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    25 Great Movies Every Film Student Should See


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    Aspiring filmmakers attend film school where they become proficient with their craft. It is also important for students in these schools to study the history of cinema so that one can understand their horizon of the possibilities of the art and through this, become one of the greats.

    1. A Trip to the Moon (Dir. Georges Méliès, 1902)


    At the dawn of cinema, filmmakers didn’t know what the medium was fully capable of. As such, they experimented in cinema based on their skills within other art forms. One such experimenter was magician Georges Méliès who saw cinema as an illusion and dream. In 1902, after making around 100 films, Méliès created cinema’s first masterpiece: A Trip to the Moon.

    Inspired by the works of Jules Verne, A Trip to the Moon tells the story of a group of astronomers who voyage to the moon and discover the strange inhabitants of it. After being placed in danger the astronomers escape and land in an ocean on Earth and are treated as heroes.

    A Trip to the Moon is a time capsule for the mystery and wonderment that surrounded space. But more importantly, it is an early pioneer in visual effects and an early example of the dreamlike possibilities cinema has by presenting a fantasy that lived in the heart and mind of its director.

    2. The General (Dir. Buster Keaton and Clyde Bruckman, 1926)


    By the 1920s, cinema had become a commercial art that had gone beyond its vaudevillian roots and discovered itself as a visual storytelling medium. In becoming commercial, the star system was slowly becoming apparent, with actors such as Harold Lloyd, Charlie Chaplin, and Buster Keaton becoming big selling points in regards to the film.

    Perhaps the most innovative of the three aforementioned individuals was Buster Keaton, whose acting roles were defined by the stunt coordination and slapstick humor, and therefore made him cinema’s first action star.

    The General is Buster Keaton at his finest and perhaps his most influential and most iconic film. It tells the story of a train conductor fighting for the Confederate Army during the American Civil War. The General remains one of the funniest films ever made, showing slapstick and general physical humor at its finest. Looking at it from a technical perspective, it is also one of the most visually inventive films of all time because of Keaton’s use of framing.

    It is an essential viewing for those interested in cinema for reasons of witnessing some of the finest stunt coordination and, more importantly, to understand a popular style of filmmaking during the silent era.

    3. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (Dir. F.W. Murnau, 1927)


    F.W. Murnau is one of the most visual directors of all time. Which is why, perhaps, he loathed using title cards in his movies, all of which were silent films. He was also a leader of German Expressionism, an artistic movement that occurred as a response to World War I and was defined by its obsession with urban life, use of Chiaroscuro lighting, and symbolically distorted art design.

    With his 1927 film, Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, F.W. Murnau became one of the first mainstream filmmakers to experiment with the sound-on-film system, which refers to capturing sound physically on celluloid and continues to be used to this day on some films. For Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, Murnau used the system as a means to create minor sound effects, but more importantly to have a definitive score attached to the film.

    Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans is one of the finest examples of visual storytelling. For this reason, it is important for all film students to see this film. But it is also a great movie that is still as enjoyable as it was when it was first released nearly 90 years ago.

    4. The Passion of Jeanne d’Arc (Dir. Carl Th. Dreyer, 1928)


    Like with all artistic mediums, cinema has been influenced greatly by mythos, religion, and history. One of the most popular of these types to be told in cinema is the story of Jeanne d’Arc, the teenage girl sent by God to lead the French to victory in the Hundred Years’ War.

    This story has been told in cinema from as early as 1900 when Georges Méliès depicted her execution in his film, Jeanne d’Arc. In 1928, Danish filmmaker, Carl Th. Dreyer created the definitive cinematic version of the story in The Passion of Jeanne d’Arc.

    The Passion of Jeanne d’Arc is the cinema at its very best; Carl Th. Dreyer’s film examines Jeanne d’Arc during her trial after being sold out by her people to the British. As with F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, The Passion of Jeanne d’Arc is a great example of visual story telling.

    Dreyer famously utilized only close-ups and medium shots for his film, creating a cinematic language that exists primarily in facial expressions of his actors, and thus giving the audience an intimate relationship with each of the characters in the film. With his camera, Dreyer studies each of his characters and shows the pain that lies beneath all of them. The use of close-ups also gives a claustrophobic atmosphere, which compliments the subject of the film- preparing for a death.

    Watching a film like The Passion of Jeanne d’Arc makes one wish that more films were as intimate and up close and personal as this one. For this reason, film schools everywhere should be showing this film. It is truly a masterpiece of a movie!

    5. Man With a Movie Camera (Dir. Dziga Vertov, 1929)


    Dziga Vertov begins Man With a Movie Camera by informing his audience that there are neither actors nor story in his film. Instead what is seen is 68 minute long dictionary of cinematic techniques with everything from parallel to continuity editing being utilized in post and every type of shot imaginable being used during production.

    Beyond being a dictionary for cinematic techniques, Man With a Movie Camera should also be studied as a propaganda film, as it is one of the earliest examples of this genre. Dziga Vertov was a Russian filmmaker alive during the rise of Communism and he, along with his fellow Russian filmmakers Sergei Eisenstein and Aleksandr Medvedkin, used cinema as a means to promote their political ideology.

    Throughout Man With a Movie Camera, Dziga Vertov emphasizes rapid-fire editing while showing different machines working together to quickly create an effective and long lasting product and the potential to propel technology together, by working as a machine. This visual imagery acts as a metaphor for the potential that a communist state could have for Russia, a country that had long been behind the modern nations.

    One thing that Dziga Vertov definitely pushed into the forefront of cinema through Man with a Movie Camera was the use of montage. Prior to this film, montage was not an apparent technique within the cinematic community. After this films release, it became a common technique for filmmakers to use and retains its status to this day.

    6. Un Chien Andalou (Dir. Luis Bunuel, 1929)


    Surrealism was a movement that began in the 1920s as a follow up to Dada. The goal in Surrealism was to “resolve the previously contradictory conditions of dream and reality.” Its leaders were poet André Breton and painter Salvador Dalí. In 1929, Dalí teamed up with filmmaker, Luis Bunuel to create the very first Surrealist film.

    The result was Un Chien Andalou, a film devoid of plot or meaning whose sole goal was to create a dream for the viewer to experience. Unlike Georges Méliès, who saw dreams as fantasies with a logical story attached, Bunuel saw them as fragmented observations of the subconscious, showing the dark, inner desires that we as humans want.

    The film is a landmark in free form storytelling and avant-garde art. It is also a great example of the possibilities that filmmaking has in terms of mood and atmosphere. It remains one of the most influential films to this day and is a must watch for anyone interested in an alternative style of filmmaking, over the traditional story based one.

    7. L’Atalante (Dir. Jean Vigo, 1934)


    Jean Vigo made four films before he tragically died from tuberculosis at the age of 29 in 1934. While all four films are worth seeking out, the one that all film students need to watch is his final film: L’Atalante.

    L’Atalante is a beautiful example of the human condition being portrayed through cinema. Each character is treated as fleshed out human beings, who are not purely good or bad, making it easy to sympathize with each one of them. The situations are presented in un-objective manner, so that audience members can look at it from a pure third perspective and therefore make the characters that much more real and honest.

    It’s a shame that Jean Vigo died as young as he did. But what he left was a legacy of influential and important movies that continue to be studied to this day.

    8. Citizen Kane (Dir. Orson Welles, 1941)


    9. Rome, Open City (Dir. Roberto Rossellini, 1945)


    World War II was one of the most horrific events in human history, leaving many countries in shambles and families destitute or in extreme physical and/or emotional pain. One country to take an especial hit from the war was Italy. Towards the end of the war, it seemed that the Italian Film Industry was crumbling and would never recover. But 1945 saw a new hope for the struggling Italian Cinema, which came in the form of Roberto Rossellini’s Rome- Open City.

    Rome, Open City saw the birth of the Italian Neorealist movement, a series of down and dirty films that were decidedly political and which had the goal to depict the hardships of life in post-WWII Italy. It was at this point where cinema became a medium that would respond to the filmmaker’s world without being propaganda or documentary.

    It also became the first major cinematic film movement and as such gave cinema another connection to the other arts and separated it from other commercial forms. Rome- Open City is the key film of Italian Neorealism, as it sets up everything that what was to come from the movement. On top of that, it is simply a great movie.

    Beyond being part of a defining film of an influential movement and a time capsule for the state of mind that Italians were in after WWII, Rome- Open City is filmmaking at its highest form. Rossellini didn’t have a budget and the only professional actor was his then lover, Anna Magnani, who at that point was an unknown. All other actors were non-professional, a tactic that continues to be viewed as unconventional.

    As stated previously, this film was shot in a very down and dirty manner on cheap film stock, in large part due to budget concerns. The result gives the film a very disgusting and impoverished look, something that reflected the conditions of Italy. This is also a lesson that film students could learn from when making their films, as Rossellini worked with his budget instead of against.

    The film itself is the purest depiction of the human condition ever committed to film. Rossellini gets up close and personal with his characters and it becomes easy for audience members to sympathize with their situation and struggle, despite knowing the destined horrors that await them.

    10. Tokyo Story (Dir. Ozu Yasujiro, 1953)


    The films discussed on this list, up until now, have had the goal of pushing the boundaries of cinema through groundbreaking techniques and flashy style. Ozu Yasujiro was not one of these filmmakers. Instead, his films were reflections or meditations on cinema and reduced it to its simplest form, basic human dramas. But, as with Roberto Rossellini, the second half of Ozu’s career was affected and changed as a result of the events in WWII, specifically the Hiroshima Massacre.

    Ozu’s films became more melancholy and used the effects of the war as a backdrop, which is unlike Rosselini’s films, which had the effects in the forefront. As a director, Ozu had a very strict style. He was infatuated with long takes and his camera was always low to the ground.

    His camera never moved and the scenes would transition only through a hard cut to an inanimate object. Instead of using over the shoulder shots during dialogue scenes, Ozu placed the camera smack in the middle of the conversing, so as to put the viewer in the center of the conversation. Knowing all this, it is appropriate to discuss Tokyo Story: Ozu’s most important and best work.

    Tokyo Story tells the story of an aging couple who travel to Tokyo to visit their three grown biological children and their widowed daughter-in-law, whose husband died presumably as a result of the war. While the three biological children and their grandchildren seem to not want to deal with them, their daughter-in-law gladly takes them in and goes out of her way to show them around the city. It is examination of the family dynamic, something Ozu obsessed over throughout his career.

    A key element to the film is the choices characters make. While characters make bad and/or selfish choices, their character is fully fleshed out so it is understood why they made these decisions. At the center of all the bad decisions are two characters that are impartial in their way of looking at the situation and look at things practically and as objectively as possible. This leads to the audience questioning whether the decisions were bad at all or merely inevitable.

    Tokyo Story is a triumph in filmmaking from one of cinema’s very best masters. It reminds audiences that a film does not need to be flashy in its style to be great. At the center of Tokyo Story is an honest story fueled by pure emotions.

    11. Seven Samurai (Dir. Kurosawa Akira, 1954)


    While Ozu was focused on melancholy and honest works after WWII in Japan, Kurosawa Akira was instead interested in giving audiences pure entertainment and gave birth to the modern day action movie with the release of Seven Samurai. But sheer entertainment alone does not constitute reason enough to be placed on this list, for Seven Samurai represents grand filmmaking at a high level, and offers high-octane action scenes that make modern action movies seem dull in comparison.

    The story is simple. A poor farming village recruits a group of samurai to help defend themselves after a series of incidents in which bandits have come and terrorized their homes. The film runs roughly three and a half hours long, but Kurosawa uses the first half of that time to carefully establish character and situation, so that everything is clearly understood and therefore making it easy for audiences to sympathize with the what is going on, before blasting off into non-stop off the walls action.

    Seven Samurai is a good example for those interested in making action movies, as it has a basic fundamental structure to it. On top of that, it is simply an entertaining movie that almost anyone will enjoy.

    12. The Searchers (Dir. John Ford, 1956)


    The Western genre is cinema’s oldest genre, dating back to before cinema had even focused genres in its vaudevillian era. It was especially popular in Hollywood and gave birth to some of the most iconic actors and directors in the medium. Two such individuals are actor John Wayne and director John Ford, who together made what is perhaps the greatest Western of all time, The Searchers.

    A lot of what makes The Searchers so significant and so successful is John Ford’s use of the classical Western style. Unlike a Spaghetti Western, specifically the ones directed by Sergio Leone, which featured an antihero who did his actions in the service of no one but himself and a style that consisted of quick cuts and elongated action sequences, the classical style had a true, selfless hero at the center of the story and had a directorial style that largely consisted of large wide shots, so that the audience could feel the weight of the film’s grandeur and the scope of its beautiful landscape.

    While the hero of this film, Ethan Edwards (played John Wayne), is not a perfect person who always makes the right decisions, as in other classical styled Westerns such as The Man Who Shot at Liberty Valance, he ends up doing the right thing for the right reasons by the end of the film. In a way, Ethan Edwards is a parallel character to Odysseus in The Odyssey, a man who begins with good intentions before being put through obstacles, both moral and physical that causes them to question their own identities.

    Above all though it is John Ford’s grand direction, which is quite unlike any other film, that makes The Searchers a must see. Rarely do shots feel this alive anymore and the scope feel this naturally large. It’s a classically styled film that is rarely seen anymore and represents American cinema at both its finest and purest!

    13. Breathless (Dir. Jean-Luc Godard, 1960)


    Jean-Luc Godard was a key figure in the cinema’s second major film movement, the French New Wave. The French New Wave was started by a group of cinephiles and film critics at the magazine Cashiers du Cinema who were fed up with traditional narrative structure of modern cinema. As a response, they started making films that were meant to challenge viewers and reject the status quo as to how films are made. Jean-Luc Godard was easily the most rebellious and intellectually challenging of the group.

    With Breathless, Godard took the clichéd story about a guy, a girl, and a gun and turned it on itself by making a film that rejects all prior filmmaking techniques and reinvents them so as to breathe new life into cinema. Among the more obvious techniques used in the film was the innovative use of the jump cut as a means to give the feeling of spontaneity.

    At the time of its release, jump cuts were viewed as crude and amateur, as they ignored the 180-degree line that was so prevalent in contemporary cinema. But Godard used that state of thought to his advantage. The film is crude in its aesthetic, but so are the central characters. The jump cut emphasizes the plasticity of the characters and the situations. When the film suddenly cuts out of nowhere, there is no reason behind it, other than to give a sense of urgency.

    But it’s not just the jump cut that makes Breathless so significant and revolutionary, the general aesthetic and attitude became influential on the way Hollywood made movies from there on out. Films like Bonnie and Clyde and The French Connection owe everything to Godard. At the center of Breathless is a critique of the popular films of its time and an essay that begs to ask what is the point of filmmaking to begin with. For the first time in film history, a film acts as a film criticism.

    14. Psycho (Dir. Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)


    Alfred Hitchcock was one of the first blockbuster filmmaker, creating financially successful movie after financially successful movie and Psycho continued Hitchcock’s success financially. But unlike his other successful films, Hitchcock had no studio backing with Psycho. This was due entirely to the content of the film, which was extremely controversial at its time due to the level of violence and the discussion of decadent sexuality.

    But the content of Psycho and the way it plays with these themes is what makes it so significant and interesting. Psycho came out during a very conservative era in America and one littered with censorship. As such, Alfred Hitchcock had to be extremely careful when making the film he wanted to make. Instead of making a clean happy-go-lucky film, as the censors wanted him to, Hitchcock made a film that pushed their boundary limits.

    But boundary pushing is not reason alone to see Psycho. It also represents a director in top form. The way Hitchcock uses his camera and plays with mise-en-scene is simply intelligent. Perhaps most interesting about the direction is the way Hitchcock toys with his audience, suggesting the plot is going to go in one way, when in reality, it is heading in the complete opposite.

    Psycho is simply a great film that everyone should see. (On a side note, there is a great book by François Truffaut in which he interviews Alfred Hitchcock that should be required reading in a film schools).

    15. Cleo from 5 to 7 (Dir. Agnes Varda, 1962)


    As with a lot of different mediums, in cinema women get pushed to side and are often ignored. Filmmakers like Alice Guy-Blache, Kelly Reichardt, and Claire Denis are not household names despite being influential and well received. But perhaps one of the more unsung female filmmakers is Agnes Varda, whose films emphasize character over story and are commonly told from the female perspective and about what it means to be a woman. Her second feature, and most well known film, Cleo from 5 to 7, is a prime example of Varda’s method.

    Cleo from 5 to 7 has a simple premise- a young pop singer waits from 5 to 7 to hear back from her doctor to confirm whether or not she has cancer. This simplicity allows for Varda to focus almost entirely on character, as well as bring up and explores existential ideas of what it means to be alive and human, and the nature of despair and death.

    Had Varda given the film more of a plot, then these ideas would not have been fully realized and the film would not have been as successful. It is a great example in less being more.

    At the heart of the film is the character Cleo. Agnes Varda sets her up as doll like individual. For this reason, as well as being a pop singer, Cleo is reminiscent of the public personalities a Hollywood actress from that time, like Sandra Dee or Audrey Hepburn. She is innocent and naïve, not fully aware of the harshness of the world around her, and helpless, the view of what was seen as a good girl in 1950s media.

    Throughout the course of the film, her crisis causes her to think about who she is as an individual and question whether or not her life has really been lived to its fullest. Unlike contemporary female lead characters, who get the dream man at the end or find satisfaction from an adventure, Cleo simply grows and becomes a fuller, more aware individual.

    For film students, Cleo from 5 to 7 is a great example of less being more and ways that philosophy can effectively be incorporated into plot. It also is a landmark in feminist cinema, something that continues to be undervalued and under-watched.

    16. 8 ½ (Dir. Federico Fellini, 1963)


    Making a film about the filmmaking process is one of the toughest things to do successfully. Which is why when it works, it usually is something special. Such is the case with Federico Fellini’s masterpiece, 8 ½.

    8 ½ is not simply a great movie; it is one of the very best movies ever made. It is a celebration of cinema as whole, not just the filmmaking process. Cinema in the eyes Il Maestro Fellini is a grand circus that is equal parts fantasy as it is dream.

    The film’s title refers to the amount of films Fellini, himself, had made up until that point. The film itself was his follow up to his internationally successful, La Dolce Vita. Knowing this information is a starting point for what the film is about, a director, played by Marcello Mastroianni (Fellini’s frequent onscreen avatar), who on the heels of his most successful film, begins to suffer from director’s block.

    As a result he begins to flash back and forth between dreams, memories, fantasies, and reality. In the process, the line between fiction and reality is blurred.

    8 ½ is the embodiment of Fellini, showing his passion and energy in peak form. The camera is constantly in motion, especially in scenes featuring large crowds, so as to give off a hectic and energetic sensation that resembles a circus, something Fellini held near and dear to his heart.

    Nino Rota’s music further pushes this sensation, as it too sounds as if it came straight out of a circus. But the score serves a deeper purpose, as it is seemingly in perfect sync with the film, making one wonder what was conceived first- the score or the story? But does it really matter?

    8 ½ is simply the best film on the subject of filmmaking and should be required viewing for anyone interested in making a professional career out of it. It is a display of an energetic filmmaker doing what he loves, and what he loves is cinema.

    17. Au Hasard Balthazar (Dir. Robert Bresson, 1966)


    Within this list, the subject of faith in cinema has been discussed in the case of The Passion of Jeanne d’Arc. But that is film that was made by a man who was religiously devout. In the case of Robert Bresson, who was a self described Atheist; an outsider perspective is given to the belief.

    Similar to Ozu Yasujiro, Robert Bresson was a very thoughtful filmmaker who looked at situations from all perspectives and demanded his audience do the same. Resulting in a very rational style and more intelligent and thought provoking films. This is most present in his film Au Hasard Balthazar.

    Au Hasard Balthazar is about the life of a donkey, beginning at his birth and ending with his death. The film follows him from owner to owner, told almost entirely from his perspective, and witnesses the interactions that each of his owners has with other individuals and the way they work with situations.

    By having the film seen from the perspective of the donkey, Bresson is forcing his audience to have God’s objective perspective. This is further emphasized by the fact that the donkey never speaks back or significantly communicates with the human characters, nor does he make any facial expressions to clearly signify what he is thinking, thus symbolizing the omniscient presence.

    But as stated earlier, Bresson was a self-described Atheist. As such, the film is not in immediate praise of God’s perspective and Bresson demands his audience to think about the morality of his stance, as well as the actions and feelings of his human characters. The donkey’s lack of emotion and communication is at times cold or distant, making one question whether or not he has sinister ulterior motives- a very existential question.

    In Au Hasard Balthazar, Robert Bresson created a masterful film that questions the morality of god and man. It is also a great example of how one can use perspective effectively and portraying religion without being preachy or condescending. Additionally, Robert Bresson wrote a really great book on his filmmaking process, entitled Notes on Cinematography. It is hard to find, as it is currently out of print in the United States, but is really worth seeking out and should be mandatory reading for film students.

    18. Blow-Up (Dir. Michelangelo Antonioni, 1966)


    Michelangelo Antonioni is one of cinema’s most challenging filmmakers, due to his extreme nihilistic viewpoint, obsession with distance, lack of communication amongst characters, and the depression and internal torture they suffer from. His films are a reflection of this state of mind and at times are painful to watch as a result which has caused polarizing reactions.

    Some contemporaries, such as Ingmar Bergman and Francois Truffaut have criticized his films as being unbearably boring, while Kurosawa Akira and Andrei Tarkovsky praised him as a master of his craft. Antonioni is usually not for everyone, to say the least. Blow-Up however is more audience friendly, while still encompassing the themes and ideas of the other films in his oeuvre.

    Blow-Up sets itself up as a hip, sixties era British mystery, that starts out with a filmmaking style similar to A Hard Day’s Night. It tells the story of a fashion photographer who accidentally takes a picture of a murder and is drawn into finding out who murdered who and why. But this is merely a red herring to what’s really at hand, a character portrait of an individual whose life may or may not be purposeless and might have a mechanical personality.

    It is his journey of becoming self-aware that is really the point of this movie. The film’s ending punctuates this by being inconclusive to the murder mystery, while having completed the character arc. It’s this exterior façade that makes Blow-Up easier to digest and audience friendly. It can be assumed that an audience member can watch it from beginning to end still believing it is a mystery film that happens to have an ambiguous ending.

    As the film progresses, it becomes more and more like the rest of Antonioni’s oeuvre, featuring his signature shots of placing character distant from one another and the themes of extreme isolation and what it means to simply be become more present, while never having attention being diverted to them.

    It’s intelligent filmmaking that never seems to be condescending or pretentious. Michelangelo Antonioni was one of cinema’s most challenging and very best masters, whose work stands as a towering enigma. While Blow-Up is not his best film (that would be La Notte), it is the one that is his most audience viable film and is still a masterpiece in every sense of the word.

    19. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Dir. Stanley Kubrick, 1968)


    2001: A Space Odyssey is a grand spectacle of a movie that is notorious for being elusive in its overall meaning. There are four segments to the film, which are connected by omniscient presence of a monolith. The first story takes place at the dawn of man and observes a family of early hominids.

    During the course of this segment, they discover a bone and learn how to use it both as a tool and as a weapon. In the second, a scientist is sent to investigate a problem in a space base that may be the result of contact from another life. This is where the film transitions into the third and fourth segments, the only two connected by a central character.

    An astronaut is sent on a mission on Jupiter to further investigate the issues faced in the second segment. During the odyssey to Jupiter, the computer that had been running the ship goes haywire and becomes murderous, killing the other humans on board. Eventually, the astronaut is transported through a wormhole and the film becomes full on abstract.

    2001: A Space Odyssey features existential questions of what it means to be human and the primitive nature of violence. But unlike in Blow-Up, Kubrick places these themes directly in the forefront through his stylistic decisions.

    The film is very minimalistic in story, with many scenes of space ships landing and glory shots of space crafts slowly moving taking up a good portion of the films two and a half hour duration. This may baffle some viewers, but for the more attentive and patient viewers, it mesmerizes.

    There is a scope to these moments that is impossible to ignore, in part due to the visual effects by Douglas Trumbull. But the credit should be given primarily to Stanley Kubrick, who orchestrates the film in such a grand fashion. The ending, which is the most ambiguous in film history, is worthy of debate and continues to puzzle and throw off viewers.

    One wonders just how Kubrick and co-writer, Arthur C. Clarke, convinced studios to go along and get away with 2001: A Space Odyssey, as it is essentially a big budget art film. But whatever they did worked and audiences will forever be grateful, as it is unparalleled in both story and scope.

    20. The Godfather and The Godfather Part II (Dir. Francis Ford Coppola, 1972, 1974)


    Francis Ford Coppola directed four films in the 1970s. All of which were groundbreaking masterpieces that are each commonly cited as being amongst the very best films of all time. The first of these was the incredibly popular, The Godfather, which was followed up by an equal, if not better, The Godfather Part II, which is not so much a sequel, so much as the second half- one film divided in two.

    The story follows Michael Corleone, a WWII veteran whose father, Vito, is the head of one of the biggest crime families in the country. Although initially skeptical about working for his father, Michael soon finds himself as the heir to the empire he once rejected. Slowly and reluctantly, Michael begins to fall further from his roots and becomes worse than his father. Watching The Godfather movies is like watching a modern day Greek tragedy, due to their heavy themes of family relationships.

    Francis Ford Coppola’s classical style direction compliments this story and emphasizes the fall from grace that Michael soon finds himself in. He and his cinematographer, Gordon Willis, use dark lighting to create a dark, uncomfortable, and sinister feel and causes the film to be drenched in atmosphere.

    Coppola’s framing further pushes his ideas, with the position of the character within the space of the frame summarizing where they stand as an individual and in the situation at the particular moment. It’s unnoticeable at times, as everything feels organic and natural, as if this is the sole way this story could be told.

    A film with the reputation and scale as the first two The Godfather films are simply impossible to ignore. It’s one of the few cases where it’s damning if you do not like them. They are simply great movies.

    21. A Woman Under the Influence (Dir. John Cassavettes, 1974)


    John Cassavettes is the father of the independent film. He would act in larger productions, such as The Dirty Dozen and Rosemary’s Baby, to get money to independently finance his less commercial films. As films go, each of them are defined by their harsh, neorealist depictions of relationships amongst families and individuals and are obsessed with the human condition.

    Cassavettes would shoot his films primarily in a controlled handheld fashion on cheaper film stock, so as to give the film a documentary like aesthetic. For this reason, Cassavettes can be seen as direct descendant of the Italian Neorealist Movement. There is no better example of this than in his 1974, A Woman Under the Influence.

    A Woman Under the Influence is about a hard working construction worker who loves his wife and children deeply. He begins to notice his wife has some unusual behavior and begins to suspect she may no longer be mentally stable. Eventually, he begins to think that her behaviors have become a danger to those, including and especially their children.

    As such, he decides to commit her. When she returns from the ward, although she is upset by what her husband did, decides to stay with him. But despite this, the film ends inconclusively as to where the future of their relationship lies.

    The above synopsis does not spoil film, as the film is not about story or plot, instead focusing on raw human emotions. John Cassavettes does this through, in part, through his casting. Peter Falk, who was a close friend of Cassavettes, and Gena Rowlands, Cassavettes’ wife, play the two central parts.

    Because of their real life relationships, everyone involved feels comfortable and relaxed around one another, resulting in very naturalistic acting. This also allows room for Cassavettes to move in on his actors and literally get up close and personal with his camera.

    It moves around the room, circling the action, going back and forth and intentionally missing mark at times, so as to give a gritty feel. Cassavettes uses the close-up to show the vulnerability and the fear that lives in each of his characters, thus giving a sense of intimacy not normally seen.

    A Woman Under the Influence represents one of the most intimate movies ever made. It is a great example in emphasizing character and emotion over plot and story. It may be rigged for some viewers, but the experience watching it is impossible to forget.

    22. Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (Dir. Chantal Akerman, 1975)


    Up until this point, the films discussed have been about extraordinary moments or individuals. The mundane has not been discussed as of yet, even as backdrop. But with Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, it is not only now present, but is in the forefront and the subject of the movie.

    The mundaneness of Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles begins in its title, which is the central character’s name and her address. This sets up exactly what the film is about, a widowed housewife named Jeanne Dielman, who lives at 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, and the daily routines and chores she does.

    These routines include cleaning her apartment, cooking for herself and her son, helping her son with his homework, making the beds, and prostituting herself so that she could stay financially stable. Contrary to what one may think, the scenes involving Jeanne Dielman prostituting herself are some of the most mundane and un-erotic moments put on screen.

    Chantal Akerman follows Jeanne Dielman for three days, during which time she goes about these routines in a systematic fashion, with minor missteps, such as dropping a knife while cooking dinner, occurring. By the end of the film, a significant event occurs during one of her routines, and Jeanne Dielman continues with her routines, as if nothing happens.

    Chantal Akerman’s filmmaking is key in making all this work. Her camera is static and rarely cuts, only doing such when changing from room to room. The position of her camera is always a medium shot and a delicate use of mise-en-scene. The film itself runs three and a half hours long, and, in a rare positive instance; the length of the film is felt. Akerman is obsessed with time and space, and the analysis of it is a motif in her oeuvre.

    Here the use of long shots and analysis of time and space emphasize the mundane livelihood of Jeanne Dielman, as Akerman shows just how difficult it is for Dielman to go about doing her chores and routines. In this sense, Akerman is fully entering into the world of a character as the daily routines are shown in their entirety versus showing short glimpses of them.

    For some viewers, this can be viewed as inert, but for others it is hypnotic and mesmerizing. But there is something more going on in Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles than a woman’s chores. It represents one of the most honest portrayals of women in cinema. In comparison to the previous feminist piece on the list, Agnes Varda’s Cleo from 5 to 7, which was a critique of the way the media depicts women and the shallow man’s ideas of what a woman should be, Chantal Akerman’s film instead ignores all perceptions of women and instead shows audiences a couple days in the life of the true modern woman.

    There is nothing glamorous or romantic about what she does. But she has no choice, as what she does is what she needs to do in order to survive. There is a sense of grace and care to what she does, thus pushing a strong sense of femininity on the viewer. It also makes the film that much more haunting.

    Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles is an important film for film students to see, as it represents a masterful use of time and space to the filmmaker’s advantage and framing that is unparalleled. To put it simply, Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles is a great, little seen movie by a director who has not reached the level of fame she deserves.

    23. Blue Velvet (Dir. David Lynch, 1986)


    David Lynch is an enigmatic filmmaker whose films have been defined by their surrealistic nature. Often times, the films will rely heavily on dream logic, as in a Luis Bunuel film, and intentionally not make a whole lot of sense on a conscious level.

    But unlike Bunuel, Lynch uses it as a means to assault the subconscious and create a nightmarish vision of Americana. Lynch wants his audiences to above all feel his movies rather than understand them. Never is this more evident than in his greatest masterpiece, Blue Velvet.

    Blue Velvet is, on its surface, more coherent than some of his other works, while still remaining ultra-Lynchian. The film presents itself as a mystery, but is instead an exploration of a character. Jeffrey Beaumont, a hip college student, comes home to his all-American town after his father suffers a stroke.

    While walking home from the hospital, he discovers a severed human ear on the ground. After reporting it to the police, Jeffrey discovers that the severed ear has a relationship to do with a mysterious nightclub singer and a psychopathic gangster. Before long, Jeffrey finds himself obsessed with their situation and gets too deep involved after forming a sadist sexual relationship with the nightclub singer.

    In terms of mood and atmosphere, there are two key levels to Blue Velvet. The first is a campy Leave it to Beaver style Americana that exists almost exclusively during the daytime. Everything that transpires during this time comes of as cute and/or innocent. Nobody gets hurt and all is fun for the characters. This represents the plasticity of 1950s era media, and what the common man wants America to be.

    Beneath it lays the second level, a nightmarishly brutal vision of the All-American town that exists, in the context of the film, only at night. During this time is when the sexual decadency and general brutality emerges. Nobody is safe in this time and real intentions emerge.

    In having the two side-by-side, Lynch forms juxtaposition between desires and reality, between what America wants one to think it is and what it actually is. To drive this juxtaposition further, Lynch pits two characters against one another, who are seemingly different on the exterior. But their interior reveals that they may be more similar than they pose themselves.

    David Lynch is the master of creating atmosphere and in Blue Velvet is his prime example. During night scenes, the diegetic sound that is emphasized most is the creaky ambience, so as to create an uncomfortable eeriness. This becomes more evident in scenes where a specific character inhales amyl nitrate. The scenes are lit in a very dark fashion and have a color pallet that primarily features variations on darker hues with intense Chroma.

    As with the rest of the film, this is contrasted to the brighter daytime scenes, which, by design, have a wider color pallet and come off as cleaner as a result. Lynch seamlessly drifts back and forth between these two worlds as if they are one and the same.

    He creates some of the most unforgettable and shocking atmospheric imagery in both segments, such as the bird eating a worm during the daytime and the candle burning as wind quickly passes it by at night. But none of this ever feels jarring or out of place because Lynch is in complete control of his film and knows exactly what he wants.

    There are other aspects to Blue Velvet that can’t be discussed without entering a spoiler zone, namely the plot, the characters, and some of the more revealing imagery. As such, they won’t be discussed here. But what Blue Velvet represents is a masterpiece unlike any other. It is amongst the crowning achievements in American cinema and one of the best uses of atmosphere ever put on screen. It is a must see for all film students for such reasons. It is an experience impossible to forget.

    24. Taste of Cherry (Dir. Abbas Kiarostami, 1997)


    Before discussing Abbas Kiarostami’s Taste of Cherry, it is important to discuss everything leading up to it. Kiarostami is from Iran, of the strictest theocratic countries in the world. There they follow the teachings of Muhammad literally and use The Quran as a basis for law and punishment. Due to their theocracy, Iran is very strict about what is allowed in films, banning discussions that question or threaten Islamic powers.

    By the end of the twentieth century, Iran had become home to the Iranian New Wave Movement, which is defined by a realistic documentary style of filming with a self-aware, reflexive tone. As such, an Iranian New Wave film can be described as poetic and allegorical or existential, especially in common instances in which filmmakers ask what it means to be a filmmaker.

    Abbas Kiarostami is one of the central figures in this movement, and his films almost always follow the patterns and themes seen in an Iranian New Wave film/

    Taste of Cherry is a minimalistic film about a man traveling through Tehran in his pickup truck. He finds three passengers, all of whom are strangers, to accompany him. During his time with the passengers, the man asks for them to cover his body with earth after he has committed suicide. Why he wants to die is completely unknown, even after the film has ended.

    On its surface, Taste of Cherry is daring in that it brings up a topic that is especially controversial in the Islamic world and usually banned from discussion, suicide. And one can read the film as having subtext of equal, if not greater controversy, a homosexual picking up men. But at its heart, the film is not about either of those things and is daring for other reasons.

    For one it rejects all Western ideas of how a film and story should (i.e. beginning, middle, and end with a character arc). This will upset the more mainstream viewer as it is destined and purposefully gives no satisfaction or closure. Instead Kiarostami has his audience witness distant events that they have no control over, and make them think carefully about the humanistic ideas behind them.

    This forms a very unique dialogue between the director and his audience that is absent from the typical film in Western cinema. The ambiguousness for some may be baffling, but for the others will ultimately be liberating.

    Taste of Cherry is a great film from one of the modern masters that, as with other films on this list, presents an alternative way of making movies. One can only hope that with coming generations, the ways films are made and told will only be pushed further to its limits.

    25. The Phantom Menace Review (Dir. Mike Stoklasa, 2009)

    At the dawn of the 21st Century, the Internet advanced and became a key way to pass information. With this advancement came video sharing sites such as YouTube and Vimeo. These sites commonly act as a platform to advertise for aspiring filmmakers. One such group is Red Letter Media, a production company run by underground filmmakers Mike Stoklasa and Jay Bauman. Their breakthrough film came in form of a trilogy of feature length video essay on the Star Wars Prequels.

    The first of these video essays was The Phantom Menace Review. The review carefully analyzes what is wrong with the film, why, and how it could have been fixed, while also theorizing what went wrong during the production.

    Within its 70-minute runtime, Stoklasa also has a story thread involving his character/narrator of the review Mr. Plinkett, a 106 year-old serial killer and the prostitute he has locked in his basement. For this reason, The Phantom Menace Review becomes poignant because of Stoklasa’s observation and pitch black, sardonic humor.

    What The Phantom Menace Review represents is the future of film in general. Due the accessibility of the Internet, the review became viral and became an example of the Internet’s possibilities. In regards to the film student, The Phantom Menace Review serves as a building block for how to make a successful film and the significance of the decisions one makes when making such film.

    Author : Patrick DeVita-Dillon

    Taste of Cinema

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