Sean P. Means: 10 classics to expand a movie lover's palate
By Sean P. Means The Salt Lake Tribune
Published November 28, 2016 10:37 am
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This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
I had two conversations last week that made me think about the past, and the future, of movie watching.
One was with the acclaimed director Peter Bogdanovich, who was in town for an event arranged by the Salt Lake Film Society (for which I was the moderator).
Bogdanovich has been lumped into that group of 1970s directors called "The New Hollywood" filmmakers like Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Brian De Palma and George Lucas. He, unlike the others, didn't come out of a film school, but was self-taught by watching lots of movies and, as a film journalist and historian, interviewing the great directors themselves. The movies were his film school.
At a luncheon before last week's event, Bogdanovich lamented that young filmgoers haven't seen many movies made before 1990.
This comment dovetailed with the other conversation, a water-cooler talk with a millennial co-worker (whom I will not identify). She sheepishly admitted she has seen very few movies made before she was born and suggested I make a list of what she should see.
Challenge accepted. Here is a list of 10 movies that makes a good starting point for anyone trying to jump-start their movie education. They're not necessarily the 10 best movies made, but a sampling that covers a variety of genres and eras.
"The General" (1926)
It's good to begin, as the movies did, with the silents back in the day when movement and image conveyed emotion and action in ways dialogue still can't duplicate. A good introduction to silent film is Buster Keaton's tale of a Confederate engineer keeping his train out of the hands of Union soldiers. The death-defying stunts and jaw-dropping sight gags are a wonder.
"Citizen Kane" (1941)
Orson Welles' groundbreaking debut a biography of a grandiose tycoon who burns through careers in journalism and politics, as well as two marriages is pioneering in its narrative form and camera craft. Cinematographer Gregg Toland revolutionized some tricks of "deep focus" and composition.
"Rear Window" (1954)
Many critics consider "Vertigo" Alfred Hitchcock's finest movie, if not the best movie ever. But it's not for novices. Hitchcock newbies can warm up with this sharp thriller about a laid-up photographer (Jimmy Stewart) who thinks his neighbor (Raymond Burr) has murdered his wife. The tension ratchets so precisely, and the '50s glamour (in the form of Grace Kelly) is delicious.
"Seven Samurai" (1954)
Akira Kurosawa's sword-slashing masterpiece, in which a 16th-century Japanese village beset by bandits hires seven unemployed samurai to be its protectors. Often duplicated most famously as "The Magnificent Seven," in 1960 and this year the story should dispel the misperception that movies with subtitles are boring.
"The Searchers" (1956)
John Ford's most iconic masterpiece, starring John Wayne as a jaded and racist ex-Confederate soldier obsessed with retrieving his niece (Natalie Wood), kidnapped by Comanches. The story has been copied in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," "Dances With Wolves" and "Saving Private Ryan," among others.
"Lawrence of Arabia" (1962)
David Lean's epic biography of T.E. Lawrence (Peter O'Toole), the English military officer who helped lead the Arab revolt against the Turks in World War I, is the reason giant screens were invented. Best if you have a really good home theater.
"The Graduate" (1967)
Post-collegiate angst is eternal, so millennials should relate to this comedy about Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman), a disaffected college grad who falls into an affair with one of his parents' friends, Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft). Director Mike Nichols draws sly humor from Hoffman's performance and uses Simon & Garfunkel tracks for maximum emotional impact.
"Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb" (1964)
Director Stanley Kubrick cut through the horrors of nuclear war by stressing the absurdity of global annihilation, as a nutjob general (Sterling Hayden) sends the bombers to the Soviet Union. Peter Sellers delights in three roles as a British officer, the worried president and a twisted war-room adviser (the title character). The Soviets are gone, but the terror that governments can stumble toward self-destruction is as timely as ever.
"The Godfather" (1972) / "The Godfather, Part II" (1974)
Crime drama meets family drama in Francis Ford Coppola's richly realized story of a New York crime boss Don Corleone (Marlon Brando) and the sons Michael (Al Pacino), Sonny (James Caan) and Fredo (John Cazale) who might take on his empire. The sequel expanded the idea of long-form storytelling, profiling the young Don Corleone (Robert De Niro) and continuing Michael's spiral into corruption.
"Taxi Driver" (1976)
Perhaps the best actor/filmmaker collaboration of the past half-century, Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese, reached their apex with this dark trip through New York's streets with a psychotic cabby.
Sean P. Means writes The Cricket in daily blog form at www.sltrib.com/blogs/moviecricket. Follow him on Twitter @moviecricket. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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