Top Twenty Films For a “Film Education”

Here’s my list of the top twenty “film education” movies- that is to say not my favourites, or even those I particularly like.  Instead, this is what should be watched for a full breadth of the cinematic world.

All these movies have been analysed to a far greater depth than I can manage in this article, so there will only be a very brief description to each one. I also tried to pick films that will speak for themselves in regards to their selection, although there might be a few surprises.

2001: A Space Odyssey– Kubrick had to get on this list somewhere. Enough said.

Bicycle Thieves– One my favourites (as cliché as that is), this film not only shows us different sides of Italian culture but the birth of modern European cinema.

Breathless– In my opinion this film has dated rather badly, but only because it has influenced so many people. If you like 90’s cinema, especially Tarantino, this has to be viewed.

Casablanca– Noir had to get on this list somewhere, and this is probably the most famous. Not to mention a brilliant film anyway.

Citizen Kane– Often regarded as the greatest movie of all time, although it is not mine the technical achievement for the time is quite astonishing.

It’s A Wonderful Life– OK it gets a little schmaltzy, but the plot is pretty original for its day. The phrase “ultimate feel good film” is wheeled out far too much, and here is the perfect reason why it shouldn’t be- IAWL has long since claimed the title.

Night of the Living Dead– Although it has spawned a thousand awful knock-offs, I doubt there is a single Western horror director who has not seen this film.

North by Northwest– Hitchcock is The Beatles of cinema, and I mean that as a compliment. A dominant force that you can’t ignore.

Pulp Fiction– The first American independent film to really make it big, Tarantino is one of the few men in Hollywood who can do what he wants, and it’s all thanks to this.

Salesman- Looking back at this documentary now, we see the birth of reality television. Still utterly engrossing.

Star Wars– If you grew up in the West anytime between 1970-1994 this film will have affected your life in some way.

Taxi Driver– American New Wave at its finest, Scorcese mixes the best of other titles on this list and makes it his own.

The Birth of a Nation– I really hate to put this on the list, as its racist subject matter is repulsive. But it invented (or at least showed for the first time) many cinematic techniques. Shows that not all good art has a worthy moral message.

The Godfather Part 2– Number two on IMDB at the time of writing, not only stunning to look at, but a huge influence on the rise of the mafia in popular culture.

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly– Westerns may have died off in recent years, but this is the genre at their peak.

The Great Dictator Classic Chaplin. The fact those two words create images in your head explains why it made the list.

The Seventh Seal– I am a big Bergmann fan, and this is European cinema at its greatest; just beautiful art.

The Shawshank Redemption– A great film, and number one in the IMDB top 250, an incredible achievement considering its original low box office figures.

Toy Story- A little bit of a cop out as I couldn’t pick an animated movie, this is the point where old became the new in the purest sense. Still hold ups today in every way.

Yojimbo– A flaw of the list is the lack of World cinema as a whole; this will have to plug the gap for now, but expect another list in the future!

God, that was tough.
The missing man here is Steven Spielberg- if I’m honest there wasn’t one of his films I could pick as really definitive, so Jaws is this list’s honourable mention.

Or maybe Metropolis, Tokyo Story, or even a Un Chien Andalou. A kung-fu or exploitation flick. And we haven’t even touched on Cuba, Spain, Korea….And where is Marilyn?

The only point I can really make is just take on any recommendations that you can, film is a continuing expanding universe of the imagination that can only enrich regardless of quality.

That said, I would love to hear your opinions on this, so please comment below!

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One Response to Top Twenty Films For a “Film Education”

  1. Great list! A few of those I’ve yet to see, but they’re definitely on my Netflix queue!

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