Susan Napier

Goldthwaite Professor of Rhetoric and Japanese, Tufts University

Voted for

Bringing Up Baby1938Howard Hawks
Casablanca1942Michael Curtiz
Lawrence of Arabia1962David Lean
Seven Samurai1954Akira Kurosawa
Fantasia1940Ben Sharpsteen, Samuel Armstrong, Samuel Armstrong, James Algar, Bill Roberts, Paul Satterfield, Hamilton Luske, Jim Handley, Ford Beebe, T. Hee, Norman Ferguson, Wilfred Jackson
Easy Rider1969Dennis Hopper
2001: A Space Odyssey1968Stanley Kubrick
Blade Runner1982Ridley Scott
Spirited Away2001Hayao Miyazaki
Melancholia2011Lars von Trier


Bringing Up Baby

1938 USA

Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, and May Robson in incredible over the top comic performances that are both down-to-earth (no mugging) and hallucinatorily hilarious. The scene where Cary Grant wanders through a dining room wearing a lovely silk women's bathrobe made me almost fall out of my chair laughing. Excellent performance by the leopard (Baby) as well.


1942 USA

Still painfully passionate and painfully moving after all these years. Intense performances by Bogart and Bergman and a brilliantly dry and witty performance by Claude Rains. Probably the best movie dialogue ever: "Why did you come to Casablanca?" "I came for the waters." "But Casablanca is in the desert." "I was misinformed."

"I am shocked, shocked to find gambling going on in this casino."

Couple emigrating to America practicing their English "Liebchen, what watch?" "Ten watch, dearest." "Oh, such watch!" Waiter "You will do very well in America."

"Round up the usual suspects."

"Ricky, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."

And as an added bonus I can teach this movie in my course on the Japanese animator Miyazaki Hayao. Miyazaki's movie "Porco Rosso" was clearly inspired by Casablanca--was in Europe, mysterious trench coated sexy male lead, beautiful enigmatic woman, strong music with haunting lyrics. This movie stands the test of time and space.

Lawrence of Arabia

1962 United Kingdom

In my opinion the greatest film of the twentieth century. A stunning epic, biopic, study of a haunted and brilliant outsider, exploration of race,imperialism, cultural assimilation and appropriation, with an extraordinarily literate and memorable dialogue and and superb cinematography to conjure up a time and place that is both real and dreamlike.

I know of many people who have been exceptionally moved by this film--a Harvard professor was even inspired to write a book about his engagement with the movie.

I have seen it twelve times and each viewing is still a shattering experience.

Seven Samurai

1954 Japan

This was a really difficult choice as Kurosawa's "Rashomon" is also an amazing and unique film and one that my students seem to find particularly engaging. And then there's also Ozu whose "Tokyo Story" has inspired my students to write and phone home to tell their parents they love them! But "Seven Samurai" is so ambitious and so successful in its ambition that it seems to embody the most exciting aspects of the cinematic medium--epic sweep, not of place but of classes--from samurai to peasant to bandit to outsider-, stunning photography that recreates 16th century Japan from its beautiful heights (the flower picking scene) to its muddy depths--the last, agonizing battle. Wonderful performances, not only by Toshiro Mifune as the intense outsider who yearns to be a samurai and whom I had the honor to meet once many years ago, but also Takahashi Shimura as the canny, world weary leader, and by the fine featured Seiji Miyaguchi whom I refer to as Cool Old Guy. And with a moving, indeed shattering finale that suggests the sorrow of war both on the personal and on the historical side.


1940 USA

At the very least, the vaulting ambition and impact of this films needs to be recognized. Walt was made fun of by critics who thought his attempt to bring classical music to the masses was laughable but the movie's ability to create indelibly beautiful pieces of music and imagery working together is amazingly successful and also ground breaking. Often dreamlike, sometimes funny and at times actually seriously informative (its use of abstraction to give us a piece by Bach is both pioneering and thought-provoking). Some of the sequences are so exquisite, such as the Waltz of the Flowers (created largely by women staffers), that they are unique masterpieces in themselves.

Easy Rider

1969 USA

This was a tough decision. I wanted to choose a film that really spoke of the 1960s's and also considered "Bonny and Clyde" and "Blow-Up." I particularly liked Antonioni's sinister surrealism in "Blow-Up" and the whole weirdness of 60's London that it conjured. "Easy Rider" is not quite as violent as "Bonny and Clyde" but I actually think that the more subtle but shocking eruptions of violence are more attuned to American culture as it was changing in the 60's. In many ways "Easy Rider" is the quintessential American 60's movie and maybe beyond--road trip, motorcycles, speed, class conflict, hippies, drugs and, above all the use of poundingly appropriate rock music to take us into this fevered netherworld

2001: A Space Odyssey

1968 USA, United Kingdom

In some ways this is an almost unbelievable movie--unbelievable that it was made and unbelievable that it was made so well. Stanley Kubrick took a small, rather spare science fiction story,, "The Sentinel" by Arthur Clarke, and created an entire future world that was beautiful, plausible and and yet absolutely mind-blowing. the (sometimes satiric) little details such as the "Pan Am" logos on the attendants's shoes, the "space toilet," the richly imagined docking sequence of the space station to the tune of "The Blue Danube"-- all work to support an expansive other worldly vision of what might just be possible if humanity can hold it together long enough.

Blade Runner

1982 USA, Hong Kong

"The Pleasures of Texture" is how I remember Newsweek's headline for its less than totally enthusiastic review of "Blade Runner" when it first came out. But they were onto something. In contrast to the determined bright sterility of 2001's future world, "Blade Runner" gave us a totally lived in Los Angeles of 2019. The rain, the grime, the umbrellas, and rising above the golden ziggurats of the untouchable rich. But "Blade Runner" would have been just another "NBF" (New Bad Future") movie if it had not been for the richness of the characters and the transcendence of the dialogue.

"It's too bad she won't live! But then again, who does?" I have that on a poster that I bought at Blackwell's in Oxford only a couple of summer ago. Painfully prescient about everything from class conflict to climate change to AI, the movie is also heartbreaking, like tears in the rain.

Spirited Away

2001 Japan

This should have been an easy choice since I have written three articles and a book chapter on this movie. But I still want to point out that there are other Miyazaki movies that are each unique masterpieces in themselves. Besides Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro is perhaps the most unique--an exquisite pean to childhood, the imagination, and the transcendent beauty of the natural world that contains hints of darkness and even the shadow of death. Spirited Away also contains darkness of a kind-from intimations of greed and mortality to the decline of a culture and the loss of nature. But all this is set against one of the most sumptuous and dazzling mise en scènes ever created in cinema. This is the bathhouse of the gods where the initially timorous young heroine goes to find work in order to rescue her parents who have been cursed by a magic spell. Spirited Away is an enchanting and exciting coming of age story that can be enjoyed by all ages, but the subdued lambent melancholy of the movie's final third with its train ride into the shadows is a tour de force of what animation can do at its best.


2011 Denmark, Sweden, France, Germany, Italy

I teach this movie as the final film in my course on 'The Cinema of Apocalypse'. For some students it strikes a chord while a few find it either overwhelming or simply bewildering. In all cases, however, they appreciate the haunting beauty of its imagery, its superbly melancholy score, and its almost too appropriate relevance to our contemporary world. A meditation on depression (it's called Melancholia for a reason!) that is also a genuinely gripping science fiction tale of imminent apocalypse. The film sinks into our conscious and unconscious mind, reminding us of what we might be losing or have already lost.

Further remarks

Thanks for giving me this opportunity! I wish that I could have nominated a few other movies from my "Cinema of Apocalypse" course, most notably "Dr. Strangelove" which many students not only appreciated but also adored. One person said that she had seen it five times and it was her favorite film--and she said this in 2021!

Another Japanese film classic is "Ugetsu," an anti-war film that mixes beauty and horror with poignancy and tenderness. And I also must an animated Japanese classic--"Akira"--the groundbreaking anime that showed that animation could be violent, dystopian, elegiac and definitely not for kids (although it also has a disturbing beauty of its own in its "Metropolis"/"Blade Runner"-esque cityscapes.

Finally, on a lighter side, I can't resist mentioning Disney's 2000 "Emperor's New Groove," a deadpan but hilarious farce with David Spade, John Goodman and Eartha Kitt. Kind of hard to describe. You just have to see it.