|Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans
|The Magnificent Ambersons
|Mikey and Nicky
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans
or Man With a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, 1929)
or The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1939) or The Rules of the Game (Jean Renoir, 1939) or even Young Mr. Lincoln (John Ford, 1939)
The Magnificent Ambersons
or The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (Powell & Pressburger, 1943)
or Ordet (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1955)
or Pickpocket (Robert Bresson, 1959)
Mikey and Nicky
or Mean Streets (Martin Scorsese, 1973)
or Bang! (Robert Breer, 1986)
or Sans Soleil (Chris Marker, 1983)
or Van Gogh (Maurice Pialat, 1991)
or Notre Musique (Jean-Luc Godard, 2004)
This was an impossible task. My initial hope was to choose a film per decade from the 1910s through the 2000s, but the pull of certain films was too great. In the bargain, I skipped the teens, somehow managed to pass over the 60s, chose the wartime 40s over the post-war 40s, and ended up revisiting the era of Reagan and Thatcher longer than anyone should. Now, I just hope this list offers a few provisional points of entry, magic portals into the vast reaches of film history. In order to open it up further, I've proposed it as a series of double features, or, in the case of the late 30s, a four-film series, with alternate choices noted in the comments.
I cherish every single film mentioned above regardless of whether they're the "official" choices or not. Most of the selected films are works I've seen two or more times and in a sense grown up with over the course of my years of involvement with movies, but one I saw for the first time only relatively recently. It was also one of the first I thought to include and one I never considered cutting. That film is Yamanaka's Humanity and Paper Balloons. 30s films have always had something special going for them. It was a decade of great, and sadly recognisable, instability both socially and politically, and so artistically too. For me, Yamanaka's film somehow encapsulates all the qualities that make movies from this period so vital. It is a film whose mixed comic and tragic tones are so delicately balanced and subtly handled that it makes the contemporaneous films of Renoir and Ford seem laboured, and like those films, it is a humanist work, made with a genuine sense of complicity with those on the lowest rungs of society. More people should see Yamanaka's masterpiece, as fine a motion picture as anyone ever made. Likewise, more people should see Hou Hsiao-hsien's The Puppetmaster, my candidate for the greatest of all films, and Brakhage's Egyptian Series, one of his so-called "imagnostic" works, which fashion visual correlatives for the inner thought-patterns that produced ancient scripts out of the pure rhythmic dance of reflected and refracted light. To see Egyptians is to be returned to the material basis of cinema.
All of the following could equally have made this list: Le Repas de bébé, The Impossible Voyage, Interior NY Subway 14th Street to 42nd Street, Broken Blossoms, Earth, L'Atalante, The Best Years of Our Lives, A Diary for Timothy, Spring in a Small Town, Anatahan, Tokyo Story, Journey to Italy, Seven Samurai, One Froggy Evening, Schwechater, Vertigo, Rio Bravo, Viridiana, I fidanzati, Fuses, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Gammelion, L'Amour fou, The Hart of London, The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, The Godfather (either), Sambizanga, Mirror, L'Enfant secret, Life Dances on, The Death of Empedocles, Nouvelle Vague, A Depression in the Bay of Bengal, Variations, A Christmas Tale, The Tree of Life.