70. “The Ballad of Narayama”, Shohei Imamura (1983)

Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list.

narayama.jpg

The Ballad of Narayama aka 楢山節考 or Narayama bushikō

dir. Shohei Imamura (1983) scr. Shohei Imamura, based on the novel by Shichiro Fukazawa cin. Masao Tochizawa with Ken Ogata, Sumiko Sakamoto, Tonpei Hidari, Seiji Kurasaki

In 100 words: If he were not a filmmaker, Imamura would have made a great anthropologist. His incisive observations of Japanese society’s outcasts was best epitomized by this naturalistic, almost zoological take on a Japanese urban legend. Narayama possesses incredible tonal fluidity—there are moments of tenderness within the frequent vulgarity and dark humor that blend well with the intense grimness of its subject and storytelling. Its themes of self-sacrifice and of familial love and loyalty encapsulated so much of the real Japanese culture that its director famously sought to portray all his life. The final 20-minute near-silent journey is a cinematic wonder.

Other Movies for Context: I think Imamura is one of my five favorite directors ever and so I’ve seen a lot of his work, which has been populated by characters like pimps, whores, gangsters, pornographers, etc. My favorite of his work, apart from this one, is his glorious take on the aftermath of the Hiroshima bombings, Black Rain (1988). This is followed closely by Intentions of Murder (1964), about a rapist who falls in love with his victim, and Vengeance is Mine (1979), Imamura’s grimmest and coldest picture that profiles a serial murderer. The Insect Woman (1963) offers his most interesting female character, since the movie focuses solely on her development. Pigs and Battleships (1961) and The Pornographers (1966) are both oddball movies, even by Imamura’s standards. Eijanaka (1981), meanwhile, finds Imamura at his loosest, most chill mode. All of them are worth seeking out.

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71. “White Material”, Claire Denis (2009)

Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list.

White Material

White Material

dir. Claire Denis scr. Claire Denis and Marie NDiaye cin. Yves Cape with Isabelle Huppert and Christopher Lambert

In 100 words: The images of Isabelle Huppert standing in stark contrast to her sundried, fragile environment is quite an indelible statement on African colonialism—which is the essence of this complex and jagged film. A personal essay on identity, its malleability and its permutations, Material evinces a restless disquiet, with its hypnotic sounds and ever-roving camera, its narrative looseness, and its characters’ constant run-in with danger, often through their own stubborn refusal to do what’s good for them. It’s a ruthless depiction of imperialist arrogance, and the wretched effects of imperialism, made complicated by Denis’ sensual and sympathetic treatment of the subject.

Other Movies for Context: Denis is renowned for her singular take on imperialism and African identities, often noted for her sensual images of human bodies. Her peak, to many people, is Beau Travail (1999), which I have regrettably not seen. The only other Denis movie I’ve seen is 38 Shots of Rum (2008), a movie that depicts an African father and daughter who live in an integrated part of Paris. The film’s themes have often reminded me of Yasujiro Ozu’s films, but integrated with Denis’s distinct voice.

72. “The Godfather”, Francis Ford Coppola (1972)

Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list.

Godfather

The Godfather

dir. Francis Ford Coppola (1972) scr. Mario Puzo & Francis Ford Coppola based on Puzo’s novel of the same name cin. Gordon Willis with Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Richard Castellano, Robert Duvall, Sterling Hayden, John Marley, Richard Conte, Diane Keaton

In 100 words: Few films are as iconic or influential as this towering accomplishment of the American New Wave. Coppola’s richly detailed film is beautifully coated by Willis in golden hues and blanketed with shadows that threaten to swallow characters whole. His characters are all deeply sketched and specific, that despite the sprawl, they hardly feel anonymous. Ace editing, scene construction, and score help build a menacing atmosphere, even without the constant eruption of violence. But at its heart is a layered father and son film: lessons pass on from the elder to the younger, just as a new world replaces the old.

Other Movies for Context: Coppola’s film is so influential, that it’s often imitated but never duplicated. Such is the fate of his two sequels: The Godfather Pt II (1974) and The Godfather III (1991). But the series also spawned similar pictures, like Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas (1990), a stellar film that captures some of the danger of the series, but infused with Scorsese’s sensibilities. Obviously, The Sopranos, the HBO TV series that basically gave rise to the peak-TV era we live in now, pays homage to The Godfather in many way than the obvious Italian mafia commonality.

73. “Carol”, Todd Haynes (2015)

Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list.

Carol

Carol

dir. Todd Haynes (2015) scr. Phyllis Nagy cin. Edward Lachmann with Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Kyle Chandler, and Sarah Paulson

In 100 words: Everything about Carol gleams with perfection: the costumes, the set design, Lachmann’s immaculate photography, Haynes’ colors and framing, and the dreamy score ache with passion fit for a movie all about two characters, divided by age, class, and circumstance, falling unexpectedly in love. But what captivates me is the film’s focus on each character’s body language and the way they communicate love and desire without the use of words, certainly the definition of “show, not tell.” Not to mention it offers a striking discourse on sexuality, sexism, and 50s American culture that few films have ever as successfully explored. Swoon.

Other Movies for Context: Haynes is such an amazing director, who is influenced by the likes of Douglas Sirk and Rainer Fassbinder. Certainly, his film Far From Heaven (2002) is most similar to this movie, in tone, subject matter, and look (courtesy of the same cinematographer). Brief Encounter (1946), David Lean’s romance (which shows up later on this list) has a similar structure that provides the same emotional dividends that this movie gives.

74. “The Big City”, Satyajit Ray (1963)

Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list.

Mahanagar

The Big City aka মহানগর aka Mahānagar

dir. Satyajit Ray (1963) scr. Satyajit Ray based on Abataranika by Narendranath Mitra cin. Subrata Mitra with Madhabi Mukherjee, Anil Chatterjee, Haradhan Bannerjee, Jaya Badhuri

In 100 words: The consummate humanist, Ray’s best work is this anti-melodrama that traces the changing role of women in Indian society. Ray’s films have always excelled at observing their characters’ behaviors in relation to a realistic scenario. Here, the heroine’s growing self-confidence collides against the strictures of her society—and Ray magnificently captures how her family members all react to this shift. Aided by an assured control of framing, editing, and mise-en-scene, Ray subverts melodramatic impulses for a more subtle storytelling, which then became a poignant and powerful depiction of a country in flux. Mukherjee gives one of the best performances ever.

Other Movies for Context: Obviously, the big films to see here are Satyajit Ray’s Apu Trilogy. I’ve only seen one thus far, the exquisite Pather Panchali (1955). The other Ray movie I’ve seen is his magnificent The Music Room (1958), another one of his social dioramas that is so elegantly constructed and shot. I look forward to seeing more of his films.

75. “Stop Making Sense”, Jonathan Demme (1984)

Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list.

Stop Making Sense

Stop Making Sense

dir. Jonathan Demme (1984) cin. Jordan Cronenweth with The Talking Heads

In 100 words: What? A concert movie on this list? When it’s shot with such vigor and electricity? When Demme subtly shifts the mise-en-scene in each frame to make them more interesting? When the choreography of each scene builds astonishingly like a live-action art project? When David Byrne proves just how creative, how loony, and how tireless he is at providing the best damn time for his concertgoers, embracing his weirdness and his lanky frame to express his songs’ brainy lyrics astutely? When the film feels utterly cinematic and vital but still capture the performance and feel of a concert? Well, why not?

Other Movies for Context: I’ve really not seen other concert movies, but I’ve seen Jonathan Demme movies. I adore The Silence of the Lambs (1991) and it was informative of how I viewed cinema when I was in middle school. Beloved (1998) was an interesting movie–Demme found ways to film something cinematic but too literate to really make sense, and it happens to be my favorite novel ever. Rachel Getting Married (2008)  is pretty magnificent too, and it has the same vitality as this film. Lastly, Ricki and the Flash (2015) had a lot of great music, even if the plot was kind of thin.

76. “The Battle of Algiers”, Gillo Pontecorvo (1966)

Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list.

Battle of Algiers

The Battle of Algiers aka La battaglia de Algeri

dir. Gillo Pontecorvo (1966) scr. Gillo Pontecorvo and Franco Solinas cin. Marcello Gatti with Jean Martin, Saadi Yacef, Brahim Haggiag, and Tommaso Neri

In 100 words: A blisteringly realistic take on the Algerian liberation, Pontecorvo’s film is one of the greatest political films to ever exist. Shot with a handheld camera that reacts to every explosion, violence, or march with alarming intensity and dexterity, putting the audience in the thick of the action. The coldness of its approach to portraying both the police’s and the terrorists’ tactics make it feel evenhanded, although Pontecorvo’s sympathies are clear. Still, I’ve yet to see a film that immerses you in its violence, in its chaos, in the everyday lives of its characters with such vitality as this one does.

Other Movies for Context: The Palme d’Or winner Chronicle of the Years of Ember (1975) by Mohammad Lahkdar-Hamina has a similar topic, but focuses on the rural uprising. It’s underrated and is unfortunately underseen: it’s pretty spectacular. I’ve only seen one other movie by Pontecorvo, called Burn (1969), starring Marlon Brando, but that’s not a good movie to recommend at all.