These are the top ten films that are dear to me. I believe they truly express the essence of human life and emotion on film.
*Warning, spoilers on the movies if you haven’t already seen them! (i hope you have)
1. 8 1/2 – Fellini couldn’t think of a film to make, so he made a film about a director who had trouble making a film. Once again, he used all real semi-autobiographical material for the movie. The main character, “Guido” played by Mario Mastroianni realizes in the end of the film that his emptiness and inability to love were his biggest faults in life. He searches for the meaning of life, but finds nothing, and realizes the true meaning of life in the end of the movie. For what that truly is, you can decide yourself.
2. The 400 Blows (To Raise Hell) – Francois Truffaut’s feature film debut reflects his own isolated, lonely childhood. The main character “Antoine” played by Jean-Pierre Leaud struggles in school while his home life suffers even more. He runs away from home, steals typewriters, and skips school. He’s pushed by the urge to be loved and to love others, but his parents never return the love. Finally he gets sent away to a juvenile boys camp to get observed, but he escapes during a recess and runs as fast as he can towards the ocean (where he’s never been). The ending scene leaves Antoine Doinel’s fate uncertain.
3. Vertigo – The kingpin of mystery suspense thrillers by Alfred Hitchcock. So beautifully and masterfully directed it leaves the audience in awe. James Stewart plays “Scottie Ferguson”, a retired police detective scarred emotionally by the death of his partner, which leaves his with a terrifying fear of heights. Scottie soon gets approached by a man who believes his wife is going insane. He at first declines the offer of the man to “spy” on her and observe her, but then he accepts. He starts following the trail and uncovers mystery after mystery only to fall on the brink of insanity himself. This film reflects Hitchcocks obsession with beautiful blonde haired women and his desire to control them. It’s a visual masterpiece and the score by Bernard Hermann is absolutely haunting. Kim Novak gives a performance that will send chills down your spine.
4. La Strada – Few films make me stop and say, “WOW” at the end of them. (La Strada) is one of them. This is another masterpiece by Fellini in which his wife Giulietta Masina plays a poor, ignorant girl who is sold to Circusman Zampano (Anthony Quinn) for little money. Zampano proceeds to abuse her (sexually and mentally) and cheats on her. They run into fellow Circusman The Fool (Richard Basehart) who constantly tricks, toys, and messes with Zampano. Gelsomina (Giulietta Masina) finally leaves Zampano but he soon finds her. The Fool then warns her to stay with Zampano, as he is a poor lonely soul. Zampano runs into the fool again, but this time, in a rage, he kills him. This emotionally scars Gelsomina for good, and puts her into a depression. She doesn’t want to do anything and keeps going on about the fool. Zampano ditches her and she wanders off, eventually going insane, getting sick and dying. Zampano is reminded of his only chance in his only life of true love. The chance that he gave up and would never have again. Zampano being lonely, scared, and old this film ends in a beach with one of the most powerful climaxes ever made in film. Nino Rota’s score to the movie is perfect. Scorsese said he based the character of Jake Lamotta in “Raging Bull” from the character of Zampano.
5. Taxi Driver – It’s hard to talk about a powerful film without mentioning “Taxi Driver”. Paul Schrader wrote the screenplay for “Taxi Driver” in five days with a loaded gun next to him. Robert De Niro took a job as a taxi driver for a month to prepare for the role of “Travis Bickle”. And the result was a masterpiece. It’s about Travis Bickle, a man plagued by the tragic fate of lonliness. Bickle is a desperate man searching for a meaning in his life. Home from Vietnam, Travis gets a job working 70+ hours a week as a taxi driver. He meets the beautiful Betsy (Cybill Shepherd), yet scares her off with his eccentricities. He then realizes he wants to “Clean up all of the scum off of the street”, so he buys some guns from traveling salesman “Easy Andy” and undergoes a physical and mental change. In the film, Travis almost ends up shooting a presidential candidate. Instead he decides to rescue 12 year old hooker Iris (Jodie Foster) from evil pimp Sport (Harvey Keitel). The film ends with a dramatic shootout scene, turning Travis Bickle into a hero. De Niro actually made up the entire famous “You talkin’ to me” scene by himself. It was taught to him as an acting exercise to repeat the same phrase over and over in different tones. Bernard Hermann’s score is legendary, and the last one he made before his death (he never lived to see Taxi Driver).
6. The Conformist – “In the mirror I see myself, and compared to everyone else, I feel I’m different.” The Conformist is a tragic story about a facist working for the government who is ordered to kill his own former mentor and old professor. It’s about Marcello Clerici (Jean-Louis Trintignant). A man who wishes to conform and be like everyone else even though he thinks he’s different. Clerici is scarred by a traumatic sexual experience that occurred during his childhood. That experience changed the young boy who was alienated by society by his family’s wealth, for life.With brilliant lighting and cinematography by Vittorio Storaro, your jaw will drop.
7. Ikiru – Few movies have the same emotional impact as “Ikiru” does. It’s a film about an old widowed man who has lived a cold heartless life. Suddenly, Kanji Watanbe (Takashi Shimura) finds himself with a bad case of stomach cancer. He doesn’t have much time to live, and finds himself searching for the meaning for life and his purpose. He finally “truly lives” when he dedicates his life to achieving one great thing. To turn a mosquito-infested cesspool into a children’s playground. As he dies, his former co-workers try and figure out what made him change. “Ikiru” is a truly moving experience.
8. Synecdoche, New York – Synechdoche is a film written and directed by writer/director Charlie Kaufman (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). It deals with many issues, such as fear, death, and self-realization. Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) creates a play within a play based on his life. He hires actors to play his friends and they act it all out trying to create his perfect play. Caden finally has to face his death, and throughout the movie he learns how valuable and short life is.
9. Apocalypse Now – A visual masterpiece made by Francis Ford Coppola. Benjamin L. Willard, (Martin Sheen) is a veteran officer who is given a task by two intelligence officers to journey up to the Nung river in a remote Cambodian jungle to locate and terminate a former U.S. army special forces agent Colonel Walter E. Kurtz (Marlin Brando). Vittorio Storaro again handles the cinematography, and Brando delivers a striking performance with a bone chilling monologue at the end of the film.
10. Persona – With only five actors/actresses in the film and one of the main characters saying only fourteen words during the movie, Bergman made something brilliant. Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann deliver timeless performances. A nurse is asked to take care of a theater actress who has recently became a mute due to an unknown tragic experience. As the film goes on, we learn that the nurse is more mentally sick than the actress is. This surreal masterpiece will surely keep you guessing. And I’m quite sure you won’t be able to figure it out. Hell, I’m sure Bergman couldn’t even figure it out himself.