|Vittorio De Sica
|Hiroshima mon amour
|Au hasard Balthazar
|The Passion of Joan of Arc
|Carl Th. Dreyer
The masterpiece of Andrei Tarkovsky and world cinema, this epic film about the life and work of an icon painter has an operatic structure. The film’s mystical cinematography remains unparalleled to this day. Andrei Rublev offers a sense of ecstasy in the face of life’s beauties and pains; in my cinematic pantheon, it’s revered as a sanctified artwork.
A painfully beautiful chronicle of life in post-World War II Rome. Cesare Zavattini’s script is central to Italian Neorealismo, and Vittorio De Sica’s camera salvages views of rundown streets, poverty, and injustice with such precision and simplicity that the emotional punch of The Bicycle Thieves finale is unparalleled in film history.
Michelangelo Antonioni’s masterpiece changed the course of Italian Neorealismo and arthouse cinema. It injected a healthy dose of entropy into conventions of European cinema, where the plot and story lost their preeminence, replaced by the potential of a searching, introverted, filmic gaze.
Hiroshima mon amour
The masterpiece of the French New Wave, Hiroshima, mon amour combines the movement’s love for literature (it’s scripted by Marguerite Duras), experimentation with nonlinear storylines, its passion for striking, experimental photography, and its fusing of historical footage with freshly choreographed cinematography. It lyrically documents one of the most inhumane episodes of 20th-century history.
The most accomplished of Stanley Kubrick’s films, Barry Lyndon is the most classically beautiful film I’ve seen. Conversing with English art history, this epic offers landscapes, costumes, and situations in verbatim, precise recreations. Kubrick’s perfectionism echoes the self-contained world of this story about class, social mobility, and disillusionment.
Au hasard Balthazar
Robert Bresson drafted the rules of a new cinema and realized them in Au hasard Balthazar, his masterpiece. This seemingly aloof, cold film, inspired by a passage in Dostoyevsky’s novel, The Idiot, burns with a yearning for justice and beauty. This disciplined portraiture of a donkey and the way of life in the French countryside is a lesson in seeing the world anew through the cinematograph and noticing the potential that endeavor contains.
Stanley Kubrick’s second favorite film of all time, Wild Strawberries is cinema at its most Proustian. Bergman weaves a new language to ponder death, anxiety, regret, and shame through cinematography, aging this art a few decades and allowing it to be truly mature.
The most accomplished achievement of the master of suspense, the entirety of Vertigo’s unnerving narrative resembles a dream sequence from Spellbound. Early Hitchcock’s realism vanishes here, and the film, using objective correlatives, renders the world much as its neurotic hero sees it.
This gem sits between Italian Neorealismo and the Felliniesque. Nothing is convoluted in the magical, lyrical narrative about the dreamy Gelsomina and the ragtag traveling circus she joins. Marking the high point of Fellini’s career, La Strada is powerful in its simplicity: it makes me tear up with each viewing.
The Passion of Joan of Arc
Renée Falconetti gives the most impressive performance ever recorded on film in this silent classic. Carl Theodor Dreyer invented the potential of the close-up in this chronicle of Joan of Arc’s trial and execution. This “hymn to the triumph of the soul over life” (Dreyer) remerges in Vivre sa Vie (1962), Jean-Luc Godard’s masterpiece, where a devastated Anna Karina watches Joan’s pains in a film theatre and cries with her.
I grew up watching movies and dreaming to become a filmmaker. Before studying film at college, I made my way through the canon and discovered my favorite themes, auteurs, and periods. A fascination with Italian cinema and Michelangelo Antonioni’s films resulted in a dissertation on L’Avventura and an eponymous debut novel. Two decades later, those films continue to shape my taste in cinema.
My earliest pick is from 1928 and the latest from 1975. In the intervening half-century, those films inspired my favorite contemporary filmmakers; and yet, I believe they remain unmatched.