Thursday, 3 August 2017

Twenty-Two Films to See by the Age of Twenty-Two

Bernardo Bertolucci’s “The Dreamers,” in which young people watch the films they must watch.

Jean-Luc Godard said that you have ten fingers and there are ten films — ten films that define the cinema for you. For practice, at the halfway post on the way to the next decennial Sight & Sound poll of the greatest films of all time (which takes place in 2022), I really tried, but I’m not yet deft enough a commentator nor submerged enough a cinephile to be able to distil all my moviegoing experiences into ten titles. Here are twenty-two: a number chosen in the grim remembrance of my advancing age, and more than double the desired end result. I began with a list of forty-nine films and edited it down; the last few cuts were a little painful, until I remembered that nobody cares as much about this list as I do, and I can watch each of those redacted titles as many times as I’d like, whether or not I or anyone else recognises them as among the twenty-two best in history. Lists are only snapshots of tastes, and what gets left off can tell as much about our lives and loves as what we put on.

I note, when surveying the full list of movies I admire, miserable shortcomings and immense gaps in my film-watching experience. There were no documentaries from which to pick, for example, and woefully few films released before this decade. The fact that I can’t speak for a single African film that I love means I’ve not begun to see anywhere near an adequate proportion of African films; in fact, I’ve seen far too few films from any country other than the United States, and not enough from the United States, either. Of the top hundred films on the Sight & Sound poll, I’ve only seen seven, and the highest up are at the 20th (Singin’ in the Rain) and 21st (The Godfather) positions.

Behold the education I’ve given myself, and understand why I still struggle to seem as if I know anything at all: only two films by Howard Hawks, only one by Hitchcock, one by Nicholas Ray, one by Fritz Lang, and none by Jean-Luc Godard, Jean Renoir, François Truffaut, Sergei Eisenstein, Frank Capra, John Ford, John Huston, Buster Keaton, Ozu Yasujirô, Samuel Fuller, Douglas Sirk, Anthony Mann, Carl Theodor Dreyer, Raoul Walsh, Erich von Stroheim, Frank Tashlin, Federico Fellini, Jean Vigo, Robert Bresson, Ingmar Bergman, Andrei Tarkovsky, Michelangelo Antonioni, Satyajit Ray, Roberto Rossellini, Jacques Tati, Mizoguchi Kenji, Luchino Visconti, John Cassavetes, King Vidor, Robert Aldrich, Terence Davies, Max Ophuls, Alain Resnais, Agnès Varda, Claude Chabrol, Jacques Rivette, or Luis Buñuel. (I know part of what I’m missing because of the repeat readings I’ve done of Truffaut’s collection of writings, The Films In My Life.) At least I’ve seen four by Charlie Chaplin, to whose work I’m newly addicted, but neither of the two evidently considered the greatest by a moviegoing majority (which, judging from the Sight and Sound list, are City Lights and Modern Times).

Bear in mind these omissions from my experience, as well as the too-often repeated fact that people’s value judgments of films are based not merely on disparate circumstances of viewing and awareness of context, but also on cosmologically vast differences in individual experience. To say our viewings are subjective is not only to say that we may differ on a number of a film’s aspects, but that what you see may be radically different from what I see. Harold Bloom says that, as we step into a stream and our feet never touch the same waters twice, so we never step into the same text twice; the movies don’t change, but we do, and neither do we ever step into the same movie twice, nor do we ever see the same movie as someone else.

The best (and, possibly, only) reaction to this list is to respond vehemently with your own, pointing out what I’ve included erroneously and egregiously excluded. To gain an idea of what real film-knowers settle on, have look at the votes cast by each of the voters (critics, directors, festival curators, and more among them) in the last Sight & Sound poll, voted for and published in late 2012.

These films are listed in random order, and I’ve set myself a rule — which Howard Hawks alone had the strength to break — of one film per director. Note the number of films of Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, Terrence Malick, Clint Eastwood, Wes Anderson, and Joseph L. Mankiewicz among my favourites, from which I had to select only one each. These twenty-two films constitute the frame on which I have erected my structures of knowledge in and love for movies; take it as a suggestion, or take it as a gauntlet thrown at your feet; if nothing else, it’d make for a handy psychiatric profile.

“The Social Network,” David Fincher (2010)

I have vast admiration for Fincher’s later Gone Girl, which would have been here but for the endlessly fascinating tensions that manifest in this film between the writer’s view of the story and that of the director. Aaron Sorkin draws out critical psychological sketches, while Fincher paints deeply observant portraits. Sorkin’s characters are rebels with bitter personal causes, which are subsumed by Fincher’s higher artistic vision of genius, as well as the immensities and intricacies of private lives and public personas in the digital age (which also comes up in Gone Girl). Fincher’s images are assured yet mercurial; their subjects are intensified without being simplified; and ideas flow rapidly and freely.

“Moonlight,” Barry Jenkins (2016)

Have I included Jenkins’s new masterwork just because it’s the one I saw so many times most recently? Is my judgement clouded by all the rapturous praise I’ve seen surrounding it, and, for once, the convergence of audience, critical, and industry judgement on a film that I love, too? In a year’s time, perhaps, I can review this list and see whether or not I was thinking clearly when I decided that Moonlight is one of the most exquisitely forged representations of subjective experience I’ve ever seen in movies. Barry Jenkins, directing from some place deep within himself, films as if wrenching the images from his own memory. He’s told us many times that Naomie Harris plays a fictional version of his own mother, and, as he films her, he works through his experiences and memories of the real-life woman. He elicits such distinctive and sensitive work from each of the other cast members as well that the final effect, as sparse and elliptical as the film’s plot is, is of a whole world of people intimately connected to Chiron and the inner web of emotional and psychic experiences of each of them being drawn across the screen.

“Black Swan,” Darren Aronofsky (2010)

Aronofsky’s redoubtable technique merges with his piercing vision of the life and art of a performer to deliver a fiery portrait of the demands of artistry and the heavy strain it places on the personal lives of people unequal to those demands. Aronofksy focuses on Natalie Portman’s fingers, feet, calves, arms, chest, neck, back, and, above all, eyes and face to capture the entire physical experience of her efforts and the effect this has on her psychic experiences. Portman’s minutely controlled and subtly varying expressions not only depict but transfer her character’s emotional states as she runs through them, alternately terrifying us and breaking our hearts. Erotic irrationality presents an escape from the ballerina’s psychological strictures, yet the stuff of her narrow and inhibited life is not enough to carry her through a performance whose intensity is so forceful it could snap her in two.

“You Only Live Once,” Fritz Lang (1937)

This film was the Bonnie and Clyde story on film before the seminal Bonnie and Clyde film was made (which happened only thirty years after this film’s release). But Fritz Lang’s masterwork has a much larger, more certain structure of universal forces that lead the lovers on the lam to their fate, and also packs a far headier critique of the jaded society that surrounds them. Truffaut said it best when he wrote, sixty years ago, that the determining actions of the characters aren’t because of the axiom, “once a thief, always a thief, … but because society dictates once a thief, always a thief.” The two lovers are the only two figures in the film who live outside of societal norms and conventions, and Lang clearly holds them in high regard for this reason. But still, by basic moral standards, they are guilty, and Lang leaves nothing uncertain about his idea that, even when you manage to escape the constraints and corruptions of human society, you’re already contaminated, and there’s no escaping your own fallen state. But, as I always like to think, if one has to be misanthropic and bitter, be sublime about it, and Lang most certainly is. This is the only Fritz Lang film I’ve seen, but every moment of it is gorgeous, and every frame transports a wealth of emotional insight so abundant that it’s a rare commodity in the films of almost any other director.

“Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” Howard Hawks (1953)

Watching this movie should destroy, for any discerning viewer, the dreadful notion of Marilyn Monroe taking the role of “the dumb blonde” (which is how her persona is described in the very first sentence of her Wikipedia entry) in either her life or her roles. Here, she’s smarter than most other people she encounters, and certainly smarter than any man, whatever his hair colour; she’s always the person in the room who knows exactly what’s going on in any situation, and always knows precisely how to deal with it. Lee Strasberg, founder of the Actor’s Studio and preacher of film acting gospel The Method, called her, along with Marlon Brando, the most sensitive actor he’d ever witnessed. Jane Russell gets equal billing and equal screen time with Monroe in Hawks’s film, and Russell herself is the subject of grave misperceptions, but it’s Marilyn who burns up the movie and the nitrate it’s printed on. As Truffaut wrote when reviewing this movie on its initial release, Monroe and Russell don’t play a mere blonde and brunette, but The Blonde and The Brunette, the archetypes of greed and lust. Monroe is the last word on gold-diggers and Russell on nymphomaniacs, and each gets an elaborate song and dance to thrash out her desires (Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend for Monroe and Ain’t There Anyone Here For Love for Russell, who sets to sea with the entire U.S. Olympic team). There’s much more to say about Hawks’s enduringly biting satire, aesthetic sensibility, and his cold sexual politics, but the best way to learn it is to watch it.

“All About Eve,” Joseph L. Mankiewicz (1950)

The only other Oscar winner for best picture on this list, Mankiewicz’s film was boosted immensely in prestige by its ultra-literary screenplay, the highly showy and theatrical performance by Bette Davis in the main role, and the milieu in which it’s set and which it ostensibly reveres: the East Coast theatre world, mainly Broadway. Davis plays a major New York theatre star at the peak of her career, who has very legitimate fears (which result in fiery rages) of becoming irrelevant and unwanted as she grows older. The part fit Davis as if cut and measured for her, as Davis was approaching what was considered in those days the proper retirement age for a Hollywood star, certainly a female one. What is often overlooked is the superb — really, sublime — direction of Mankiewicz, who also wrote the script. He extends an arch of irony across the entire structure of the film: he turns Davis’s theatrical mode of acting into a piercing reflection of that mode and a highly perceptive and nuanced image-making performance for the screen; he gives characters dialogue that denigrate Hollywood and its apparent frivolity and pretense, while highlighting their own affectations, elevating his reflections into high art through no other medium than the cinema. A schism has always existed in my mind between the theatre and the movies, between those who love the one and love the other, and between the modes of writing, presentation, and performance that exist for and belong in each; All About Eve bridges that gap and shines bright footlights and spotlights on the Broadway stages, but, to my mind, remains a stunning tribute to the cinema and its surpassing power as an art form.

“Some Like it Hot,” Billy Wilder (1959)

More Marilyn, and in more ways. Wilder thought up and shot the famous scene in The Seven-Year Itch in which Monroe stands over a subway vent in the street and lets her skirt blow right over her head; in Some Like It Hot, he cuts her neckline down to well below what censors were willing to allow in 1959. In fact, there was a lot in this movie that censors would not allow, and all of it had to do with sex. To my knowledge, it’s the first cross-dressing movie, and long ahead of other lauded titles that tried the same thing, like Tootsie. It’s less earnest and sententious than Sydney Pollack’s social comedy, and goes even further in its irreverence with some of the best wisecracks and most deliciously salacious scintillae since the death of Oscar Wilde. I would hardly say anything more about it, for fear of spoiling the great fun for readers who haven’t seen it; certainly don’t read anything online, because nearly everyone spoils the best lines and the most magnificent ending. See it before it happens to you.

“Rebel Without a Cause,” Nicholas Ray (1955)

The pathos of this film may be artificially stoked in the public consciousness because of the untimely death of its star, James Dean, whose public persona inevitably gravitated dangerously closely to the three roles he played on screen. But the emotions and the ideas of this film are true, and would be if Dean, fading from glory, had lived decades after its release. Youthful angst and generational turmoil are the subject of the film; Ray films with a tender sympathy for the aimless young people in front of his camera, and brings about a strange poetry from the uneven, artless speech and behaviours they exhibit. A simultaneously transgressive and transformative atmosphere of budding eroticism is brought about in the skillfully coded queer threesome between Dean, Saul Mineo, and the initially hostile Natalie Wood, herself a tragic figure in the annals of Hollywood stardom. Dean, Mineo, and Wood subvert the American idealistic illusions of the 50s by bearing their eroticised, edgy anxieties out in their flag-coloured clothing around the small town. Ray could get images out of Dean that no other director could get out of any other actor; Dean roars, crawls, purrs, plays idly, and stretches himself out, like a feral cat, with a psychology that bears the resemblance to that of a wounded lion — alternately crestfallen and precariously savage.

“Moonrise Kingdom,” Wes Anderson (2012)

If I’d seen The Grand Budapest Hotel as many times as I’ve seen Moonrise Kingdom (which must now be well over a dozen times, and only in the last year), that film would probably be here in its place. But Moonrise Kingdom is the Anderson film I know and love best, and it’s a work of such strong passion and furious beauty that I couldn’t even consider replacing it. My other favourite Anderson film, Fantastic Mr Fox, which I’ve seen nearly as many times, exemplifies the animal wildness of its daring maker, which is required for such keen and original creations as he produces; in this film, that wildness is compounded to vast moral proportions, and the world seethes in storm and flood with a force that can only be matched by the fierce emotional intensities of the two young lovers at the film’s centre. It’s a religious fantasy as much as a romantic fable. The true love between noble souls is the source of their beauty and righteousness, and is aligned with the natural order of the universe; when that love is impeded, nature takes vengeance. The overflowing, aching beauty of Moonrise Kingdom stands as proof to me of its unassailable, magnificent greatness.

“The Gold Rush,” Charlie Chaplin (1925)

The most exigent selection on this list by far was to choose only one title from the Charlie Chaplin films I’ve seen. As Godard wrote of him in the special American issue of Cahiers du Cinéma in 1963, Chaplin “is beyond praise because he is the greatest of all,” or, at least, the only one “to whom one can apply without misunderstanding that very misleading adjective, ‘humane.’ … Chaplin, while remaining marginal to the rest of cinema, ended up by filling this margin with more things (what other word can one use: ideas, gags, intelligence, humour, beauty, movement?) than all other directors together have put into the whole book.” Chaplin’s Little Tramp grandly epitomises the disadvantaged and underprivileged people of the world, and, with the miraculous beauty of his rough refinement, provides the bright light of hope as well. The splendid, exquisite anarchy of his comedy secures his place in the cinema among its greatest political artists as well, and in his 1942 restoration of the silent film — in which he added a musical score and voice over — he makes sure that viewers of The Gold Rush can see its fierce immensity, besides the mere set pieces (such as his beloved dance of the rolls); the film becomes even more intimately and unifying personal, playing as if in the first person, and with an astounding degree of tenderness and romanticism.

“Marie Antoinette,” Sofia Coppola (2006)

It may seem crazy for me to have included a film by Sofia Coppola and not her celebrated father, but there’s an alluring reflexivity and irony to her films that I don’t find at all in the justifiably beloved first two Godfather movies (I have not yet seen any of his other films). Marie Antoinette conveys a stunning sense of the subjectivity of the renowned woman at its centre, and depicts her efforts at self-liberation from the constricting political and social authorities that rule her life as an aristocrat in pre-revolutionary Europe and a woman living in Versailles. Coppola, through her filming, reflects the fervour and boldly heterodox attitudes of its Enlightenment-era setting, and her breathtaking (and breathtakingly inventive) visual style, for all its brazen artifices and conspicuous confections, projects her comprehensive ideas of the milieu surrounding Marie Antoinette as well as the young woman’s state of mind and her feelings.

“Bringing Up Baby,” Howard Hawks (1938)

If the academic articles on screwball comedy that I read online are to be trusted, Hawks’s loopy masterpiece is not only emblematic of the genre, but helped to invent and establish it in Hollywood. Whether or not it’s true, the mad love story that features two of the most admired and sophisticated stars in all of Hollywood history is doubtless one of the greatest cinematic pleasures I’ve ever come across. Bringing Up Baby is a scintillating fusion of intellectual agility, emotional depth, and a zany sense of play, each elevated to a dizzyingly high order, and embodied most gleefully by the enduring figures of Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn. Much has been made of Grant’s transatlantic speech, but, to my ear, Hepburn is just as deeply anchored in the ocean crossing, yet Hawks’s film is unequivocally American in its anarchic sensibilities. My reaction to the comedy was quite different to those of my family members who watched the film with me (the one time out of a dozen), but I found it almost unbelievably funny. With its incredible psychological perspicuity, it ends not in the romantic halo of a happily ever after, but in a vision of the furious forces of sexual compulsion, the aggression of romantic endeavour, and the relentlessness of a fecund (or should I say virile?) and determined creative drive.

“We Have a Pope,” Nanni Moretti (2011)

I notice an inclination on this list towards political films, which probably has much to do with my own political sensibility and personal worldview. We Have a Pope is a particularly trenchant example of the kind of film that appeals to me, in that it imparts a furiously incisive and rebellious criticism of the institution it portrays. I don’t have much of a cause against the present-day Roman Catholic Church (though this year’s 500th anniversary of Luther’s 95 theses is certainly something I find worth celebrating), but I do have a lot against authoritarianism and hypocrisy, which is what Moretti targets in his film; it is grossly unjust, he suggests, for cardinals to run the machinery of an organised faith from on high, without involving themselves intimately and inextricably in the lives and worlds of their parishioners. Moretti brings about a marvellous turn with the insinuation of two worldly psychiatrists (one played by the director himself) in the cloistered workings of the Vatican; and another marvellous turn by contrasting the pontiff and his usual protected life with the emotional intensity and complexity of the citizens’ arts on the street, specifically the theatre. The film’s rage is kept on a low heat throughout the film until the last startling scene; the new pope, who has wandered the streets of Rome and pretended to be an out-of-work actor, finally takes the stage in his proper role and let us see the truth in his brilliant lie.

“Macbeth,” Orson Welles (1948)

When I began watching Welles’s Macbeth, with its rough photographic quality, jaggy soundtrack, dubbed audio, obviously theatrical and fake sets, and equally obviously fake accents, I could hardly believe that a Hollywood studio — the very model of vertically integrated 1940s factory perfection and professional gloss — would ever allow such a product through its distributors and into its theatres. Of course, what I eventually found out (this was the first Orson Welles film I saw) was that Welles was more or less exiled from the Hollywood production lines, and his Macbeth was produced, by the standards of the time, on an independent purview and scale. What I discovered much more quickly — after a few minutes of viewing — is that this is one of the most excessively beautiful and hypnotically fascinating works I have ever seen. Technical shortcomings aside, Welles employed his wondrously inventive lighting, composition, and choreographic techniques with an even freer and fiercer verve than in his earliest masterpiece, Citizen Kane. Welles audaciously cuts up Shakespeare’s text for his own narrative purposes, involving his common theme of the rise and fall of the imperiously mighty, and turns general prestige material into Gothic horror. The mucky, misty ruggedness of the settings highlight the preternatural otherness of Welles’s anti-hero and his milieu, and the mournful, foreboding abstract sets reflect Welles’s outrage at the horrors of his own times. He used the B-movie constraints on his resources to astonishing artistic advantage, extracting a primal starkness and gloom that suit his furies.

“Nosferatu,” F.W. Murnau (1922)

I wrote a few weeks ago that Murnau’s Nosferatu is very much a symphony (which is what it’s called in its own subtitle) and that, in the hands of a great creator such as Murnau, the extra artifice of a black-and-white, silent expressionist film brings higher truth and higher wonder. The difference between cinema and the other arts is its close proximity to each of our own, highly individual, deeply personal life of dreams. Murnau was a superlative cinematic and artistic inventor, and the images he devises perfectly carry the fantastic and grotesque drama. Both nature and science are infused with the supernatural, and Murnau invents remarkable special effects as well as realistic photographic methods for rendering his dreams physically. Nosferatu submerges the viewer in a swirl of the filmmaker and his character’s most terrifying visions and imagined spectacles.

“The Break-Up,” Peyton Reed (2006)

Peyton Reed marked the cinema of today by making the most exuberantly satisfying entry in the current Marvel cinematic slate, Ant-Man (with Scott Derrickson’s Dr Strange a secure second); nearly ten years earlier, he had changed the face of mainstream cinema by giving us the transformative performances of Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn as Brooke and Gary, the meet-cute couple that come to a breaking point in a modern relationship that is typical in its parameters, yet utterly unique and enlightening in its insightful particulars. Reed flips romantic comedy about to reveal the boundaries and limits of romance, and his perceptive attention to gestural and physical detail gives rise to a veritable summit of emotional, social, and cultural insights, distilling individual and personal experiences to high-pitched intensities. Reed, like Judd Apatow (see below), recognises that, in contemporary romances, desires and appetites yield quickly to practicalities, and the problem is no longer for a pair of attractive people to get together, but to stay together, and to find reasons to stay together. The comedy, at every turn, gives way to deep and piercing pain, and Reed’s style makes them immediately visible through his silences, shots of spontaneous and furtive glances, and his inordinate focus on his actors’ eyes. His film, which illuminates and was made for the moment, should stand through time.

“Psycho,” Alfred Hitchcock (1960)

Psycho remains a demanding and a disturbing work; it imparts both the thrill and the anguish felt by the attacker; and it plays on the close connections between sex, sexual repression, and violence. In its dark and sordid extravagance, it’s entirely modern — in it, Hitchcock is representing his way of seeing life and seeing the world, and setting this out with his characters, plot, and, above all, directorial methods. He blames nature for deadly madness, and also suggests that there’s no cure; his film isn’t concerned with remedies or recommendations, but shows his obsessions with spellbinding clarity and a harrowing personal intensity.

“This is 40,” Judd Apatow (2012)

Comedy has been a particularly fecund genre in Hollywood in this century, and the primary exponent of its magnificent new developments and revelations is the director, writer, and producer Judd Apatow, responsible in various capacities for works as diverse as Anchorman, Bridesmaids, Get Him to the Greek, Begin Again, and The Wedding Singer. But the best films in this spate have been the five he directed himself, and my favourite among those This is 40, starring Paul Rudd and Apatow’s real-life wife Leslie Mann as the other married couple from Knocked Up, in a sort-of sequel that focuses on their own lives. It inches past my favourite film of 2015, the last film Apatow directed, Trainwreck, because of the deeper, more personal, more revealing view of the director’s own soul that he offers in his 2012 film. In interviews, Mann herself has said that a lot of the matters set out in the script were taken from her and Apatow’s own marriage, and the effects of it can be felt through the ribald comedy and warm sentimentality of the film. I wrote in my very first post on this blog that the film feels like life, and the pain and frustration of it is just as evident as its joy and humour.

“To Rome With Love,” Woody Allen (2012)

Woody Allen is the master of onscreen metaphors, and To Rome With Love offers one of his greatest. I would love to have included those dazzling ideas from a large selection of his films, from the magnificent, urban fables of his mid-career successes (like Annie Hall, Manhattan, Hannah and Her Sisters, and Radio Days), as well as those of his recent, most astonishing works (particularly You Will Met a Tall Dark Stranger, Midnight in Paris, Magic in the Moonlight, and Irrational Man). But, since only one could be selected, this is what I have settled on, for vague and irrational reasons, and on another day I may have chosen something different. It takes up a number of points familiar to viewers of Allen’s films, with a particular emphasis of the proximity of death, and the slipping away of opportunities and hope. And it whirls about his common ideas about the absurdities of life and celebrity, building those absurdities directly into the story. Allen deftly avoids the gloom of weaker artists who have faced similar immense themes, and gleefully dishes out his theses — if, ultimately, nothing really matters, then that fact itself doesn’t matter, either; and, consequently, as Thomas Nagel put it, “we can approach our absurd lives with irony instead of heroism or despair.”

“Gran Torino,” Clint Eastwood (2008)

Having only seen what could probably be considered Eastwood’s late-period films (Eastwood is 87; I’ve seen no film released before 2004), I would say his career-long theme in a surprisingly consistently political oeuvre is the regard in which he holds his country’s revolutionary values of freedom and democracy. My own political affinities don’t align with Eastwood’s publicly avowed ones, but I hold a deep appreciation for the ideas and comprehensive worldview he weaves through his films. Some are veritable political masterpieces — Changeling is nothing less than a grand and fundamental lesson in democratic revolt against abusive power, and Sully, an even more complex work, examines honest heroism within a complex and working democracy — but Gran Torino stands out as a searingly personal work, in which Eastwood seems to be filming far deeper fantasies and ideas of his own here, by literally filming himself. Where Sully showed people succeeding by merely doing their jobs, Gran Torino shows a breakdown in a society that brings on a tragic turn in events and actions by an individual whose inner furies and destructive capabilities are the objects that formal legislation and civil controls were devised to constrain. It’s particularly poignant coming from Eastwood, who has declared himself a libertarian, traditionally averse to such constraints, but here his ultimate vision is of something higher and deeper, and he contemplates his own obsolescence and mortality with aching energy.

“To the Wonder,” Terrence Malick (2012)

Terrence Malick’s earlier The Tree of Life is the movie that opened me up to all other movies, and to the essence of the cinema: self-expression through images. In it, Malick not only depicted memories and reveries, but evoked the actual experience of memory and of dreaming. Everything else I’d ever seen filmed suddenly seemed dreadfully staid and drearily stodgy. Malick’s sensibility is one of rapturous beauty, that doesn’t float through the stratosphere above its subjects, but is inextricably linked to the earth and the humans whose physical likenesses are used by Malick to conjure visions of the surrounding metaphysics and internal essences. Malick captures tones, moods, textures, light, gestures, and seemingly incongruent actions, using his camera to create paintings in motion that reflect the multivalence of human life at their core. From To the Wonder onwards, Malick has confounded all viewers who harbour prejudices and rigid expectations of what a movie is supposed to be; Malick has advanced the art form with bold and audacious invention as well as heartfelt devotion to it and his own personal art, and the result is a series of splendours to which I have found no parallel.

“The Wolf of Wall Street,” Martin Scorsese (2013)

Supreme artistry and invention is closely akin to a sense of play, and this is overtly brought to view by Martin Scorsese’s harrowing biopic of Jordan Belfort, the Wall Street fraudster. I saw this film twice in theatres, and, while its pure crackling energy — released most immediately through the film’s unrelenting, raucous comedy — held me in constant gleeful thrall, the closing of the film, right to its final shot, was so magnificent and terrifying, so grand in its universal sweeping up of humanity, that, when I saw it, it seemed like the curtain falling on all of cinema itself. Leonardo DiCaprio, no doubt energised by the genius of his director, gives an overwhelmingly uninhibited performance, that seemed to tear through the canvas of the theatre I was in. The fury that both DiCaprio and Scorsese exhibit is all the more potent for the precise control each holds over it.

I await your responses eagerly.


  1. V for Vendetta
    Fight Club
    Into the Wild
    Blue is the Warmest Color
    The Breakfast Club
    The Perks of Being a Wallflower
    Catch me if you can
    Anything by Christopher Nolan
    Anything by Wes Anderson
    Anything by Guy Richie

    1. Thanks. I now think "Everything by Wes Anderson" should take up the bulk of this selection.

  2. "Anything by Guy Richie"??? Have you seen some of his films, Anonymous? Some great picks there otherwise.

    Nice list overall, Jared. Biggies that are missing for me are Pan's Labyrinth, the Big Lebowski (or anything by the Coens), the Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Casablanca, This is Spinal Tap, When Harry Met Sally (or any of Rob Reiner's excellent '80s movies), Brazil, Life of Brian, High Fidelity, Groundhog Day, the Empire Strikes Back, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Almost Famous, Mulholland Drive and I'm sure a bunch more that I'm forgetting.

    Well done for putting such a list together, though. I can never collate my thoughts enough to do something like this - and I always land up leaving loads off. Definitely agree with you on some like Black Swan, Some Like It Hot, Gran Torino and Rebel Without a Cause and definitely disagree with some others (To the Wonder!) but it's amazing how much I disagree on the best movies of these directors. I would take any Apatow film over the hateful This is Forty and however much I enjoyed From Rome with Love, it ain't Annie Hall. And then there's Social Network over Gone Girl, Moonrise Kingdom over the Royal Tennenbaums, Wolf of Wall Street over Good fellas, Psycho over North by North West - I pretty much love all of your choices but they don't quite rate as their director's very best to me.

  3. Thanks for your comment, Ilan. It's terribly difficult to choose a single work from some filmmakers' outputs to represent them as one of the best. I could have named one of a number of works by David Fincher, Wes Anderson, Joseph Mankiewicz, Clint Eastwood, Woody Allen, Terrence Malick, Martin Scorsese, Judd Apatow, F.W. Murnau, Sofia Coppola, and Charlie Chaplin in place of the ones here and still have been very happy with the selection; if I put up a list of my twenty-two favourite films tomorrow, it'd probably have most of the same directors, but a very different selection of films. The predominant sense given by compiling something like this is the regret at everything that gets left off, but, as I said at the top, I can watch all of those movies any number of times without worrying which lists they do or don't appear on.

    If you do ever get to compiling a list of your own, I'd be very eager to see what you'd end up including.

  4. I'm surprised to see Manchester by the Sea omitted from your list, based on your review of the film.

    Here is my list. It would have looked slightly different if it was a list of my favorite films, rather than a list of films I believe everyone should see before 22. I added the country of origin for interest sake. Films without a country listed were made in the US.

    Three Colors: Blue (France)
    A Brighter Summer Day (Taiwan)
    The Shawshank Redemption
    It's A Wonderful Life
    Raw (France)
    Pulp Fiction
    2001: A Space Odyssey
    Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (Germany)
    Requiem for a Dream
    Aguirre the Wrath of God (Germany)
    Donnie Darko
    Taxi Driver
    House (Japan)
    Cache (France)
    Tampopo (Japan)
    The Social Network
    Dead Poets Society
    20th Century Women
    Cleo from 5 to 7 (France)

    1. Thanks for your comment; there's a number of films I loved that I regret having to leave off; "Manchester by the Sea" was one of the best of those.

      My list isn't really what I think everyone should watch by the age of 22; it's the movies I think everyone should watch at any time ever; these are my favourite films, or, at least, or what I judged to be my favourite at the time of compiling the list.

      There're a few on your list that I haven't seen yet, and am particularly anxious to.


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