The films listed here are my favorites of all time. The films were chosen because of their influence and innovation within the medium. I've included little seen films which I highly recommend. They are all available on home video and are definitely worth anyone's time.
Since I don't want to pick the best or greatest,they are all in strict alphabetical order... (shhh,don't tell anyone, but my fave is "The Four Hundred Blows"...)
Well, here I go:
TOP 25 US FILMS (Followed by the film's director)
1. All Quiet on the Western Front (Lewis Milestone) The best war film I have ever seen. It is a look at the effects of war on a group of young men, who are blind to the reality of war, until the experience them first hand.
2. Amadeus (Milos Forman) A look at the world of opera, genius, madness and religion. An amazing picture, it mixes complex human emotions with Mozart's finest compositions. It has a wonderful cast led by an incredible tour de force from F. Murray Abraham.
3. Brazil (Terry Gilliam) Probably the best film of the 80's, it is a "Don Quixote"-like look at a machine driven future. Influences from Fritz Lang's masterpiece "Metropolis" can be found here, as well as Gilliam's complete domination of film.
4. Citizen Kane (Orson Welles) Considered by many the greatest film ever made, it is certainly one of the best I've seen. Orson Welles, along with a very talented group of film artist, offers a look at the life of Charles Foster Kane (based on William Randolph Hearst). The film is revolutionary in its use of deep focus and depth of field and its use of film narrative as a powerful tool of political and social critique. Personally, what stands out the most for me is Welles' brilliant portrayal/transformation into the elder Kane. He bursts with energy and sadness. This is one of the most touching performances put on celluloid.
5. The Conversation (Francis Ford Coppola) A pre Watergate look from the creator of "The Godfather", it deals with loner Harry Caul, and his involvement within a scheme bigger than anyone knows until the very final frames of the picture. As Caul, Gene Hackman paints a portraid of the modern American man as disillusioned and empty, who makes it his mission to find and rescue the last remaining bits of innocence.
6. Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder) The best noir film! Every single picture made in this genre has been influenced by Wilder's film. From "Postman always rings twice" to "Playing God", this is the daddy of all of 'em. Great performance by Barbara Stanwick
7. The Exorcist (William Friedkin) A terrifying look at a world turned upside down. One of the handful masterpieces of the horror genre, this film raises questions about God and the devil which sticks in the minds of viewers' long after watching it. Ellen Burstyn's performance is dead on, and the make up and special effects are remarkable.
8. Fiddler on the Roof (Norman Jewison) Pauline Kael called it the most powerful musical ever made. I must agree. By the end, I was bawling. It contains many memorable musical moments and the film accomplishes what many musicals never did, to integrate a dramatic story within the musical genre. Topol is mesmerizing in the role of Tevye.
9. The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola) The Greatest.
10.The Godfather pt. II (Francis Ford Coppola) The second greatest.
11.Gone with the Wind (Victor Fleming) Four hours of absolute bliss. Viven Leigh is amazing in the role of Scarlett O'Hara. This story is well known, and I've seen it about a million times, yet it never loses its power. Four directors worked on it, among them George Cukor. Final credit, however,went to Victor Fleming. The cinematography is brilliant and the music score by Max Steiner is soaring and very much appropriate.
12.The Good, the bad, and the ugly (Sergio Leone) The best of Leone's "spagetti westerns", it has an awesome score and is one of the few westerns I truly enjoy. The ending is very satisfying and the story itself, though simple, is very engaging.
13.Goodfellas (Martin Scorsese) The film that made me want to become a filmmaker. It is a tour de force by Scorsese, whose amazing style has been immitated time and time again by younger directors. This film could be called the sum total of Scorsese's life in film. It just kicks ass.
14.The Graduate (Mike Nichols) The interplay between Dustin Hoffman/Ben and Anne Bancroft/Mrs. Robinson remains one of my favorites to watch. The story may seem a bit trivial by today's standards, but at the time it came out, it was nothing short of revolutionary. Great score by Simon & Garfunkel.
15.Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean) Peter O'Toole didn't win the Academy Award for his performance as T.E. Lawrence, one of the greatest injustices of Oscar history. The film contains a romanticized view of the desert and war, but when things get a bit too much, there's Lean's hand to guide us into the realities behind the facades. A simple story told in grandiose style, it is one of the quickest three hours you'll spend in front of the tube.
16.Malcolm X (Spike Lee) Spike Lee's masterpiece, it is too great for words. Denzel Washington delivers the greatest performance of his career. Not to mention Delroy Lindo's turn as Red's guide/nemesis in the underworld.
17.Midnight Cowboy (John Schlesinger) One of my favorite films, it is an unflinching look at 1960's America. Jon Voight plays Joe Buck, a wanna be hustler who moves to NY in search of a better life. Dustin Hoffman is Ratso Rizzo, who comes into Buck's life. They both forge a bond and find common ground in their loneliness and apathy. The theme song by Nilsson captures the spirit of the piece and Schlesinger's directing is detached, yet empathtetic.
18.One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (Milos Forman) Few films come close to this one as far as sheer power is concerned. Jack Nicholson, well in his peak,plays McMurphy,and the film follows his stay in a mental hospital and how he changes the lives of all those around him. His nemesis, Nurse Ratched, played by Louise Fletcher, is the cold head nurse in his ward, and their battle of control over the other inmmates ranks amongst the most powerfully depicted relationships in films' short history.
19.Scarface (Brian De Palma) A remake of the 1930's classic, it stars Al Pacino as Tony Montana a Cuban refugee who becomes a powerful drug trafficker. The script is by Oliver Stone, and what a fine script it is. I love almost everything about this film, the performances, the cinematography, the music by Giorgio Morodder, every aspect of it is remarkable. One of the few films where the violence depicted is absolutely necessary to understand better the psyche of its characters.
20.A Streetcar Named Desire (Elia Kazan) Tennessee Williams' greatest play comes to the screen from the capable hands of Elia Kazan. The film contains the greatest ensemble group of actors ever acquired. Referring to Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh's performances, Pauline Kael described them as being "two of the greatest performances every put on film." I agree wholeheartedly and am mesmerized with every viewing at the graceful dance these actors perform under the most rigid censorship cinema would undergo.
21.Sunset Boulevard (Billy Wilder) Starring William Holden, a terribly underrated actor and one of my favorites, this film tells the story of a Hollywood screenwriter and his relationship with an elderly 'has been' actress. It is to Wilder's wicked sense of humour that the film is narrated from ultratomb by Holden, and we never once question this device. Magnificent dialogue and great performances make this film a must see.
22.Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese) Scorsese won the Palm d'Or at Cannes for this one, and he surely deserved it. The film touched upon many sensibilities of the contemporary American audiences and did for film what "Midnight Cowboy" had done almost a decade earlier, and that was to show the emptiness in the lives of many Americans and the empty path this loneliness leads to. Remarkable performances by Robert De Niro and Jodie Foster. Wonderful score by the late Bernard Herrmann.
23.The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Phillip Kauffman) Starring Daniel Day Lewis, Juliette Binoche and Lena Olin, this film is a joy to watch. It is intelligent without being pretentious, sexually free without being gratuitious. The story is engaging and the music superb. This film should be seen more than it has.
24.West Side Story (Robert Wise) My favorite musical, it is the re-telling of "Romeo and Juliet", now set in New York's West Side. The story deals with rival gangs, the "Jets", made up of white Americans, and the "Sharks" made up of recently arrived Puerto Ricans. Rita Moreno's performance won her an Oscar, the first to go to a Latin woman, and it is a wondrous experience to see her in this film. The picture contains a great score by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Songs like "Maria", "America", "Tonight" and "A Place for Us", put this film at the top of the musical pantheon.
25.The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming) The most beloved children's film, it has one of Judy Garland's most beautiful and touching performances, which won her a miniature Oscar at the age of sixteen. One look at the "Over the Rainbow" number is enough to set off havoc within one's soul. Beautifully shot, and sweetly directed, it is a film I never get tired of seeing.
- "City Lights" (Chaplin) This picture exists just to prove what Chaplin's genius was all about. It is a simple story about the little tramp falling in love with a blind girl who thinks he is a rich man. Very simple, but extremely moving. The final scene has been lauded as one of the most powerful scenes ever.
- "The English Patient" (Minghella) A return to epic filmmaking. This film follows the classical Hollywood film narrative, but gives it a huge twist. Think of it as "Casablanca" for realists. I love every single scene in this picture, and the score is one of the most amazing pieces of music ever written for film. Gabriel Yared's work ranks up with the likes of Rota and Moriccone.
- "Fame" (Parker) What can I say? I'm a sucker for musicals, and I just love this one. I think Alan Parker did a wonderful job integrating drama with musical numbers seamlessly. It is very much an ensemble piece, but the performances which stood out the most for me were those given by Irene Cara as "Coco"(my compatriot!) and Gene Anthony Ray as "Leroy."
TOP 25 INTERNATIONAL FILMS
1. An Angel at my Table (Jane Campion) New Zealand: A unique and original work from a gifted film artist. It tells the story of Janet Frame, one of New Zealand's most important writers. The film follows Janet's life from the time she's a small girl in school, trying to buy friends with candy, to the adult, painfully shy introvert played by Kerry Fox. It is an insightful look at the life of a woman who finally learns to appreciate herself. Remarkable.
2. Au Revoir Les Enfants (Louis Malle) France: Louis Malle's ode to friendship, it explores the relationship between a Catholic boy and a Jewish boy within the rising anti- semetic atmosphere of the 1940's. It is a credit to Malle's genius that the film is never preachy or overly sentimental.
3. Blue (Krisztoff Kieslowski) France/Poland: Part I of Kieslowski's "Three Color" trilogy. It stars Juliette Binoche, who gives one of the most amazingly subtle performances I've ever seen. The film follows the life of Julie, a woman who was the sole survivor in a car accident which took the lives of her young daughter and famous composer husband. As Julie starts a new life, she discovers things about her past which open her eyes to her own present. A poetic film if I ever saw one.
4. Cinema Paradiso (Guiseppe Tornatore) Italy: A delightful, emotional look at the friendship between an old town projectionist named Alfredo and the young boy he takes under his wing, Toto. Together they share a passion for the cinema and brave tragedies and disappointments. A beautifully written, performed and directed work, it is one of my favorites.
5. The Conformist (Bernardo Bertolucci) Italy: Marcello is the confused man of a fascist era. In this adaptation of the Alberto Moravia novel, Bertolucci transports us into the rise and fall of fascisim in Italy. The cinematography by Vittorio Storaro is mind boggling perfection. The blue hue of the film provides a mystique which translates perfectly the mood of the piece. The tango scene (one of Bertolucci's motifs) manages to be sensual and humorous at the same time.
6. Cries & Whispers (Ingmar Bergman) Sweden: The first Ingmar Bergman film I ever saw, it ranks amongst the top of his works. The story, inspired by an Edvard Munch painting, takes place in a large, desolate house, where two sisters and a nurse take turns in taking care of the sweet sister, Agnes, who's been ravaged by cancer. As Agnes, Harriette Andersson gives the film its soul. As Maria, Liv Ullmann paints a portrait of child- like vanity and hollowness. Ingrid Thulin as Karin, is the stern cold and unfeeling sibling, but inmersed in guilt by her inability to show love. Sven Nykvist's cinematography is breathtaking, as always. And Bergman's direction is flawless, and ultimately, heartbreaking.
7. La DoDolce Vita (Federico Fellini) Italy: Inspired by Dante's works, this films stands up as the greatest Italian film ever made. Everything going on today with celebrities, fame, fortune, promiscuity, it is all here. Marcello Mastroianni plays Marcello, a gossip reporter in the entertainment circles of Rome. The film has no specific plot or trama, and it works more as a compilation of vignettes and ocurrences all linked by Marcello. The film touches upon the themes of death, friendship, perversion, love or the lack of it, and fear of one's self. A brilliant accomplishment.
8. Europa, Europa (Agnieszka Holland) Germany: Marco Hoffschneider plays young Solomon, who in order to avoid being sent into the ghettos of WWII Germany, hides his true Jewish identity. Solly gets into all sorts of close call situations, but I must state that if it seems a bit unbelievable, you should know that the film is based on the autobiography of Solomon Perel. Rich in textures and colors, the film offers an objective view at the other side of Germans, through the eyes of one Jewish boy.
9. Flirting (George Miller) Australia: A beautiful story set in 1960's Australia. The film deals with the relationship that develops between two young students. The story is very smart and confirms the fact that physical or racial differences don't mean anything once two people connect emotionally. Nicole Kidman's turn as the snotty student is awesome.
10.The Four Hundred Blows (Francois Truffaut) France: My favorite film of all time. I don't get tired of saying that! I saw it four years ago(on Bravo, in its widescreen format!!) and was absolutely mesmerized by what I saw. This is the exact type of film I'd like to make one day. It is simple, honest and devastating. Jean Pierre Leaud is Antoine, a young boy whose never seen the ocean, reads Balzac, and seems to get into all kinds of troubles. Much has been written about this film , and rightly so. The acting is superb, the music is touching and Truffaut's direction is refreshing and innovative. This film was the crowning achievement of the "New Wave" movement in France.
11.Heavenly Creatures (Peter Jackson) New Zealand: The story about the real life case of Pauline Parker and Juliette Hulme, two young girls whose friendship became so intense that at the point of risking being separated,they plot to kill one of the girl's mother and succeed in doing so. Jackson's style is exhilirating to no end. It's one of those films that feel like a an amusement park ride. The performances by Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey (debut performances for both) are incredible!!!! I cannot believe this film was so ignored by all the awards entities. This is a definite must see for anyone who likes innovative, avant garde cinema.
12.The Hour of the Wolf (Ingmar Bergman) Sweden: My favorite Bergman film. PLEASE SEE THIS! It is awesome. It deals with the story of Johan, a painter, and his descent into madness. The film has elements of horror, Goth, Supsense and mystery, all merged into one undescribable filmic experience.
13.Jules et Jim (Francois Truffaut)France: Truffaut's most romantic and ultimately tragic film. It is a revolutionary picture, and a classic in the French film pantheon. A story about friendship, love and especially women. A woman in particular, played by Jeanne Moreau, who becomes the idealized version of the female gender for generations to come. The ending is a knock out, completely surprising, but quite effective.
14.Last Tango in Paris (Bernardo Bertolucci) Italy/France: BRILLIANT! Marlon Brando gives the greatest performance ever put on film, as Paul, an expatriate American living in France, whose wife has just committed suicide. Ambling through the streets, he finds a young woman named Jeanne. They find an apartment which becomes a meeting place where they experiment and tear all the thick layers of superficiality. This is Bertolucci's masterpiece.
15.Law of Desire (Pedro Almodovar) Spain: A story of love. That's all I can really say. It is awesome, a trip into a world I'd never seen. It has the usual Almodovar elements of murder and police detectives, but at the core is a performance by Carmen Maura: a woman playing a transsexual. This is a definite worth while film!
16.Memories of Underdevelopment (Tomas Gutierrez Alea) Cuba: A brilliant look at Cuba during the beginning of the Castro regime. The story is told from the point of view of Sergio, the "Belmondo-like" archetype of disenchanted loners, uncapable of loving, beacuse of his ability to see through people's artifices, but never his own.
17.My Life as a Dog (Lasse Hallstrom) Sweden: Heartbreaking. I love this film. It follows young Ingemar, who is thrown around from place to place (hence the title) after his mother becomes too ill to take care of him. Ingemar is a shy, but intelligent boy, and the narration, told in metaphors, captures the spirit of children's innocence and wisdom.
18.Naked (Mike Leigh) UK: Probably the scariest film I have ever seen. It is very disturbing, but a valid statement from our modern world about how people use and discard each other. Filled with the "fear of the millenium" syndrome, it is distrubing because it is all so real. Not an easy watch by any means, since you'll probably end up feeling that the world is even more fucked up than you could ever imagine.
19.The Nasty Girl (Michael Verhoven) Germany: A factual docudrama-like film. The visuals in this one are so cool, they'll stick in your mind for a long while. Lena Stolze is the young protagonist, who discovers many hidden secrets of her small German town and how their claims regarding their actions during WWII were as manufactured as her own facade.
20.Persona (Ingmar Bergman) Sweden: An experimental Bergman film which proves that the man could excell in any given genre. Liv Ullman plays an actress who refuses to talk after a performance of "Elektra". She moves to the country accompanied by a young nurse, played by Bibi Andersson. During their stay, the two women almost become one with the other. The film is very erotic and tastefully shot by Sven Nykvist. The story, though simplistic on the surface, emerges as a detailed study of female bonding and its often devastating results.
21.The Piano (Jane Campion) New Zealand: Few films of the 90's come close to this one. It stars Holly Hunter in a performance which earned her the Oscar and the Best Actress prize at Cannes among many other awards. It is the story of a self imposed mute who moves to New Zealand with her small daughter to marry a landowner. Baines, a neighbor, becomes infatuated with Ada and after obtaining Ada's beloved piano, her only means of communications, he promises to give it back in exchange for sexual favors. The film is very intelligent and never exploitive. The performances are top notch, from Sam Neill to Harvey Keitel to Academy Award winner Anna Paquin, who gives one of the best performances when it comes to a child's acting.
22.The Spirit of the Beehive (Victor Erice) Spain: A neglected gem, this film is absolute perfection,the closest thing to a dream-like film I've seen. It takes place in a village in a Spain under the Franco regime. "Frankestein" is shown at a tiny theatre and amongst the many children are two young sisters, Ana and Isabel. Ana, the youngest, becomes fascinated by the monster and the story follows her search for him. It is hard to find a film as great as this one. And Ana Torrent is unbelievably brilliant and bewitching in her role.
23.La Strada (Federico Fellini) Italy: Giulietta Masina, Fellini's wife and acknowledged muse, plays a young innocent girl named Gelsomina. Anthony Quinn plays Zampano, a circus performer and brute. The story is about purity against brutality and the performances are unforgettable. The music, a few repeated notes by Nino Rota is achingly touching and ultimately bittersweet.
24.Un Coeur en Hiver (Claude Sautet) France: A relevant work from master Sautet, "A Heart in Winter" is the story of a man's inability to love, and the people he almost destroys through his actions. It is a very intelligent film which introduced me to the talents of Emmanuelle Beart and Daniel Ateuil. Remarkable and sad, depressing and real.
25.Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (Pedro Almodovar) Spain: A farce if I ever saw one. The usual Almodovar suspects are all here from Carmen Maura to Antonio Bandera and the film is an absolute roller coaster ride. The plot is too absurd to even try to explain, but there lies its genius. The sets and the cinematography are all tacky and scandalous, perfect foils for the trama!
- "Pixote" (Babenco)Brazil: This film, in my opinions, embodies the expression "packing a punch." It is an unbelievable viewing experience. The film takes place in the slums of Brazil, where we are shown the poverty and crime which surrounds millions of Brazilian children. This over populated country provides a backdrop unlike any other you are likely to see. The story follows 11 year old Pixote ("pee wee") as he is brought into a youth correctional facility, his escape and ultimately his meeting with fate. The film is an inescapable tragedy which becomes even more disturbing when knowing that the actor who played Pixote died at such a young age and in such a violent way. This film serves as a testament to the unwanted price many children face, and how minute our day to day problems suddenly seem after watching such a work of uncompromised art.
- "Zentropa" (Von Trier)Germany/Sweden: The story of an American exile in Germany during the end of WWII. Germany is almost like a ghost town. The only connection to life seemingly being the constant back and forth of the trains which takes people away from their past lives and into unknown territories. The story is very cleverly told, with a voice over narration by Max Von Sydow playing a sort of all mighty hypnotist who decides our principal character's destiny. The film stands out not because of its rather simple tale, but as a visual marvel. Von Trier ("Breaking the Waves") seems to have an inate desire to breakthrough the rules of cinema, and in "Zentropa" (Originally titled "Europa") he comes close to fusing experimental visual imagery with the classic Hollywood narrative. It is a an exhilirating film to watch from beginning down to the very final frame. (Look out for Von Trier himself making a cameo as "the Jew")