Made up a quick top 10 list of films, there is a lot of great cinema I have not seen so it will change as time goes on.
1 ) Gillo Pontecorvo — La battaglia di Algeri (1966)
This is one of those films that still gives me shivers- thrilling, subversive, beautifully shot, influential. This is a thinking man’s action film and has stayed relevant.
2 ) Stanley Kubrick — Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
This is a staple. I am in international affairs after all. I think this (and Yes, Minister) should be essential viewing for anyone in political science.
3 ) Sergei Parajanov — Sayat Nova (1968)
Armenian film that was made under the Soviet Union. It was banned by the communists, but revered over the years by some of Europe’s great film makers (Fellini in particular). Kino released a version in North America but if you want the real deal, try and find a copy of the Japanese DVD- its been cleaned up and restored. Over the past 2 years I’ve kept coming back to this film and been blown away by the gorgeous otherworldly beauty of it. Don’t expect a narrative, just some of the most gorgeous images ever put to film.
4 ) Maya Deren — Meshes of the Afternoon (1943)
Not a feature length film, a short, but a near perfect bit of cinema. Can be summed up as an 1940s American surrealist short. When I first saw it I had to sit down and watch it through a second time. No budget but captures the confusion of a dream or nightmare dream like- you can see where David Lynch took his influences from. Maya Daren made a few of my other favorite shorts- ‘Mediations on Violence’ and ‘Private Life of a Cat’- everything she has done is in the public domain and easy to find online.
5 ) Jaromil Jires — Valerie a týden divu (1970)
I’ll start off by saying that this isn’t a *good* movie, but it is certainly a weird one. A Czech retelling of Alice in Wonderland it is strange, shocking and twisted. On the other hand has a sweetness and sensitivity to growing up that is missing in a lot of films. Great soundtrack and gorgeously shot. When I first watched it I’d have to say that half the people loved it, the other half weren’t the biggest fans. So, I’m probably in the minority ranking this as high as I do.
6 ) Satyajit Ray – Shatranj Ke Khilari (1977)
I needed to put an Indian film in here, and I’ve chosen Satayajit Ray’s Chess players. It manages to capture the decadence of the Mughal era and the inevitability of the collapse in the face of Britain. Totally unsentimental, no one comes out as a hero in the film. The British are rapacious, the average Indian bloodthirsty, the elite out of touch and corrupt. Ray handles each character deftly and the attention to historical detail is remarkable.
7 ) Michael Haneke — Caché (2005)
Probably one of the best films in the past 10 years, the less I say about it the better. A subtle, clever thriller that needs a good conversation at the end to hash out what it all means.
8 ) Henri-Georges Clouzot — Le corbeau (1943)
Although not technically a Noir, Le Corbeau (made under the Nazi occupation of France) is one of the most unrelentingly cynical films of the era. It chronicles the disintegration of a small french town by a series of letters that reveal the community’s darkest secrets. Beautifully shot, nasty, and full of mean characters- I loved it.
9 ) David Lynch — Blue Velvet (1986)
My first Lynch film was Mullholland Drive, which I didn’t ‘get’ but I was persuaded to come back to his films. After marathoning through Twin Peaks and watching Blue Velvet my opinions on him changed. I’m still getting into Lynch, but this is an excellent place to start. No one can make inanimate objects look creepy better than Lynch.
10 ) Lars von Trier — Antichrist (2009)
Von Trier is another director I’m getting into. I’ve seen Breaking the Waves (which was excellent), Boss of it All (which was good) and Melancholia (which I didn’t like). Antichrist still tops it out. No, its not the best film, but it was certainly the film that had the most impact. It is totally insane, frightening, funny (I’d argue it works best as a dark comedy) and brutally violent. It certainly isn’t for everyone but I found it perversely entertaining.