As a lover of all things Cinema there are just too many to talk about. However, there are 10 films that you can watch that are not only essential viewing, but also delineated different genres and movements in the language of cinema that I will detail below:
- Citizen Kane (Orson Welles 1941)- This might be a clichè at this point, but Citizen Kane is not only flawless filmmaking it’s also pure cinematic bliss. Orson Wells created layered narratives, time-lapses, and he employed new techniques- and his use of deep space is stunning. There are too many images in the film that are breathtaking to point them all out. And the thematic development created a cinematic language that auteurs having been using ever since. This film doesn’t check any one specific box, it checks more than any other film.
2. Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder 1944) This is, maybe the greatest Film Noir of all time. It’s twisty, moody, and stunningly well shot. And while Billy Wilder’s oeuvre contains other classics like Sunset Boulevard, The Apartment, and Some Like it Hot it is this one that made the biggest impact on an entire genre.
3. The Third Man (Carol Reed 1949) This movie is incredible. It’s complex and beautiful to watch. You have to pay attention or plot points will go right past you. What this film does though, is takes the best of the German Expressionism era of the 1920s, as well as poetic realism, and perfectly blends it into a thrilling noir. Shadows and sounds are used to indicate the emotions and inner demons of the main characters, and Orson Welles is in it, so you know it’s genius.
4. The Seventh Seal (Ingmar Bergman 1957) We move into the Scandinavian Revival with this brilliantly spare, existential fantasy by the Father of Swedish cinema. Its monochromatic look and surreal elements raise this fable to genius heights. It’s the perfect embodiment of Bergman’s tragic optimism. Carl Dreyer and Ingmar Bergman changed the conversation of film with the Scandinavian Revival influence that you’ll recognize in contemporary films.
5. The 400 Blows (Francois Truffaut 1959) The Nouvelle Vague or French New Wave of the late 1950s and 1960s is one of the most exciting movements of cinema. It’s comprised of films made by young French film critics and intellectuals, who saw Hollywood conventions as narrative traps that adhered to a literary but not cinematic language, and so they created films that broke these traditional rules and created stylized tracking shots, jump cuts, handheld camera scene work, and stories that were idea not plot driven. Truffaut’s coming-of-age story is an accessible and wonderful entry to the French New Wave films. You should by no means stop here, but rather start. It’s incredible.
6. North by Northwest (Alfred Hitchcock 1959) The ultimate Hitchcock film. The perfect blend of suspense, humor, mistaken identity and stunning cinematography, and while Psycho (1960) and Vertigo (1958) may be considered better films, it is the pure thrill of moviemaking that keeps this one as essential viewing. The film speaks in the language of film- which is to say, it takes one cinematic device after another to tell the story. It never relies on text or subtext, it is exquisitely, purely cinema.
7. Bonnie and Clyde (Arthur Penn 1967) The late 1960s and the 1970s New Hollywood was all the rage. Taking bits and pieces from the movements of Europe in the 50s and 60s, Hollywood broke free from studio constraints and made films like Penn’s masterpiece. Camera work was new and exciting to audiences. This film really launched the idea of the anti-hero, and the tragic ending is among the most memorable scenes in all of cinema. Other films that were influenced by this idea of New Hollywood were The Godfather (1972), Chinatown (1974), and Taxi Driver (1976). Young filmmakers were taking bigger and bigger risks with idea and character over plot.
8. Annie Hall (Woody Allen 1977) The perfect comedy. This film reinvented the romantic comedy, a genre that was tired by 1977. It has been copied so many times that it almost seems derivative by default. The fragmented narrative and character-driven plot make this a realistic, sweet and ultimately honest depiction of lost love. And Diane Keaton is iconic in the title role. As an entry into the essential Woody Allen collection- if anyone still wants to go there- I do!
9. The Shining (Stanley Kubrick 1980) As an entry into the twisted mind of Stanley Kubrick this is one helluva good time! Kubrick’s big ideas are all here. His devotion to color schemes- check out all the red! The way he uses mirrors as a means of recalling the past and of indicating danger. It’s staggeringly well-shot and Jack Nicholson is fucking intensely perfect. This is what the horror genre should be. Watch it a few times and then you’ll be ready to step into Kubrick’s more incoherent masterpieces with a set of tools for unpacking his genius.
10. Goodfellas (Martin Scorcese 1990) The perfect gangster film. Elegiac in its violence, visionary in scope- that opening tracking shot is incredible. This is exhilaratingly paced filmmaking at its best. Other film will try to recapture this pacing, like David O. Russell’s American Hustle (2014) but no one can do what Scorcese does when he does it well. This is also a great place to begin for watching his work. His themes of time and regret are ever-present in his films and never as accessible as they are here.