Ten best list…with an addendum.
Though far from complete, this list is close to what I consider “marker” films, or movies that had some sort of influence and change in the way we perceive story and character. Many happen to be films noir, though that was not my intent. Except for three, they are all Hollywood films.
1) Citizen Kane. One of the first Hollywood films to consciously use European influences. Though not the first to use a fragmented story structure, it was a bold change for Tinseltown. Moguls would do their best to make sure a mistake like this would never happen again. Hell, every sane studio boss wanted to burn the negative.
2) Maltese Falcon (1941 vers). Arguably the film that began “film noir,” though this would be forever disputed (with films like Citizen Kane, for example).
3) Shadow of a Doubt. Influential Hitchcock. All is not right with post-war America. Something’s a little off with the apple pie and Uncle Charlie. Would later influence films like Blue Velvet. Terrific Thornton Wilder script.
4) Black Narcissus. An amazing use of color cinematography for such a dark film, a kind of “color noir” like Leave Her to Heaven. The sexual tension between Nuns in the Himalayas is palpable – unusual for a film of the forties.
5) He Walked By Night. A great example of perfect low-budget noir. Very little dialogue and an important model for “policiers,” notably Dragnet.
6) Wages of Fear. The perfect plot device. Simple, inescapable: drive nitroglycerin over rough terrain – a perfect metaphor.
7) D.O.A. A classic noir device: find your own murderer because you’re dead. Better than Sunset Boulevard.
8) Kiss Me Deadly. Nothing is more important in the late 50s than this noir, because it is about the end of the world. Better than sci-fi.
9) The Searchers. Westerns would never be the same after this one, made by the man who pretty much invented them. Erased the concept of “good vs. evil” and influenced across genre lines.
10) Point Blank. “Old-school” noir is now officially over. This film was the dividing line into modernism and no one could play a Donald Westlake character better than Lee Marvin.
11) North By Northwest. Perhaps one of the most perfect screenplays. Ernest Lehman’s script is a textbook for great plotting and dialogue. And in the hands of a visual maestro like Hitchcock, proves again that it’s a Director’s medium!
12) Rashomon. Another game-changer in the story structure department. Japanese critics thought its popularity outside of Asia made it too Western. Copied by everyone from Kubrick to Tarantino.
13) 2001: A Space Odyssey. Why a major studio made this film will forever be as mysterious as the elliptical plot. Like Citizen Kane, studios will work overtime to make sure this never happens again. One of the great films of all time and another marker of modernism in cinema.
14) Apocalypse Now. What I consider the last of the great Hollywood movies. End of the last great decade of virtuoso filmmaking, this allegory about the violent soul of man plays near perfect, and is a great adaptation of Conrad. Hollywood should have shut its doors after this one.
2009 Los Angeles, California