|2001: A Space Odyssey
|Don't Look Now
|Francis Ford Coppola
|The Big Sleep
If.... is a stunning fusion of the British 'Free Cinema' (director Lindsay Anderson) and the Czech 'New Wave' (DP Miroslav Ondricek), drawing from and surpassing Jean Vigo's Zéro de conduite, introducing Malcolm McDowell and starting his informal trilogy (If...., A Clockwork Orange, O Lucky Man! – three films that tell you everything you could possibly want to know about early seventies Britain). It accurately documents the formalised abuse to which the British ruling classes subjected their children, so that they would go forth and abuse others in the colonies. A genuinely subversive film.
From Aldous Huxley's book and John Whiting's play, Ken Russell (director/producer/writer) in collaboration with Derek Jarman (production designer), Shirley Russell (costume designer), Peter Maxwell Davies (music), David Watkins (DP) and stars Oliver Reed, Vanessa Redgrave, Murray Melvin, Dudley Sutton, Georgina Hale and Gemma Jones, fashions the best British film ever made. Visually stunning, viscerally powerful, searingly controversial, Russell delivers on all levels in this passionate plea against the rule of the mob (always manipulated by church and state). All the censored cuts of this masterpiece are an abomination – this is a film that requires every frame of its excesses.
2001: A Space Odyssey
A timeless cinematic monument from the moment it was released, Kubrick's film is always spoken about as the technical marvel it surely is, and for designing the world that we now inhabit, but its mystical aspect is often overlooked; Kubrick gives a more plausible account of how human life got here than the Bible. 2001 is an atheist, rationalist, existential poem – and people still complain they can't understand the ending…
Most films follow the edicts of the old production code in one way or another ('Crime doesn't pay', 'Respect authority/religion', etc) and then there's Los Olvidados, a film so bleak and unremittingly cruel that it still shocks us today. And then there are the extraordinary dreams...
I love all of Bunuel's films but this one is often overlooked and it's my favorite.
I love a few Hollwood backstage movies (Singin' in the Rain, The Bad and the Beautiful, In a Lonely Place, Mulholland Dr., Day for Night, Bamboozled) but the greatest of them all has to be Sunset Blvd.
Hollywood movies are always essays in disappointment, but Wilder's film elevates that theme to epic levels, and in a way that is unrepeatable and certainly un-remakeable. Gloria Swanson, Erich Von Stroheim, Buster Keaton and Cecil B. DeMille are not fictional figures from the birth of the movies, they are the real deal. And with William Holden as our guide, Sunset Blvd describes the birth of an art form (the sound movie) whose edifice was always constructed on the ruins of the pioneers that came before.
Don't Look Now
Nic Roeg's giallo Don't Look Now takes Daphne du Maurier's short story and expands it into a supernatural horror film so compelling that comes it close to convincing you of the actuality of psychic powers. Using innovative associative editing and brilliant cinematography from Anthony Richmond, Roeg's film piles on the unease, leading to its terrifying (yet somehow oddly uplifting) climax. A perfect expression of Freud's idea of the 'Unheimlich' existing more powerfully in art than in life, Don't Look Now is the best horror film ever made.
Other horror movies I love are: The Shining; The Exorcist; The Texas Chainsaw Massacre; Rosemary's Baby; Frenzy; The Birds; Halloween; Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom; Come and See; Hour of the Wolf; Toby Dammit; The Tenant; Bram Stoker's Dracula; It Follows; and Titane.
As one of the key creators of modern cinema, Kurosawa made many masterpieces worthy of anybody's list. I have chosen his late career reinterpretation of King Lear, Ran, as it is eye-wateringly beautiful (Wada Emi's costumes are masterpieces in their own right) and manages to solve most of the narrative problems in Shakespeare's notoriously difficult play. Kurosawa is rightly famous for his action staging and his innovation of the use of slow motion in violence (Seven Samurai), but in the end it is his tremendous narrative grasp and confidence that elevates his films.
This was the first movie I ever saw. Its reality of 'London' – shot in Burbank and expanding into an animated universe of technicolour splendor – left quite an impression. Mostly I remember being terrified of Admiral Boom and his artillery salutes, and of course falling in love with Julie Andrews. Later viewings (which have been frequent) only confirmed Mary Poppins as Walt Disney's masterpiece.
Not exactly a radical choice, but then maybe this is the greatest film ever made (I hope it wins this year).
Here's a test to see if I am right: Start watching The Godfather (start at the beginning or anywhere you like) with the intention of analyzing it, breaking it down shot-by-shot, studying the staging or the cuts. See how long you last before the film grabs you by the throat and forces you to watch it all the way through, completely absorbed in the drama.
The Big Sleep
I love LA noir movies (Chinatown, The Long Goodbye, The Maltese Falcon, Double Indemnity, Lost Highway), but the best of them must be The Big Sleep. Shelved for a couple of years because Lauren Bacall's agent thought it sucked (he begged Jack Warner to reshoot scenes – they did), incomprehensible because of the recutting and the strictures of the Hays Code, this movie should be a mess, or at best a Hollywood potboiler. But it is transcendent. It contains Bogart's best performance and it's hilarious and romantic. Its mystery probes into the underbelly of corruption that lies just beneath the surface (many have tried this formula, few got it so right). It's incredibly horny without much more than an ankle on display. In short, it's a rare time that the Hollywood system worked and it all came out right in the end. I'd say more but I think I'd rather watch it again…