I have never taken a film class in my life. However, I really began to get into cinema during college, around 2011 or 2012, and I’ve maintained that passion ever since. My favorite films are in near constant rotation, but I’ve done my best to nail down a solid top five. That said, there are probably twenty more films I could easily include in this list.
5. Lost in Translation
The only color film on my list, as well as the only film made after the 1960s. I swear it wasn’t intentional. Lost in Translation is comfort food in film form. Our protagonists don’t exactly work out their problems in the end, but we leave thinking maybe things won’t always be so bad as long as these special little connections can be made. Add to that the film’s lush colors and beautiful shoegaze soundtrack, and it’s simply a pleasure to watch.
4. Marketa Lazarová
The greatest epic ever filmed. There’s a dreamy haze over the proceedings, lending the film a strange beauty in spite of its ugly, unflinching depiction of the Middle Ages. The film has so many images that are burned into my mind. There’s tragedy, comedy, and a fair amount of violence, and every moment of it is riveting.
3. The Passion of Joan of Arc
With three films I consider perfect—The Passion of Joan of Arc, Vampyr, and Ordet—Dreyer is very possibly my favorite director. And of those three films, The Passion of Joan of Arc is the most perfect. A film composed almost entirely of closeups of faces shouldn’t work, but here it absolutely does. There’s a fascinating rhythm to the editing that spurs the film along at a breakneck pace to its tragic conclusion, and Falconetti’s impassioned performance is breathtaking and heartbreaking.
2. Modern Times
As far as I’m concerned, Modern Times is the most charming film ever made. Chaplin brings every ounce of his comedic genius to bear here in his last silent hurrah, filling it to the brim with one hilarious scene after another. At the same time, it addresses the harsh economic realities of the 1930s, as well as broader themes about embracing fleeting joys while they last and persevering when they’re gone. Paulette Goddard is also one of the few actors I’ve seen who can match Chaplin’s formidable energy, giving the film an additional advantage over Chaplin’s previous efforts.
I am in awe of this film. I’m not even sure how something so perfect was made. Its stark cinematography featuring gorgeous beaches and sterile interiors, its wildly innovative editing, its stellar performances, its complex themes. There’s a strange, stark clarity to the sights and sounds presented in Persona that I haven’t seen adequately replicated in any other film. Persona is the purest distillation of cinema that I’ve witnessed.