I shared a top 10 movies list on Facebook today, so here’s my thinking behind the choices:
1. Persona (Ingmar Bergman. 1967)
At first glance, Persona can seem like the most pretentious movie ever created, but it actually holds even more depth below the surface than the pyrotechnics would lead you to believe. It keeps screaming at you — this is just a movie. It’s not. The second act of this movie is one of the most powerful pieces of art I’ve ever experienced, so affecting that it requires a less emotionally charged, almost conventional third act to keep the movie from veering uncontrollably. I’m going to have to write a separate piece later on Persona’s second act and the powerful insights Bergman shares about human consciousness.
2. Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1957)
Nearly Persona’s equal in psychological depth and a movie that never lets up until the final credits. I wrote about it a bit on the site yesterday and can probably keep going for awhile. I look forward to suffering with it again.
3. La Strada (Federico Fellini, 1954)
Giulietta Masina creates the most memorable character in film and all of Fellini’s obsessions explode at once. It’s heartbreaking to experience the movie and no description can capture its dark humanity.
4. Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976)
I’m not sure I have anything left to say about this film, other than you can partially recreate it in your own life by playing Bernard Hermann’s soundtrack as you go about your day. I emphatically do not recommend this.
5. Ikiru (Akiro Kurosawa, 1952)
Persona and 2001: A Space Odyssey are twins in this list, drawing the same dark conclusion about humanity’s drive towards cruelty to each other, especially those we love most. Ikiru is the humanist antidote to their pessimism (glossed over both times with hard-to-accept Nietzschean conclusions.) Kurosawa doesn’t believe in a new man or great redemption, he sees hope for humanity in simple acts of love that break through cynicism and heartbreak.
6. The Rules of the Game (Jean Renoir, 1939)
Movies are supposed to be terrible at subtext. Renoir somehow created a great one that is all subtext. You spend the first 30 minutes or so thinking you’re watching a comedy of manners about the French upper class. Only when they arrive at the scene of a hunt and Renoir shows us in painful detail the small animals suffering for their amusement that you start to understand that all the romantic trivialities in the movie are beside the point. The real story is a decadent culture leading humanity off a cliff.
7. The Godfather Parts 1 & 2 (Francis Coppola, 72,74)
I have nothing meaningful to add. The movies are great and we all know it.
8. Notorious (Hitchcock, 1946)
I could say a lot about this movie and maybe will elsewhere, but I have to wax about Ingrid Bergman here. Whenever she enters the frame in any film, I get this primal desire to protect her. I don’t know from what or why, but the feeling is unmistakable. She brings this quality while giving distinct, believable characterizations — no two Bergman characters are alike. And she even carries this quality into her more matronly roles in the 1970s. Isabella Rossellini inherited this trait to an extent, making some scenes in Blue Velvet almost impossible to bear.
9. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)
I will probably return to this movie when discussing Persona, I just want to add something here — humanity’s instinct for cruelty is so ingrained that the only way we could create a genuine, believable, workable A.I. was to include this trait. It’s a remarkable insight at the heart of this movie.
10. Do the Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989)
The most democratic movie ever made. Every character is given an equal voice and point of view. Lee casts judgment on no one and even gives the police their humanity. The movie becomes tragic because we get to know and love this community and the diverse humans making their way in it. But it ends on a faint hope that we can survive tragedies and maybe even rise above them.