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This list is by no means exhaustive. Whittling down 100 films is difficult for any list, so I picked these because they speak more to my personality than anything else.
Big fan of Kubrick. Have been ever since I was an adolescent. It was easier to see some of his more well-known films, like A Clockwork Orange and The Shining, but I wanted to be thorough. I wanted to see his earliest films. I wanted to see how he'd grown in the years as an artist. The thing about this film is, you would think he'd been doing it since infancy. You could argue the story is pretty cut and dry and the characters are little more than classic noir archetypes, but everything is distilled to its essence here and refined to such a degree that it doesn't matter. And it's amazing that Kubrick at such a young age could elicit such strong performances out of his actors.
I heard about this film after watching Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments for probably the tenth time. I think I never paid too much attention to this film, because it didn't "look" scary to me, and at the time I was unaware of who Robert Mitchum was. Many years later, when the inevitable rerun returned to television, I got around to watching it again and was immediately intrigued. Watching the film was almost other-worldly, and I guess that's an apt description, because the film is presented in such a timeless, fairy tale-esque manner. And absolutely everything is built around that. Robert Mitchum is this great boogeyman who never seems to sleep, the lighting creates this atmospheric setting where shadows are harsh and jagged and claustrophobic, Lillian Gish is so warm and nurturing, and the ending creates this satisfying payoff where you see evil vanquished and good prevail. This isn't typical "horror." I guess that's why it's so refreshing.
This one's in here because of how fucking cool Alain Delon is. He doesn't even do anything, really. He's actually quite a static character. He barely speaks, barely moves, barely emotes, even in the privacy of his home or in the arms of his lover. This film is great because Alain Delon enforces the audience's attention. We're drawn to his smooth, enigmatic face, his intense eyes, his almost asexual nature, his fashion, his work, his solitary life. It's like we're able to project ourselves onto him. This is one of the great strengths of Melville's films. Cheaply made though they appear, they hide a wealth of existentialism that's so fun to dig through. And I haven't even got to the hitman aspects of the film!
I love Lee Marvin. The man was such a cool dude. And I love how he's the straight man played against Clu Gulager, whose character is FUCKING CRAZY. Sociopathic crazy. The movie itself is a little cheap looking, and I think it spends way too much time on the stupid feud between John Cassavetes and fucking Ronald Reagan (he's in this movie, can you believe it?), but the ending pays off.
This film is great because it feels real. Now, what do I mean by that? I mean it feels as if I could, to a certain degree, watch this and believe it could be happening to a real person. It's restrained in its execution. I feel like I want to hug Toshiro Mifune because I understand his plight, his dilemmas and his failures. And the same is true of his attacker, the kidnapper of the story. I understand his envy, his anger and his jealousy. And this is the strength of the film; it deepens our understanding of both the world and the characters who live in it. Kurosawa was also very wise to focus the last half of the film solely on the efforts of the police to trace the kidnapper's ransom money. One you feel for the police and two you feel for the absolutely deplorable conditions of the neighborhoods they search through. It makes the final scene between Mifune and his tormentor so powerful.
What an interesting concept; I wish I wrote this. Destitute men drive two trucks filled with unstable nitroglycerin to the site of an oil fire. Their mission is to detonate the nitroglycerin and cap the well. Simple enough, and you'd think you'd know just how everything would play out. And then you're hit with the shocking realization that life is pretty damn random.
I came out at 17, and going to a Catholic high school where I thought most of the people there were idiots anyway didn't help. You learn to get over that stuff. What I had a harder time getting over was what I felt were the problems of the gay community and myself as a whole. I saw a lot of complaining and I wanted everybody to shut up about it, to see that there have been many positive strides towards acceptance in the past ten years alone, and that you should be grateful. But then came Prop 8, and gay bullying, and suicides, and referendums against gay marriage, and general dickishness of people in the world anyway, and I got to being bitter again (maybe I still am, a little). I saw this movie once on YouTube and didn't much care for it. I watched it again years later when Criterion released it and felt as if my entire spirit had been uplifted. It made me feel so happy about things I thought I had long stopped caring for.
Goddamn is this film bleak. I've always been critical of films set in Massachusetts because they always seem to portray the state as so unflattering, but this one I couldn't stay mad at. It's like a snapshot of the 70s, the locations are all so beautiful. This film really showcases Mitchum's acting, I feel, because it's so heavily reliant on his ability to make us care about him. He's not a glamorous character or a badass or anything. He's a shlubby gun runner who informs on the people he sells guns too. He's just trying to make some money, dammit. Yates really does know how to create tension, though. The film starts pretty mellow and then we get a pretty goddamn nerve-wracking heist followed by these little lulls where we see Richard Jordan as the mysterious Dave Foley ("Have a nice day") and then another high tension scenario punctuated by characterization and exposition. We're expecting more and more as the film progresses until finally we're treated to the heart-breaking and oh-so unfair ending.
It's really hard to articulate in words how great I think this film is. I think it's damn near perfect. Every aspect is so intricately crafted and fits the needs of the characters, world, and story perfectly. We feel the world for the people we see in this film. We're with them every step of the way, from every small triumph, to fleeting moments of tenderness, to crushing failures. It's because we, as the audience, know that these characters are moving through their lives never knowing when or where they will be killed. They know they probably won't be remembered. It's so universal, at least I know the feeling stays with me long after the movie ends.
Tatsuya Nakadai is such a talented actor. So talented he could play a man at least twenty years his senior and we believe every minute of it. This is another film difficult to put into words. It basically IS, really. It's brilliant because of how restrained the action is (at least until the end) coupled with how vitriolic the social commentary is. It's brilliant because of how gruesome the violence is, but also because the violence serves a point. I don't know. I really can't say anything other than watch the movie. In a pure move of badassery, after Nakadai's Hanshiro Tsugomo is told that all of his requested seconds have mysteriously taken ill, he just laughs right at the elder of Iyi Temple. BAD ASS.