Looking to improve your knowledge on film, but don’t have the time? Look no further. This list will help introduce you to some classic films; now you can wow some nerdy babes/babettes at the bar. “Oh, you’ve seen 12 Monkeys, but have you seen the Chris Marker film it was based on?” and “film noir — yeah that genre is alright — but have you seen Joe May’s Asphalt? Yeah, it’s called strasse-film (street film) and it kind of like helped create that genre. Come back to my place and I’ll tell you all about it.” I’ve played it out a million times in my head and that’s how it always works out. So, without further ado, here it is organized by running times.
La Jetée (Chris Marker, 1962) (English)
Chris Marker was a talented photographer and even more amazing filmmaker. It’s hard to believe this film was shot in one day and contains so many well composed and brilliantly lighted images. The film, which runs only twenty eight minutes, is almost entirely composed of black and white photographs, making it a most unique science fiction narrative.
The story follows a man from Paris traveling through time in an attempt to save the present from catastrophe. His voice guides us through the dark narrative as the gritty images of the Parisian catacombs pass slowly across the screen. Unlike 12 Monkeys, Terry Gilliam’s film based on Jetée, we are given much more to think about in this short piece.
Running time: 28 Minutes
La planète sauvage (René Laloux 1973) (French)
For our fans of animation I have chosen this classic by René Laloux. Fantastic Planet (as it’s called in English) is a beautifully painted surrealist journey to the distant planet Ygam, where humans are pets to a giant psychic race known as the Draags. Following in the footsteps of Prometheus (who stole fire from the gods), our human protagonist must use stolen alien knowledge to free human kind.
This movie is nothing, if not trippy. Although the film was inspired by the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia, the violent undertones are second to an otherwise gorgeous fantasy world.
Running time: 75 minutes
Due to the West’s long and estranged past with Cuba, many brilliant filmmakers managed to fall through the cracks, Tomás Alea is one such person. This comedy follows a young man as he tries to retrieve a union card that has been buried with his dead uncle. Without the union card his poor aunt will never find closure, not to mention get her husband’s pension.
Paying homage to films like Ikiru, the young man in the story must battle red tape and the bureaucratic runaround to better humanity, or in this case his aunt. Perhaps this sounds morbid and dull, but like many of Alea’s films it’s whimsical and a lot of fun.
Running time: 85 minutes
City Lights (Charles Chaplin, 1931) (English, Mostly Silent)
What can I say about City Lights or Modern Times that has not been said, and what can I say about the big guy himself? Well, I would never throw around this word lightly, but he is a legend. The day I meet someone who doesn’t like Chaplin, well, that will be an interesting day indeed.
In City Lights, Chaplin falls in love with a poor blind girl, who sells flowers in the street. In a typical Chaplin narrative (always making social commentary), he is a tramp who cares more about the content of life than the money in his pockets. He does his best to care for his blind crush, even if it means giving her what little he has. What a swell guy.
Running time: 87 minutes
Modern Times (Charles Chaplin, 1936) (English, Mostly Silent)
Two Charlie Chaplin movies; I couldn’t help myself. Chaplin falls in love with a tough girl, who has recently lost her family and found herself on the street. Unlike City Lights, this poor girl can take of herself and even Chaplin at various points (light on the sexism).
This film eludes to the dangers humanity faces via technology and its dehumanizing powers on factory workers; once again he is showing us what is most important in life and his unique view of the world. Also, very interesting use of sound in an otherwise silent movie.
Running time: 87 minutes
French New Wave co-founder and indie film-making champion, Jean-Luc Godard, takes us on a wild ride with a young pseudo sociopathic car thief. Join this crazy cool French cat as he cruises the countryside and causes mischief and crashes cars. This film became famous for the creative camera work, editing, and avant-garde dialogue Godard is known for.
This piece will have you wishing you’re half as cool as the chain smoking Jean-Paul Belmondo (above), complete with a great suit and stoic attitude.
Running time: 87 minutes
Rashomon (Akira Kurosawa, 1950) (Japanese)
A film by the late Akira Kurosawa, who is surely the most famous director to come out of Japan (Sorry Ozu). His attention to detail and unique storytelling style has made him an icon. In fact, he is one of two directors who inspired my own love of film. In Rashomon we are told the same story, but from the alternative points of view of several characters.
These multiple flashbacks outline a story of murder, deceit, rape, and conquest. It doesn’t get any more this Shakespearian than this and who would want it to? This film has it all, including the legendary Toshirô Mifune (above).
Running time: 88 minutes
Made by the famous Ingmar Bergman, this film follows a Red Riding Hood type narrative, albeit darker and more nefarious; the kind of black drama the Sweds are so good at. After men attack an innocent young woman the same men end up seeking shelter with the girl’s family. Will the family take revenge?
The cinematography, lighting, and setting (the Swedish countryside) are enchanting enough to diffuse some of the gravity of the story. However, it is not for the faint of heart, and don’t expect a happy ending in this one. What we’re left with is a beautifully potent narrative about mortality and the human spirit.
Another soldier of the French New Wave, Alain Resnais, shows us the power of love to transcend borders and perhaps even time. This film takes a look at Japan after the Hiroshima bombings, from the perspective of a French actress and a Japanese businessman.
Hiroshima mon amour is a poem rapped in celluloid. This film is quietly profound. It is as beautiful as it is disturbing in how it crawls under your skin. It will tug at your humanness and ask the question: can our humanity save us from another tragedy or will we leave it behind for our old routine?
Running time: 90 Minutes
Asphalt (Joe May, 1929) (German, Silent)
Joe May was making romantic films about upstanding policeman and beautiful jewel thieves before it was cool. In fact, May even gave Fritz Lang his start in cinema as a screenwriter (put that in your pipe and smoke it). A progenitor to the film noir genre in Hollywood, Asphalt gives us the beautiful, well lit, and high contrasted images any noir buff could hope for (and great editing too).
The narrative follows a policeman drawn into the underworld via a gorgeous thief, who, you got it, wishes to change her ways. Both characters must decide what path they take to escape the seedy underbelly of Berlin.
Running time: 90 minutes