I'm about to get to work teaching my wonderful students; however, I definitely wanted to express my thoughts on a variety of films that I have seen and feel that everyone should watch within their lifetime. While making this list, I tried to pick not only some of my favorites, but also some that I think are thoroughly engaging and can be accessed by anybody. My coveted top 10 films, may not be all the films here; however, I think this list has enough variety that all the films on here should be enjoyed by anybody who decides to watch them.
Without further ado here's a Top 10 of Movies I highly recommend:
1. 2001: A Space Odyssey
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Background: As I recommend this film, I realize that I could have really placed any Kubrick film here. As such, my next move maybe favorite directors; as I tried to give some of the best films of my favorite directors on this list. Anyways, I am quite particular about why this film is so great and in my opinion fairly accessible with the exception of a couple moments.
2001 is one of the first forays into Sci-Fi that tries for hard space which would later influence Gravity and Alien. Not only that, it would introduce a number of space themes, revolutionary ideas and one of the finest A.I. villains in film history.
Why I recommend it? While the Blue Danube sequence in space may be a bit long for some, that sequence quickly turns into of the ideas of the future and the mysteries of the monolith. Beyond that, the Beyond Jupiter can seem repetitive unless your inebriated and primarily serves to show film techniques with technicolor and arrive at the film's puzzling yet miraculous conclusion. Lastly, the heart of the film takes place with HAL and the two astronauts that proceed to showcase space with no sound, a computer that knows, and a fine bit of cinematography. The sum of the parts is greater than each individually, but that is the theme of nearly all the films on my list and I think you will enjoy it more than cringe at it.
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Background: This film was initially a huge masterpiece for killing off it's lead character partway through the film and focusing on psychoanalyzing horror rather than going for monsters. It is also, in my belief to be Hitchcock's magnum opus. As such, having seen people get scared of it nearly 50 years later on a big screen I can say that it stands the test time and has produced so many tropes from hurting flies, shower horror, and screeching violins. Thus, the hype is lived up to here in the intricacies in both filming and analyzing the wonder of Pyscho.
Why I recommend it? Have you watched a horror film from the 70s and onward? Have you ever seen a film in which the plot is a complete subversion to the true direction of the film? Have you heard those screeching violins? You can thank the influence of Psycho. Psycho's usage of editing, sound, twists, and psychological horror would pave the way for films to follow for years. Furthermore, I think it is still scary and it's psychologically scary in that it is a Freudian examination of a disturbed man and a woman. Another piece of wonder is the cinematography and editing work throughout the film especially the shower sequence.
3. Seven Samurai
Director: Akira Kurosawa.
Background: Like Hitchcock and Kubrick, I personally think that most people could watch most of the glorious library that is Kurosawa. However, if you're going to watch just one it has to be Seven Samurai. The film has been imitated (Magnificent Seven and A Bug's Life); however, I think it is a great film about a small village, samurai with personalities, and the culminating battles of the end. There's surprisingly a lot of action in the film, an early use of slow-motion, and a great exploration on the character of samurai and man. It's like an action packed epic...from 1950s Japan. However, it works.
Why I recommend it? I think you'll find it fun if you can get over subtitles. The characters (samurai and villagers) are all unique from Toshiro Mifune's crazy character to the star-crossed lovers (yes, romance is in here too). You've got a lot of great action, the final climax is glorious and the filming techniques are pioneering. Also, the journey to get the seven samurai is integral part of the film that provides character development for the climax. It is a bit slow at times, but it is worth it in the long run.
4. Pulp Fiction
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Background: This film was a cultural milestone of the 90s and arguably one of the best films of the decade. It revitalized/jump started a few careers (John Travolta in particular) and utilized several filming techniques (some from Kurosawa) to create a non-linear story of vignettes somehow connected in the world of LA. Filming wise there are many techniques used throughout, but I think this a film in which its characters and acting nearly overtakes the rest of the film. It's a well known film, but there are some specific reasons as to why I recommend it.
Why I recommend it? Primarily because it is the one film, I never tire of. My personal favorite (8 1/2) is a film I've seen twice, but I don't think it's as entertaining as it is masterful. There's a difference in the two adjectives and I think Pulp Fiction is the quintessential fun film. The acting and characters stick with you forever (as do their influences), the music is remarkable, and the stories clash in ways you would never expect. All this to say, that this film works so cohesively with its memorable scenarios from adrenaline shots, gimps to Mr. Wolf; you'll never forget it.
5. The Godfather
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Background: Coppola has great films, but there are far greater directors; however, I personally think that The Godfather and Part 2 are the best that American cinema has to offer. The acting is superb, the lines memorable, the lighting work enhances every aspect of the film, and the story is a tragedy for the ages. Literally, every aspect of film is firing on all cylinders here and it is enjoyable whether you prefer old, foreign or modern cinema.
Why I recommend it? I honestly cannot fault the first Godfather without making up complaints. Sure you could argue that James Caan's punches are nonsensical, but still the act of him defending his sister outweighs that entirely. The deaths are gritty, lines are the best in cinema and the story is one that everyone can relate to while loving the depth of it. Mario Puzo's script is tight and Nino Rota's score (of Fellini fame) will also haunt you. Chances are you already know a lot about the film, but watch to see just how much this film has influenced not only American cinema, but our lives.
6. The Good, The Bad and the Ugly
Director: Sergio Leone
Background: The Western genre is not what it used to be, but when it was huge there only two names that mattered: John Ford and Sergio Leone. While John Ford's often dealt with the death of the frontier, Native American issues, and emotional sagas from personal issues, Sergio Leone's dealt with the struggles of men, Mexican settings, and action for the sake of being cool. This is easily seen in The Good, The Bad and the Ugly as it deals with three different men and their quest for gold. Ennio Morricone does the musical score (you've heard the music and didn't even know it), Clint Eastwood was still a smug cowboy, and the film ends up being epic. Even though nearly all the Latinos are Italians in makeup and central Italy makes for a great Southwest; the film continues to be top notch all around.
Why I recommend it? It's fun...so much fun! The three leads are vastly eccentric characters, but they are all the same at heart. Furthermore, the music is top notch and will stay with you for days. Also, the setting and direction of the shots is fully engaging as you have mysterious introductions of each character, beatdowns, and more. To top it off the showdown at the end of the film is completely why the film works. As such, I would possibly place the finale in the top 3.
7. La Haine
Director: Mathieu Kassovitz
Background: Unlike many films on here, this one does not have a big name director behind it. Instead, it offers a perspective on the ethnic outskirts (ghetto) of Paris during the 90s. Paris, like other European cities, has the opposite layout of an American city in which the hood is outside the city versus the suburbs being outside the city. There is an ethnic melting pot in Paris during this time which has faced ups and downs with riots. Thus, that tension remains a backdrop to the glorious film work.
Why I recommend it? The glorious film work. Shot in black and white, the beautiful cinematography of the film leaves permanence in your mind as nearly every shot can be put in a frame and placed in a museum. As such, it is one of the best uses of light and shadow ever put to film. Beyond the cinematography, the action moves forward with vignettes from the day in the life of three faces from different races. Lastly, those three friends are acted out by three delightful performances that enhance the film work and entice you to take a chance on this foreign treat.
8. La Dolce Vita
Director: Federico Fellini
Background: To be honest, I didn't know what Fellini to put on here. I thought about putting my favorite film, 8 1/2, or the romp that is Amarcord, but I settled on La Dolce Vita because I think it is the most engaging. Fellini has two filming styles: Neorealist and Indulgence. His indulgent films are more exciting, but his neorealist films are just as strong for different reasons. What La Dolce Vita does is explore bourgeois society and its pitfalls through Marcello Mastrioni.
Why I recommend it? If you're into film at all then you have to watch a Fellini. He's a big name director that gets thrown around a lot and if you understand his style then you can appreciate him even more. As I want people to become engaged in Fellini, I have recommended his most accessible through its humor, tragedy, music, performances, and poignant scenes. This film will stay with you even if you hate it, but I encourage you to try to appreciate it.
Director: Michael Curtiz
Background: The strength of this film is not its directing, but in its writing and acting. The Epsteins created a script that has some of the most memorable lines in film history - they're in more films than you would believe and even part of everyday vernacular. Along with that is an enchanting story about romance that trumps any romantic film made today. Furthermore, the acting is superb from Humphrey Bogart, Claude Rains, Ingrid Bergman, Conrad Veidt, Sydney Greenstreet, and Peter Lorre. Suffice to say, this is arguably one of the best films ever made and one of the easiest black & white films to love.
Why I Recommend It? The acting - great. The characters - great. The screenplay - great. Memorable scenes - great. The music - goes above and beyond enhancing the film if you've ever heard "As Time Goes By." Hell, if you've ever eaten or drank at any place called Rick's, you can thank Casablanca. This film is sublime in how well it captures the human condition. While it won't have memorable shots, it will have memorable lines, acting, characters and plot that basically show you how to make a movie. It's a lovable film that is the best purely entertaining film on my list.
10. The Thing
Director: John Carpenter
Background: Yes, that John Carpenter who crafted horror and Stan Winston special effects into several of his films. The Thing was not well known on release, but since has become a cult classic that actually views well regardless of its status. As such, it is a horror meets sci-fi meets drama film with only men about an alien that takes on the appearance of its host. This condition actually works in its favor as the aspect of paranoia seems to be completely induced by the men and how much those male bonds & trust are broken down in a sense of delusion. Beyond that, it is a sensational film that is horrifying in its scenes as much as its thought process.
Why I Recommend It? I had to put at least one 80s sci-fi/action genre film on this list because I wanted to show people what sci-fi and action looks like when it is done right. The Thing does what most action/sci-fi films fail to do these days - unpredictability. The Thing is a constant exercise in uncertainty from a plot perspective and a mystery perspective. As such, The Thing will keep you on the edge of your feet while also keeping you on the edge of sanity. Thus, the film grabs you from the start and will never let go.
12 Years a Slave
Director: Steve McQueen
Background: Director Steve McQueen has recently become a strong force in the filming industry for not only this film, but with his other two works with Michael Fassbender: Shame and Hunger. As such, this capable black filmmaker was able to embark on an Oscar worthy film that is one of the only true depictions of slavery in America set to the big screen. The acting by Chiwetel Elijofor, Lupita N'yongo and Michael Fassbender strikes your core as you feel the raw emotion of their characters plights.
Why I Recommend It? Beyond the accurate depiction of slavery and disturbing sequences this film is master work of cinematic art. Not only is it Oscar worthy for its content and acting, but also from a filmic perspective. The cinematography and setting of South is in vivid contrast to how awful a world the characters live in, the symbolic directing of several scenes highlights more into the elements of the film, and lastly the lighting is superb - there's a scene where the only light comes from a dying fire. You have to see this film even you feel like you shouldn't rewatch the horrors, you have to see this film for how well it was made along with its subject material.