80. The Deer Hunter (1978) Dir. Michael Cimino, 182 mins.
A little too indulgent and rather heavy on the symbolism, The Deer Hunter, co-written and directed by Mchael Cimino, is set in 1968 and follows a trio of Russian American steelworkers from Pennsylvania whose lives are changed forever after they fight in the Vietnam War. While it’s deemed far too depressing by some and caused considerable controversy for its depiction of the North Vietnamese as cruel sadists, Cimino mixes gritty realism with stylized visuals to create some truly harrowing and arresting sequences. Despite its supposed flaws, the film is also notable for how the talented Cimino manages to get under the skin of working class small town America. More…
79. City Lights (1931) Dir. Charles Chaplin, 87 mins.
The story follows the misadventures of Chaplin’s Tramp as he falls in love with a blind girl (Virginia Cherrill) and develops a turbulent friendship with an alcoholic millionaire (Harry Myers). Watch
78. The Dark Knight (2008) Dir. Christopher Nolan, 152 mins.
The second of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, that redefined the comic book movie, sees Batman (Christian Bale) joining forces with Police Lieutenant James Gordon (Gary Oldman) and District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) to combat a new criminal threat from the sinister Joker (Heath Ledger), a criminal mastermind who seeks to undermine the caped crusader and cause chaos in the city of Gotham. Influenced more by crime dramas, such as Michael Mann’s Heat, rather than superhero movies of the past, the film features a terrific ensemble cast and a particularly outstanding performance by Ledger (who sadly died of a drugs overdose just months after filming was completed and won a posthumous Academy Award). While there are hugely entertaining and technically impressive action sequences, its the bold narrative, complex characterisation and stunning visual work that moves the film far beyond its comic book origins into the darker territory of haunting, tragic and sometimes even poetic art. More…
77. Pather Panchali (1955) Dir. Satyajit Ray, 122 mins.
The first film in the Apu trilogy, Pather Panchali depicts the childhood of the protagonist Apu (Subir Banerjee) and his elder sister Durga (Uma Dasgupta) and the harsh village life of their poor family. Watch
76. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) Dir. Milos Forman, 133 mins.
Based on the 1962 novel of the same name by Ken Kesey, the film follows Randle Patrick McMurphy (Jack Nicholson), a petty criminal serving a short sentence for statutory rape, who is transferred to a mental institution after faking insanity to avoid prison hard labour. Brought to life by an outstanding ensemble cast, led by an energized Nicholson (who improvised throughout) and Louise Fletcher’s notable turn as his nemesis, the domineering nurse Ratched, the film provides a powerful portrait of the oppressive nature of such draconian institutions. It’s maybe dated from a moral point of view and treads a fine line between comedy and tragedy, but the film remains one of the strongest examples of New American cinema and was only the second film to win all five major Academy Awards (Best Picture, Actor in Lead Role, Actress in Lead Role, Director, and Screenplay). More…
75. Man With a Movie Camera (1929) Dir. Dziga Vertov, 68 mins.
Vertov’s filmic manifesto, produced by the studio VUFKU, presents a utopian image of urban life in the Soviet cities of Kiev, Kharkov, Moscow and Odessa. Vertov proclaimed the film an experiment, and it is made without actors, intertitles, a script or sets, showing from dawn to dusk, Soviet citizens at work and at play, and interacting with the machinery of modern life. A tour de force in theoretical cinema, the film is only a documentary by material and more a summary of the themes of the ‘kinoki’ movement, the image of the worker perfect as the machine and that of the filmmaker as socially as useful as the factory worker. The culmination of a decade of audacious and controversial work in non fiction filmmaking for Vertov, The Man With the Movie Camera is one of the of the most unusual works in cinema history and was seen as hopelessly out of date on release thanks to its utopian ideals around city living, but for those with an open mind to different filmmaking techniques it can be a memorable viewing experience. For all the criticism and its avant-garde ambitions, it is one of the few silent films that strongly conveys a sense of everyday life in Soviet Russia. More…
74. Gladiator (2000) Dir. Ridley Scott, 155 mins.
Having redefined a number of genres (Horror – Alien, Sci-fi – Blade Runner and the road movie – Thelma and Louise) Ridley Scott turned his hand to reinvigorating the sword and sandal epic with a partial remake of 1964s The Fall of the Roman Empire. Russell Crowe stars as Hispano-Roman general Maximus Decimus Meridius, who is betrayed when Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix), the ambitious son of Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris), murders his father and seizes the throne. Reduced to slavery, Maximus rises through the ranks of the gladiatorial arena to avenge the murders of his family and his emperor. Scott used the latest in computer-generated imagery to deliver a technical masterclass (particularly the visceral battle sequence in Germania) which not only won 5 Oscars but also helped rekindled interest in Roman and classical history. Among an excellent cast are terrific swansongs for Harris and Oliver Reed (who passed away before filming was complete). The level of violence and the historical anachronisms will annoy some but the striking imagery, Crowe’s powerful but yet soulful performance and a superb soundtrack from Hans Zimmer make Gladiator a monumental and thrillingly entertaining epic. More…
73. M (1931) Dir. Fritz Lang, 111 mins.
Fritz Lang’s first talkie, which was shot in just six weeks, is set in 1930’s Berlin and revolves around the actions of a serial killer (Peter Lorre), who preys on children. As mass hysteria mounts among the public, a manhunt begins, conducted by both the police and the criminal underworld. Propelled by Lorre’s career best performance (that caused an international sensation) and the fresh use of shadowy imagery and sound, M is both a high point in German expressionism and a huge influence on what would later be called film noir. It’s a visionary masterpiece that even ninety years on still has the power to astound first time viewers. More…
72. Miller’s Crossing (1990) Dir. Joel & Ethan Coen, 120 mins.
The plot concerns a power struggle between two rival gangs (led by Albert Finney and Jon Polito) and how the protagonist, Tom Reagan (Gabriel Byrne), plays both sides off against each other. Watch
71. Late Spring (1949) Dir. Yasujiro Ozu, 108 mins.
Chisu Ryu plays a middle-class widower with a marriageable daughter. Not wishing to see the girl resign herself to spinsterhood, Ryu pretends that he himself is about to be married. The game plan is to convince the daughter that they’ll be no room for her at home, thus forcing her to seek comfort and joy elsewhere. Watch
70. The Red Shoes (1948) Dir. Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger, 133 mins.
The film is about a ballerina who joins an established ballet company and becomes the lead dancer in a new ballet called The Red Shoes, itself based on the fairy tale “The Red Shoes” by Hans Christian Andersen.
69. Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974) Dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 94 mins.
The film revolves around an unlikely relationship which develops between an elderly woman and a Moroccan migrant worker in post-war Germany. Watch
68. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) Dir. Peter Jackson, 178 mins.
Before he got too carried away with CGI, New Zealander Peter Jackson got the balance just right in the first of his epic fantasy trilogy set in Tolkien’s Middle-earth. The film tells of the Dark Lord Sauron, who is seeking the One Ring, but its found its way to the young hobbit Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood). To defeat Sauron, Frodo must leave his simple life in the shire and join a quest with a fellowship that includes the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen), his faithful friend Sam (Sean Astin) and the mysterious Strider (Viggo Mortenson). Remarkably well crafted and imagined, Jackson and his team create a visually rich mythical universe that’s on a scale that seemed impossible only a few years earlier. The film’s grandeur is enhanced by the sort of powerful emotional intensity and complex characterisation that is perhaps lost behind the ever growing story strands and huge effects in the follow up films. More…
67. Solaris (1972) Dir. Andrei Tarkovsky, 169 mins.
The film is a meditative psychological drama occurring mostly aboard a space station orbiting the fictional planet Solaris. The scientific mission has stalled because the skeleton crew of three scientists have fallen into separate emotional crises. Psychologist Kris Kelvin travels to the Solaris space station to evaluate the situation only to encounter the same mysterious phenomena as the others.
66. Schindler’s List (1993) Dir. Steven Spielberg, 195 mins.
The film that finally earned Spielberg an Academy Award for best director, follows Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson), a German entrepreneur, who, during the Holocaust, finds himself developing a moral conscience while running an operation to supply the Nazi war effort. This leads to him unexpectedly saving the lives of more than a thousand mostly Polish-Jewish refugees. The film features stunning black and white photography, an emotive score and an almost unbearably brutal realism. Although accused by some as turning one of the most horrific episodes in human history into entertainment, the film also brought commercial titan Spielberg huge critical recognition and perhaps even helped to reconcile the long struggle between Hollywood’s artistic and moral aspirations and the need for box office success. It’s also notable for the tremendous and charismatic performance of Neeson that’s maybe even bettered by Ralph Fiennes’s chilling portrayal of the inhuman German camp commandant, Amon Goeth. More…
65. Casablanca (1942) Dir. Michael Curtiz, 102 mins.
Set during World War II, it focuses on Rick (Humphrey Bogart), a mysterious embittered man leading a lone existence who is confronted by his lost love, Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) and finds his priorities starting to change. He becomes torn between his love for Ilsa and helping her and her Czech Resistance leader husband escape the Vichy-controlled Moroccan city. While Bogart, with his sardonic style and ambiguous screen image, is very much the hero of the piece, the film was Swedish actress Bergman’s first major Hollywood success and she provides probably her most memorable performance. The sustained close ups of her face, that show her striking beauty and fundamental nobility, explain what the narrative cannot, that she is virtuous in a way that the cynical Rick had not previously considered. An unlikely adaptation of a play never made, the production struggled through frequent script changes and an unknown ending until it was time to shoot the final scenes. Yet, by utilising familiar patterns in Hollywood narrative, an all-star supporting cast of European performers and the two compelling leads, Casablanca became the most popular of World War II movies and a romantically poignant classic. Watch
64. Spirited Away (2001) Dir. Hayao Miyazaki, 125 mins.
The film follows a sullen ten-year-old girl who is in the process of moving to a new town, and chronicles her adventures in a world of spirits and monsters. Buy
63. The Night of the Hunter (1955) Dir. Charles Laughton, 92 mins.
The plot focuses on a corrupt minister-turned-serial killer (Robert Mitchum) who attempts to charm an unsuspecting widow and steal $10,000 hidden by her executed husband. Watch
62. Sunset Blvd. (1950) Dir. Billy Wilder, 110 mins.
Nominated for 11 Academy Awards (including nominations in all four acting categories), the film stars William Holden as a naive and unsuccessful screenwriter and Gloria Swanson as a faded movie star who draws him into her demented fantasy world, in which she dreams of making a return to the screen. While transcending film noir tropes and featuring notable appearances from Erich von Stroheim and Cecil B. DeMille (playing himself), it’s Swanson’s legendary unsettling performance that propels Wilder’s deliciously cynical and melodramatic black comedy to greatness. Still probably the best critique of the inner workings of Hollywood and the destructive melancholy that comes with been trapped in the past. More…
61. Ikiru (1952) Dir. Akira Kurosawa, 143 mins.
The film examines the struggles of a terminally ill Tokyo bureaucrat and his final quest for meaning. Watch