It is incredibly hard to edit my favorite films down to five. I have favorite films from each decade and each genre. Silent films and foreign language films. Films that I watch over and over. Some are impactful because of their emotional content and some because of their visual beauty. I couldn’t get to five no matter how hard I tried, so here are six of my favorites.
If you are a Hitchcock fan as I am, you will know every one of Hitchcock’s masterpieces. This film is often overlooked. Hitchcock felt that it was one of his weakest. I would disagree. Sabotage is a tight 76 minute film with a stunning performance by Sylvia Sidney that is a true masterclass in suspense. In one five-minute sequence, the audience is subjected to the torture of a literal “ticking time bomb” carried by a boy through the crowded London streets and onto a bus. We know he carries a bomb but he does not. As he pets a small puppy and the clock ticks ever closer towards the moment of detonation, Hitchcock hones his skill of pulling on the heartstrings and creating tension in the audience as the characters in the film continue on in ignorance of the tragedy that awaits them.
This film is based on a very successful play of the same name by Clare Boothe Luce. I have perhaps seen this film more than any other. In gay culture, or at least that of my generation, it has reached legendary status. Many gay men my age can literally quote entire scenes. The Women walks the thin line between high camp and a story that is universal and modern for its day with great performances by an all-star cast of 135 women and not a single man. Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer, Rosalind Russell, and many other actresses of the day give great performances. This is a spectacular film and an example of Cukor’s power as a great “women’s director”. The dialogue is so quick and snappy that after viewing this film literally dozens of times, I still pick up on a line each time that I had not noticed previously.
2001: A Space Odyssey
I could have placed all of Kubrick’s films on this list except perhaps for his last. 2001 is powerful for me primarily for its art direction that still looks modern today. The stunning visuals were ahead of their time. Images of this film are burned into my mind and have been influential in my work as a film director and even as a fashion designer.
The Last Picture Show
This film for me is one of the all-time greats. There is no room for waste in the film and every single moment, every gesture in The Last Picture Show is deliberate. As the film begins, we fade up on a desolate movie palace, already run-down in 1951, and the camera pans to the left to take in the main street of a dusty Texas town. This will also be the end shot, except in reverse. Billy, a simple-minded boy sweeping the street's endless dust, is glimpsed through a hole in a passing windshield: and how does he die at the end of the film? Hit by a car—and our first sight of him is framed by broken glass. Whether Bogdanovich planned these things out in advance—as I suspect he did—or discovered them in the editing room doesn't matter. Every character nuance, every camera move, every cut is leading you somewhere. The film makes an incredible use of sound. The bleak austerity of the picture's sound design is often honed to a single effect of one kind or another—intensely blowing wind, the creak of bedsprings, sourced music (usually Hank Williams in this case; Bogdanovich uses no other score), even complete silence. He does this to help us feel what those characters feel, that sense we have in life of one sense-impression taking over.
In the Mood for Love
This is a mesmerizing love story that literally transports the viewer. The cinematography, score and sheer beauty of it all stuns me every time I watch this film. I could watch this film over and over.
This is an important and incredibly timely film if you have not seen it, and if you have it is time to watch it again. The film explores the history of racial inequality in the United States and the fact that the nation's prisons are disproportionately filled with African-Americans. Beautifully made.