make science fiction, mind boggling films today, but none combined old Gilliam with new like Brazil: A harrowing, Orwellian tale about a bureaucrat who craved freedom. The movie is funny, awkward and uplifting, but at the same time dark and downright disturbing. Its social commentary on how the world is run is both satirical and foreshadowing, as it mocks while it warns us of what is to come. The movie begs to be watched again and again as it is almost impossible to piece everything together on the first viewing. The audience may be unsure of what is real and what is surreal during the film, but much like the protagonist Sam Lowry (of whom wishes to be quite off-the-radar himself) says, “isn’t it wonderful?”.
Breathless [Á Bout de Souffle] (1960)
Directed by: Jean-Luc Godard
Actors: Jean-Paul Belmondo, Jean Seberg
Things like the infamous jump cut transition and shaky hand held cameras are usually seen as sloppy elements that only work for experimental (the former) or realistic (the latter) styles of filmmaking. Luc Godard edited and shot his film like a poem, having continuous flow between actors and accenting the measures where needed. Michel is a criminal whose main squeeze is Patricia: A woman who seems to be his heart and soul but also his vice. The chemistry between the two is undeniable. However, sticking to the rule of poetry, things change and stanzas show themselves. This is one story that has been homaged since the day it came out, and with its ability to pull anyones heart strings while knocking them on the brain a few times, it seems like it won’t stop influencing filmmakers anytime soon.
The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
Directed by: David Lean
Actors: Alec Guinness, William Hilden, Sessue Hayakawa, Jack Hawkins
You begin to feel sorry for all of the characters, antagonists included, just as soon as the movie starts. You can sense just how blisteringly hot it is in what could have been a tropical paradise (but has since been made into a prison camp). It is World War II, and a group of British soldiers have been captured by the Japanese (since Singapore surrendered). Their lives are at stake, and the only way they can survive is if they are obedient. The Japanese Colonel Saito instructs the soldiers to build a bridge for a train to be able to cross the river. With two of the other main characters, we witness their respective dilemmas. For the British Colonel Nicholson, he has to decide whether he gets his soldiers to stand up and not be slaved, or if he gets them to show how good the British soldiers are at their jobs. For the prisoner named Shears, we watch him struggle to decide whether he wants to do what’s right for him or what’s right for his army (and even he can’t decide which is which). This film works like a modern-day Shakespearean story: The tension is piercing, the story is hopeful and the characters are all full of depth. In the movie, we find that there isn’t really a “bad guy”, for even the “villains” are just doing what they feel is right. The dilemma that seems to be the most prevailing is the one about the title of the film. Is it about the literal bridge, or the one that connects and separates enemies?
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari [Das Kabinett des Doktor Caligari] (1920)
Directed by: Robert Wiene
Actors: Conrad Veidt, Werner Kraussm Friedrich Fehér
There is nothing creepier than a lack of diegetic sound and title cards, especially when the film is tinged a navy blue hue. It is debatable as to what the first horror movie is, but it is for certain that Dr. Calgari’s ghastly tale set the standards for virtually any horror movie to be made since. Its gothic, droopy sets not only influenced Tim Burton, but they brainwashed him. The story line about mind control and murder spoke against what was to come of Germany at the time, influencing many politically charged fiction films. Finally, its innovation of having a twist ending does not even have to be explained. Apart from all of these aspects, the story, especially for its time, is extremely put together and there is so much that can be analyzed. Apart from D. W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation”, this film was one of the first to truly take a hold on what movies can be, and unlike Griffith’s film, Wiene didn’t overdo it.
Directed by: Michael Curtiz
Actors: Humphrey Boghart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid
Yes, we’ve all heard the countless quotes a billion times. However, these quotes mean absolutely nothing until Casablanca is actually watched and not mimicked. The well crafted screenplay tells the story of Rick Blaine’s escape to Casablanca during the rise of the Nazis. He may be able to escape the Nazis, but he cannot escape the girl of his dreams. The cynicism that Blaine reeks of is especially apparent when ex-lover Ilsa is back in his life, Anybody who says this is just a romantic film has obviously not seen it. There is so much substance to dig through, you don’t know where to begin. There is so much going on with the story, cinematography, acting, and even the music. It never gets cluttered, though, and Curtiz’s film takes its audiences very seriously. Casablanca shows the lengths one can go through its story and through its film making. If you think the movie has been spoiled for you because of the countless quotes and/or having seen the classic final scene, you haven’t missed even a tenth of what this movie stands for.
Directed by: Stanley Donen
Actors: Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant, James Coburn, George Kennedy
Movies that combine genres are generally imbalanced. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule like Edgar Wright’s films. However, Charade is possibly the best film to combine genres. Reggie’s husband has just been killed by his former troupe and they are out to get her. She relies on the help of Peter, a friend she had just met, to try and solve the mystery before the gang do. However, Peter may not be who he says he is. Like Peter, the movie is indecisive on what style it should be. The comedy is witty and hysterical. The romance is anything but false and the emotions are almost too humanistic. The scares are actually pretty scary, and some of the shots can even be considered a tad disturbing, with following action scenes that put you on the edge of your seat. Also like Peter, we cannot help but instantly like everything about the film’s various forms.
Directed by: Roman Polanski
Actors: Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston
Let’s get it out of the way. Robert Towne’s screenplay is one of the best ever written, hands down. There is absolutely nothing that can be changed to it. This is especially rare since it is a film noir mystery, as it is hard to make a mystery that does not have any unexplained events or plot holes. Jake Gittes, a private investigator, has a new situation on his hands once his latest job has gone awry. Once the man he is studying winds up murdered, it is up to Gittes to solve the mystery himself, with what may or may not be the help of widow Evelyn Mulwray. The plot is one of the most engaging, the acting is impeccable, and the direction is spotless. As Gittes finds out, there is more to the movie than the outer shell. As the movie progresses up to the classic climax, you may find it impossible to sit still.
Chungking Express [重慶森林] (1994)
Directed by: Wong Kar-wai
Actors: Brigitte Lin, Faye Wong, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Takeshi Kaneshiro
The movie is made up of two stories, both that deal with new found love. Both stories have men who are police officers that fall in love with women who aren’t the most proper: A criminal undergoing a drug operation, and a socially awkward server at the local express food joint. Through embarrassing encounters and the lacking of self confidence, each story’s protagonists have to work on moving forward and accepting something new in their lives. The cameras are tilted, the colours are vivid and the editing is quickly paced. The movie is almost like a moving subway and once you finish your first line, you go onto the second to reach your final destination. Its combination of western pop culture and Hong Kong’s city life creates a captivating mixture that shows how wanting to better oneself is a universal theme.
Citizen Kane (1941)
Directed by: Orson Welles
Actors: Orson Welles, Ray Collins, William Alland, Dorothy Comingore
To call Citizen Kane groundbreaking is an understatement. There has never been a more pivotal moment in movie history. Welles’s masterpiece changed the way shots were taken, screenplays were written, and performances were acted. Looking past the obvious legacy, the film itself really is phenomenal with its depiction of a man who never truly lived. Charles Foster Kane lived a troubling childhood once he is sent away to school. From that moment on, he thrives to be the best at anything he can do. As the movie works via flashbacks, the unraveling of how a man can have so much but have so little begins to be overwhelming. The rise and fall of Kane is like watching a snow ball roll down the hill and how it grows and grows. This modern day Shakespearean tragedy is timeless and a movie that will forever be relevant to absolutely everyone.
City Lights (1931)
Directed by: Charlie Chaplin
Actors: Charlie Chaplin, Virginia Cherrill
Everyone knows Chaplin for his image as the tramp he plays in most of his films. In fact, more people think of how the tramp looks instead of how Chaplin actually appeared. The signature hat, cane and mustache is instantly recognizable as a sign of slapstick comedy, and his opus City Lights is no exception. You see the tramp and he is instantly creating havoc as his introduction in the movie is him sleeping on a statue being unveiled to a crowd of people. Talking pictures had just been invented a few years before, but sticking to the silent film formula, City Lights decides to create a bit of a statement on the evolution of films via the tramp’s love interest: A blind woman selling flowers. Chaplin, on screen and off, with his ambition for the absence of a specific sense, aims to impress the woman who cannot see his worn down appearance and show the world that sound is not required for everything. His quest ended up being one of the best comedies, however, also one with one of the most emotional climaxes ever, proving that even comedies can have more than one true emotion attached to it.
City of God [Cidade de Deus] (2002)
Directed by: Fernando Meirelles, Kátia Lund
Actors: Alexandre Rodrigues, Leandro Firmino, Phellipe Haagensen
Brazil is famous for Rio de Janeiro, and anybody can see why. As Rocket tells us, it looks beautiful on a postcard. Not too deep into this landmark city, however, is the City of God. What sounds to be a promising area couldn’t be any further from the truth. Rocket, the humble narrator and aspiring professional photographer, tells us the story behind his suburb’s most famous criminals and you will not believe your eyes. With some of the most personally affecting shots and stories put to film, you can only hope to see some light shed upon this area. Sadly, this movie is based on true events. With the honest retellings of a man who has lived in the City of God for most of his life, you can only get to know some of the most in depth villains (which for some also ends up being some of the scariest). The editing is some of the most innovative, as it shares the complete chaos and sparsity of the violence on screen. It may be difficult to watch, but it is certainly rewarding, because underneath the rubble is a gorgeous foundation of promise, and it took a photographer to see past the hatred and craft it into a chilling-but-hopeful story.
The Deer Hunter (1978)
Directed by: Michael Cimino
Actors: Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, Meryl Streep, John Savage, John Cazale
The extremely long beginning seems like it would be a task to go through, but in the end it is only being realistic. A few steel workers are to be sent to Vietnam to fight. One of them, Steven, decides to get married before he is deported, as a final celebration with his friends and family. Nick seems to be attached to his girlfriend Linda, and Mike, who fancies Linda, is excited to go into war. The wedding takes a very long time to commence, and once the steel workers embark on one final task (hunting deer as they usually do), it is easy to see why. They clung to their safety without knowing it, and we eventually wish we did the same. The build up is slow and gradual, but the action is fierce and unrelenting. Some may say this film is biased, but it isn’t trying to show what the film maker thinks about the war in Vietnam. His intent is to show some of the best character developments ever recorded on film, and that is what we get. Lead by an all star cast, the incredible introduction to the characters makes the life-or-death situations absolutely nerve wracking.
Do The Right Thing (1989)
Directed by: Spike Lee
Actors: Spike Lee, Danny Aiello, John Turturro, Samuel L. Jackson
Señor Love Daddy, the DJ that rules the city, tells everyone about the heat wave that is smoldering everything. The biggest heat that is rising is amongst the many races in the Brooklyn neighborhood that surrounds Mookie’s life. His job at a pizza store is stressful because of the racial tension between him and the owner’s son. That’s not all however, as there are many story lines, such as the musically-charged Radio Raheem’s quest to be heard, amongst others. Love Daddy is a god-like figure that surveys the city and narrates the story through news reports and his pop culture-significant playlist. The movie is not biased towards a specific race, as it shows the ignorance and the truth behind every human and how one should not be so quick to judge. It isn’t too shy of a film either, as whatever it wants to say gets said through a megaphone turned on full blast, thanks to Spike Lee’s inspired film making and determined script.
Double Indemnity (1944)
Directed by: Billy Wilder
Actors: Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson
Wilder tends to have movies where innocent protagonists get caught up in threatening situations. For some reason, his knack for creating suffering heroes helped pave the way for the film noir movement with Double Indemnity. The movie starts off with Walter Neff recording a message, as his message becomes the narration for the story. With this in mind, we know, as the audience, that the story may end up being a bit biased. Is this a bad thing? Absolutely not. This film was one of the first times audiences were brought right in the middle of one man’s state of confusion. The narrow, dark sets make every shot look like an alley way, so no one can be trusted at any time. The story weaves with twists so tight, there is absolutely no way you can untie them and free yourselves. And who could forget Barbara Stanwyck’s fantastic performance? We fall for the same traps MacMurray’s character falls for all because of her. Wilder is a tricky filmmaker, and this film, as usual, will have you thinking twice until the ending credits.
Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Actors: Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden, Slim Pickens
The biggest question raised after watching this movie is “why would they name the movie after a character that is in it for less than ten minutes”? The movie isn’t named after the character as much as it is named after what he stands for. The entire movie mocks the hated the United States had towards communism post World War II yet their fate, along with the rest of the world’s, may rest in the hands of a former Nazi. If he can’t save the world, then either British captain Lionel Mandrake or American commander-in-chief Merkin Muffley can. What do they have in common? They are all played by the brilliant Peter Sellers in the best example of improvisation being used for satire. The movie is hilarious in many ways. You can find how childish the powerful figures are funny. You can find the bagful of sexual innuendos and puns funny. You can find the quirky political jokes funny. However, no one ever agrees on one type of humor, and this is where most comedies fall flat. With this in mind, Dr. Strangelove still holds up even for those who don’t find it funny. Its story of a selfish accusation snowballing into the possible apocalypse overnight is intimidating, and the darkly-lit, living photographs all represent classic Kubrick at possibly its finest.
Easy Rider (1969)
Directed by: Dennis Hopper
Actors: Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Jack Nicholson
Everything in Easy Rider screams anti-conformity, including the plot itself. Who says a movie can lack substance if the majority of it takes place on the road and traveling? A risky move for second time director Hopper and writer Fonda, Easy Rider is an unusual experiment when it comes to filmmaking. Billy and Wyatt are existential motorcycling enthusiasts that live for the sake of living. The world around them seems to block them out for being different (except for a few instances, like hippy newcomer George Hanson and a few others). Suddenly, everyone else becomes threatening as the crazy-at-heart become innocent. Like the characters they play, the filmmakers were also wild at heart. The movie is notorious for its use of real drugs in the film as opposed to substitutes to mimic recreational drug use. The experimental montages and segments pop out so unconventionally, they become almost nightmarish. The main message, it seems, is that we shouldn’t always be uptight over everything. The only reason why the film has a plot is because everyone else didn’t approve of Billy and Wyatt, otherwise they would be traveling across America without any hassle. Easy Rider is the result of passionate movie lovers trying to bend the rules of the game and somehow succeeding with flying colours.
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Actors: Henry Thomas, Pat Welsh, Robert MacNaughton, Drew Barrymore, Dee Wallace
The creation of E.T. isn’t a happy one. Steven Spielberg came up with the alien when he was a child to help him cope with the divorce of his parents. It took an imaginary being from another world to help him. When Spielberg became a director, he decided that both children and adults alike could use the help of this alien. The film based on this other worldly being was one of the first childrens films to be as much for kids as it was for adults. Aliens were seen as scary and dangerous for the most part before this film. E.T. wasn’t. It was instead generous and caring, and all it wanted to do was to find its way home. The visuals and music together create a large fantasy world for younger audiences, and a mature fairy tale setting for adults. It has enough humor to engage the easily bored and is daring enough to have ambiguous questions for the deep thinkers. This film is so well balanced and it’s no wonder why it remains a staple in so many peoples memories. What brought everyone together was Spielberg’s bravery into the unknown, and his quest to show us that the unknown does not have to be scary. Sometimes, what we do not know may be what we need the most.
Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (2004)
Directed by: Michel Gondry
Actors: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Tom Wilkinson, Kirsten Dunst
Romantic movies are a go-to style when it comes to casual movie goers. This tends to make many romance films sheer and disposable (maybe not to the vast majority of people, but to us film snobs). Sometimes critical film watchers want to have movies that aren’t four hour epics, but are simple love stories that take us seriously. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a breath of fresh air. The story is straight forward enough to get to the hearts of most people, but complex enough to get to the minds of over thinkers. Joel Barish has come to a halt in his life as his ex girlfriend Clementine has erased him completely from her memory. Dr. Howard Mierzwiak runs a company that extracts every single thought of a specific individual from the minds of his patients. Once Joel discovers this company, he decides to erase Clementine from his own memory to make life easier for himself. The movie cuts from reality to hyper surrealistic scenarios that play through Joel’s subconscious. Charlie Kaufman has put together one of the best scripts of the past decade, and Michel Gondry’s take on the script couldn’t have been better. It is a perfect movie for anyone because its ideas are deep but its moral is relatable.
Directed by: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Actors: William H. Macy, Frances McDormand, Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare
Not every great movie needs to have a complicated plot. The Coen brothers’ simplistic masterpiece Fargo has a relatively easy-to-follow story line that can be described as basic. However, the characters pack more depth than diving into the ocean. The amount of parallels and foiling makes it impossible to notice how characters indirectly relate to each other on the first watch. Jerry Lundegaard is a car salesman that is going through financial woes and comes up with a bizarre plan to earn some money. He hires two criminals to kidnap his wife, and through the help of his wealthy father in law, Jerry wishes to split the ransom money with the criminals. Even though 95% of the movie doesn’t even take place in Fargo, the title is extremely appropriate because it not only reminds us that this can happen anywhere, it reminds us about the lengths people are willing to go for something that should not really matter in the end.
The Fly (1986)
Directed by: David Cronenberg
Actors: Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis, John Getz
Cronenberg’s career started with many horror films full of gore and shocking visuals. The later part of his filmography has more serious and realistic (but still graphic) films like A History of Violence, Crash and Eastern Promises. The Fly was around the time where he tried to combine both horror and society values into the same story. The script itself is flawless, and the movie is only an hour and a half because it is full of necessary substance (no fluff or filler here). The film speaks about a few issues. Firstly, it has a message about AIDS and its effects on people both physically and emotionally through the form of Seth Brundle, a socially awkward scientist, and his accidental case of self transmogrification. Then there is the statement on how people’s fixate on solving problems by advancing technology, and how this ends up only making matters worse. The metaphorical subtext is all fine and dandy, but for a horror film, is it actually scary? Actually, it’s beyond scary. The character development is enough to engage the audience and not bore them, so when the movie shifts into an endless nightmare it begins to get personal. Usually horror movies end happily, with a twist, or badly for the protagonist, but not with The Fly. You may laugh at the idea of a monster fly creature, but I guarantee you will finish watching the movie fighting to hold your tears in.
The General (1926)
Directed by: Clyde Bruckman, Buster Keaton
Actors: Buster Keaton, Marion Mack
Silent comedies back in the day were often short and to the point. The stories hit the audience as hard as the slapstick. In 1926, Buster Keaton tried something new with The General. The physical jokes are still there, and the stunts as dangerous as ever, but the craziest thing Keaton did with this movie was trying to make it more than just a comedy. The movie speaks about ones position in the civil war, and it asks us “if one does not or can not enlist, are they unpatriotic?” Much like Chaplin’s tramp character, Keaton often plays chumps that end up proving their worth, but when the love of his life never wants to speak to him again because he is not “in uniform”, his character (Johnnie) is only a chump because he doesn’t want to make her family out to be liars. In fact, he already tried to sign up but was rejected because his role as a train engineer is too important. Once her father is in danger, Johnnie rises to the occasion to prove just how important his job is not to himself but to others. The General still has Keaton’s signature life-threatening slapstick (no, really. Urban legend declares that his rule was to never turn off the camera until he yells cut or is killed. Now THAT is commitment). However, the movie is both funny and surprisingly thrilling. Many action movies nowadays try to be funny as well as action packed, and none seem to do it as exquisitely as Keaton’s then-underestimated classic.
The Godfather Parts I & II (1972, 1974)
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
Actors: Al Pacino, Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro, Robert Duvall, James Caan, John Cazale
Whether you have seen the movie(s) or not, the first two Godfather films are some of the most talked about period. For those who haven’t seen either, if you think the movie has to do with “offers people can’t refuse” and the like, you are missing ninety eight percent of the picture. Separately, both movies stand their own ground. The first film deals with an ongoing feud between the Corleones and the Tattaglias with the question of what it truly means to be family. The second film has a combined story that deals with Vito’s origins and the future of the family business through different perspectives of how to run a business. Both movies combined show the story of a corrupted son, who went from being the most innocent Corleone to the most hateful. The mini summaries written here don’t even do the films any form of justice. There is far too much going on in the story to put here without spoiling any of it. The classic amber tones that make up the mise-en-scéne make every single shot a photo opportunity. The perfect casting with a handful of performances that can be considered the best make every line full of purpose. Both Godfather films may be talked about all of the time when it comes to “best movie” lists, but not only do they both deserve it, they deserve more, as both movies show how absolutely everything can be done right.
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966)
Directed by: Sergio Leone
Actors: Clint Eastwood, Eli Wallach, Lee Van Cleef
The title of the movie suggests the roles of the main characters at first, but it also describes all of the assets found in classic western movies. You’ll always have the token hero that cuts across the large scenic planes of the west. You then have the classic villains that bring along thievery, torture and lies. Lastly, you have the gruesome ends to glorious gun fights. Leone brings everything here in his gritty opus about three cowboys, all different in their core nature, who are after a large sum of money. The clever tie-in with the civil war reminds them that they may have different mindsets and goals but deep down they are all criminals (and just like the civil war, they continue to fight anyways). Leone brought the three perfect men for the job, with Clint Eastwood (making a name for himself in the Western series Rawhide amongst other films), Lee Van Cleef (starring as a silent villain in the classic High Noon) and Eli Wallach (the greedy scoundrel in The Magnificent Seven). The former two were in the other two parts in the dollar series, but not with such tenacity. The action is stylistic and the shots are innovative. Then you have the music that combines western music with a modern style of writing. This is one movie that is as messy as it is well put together.
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Actors: Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Lorraine Bracco
Never has crime seemed more personal in a movie before. Goodfellas is told through the perspective of Henry Hill. All Henry wanted as a kid was a life outside of the norm, and he found that lifestyle with the local gangsters. After growing up with the same gang, Henry begins to question his place in the gang and in life. His criminal ways start affecting his personal and social lives with others, and this means that he is a good guy who cannot handle being a gangster or he is truly evil at heart. Goodfellas celebrates the eras Henry lives in with stylish visuals and slick music that add contrast to the violence and abuse on screen. The constant theme of what/who is good or evil runs through the movie, and you will find that the line between the two gets blurred. The shocking thing is that this is a true story. This is the actual story of a man who grew up with crime surrounding him and controlling what he does. With a life so outlandish and terrifying, this testimony ends up becoming a cinematic cautionary tale that is not just about crime, but about life and its dangers.
The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
Directed by: John Ford
Actors: Henry Fonda, Jane Darwell, Russell Simpson, John Carradine
The moment we find out that Tom Joad is returning from jail, we are unsure of our protagonist. The moment we find out that he was arrested because he defended himself, we know that we can count on this passionate, true hero. Tom goes home after he is released on parole. He returns to find that everyone is being affected by the Great Depression, including his own family. They head out to California in hopes of a brighter future in this dimly lit, shadow-filled world. The Grapes of Wrath was one of the first truly pure movies to ever be released. Nothing about it is overblown or given the Hollywood treatment. Thanks to the fantastic book by John Steinbeck, this film has perfect pacing and a plot that every writer wishes they could piece together so well. The extremely subtle imagery in the title of the book and movie helps make this story all the more meaningful. Through lines from various characters, the title seems to represent how, like a batch of grapes, we are all connected and anything as severe as the Great Depression will affect all of us. It also means that, proven by Tom’s classic speech, there will always be a hero that will be there.
The Great Dictator (1940)
Directed by: Charlie Chaplin, Wheeler Dryden
Actors: Charlie Chaplin, Paulette Goddard, Jack Oakie
Chaplin is a silent film icon what breezed through the hearts of viewers even well into the first years of sound films. More than ten years after sound films were first made, Chaplin finally made his first talking film. So, it seemed likely that, like other silent film starts, Chaplin would finally meet his downfall and be kicked to the side in favor of the new stars. Boy, did we underestimate Chaplin. Not only could Chaplin make a talking film, he had more to say than anyone else at the time. The Great Dictator was released during the rise of Hitler and the nazi movement (even near the peak of said movement), making this film one of the most fearless and showing how pertinent Chaplin wanted his themes to be. The film is full of laughs, including both visual gags and humorous dialogue (something that was rarely implemented in Chaplin films before). It is not just the comedy and courage we remember, though, but we also remember the wit. The ending speech is arguably the best speech in cinematic history with a message that still rings true today, and it helped solidify Chaplin not as a great comedian or a great filmmaker but as a modern day genius, within and outside of the world of cinema.
High Noon (1952)
Directed by: Fred Zinnermann
Actors: Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly, Thomas Mitchell, Lloyd Bridges, Katy Jurado
It is hard to feel any sort of personal attachment to any Western film. As many fantastic Westerns as there may be, they always tend to feel like stories told by the fire of fearless cowboys. That is until High Noon. Will Kane does end up being the token bold hero, but, unlike the invincibility that many Western heroes seem to have, his mortality seems to play a huge role and his fate uncertain. He has just retired and is no longer the marshal of his town. He is happily married, and the later part of his life is about to begin. That is until the criminal Frank Miller is said to return to the town. Miller was supposed to have been executed by hanging, but he got off scott free through some legal loopholes. He’s on his way back with one thing on his mind: Kill Will Kane. He is due at noon, and the time until then isn’t very long. What’s truly nerve wracking about High Noon is the fact that its story never jumps ahead, but it runs in real time, so we experience the story just like the characters. As we look on like curious villagers, we can’t help but feel that we are all a part of this. Once we become close to the characters, thanks to great writing and fantastic acting, we can only dread the dooming, incoming climax more and more.
The Hurt Locker (2009)
Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow
Actors: Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty
Many war movies try to build up the mood by showing tons of back story and showing the protagonists as heroic as they face “the bad guys”. The Hurt Locker is a ferocious film that starts at two hundred miles per hour. There is not one slow down period for the characters to take a breath. If they are not fighting, they are worrying. If they are not worrying, they are questioning their purposes in life (and even each others roles). Sergeant James comes in the picture when a former Sergeant is killed by a remote detonated bomb. Sergeant Sanborn and Specialist Eldridge were close with the former Sergeant and they works well as a team, but with James and his carelessness and wild nature, they begin to fear for their lives. The Hurt Locker is a movie where on the first watch, you aren’t able to even sit because there is so much tension. On the second watch, the movie acts as a modern day war fable that depicts how war is scary to most, but for some it’s what keeps them alive.
Its a Wonderful Life (1946)
Directed by: Frank Capra
Actors: James Stewart, Donna Reed, Henry Travers, Lionel Barrymore
Here we go again. How many times have we seen movies where the main character sees how their actions will change the future and thus are convinced to change them? The earliest example would probably be A Christmas Carol, but the finest cinematic example would be It’s A Wonderful Life. Apart from that concept, however (and the whole Christmas aspect, of course), both stories are very different and where the former tries to change a stingy man, the latter is about a man who is tired of life. George Bailey wishes to commit suicide after a troubling life, He is visited by his guardian angel, who makes an attempt on trying to change George’s mind. Instead of showing just George’s impact with the future, he tries to show George’s worth at the present. The rather dark subject matter is made easier to watch with the comedic moments, making this film more of a celebration of life instead of a man’s final hour. This classic film has been parodied and referenced to many times in pop culture, and the basis of the story is probably familiar to most because of this. Still, the original thing is worth watching, because nothing that this film has influenced will contain the same heart and soul that this film carries.
L.A. Confidential (1997)
Directed by: Curtis Hanson
Actors: Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, Kevin Spacey, Kim Basinger
It’s surprising how modernized the film noir movement can be while still taking place in the 50s. L.A. Confidential uses up-beat editing and pacing to match the speed of the films in the 90s while sticking to the story style of troubled detectives. This movie has three. Jack Vincennes, who is a celebrity detective who works on drug related cases while helping out as a technical advisor for a crime show and by giving information to a local tabloid. The second is Bud White, who is a brutish officer that tends to save women who have been abused. The third is Edmund Exley, who is a sergeant whose father used to work as a police as well. They work in a world where anyone can be ruined by magazine headlines, cops are as dirty as a sewer, and prostitutes are made to look like celebrities. The writing is incredibly clever, and its brilliance is more evident on the second viewing of the film. The twists and turns lead up to the incredible climax where anything is possible because, after all, who knows if what we see and read is always right?
Directed by: Jean Vigo
Actors: Michel Simon, Dita Parlo, Jean Dasté
The beauty of films from the early years of cinema is that they had the ability to speak so much through such simplicity. L’Atalante is not a complicated movie. It’s your typical romantic film about a newly wed couple that has its flaws. The couple barely knew each other before they got married, so their introduction to each other is as abrupt as ours to them. There aren’t many scenes with surrealistic qualities, but still there is a sense of magic behind every scene. Maybe it’s the uplifting look at Paris that brings out our astonishment. All that can be said is that we watch the film the way the characters experience their story. We are Jules; Not seeing the meaning of the film over all. We are also Juliette as we cannot find the importance of the story. That is until we reach the ending half hour, where suddenly the film comes together. It’s incredible how such a whimsical ending can bring such unforgettable purpose to an entire film and make the film significantly more powerful each time you watch it.
Lawrence Of Arabia (1962)
Directed by: David Lean
Actors: Peter O’Toole, Omar Sharif, Anthony Quinn, Alec Guinness
If any film can be described as an epic, it would have to be this one. T. E. Lawrence was a lieutenant that was overlooked and considered strange. People doubted him and his capabilities. He starts off the film clumsy and reckless but ends as a historical hero who shall remain untouchable. O’Toole brilliantly plays Lawrence in one of the best performances ever to hit the big screen. It not only jump started his career, but it changed the course of acting permanently. This film has more influential aspects than that, however, as the cinematography is still unmatched to this day. The sweeping landscapes of cleanly cut sand dunes stretch for miles and miles, and the camera tries to capture every inch of it. The gigantic shots of the hundreds of fighters on horse and camel racing through towns prove to be some of the most difficult segments to direct, and yet they seem effortless. The problem with most epic films is that they reek of pretentiousness and a want to be loved. Lawrence of Arabia took epic filmmaking to a whole new tier, but it didn’t do this expecting praise: It did it with pure grace.
The Lion In Winter (1968)
Directed by: Anthony Harvey
Actors: Peter O’Toole, Katharine Hepburn, Anthony Hopkins, John Castle
We always see royalty as untouchable. Even with their feuds and arguments, we usually see royal families fight with such pristine dignity (or the complete opposite with savage viciousness). In The Lion In Winter, the fighting is all too familiar. King Henry II is a crass and sleazy leader who may appear to be lazy, but when he needs to stand his ground he is absolutely terrifying. His wife, Queen Eleanor, is locked up in a tower like a fairy tale princess but her integrity and strength is that of the presumed white knight. They both have different views when it comes to the future of their legacy. Henry wants their son Prince John to become king after him, while Eleanor wants Prince Richard instead. Both princes are fully aware of their parents and their respective favorites, and instead of feeling ashamed, they feel proud. The script is so well written as it takes a real moment in history and turns it into a rush of emotions. The acting is incredible (with O’Toole and Hepburn, the possible king and queen of acting on top of their games). The music sounds like the perfect conversion of medieval songs into a modern score. The shots are large and intense just like the castle walls that hold together a shattered family. The Lion In Winter is a reminder that, both aesthetically and story wise, that there will always be a second layer below the surface.
The Lion King (1994)
Directed by: Roger Allers, Rob Minkoff
Actors: Matthew Broderick, Moira Kelly, James Earl Jones, Jeremy Irons
Movies with anthropomorphic protagonists usually ring as cheesy, corny, or just plain silly. The Lion King has created a whole different world where we as an audience easily accept this animal-based society that functions like a humanistic system. In fact, we don’t even question it. The gentle blending of African wildlife with the story of Hamlet seems effortless. Children remember the movie for its songs and characters, but adults will see more when they revisit this film. It’s not just about a lion cub that wants to rule the kingdom. It’s about treason and saving a declining society, among other themes. If diving into metaphors and symbols isn’t for you, The Lion King never asks that from you. It can be enjoyed for what it is on the surface very easily. The bright colours, superb score, top notch voice acting, and well thought out story make this one of the best animations to ever come out as it treats adults just as seriously as children.
The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy (2001-2003)
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Actors: Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Bean, Ian McKellen, Sean Astin
It is a tricky project to turn one of the greatest books of all time into a movie and make it just as good as the original book. It is a nearly impossible task to do that with three books. Peter Jackson was fully aware of how easily trilogies die. He decided to give the trilogy all he had and made sure every single movie was solid. He filmed the trilogy backwards, starting with the third. This is clever because it forces him to make everything as consistently great as his “first” entry, while solidifying the final movie as a spectacle. J. R. R. Tolkien’s world comes to life with incredible scenery, brilliant acting by virtually everyone, and a score that doesn’t beg to be loved because it instantly becomes memorable. Within the past decade, we have had quite a few great movies. We have even had a few instant classics. However, none of these have been as self aware and blatant as the Lord of the Rings trilogy, where an unforgettable experience not only brings a beloved series to life but it brought all the different types of movie fans together.
Directed by: Fritz Lang
Actors: Peter Lorre, Gustaf Grüdgens, Otto Wernicke
After Metropolis, Fritz Lang went from making futuristic epics to a movie that is too realistic. There is very little music in the film, and most of it is whistled creepily by the anti hero main character Hans Beckert. Hans doesn’t really seem like your every day guy because, apart from the fact that he isn’t, he is far too nervous all of the time. This is because he is actually a child murderer and the news is beginning to pick up on the existence of a predator in the city. Everyone is determined to find him and their want for justice turns into a lust for his blood. As stated, this movie is too realistic. The lighting is natural outdoors and appropriately lighted indoors. The shots are humanistic and for the most part aren’t exaggerated. The acting is humane. The majority of sound comes from within the scene, including the periods of absolute silence. Where the movie gets the most realistic is with its characters and how balanced they are. Even the villain of the movie has so much about him that we feel sadly about. Lang pushes the audience against the wall and asks “which is worse? a man who is legally psychotic and cannot control his want to kill, or a society of normal people that choose to want to attack?”. Our sympathy for a predator and our uncertainty for mankind is what makes M truly scary.
Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Actors: Tom Cruise, Philip Baker Hall, Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly, William H. Macy
Paul Thomas Anderson always likes to go above and beyond with his films. Magnolia is probably his biggest risk as a director yet. There has to be over ten “main characters” and it is impossible to single out a single character as the one that controls the story the most. Along with the many story lines that slalom, you have so many connections with all of the characters. Each character has a fully developed backstory and a meaningful present. Then there is the story itself: A three hour movie that has many stories that, while engaging, don’t seem to really have a purpose. Then comes the ending, which may be one of the most shocking endings to any film yet. However, everything is not only wrapped up, it becomes cemented in your head. Magnolia is a movie with triumphs, devastation, and anything that reminds us that we are only human. If there is anything that can be taken from this movie, along with the insane risk Thomas Anderson took making it, it’s that sometimes things happen by chance.
The Maltese Falcon (1941)
Directed by: Paul Huston
Actors: Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, Barton MacLane, Gladys George
There is a point in this film where the investigator Sam Spade is described as someone who doesn’t beat around the bush. The Maltese Falcon, as a story, works pretty much the same way. As soon as it starts, the movie bolts out of the door, making the audience have to be as quick of a thinker as the clever hero: An investigator who has himself mixed up in a battle of greed. The story is full of narcissism, wit, and a lack of trust as the movie never tries to get us to feel certain ways about characters, since everybody is questionable (including the overly confident Spade). Film noir as a whole was greatly influenced by this film. The case is full of dead ends, nobody can be trusted, and the detective can either watch his life crumble around him or he can do something about it. In the end, all of the confidence and desires come from the idea of being finally happy, and for each character it may be represented differently or in the same way. In a world where a dark shadow is cast over everything, even the hero needs to try to find some hope doesn’t he?
The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
Directed by: John Frankenheimer
Actors: Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Angela Lansbury, Janet Leigh
Remakes rarely work for two reasons. Firstly, the original movie probably said all that had to have been said, and two, it’s tough to improve on a film that is clearly influential. The 2004 version, directed by Jonathan Demme, is actually very good. The Manchurian Candidate is one of the few movies that can be remade, because it is just as relevant now as it was back in the 60’s. Being as politically charged and easily transitioned as the music of Bob Dylan, the original film caused quite a stir. The plot about communists brainwashing soldiers to kill for them struck a few nerves, and let’s not mention the concept of killing politicians. The film had a lot to say, and many films like this end up becoming boring, preachy, and a waste of time. However, this one is a thrill from start to finish. The fantastic acting helps the dialogue coast through the scenes, the superb cinematography makes any shot dangerous, and the absence of music for the most part makes every second chilling. You don’t know where you stand in this film until the final seconds (literally). With all of this said, this isn’t one of the best political thrillers: It just is the best.
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Actors: Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano
Nolan has received much acclaim from critics and fans alike for his grand-scaled epics (The Dark Knight, Inception, The Prestige). His masterpiece is oddly enough his most miniscule visually, but in turn it is his biggest feat in terms of story telling. There are quite a few movies who shatter their plot lines and assemble the broken pieces backwards or out of order, but Memento goes above and beyond with this concept because, not only is there two plot lines going at the same time, the protagonist is just as new to the story as we are. Leonard Shelby, after being attacked, has developed a form of amnesia where he can remember memories before the assault but nothing after. His new memories disappear within minutes. His wife was murdered by the same man, and Shelby is out to find out who killed her. The evidence in the film is never far from the protagonist, as he gets important concepts (such as names and license plates) tattooed to his body and he takes polaroid photographs of other information. Through the help of people who may (or may not) be his friends, Shelby’s goal to piece everything together not only jump started the career of a beloved director, it gave us an instant classic that will remain unforgettable.
Directed by: Fritz Lang
Actors: Alfred Abel, Brigitte Helm, Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Gustave Frölich
Are you a science fiction fan? Do flying cars floating around gigantic glass buildings appeal to you? What about humanoid robots? The majority of science fiction movies are influenced by Lang’s ambitious Metropolis. Firstly, it is the most expensive silent film ever made and was essentially the “avatar” of the silent era (only the script holds up here). Secondly, the film speaks heavily against not just the German government, but all governments, as it carries a bitter taste towards technological advancements for the majority of the movie. Does Metropolis hate technology? Not really. In fact, it’s all in favor for it. Yet, the movie does speak against how humans are letting technology make them lazy. Could we survive in a world where everything is evolving faster than humans are? In the end, I think Lang had more to say about the evolution of movies. The start of talkies (films with recorded sound) made filmmakers want to break boundaries with technology they were new to. Lang broke boundaries with what he was best at and his silent epic changed not only our views on movies, but the way we think about the future.
Midnight Cowboy (1969)
Directed by: John Schiesinger
Actors: Jon Voight, Dustin Hoffman
Joe Buck leaves his hometown to become a cowboy: A different perspective of how the American dream can be represented. He ends up in New York where he is seen as an outcast (not because he is new there, but because he is a new version of himself there). The only friend he makes is the crooked-yet-trustworthy Enrico Rizzo, who offers his home to Buck. Together, a fish out of water and a New York expert struggle to survive in a city that threatens to eat them alive. The editing and cinematography are as gritty as this failing journey. The movie spits out moments of avant-garde surrealism that haunts Buck in his times of need. We get lost in both his mind and the city as we are exposed to all of the horrors that he faces. The movie isn’t cynical however, as, through Buck’s optimism and Rizzo’s last hopes, both characters try to find beauty in their world of mess. Movies that try to take chances with surrealistic moments in a straightforward story usually end up messily, but Midnight Cowboy results in being a classic story that will warm more hearts than it will scare people.
Monty Python’s The Life of Brian (1979)
Directed by: Terry Jones
Actors: Graham Chapman, Michael Palin, Eric Idle, John Cleese
Monty Python have always been hilarious and inspirational, paving the way for British comedy so far that it carved a path to America. The Holy Grail was a huge success, but it is The Life of Brian where the Monty Python group shine the most. The movie is so silly and bizarre, yet it is still the most formulaic of their films. It follows the structure of most movies while being off the walls with nonsensical excerpts and events, making the movie not only re-watchable, but refreshing and new each time. Its commentary on extremists of any kind is also remarkable as satire melts into truth. Anybody that calls this movie blasphemous is missing the point entirely, much like the rioters did back when it was first released. The accusations died, but the movie still thrives as one of the best comedies ever made.
Mulholland Drive (2001)
Directed by: David Lynch
Actors: Naomi Watts, Laura Elena Harring, Justin Theroux
Movies can easily be divided the way books are. Not necessarily by genre, but also by their difficulty. Mulholland Drive proves that this is possible with movies as well. It is not a conventional film by any means. It is a mystery that not only the characters in the film have to solve, but the viewers as well. The movie will not take its viewers by the hand and say “this is the outcome”. As harsh as that sounds, if given the attention it deserves, Mulholland Drive becomes an unforgettable experience that combines film noir with surrealist avant-garde. Lynch pays homage to classic film noir while reinventing it. The femme fatales rule the story, as even the main “detective” is one. The shots are cluttered, but so are the thoughts. The movie from this description seems like a struggle to get through, but it resonates in the minds of its viewers for days, months, or even years. The unforgettable performances by Watts and Elena Harring make statements on the Hollywood elite and the star struck aspiring actors. The chilling score by Badalamenti is the swan song for old silent picture sound tracks. Mulholland Drive is unorthodox, but that, combined with David Lynch’s absolutely perfect control and hyper imagination, is why it is one of the biggest rushes in movie history.
My Fair Lady (1964)
Directed by: George Cukor
Actors: Rex Harrison, Audrey Hepburn, Stanley Holloway, Gladys Cooper
Musicals are always frightening at first glance for those who are not devoted fans of the genre. The music can halt a movie and not progress its plot. The music can be campy and cheesy. There could even be just too much music in general. My Fair Lady, adapted from the original theatrical production, does everything right when it comes to the iffy genre. George Cukor directs the movie so that it is aware that it was a play first. The minimal sets and the control of the background extras are all Broadway, but the camera shots and panning cross into the world of movie magic. Then we have the clever story: A poor “flower girl” who has a terrible accent and shoddy use of words meets Henry Higgens. Higgens is a language expert who is arrogant, sexist, and just unpleasant. He raises a bet with his new friend Pickering that he can turn the flower girl (the classic Eliza Doolittle) into a girl that can be mistaken for royalty. The movie speaks about the class system in society, and what really makes people lower or upper class. It also speaks about dedication and perspectives, as it asks the question “what is the purpose of our goals?”. While the moral of the movie is about the priority of our morals, Cukor shows us his own purpose for making this film. The musical numbers don’t only help the plot, but they are absolutely necessary for the plot (not to mention that they are extremely well written). The set and costume designs are painstakingly well done. The acting is top notch. Cukor put a lot on the line to make this play a movie, and it seems that his goal was to connect the audience to a world of music and renaissance that we will never experience, and he succeeded.
My Left Foot (1989)
Directed by: Jim Sheridan
Actors: Daniel Day-Lewis, Brenda Fricker, Fiona Shaw, Ray McAnally
The story of Christy Brown is touching. It is, however, an autobiography that could have been disastrous on screen. There have been many true stories about a tragic hero winning, and they have become cheesy or overly dramatic on film. My Left Foot does Christy Brown’s legacy justice. It tells his story in full, from when he was a child until he wrote his autobiography, never over emphasizing on one tragic event more than another (and there are many). It doesn’t mock his terrible condition (cerebral palsy) that makes him paralyzed except for his left foot. It doesn’t pity him either. The plot points all stem from Brown’s emotional and/or personal changes, but the movie never feels biased and through his eyes. The movie tells it how it is, pure and simple. It is an honest bio pic that could have suffered drastically if it wasn’t in the right hands. Sheridan helped create a realistic world where the world isn’t out to get Christy Brown, but it isn’t guiding him by the hand either. Day-Lewis has a bravura performance that pushed the limits of what acting can be, and, from the opinion of this writer, can and has never been matched. The rest of the cast, including his family members, react and respond to him so naturally and perfectly. A true story has never felt so true.
Directed by: Sidney Lumet
Actors: Peter Finch, Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Robert Duvall
The script for this movie is too perfect. It may seem a bit biased to start a review that way, but it makes sense considering it is on a top 100 list. The acting and directing are top notch, yes, but this script, which easily ranks amongst the absolute best, is wonderful for so many reasons. Firstly the dialogue is witty, to the point, always necessary, and always revealing. Secondly, the dark tale of a man who goes mentally insane on live television is riveting. Howard Beale has been fired, and he dedicates his final episodes as a news anchor to his upcoming “suicide on live television”. He gets pulled completely at first, before finishing his last shows, but sadly this isn’t the end of the story but rather the very beginning. The heads at the network UPS decide to keep Beale on live television because he is slowly going more and more crazy. Beale ends up being a ballistic, televised prophet. The movie ends up being quite humorous. Suddenly, we have become the appalling audience that mocks a man suffering from mental illness and the heads of the network, including Diana Christensen and Frank Hackett, have tricked us just as they have tricked the entire country in the movie. Screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky has used the movie to both tell a story and conduct an experiment, both of which work. Neither work, however, as well as his final use of the script: To predict the future of television. Sadly, he was right.
The Night of the Hunter (1955)
Directed by: Charles Laughton
Actors: Robert Mitchum, Shelly Winters, Lillian Gish
Director Charles Laughton was known mostly for his acting work during the 50’s. When he filmed The Night of the Hunter, everyone disliked the film and it was a complete disaster both critically and financially. His masterpiece was only truly discovered far later when the film started to influence many directors, thus a second viewing seemed necessary. Now, Laughton is known mostly for this fantastic film. Based loosely on the murderer Harry Powers, this movie instead is about Harry Powell: A preacher that hides behind religion to justify his actions. He sings church hymns to himself when he contemplates murder and stalks his prey as if nothing is wrong. His hands show the words love and hate as if he understands both and can truly feel at all. If Robert Mitchum’s eerily perfect performance doesn’t set the mood, then maybe the cinematography (that is way ahead of its time) and the bizarre use of music will. Maybe the reason why it didn’t do so well back when it first came out was because it was just too frightening and obscure. Either way, whether you love it or hate it, this is one film that will permanently stick with you and its presence is one that simply cannot be ignored.
No Country For Old Men (2007)
Directed by: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Actors: Javier Bardem, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Woody Harrelson
This modern day western thriller is a nonstop drop from start to finish. Surprisingly enough, it is a Coen Brothers film. It’s not surprising because it’s fantastic, as the Coen Brothers are two of the best directors of this generation. It’s surprising because in a movie by the dynamic duo, you will usually have a lot of comic relief to tide you over. In No County For Old Men, the comedy is very minimal, as the tension takes the steering wheel for the majority of the film. The long pauses just waiting for something to happen are not gimmicky, but instead some of the most chilling moments in recent years. This near-horror film tells the story of Sheriff Bell’s final days as a sheriff. Ones final days after a lengthy career are meant to be rewarding, but such is not the case here, where his final duty is to hunt down the unstoppable hitman Anton Chigurh. Chigurh is prowling after Llewelyn Moss: An innocent man who stumbled upon a briefcase full of money. The movie works more as a metaphor about how crime is unstoppable and the “angel of death” is unpreventable, so it may not unfold in the most conventional of ways, but who needs conventional when we are, after all, talking about the most serious Coen Brothers film to date, and possibly the darkest modern Western?
On The Waterfront (1954)
Directed by: Elia Kazan
Actors: Marlon Brando, Eva Marie Saint, Karl Malden, Lee J. Cobb
The shore is where people go to forget about their problems. Terry’s job, on the titular waterfront, does nothing but remind him about his problems. He was once a promising boxer who lost everything once he threw a fight to hopefully end any connections with the mob. Instead, he now works for the man that told him to throw the fight. He is no longer the man watched from all angles in the middle of the ring fighting for the people; not until he meets Edie. Edie’s brother was murdered by the crime organization that runs the docks and everybody that works there is too scared to come forward and be a snitch. She tries to find the truth through the strongly willed Father Barry, and she tries to find comfort through the honest Terry. When your line of work is surrounded by water and not by adoring fans, what does Terry have to lose? The movie makes a great comparison between those that fit in blue collared America and those that try to find passion elsewhere. It also brings a lot of complexity with characters like Father Barry and Terry who question what the right thing to do is. With the memorable score and the exquisite acting (including Marlon Brando’s permanent shift in what acting can be), this is a wonderful story about a dying dream that a misunderstood man strives to recreate.
Once Upon a Time in America (1984)
Directed by: Sergio Leone
Actors: Robert De Niro, James Woods, Elizabeth McGovern, Scott Tiler, Rusty Jacobs, William Forsythe, James Hayden
Gangster movies often show the lives of those who are powerful and commanding. Leone’s final masterpiece showed the lives of those who were powerful because it was the only way they knew how to live. This prime example of a modern day tragedy that reflects on how corrupted youth evolve into troubled adults is led by a flawless troupe of actors ranging from young to some that helped define contemporary acting. This tale of greed sadly didn’t speak loudly enough to the American film industry, who butchered this epic by cutting it in half and releasing the story in a different order to make it easier for American audiences. Leone swore to never make another film; A promise he sadly stuck to. Had the version Leone envisioned been released the first time around, the world would have been shown the true beauty behind this film much sooner, as it is a sad tale about the supposed American dream through the eyes of a criminal that saw the way his life was meant to be.
Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
Directed by: Sergio Leone
Actors: Charles Bronson, Claudia Cardinale, Henry Fonda, Jason Robards
Henry Fonda is the classic, honest hero of the golden age of cinema. What does director Sergio Leone make him do within the first minutes of the film? Why, shoot a child point blank of course (after his entire family is murdered). After shattering the image of one of the most honest faces in Hollywood, you know that Once Upon a Time in the West is a film that is nothing but daring. It starts of slow but gains so much speed (much like the trains depicted in the film) that you still won’t feel prepared for the ultimate climax that grabs you by the throat. Even if you forget about the train-like story, everything else just seems to bring to life the most classic concepts in any Western. You have your iconic Western towns, including old worn out ones and ones that are still being built. You have your characters, ranging from soft spoken archangels to soulless gunslingers to the innocent in between. The music by the legendary Ennio Morricone includes electric guitars on top of harmonicas (with choirs sometimes thrown into the loop) to stick to Leone’s passion for making Westerns modern. What solidifies this film as a Western staple though is the endless story. It tells about a dying town, a dying breed and a dying war that may not appear to be changing at first. Once everything is changed for the better either through evolution or reconstruction, you will realize the importance of the film’s title: This is just the circle of life in the dangerous West and it will never end.
One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest (1975)
Directed by: Miloš Forman
Actors: Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, Brad Dourif, William Redfield, Will Sampson
Is Randle McMurphy crazy, or is he the smartest person in the entire movie? We will never know for sure, because One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest leaves his character as ambiguous. McMurphy is sent to a mental institution where he either doesn’t belong or where he belongs too well (again, up to the viewer to decide). There he befriends the other patients that are trampled under the steel boots of the tyrannical Nurse Ratched. McMurphy’s goal is to lighten up the atmosphere there not just for himself but for everyone else. The best part of the film is the directing. If you can make a film about psychotic patients funny but not insulting, while also being taken seriously, then you really must know what you are doing. Everyone here delivers their respective fantastic performances as many, including those of Danny DeVito, Brad Dourif and Christopher Lloyd, had their acclaimed careers started by this film. The movie is very rewarding, because it knows just how much of every emotion it needs to display. One thing’s for sure: This is a brilliant adaptation of the original novel and a great example of how text can be translated into film.
Out of the Past (1947)
Directed by: Jacques Tourneur
Actors: Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, Kirk Douglas, Rhonda Fleming
Flashbacks aren’t a new technique when it comes to film noirs. We have heard many a story from the fallen detective under the dimly lit spotlight. In Out of the Past, though, Jeff is revealing only then that he was a private detective (at the moment, he appears to own a gas station). Not only that, but he is revealing to the girl he is dating, Ann, that he already found love before with a girl named Kathie. The story seems so honest because it is told by a man who is nervous about Ann’s reaction but it also seems daring as if he is trying to set the story straight once and for all. The words aren’t at Jeff’s final hour, so he can take his time to show us everything that plagues his mind constantly. Between the past and the present, the movie shifts between a love story and a thrilling nightmare. The fantastic thing about this film is that once we get to live his past, soon enough he will too as everything comes back to him, metaphorically and literally. Out of the Past is a film noir shown in a different perspective because, whether the narrator likes it or not, the story isn’t always finished once the narrator insists it is.
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Actors: Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, Janet Leigh, John Gavin
When people think of Psycho, two things come to mind: Either the iconic screeching violins, or the classic shower scene. Both prove to be fantastic introductions to a film that threatens to be far more meaningful than your usual murder thriller, spoilers or not. The film is still worth checking out because on one hand, you have a bizarre story that is influenced both by the works of Sigmund Freud and the story of famous serial killers like Ed Gein. This influence made filmmakers want to create sequels and even a remake, which leads to the second major factor: the original Psycho felt too realistic. The creepy acting by Perkins as the infamous Norman Bates seems too relatable, and the fact that he works at an everyday motel doesn’t help either. The long shots seem as if we are merely guests witnessing the shocking events (much like the voyeuristic activities shown in the film). The characters are well written and they seem as believable as people you have either known for years, or just random passerby. The remake and sequels do not share this realism, because none of the filmmakers (including Perkins himself at one point) are as cynical as Hitchcock, a man who enjoys making anything in real life absolutely terrifying.
Pulp Fiction (1994)
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Actors: John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Willis, Uma Thurman, Tim Roth
Tarantino is probably the biggest film fanatic to ever walk the earth. He loves films so much, he decided to break film boundaries while paying tribute to films and styles with Pulp Fiction. The multiple story lines of film noir and black comedy are pop culture staples that instantly became classic moments in film history. The film is initially captivating thanks to the witty and humorous one liners, along with the tightly knit script. After repeated viewings, Pulp Fiction almost becomes a statement on many things: What serves as justice, what it would be like to see criminals outside of their crimes, what constitutes as being saved by Religion, and more. With graphic violence resembling film noir, tons of comic relief, catchy music incorporated into the narrative, and unforgettable characters that we feel as though we have known forever, the final statement is that movies can definitely be reinvented. This has caused many a movie to try and copy Pulp Fiction’s swagger since, and none have succeeded.
Raging Bull (1980)
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Actors: Robert De Niro, Cathy Moriarty, Joe Pesci
Sports movies tend to show the slow progression of an athlete or team from amateur to superstar status. Jake LaMotta started at the top and stayed there for a while. He just never knew it. He lived his everyday life the same way he did in the ring. He challenges everyone and always holds his ground. He never lets his guard down. Boxing is all he knows, and it’s almost as if he requires abuse in and out of the ring. His brother and girlfriend get pulled into the ring unwillingly, and we play the part of the nervous crowd surrounding them. Scorsese, at the time addicted to drugs, was afraid that he would never make a movie again, so Raging Bull was, to him, his final film. Putting everything he had into it, he controls the beautiful cinematography shot in black and white, the animalistic sounds, the perfect performances of the leads, and the triumphant but haunting score. Just like a boxing match, there are two sides to this film: The gorgeous zenith of filmmaking, and the tragic true story of a boxer whose lack of trust cost him everything.
Rear Window (1954)
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Actors:James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Thelma Ritter, Wendell Corey
Rear Window is the most scary any movie can be. It doesn’t have monsters or ghouls. It doesn’t have gore or much violence. All it has is a curious man by the name of L. B. Jeffries, otherwise known as Jeff. Jeff is a photographer who broke his leg and has spent the last six weeks confined to a wheelchair and staring outside his apartment window while his leg heals, since he has nothing better to do than to view the lives of others. We watch the movie and also see the scenarios unfold in front of Jeff’s eyes. We see newlyweds, a man passionate about his job, a lonely middle aged woman and more. All of these stories make Jeff think about his life except for one. He notices strange events in the room across the street. Is he witnessing a crime unfold, or are his eyes deceiving him? Either way, he is being too curious for his own good. In fact, so are we. We are stuck in the same room as Jeff for the vast majority of the movie and we too are pulled in to this claustrophobic thriller. The suspense and build up in this film has yet to be matched, and the realism will make you think twice about being a peeping tom, all while bringing up questions about the desire to know the lives of others.
The Rules of the Game [La Règle du Jeu] (1939)
Directed by: Jean Renoir
Actors: Nora Gregor, Marcel Dalio, Paulette Dubost, Jean Renoir
Going against the title of his own movie, Renoir made this film neither a romantic comedy or a film noir but instead a dark, cynical look on human nature. He often mirrors humans with animals in this film (he compares human hatred to hunting rabbits, for example). This film was negatively reviewed when it first came out because, well, it isn’t exactly the least cynical movie ever. Most of the characters are as sincere as a hungry shark, the lighting is dim and gloomy, and all of the funny moments are humorous at others expenses. Why is such a pessimistic movie included here then? Easy. Renoir helped change movies. He skewed what can be funny. He saw the dark nature of humanity and not only poked fun at it, he called us all crazy. The movie is now one of the most well received, and that’s because everyone lightened up and recognized the true genius behind Renoir’s tongue-in-cheek opinion on the French upper class.
Schindler’s List (1993)
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Actors: Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fiennes, Embeth Davidtz
People who comment on how this movie has missed a lot of the horrors of the Holocaust are completely oblivious to what this movie represents. It isn’t a movie that shows how bad the Holocaust was. It is a movie about Oskar Schindler’s change of heart and his part in saving over a thousand Jews. All of the horrific events that happen in the film are to progress the plot, as the nightmares follow the families we meet from the very beginning. Even though some of the movie can be extremely difficult to watch for the squeamish, it is balanced with moments of absolute triumph. This is thanks to what I feel is the best character arc in cinematic history: Oskar Schindler’s. He is blind at first until he hires a Jew, Itzhak Stern, to be his accountant, as he opens a factory in hopes of making money by making goods for the war. His selfish desires separate him from the evils outside of his factory. He even becomes friends with an SS officer named Amon Goeth. Much like our experience with specific families, it takes a focus on a specific character to show Schindler the reality of the world around him. This film is a tour-de-force. Everything about it is superb. The film is the Lawrence of Arabia of our times: A story of an unlikely protagonist turned into a historical icon. It took Spielberg, the master of fantasy (Jaws, Close Encounters, E.T., etc) to recreate this true story with the absolute brilliance it deserves.
The Searchers (1956)
Directed by: John Ford
Actors: John Wayne, Heffrey Hunter, Vera Miles, Natalie Wood
Westerns tend to have a question of identity as a running theme. Who is the famous Man With No Name? Who is the man with the harmonica? Why does Butch Cassidy want to be known and not these two? Bonnie and Clyde try to be known, if anything. For these and numerous other examples, their identities are controlled by them. In The Searchers, their identities are taken from them. Ethan Edwards arrives home from the civil war only to witness the worst slaughter of his life: The death and kidnapping of his brother and his family. With his nieces missing, he is out for cold blood. He shuns Brad’s and Martin’s help (Brad being a fiance to the niece Lucy, and Martin being the niece Debbie’s adopted brother) because he wants to go alone. But really, it seems to be because they aren’t blood related, and Ethan trusts nobody but his own. As the story goes on, Ethan, the once bold and fearless warrior, begins to question what identity really means when roles begin to shift. The Searchers is scary because the situation is fairly realistic. The repercussions aren’t made glamorous and easy to fit Hollywood’s standards. Ethan is left with the same questions as we are, and just like us, he is unsure of how to deal with them. Amongst the psychological questions, we have classic Western battles and travels all strung together by the classic Ford/Wayne duo at their finest.
Seven Samurai [七人の侍] (1954)
Directed by: Akira Kurosawa
Actors: Takashi Shimura, Toshiro Mifune, Isao Kimura
Every war movie after the fifties have one movie to thank when it comes to influence. Oddly enough, the movie in question isn’t a typical war movie, rather it is Kurosawa’s masterpiece Seven Samurai. A village has been previously robbed by a group of thieving bandits. The thieves arrive to attack again and decide that they should come back in a few months once there is more food and more goods to steal, dismissing the villagers as weak due to their previous attacks on the village. Not this time. The villagers decide to hire a group of samurai warriors to defend them. The question is, will they be enough to save the village? This movie is one of the best war epic films. It has such graceful-yet-devistating battle sequences that sweep across the screen like a murder of crows. The music sounds like a battle cry but sticks with you like a lullaby. The actors can play so many roles, from silly to uplifting and bold. If you want to know where the ideas for many shots in war films come from, and if you want to know where the energy and tension comes from, now you know. Kurosawa may not have realized that he was an innovator, but he still worked on making a movie you wouldn’t forget.
The Seventh Seal [Det Sjunde Inseglet] (1957)
Directed by: Ingmar Bergman
Actors: Max Von Sydow, Bengt Ekerot, Bibi Andersson
Everybody knows about the black plague that killed millions of people during the middle ages. Bergman saw it differently, however, and through The Seventh Seal, he tells the story about how the plague could be shown as a game of chess. If you think about it, that makes plenty of sense actually. A common rule with chess is that one should always think two or three moves ahead. Antonius Block seems to struggle with this as he challenges Death to a final game. There are others who end up being other pieces in his game but they never become an accessory to his story. The others, which include theater actors and a blacksmith with his wife, take part in various sins that only bring death closer. The religious and philosophical questions raised in this movie are incredibly deep, and some are even ambiguous. The beautifully contrastive cinematography captures every highlight and every shadow on screen, and every shot is a moving, breathing medieval painting. Unfortunately, what appears to be gorgeous ends up being a harrowing tale where the viewer can see Death’s moves from far away but are unable to stop him.
Sherlock Jr. (1924)
Directed by: Buster Keaton
Actors: Buster Keaton, Kathryn McGuire, Ward Crane, Joe Keaton
This is the shortest film on the list (the only one that clocks under an hour), but that doesn’t mean it is the worst. In fact, Sherlock Jr. may be one of the funniest films to date. Keaton plays an anonymous projectionist who wants to become a detective. He is in love with a girl who is being sought after by another man. The projectionist falls asleep on the job and suddenly his ambitions come to life. This isn’t just true for the character, but apart from the falling asleep on the job part, this is also true for Keaton, who did anything but sleep during the filming of this. For a comedy, he sure took his film seriously, but never too seriously. Well, except for the stunts he performed. Keaton pulls off some of the craziest stunts not just for his own character, but he was the stunt double for other actors as well. There wasn’t cgi back then to save him from performing very dangerous shots. The irony of it all is how much risk he put himself through to make others feel better. For an extremely crazy man, Buster Keaton sure was a genius though.
Singing in the Rain (1952)
Directed by: Gene Kelly, Stanley Donen
Actors: Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds, Jean Hagen
With one of the cleverest concepts, this film is actually about the death of silent films. Unlike Sunset Boulevard’s dark outlook on silent films two years before, Singin’ In The Rain welcomes the change with a roar. Don is a silent-era acting sensation, but his heart lies in entertaining people through song, dance and comedy. The musical numbers aren’t as often as you’d think (just enough to have space to breath and enough to not question their existence), and when there are songs, they are used tastefully (but not without fun). It’s interesting how we enter Don’s mind and see just how powerful his imagination was. In fact, it was too powerful for the movies at that time. However, this all gets put into jeopardy when Lina, the snotty supposed “love interest”, follows the press and fame, and not the reality. It’s up to Don, his best friend Cosmo, and his actual love interest Kathy, to try and set the studio in the right direction. Singin In The Rain isn’t just the best musical number, as it is also a concept of welcoming change with open arms.
Solaris [Солярис] (1972)
Directed by: Andrei Tarkovsky
Actors: Donatas Banionis, Natalya Bondarchuk, Jüri Järvet, Vladislav Dvorzhetsky
When we think of space, we think of how far the universe expands. Tarkovsky didn’t; He thought about how much our minds expand. Solaris is a fairly sneaky movie, because it is for the most part a minimalist film. It suggests that you may as well believe in it and follow where it takes you. That’s about the time the film jumps at you with the unexpected. The directing is very peculiar. For instance, the length of time in a car is longer than the length of time for psychologist Kris Kelvin to rocket into space. It isn’t in reality, of course. It’s just how Tarkovsky preferred to represent it. The entire movie is like this. Kris is sent to space to research the strange events happening at a space station that is orbiting the planet Solaris. From Solaris comes a strange aura that creates physical structures of what the astronauts are thinking of. For Kris, it’s his dead wife Hari. With a recreated version of the most important person in his life, is it better to reconnect with a false entity or to let go of the past? Tarkovsky, as stated, represents the movie very differently. He doesn’t go over and above to try and prove to us that the characters are in space. He lets us trust him, and with our trust he rewards us with breathtaking sequences. The film may be slow, but that’s only because Tarkovsky gives us time to question everything in the film (and believe it or not, he’s the director that would probably love that the most).
Some Like it Hot (1959)
Directed by: Billy Wilder
Actors: Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, Marilyn Monroe
Everyone knows that gangster movies have to be serious and heavy. Ask Billy Wilder. He directed the film noir staple Double Indemnity, the pessimistic Sunset Boulevard, and the uplifting and funny Some Like It Hot. Well, apparently not. Wilder must have been tired with the negativity in crime films and decided to yet again stir things up with this peculiar comedy. Jerry and Joe are two musicians that witness a terrible crime. After being spotted by mobsters, they run away and seek refuge in an all-woman band which requires them to, you guessed it, dress up as women. They meet the singer of the band named Sugar Kane and they both fall for her. The swapped gender roles and awkward antics are hilarious. The violence in between is actually not as toned down as you would think, as the bullets spray all across the set. With fine performances by all of the leads, the script of both good and evil proves to be no match, making a movie that should seem out of place seem as natural as ever.
Star Wars: A New Hope (1977)
Directed by: George Lucas
Actors: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Alec Guinness
Star Wars may be a gimmick now and its reputation may be a bit skewed for better or for worse (depending on how you feel about it), but when the first film came out there was nothing like it. There still is nothing like it. It is an epic film that takes place in a different galaxy, but it is so well crafted that we seem to understand absolutely everything about it. The duels pay tribute to classic sword fights, and the space ship battles are influenced by old spaghetti westerns. The story itself is comparable to stories like The Odyssey. Before the Star Wars series tried to focus on appealing to its fans, it was a source for George Lucas to combine his passions with his ideas. Its connective story has passed the test of time, and almost everything about the movie, from its characters to its score, remains in the minds of pretty much everyone. Before Star Wars was riddled with nonsensical characters and action for the sake of action, it was something very true, and there’s a reason why fans old and new still swear by it.
A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
Directed by: Elia Kazan
Actors: Vivien Leigh, Marlon Brando, Karl Malden, Kim Hunter
Anybody who reacts to this movie with the classic line “Stella” screamed by Marlon Brando has either not seen the movie or is missing the entire purpose of it. The line is screamed as a plead for forgiveness when in the movie and when mentioned outside. What the repetition of the line fails to deliver, however, is the history behind it. It is screamed by Stanley Kowalski; a cold hearted villain that hides behind his wife’s forgiving nature (the aforementioned Stella). Stella’s mentally disturbed sister, Blanche, comes to visit as she fears being alone for the rest of her life. She travels upon an obvious but spectacular metaphor: The streetcar named desire, hence the never ending dream that crosses back and forth. Since this movie is adapted from the play of the same name, written by the unforgettable Tennessee Williams, there aren’t many settings. The lines are well written, but a movie that is very dialogue heavy cannot rely on just a director. The actors have to be the best they can be. So why not settle with some of the best of the best? We have Vivien Leigh, Karl Malden, and Kim Hunter at their very best. All that can be said about Brando, the very definition of actor, is that this is the movie that got him noticed. Kazan didn’t fight against the original play. He instead fought against cinematic conventions. You may never see a movie performed like a play like this again (even if you do, it won’t be nearly as good).
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)
Directed by: F. W. Murnau
Actors: Janet Gaynor, George O’Brien
Murnau is best known for his contribution to the horror genre with his own version of Dracula in the form of Nosferatu. However, it is not Nosferatu that ends up being his masterpiece. In fact, his actual masterpiece, Sunrise, may end up being scarier than his vampire film simply because, while some aspects appear to be supernatural, the story in Sunrise seems too realistic. A man is tempted by a metaphorical siren to leave his wife. As he falls for the temptress’s trap, she then commands him to kill his wife. The name of the movie is so fitting, because it reminds us that all darkness will end if we wait for it to. That being said, Sunrise transforms from a horror film into one that celebrates life. This film is one of the first to use recorded sound, and instead of trying to make the film have dialogue, Murnau decided to let the actors’ expressions do the majority of the talking (and the title cards the rest). He saved the recordings for ambience, sounds in the scenes and music, as he focused on creating the atmosphere to make the story come to life.
Sunset Boulevard (1950)
Directed by: Billy Wilder
Actors: Gloria Swanson, William Holden, Nancy Olson, Erich von Stroheim
The silent films that ruled the beginning of motion pictures were held closely by many film enthusiasts back in the day. Think about how quickly films progressed back then. Films were all silent until the late twenties, and colour films were already being made in the late thirties. Even if many movie makers wanted to stick to black and white, they took advantage of this with their lighting to bring out the darkest of shadows and brightest of highlights. Billy Wilder was aware of how quickly films were evolving and how eager everyone was to evolve with them, so he helped create a character that clung to the past named Norma Desmond: A former superstar who ruled the silent film era. Joe Gillis is hired to be her ghost writer to help revive a dead style (that’s ironic) but he begins to play the role of detective as he discovers that there is more to this silent film star than she says. Sunset Boulevard isn’t completely biased against silent films as it even pays beautiful tributes to the classic style, including a card game played by real former stars Buster Keaton, Anna Q. Nilsson and more. In fact, the film may not be about silent films at all, but instead Wilder’s thought process on how nothing may never beat the classics, and this statement alone makes Sunset Boulevard unbeatable.
Taxi Driver (1976)
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Actors: Robert De Niro, Albert Brooks, Jodie Foster, Cybill Sheperd, Harvey Keitel
Taxi Driver brilliantly hits home to its viewers in more ways than one. Travis Bickle is a former Marine who comes back to New York. He is extremely socially awkward and alone, and his insomnia makes him want to become a taxi driver at night. His brief contact with society and the outside world at night makes his already-skewed view of the world get worse and worse. Firstly, Scorsese brings up so many issues that damage the way cities work everywhere, such as violence and racism. Taxi Driver may appear to be hyper realistic, but look again, and it may be something more. Sure, Bickle’s job as a taxi driver is necessary for the plot but that isn’t why the movie is named after his occupation is it? Bickle drives the audience through the streets of his compulsive, psychotic mind, The entire movie may very well just be Bickle’s interpretation of the story and not how it actually was. Then again, it could be how it happened. We will never know. In the meantime, we can celebrate the outstanding character and plot development, where the climb to the ultimate climax may be even more shocking than the climax itself. Is it safe to follow a crazy individual, let alone analyze his thought process?
There Will Be Blood (2007)
Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Actors: Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano, Dillon Freasier, Kevin J. O’Connor
This movie is interesting because it works primarily as a gigantic character arc for one of the greatest anti-heroes in film history. Everything revolves around him, and that includes the story itself. Daniel Plainview starts off as a poor, helpless prospector that luckily finds oil. He grows into an unstoppable force that destroys everyone and everything in his path, including those that are close to him (or appear so). The way this movie is different from other movies where the bad guy is the main character is that Daniel Plainview was always greedy. He didn’t turn greedy because of his findings. He was always chasing after whatever he could to become rich. He got what he wanted, and the more money he got, the less human emotion he had. Then again, There Will Be Blood is far more than just a study on human greed. It’s a statement on beliefs (personal, religious, societal and more), a statement on personal gain (and how people may lose more than they gain and if they care or not), and lastly a statement on how you can make a movie about anything if you have a true love for story telling (and there may not be a director more in love of telling a story about human nature than Thomas Anderson).
The Three Colours Trilogy [Trois couleurs] (1993-1994)
Directed by: Krzysztof Kieslowski
Actors: Juliette Binouche, Zbigniew Zamachowski, Irene Jacob, Julie Delpy, Jean-Louis Trintignant
Kieslowski surprised the world with his ten hour epic called The Decalogue. He created ten one-hour films about the ten commandments, and such a feat was no doubt well received. You’d think that after that difficult task he’d try to make an easier film, but nope. His final film series was the astounding Three Colours trilogy. Each of the three movies had completely different stories and completely different genres. Blue tells the story of a woman who tries to start a new life after her husband and daughter were killed in a car accident, but she can never truly start from scratch. White is about a man who has everything taken from him during a nasty divorce and he is forced to live a new life. Red depicts the life of a model who has the world notice her, but her life will change when she is introduced to the dramatic opposite. Blue is meant to be a tragedy, white a comedy, and red a romantic film. However, they may be these genres, but they try their best to go against conventions and break new ground for their respective styles (and boy do they succeed). The one thing that connects these three films (apart from the tasteful ties with characters and events between films) is Kieslowski’s passion for metaphors. Between the brilliant visuals and the winding stories, the Three Colours Trilogy celebrates human nature in every way.
To Kill a Mocking Bird (1962)
Directed by: Robert Mulligan
Actors: Gregory Peck, Phillip Alford, Mary Badham
Many book-to-movie adaptations lose the heart and soul of the original novel because, even though it may seem like they do, reading a book does not work the same way as watching a movie. If they don’t lose the soul, movie adaptations lose plot instead. A few things are different in the movie version of this American classic, but the passion is still there. To Kill A Mockingbird beautiful combines a children’s story about discovery with an adult tale of fighting for what is right. Atticus Finch is a lawyer that is representing Tom Robinson: An African American accused of rape. Finch works on saving Tom while also trying to guard his children from the horrors of the world. The black and white shots are magnificent. Every snippet of film has perfect lighting and shots set up so well that you see the same story through the eyes of a child and an adult (very distinctively might I add). The movie is heavy and with its audience, it fights for justice. Peck’s incredible performance as Atticus Finch, through his efforts, reminds us why innocence is not something that should be seen as obliviousness: It should be cherished.
Tokyo Story [東京物語] (1953)
Directed by: Yasujiro Ozu
Actors: Setsuko Hara, Chrishu Ryu, Chieko Higashiyama
The camera rests low enough for the audience to sit on the floor along with the characters. Sadly, most of these characters aren’t as inviting as acclaimed director Yasujiro Ozu. An elderly couple come to visit Tokyo where their children live. They are all grown up now and are living separate lives. The city is much busier than the town of Onomichi, where the couple lives. They get lost in the city but even more so once they find their children. The only person willing to take care of them is Noriko: their widowed daughter-in-law whose husband (and their son) was killed in a war. Tokyo Story may prove to be hard to watch, but that’s only because it is so personal. It never offends the viewer or tries to get them to feel guilty. Instead it just shows the other end of the spectrum. We all try to live our lives as busily as possible to ensure that we have a safe future, but in reality, the only safe future is one that is accompanied. The movie is called a Tokyo Story, but it doesn’t speak only for Tokyo, but for every big city, where the youth of today block themselves out from the rest of the world. Ozu doesn’t tell us to live an existential life in this poetic film, but to live one the way Noriko does, and to connect with the hospitalities in life and not just the rapid expansion.
Touch of Evil (1958)
Directed by: Orson Welles
Actors: Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, Orson Welles
“Touch” is putting it lightly. This film is slathered in evil, and most of it isn’t obvious at first. Apart from the criminals and the shadowy worlds that eat up the entire sets, we have a story that wouldn’t exist had any of the main characters used better judgement for the greater good (although some characters evolve and learn how to be good in the end). The number one evil present in this film is selfishness and how each character wants to show their side of the story. However, at least they are generous with their points of view. Welles’s masterful direction creates scenes of deep focus that allow us to make our own conclusions to what is going on, no matter which character is featured square in the middle of the shot. Then the film brings out the evil in us, with oddball characters and antagonizing twists that make us anticipate the worst and mock the accidental. Even after you get past the unforgettable opening scene will you feel that Welles was one of the best directors at bringing society together into one dark story
Toy Story Trilogy (1995, 1999, 2010)
Directed by: John Lasseter, Ash Brannon, Lee Unkrich
Actors: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Don Rickles
Whenever Toy Story is brought up, I always say the same thing. Toy Story is a trilogy that should not have worked. The reason why most sequels and threequels are bad is because the initial story is done. The character development has reached its climax, the problems are resolved, and anything else added seems like unnecessary baggage. This is why movies like the Lord of the Rings are so good. They were intended to be one gigantic story. Toy Story wasn’t. It broke new grounds as a highly influential animated film back in 1995, helped make cgi animations for both adults and children in 1999, and grew with its audience and stayed relevant in 2010. Maybe the success is because of the lovable characters, created by top notch voice acting, that never make audiences go “Oh that’s Tom Hanks”, but instead say “Woody is back”. Maybe the success has to do with everyones longing for their childhoods and innocent happiness. Or you could just thank Pixar for being the most consistent film company nowadays. Pretty much everything they make is golden, and almost any of their films rank as the best animated movies. What makes the Toy Story series come out on top is how it not only changed the rules of the game, but how it still is changing the rules.
Directed by: Danny Boyle
Actors: Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle, Jonny Lee Miller, Ewen Bremner
If you find out this movie is about drugs, you will instantly assume it is a heavy hitting movie that shows how drugs ruin peoples lives. Not Danny Boyle. In fact, there are parts where he even advocates them. Then again, this movie isn’t really about drugs. Sure, the main character, Renton, struggles to kick his heroin addiction in it. His friends either support or laugh at him for trying to quit shooting up, as they experience not just his ups and downs but their own. The movie goes on and then we realize: Boyle really doesn’t have an opinion on recreational drugs. If he does, he hides it very well. What Boyle does though is share his opinion on friends and the difference between artificial ones and real ones. Drugs end up being a vehicle to turn this movie into one with hilarious highs and devastating lows, but the main moral is how one must be in control of their own lives by choosing the right path to success. This message, with popular songs blaring and rabid editing, shows just how difficult it may be to focus on that, but because Danny Boyle is the master at triumphant story telling, Trainspotting ends up being a highly enjoyable ride.
Two Women [La Ciociara] (1960)
Directed by: Vittorio De Sica
Actors: Sophia Loren, Eleonora Brown, Jean-Paul Belmondo
Cesira, played brilliantly by Loren, may be the toughest woman in cinematic history. With that being said, De Sica is one of the most, if not the most, pessimistic directors. The setting is Italy during the second World War, and the movie starts right off the bat with bombs going off and people panicking. There is nothing to worry about, as Cesira remains strong. She decides to leave Rome with her daughter Rosetta, who is young but old enough to understand the world around her. This frightens Cesira as, even though she may not say it, she tries her best to protect her daughter from the harsh realities of the world. The movie is surprisingly uplifting and tongue in cheek until the dooming climax that proves that even the strongest protagonists have their challenges. Two Women is proof that a past film style can always be reinvented. De Sica took a movement he helped create (Italian Neo-Realism) and gave it life again about twenty years later with this cinematic experiment on how much a main character can handle.
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Actors: Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, Richard Harris
The Western genre was pushed aside during the seventies and eighties. That is, until the Western veteran Clint Eastwood decided to bring it back to life, with the gritty and relentless Unforgiven. Will Munny is a former murderer who stopped his two addictions of drinking and killing once he got married. His wife had passed away and he runs a pig farm with his two children. Meanwhile, in the town of Big Whisky, two cowboys have cut up one of the prostitutes that works at the resident whore house, and the other prostitutes start looking for criminals to murder them. The town, under the watch of Officer Little Bill, does not allow any weapons, so this task seems to be impossible. However, with the help of his friend and a wannabe criminal, Munny sets out to kill for the last time in order to keep his farm and children in good hands. This movie isn’t like any other Western film. Sure, it pays tribute to the styles of the classic Westerns like The Searchers. What makes Unforgiven different is, well, how unforgiving it is. The story seems like a basic adventure story, but is it really a character study on who is good and who is evil? Unlike most Westerns, this one is dark and treacherous. It doesn’t have a ton of battles or duels because it saves the gunplay for the most intense moments. Making the Western genre alive again, Eastwood proves that he is not only still relevant as an actor, but that he can tell a fantastic story as well.
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Actors: James Stewart, Kim Novak, Barbara Bel Geddes
Vertigo is an interesting horror film, because it barely is one. Vertigo remains to be the most sneaky Hitchcock film he made because we forget it is meant to be scary. Like most scares in real life, we don’t expect them. Detective Scottie develops a fear of heights the day he witnesses a fellow officer fall off a building to his death while trying to save him. Most horror movies would try to include heights and ledges everywhere, but not this one. The heights are only included when absolutely necessary. Until then, we have a psychological thriller. Scottie is working on a case where his friend’s wife, Madeleine, has apparently been possessed by a dead spirit. The twists and turns of the story pile up on top of each other until we are left at a towering mountain at the climax, and of course, Hitchcock isn’t there to hold our hands but to toss us down. Vertigo took a few risks but not enough to jeopardize the classic Hitchcock style we all know and love. It’s creative, clever, and very personal. Just don’t be as naive as Scottie.
White Heat (1949)
Directed by: Raoul Walsh
Actors: James Cagney, Virginia Mayo, Margaret Wycherly, Edmond O’Brien
Here’s another villain who has a strong connection to his mother. Unlike Norman Bates, White Heat’s Cody Jarrett lets the world know that he cares for nothing and no one but her (including his wife). After all, his mother is the only one that can bring him back to earth when he suffers his migraines. The problem here is that Cody is a wanted criminal who leads a gang of thieves. Things get interesting once an undercover agent gets involved. After all, who would dare try to fly under the radar of a raging psychopath? James Cagney is absolutely ruthless as Cody. White Heat ends up being one of the most daring films of its time simply due to how unrelenting it is. Back when films were slowly easing violence into their stories and shots, White Heat barged right in with a fearless gangster and a courageous agent. Sure, it may not be nearly as violent as films are now, but White Heat was never overly violent. It provided just enough thrills to create a superb story that works like a modern Shakespearean tragedy of betrayal, loss and insanity.
The Wrestler (2008)
Directed by: Darren Aronofsky
Actors: Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood
Aronofsky has produced psychological thrillers that deal with philosophy, science, narcotics and fear. The Wrestler, his most realistic film to date, may not appear to be his most psychologically enhanced film at first, but in reality it is. A professional wrestler is growing too old and he is starting to burn out. Randy “The Ram” escapes his harsh reality by wrestling as much as he can, even if all he can get is a show in a small community center. He lives in a trailer by himself in the middle of nowhere. Once the fantasies and realities of professional wrestling get the better of him, it’s up to him to either connect with the real world or to continue living alone. The brilliance of the movie comes from its ability to reveal the true nature of two misconceived jobs: Wrestling and stripping. For the outside viewer it’s just a show. To those working those jobs, it’s their lives whether they like it or not. Randy’s best friend, the pole dancer Cassidy, have much in common except for their goals. Randy is trapped in the past and Cassidy is trapped in the present, wanting something more of her life. Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood give blistering performances, while I can’t say the same about Mickey Rourke. Sadly, that’s because Rourke didn’t perform. He lived the role. In real life, Rourke suffered a similar fate: An old Hollywood great chewed up and spit back out. With The Wrestler, he is one of the most incredible characters brought to screen. Thankfully, the movie doesn’t strive on that alone, as the realistic directing and well structured story create the ropes for The Ram to dominate within, as Rourke proves to us that anyone can come back.
Yojimbo [用心棒] (1961)
Directed by: Akira Kurosawa
Actors: Toshiro Mifune, Tatsuya Nakadai, Isuzu Yamada, Yoko Tsukasa
There’s no character more captivating than a soft spoken, unknown protagonist. We know little about the bodyguard except that he can fend for himself. We just know that, like all good, he is taken advantage of by two feuding sides in a city as they see him as a secret weapon. We see him as the voice of reason. He doesn’t play by rules but instead by feel. He doesn’t attack but rather he defends. He is every antagonist’s worst nightmare because he can’t be read. Throwing this unstoppable force into a normal story of wrath and greed stirs things up in a way only Kurosawa can keep from spiraling out of control. The shots and pacing pay tribute to Western films (as well as the theme of a lone hero), but Yojimbo is more than just a simple homage. It was a game changer for stories in films, where the independent are thrust amongst the dependent and a hero whose strengths are too big for the cluttered city around him. If you want to see a defining hero’s journey that has influenced many films that came after it, look no further.