The Top 150: letter ‘C’
The past is never truly past in the world of director Michael Haneke, nor is there any such thing as a fully wholesome, stable family unit. And if one pretends to be, Haneke tears it apart with a measured subtlety and astonishing precision. This chilling examination of repressed memory and societal guilt deconstructs pretenses of undeserved peace, and is the most effective of the filmmaker’s intensely studied morality plays.
A triumph of perfect casting and a deft balance between war-time world weariness and good-ole-fashioned American schmaltz. Not quite as immortally great as its reputation has become, but it’s a terrific film that serves as a crown jewel for Hollywood’s Golden Age. Plus it has more famous quotes than Bogie could shake a cigar at.
One the earliest great psychological horror films, trading in the standard monster antics fashionable at the time for the unnerving anxieties and fears lurking in its characters’ psyches. Superstition, legend, paranoia, and repressed sexuality combine to create a bizarre and utterly compelling piece of classic horror filmmaking.
One would be unwise to peg this as just another juvenile Kevin Smith crude-fest. While the quick wit and eloquent vulgarity is all there, this is one of the most observant and poignant explorations of misguided modern romance you’ll ever find. It’s also one that refuses to end on a happy note, giving the viewer some hope while keeping its focus firmly on the consequences of Gen-X narcissism.
Children of Men
Eschewing more bombastic cinematic apocalypses, it depicts a stark world dying with a whimper instead of a bang. This is Alfonso Cuaron’s masterpiece and an enduring portrait of how much more powerful the anxieties within us are than those outside of us while giving us the shred of hope we need to keep on. It also features some of the greatest action set-pieces of the last decade.
Though it takes place in the 1940s, Roman Polanski’s brilliant noir is a pure product of Vietnam-era, post-Watergate national malaise and mistrust. There’s a dark secret in every nook and cranny of this quietly menacing Los Angeles, and Jack Nicholson’s performance reminds us that cynicism will not save us from the darkness underneath the veneer.
Though striking for its use of almost every cinematic technique in the book, and quite a few more on top of that, it’s more resonant for its look at what’s inside of us, the shadows of the past that drive us down the roads we take. Greatest Movie Ever? Probably not, but it’s an eternal classic born of an enigmatic mind that wasn’t given enough space to create later on.
Charlie Chaplin had a hand in every aspect of its creation, and the result is not only the diminutive auteur’s finest effort but perhaps the greatest pure cinematic expression of the Silent Movie Era (four years after the introduction of sound). It takes aim at a broad spectrum of society’s ills while never forgetting to leave open its wonderful heart.
City of God
More searing and uncompromising than anything you’ll find in a Hollywood film, Brazil’s masterful export makes American gangster films like The Godfather and Goodfellas feel almost pastoral. The streets of Rio run red with the blood of lost youth, and the hyperkinetic realism is offset by a crushing air of Shakespearean tragedy.
A Clockwork Orange
Perhaps cinema’s most cutting and uncomfortably funny science fiction satire, Kubrick’s peek at technologically enforced conformity grows more prescient and disturbing with each passing year. Populated by insistent bores and ridiculous drones, we find ourselves latching onto this future’s only truly human character, a theatrical sociopath whose choices, while often horrifying, are always and completely his own. He seems like the freest man left in the world.
Come and See
By my estimation the greatest war movie ever made, with a horrifying power that often seems born of another world. It depicts the Nazi invasion of Belarus in the truest way such ruthless “total war” can be depicted; a waking nightmare into which all notions of heroism and innocence and humanity become lost, sucked down into the abyss. Not easy to watch, but guaranteed to leave a mark.