Metropolis – Fritz Lang’s silent epic about a dystopian future in which the wealthy live in a beautiful city while the workers endlessly toil to keep the machinery running underground. When the son of the city’s leader discovers the horrendous truth about his comfortable life, he becomes a sort of messiah to the workers. Grand in scale and energy, it is truly impressive even by today’s standards. (Be sure to get “The Complete Metropolis.” Any other versions have scenes missing and the wrong soundtrack.)
Stardust Memories – In Woody Allen’s homage to Fellini, a film director wants to make more serious and artistic movies, but when he attends a retrospective of his work he is thronged by his adoring fans who especially love his “early, funny films.” At once dramatic and funny, this meditation on art and creativity is Woody Allen’s greatest film, in this writer’s opinion. (Bonus suggestion: Woody Allen scored four home runs in a row in the late 1970s: “Annie Hall,” “Interiors,” “Manhattan,” and this film. Watch them in order for the greatest effect, and follow it up with “Hannah and Her Sisters.”)
Sunrise – I believe that this is the most beautiful love story every put to film, because it is the most true of any such movie I have seen. F.W. Murnau’s silent masterpiece is about a man who has grown distant from his wife. His lover tells him to kill his wife and run away with her to the city, but when he goes to do the deed, he cannot – he realizes that he still loves his wife, and they attempt to rekindle their passion. Again: if you do not cry, you have no soul.
The Virgin Spring – Originally based on a Swedish ballad, this film was later remade by Wes Craven into “The Last House on the Left” (which itself was later remade). Forget the imitators; this is Ingmar Bergman’s tale of a man in medieval Sweden whose daughter is raped and killed… and then her killers unknowingly seek shelter for the night in her father’s house. Beautiful black-and-white cinematography aids the tense and dramatic story.
Anything and everything by Charlie Chaplin - Chaplin is one of the greatest filmmakers in the history of the artform, and his Little Tramp is without a doubt the most endearing character ever to grace the screen. He will make you laugh, but he is also a master of touching tenderness. “The Kid” is a heart-wrenching tale in which the Tramp ends up having to raise a child; in “The Gold Rush” the Tramp sets out to Alaska to seek his fortune; the Tramp obtains a job as a performer in “The Circus,” Chaplin’s funniest film, in my opinion; “City Lights” is about the Tramp’s efforts to raise money for an eye operation for a blind flower girl; “Modern Times” is about the plight of the working class and the Tramp’s struggle to find his place. Finally, watch his first talkie, “The Great Dictator,” in which he cleverly satirizes Hitler and his whole regime. Charlie Chaplin is good for the soul; you just can’t help but feel good while watching one of his films. Do yourself a favor; I promise you will be a happier person with Charlie in your life.
(Do you have essential film suggestions? Share them in the comments!)
Images courtesy of the Internet Movie Database.