Recently, I’ve been re-watching some of the foundational films in my life; the films that first made me interested in the cinema, the film’s that first revealed to me the power that cinema can possess when care, attention, passion and experimentation were present in the minds that made them.
I’ve changed around, added, and redacted a number of films since the last time I wrote about my top 10. And so, here’s a list of my current favourites, along with a small description of why I love each so much.
If you have seen any of these films, disagree with me, or notice any patten in my list, leave a comment, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear from you.
10. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)
I consider Murnau’s film the pinnacle of silent filmmaking. Every technique that made the silent era in cinema so special is perfected in this film. It’s narrative is harsh at times, featuring a man who attempts to murder the love of his life. But, the film is also full of forgiveness, understanding, and human spirit, which dominate the core of this beautiful film, even at its most unforgiving moments.
9. The Double Life of Véronique
Kieślowski has always been one of my absolute favourite filmmakers. His films often stray into the realms of filmic poetry, inviting the viewer to consider the power of unexplainable feelings; deep emotions that simply cannot be put into words, yet remain an ever-present and foundational part of each and every life on this planet. The film explores the interconnectivity of all things, the ways in which we relate to others, and the things/people we use in order to explore our place in the universe. These themes, of course, sound lofty when spoken about. But when Kieślowski uses the power of cinema to explore these ideas, cinematic magic happens.
Godard showed me the potential of what cinema could be. With Contempt, Godard’s filmmaking is as considered and condense as it would get in his early period while still maintaining the activist spirit of his youthful and energetic rebellion. Contempt is a film that’s aware of cinema’s own history; the film cries at what it views as the death of cinema, or at least, the death of a golden cinematic era.
Above all, the film is deeply melancholic, at times possessing an almost ghostly beauty that transcends temporal relativity, floating within a filmic mist that only few films will ever achieve.
7. Ali: Fear Eats the Soul
Fassbinder is a hugely powerful filmmaker, and with Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, he says so much, by saying so little. So much of this film is told in looks, stares, glances, and pauses. The awkwardness and uncaring nature of almost every person in this film is powerfully eroded by the soul, heartache, and vulnerability of its two protagonists.
The film presents a forbidden love, the straining effects of social pressure, and the primal fear of being lonely, all wrapped up within a beautifully constructed and considered filmic phenomenon.
6. Cléo from 5 to 7
The film depicts, in real time, the anxiety and mental anguish of waiting for what could be a test result that turns your entire life upside-down. In these moments, we begin to question our entire lives; what has been, what is, and what will become. When we fear the potential end, the journey suddenly reveals it’s true meaning. Cléo from 5 to 7 powerfully highlights one woman’s fear of the unknown, her reflection of the world around her, and her valiant attempts to find meaning in what seems a hopeless situation.
5. The Night of the Hunter
The only film directed by the genius Charles Laughton, The Night of the Hunter is home to some of the most beautiful cinematography ever committed to celluloid. Largely influenced by early examples of German expressionism, the film combines the visual styles of American continuity cinema and the silent era, creating a quietly epic fairytale with adventure, thrill, and excitement, while also harbouring everything that makes the cinema the wonderful visual art-form it is and always shall be.
4. The Passion of Joan of Arc
Over the years, I’ve written and said so much about this film. I remember my first time viewing Dreyer’s film, I simply couldn’t believe what I was seeing; the film was silent, but it felt like it was centuries ahead of its time.
To this day, I’ve never seen a film that looks or feels quite like The Passion of Joan of Arc. Setting aside its massively powerful emotional qualities and visual interconnections to the human face, the film also works as a moving masterful work of art; each frame possessing the eye of a truly genius filmmaker with a truly and uniquely groundbreaking sensibility.
3. The Gold Rush
Chaplin’s masterpiece was not only the first silent film I ever saw, but also took the place of my favourite film for several years. The film is still close to my heart; it is of course sidesplittingly funny in the silliest of ways.
But The Gold Rush is also a vital film within the virtues of cinematic storytelling, mixing the fundamental narrative elements of comedy and tragedy in a masterful and deeply moving way. The film centres on a lonely and lost character with little to his name in the world; yet, as with all great Chaplin work, the comedic shines through, humbling even the most troubling of tragic situations.
I recently wrote an article explaining why I relate so much to this wonderfully expressive film. Daisies is 100% uncompromising, it knows and understands what might turn away general audiences from viewing the film, but it doesn’t care, instead doubling down on all that puts the film within a cinematic category entirely by itself. The film is deeply creative, using cinematography and editing in ways that other films could only dream of doing.
Chytilová constructs the film with activism in mind, yet does so without intimidation; the film is an effective cartoonish rebellion that politely asks of you to poke fun of the forced tropes of constructed society, and have fun while doing it.
1. The Cranes Are Flying
It’s quite rare that I cry at the cinema, it does happen, but it takes a certain kind of moment; a moment that takes aim and strikes right at the heart of what I feel makes me human. Here comes a huge statement by me – the ending scene of The Cranes Are Flying is absolutely the pinnacle of cinematic history. The film made me so tearful upon my first viewing that I started to wonder if there was something wrong with me. Upon my second viewing, the exact same thing happened again.
By the film’s end, I felt so close to the film’s characters and world that the events felt as though they had happened to me personally, which is an extremely powerful thing for a film to convince you of. The words ‘beautiful’, ‘tragic’, ‘magical’, ‘transcendent’, and ‘mesmerising’ go some way to explaining the effect of Kalatozov’s film, but in the end, the only way to truly explain how astronomical this masterpiece is are the tears on my face, the ache in my heart, and the smile on my face as I experience its majesty.