Friday, July 25, 2014

Top 100 Films of the 20th Century – Part 19: 15-11

Rank: 15
Release Year: 1954
Genre: Samurai
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Plot Summary: A poor village is under constant attack by bandits, so they hire seven unemployed samurai to defend the community.
What Makes It Special: It is easy to call Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai the greatest samurai film of all-time or the director’s most impressive masterpiece. The film is on one hand an epic action film that slowly builds to its brilliant and entertaining climax and on the other hand it is a beautiful piece about humanity. Kurosawa always played with richly textured characters, even when making what could be called a grand action film rather than a character drama; but Kurosawa balances it so well that it plays as both (when appropriate).
Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray and Video On-Demand

Rank: 14
Title: Persona
Release Year: 1966
Genre: Thriller
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Plot Summary: Alma is a nurse put in charge of famous movie star Elisabet Vogler who is on the verge of a complete mental breakdown. At present, Vogler cannot even speak (this condition befalling her in the middle of her latest movie role). As Alma cares for her, she finds that her persona and Volger’s begin to blend, making it difficult to tell them apart.
What Makes It Special: Persona is a visually striking film – one that is also very unnerving and creepy. It is maybe the scariest film that was not made to be scary in the classical sense. Ingmar Bergman uses surreal and dreamlike imagery to both seduce and unhinge the viewer. Reality and illusion become indistinguishable. The film is raw, intimate, and unforgettable.
Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray and Video On-Demand

Rank: 13
Title: Tokyo Story
Release Year: 1953
Genre: Drama
Director: Yasujiro Ozu
Plot Summary: An elderly couple decides to take a trip to the city to visit their children and grandchildren but find that the children are all too wrapped up in their own lives to take the time to be with them.
What Makes It Special: With Tokyo Story Yasujiro Ozu makes a film examines the post-WWII middle-class Japanese family dynamic. It is wholly compelling, as generational and personal barriers are put up and excuses made to limit true interaction between people, even those most beloved, all in the name of self-importance above all else (our own lives always feel more important than anything else to us). Ozu’s rigid directional style only exaggerates the space between characters. 1950s Japan was culturally very reserved, but Ozu is able to create a film that is still very powerful dramatically by really getting at the heart of what his characters feel and experience. Tokyo Story should feel foreign and yet its emotions, characters, and family dynamic resonate just as strongly today. Ozu addresses universal human truths that cross generations and cultures.
Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray and Video On-Demand

Rank: 12
Release Year: 1974
Genre: Gangster
Plot Summary: Michael Corleone takes tighter control of his family (crime syndicate); while back in the 1920s New York Michael’s father Vito gets his start as a gangster.
What Makes It Special: The Godfather: Part II is generally the film that comes to mind when critics discuss the best sequel of all-time – many even putting it ahead of The Godfather (although, I might retort that The Godfather: Part II’s narrative is dependent on The Godfather’s and thus is subservient to it). It is an astonishing character drama, as the audience seeing Michael transformation juxtaposed to his father’s. The film is also a stellar gangster genre piece, Francis Ford Coppola creating many iconic sequences and moments. It is magnificent aesthetically as well.
Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray and Video On-Demand

Rank: 11
Title: Taxi Driver
Release Year: 1976
Genre: Crime Drama
Director: Martin Scorsese
Plot Summary: Travis Bickle is a mentally unstable Vietnam War veteran who finds himself in New York working the night-shift as a taxi driver. The decaying city that Bickle perceives weighs heavily upon his subconscious driving him to violence. He also becomes infatuated with a young prostitute named Iris; thinking of himself as the hero, he wants to save her from her life on the streets.
What Makes It Special: Taxi Driver is a hypnotic film that plays in the darkness. The cinematography, score, writing, Martin Scorsese’s directing, and Robert De Niro’s performance are all stunning. Scorsese presents New York City as a cesspool (a common perception of the time period), creating feelings of extreme loneliness, anger, and paranoia in Travis Bickle’s mind. His isolation has a duality – it both makes him a sympathetic character for the audience to follow and maybe even root for and it drives Bickle mad and to violence as a means of push back against the oppressiveness of the city that seems to bleakly strangle him with its perceived corrupting filth. Bickle is sympathetic but also volatile and dangerous. Scorsese has created a hero who is also the villain with Bickle. Taxi Driver is a grim, unsettling look at humanity stripped of basic compassion, and it is electric.  
Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray and Video On-Demand

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