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Importance of the Cinema

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We have had a very good discussion on the forum recently about novels that had a great impact on members. I thought we could do the same with the cinema. Here are a few of my important films.


Double Indemnity (1944): A film that manages to breakout of its period. Although similar in structure to other crime movies of the 1940s, Billy Wilder manages to produce a dark thriller that says so much about the human condition. It is of course helped by a superb script by Raymond Chandler (none of the film adaptations of his books match up to Double Indemnity).

Brief Encounter (1945): This is very much a film of its time. Modern viewers will find it difficult to grasp why two people in love do not go to bed together. It reflects the attitudes held at the time. In this sense it is of interest to the sociologist trying to understand why our values have changed so much. However, this film is not really about an unconsummated love affair. It is about the inevitable conflict between passion and loyalty. It is about all those decisions we make when faced with the choice between risk and security.

Battle of Algiers (1965): A film that looks at the Algerian guerrilla struggle against the French. The great thing about this film is that the director, Gillo Pontecorvo, refuses to caricature the French or glamorise the Algerians. Instead you get an insight into the behaviour of both sides and helps explain other conflicts such as the Vietnam War. Maybe the best film to see if you want to understand the current situation in Iraq and Palestine.

Le Bonheur (1965). A little known film by the French director, Agnes Varda. The plot outline is fairly ordinary (a man trying to love two women). However, because it was written and directed by a woman, it explores this subject very differently from films made by men. Francois loves both his wife (Therese) and mistress (Emilie). Francois claims that his love for Emile actually intensifies his feelings for his wife. Therese appears to accept this. As the viewer you accept it (in was very much the view of young people living in the 1960s) until Therese commits suicide at the end of the film. At the time I found the ending unbelievable. As I have got older I realised that my initial response was determined by my age and gender.

Memories of Underdevelopment (1968): Although funded by the Cuban government, Tomas Gutierrez Alea’s film provides a critique of Castro’s revolution. The story is of a prosperous member of the bourgeois of chooses to stay in Havana after Castro gained power. It is really a love story. After his wife leaves for the United States Sergio attempts to have a socialist relationship with a member of the working class. However, as he points out at the end of the film, as an intellectual he finds it impossible not to exploit her innocence. Alea suggests that a complete revolution is impossible. To Castro’s eternal shame, he has banned several of Alea’s subsequent films. Therefore supporting Alea thesis that the revolution of the mind is the most difficult one to achieve.

All the President’s Men (1976): One of the best political films ever made. Alan J. Pakuka manages to make an excellent thriller while at the same time explaining how political corruption takes place in the United States. It does much more than tell the story of Watergate. This includes political corruption in all capitalist societies. It is also the best film I have ever seen about the passion generated by a desire to obtain the truth. as it was a true story the characters were more complex than you get in most films. The dialogue was more authentic for the same reason. It highlights the problem with modern cinema. Films are often written by directors with little understanding of the skills needed by filmwriters. Therefore they find it impossible to write believable scripts.

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>I thought we could do the same with the cinema. Here are a few of my important films.<

As John and Graham have already cited example of French cinema, I'll follow suit with two of my favourites.

Les Enfants du Paradis (1946). I saw this in the 1960s at a Sunday film club run by Newcastle "People's Theatre": tickets had to be purchased in advance of the day because cinemas couldn't charge on the sabbath then! The film is often considered to be the best one ever made in France. See why the reviewer at


thinks so.

Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (1964). Certainly a period piece and the whole dialogue beautifully sung from start to finish. I can't get the Jacques Demy's lyrics "Non je ne pourrai jamais vivre sans toi" set to Michel Legrand's music out of my head...

I was entranced too with "The Third Man" (1949). The wonderful acting, the haunting monochrome and Graham Greene is such a good story teller. The film was in my thoughts when I first went to Vienna in the early 1970s, especially when I went on the ferris wheel in the Prater amusement park.

I'm particularly drawn to a film with a tight, suspenseful plot, strong engaging characters and a geographical setting I have visited or intend to visit. My appreciation of the Cohen brothers' crime film "Fargo" was enhanced a few years ago by the week I spent one winter visiting my brother in Minnesota and the bitterly cold weather I experienced!

Recently I saw "Lost in Translation" and its charm for me derived from my own experiences during a stay in the Japanese cities of Kobe and Kyoto in the summer of 2000. When I arrived in Kobe, I found out I was the only Europe-based speaker at an international computer-assisted language learning conference there!

"Film Noir" is one of my favourite cinematic genres, which may be a reflection of my age (57). I'm not a fan of slapstick, special effects or science fiction. Cinema appreciation is such a personal, subjective business - it often depends where and when the film is seen - and maybe who it's seen with - for it to make an impact - or not.

David Wilson

http://www specialeducationalneeds.com/

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My top 10 in no particular order:

If (1968) staring Malcolm McDowell. First of a trilogy - the next two being O Lucky Man followed by Brittania Hospital. What the youth revolution might have been.

Smiley (1956) Small Australian film. Wonderful. Smiley is Huck Finn type living in a small bush community.

Wake in Fright (released in the US and Canada as "Outback") (1971) An antidote in some ways to the nostalgia of Smiley. As one overseas reviewer put it: "this movie shows in great detail the ugly side of Australian country life that the Australian tourist authorities attempt to hide."

Midnight Cowboy (1969) The ending still gets to me.

Twisted Nerve (1968) My first love - Hayley Mills, in a vastly under-rated thriller. Which reminds me... can I dead heat this position with another Hayley Mills... Whistle Down the Wind. Christmas is fast coming so it shouldn't be long before it airs again...

Loot (1972) About the funniest movie of all time.

Down By Law (1986) The movie I would have made. If I'd been Jim Jarmusch.

Slueth (1972) Clever.

McCabe and Mrs Miller (1971) Must be something there I identify with.

Catch 22 (1970) One of the few movies that does justice to the book its based upon (in my opinion)

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my favourite films (some of them more contemporary) are jean de florette and its sequel manon de sources, simply magnificent movies, I am not sure wjether the book was translated into english but i would love to read it. Beautiful movies.

i am a big oliver stone fan and whatever may be said about jfk the movie he made a huge contribution, it has been claimed that his aims were more about money making but you simply have to look at his other movies to get his overall message. Vietnam is the single biggest factor in his films, platoon is a masterpiece, you really have to watch platoon and born on the forth of july to really know whether you support wars (iraq in particular).

one flew over the cookoos nest is fabulous also.

last of the mohecans has a great score written by john edelman, daniel day lewis is a tremendous actor, hes one of those people who does not jump at any old script, he waits for good ones to come along and works only when he needs to. Denzel washington is similar but does more work.

also there is the classic that is weekend at bernies starring andrew mccarthy


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Battleship Potemkin is not only a remarkable film in its own right but when you see it you can recognise so many scenes and techniques which are quoted in subsequent films. It is also remarkable as a film which is "on our side." rather than having a resolution which serves the enemy.

Dr Zhivago is a film with brilliant acting and scenerywhich makes you feel that your two and six was well spent at the cinema.

and finally Taxi Driver is a brilliantly constructed if violent film.

Although these are all films, they have also all been shown on TV and are available to be downloaded off the internet.

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Great movies - To Kill A Mockingbird also does justice to a great book. Being a Vietnam vet, I've watched most of the movies made about the war - none of them are great. Sorry folks, I think Oliver Stone is way over-rated. Platoon sucked big time, but at least it wasn't as bad as The Deer Hunter. Both of those, inexplicably, won "Best Picture". A Vietnam movie that is sorely UNDER-rated is "Gardens of Stone". It's the only one that shows you can hate the war but love the warrior. I admire "Full Metal Jacket", but don't think it's a great movie (unlike some of Kubrik's others - for example "Dr. Strangelove..." and "A Clockwork Orange"). I used to love "Apocalypse Now", but the more I watch it, the less I like it. I still think the best "war" movie ever made was "All Quiet on the Western Front". I also like "Green Dragon", for a different slant on things. And it's pretty hard to beat "Saving Private Ryan" if you want to know the reality of war. I saw that with one of my vet buddies and we had no choice but to drink lots of Irish Whiskey afterwards and wonder at the stupidity of the human race.

Other movies - I thought "Gandhi" was a great movie. I still watch it at least twice a year. "The Conversation" is excellent. "The Shawshank Redemption" is tremendous as well, and I think another Stephen King-made-into-a-movie that's great is "Stand by Me".

Somebody's gotta say it, so it might as well be me: Peter Jackson did an UNBELIEVABLE job with Lord of the Rings. I think, 50 years from now, people who study film will look at that and regard it in the same light as "Citizen Kane" - really ground-breaking - and more than just technical ground breaking.

I also think some musicals are great - for example, "West Side Story". You'll laugh at me, but I think "The Sound of Music's" popularity is deserved. "Jesus Christ, Superstar" seems somewhat dated now - but we still watch it every Easter and are still moved by it. (Jeez, I hope John didn't ask for just ten...).



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Films always played an important part of my life. When I was a kid I went to the cinema and discovered this media together with Chico, Harpo and Groucho Marx (Zeppo and Gummo were in a few films, but it was these three characters that got my full attention...). Since I'm a simple minded person I still love watching some of these movies. The intelligent nonsense fits my kind of humor so therefore they played an important role... (and now you can get several of their movies in a DVD Collection :) ).

Edited by Anders MacGregor-Thunell
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The film of Clockwork Orange shocked me to the core when I saw it in my teens, but the effect had modified when I saw it again more recently - I do think we become immune more easily these days.

The one continuous panning shot of the Hermitage museum in The Russian Ark was stunning and The Pianist moved me to tears recently.

I love all Mike Leigh's films and am looking forward to seeing his latest, which won best actress at Venice for Imelda Staunton's role as 50s backyard abortionist - can't remember the title.

Also recently saw a new director's cut of The Leopard which has not aged one bit and was tremendous.

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For what it's worth, here are, in chronological order, ten of the best films I have seen.

1. Seven Samurai ( Akira Kurosawa. Japan. 1954 )

2. Battle of Algiers ( Gillo Pontecorvo. Italy/France/ Algiers. 1965 )

3. Andrei Rublev ( Andrei Tarkovsky. USSR. 1966 )

4. The Conformist ( Bernardo Bertolucci. Italy. 1969 )

5. The Godfather ( Francis Ford Coppola. USA. 1972 )

6. The Spirit of the Beehive ( Victor Erice. Spain. 1973 )

7. Mean Streets ( Martin Scorsese. USA. 1973 )

8. The Lacemaker ( Claude Goretta. Switz./ France. 1977 )

9. The Tree of Wooden Clogs ( Ermanno Olmi. Italy. 1978 )

10. My Life as a Dog ( Lasse Hallstrom. Sweden. 1985 )

Bubbling under - Here is Your Life ( Jan Troell. Sweden. 1966.) Yellow Earth (Chen Kaige. China. 1984 ) Fellini's 8 1/2 ( Frederico Fellini. Italy. 1963 ) Boy ( Nagisa Oshima. Japan. 1969. ) Fat City ( John Huston. USA.1972 ) Jesus of Montreal ( Denys Arcand. Canada/France. 1989 ) Memories of Underdevelopment ( Tomas Gutierrez Alea. Cuba. 1968 ) Days of Heaven ( Terrence Malick. USA. 1978 ) My Night with Maud ( Eric Rohmer . France. 1968 ) The Four Hundred Blows ( Francois Truffaut. France. 1959 ) The Travelling Players ( Theo Angelopoulos. Greece.1975 )

I have restricted my list by not having more than one director represented.

( otherwise Scorsese could be there with "Raging Bull" and "Taxi Driver" and Tarkovsky with "The Mirror" ).

A really good film has to be able to stand up to repeated viewings. With the exception of "The Tree of Wooden Clogs", I have seen all the films in the "Top Ten" list at least three times. ( I remember thinking, on first viewing, that Claude Faraldo's "Themroc" (1972) was one of the most important films ever made, but viewing it a second time I was embarrassed that I had recommended it to all my friends ). I have a feeling that Jan Troell's film "Here is Your Life" is one of the best films I have ever seen, but I have to reserve judgement as I have only seen it once, and that was about twenty years ago. Most of the films in the "bubbling under" section have only been viewed once and I would like to see them again before declaring that they were truly great films. If anyone viewing this posting has seen "The Tree of Wooden Clogs", "Here is Your Life", "The Travelling Players" "Jesus of Montreal " "Boy" or "Fat City", please let me know that I was not mistaken in my belief that they were really good films.

David Simkin

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10 films that I can watch over and over again:

The Third Man

Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday

Citizen Cane


A Matter of Life and Death

Battleship Potemkin

Blow Up

Once Upon a Time in the West

Midnight Cowboy

Out of Towners (the original, with Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis)

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Oh gosh! How to limit the list to just 10. This is very nearly impossible. However, My top 4 would have to be -

A Matter of Life and Death by Powell & Pressburger - seen on a small black & white portable TV when I was a student and made me so excited about the possibilities of cinema I had to go and walk the streets for an hour to calm down!

The Red Shoes by Powell & Pressburger

Mishima by Paul Shrader

Kundun by Martin Scorsese

Add -

The Lord of the Rings trilogy was one of the best film going experiences ever.

Japanese cinema also - Kenji Mizoguchi's films such as -

The Life of Oharu

and Akira Kurosawa's -

The Seven Samurai.

Sir Carol Reed's -

Odd Man Out (much better than The Third Man I think)

That's 8 (counting LOTR as one).

I'll come back with the last two later.


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Guest Andrew Moore

David asks if anyone else has seen Jesus of Montreal. I have, and used to have a copy on VHS. You are not mistaken in thinking it a very good film, exploring contemporary and traditional ideas of virtue, though the ending is very bleak.

But I think that while well made, and a refreshing change from commercial cinema of the 1980s, it is not, as are the other films you list, one that you would watch repeatedly. I didn't, and eventually re-used the tape.

I'm not sure of the value of such lists, though I would endorse many of the choices here.

Perhaps I could suggest a refinement of the question, and ask people to suggest performances or scenes that are especially excellent.

For the former, I would include Dustin Hoffman in Midnight Cowboy and Daniel Auteuil in Manon des Sources. For the latter, I would nominate the scene in The Elephant Man where Mrs. Kendall (Anne Bancroft) visits John Merrick (John Hurt) in his rooms in the London Hospital. She gives him a copy of Shakespeare's plays, and John begins to read from Romeo and Juliet - the passage where the lead characters meet at Capulet's ball. As John Merrick reads aloud: "If I profane with my unworthiest hand...", Mrs. Kendall replies with Juliet's lines, which she knows by rote. As they reach the end of this section, John Merrick concludes: "And then it says 'they kiss'..." Mrs. Kendall kisses him lightly on his deformed cheek, and says: "Oh, Mr. Merrick, you're not an elephant man at all."

This scene always moves me. But I have shown it to many hard-bitten teenagers, on whom it has much the same effect.

More technically sophisticated perhaps is the scene in Cabaret where, in the performance of a single song - Tomorrow Belongs to Me - the writers more or less explain the irresistible appeal of Nazism to an optimistic Germany in the early 1930s.

I recall that, at the time of release, Midnight Cowboy and The Graduate were more or less equally popular vehicles for Mr. Hoffman. But the former has endured far better than the latter, which looks very lightweight to me today.

Another test worth applying is how much films date, and how much others still look fresh. A Clockwork Orange seems to me as much of its time as On the Buses* - not in its themes, but in its design and cinematography. But Triumph of the Will, Don't Look Now and Badlands, for instance, seem to be very fresh and modern.

* Readers from outside the UK, or under the age of 40, should know that On the Buses was a feature spin-off from an extremely weak situation comedy based on crude stereotypes (cheeky workers manage to outwit a miserable authority figure).

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I like Andrew's refinements of the question a great deal. As much as I now dislike "Apocalypse Now", the scene where they stop the sampan and search it, and wind up killing the entire family - closing with Captain Willard shooting the wounded Vietnamese girl to death and saying "I told you not to stop. Now let's go." seems to me to be a great scene that captures much of the madness of war. Dustin Hoffman whacking the hood of the taxi in "Midnight Cowboy" - "I'm walking here!" was tremendous, and as I understand it, entirely unplanned. I think there are many scenes in LOTR that will be "scene" as great - but one that always gets me is the charge of the Rohirim at the battle of Pelenor Fields. Talk about your bloodlust!

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  • 2 weeks later...
For what it's worth, here are, in chronological order, ten of the best films I have seen.

1.  Seven Samurai ( Akira Kurosawa. Japan. 1954 )

2.  Battle of Algiers ( Gillo Pontecorvo. Italy/France/ Algiers. 1965 )

3.  Andrei Rublev ( Andrei Tarkovsky. USSR. 1966 )

4.  The Conformist ( Bernardo Bertolucci. Italy. 1969 )

5.  The Godfather ( Francis Ford Coppola. USA. 1972 )

6.  The Spirit of the Beehive ( Victor Erice. Spain. 1973 )

7.  Mean Streets ( Martin Scorsese. USA. 1973 )

8.  The Lacemaker ( Claude Goretta. Switz./ France. 1977 )

9.  The Tree of Wooden Clogs ( Ermanno Olmi. Italy. 1978 )

10. My Life as a Dog ( Lasse Hallstrom. Sweden. 1985 )

I agree that all these films are good examples of filmmaking. However, I would question whether two of these films (Godfather and Mean Streets), should be in the top ten. Martin Scorsese is obviously a great filmmaker but shouldn’t we demand more of him? The subject matter of Scorsese’s films give me concern. What do we learn about the human condition from his films? (Too much according to the Italian-American pressure groups.) For my taste, Scorsese gets too much pleasure of showing violence on the screen. This no doubts adds to his box-office appeal, but raises serious questions about his obsession with criminals. I would not mind if he addresses the political issues behind organized crime. He does not do this. In fact, his main concern is to play on the prejudices of his audience. If he wants to explore the contribution made by Italian immigrants to America, why does he not make a film about the activities of people like Nicola Sacco, Bartolomeo Vanzetti, Arthuro Giovannitti, Carlo Tresca, Vito Marcantonio, and Fiorello La Guardia?

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Andrew writes:

More technically sophisticated perhaps is the scene in Cabaret where, in the performance of a single song - Tomorrow Belongs to Me - the writers more or less explain the irresistible appeal of Nazism to an optimistic Germany in the early 1930s.

Yes, scary, isn't it? It was parodied by the Spitting Image team when the Tory Party under Margaret Thatcher's leadership came up for re-election and was broadcast on the eve of her third victory. The blonde Hitler Youth was replaced by a youth dressed in a business suit and raising an umbrella in a Nazi salute. The line "Do you think you can still control them?" was uttered by a Roy Hattersley puppet to a despairing Neil Kinnock puppet. I still have the recording somewhere.

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