As a movie-lover, who is constantly on the look out for great cinema, one thing I find it hard is to prepare a list of my top ten or fifteen favorite movies. But, still I have tried my best to prepare one such list. I have seen hundreds of great films outside the titles mentioned in the list. The films mentioned below are the ones that has been entrenched in my mind far deeper than the other great films. May be if some one asks my favorite movies at some other point in my life, there might be some changes to this list.
Written and directed by one of my favorite film-makers Fritz Lang and his wife Thea Von Harbou, this epic German expressionist movie offers a utopian vision of society. In this futuristic world, the wealthy have gone too far with their exploitation of workers. Metropolis introduced the first major robot (called “Maria”) in the history of film. By using a scientific innovation like AI, Mr. Lang tapped on to our inherent fear of a modern industrialized society, where humans would be capable of manufacturing human-like life form. Lang’s majestic vision of a futuristic city and the shots of toiling laborers walking between shifts like ‘zombies’ have had a greater influence in sci-fi genre (for eg, “Blade Runner”, “Brazil”, etc). Every time i watch Metropolis I feel that it is a great monument of cinema.
The Great Dictator (1940)
Chaplin’s first talkie is also one of the greatest satirical works in cinema. Here, his universal character of ‘Tramp’ is given an identity and some impersonal forces humiliate the ‘tramp’ because of that identity. The inhumane nature is personified in the nature of dictator Hynkel. The comedic device is the resemblance between tramp and the dictator. Chaplin had an unrivaled international stardom before taking a huge risk like The Great Dictator. Remember, it was a time when most of the powerful individuals and nations around the world, turned a blind eye to the inhumane mechanics of fascism. The film may have its shortcomings, but it’s this bravery and a fine resonating, universal message at the end makes it an unforgettable movie experience for me.
Seven Samurai (1954)
War and conflicts is one of the things that provide our human race a meaning. It is the victory of good force over the evil in such conflicts gave us hope and advancement. But, to attain that victory we have to pay great prices; may be human lives. Japanese master Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai bestows a engaging framework to look into the hopeful force that drives us for betterment and the little emptiness which afflict us after achieving those goals. It says how we men and women, who are constantly waging war against evil to preserve higher aspirations, are made obsolete by the wheels of time. Even if you don’t delve deep into its themes, you can immensely enjoy this film for Kurosawa’s majestic staging of each sequence. There’s not one dull second in the entire 200 plus running time and the final hour action sequence gives us an exhilarating feel that could not be provided by any of these polished, modern CGI works.
Apu Trilogy (1955,’56,’59)
My favorite critic Roger Ebert called Mr. Satyajit Ray’s ‘Apu Trilogy’ as “a prayer, affirming this is what the cinema can be, and no matter how far in our cynicism we may stray”. In the early 1950’s, a commercial artist from Calcutta went to a pawnshop with his wife’s jewels. He later rented a camera, gathered up some of his friends, went down a picturesque Bengali village he knew. This man didn’t study in great film schools and this was the man with his debut feature changed the face of Indian cinema, forever. “Pather Panchali”, “Aparijito” and “Apur Sansar” aka “The World of Apu” traces the life of free-spirited Apu, from the days of his childhood innocence to adolescence to the love and losses he encounters in adulthood. Ray’s trilogy showed the enduring human spirit, in the face of poverty and death.
The Seventh Seal (1957)
The Seventh Seal, one of the landmark works of film expression also has the most memorable image for a Bergman movie: a knight playing chess with death. The film set in 14th-century Sweden, depicts a land that’s being torn apart by the crusades and the plague. The use of landscape in this film offers and increases the sense of foreboding which later followed in many of Bergman’s works. And the image of death is powerfully framed. Man’s search for definitive answers in life and the alleged aloof nature of divine being is subtly explored in this great work, along with many other allegorical offerings. This was my first Bergman movie and the first time I watched it was hard to keep up with what’s happening on-screen. But, my growing interest in contemplating the frailty of human condition has often made me to revisit this feature (along with another superior work of Bergman “Persona”).
Human Condition Trilogy (1959-61)
Humanist film-maker Masaki Koboyashi’s epic trilogy, based on the six-volume novel of Junpei Gomikawa, narrates the tale of Kaji, a pacifist, who faces dreadful consequences for standing against the inhumane compromises made in war-time Japan. The Human Condition Trilogy was one of the rare works of cinema to not masquerade or gloss over the horrors of war. Kobayashi’s films always stood for humanism rather than embrace a glamorized history or ideals. The scope and visual beauty the director achieved in this epic story without a little trace of self-pity is unbelievable. There are some moments of melodrama, but for a larger part Kaji’s dilemmas and humiliation burns and stays within us, extracting immense empathy. One of the rare enriching movie experiences I had that is totally worthy of its nine-and-a-half hour running time.
The vicious cycle of cruelty humans afflict over each other and one’s inability to do anything to break this cycle is movingly and sharply portrayed by Luis Bunuel in one of his controversial feature Viridiana. The film is about a novice nun, clinging to her Catholic principles, while her lecherous uncle and a group of ‘rowdy’ paupers tests Viridiana’s faith and send her into a darker vortex of pain and guilt. Bunuel isn't just interested in social institutions, but in the human beings enclosed within such institutions, whose behavior quickly replaces high ideals to only embrace primal human behavior of greed. I like how Bunuel calibrates his dreamlike images between light and dark, extracting both empathy and revulsion within the trajectory of a single sequence.
Andrei Rublev (1966)
Russian auteur Andrei Tarkovsky’s second feature-film “Andrei Rublev” tells the story of the life of 15th century Russian artist who created numerous religious icon paintings. This film is full of long philosophical and existential dialogues and also has extensive tracking shots, which demands our patience; to relax, and enter this world of complete meditation. More than being a story of a artist, it delved deep into the essence of art and the importance of faith. Interestingly, for a movie about artist we rarely look at any art works. In this episodic film, Tarkovsky uses the thoughtful, creative central character to ponder over the themes of freedom, religion, loss, individuality, doubt and creativity. There are many inventive, phenomenal shots in this film. The way Tarkovsky masters the use of time and space in cinematic medium always fascinates me (of course, along with Bergman, Bresson and Ozu many can’t stand the works of Tarkovsky).
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
there is no other Kubrick scene as famous as the ape triumphantly throwing his bone weapon into the air, after which the camera cuts into a space station in outer space, continuing the movement from millions of years later. The sequence where spacecraft slowly revolves to Johann Strauss’s Blue Danube waltz is another unique audiovisual experience I ever had. I think the warnings about uncontrolled technological advance never offered such an equivocal vision in cinema.
The Godfather II (1974)
While Godfather still proudly wears the 'greatest-movie-ever-made' status we can’t refuse, I have always liked the sprawling sequel. It wonderfully explores a cold man who grows tightly coiled as his budding empire is threatened on all sides. He chooses greater violence to restore some order. Godfather explored the transformation of power center with in the Corleone family, whereas the sequel widened the circle to go away from the family; to take a closer look into the actions and consequences created by Corleone family members. May be I have come to like Michael’s coldness more than his father’s sense of being honest. The 2nd part also took us deep into the darker side of an otherwise inspiring American Dream.
Taxi Driver (1976)
I like movies that invite multiple viewings. Not the one's that has conniving, multi-layered intellectualism, but the one's where the characters and their actions continue to linger or haunt us for days. When I watched Taxi Driver for the first time, I knew it told the story of an alienated and psychotic Taxi Driver. But I didn't understand much. I thought it had great acting, some cool violent sequences, although i never got into the movie's core. May be at that time i was not attacked by the alienated or lonely feeling. Years later, touched upon by the throes of alienation, i had repeatedly watched the existential pain of Travis Bickle. I was able to look into that raging vortex which had all the power to consume us lonely individuals. We can come across many individuals like Travis Bickle in our fast-moving, soulless society. They are the people who search for 'something', but all they get is abundance of loneliness and empty gestures from fellow human beings. Individuals like Travis Bickle have a conscience or even a moral sense, but only this uncaring society pushes them to engage in destructive or self-destructing activities.
Vengeance Is Mine (1979)
Based on Ryuzo Saki’s biographical novel which chronicles the 78 day man-hunt of sociopath/swindler Akira Nishiguchi, Shohei Immamura’s hard-hitting feature explores the ideological and economic decadence in the society. The vision of chaotic evil in this film would disturb a viewer like no other film in the history of cinema. It is a challenging film to watch from the start since it couldn’t be classified to a genre or narrative framework. This is also a cinema of defiance, which strongly implies that societal restraints and conventions are just superficial things, created solely for economic gains, and that it is in devouring our basic human values. The most disturbing aspect of this film (apart from detailed staging of murders) is that we aren’t offered answer to the question of ‘what makes the central character to kill people?’ As Mr. Ebert commented in his review “What’s disturbing about Enokizu (protagonist) is that he has no feelings at all about his victims”.
Fight Club (1999)
ructive attitude. We might want to reconstruct ourselves and that reconstruction couldn't happen on the basis of destruction. All the violence in Fight Club insinuates that point: about how enlightenment is meaningless if it is only going to result in total destruction. This is a film that just didn't provide calm insights about our (metropolitan white-collar workers) boring, routine existence; it rather gave a jolting shock to look at this material-chasing, technology-afflicted reality.
Yi yi (2000)
Whenever the pain of existence perplexes me, I watch Yi yi. It doesn't say anything incendiary or totally new, but its soothing visuals, elucidating words, and impeccable characterizations of flawed individuals give me a lot of questions to reflect upon. The dilemmas, disappointments, and existential angst felt by each member of this movie's middle-class family have an unbelievable, timeless universal appeal. The movie begins with a wedding and ends with a funeral -- the circle of life. Of all the scenes in "Yi yi" that made me cry, laugh and contemplate, two sequences stays with me: One is when the family's over-caring teenage girl lies at her grandmother's lap and wonders "Why is the world so different from what we thought it was?"; then the final speech by wise 10 year old Yang-Yang. Even thinking about these two elegant scenes shakes up my emotional core. Anyone interested in witnessing a emotionally resonant, profound family/drama must watch "Yi yi".
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011)
A small group of cars passes through like snake in the parched steppes of Anatolia, in the night time. They are looking for a murdered man who was buried somewhere. The confessed killer is confused about the place he has buried the man. Much of the landscape looks the same and killer says he was drunk that night of murder. The frustrating search for the body continues through the night and we slowly get acquainted with fascinating mixture of characters. Through furtive gestures and little bits of revealing dialogues, we slowly delve into a profound atmosphere of jealousies and resentments. Every character in this meditative story brings his entire life experience to the search, and this human experience is wonderfully and subtly expressed. The impeccable shots and staging of Turkish film-maker Ceylan alongside the stand-out performances from Taner Birsel as prosecutor and Muhammet Uzuner as Doctor diffuses the film with deep layers. Ceylan's camera may not be more kinetic, but his long, still gazes reveals great truth about human condition. To wholly sponge up the film’s illustrious quality, you would require enduring patience and an open-mind.