Saturday 25 July 2009

My 50 Favourite Movies

Right from childhood we have this crazy, fun knack of making lists. And so it was a really fun and interesting proposition when Iain Scott, of the wonderful blog The One-Line Review - where, as the name suggests, he jots down his opinions of the numerous movies he watches in single line reviews which manage to be informative, dense, concise and revelatory all at once - asked me a couple of months back to take part in a survey to find a list to end all lists - "50 Greatest Films".

As any cinephile would observe, this is no mean task. Personally, though I'm still in what might be called 'learning curve', and am still way, way off a position where I can safely state that I've watched all the good ones, it still took quite some time in listing my 100 favourite movies which are listed on the right side of the screen. Hence I was up for a major challenge in bringing that down to 50; it was a nice experience nonetheless. And to reinforce Iain's unique style of movie reviews, I decided to attach one-line reveiws to the 50 chosen ones.

The '50 Greatest Films', selected from a survey of a plethora of participants, including yours truly - you'll find my list originally published here - was released for public viewing on the 2nd week of June here. I'm reprinting my alphabetically-listed submission to the poll verbatim at my blog should anyone be interested.

  1. Ace in the Hole (US) – Arguably the most acerbic take on ‘Yellow Journalism’, this masterpiece from Billy Wilder stars Kirk Douglas as a cynic and an opportunist who would go to any extents for the sake of his prized scoop.
  2. Alice in the Cities (Ger) – Though not as popular as his Paris, Texas, this tale of an unlikely friendship between a loner and a young girl, is a great road movie as well as a terrific exploration of urban alienation and human bonding.
  3. Amores Perros (Mex) – Love and dogs play literal, as well as figurative roles in Mexican filmmaker Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu’s explosive debut feature on three POV stories, set in an urban Mexican milieu, connected by a tragic car accident.
  4. Aranyer Din Ratri (Ind) – Often regarded as Satyajit Ray’s greatest masterpiece, this chronicle of four Calcutta youths taking a trip to a rural place, turned into a fascinating deconstruction of urbanisation, friendship, love and the human character.
  5. Asphalt Jungle (US) – One of the earliest movies to show crime from the perspective of criminals, John Huston’s landmark film noir concerns a veteran crook who plans the perfect heist, only for it to go awry from the first given instant.
  6. Bande a Part (Fra) – One of French auteur Jean-Luc Godard’s most accessible films, it is about two Parisian buddies (straight out of American B-movies) who alternately cajole and seduce a lovely, naïve lady to rob her place, with disastrous consequences.
  7. A Bittersweet Life (Kor) – A taciturn and once loyal enforcer attempts to seek revenge against his former boss, and what ensues is a near poetic ode to violence, mayhem and silent fury – aided by gorgeous photography and a haunting score.
  8. Breathless (Fra) – Jean-Luc Godard’s iconic first feature, this is leas a story of Michel, a gangster on the run, and the beautiful Patricia, and more an unabashed tribute to film noirs, and is filled with signature touches that have made this a seminal work of the Nouvelle Vague movement.
  9. California Dreamin’ (Rom) – First, and unfortunately the only, movie by Romanian director Cristian Numescu, and set during the Kosovo War, this is an incredible anti-war movie, filled with deadpan satires, pathos, and wry humour.
  10. Casablanca (US) – The beautiful and fragile Ilsa walks into the café owned by the deeply cynical and bitter Rick, played mesmerizingly by Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart, respectively, and what followed made this doomed romantic tale an unforgettable cinematic experience.
  11. Chinatown (US) – A terrific hard-boiled neo-noir from Roman Polanski, it featured the brilliant Jack Nicholson as a cynical private eye drawn in a complex tale of lust, murder, deception and betrayal that culminates in a fascinating climax.
  12. Chungking Express (HK) – Wong Kar-Wai’s most celebrated feature, this visually enthralling offbeat movie and a combination of two loosely connected tales – a noirish drama and a light-hearted comedy, is an irresistible ode to unrequited love.
  13. Closely Watched Trains (Czh) – This outstanding movie by Jiri Menzel – a wry political satire in the garb of a delectable (and farcical) comedy, is a wonderful coming-of-age parable and a deeply human anti-war movie
  14. Easy Rider (US) – The definitive movie on the anti-establishmentarianism and counter-culture movement during the Nam and Hippie era, this is a brilliant odyssey of two bikers criss-crossing America with rebellious abandon.
  15. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (US) – One of the most unconventional love stories ever made and penned by the mercurial Charlie Kaufman, this is a surreal tale of two individuals, performed incredibly by Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet, who have decided to erase each other’s memories.
  16. Fargo (US) – With its wry, black humour, incredible performances and deep irony of fate, this quirky serio-comic tale of a kidnapping job gone horribly wrong is a crime drama like no other, and the Coen Brothers’ greatest masterpiece.
  17. Fight Club (US) – This dark and violent psychological drama on the seedy underbelly lurking beneath an otherwise placid society, is a superb thesis on the duality of human nature, and features a gleefully psychotic turn by Brad Pitt.
  18. The 400 Blows (Fra) – A landmark Nouvelle Vague output, Francois Truffaut’s celebrated semi-autobiographical tale of a troubled, rebellious teenager, is a nostalgic look at lost innocence and friendship, and a loving homage to growing up.
  19. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Rom) – This grim, disturbing and exquisitely enacted slice-of-life tale during the oppressive Ceausescu regime in Romania, is a gem of a movie set on the seemingly mundane premise of abortion.
  20. Godfather (US) – One of the greatest American movies ever made, this Francis Ford Coppola masterpiece, featuring awesome turns by Marlon Brando and Al Pacino, is a bleak yet hauntingly mesmerizing tale on loyalty, honour, vengeance, and the quintessentially Sicilian concept of ‘Family’.
  21. Gold Rush (US) – The movie Charlie Chaplin wanted to be remembered by, the despair, loss and heartbreak faced by ‘The Little Tramp’ during the Alaska gold rush, becomes the source for high farce filled with inimitable humour, satire and pathos.
  22. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Ita) – The most outstanding of Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns, Clint Eastwood’s iconic ‘Man With No Name’, the equally iconic score and fabulous gunfights made this one of the most stylish movies ever made.
  23. Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne (Ind) – A movie where perhaps the only thing Satyajit Ray didn’t do was act, this immensely enjoyable tale on the adventures of two friends, is as much a popular children’s fantasy fable as it is a brilliant anti-war movie.
  24. The Graduate (US) – Mike Nichols’ much loved coming-of-age story of a confused college graduate, this memorable romantic comedy boasts of a career making turn by Dustin Hoffman and two legendary songs by Simon & Garfunkel.
  25. A History of Violence (US) – Directed by David Cronenberg, this is a near-poetic lamentation on violence, where the dark past of a seemingly mundane man, exquisitely played by Viggo Mortensen, catches up with him in spectacular fashion.
  26. In A Lonely Place (US) – A dark film noir by Nicholas Ray and the cinematic equivalent of Camus’ Outsider, this is a disturbing character study of a violent man brilliantly portrayed by Humphrey Bogart, as well as a jab at society’s hypocrisy.
  27. Interview (Ind) – Iconoclastic Bengali auteur Mrinal Sen’s most underrated work, this psedo-documentary about an educated Calcutta youth trying to get a job, is a candid, satirical and a provocative movie on Marxism vis-à-vis capitalism.
  28. The Killers (US) – Starring Ava Gardener as perhaps the most unforgettable femme fatale ever brought to screen, this noir masterpiece about a good man led astray by greed and lust, is one of the most definitive movies of this genre.
  29. Memento (US) – This incredibly original modern noir by Christopher Nolan about a man with short-term memory loss, and narrated in reverse, is a mind-bending and a thoroughly exhilarating thriller with a wacky sense of humour.
  30. Modern Times (US) – Charlie Chaplin’s high farce on the complex nature of industrialization, this is a stupendous display of the great man’s ability to create a hilariously funny movie on man’s despair and suffering.
  31. Nayak (Ind) – One of the very few movies to accurately portray the actual ‘face’ of a movie superstar, played brilliantly by Uttam Kumar, this Satyajit Ray classic is as much a great character study, as it is an amazing juxtaposition of cinema and theatre.
  32. No Man’s Land (Serb/Bos) – Soldiers from either side during the ugly war between Serbia and Bosnia get trapped in a trench in no man’s land, and what follows is a brilliant black comedy and a biting satire on the irony and hopelessness of war.
  33. Oldboy (HK) – Maverick Korean director Park Chan-Wook’s audacious poetry on extreme violence and misfortune, the tale of two men seeking vengeance on and destruction of each other is as visually arresting as it is deeply disturbing.
  34. On the Waterfront (US) – A terrific masterpiece by Hollywood’s enfant terrible Elia Kazan, this story of an ex-pugilist, memorably played by Marlon Brando, seeking retribution, is one of the finest portrayals of labour union and the working class.
  35. Out of the Past (US) – A quintessential film noir, this Jacques Tourneur classic is about a world-weary gumshoe whose past association with a slippery gangster and an icy femme fatale catches up with him with fatalistic consequences.
  36. Pan’s Labyrinth (Mex) – Directed by Mexican visionary Guillermo Del Toro, this is a surreal, visually stunning and emotionally enthralling fantasy fable set against the backdrop of the violence and turbulence of Spanish Civil War.
  37. Psycho (US) – Arguably the movie Alfred Hitchcock will always inextricably be linked with, this granddaddy of all slasher films, filled to brim with MacGuffins, suspense and terrific storytelling, is about a certain psychopath called Norman Bates.
  38. Pulp Fiction (US) – This wild, wacky and outrageously violent epic crime movie, filled with ultra-cool dialogues, kinetic direction and superlative performances, is the movie that sealed Quentin Tarantino’s genius and iconoclasm for posterity.
  39. Raging Bull (US) - Arguably the most powerful American movie of the 80s, this Martin Scorsese masterpiece is a brutal, unsentimental and disturbing character study of a champion boxer’s fall from grace, played with aplomb by Robert De Niro.
  40. Reservoir Dogs (US) – This brilliantly enacted, irreverent and utterly unique crime thriller on what led to and what followed a bank job gone awry, is the movie that introduced the world to the devilish genius of Quentin Tarantino.
  41. Roman Holiday (US) - William Wyler’s timeless classic on journalism and the meaning of freedom, this romantic tale of a modern-day princess (Audrey Hepburn) and a down-on-luck journalist (Gregory Peck), is as satirical as it is heart-rending.
  42. Run Lola Run (Ger) – One of the most impossibly entertaining movies ever made, this pulsating narration of Lola’s attempts to arrange money for her boyfriend, is as wildly imaginative in its content as it is stunning in its execution.
  43. Seven Samurai (Jap) – One of legendary Japanese auteur Akira Kurosawa’s grandest ventures, this epic tale of 7 samurais hired to fight against a group of 40 local bandits, is a landmark cinematic achievement, what with its lyrical beauty and its astounding depiction of the art of warfare.
  44. Sholay (Ind) – One of the greatest Hindi movies ever made, this timeless classic about two local goons hired to capture a notorious bandit, is as famous for its unforgettable characters and quotable dialogues, as it is for its superlative performances.
  45. Shoot the Piano Player (Fra) – One of Francois Truffaut’s most audacious, albeit underrated masterpieces, this is an iconic Nouvelle Vague movie about a washed out pianist on the run, and a fascinating pastiche to film noirs.
  46. Stranger than Paradise (US) - Directed by Jim Jarmusch, this is an offbeat low-budget character-driven indie cult classic and road movie, that with its deadpan humour manages to seamlessly evoke sentiments propounded by the Beat Generation
  47. Sunset Boulevard (US) – Billy Wilder’s greatest creation and perhaps the best movie on Hollywood, this acerbic noir is a scathing assault on the hollow, amoral, narcissistic movie industry, and a brilliantly twisted thesis on the dream factory.
  48. Taxi Driver (US) – American filmmaker Martin Scorsese’s raging masterpiece, this is a claustrophobic point-of-view account of an insomniac taxi driver – a violent vigilante cum anarchist, brought to screen through Robert De Niro’s bravado turn.
  49. Three Colors (Pol/Fra) – This episodic trilogy on the themes propounded by the three colours of the French national flag, viz. liberty, equality & fraternity, is Polish master Krzyszstof Kieslowski’s magnum opus and his most resounding achievement.
-->Utsab (Ind) – Perhaps Bengali auteur Rituparno Ghosh’s most personal work, this is a sensitive though disturbing portrayal of human relationships set against the backdrop of Durga Puja – a time for joy and celebration in Bengal.


Bhargav Saikia said...

I'm surprised that you don't have any Hindi film in the list. I guess you don't watch many of them?

Quite a few of the ones you've mentioned are my personal favourites:
Pan's Labyrinth, Fight Club, Amores Perros, Fargo, Memento, Pulp Fiction, Raging Bull, Taxi Driver...
Hopefully I'll get hold of the rest on DVD. Thanks for the list :-)

Anonymous said...

Nice work... Got to catch up with some of those...

Shubhajit said...

@Bhargav - Thanks buddy. By the way, you missed Sholay I guess, its there in the list. Nonetheless, I'll be honest with you, I'm not a big fan of Hindi movies, though there certainly are quite a few that I like.

@Seventh Art - Knowing the number of movies you watch, I'd be really surprised if there are even 5 movies in the list that you haven't already watched.

Anonymous said...

Oh god... No, No...

Now I've counted: 30/50. I've missed the major Hollywood films and the Bengali ones...

Shubhajit said...


muthu said...

one great list....

thanks 4 sharing it.

Shubhajit said...

Buddy, the pleasure is entirely mine :)

sitenoise said...

I've seen exactly half of your list, many of which would make it onto a list like this of mine if I had the strength to make it. ;)

Shubhajit said...

Now that you've said it I really want to see your list :)