8. “The Travelling Players”, Theo Angelopoulos (1975)

Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen List

The Travelling Players

The Travelling Players aka Ο Θίασος or O Thiassos

dir. Theo Angelopoulos scr. Theo Angelopoulos cin. Giorgos Arvanitis with Eva Kotamanidou, Aliki Georgouli, Vangelis Kazan, Stratos Pahis, Maria Vassiliou, Petros Zarkadis, Kiriakos Katrivanos, Giannis Fyrios, Nina Papazaphiropoulou, Alekos Boubis, Grigoris Evangelatos, Kosta Stiliaris

In 100 words: The complex political history of post-war Greece is the backdrop of this beautiful but dreary film, full of elegant long takes, limited dialogue, and literary callbacks. Angelopoulos practically invents cinematic grammar to express his point of view. Jumping between flashbacks and current timeline without so much as a pause or even a cut, Angelopoulos fills the screen with so much horror and holds a few beats at them as if to implant the images in the audiences’ head. Angry and bitter, but also mournful about the country’s state, like the permanent grays of his images. Cinema at its most powerful.

Other Movies for Context: A rare movie experience that’s rapturous and quite convincing as a fascinating take on historical crimes and as an angry form of national cinema. Angelopoulos has such bracing grammar, but sometimes it’s too hard to really get into films because of their deliberate pace. Ulysses’ Gaze (1995) was a total wash even though it was spectacularly filmed. Eternity and a Day (1997) may have won him the Palme d’Or but it’s still not as easy to digest what’s going on.

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9. “Aguirre, The Wrath of God”, Werner Herzog (1972)

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

Aguirre the Wrath of God

Aguirre, the Wrath of God aka Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes

dir. Werner Herzog scr. Werner Herzog cin. Thomas Mauch with Klaus Kinski, Helena Rojo, Ruy Guerra, Del Negro

In 100 words: The definitive portrait of madness and hubris, Aguirre is an extraordinary film that accumulates power from the increasingly desperate scenarios that its crew of would-be conquerors are forced to face. Herzog’s legendary combustible working relationship with Klaus Kinski pays dividends, as his star’s inimitable manic energy and imposing figure terrorizes his compatriots and magnify the fear that the wild and unruly jungle have wreaked. The film’s camera and the tremendous sound mix always places the audience within the brutal setting. As their numbers dwindle, the film gets increasingly surreal and sensational, a waking nightmare that culminates with a jawdropping image.

Other Movies for Context: The only other Herzog movie I’ve seen is his 2005 documentary Grizzly Man, a fascinating and sometimes funny look at a man who was famous for living with grizzly bears, and getting eaten by one. Herzog’s movie inspired Apocalypse Now.

10. “Rocco and His Brothers”, Luchino Visconti (1960)

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

Rocco and His Brothers

Rocco and His Brothers aka Rocco e i suoi fratelli

dir. Luchino Visconti scr. Luchino Visconti, Suso Cecchi D’Amico, Pasquale Festa Campanile, Massimo Franciosa, and Enrico Mediola based on the novel Il ponte della Ghisolfa by Giovanni Testori cin. Giuseppe Rotunno with Alain Delon, Renato Salvatori
Annie Girardot, Katina Paxinou, Spiros Focás, Max Cartier, and Rocco Vidolazzi

In 100 words: Visconti’s masterpiece has the sweep and the social critique of great literature with the emotions and grandeur of opera. Few films can match its silvery pearlescent images, impeccable narrative structure or its rich luscious score. The actors richly tapped into a convincing portrait of a tightly bonded family making compromises and questionable choices. The story is an astonishing take on the moral, spiritual, and effects of capitalism to family structures in post-war Italy. The film also breaks down masculinity in ways that are shockingly grotesque and enraging. Epic, daring, and perfect in so many ways, down to the music. Delon!

Other Movies for Context: Ah Visconti, my favorite lover of excess emotions. I love Senso (1954), his vibrant use of colors are expressive but his characters are all so emotional and love showing them. The Leopard (1963) is often called his best, but I find this one a bit too pompous and a little less discerning.

11. “Persona”, Ingmar Bergman (1966)

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

Persona

Persona

dir. Ingmar Bergman scr. Ingmar Bergman cin. Sven Nykvist with Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann

In 100 words: What the fuck is this movie about? And why does it feel like it pierces into my soul? I’ve never seen faces these well-lit, lit in stark contrasts, sometimes with unforgiving lights or gentle caresses. I love Bergman’s avant garde take on the feminine psyche, his sort-of political stance on Vietnam, his understanding of how desirous it is to speak with someone and have someone listen to your thoughts, but also to receive pleasure from hearing someone speak to you their unfiltered lives. It is also a stunning evocation of film, and maybe even its artifice. Andersson and Ullmann spark.

Other Movies for Context: Experimental Bergman is at his loosest, least easily digestible, and most adventurous. Curiously, the film the most fits this is Robert Altman’s loose remake 3 Women (1977), which has the same setup, except more impressionistic than experimental. Mulholland Dr. (2001) by David Lynch feels similarly intriguing with a particularly inscrutable plot.

12. “La Dolce Vita”, Federico Fellini (1960)

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

La Dolce Vita

La Dolce Vita or The Sweet Life

dir. Federico Fellini scr. Federico Fellini, Ennio Flaiano, Tullio Pinelli, Brunello Rondi cin. Otello Martelli with Marcello Mastroianni, Anita Ekberg, Anouk Aimée, Yvonne Furneaux, Magali Noël, Alain Cuny, and Nadia Gray

In 100 words: Fellini’s masterpiece is this beautiful nightmare of a movie: at once a joyous display of cinematic craft, definitive style, and auto-reflection and simultaneously, a despairing look at the emptiness of a hedonistic lifestyle. Whereas Antonioni painted a decaying society with empty roads and spaces, Fellini portrayed the same with the opposite: he filled his frames with indelible images of crowds that surround Marcello, or him being with a different beautiful woman every day, or him participating in an orgy. Either way, nothing he does satisfies him, and that’s the point. Vivid images, great choice in music, lovely performance grace notes.

Other Movies for Context: I think about Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty when I see this movie, particularly because Sorrentino’s obvious affection for Fellini are evident. Interestingly enough, I can say the same for Im Sang Soo’s The Taste of Money which just engrosses its characters in so much wealth, without ever finding satisfaction. Fellini’s own 8 1/2 (1963) feels the most similar among his oeuvre, though that’s more of a mess to me than the beautifully orchestrated mess here.

13. “Nashville”, Robert Altman (1975)

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

Nashville

Nashville

dir. Robert Altman scr. Joan Tewkesbury cin. Paul Lohmann with David Arkin, Barbara Baxley, Ned Beatty, Karen Black, Ronee Blakley, Timothy Brown, Keith Carradine, Geraldine Chaplin, Robert DoQui, Shelley Duvall, Allen Garfield, Henry Gibson, Scott Glenn, Jeff Goldblum, Barbara Harris, David Hayward, Michael Murphy, Allan F. Nicholls, Dave Peel, Cristina Raines, Bert Remsen, Lily Tomlin, Gwen Welles, Keenan Wynn, and Thomas Hal Phillips

In 100 words: An intimidating canvas brimming with rich characterizations and numerous stories: at times on the verge of breaking apart by the sheer size of its cast and the extensiveness of its storytelling, but astonishingly holds steady for three hours. Altman’s technique in overlapping sounds adds vibrant texture to the precise images of faces, crowds, and a synchronized cast. Impeccable study of America and its complexities during the 1970s: post-Vietnam War emotions, relevant economic anxieties, the blending of politics and entertainment, and celebrity. But within such a huge tapestry, Altman finds the poetry of the lonely, the desperate, and the left behind.

Other Movies for Context: This was such a great movie mostly because Altman managed to hone in on the personal amid such a huge cast. He does the same level of intimate portrait within a huge gallery of characters in films like McCabe and Mrs Miller (1972), his revisionist take on westerns, Gosford Park (2001), my favorite after Nashville set in Downton Abbey-style English manor, The Player (1993) which kind of left me cold, and A Prairie Home Companion (2005), which feels most similar to this movie in terms of country music roots.

14. “Only Angels Have Wings”, Howard Hawks (1939)

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

Only Angels Have Wings

Only Angels Have Wings

dir. Howard Hawks scr. Howard Hawks and Jules Furthman cin. Joseph Walker and Paul Mantz with Cary Grant, Jean Arthur, Richard Barthelmess, Rita Hayworth, Thomas Mitchell, Allyn Joslyn, Sig Ruman, Victor Kilian, John Carroll, Don Barry, and Noah Beery, Jr.

In 100 words: The greatest movie of Hollywood’s Golden Age is one that perfectly embodied the American spirit of community and the idealized view of pragmatism, while still retaining a witty sense of humor and a disarming view of tragedy. Like most of his films, Hawks populates this world with characters so engrossed in their work, but have built sturdy brotherly relationships with their coworkers, even when the danger and anxiety of flying airplanes are real and treacherous. In that regard, its existential tension predates the highs of Wages of Fear, while the simmering relationships recall Lubitsch. Lovely precise technical craft, engaging performances. Grant’s finest performance.

Other Movies for Context: Hawks is probably the most underrated of the great directors. I adore almost all of the movies he’s done. I think about Howard Hughes when I think of this movie, and as such, Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator (2004) stands as an interesting flick to watch with this. The workplace as a great location for viewing human relations also has parallels to recent films like Spotlight (2015) or Steve Jobs (2015).