These days, I see so many people (myself including) labelling films ‘must-sees.’ Exactly what does this mean, and how does a film qualify to be a ‘must-see.’ I think it’s a useful label, but it is becoming overused and it is losing its value. Everyone has their own opinion of what films they consider to be ‘must-sees,’ and that opinion always varies. So after careful consideration, I have decided to compile a list of ten films that I believe the general public would all agree are vital viewing for people hoping to understand and appreciate cinema. There are no personal tastes involved here; these are just important, influential films that all cinemagoers must-see, and it’s as simple as that. The films are, in chronological order:
The Birth of a Nation (1915)
D.W. Griffith’s morally flawed masterpiece is still, nevertheless, a masterpiece, and an important film that must be seen. It’s very difficult to rationalise why this is a great movie, especially because of its blinding racism, but I think the best paper I’ve ever read on the film was written by Roger Ebert, and if you plan to see this, which I suggest you should, I recommend you read his review first.
The Battleship Potemkin (1925)
Sergei Eisenstein was a hell of a filmmaker, and The Battleship Potemkin is by far and away his best film. It was also revolutionary: it is legendary for its use of montage as a means of making the film seem more threatening, and making the audience feel emotion without knowing it is a director who is making them feel this way. In every way, The Battleship Potemkin is a must-see masterpiece.
Un Chien Andalou (1929)
The shortest film on this list, at a whopping sixteen minutes, is Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali’s experiment, a short surrealist adventure which was a harbinger of Bunuel’s career ahead, which was set to get even freakier. Such memorable images as a razorblade slicing an eyeball and ants crawling out of a hand have made their way into the history books as among cinema’s most memorable images, and in ways still difficult to comprehend, they have had a lasting effect on film.
Citizen Kane (1941)
Though it is ludicrous to give any single film the title of “Greatest Film of All Time,” AFI have nevertheless consistently branded Citizen Kane with that title. And indeed, it is worthy of such a grand award. Fantastic camera angles that you won’t notice the first time round but become apparent after rewatches help prove the film’s technical brilliance, and an engaging plot with superb acting performances only enrich its beauty.
Sunset Blvd. (1950)
Billy Wilder is easily one of the best American directors who has ever lived, working in a range of different genres, from the heavily dark and horrific to the tremendously light and fun. Sunset Blvd. is somewhat in between, leaning toward the sadder side. It is a blindingly brilliant portrait of what Hollywood can do to its naive stars, one minute rewarding them with fame and then cruelly snatching it away (a theme which David Lynch would examine in more depth with Mulholland Drive).
Night and Fog (1955)
The second and last short film on this list, Alain Resnais’s Night and Fog is, with very little argument, the best documentary ever made about anything. In thirty minutes Resnais manages to examine the process which saw Jews administered to the concentration camps, forced to work and then quickly snuffed out in brutal gas chambers. While not as powerful as films such as Shoah released years afterwards, Night and Fog is still deservingly the best film to tackle the subject.
Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo is easily one of the best films to deal with the subject of mental sickness and paranoia and how it can affect a person’s sanity. It starts out as a mystery, but soon becomes more detailed and complex, leading up to the film’s brilliant ending. It is definitely Hitchcock’s masterpiece.
8 1/2 (1963)
Federico Fellini was one of the most delightful filmmakers who has ever existed. Perhaps his most colourful film is the black-and-white 8 1/2, a beautiful journey through the mind of a struggling filmmaker, who is collapsing with exhaustion while working on his next film, and decides to use his time to reflect on his childhood memories and use his imagination as inspiration, with unexpected results. A fantastic, musical film that is a magnificent example of Fellini’s talent.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
All films of its genre both before and after it pale in comparison to Stanley Kubrick’s sci-fi masterpiece 2001. Stunningly shot with an unforgettable soundtrack and transcendant visuals that have stood the test of time, 2001 is a film which grabs the viewer and takes them on a wonderful, magical experience dealing with such subjects as the future of the human race and even the meaning of life without becoming preachy or pretentious.
The Godfather (1972)
Many of Coppola’s films have been plagued with issues during production, The Godfather included, but more often than not the finished products have turned out to be brilliant accomplishments. The Godfather has gone down in history as a masterpiece, and it is nothing short of that: an influential, powerful portrait of a crime family’s transition into the drug trade.
There. That’s my list of ten absolute must-see movies. It was difficult to make the cut, but I am confident that this is as good a list as I can write. I’ve recommended movies to readers before, but these are ten I am fully confident that you need to see, if you haven’t. I can’t guarantee you will like them, but they will definitely help you to appreciate cinema even more. So how many have you seen? Leave a comment below.