Why these movies matter
The movie that changed the way movies are made, watched, and marketed.
Potemkin (Sergei M. Eisenstein, 1925)
Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean, 1962)
This film about the life of T.E. Lawrence is sprawling, majestic, and gorgeous. O'Toole is absolutely perfect in the title role, balancing his heroism with his uncertainty, his strength with his doubt, ultimately making Lawrence seem less of a character and more of a person. The supporting cast, including a long list of fabulous actors (Omar Sharif, Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn, José Ferrer, and Claude Rains, just to name a few), live and breathe onscreen, giving us people for whom we genuinely care over the course of the film. All of this takes place in some of the most jaw-droppingly beautiful locations ever captured on film. While it obviously works better on the big screen, Lawrence of Arabia is tight enough to work even on the small one (widescreen format, of course!). For me, this is as close as movies get to magic. -- Ed Owens
Like an athlete who gets into a "zone" where he can do no
wrong, Kurosawa just keeps hitting the mark in this superbly constructed
epic about a handful of unemployed warriors hired to protect a rural
village from a fierce army of bandits. With the majestic Takashi Shimura
as the noble samurai leader, and Toshiro Mifune almost leaping off the
screen in his tragicomic turn as a great pretender - Seven Samurai
explores the deepest regions of love and hate, anger and mourning,
the gulf between classes and the passing of old ways. To top it off,
it features a spectacular final battle which is still unparalleled in
its vigorous mastery of film technique.
The Shawshank Redemption
film is consistent on multiple levels: prison drama, tale of friendship,
heroic journey, social commentary, religious parable. The friendship
between the two inmates - Andy (Tim Robbins) and Red (Morgan Freeman)
comforts because it finds commonality in the difference - the only guilty
man in prison with the only innocent one, old and young, black and white
- and posits strength in the commonality. Andy is fortified by Red's
experience, as are we; and Red and we are freed by Andy's faith. All
of it leads to the parable, the redemption, in a single and perfectly
maintained narrative thread of rebirth. Spiritual growth is then a voyage
of commitment and hope, but redemption is not complete until the two
forces reunite, the savior and the saved. Each man takes on a little
of both as the ocean and its vast freedoms beckon and lay open before
The metaphor of birds in a cage is the thread that runs through Shawshank.
a story about freedom, about how we create prisons for ourselves in
our minds. Freedom, as it turns out, is a state of mind.
it again recently, I was struck by how the 1930s style acting and early-30s
"sound-staginess" of the picture doesn't hurt it at all. Nor do the
stop motion special effects, even in an age of hyper-realistic CGI.
King Kong is the perfect cinematic equivalent of the best and
most epic Brothers Grimm fairy tale - it just hits me somewhere deep
in the psyche, where a huge tribal gate like the one on Kong's uncharted
island opens onto a world of primeval terror and unspoken love, where
our mortal striving for greatness leads to irredeemable injustice. Some
moviegoers ran out of theaters in hysterics when it first opened, and
while it is unlikely to elicit quite that reaction today, its black-and-white-and-gray
toned atmosphere of the fantastic is still unshakeable. Kong is the
very thing man hopes to capture to prove our greatness, yet by succeeding
we so upset the natural order that death and destruction must follow,
both ours and Kong's. In the end, it is what we have done to Kong that
hurts the most.
(Ridley Scott, 1982)
Everything A.I. wishes it was, and then some. The film from
which all modern sci-fi springs.
Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941)
is a hard thing for anyone to achieve. It can be described as reaching
the point where nothing more can be added and nothing more taken away.
Just as we can appreciate the genius of Albert Einstein, so we fans
of the film bow our heads in appreciation of Orson Welles for having
had the the clarity of vision (and the nerve) to pull off this brilliant,
innovative film. The film's stellar reputation has, ironically, caused
it to be disegarded in recent years, as if its status as a classic means
that it is somehow dismissable. Well, I have news for you.
One viewing of the film simply doesn't do - it must be watched, dissected,
turned inside out, and only then is it apparent that it hits a ten on
every level: acting, writing, directing, cinematography, subject matter.
And to that I add my favorite exchange from the film (among many): "You
always used money to ..." "...buy things."
2001: A Space Odyssey
it redefined "state of the art" for special effects. Culturally, it
created iconic reference points ("Thus Spake Zarathustra," the Monolith,
HAL, the Star Child). Narratively, it took risks that hardly any other
mainstream director has ever done - no dialogue for the first half hour?
Dialogue filled with clichés for the second? An ending that refuses
to explain itself? Its much-derided pace is symphonic. Visually, it
is all about disorientation and the relativity of our seemingly stable
(Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)
Early in the film, after James Stewart fishes Kim Novak out of San Francisco Bay, we see her as she wakes up in his bed and finds her clothes hung up around the room to dry. They exchange a meaningful look: he has seen her unclothed, while she was unconscious and defenseless. Later, he transforms her in stages back into the image of his lost beloved, and finally she is stripped of her true self and transmogrified into the object of Stewart's obsession. I marvel at the content Hitchcock was able to smuggle into Vertigo. You've got murder, insanity and sexual obsession. And not least, we have Hitchcock marching Stewart, American cinema's great Everyman, into some remarkably dark places. The murkily lit corridors in the hotel where he discovers Novak near the end of the film are an outward expression of the dark pathways of Stewart's mind. These two characters whom fate has entwined are both figuratively and literally pushed over the edge by apparitions of the past and ghosts of the present. And, yes....the fear of heights.
-- Devin Rambo
Man With a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, 1929)
This is perhaps the least known great movie of all time. Made at the end of the silent era, it represents in a way the climax of a movement, a jewel from a time of great excitement about the possibilities of film - the bursting forth and flowering of Soviet cinema. The premise is simple enough - a cameramen travels through Moscow filming the people's activity in one day, from dawn to dusk. But the style is so radical that it's startling. Vertov used the occasion to demonstrate every resource at the director's command - the picture becomes not only a record of a day in the life of a city, but an essay on the art of filmmaking itself. Vertov was in love with the moving camera. Here the camera is placed in the streetcars and autos - the picture has a constant feeling of rushing forward that is exhilirating. And every trick in the book gets pulled out - split-screen, multiple superimposition, different camera speeds, dissolves, stop-action, animation, and more - as if the technique of film in the silent era was exploding in one final show of fireworks, a culmination of all that had been achieved before. The amazing thing is that it's all so entertaining. There isn't a moment in which the eye is not captivated by the pleasure of movement, the virtuosity of the image's manipulation. Most modern films can't even hold a candle to it.
-- Chris Dashiell
Gone With the Wind
The Usual Suspects
(Ingmar Bergman, 1966)
It's a Wonderful Life
(Frank Capra, 1946)
Some Like It Hot (Billy
Rules of the Game
(Jean Renoir, 1939)
The aristocrats in Renoir's greatest film conceal their infidelities behind a mask of civilized urbanity, while the servants enact in cruder, yet more honest form, the underlying hostility. The Rules of the Game is many things at once - a comedy of manners, a gentle lament for a culture soon to be shattered by war, and a penetrating satire of the human capacity to fool ourselves. Set during a house party in a country chateau, the many characters and subplots gradually dissolve into delicious anarchy. Formally the film was a huge step forward in cinematic technique - the director's brilliantly complex use of movement within the frame, the way the camera explores the scene like a character, the fluid, even mischievous editing rhythm, almost singlehandedly carried cinematic method out of the classic age and into the modern. I watch this film once a year just to remind myself that there is such a thing as genius.
-- Chris Dashiell
It's far too easy to take this magnificent film for granted. Later comedies used this film as a starting point to make into more easily digestible fare. But this is the film that all others aspire to. Without Diane Keaton's contribution, Annie Hall would be a mishmash of Woody Allen's neuroses - it was to be about a man who couldn't stand to be around people, but eventually it became clear to all involved what the movie was really about - a chance encounter with an insecure loony who blathered out "la de da" and regretted every stupid thing that came out of her mouth. Annie Hall is about the transformation of a woman - it is also about a man finally falling in love with the right girl. It is about how funny Woody Allen is, at a time in his career when the joke was still on him. It is about some of the funniest jokes in cinema: "Those who can't teach teach gym," or "You're what Grammy Hall would call a real Jew." Unlike most of Allen's movies, Annie Hall breaks your heart because the sentiment is on its sleeve, right out in the open - the lobster scene, the two of them walking on the sand at sunset, the first time they make love. We've all seen what can happen when we are outgrown by our lover. This is a film that never fades at its edges - it is as fresh today as it was when it won Best Picture in 1977. -- Sasha Stone
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