(1942), Michael Curtiz, US
Made in the year when the outcome of the war hung precariously in the balance,
this was, and is, popular cinema par excellence - achingly nostalgic,
clear cut, ruthlessly well plotted - and a film which has triumphantly withstood
the test of time. Bogart, the laconic club owner, and Bergman the girl he left
in Paris, and for whom he still feels tenderness and more...Who can forget Rains,
Henreid, Lorre, Greenstreet, Veidt, Dooley Wilson, Marcel Dalio and SZ Sakall;
and who will not rise (in their mind at least) for the singing of 'The Marseillaise'?
Kane (1941), d. Orson Welles, US
The most influential talkie ever, this poignant, witty account of the multifarious
contradictions in one man's life (a news tycoon based on William Randolph Hearst,
who effectively banned the movie for years) takes delirious delight in exploiting
the film medium to its full. Rewarding, too, as a prophetic autobiography by
its 25-year-old writer/director; most intriguing, however, is that there's actually
no one around to hear Kane mutter 'Rosebud,' the enigmatic word that sets the
film's search-for-meaning story going. So is everything we see and hear really
the dying man's dream?
Runner (1982), d. Ridley Scott, US
2019: a Chandlertown odyssey, adapted from Philip K. Dick's novel Do Androids
Dream of Electric Sheep?, in which Harrison Ford hunts down human robot killers,
both repulsive and seductive. A seminal sci-fi movie whose reputation has grown
since the release of the restored Director's Cut in 1991: simultaneously bleak
and glittering, with a bold and extraordinarily evocative production design.
(1958), d. Alfred Hitchcock, US
The master of suspense at his least concerned with suspense, proffering an unprecedentedly
bleak vision of human love; namely, of how we try to mold others' personalities
and looks according to our own (diseased) desires. An unsettling, dreamy tale
of irrational obsession, much loved by Hitchcock imitators - and the great
Jimmy Stewart performance.
Now (1979), d. Francis Ford Coppola, US
Orson Welles abandoned plans to film Conrad's Heart of Darkness and made Kane instead.
In the early '70s, Francis Coppola returned to the idea, with George Lucas down
to direct on location in the middle of the Vietnam conflict. Eventually, Coppola
grasped the reins himself, and the project mushroomed into this spectacular,
hallucinatory phantasmagoria of war.
Like It Hot (1959), d. Billy Wilder, US
The greatest farce from the talkies' most consistently funny and biting film-maker.
Anyone who would argue with that should submit themselves to this glorious transvestite
chase movie in which edgy jazz musicians Lemmon and Curtis witness the St. Valentine's
Day Massacre, join an all-women band, are troubled by romance, both available
and simultaneously impossible, and find dime-flipping George Raft and his heavies
breathing ominously down their necks.. and not forgetting Marilyn and her heart-stopping
Driver (1976), d. Martin Scorsese, US
The best alien movie ever made? De Niro's space capsule is a checker cab, while
New York at night is on the outer limits of another world. This remains a profoundly
troubling essay on violence and insanity; its images burn in the mind, twenty
years on, and will probably still burn twenty years hence when most of the extreme,
mocking mayhem of the cinema of the 90's is long forgotten. For the cinephile,
De Niro's Travis Bickle subconsciously informs all the great actor's subsequent
performances: there is the spring, waiting to uncoil...
A Space Odyssey (1968), d. Stanley Kubrick, US
Still triumphantly - exasperatingly - the most spectacular and magisterial space
movie of all time. Just what it means (from the prehistoric ape tossing up a
bone, through the black monolith, to the vast human fetus) is unclear. Here,
however, is the lurking, unambiguous danger of the rogue computer: a prophetic
warning - as we await the effect of the millenium bug - more than thirty years
before the event.
A Wonderful Life (1946), d. Frank Capra, US
Never was divine intervention so urgently needed as on the Christmas night James
Stewart - personifying a man who judged himself a failure - stood on the ledge
of a snowy bridge and contemplated suicide. A film designed to grab your cockles
and warm them till they smoulder.
(11) GoodFellas (1990), d. Martin
Another Mob picture: De Niro and Scorsese again, both in top form. Liotta, eyes
on fire, is the unblooded youngster who aspires to be a big time 'family' member.
A fast, violent, stylish portrait of the Italian American underworld from the
mid- '50s to the late '70s. Screen murder has rarely been committed with such
cocky assurance, or contemplated with such sang froid.
By Northwest (1959), d. Alfred Hitchcock, US
'What's the O for?' 'Nothing,' replies Cary Grant's Roger O Thornhill, revealing
the redemptive moral strain that underlies this admirably light-hearted romantic
thriller. It's not just magnificent set-pieces (most notably the attack by a
crop-duster's plane and the chase on Mt. Rushmore), but a sly, witty satire on
the shallow ethics of modern advertising man.
Fiction (1994), d. Quentin Tarantino, US
The most recent film in the top fifteen had, inevitably, to be a Tarantino movie
- just as, had this poll been conducted in the '60s, it would have had to be
a cutting-edge Godard. Three up-to-the-minute stories, full of effing and blinding
and pop cultural references, and lashings of Grand Guignol violence (and more),
executed with that breezy, exhilarating confidence which says look at me - and
(14) Seven Samurai (1954), d. Akira Kurosawa, Jap
An epic Western in eastern garb, with a genuinely Homeric sense of character,
nature and physicality, plagiarized to far less effect by The Magnificent
Seven. Kurosawa himself, of course, meant it partly as a tribute to Ford,
though Jack probably never filmed action - let alone mud and rain - quite so
well. Even Mifune, as unrestrained energy incarnate, is overshadowed by Takashi
Shimura's paragon of threatened, ancient wisdom.
Third Man (1949), d. Carol Reed, GB
Dang-gadang-gadang...and Welles' Lime is less than cordial. Pulp writer Cotten
chases the shadow of his old friend, now gone to the bad, through a devastated
Vienna still shell-shocked by the war. This cool, perfect adaptation of Grahame
Greene's novel is photographed in black and white by Robert Krasker: the ferris
wheel, the boy with a ball, the kitten and the polished shoes, the fingers through
of Arabia (1962), d. David Lean, GB
Much admired by the likes of Spielberg for its sumptuous desert imagery and its
slick editing (the match and the sun), and more recently for its romanticized
view of its enigmatic hero. The rot, probably, set in here for Lean, but there's
no denying its visual elegance or its vaunting ambition.
Bull (1980), d. Martin Scorsese, US
Often lauded as the finest movie of the '80s, this biopic of boxing champ Jake
La Motta is less about physical violence in the ring (though that's depicted,
in stunning monochrome, with superbly visceral energy) than about the emotional
violence of marital and family relationships, particularly as perpetrated by
brute, inarticulate males.
With The Wind (1939), d. Victor Fleming, US
Scarlett O'Hara's getting of wisdom. What more can be said about this much loved,
much discussed, legendary blockbuster from Margaret Mitchell's novel. It epitomizes
pre-war Hollywood at its most ambitious: respectable middlebrow entertainment
on a huge polished platter. Acted to the hilt by all concerned, spectacular and
then some, an evergreen classic. The tears flow on cue, every time.
(19) A Matter of Life and Death (aka Stairway to Heaven) (1946),
d. Michael Powell/Emeric Pressburger, GB
Though partly a propaganda piece aimed at improving Anglo-American relations,
this beautifully bizarre romantic fantasy, in which love conquers death at a
celestial court, is also a cheeky display of Powell and Pressburger's contempt
for the grim homilies of the British 'documentary boys'. The second Bill and
Ted movie may have paid dubious homage to the Stairway to Heaven, but this really
is absurd material made utterly enthralling by wit and endless invention.
List (1993), d. Steven Spielberg, US
Spielberg's most grown-up film, a noble account - photographed in grainy black
and white, and not sparing the viewer from matter-of-fact horrors - of the wartime
work of Oskar Schindler, the ambiguous, unknowable man who saved the lives of
1,100 Polish Jews by employing them in his factory. A Hollywood film, of course,
for both good (marvelously edited, effortlessly well acted) and bad (sentimentality
creeps in at the end), but one made with unassailable conviction.
Window (1954), d. Alfred Hitchcock, US
Masterly voyeuristic thriller with James Stewart as the man who sees too much.
Searchers (1956), d. John Ford, US
The pioneer spirit gives way to the demands of family, community, and civilization.
(23) Les Enfants du Paradis (Children of Paradise) (1945), d.
Marcel Carne, Fr
France's answer to the Occupation: a tribute to the life of the mind and the
sovereignty of the heart.
(1974), d. Roman Polanski, US
Nicholson inhabits the skin of down-at-heel private eye Jake Gittes in this silky film
(25) Manhattan (1979), d. Woody Allen, US
Allen's relaxed, uncomplicated, rhapsodic love affair with New York.