By Carter Phillips
What are the top 5 films everyone should see? That is a daunting task that I’ve been assigned and partly created for myself. The cinematic medium is subjective and has room for all opinions and tastes. What should make one film more mandatory than the other? If somebody prefers horror to comedy then do they have to watch Modern Times (1935)?
Well, I think it’s healthy for people to open themselves up to things they aren’t familiar with, including movies. In exploring new-to-you areas of cinema, you may discover your new favorites. A category in film that I think is all but forgotten by the mass public is classic cinema, so why not put together a guide of films that everyone should see? Not all these films will be for you, as I picked many which vastly contrast each other in tone, style, decade, genre, and country.
Before I begin the list, I should explain why some expected films may not be present. My reasoning for that is, you’ve most likely already seen them or have already been told multiple times that you need to. So, to make it a little more fun for myself I’ve excluded a couple obvious choices, those being:
Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931), Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), The Wizard of Oz (1939), the original Star Wars trilogy, Raiders of The Lost Ark (1981), and Ghostbusters (1984).
The following films are five which I think everyone should see but most likely haven’t. Five isn’t a big enough number for the breath of classic cinema, so I’m sorry for the cinematic blasphemy. This is my humble curation of five films that, in my opinion, everyone should see.
It may be contradictory for me to pick a film hopefully everyone has seen, but it is at number 5! I consider it to be a good introduction as it’s probably the most approachable film of this list.
If you know the film but haven’t seen it, the movie takes place in the fictional town of Amity. It’s known for its shores where locals and tourists can swim, fish, or tan by the beach; however a sudden spree of shark attacks leave blood in the water.
Police Chief Brody tries to shut the beaches down, but the mayor has to remind him that Amities economy relies on it. As the attacks continue a plan to hunt the shark arises. An unlikely group made up of Brody, an experienced fisher man named Quint and an oceanographer called Hooper sail out to kill the shark.
Keep in mind that this is a horror, so it has a fair bit of blood and scares. So, this may not be a film for those who have squeamish stomachs. I should also mention that there is a brief skinny dipping scene (no nudity is actually shown).
Part of what makes Jaws great is that it’s an example of a technique referred to as “show don’t tell”. It leaves much to the imagination, which inevitably is far scarier than anything that could be done with special effects. The effects are still impressive, as Roger Ebert stated when it first came out, “Some of the footage in the film is of an actual great white shark. The rest uses a mechanical shark patterned on the real thing. The illusion is complete. We see the shark close up, we look in its relentless eye, and it just plain feels like a shark.”
#4 Throne of Blood
Set in the Edu era of Japan, Throne of Blood is a unique adaption of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Again, for those who are squeamish at the sight of blood, this is a bit of a violent film for its time.
Through a mist of thick fog, dense woods and further too; stretches of empty dirt lies Spiderweb Castle (of which the film is named after in its country of origin).
A patriotic soldier and his somewhat meek comrade come across a demon who lurks in the forest. The demon tells that they are near distinct futures: one that the patriotic soldier will rule the throne and that his friend, Miki will be commander of the first fortress and that afterwards his son will become lord of the Spider Web Castle.
They laugh it off, skeptic of the prediction but as the first comes true a dreary foreboding envelopes their emotions. The patriotic soldier named Washizu wants to stay loyal, and in doing so can’t foresee himself getting the throne. His wife leads him astray, and in doing so he betrays his advisories for a cost seen later in the film.
Throne of Blood is a film about fate, greed and the path that takes people down. It also queries whether or not one is truly in control of they’re future or if they are simply destine for it instead. It’s a morality tale which I think should be learned by everyone.
#3 Wild Strawberries
Wild Strawberries is an inmate film that takes place during the climax of a life. The life is of Isak, an elderly man who is journeying to his honorary degree. He’s a man who seems to be loved by those around him, but despised by those nearest to him. It’s about the people he meets along the way, whether for the first time or for perhaps, the last. Its about him accepting that his days are dwindling and that he can’t change what happened in his past.
Through his sunken eyes, the audience relives his memories and experiences his dreams. In those sequences, the viewer learns more about him, than those which take place in the contemporary. The concept of limbo plays a big part in the film as Isak finds himself wandering in and out of reality, like a dementia victim saying goodbye to his memories for the last time.
[This paragraph has spoilers, skip it if you have yet to see the film]
The film has what I would describe as prolific innuendos, for instance a scene in a car that in each row, sits stages of love: In the back sits the young who are optimistic, in the middle a slowly aging couple who are sick of each other and in the front are the embers of a dead relationship. (That’s a scene which might have drawn inspiration from the Japanese travelogue drama, Mr Thank you.) Isak who’s wife had died years previous and his daughter-in-law who is abandoning her husband. Or another scene in which one of the friends Isak makes along his journey asks him if he is religious. He glances at him for a moment, and then continues recounting a poem of Swedish lore. Why doesn’t he answer? Is it that he is afraid to admit he is? Or has he lost his faith? The answer may be obvious to some viewers but likely varies.
Maybe what makes the film great is not just how his past hangs over him, but how those who he embarks his journey with remind him of either himself, or those he once knew. The film is an arthouse endeavor into melancholy, regret, nostalgia, and philosophy; told through the lens of surrealism and blank neo-realism.
Set in the nazi occupied Casablanca (a city in Morocco), the film defines the golden era of Hollywood. Nobody but nobody wants to remain in Casablanca, they want to flee into America, the epitome of a new world, and therefore a new life.
The film is an allegory for America’s transition from anti to pro war with the lead character Rick representing The United States. He says that he, “Sticks his neck out for no one.” The shooting began only six months after America joined the war.
Rick is played by one of my favorite actors: Humphrey Bogart. Bogarts characters were the coolest in they’re movies. They were also men who’s emotions fluttered recognizably in the most subtle of expression changes.
Bogart was cast alongside Ingrid Bergman, a Swedish actor who became a star after moving to America. She plays an old love of Bogarts who is now in a relationship with an important politician, played by Paul Henreid (also well known for his role in Now Voyager) who is vital for the war effort.
The problem is that the old lovers still have emotions for each other, as the song suggests, “The fundamental things apply, as time goes by.” The song in question is sang by Dooley Wilson who is the piano player known as Sam, as well as Ricks best friend. He’s a black character who is treated equally by those around him, making the chemistry between the characters, as well as a lack of stereotypes refreshing during a time when Hollywood focused on attractive white people.
The plot thickens when Rick is able to get two plain tickets to America, those being a mcguffin in Casablanca. He has to choose between leaving to America and taking Bergman’s character with him or letting her go without him and taking the politician instead. The climax of the film is one of the most iconic in cinema history.
What makes Casablanca more essential over other greats like Citizen Kane or 2001: A Space Odyssey, films which I consider to better, is that it is much more approachable for a less mature audience. It’s not likely to bore as those would and yet it can still be appreciated.
#1 King Kong: The Eighth Wonder of the World
The story of King Kong is that of a filmmaker who ventures into the mysterious Skull Island after hearing rumors of a giant beast whom the natives worship. So with him he brings a moderate sized crew and a young woman named Anne Darrow.
The film depicts the all to real circumstance of a woman’s choices in 1930’s America being decided not by herself but by the men around her, the screenplay after-all was written by a woman whom had been on many voyages exactly like the one in the movie (however with a less interesting destination). The misogynistic crew members are shown but aren’t celebrated. The film takes place through Anne’s perspective and is a somewhat early example of a box office success that has a female lead. Other examples include: The Story of Temple (1933), Jezebel (1938), Dark Victory (1939), The Wizard of Oz (1939), Gone With The Wind (1939)
King Kong is a film about a man who cares more about making money than the safety of other people. He represents all the engineers who’s rollercoasters failed and all architects who’s ships sank with passengers on board. The film too, is about forbidden love, also unrequited love; a common trope of genre films from the era such as: The Phantom of the Opera (1925), The Mummy (1932), The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), Mad Love (1935),.
The film balances many different genres, some which shouldn’t clash well but yet do. It’s at times a Romance, at other times an Adventure, even a Horror; but most of all it’s a Fantasy film. It’s a grand spectacle with innovative special effects that although not as convincing today, as still impressive and complex.
Its most known for its stop motion, but it also used matte paintings, rear projection, front projection, mirrors to alter the image, animatronics, sound effects in reverse, miniatures and an early green screen equivalent in which what wasn’t meant to be shown was wrapped in black velvet. All of which was achieved in 1933 years before technicolor (a major color process) was perfected and popularized. Often times several of the techniques were all used in the same frame.
In most of the skull island scenes, the special effects team would layer the scene by putting matte paintings (glass which is partially painted to create a realistic image) in front of the miniatures and also behind. That created depth. They would often too, have to project live action footage, frame by frame onto tiny projection screens where the people were supposed to be.
The five films presented are not chosen just because they have good reviews, or because they may be famous. They are chosen because in them an audience can observe the human condition. Through the eyes of the camera you can see history, culture and art; most of all you see a portrait of humanity playing in the realms of fiction. Each film is an emotion, and after its watched, it’s also a memory. I hope I have given a unique list and perspective of the films. That I think, is part of what makes cinema great, all films are subjective and bring with them an infinite amount of opinions and emotions yet they all consist of the same memory.
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