Movies comprise an art form often dismissed by academic
eletists who somehow worship the written word. While they should
never be used to replace books ("I didn't read the book, but I
saw the movie" is NOT the same thing books contain vastly
more and different insights from movies), movies none the less
provide the viewer with a unique experience allowing for vicarious
learning and are, in many ways, similar to books in that regard.
Certain movies simply should not be missed and are nearly
essential to a well rounded education. NOT having seen many of
these movies leaves one in a position of naivety. Below are some
of those movies.
(Note: I never saw a whit of additional virtue due to a movie
being in a different language with subtitles. There are plenty of
US movies to fill the bill for the most part. However, there are a
few exceptions of note).
Forign Films not to be missed:
THE SEVEN SAMURAI 1954
Perhaps the greatest work of the famous Japanese director,
Akira Kurosawa is the masterpiece that inspired the famous
Western, The Magnificent Seven. Toshiro Mifuni's is youthfully
dynamic performance ads profound comic relief to a dynamic
and intense plot. Not to be missed. (Subtitled but worth it)
RASHOMON 1950 (this is a true "classic" to which you will
hear many references)
Arguably the most impactful of all the work of Akira Kurosawa.
Stars the brilliant Toshiro Mifuni in the first movie to portray how
each person experiences the same reality in a profoundly unique and
different way as four characters retell their story of the same rape and
murder but from dramatically different perspectives. This is THE
movie that introduced this device which has since been copied many
times over. (Subtitled but worth it)
Toshirô Mifune directed by Akira Kurosawa - a darkly comic film about
a Ronin Samurai pretending to work for merchants on both sides of a feud,
this film served as the inspiration for Clint Eastwood's A Fistful of Dollars
set in the West and again for Last Man Standing set in the 1920s starring
Bruce Willis. All three films are excellent, but the original is the best of
the three.(Subtitled but worth it)
General Films of note:
BEING THERE 1979 (Peter Sellers)
Probably no movie illustrates better the sociological phenomenon whereby
people do not react to other people and circumstances; they react to what
they tell themselves about other people and circumstances. Both funny and
poignant. One of my 100 favorite movies.
A CLOCKWORK ORANGE 1971
No longer shocking and controversial, this film stunned the
movie going public of the early '70s with its violence and behavioral
LITTLE DRUMMER GIRL 1984
Diane Keaton plays an actress recruited by Israelis to seduce a terrorist
in order to set him up to be liquidated. The movie is actually about the
impact the process has on her character. Chilling & profound, it speaks
to the fragility of the human psyche and how easily we can change who
we are. The last two or three minutes strike to the heart of the matter.
Jodie Foster portrays what scientists originally believe to be
a feral child grown to adulthood in the woods of North Carolina.
However, she actually speaks a language based on the distorted
pronunciation of English having been raised in seclusion by a mother
who has suffered a severe stroke. A story of profound innocence.
Foster deserved the Academy Award, turning in one of the best
performances ever put on film.
This is a uniquely American genre and there were many
hundreds made. Of these, a dozen or so stand out for various reasons:
THE BIG COUNTRY 1958
Loaded with some of the best actors of its time this movie is
both fun and profound. Beautifully photographed and with characters
of complexity (such as portrayed by Burl Ives and Gregory Peck), even
the monodimensional characters are intriguing (Chuck Connors
& Charlton Heston)
Texas cattleman (Rock Hudson) independent-minded wife (Elizabeth Taylor) in an intergenerational saga that spans decades. James Dean (in his last - and arguably the "weakest" performance of his mere 3 films) co-stars as the anti hero. (set well after
the traditional "cowboy" era in early 1900s Texas).
THE MISSOURI BREAKS 1976
Fabulous performances by Marlon Brando & Jack Nicholson
in a highly complex psychodrama set in the old west.
ONE EYED JACKS 1961
One of the best Marlon Brando films and there were many
Directed himself pitted against the villainous character played
by Karl Malden and the effect the love of Malden's daughter
has on him. Brillient.
Most over rated western: SHANE universally portrayed as a
"classic" - I still don't get it. What was the big deal with this movie?
If anyone can explain it to me, please let me know.
Great Classic films.
If you haven't seen these, each and every one is a real treat. Most of
them were key steps in the careers of the leading actors and/or set the
bar for their genre.
Richard Burton and Victor Mature in a story of the Romans at the
time of Christ
DIMETRIUS AND THE GLADIATORS 1954
Vector Mature as the slave become gladiator. Picks up at the
final scene of THE ROBE, and should be seen in sequence.
Stanly Kubrick directed Kirk Douglas in the title role in the
historically based events of the slave who led a rebellion that nearly brought down the Roman Empire. Makes the recent "Gladiator" film
look like a B quality film.
Kirk Douglas as the hero returning from the Trojan War.
In the only movie of the last 40 years to fall in the same
category of the great period pieces mentioned above Brad Pitt
masterfully portrays a character combined with a story line to
form a credible basis for the myth that arose from the heroic deeds
of the nearly invincible soldier of the time: Achilles. One could see
how he would go down in "history" as a man with godlike qualities
and impossible to kill except when wounded in the heal. Easily Pitt's
greatest work to date.
ROAD WARIOR - Mel Gibson's initial work - futuristic bad
dude from down under.
Multiple movies depicting his plays. Too many to list.
TOM JONES 1963
Shocking when first released, this film utilized a variety of cinemagraphic
techniques that were revolutionary and now common place (such as a fixed
camera at ground level while a number of horseback riders scamper over it).
These efects, used for the first time, teeamed with an excellent story and
acting contributed to its winning 4 oscars, including "Best Movie" of 1963.
One of the first films to show partial nudity in the modern era, it could nearly
make it on TV in the afternoon these days. Oh, and it is an interesting story
and demonstraits the traditional value placed on membership in a liniage.
LAWRENCE OF ARABIA 1962
Best Movie Oscar-winning epic tells the true-life story of warrior-poet T.E.
Lawrence (Peter O'Toole) who helped unite warring Arab tribes so they
could strike back against the Turks in World War I. Stunning visuals and
intriguing performance by O'Toole.
BECKET (1964 - historic baset fiction)
When King Henry II (brilliantly portraid by Peter O"Toole) of England has
trouble with the Church he appoints his old drinking and wenching buddy,
Thomas Becket to the post of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Quite
unexpectedly, Thomas (Masterfully portrayed by Richard Burton in one of
his strongest performances ever) begins to be tortured by conflicted alliances.
THE CLANSMAN (1918?)
This film is at once a tremendous achievement in cinemagraphic history
while simultaneously being a piece of racist propaganda of the worst sort.
When I first saw it I was amazed at the first half which was a very impressive
and historically accurate portrayal of the civil war, but was astonished as the
second half degenerated into propaganda that would establish multiple
stereotypes of African Americans so ludicrous it brought both laughter and
tears - laughter at the ridiculous portrayal of African Americans (it actually
took me a while to realize the actors with soot on their face were supposed
to be African Americans) and tears in realizing this movie set the tone for the
next 50 years in this country, shaping the opinions of millions in racist hatred
and painting the Ku Klux Klan as a patriotic movement saving the virtue of
white women and rescuing "White America" from the threat of political
power and abuse by the newly freed slaves.
When viewing this film it should be kept in mind that at the time it was
made no other film had ever run over 15 minutes - this film runs well beyond
two hours. The first half is a stunning accomplishment while the second half
would have been ludicrous slapstick at best were it not for its tragic theme.
From a Sociological perspective, the significance of this movie is staggering.
Very hard to come by, look for it on Turner Classics, KPBS or the like - perhaps
it can be rented.
GONE WITH THE WIND
This film was utterly astonishing when it came out in 1939. No other film had
ever achieved the sophistication depicted in this rendition of Margaret Mitchell's sweeping Civil War saga. This film made Clark Gable's career and set the bar
for quality. When viewing, one should keep in mind that "Talkies" had only been
around a while and color was a new phenomenon in film - yet this masterpiece
would be a stunning achievement even if it were released this year.