1) Seven Samurai / Ran
Honestly, I would probably pair more Kurosawa films along with these two (especially High and Low, Ikiru, and Yojimbo), but these are the two which I feel most personally endeared to. I can watch Seven Samurai endlessly. To me it nearly reaches perfection in every aspect of its construction as a film - script, camera work, editing, pacing, acting, etc. Ran is paced more slowly, but its effect by the last few shots is completely overwhelming. The totality of its emotional force never fails to affect me. Not to mention the color. Oh, the color!
2) 8 1/2
This film is filled with a feeling of surrender - to dreams, fantasies, memories, confessions, desires - that is intoxicating. Guido is charming to the point of forgiveness for all of his shortcomings, and every time I watch this movie I feel like joining that last circus parade and being led around with the rest of Fellini's crazy world. Not to mention the fantastic widescreen cinematography.
3) Written in the Wind
I saw this in a film class and wrote a paper about it. The lecture, discussion, and repeated viewing for the paper allowed me to really appreciate this technicolor gem. The utter sense of hopelessness is delivered through brilliant colors and a fantastic cast - Dorothy Malone was imprinted in my mind for a while after that initial screening.
4) Two-Lane Blacktop
My favorite road movie. It perfectly captures the open road through naturalistic sound (that engine never stops running) and widescreen composition. Beyond that there are the enigmatic main characters who exist just to drift, to keep going. When I watch this movie I want to do the same. This also features the extraordinary Warren Oates as GTO who broke my heart more than once, and James Taylor in the role that redeems him of whatever Hallmark Christmas CDs he puts out for the rest of his life.
5) Days of Heaven
I wrote about this film in another blog. This film flew over my head the first time I watched it, but after a while it started to seep into me. The images and sounds are sublime and Malick's vision is singular. This is a valuable DVD in my collection.
6) Le Samourai
Le Samourai is all style. Jef Costello is the stoic loner played to perfection (I don't know if a tan trench coat and gray fedora have ever looked so good.) Something about Costello's isolation and the muted colors of '60s Paris at night hook me. The existential philosophy that informs the plot is perfectly delivered through Melville's attention to detail and careful pacing.
7) Bicycle Thieves
Everything about this movie feels authentic and it emits an honesty so earnest it is heart-breaking. It is cinema stripped down to its bare essentials, redefining what the camera can do, what film can do. Beyond it's historic significance, however, this film is just wonderful. Its hopelessness is made even more poignant to think it does not stray far from the actual conditions of that time in history.
Easily one of the most powerful samurai films I have ever seen. It displaces action for an intensely sad story that aims to expose the false veneer of beauracracy, honor, and empty tradition. And after all of that the action kicks in for a finale that is sad, beautiful, uplifting, and hopeless. It was either this or Samurai Rebellion, but decided to go with this one because it feels more devastating.
9) Ali: Fear Eats the Soul
Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Fassbinder's ode to Sirk's All That Heaven Allows manages to evoke pure emotion while injecting political/social criticism in ways that go beyond Sirk. The care he feels for the characters in this film is sincere and his portrayals of them are balanced by their innate goodness as well as their shortcomings.
10) Woman in the Dunes
This absurdist story by Kobo Abe recalls Camus's take on Sisyphus. The images are what is really so fantastic about this film. The composition is beautiful and the shots are both poetic and daring, making the claustrophic sandpit interesting enough to watch for the duration of the entire film. Every part of this movie is done to perfection, keeping the original integrity and feeling of the source novel.