I often credit this film, together with Scott's Blade Runner (1982), for kick-starting my deep, unwavering passion for reviewing films. Probably the best Holocaust film that is not a documentary. It never fails to make me sob uncontrollably like a baby every single time I revisit it. The epic scope of the film and the overwhelming emotional experience just gets me every time. The most devastating thing is that many of the circumstances as depicted in the film actually happened about 70 years ago. In my opinion, this is Spielberg’s greatest gift to us as a filmmaker, and it’s near impossible for him to top this.
#2 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, 1968)
In my opinion, the greatest science-fiction picture ever made. There is no action, has few scenes of dialogue, and moves at a snail-like pace, but its stunning visionary concept and its bold treatment of existential themes remain to be ahead of its time. Above all, it is the film’s unique melding of imagery and motion to the sound of classical music that continues to inspire me. I was immensely frustrated when I saw it for the first time and immediately panned it. It was only until my fourth viewing that I became enlightened and truly embraced this masterpiece from arguably the most admired and respected filmmaker who ever lived.
#3 Once Upon a Time in the West (Leone, 1968)
An operatic, nostalgic, and tragic treatment of the Western genre. In my opinion, this is Leone’s best film with legendary composer Ennio Morricone, whose mix of soaring strings music and his haunting “harmonica” theme make this one of the best-scored films ever. By the time the epilogue comes, the picturesque cinematography, brilliant music, and Leone’s composed direction would have combined perfectly to give one of the most rousing film endings, lifting our spirits, but at the same time, imbuing in us with a tinge of sadness that reminds us of the golden days of Western cinema now long gone.
#4 JFK (Stone, 1991)
Hands down the best edited film of all time. If you analyze the film, it contains thousands of shots, filmed in both black-and-white and colour, intercut with documentary footage, character flashbacks, and re-enactments of episodes leading up to the assassination of JFK and what happened thereafter. All of these are edited with such clarity, and the pacing of the film is so consistently rhythmic that there is never a dull or fuzzy moment. It is also the scariest film I have ever seen in my life, not because there are hideous monsters or ghosts, but because the probing of truth is often very, very frightening.
#5 Seven Samurai (Kurosawa, 1954)
A very influential action picture that focuses on storytelling and character development, this film is most memorable for me for Kurosawa’s amazing direction, especially that of the final act where elements of wind, rain and mud come together to give a highly visceral battle experience. The iconic scene of a swarm of bandits on horses galloping down from a hilltop to the village has been copied in various forms and contexts, but has never been equalled, let alone surpassed. Lots of action films now owe a huge debt to the masterful techniques devised by the great Japanese master. Not to forget, despite a lengthy runtime, it remains highly engaging and entertaining throughout.
#6 Taxi Driver (Scorsese, 1976)
My favourite Scorsese film, Taxi Driver has an unsettlingly dense atmosphere and features, in my opinion, the best performance ever by Robert De Niro. What I love about this film is its powerful, complex character study of Travis Bickle, a character whose conflicting motivations and desires remain intriguing, and its thematic treatment of alienation and loneliness not as a personal disease but as a consequence of a society whose values have gone to waste. Composer Bernard Hermann’s haunting, jazzy score accentuates the visuals, which brilliantly captures the grittiness of society’s decadence. Portraits of urban malaise don’t come any bleaker than this.
#7 Chinatown (Polanski, 1974)
One of the best screenplays ever written in American cinema by Robert Towne, Chinatown is a film lovingly directed by the great Polanski as he pays tribute to the style of film noirs of the classical period. The saturated colours used in many of the shots, the clever use of the camera and framing, the mournful Jerry Goldsmith music, and the twists and turns in the plot give us a motion picture experience that is an outstanding mix of drama, suspense and mystery, captured beautifully yet fatalistically. It gets better with each viewing and I would pick this or Taxi Driver anytime over The Godfather (1972) as the best American film of the 1970s.
#8 Cinema Paradiso (Tornatore, 1988)
Anyone who loves cinema would fall in love with this heartaching portrait of a “father-son” relationship between a boy (Toto) and an old projectionist. Cinema Paradiso is all about reminiscing the past, as we tap into our treasured memories of our loved ones and friends as well as regrets of lost opportunities. With cinema acting as a parallel because it is arguably the only visual medium that could store our lost, moving memories to nostalgic effect, the story of Toto becomes more poignant, and this is best encapsulated in the final act (featuring an amazing montage) that will leave us in a deeply, reflective mood. As a passionate cinephile, this film means a lot to me.
#9 12 Angry Men (Lumet, 1957)
It’s a testament to Lumet’s strong directing ability that sees nearly the entire film shot within the confines of a small, claustrophobic room. Furthermore, despite the short runtime, each of the twelve members of the jury is developed to an extraordinary extent, such that by the time the film ends, it is as if each one has become a close friend whom we know and understand clearly. The screenplay is exceptional as Henry Fonda’s character remarkably convinces the jurors to reverse their stand, even when the court evidence seems to point the other way. It is a film I can watch again and again without getting tired of.
#10 Casablanca (Curtiz, 1942)
Another screenplay gem of a film, with perhaps the most quotable lines ever to come from a single film. Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains, Peter Lorre, and Sydney Greenstreet form an outstanding ensemble cast that belongs to the top tier of all Hollywood classical films. A highly memorable finale provides an excellent closure to the stories of these characters, yet deep inside us, we yearn and wish to know more about them because they are such intriguing people to spend time with. All the drama and romance set against the terrifying backdrop of an impending war that would change the course of history. An emotional, beautiful, and bittersweet film that continues to age well.