|2001: A Space Odyssey
|Ben Sharpsteen, Hamilton Luske
|The Godfather Part II
|Francis Ford Coppola
|Cléo from 5 to 7
|It's a Wonderful Life
2001: A Space Odyssey
I first saw this one at age 14, in actual Cinerama, by myself, in a near empty theatre, seated maybe ten rows back from the (giant, curved) screen, at the centre of the row, and it blew my 14-year-old mind. I had no idea a movie could move me — or move anyone — in such a way, and I was literally in a daze for days afterwards, still immersed in its monumental vision. Still very much in its grip a year or two later, I remade it in Super 8mm, retitled: “Beyond the Universe”!
I began as an animator and to me “Pinocchio” was IT. With “Pinocchio” and “Fantasia,” Disney set out to far surpass anything that had previously been achieved in animation, and he succeeded wildly. But it’s this film’s narrative that for me takes it to a whole other level yet. There’s a scene that begins the second act where Geppetto sends Pinocchio happily skipping off to school, a schoolbook in one hand and a shiny red apple for the teacher in the other, and has there ever been a more nightmarish — not to mention transformative (in *two* senses!) — journey for a young “child” in the movies than what follows?
The Godfather Part II
Arguably the greatest American movie ever made (and certainly the greatest sequel ever made). One of the keys to its enduring power is its realism. However, it was only after I had begun to make movies myself that I came to appreciate, from a visual design standpoint (and as a visual director), just how highly stylized it is as well. Cinematographer Gordon Willis (called the Prince of Darkness for his groundbreaking dark lighting aesthetic) used coral filters over the lenses to give scenes a dusty antique look. He also almost never moved the camera, shooting tableau style. Once I had established my own visual filmmaking style, I was also shooting tableau style. This may be where I got it from.
Also from a visual design standpoint, this one is a symphony of meticulously choreographed medium close-ups and close-ups. And how better for Bergman and (cinematographer) Sven Nykvist to formally complement this tour de force of intense psychology than with this design, thereby helping to make “Persona” the utterly unforgettable cinematic experience that it is. On the whole this is a deeply affecting masterwork utterly unlike any other work put to celluloid, before or since.
Put on the spot during a phone interview once to name my favourite film, I offered up Kane, and the (New York City) interviewer’s tone became a rebuke for my lack of originality. Well, tough. It’s been that for me, on and off, since I first saw it in my intro to cinema class way back in my university days. I remember the professor saying when the film was over that Welles was 26 when he made it, so if there are any aspiring filmmakers among you, you’d better hurry up. I remember thinking that I had six years yet. And I *was* 26 when I’d shot the bulk of my first feature, anyway, which also just happened to include many nicked bits from Kane!
Another colossal achievement in cinema that I nicked from. Or did I? I’m not sure. I certainly had enough first-hand knowledge of writer’s block to come by that theme in my first feature “Crime Wave” honestly. At any rate, I never hesitated to cite 8 1/2 when challenged as to the worthiness of such a theme in an otherwise self-reflective “fantasia” about a movie director. And somehow that never failed to shut my challengers up.
Today I’m picking this one as the GOAT from the Master (on another day it could just as easily be “Vertigo,” or “Shadow of a Doubt,” or “Rear Window” — maybe especially “Shadow of a Doubt” because I’ve nicked majorly from that one, too). And any GOAT from the Master absolutely belongs on any greatest films of all time list, in my humble opinion!
Cléo from 5 to 7
I wanted to pick a film from the French New Wave movement because it has been so massively influential on world cinema (not to mention on practically every young wannabe the world over who ever picked up a Bolex to make a film — including myself of course), and one from Agnès Varda in particular, because she had been so massively influential on the French New Wave movement (she of course had come to eventually be called the Mother of the French New Wave). For me “Cléo from 5 to 7” embodies all that’s most sublime about the movement, which makes it for me as good as they come, and so for that reason it appears on my list.
It's a Wonderful Life
This film’s gross overexposure at Christmastime notwithstanding, it remains to me just an absolute masterclass in screen storytelling, from a director who bragged he could shoot the phone book (and make it funny), working at the absolute top of his game. That and the unforgettable dark-night-of-the-soul journey of Jimmy Stewart through Pottersville in the last act, followed by that most life-affirming of conclusions, makes this “Christmas card” from Capra for me a winner for the ages.
As with Hitchcock, which one to pick? But I’m going with Rashomon because it was the first I’d seen by Kurosawa, which had opened my eyes to the cinematic treasures of this other indispensable titan of cinema; and also, as much as I adore a good story well told, I found with this one I can adore the same good story well told in three different ways, with nothing reliable to hang my hat on from any of them, just as much. And that was a huge thing to find out!
These films named on my list all have affected me in some significant or even life-changing way, and that is one of the reasons why I have made them my picks for the ten greatest of all time!