My favourite films from each decade
AUG 11 ― Because I’m a geek, I’ve always loved making lists, or reading them. Last week I wrote about Sight & Sound magazine’s 10 Greatest Films Of All Time poll, held every 10 years and the results of which were announced last week.
At first I wanted to make my own list and write about it this week, but then I realised that although I’ve seen thousands and thousands of films I’m still nowhere near comfortable (or presumptuous) enough to make any sort of proclamations about whether this or that film is one of the greatest or not.
Making a list of my favourite films seems a much more logical proposition, but paring it down to only 10 is really hard, so I thought why not just pick one favourite film from every decade beginning in the 1920s? It seems fairer and by doing it that way every single decade at least gets a representative.
Plus if you’re not as film crazy as I am, then at least my list can act as a sort of sampler for each decade if you’re suddenly feeling adventurous and want to explore more films.
So, for your easy reference, here’s my list of favourite films according to each decade:
1920s – “The Circus” (Charles Chaplin, 1928)
1930s – “The Awful Truth” (Leo McCarey, 1937)
1940s – “Late Spring” (Yasujiro Ozu, 1949)
1950s – “The World Of Apu” (Satyajit Ray, 1959)
1960s – “Chronicle Of Anna Magdalena Bach” (Straub-Huillet, 1968)
1970s – “Husbands” (John Cassavetes, 1970)
1980s – “Atlantic City” (Louis Malle, 1980)
1990s – “Breaking The Waves” (Lars Von Trier, 1996)
2000s – “Colossal Youth” (Pedro Costa, 2006)
2010s – “Daddy Longlegs” (Benny & Joshua Safdie, 2010)
In truth, I don’t think I’ve seen enough films from the 1920s to make a truly fair and confident choice, but I can confidently say that even after taking into account all the Chaplin classics after the 1920s, his 1928 comedy “The Circus” is still one of his funniest ever, and one that I always return to every few years.
The 1930s is much trickier because there were simply so many great films being made then. John Ford, Frank Capra, Ernst Lubitsch, Jean Vigo, Jean Renoir. These are but a few of the great directors making great films then, and even Leo McCarey, the director of my chosen film “The Awful Truth” made another great film in the same year called “Make Way For Tomorrow” and the similarly great “Ruggles Of Red Gap” two years earlier. But “The Awful Truth” holds a special place in my heart for being not only hugely funny, but also quite a touching example of classic old Hollywood romantic comedy.
I was really tempted to put in a Lubitsch film like “The Shop Around The Corner” or “Heaven Can Wait” to represent the 1940s, but the dramatic power of Yasujiro Ozu’s “Late Spring”, probably his most melodramatic film, is something I can never resist, even if people have more respect for his later “Tokyo Story.”
Considering the great decade that was the 1950s, with Hollywood auteurs like Alfred Hitchcock and Nicholas Ray in full swing alongside Hollywood’s first Golden Age, a list will still not be complete without a film by Indian master Satyajit Ray. Akira Kurosawa once said that to have not seen the films of Satyajit Ray is like existing in the world without having seen the sun and the moon, and “The World Of Apu”, the final part in his famed Apu trilogy is just unbearably beautiful poetry.
The 1960s is most famous for the French New Wave movement, with similarly inspired New Wave movements popping up all around the world from Japan to Czechoslovakia. But since I’m also a huge fan of austere and rigorous cinema usually made by the likes of Robert Bresson, Carl Theodor Dreyer and Andrei Tarkovsky, I chose what’s probably the most austere and rigorous film of them all by the husband and wife filmmaking team of Jean-Marie Straub and Daniele Huillet called “Chronicle Of Anna Magdalena Bach”, which mainly consists only of “live” performances of Bach’s music and readings from his wife Anna Magdalena’s diary. It’s a challenging watch, but intensely pleasurable in its own way.
The 1970s was an easy choice for me. John Cassavetes is my number 1 filmmaking idol, and my favourite Cassavetes film is without a doubt his 1970 film “Husbands”, an eye-opening interrogation into the soul of men. So the film really just picks itself.
Similarly easy was my choice for the 1980s, as Louis Malle’s soulful and mournful “Atlantic City”, starring an ageing Burt Lancaster and a young Susan Sarandon is a film that will leave you with a beautifully heavy heart no matter how many times you watch it.
Even easier was my choice for the 1990s, Lars Von Trier’s hugely controversial and polarizing film “Breaking The Wave.” It’s about a possibly mentally retarded woman driven to commit perverse sexual acts by her crippled husband, and it is a torturous experience watching it, but hang tight and it will change the way you view religion and God by the time it ends, making you an empathist and more aware of God’s great capacity for forgiveness (which we tend to forget sometimes).
Portuguese director Pedro Costa makes severely austere and rigorous films just like his heroes, the Straub-Huillet film-making team. But he goes one further by making them using humble mini DV cameras in the 2000s. And what’s more remarkable is how increasingly gorgeous the films look, none more so than his 2006 masterwork “Colossal Youth”, hands down my only logical choice for the 2000s.
And finally we have the still very young decade of the 2010s. There are quite a lot of contenders, but since I’ve always had a soft spot for manic and sloppy emotional cinema, like the films of my hero John Cassavetes, I can’t help but fall head over heels in love with the Safdie brothers’ truly manic, sloppy and emotional film “Daddy Longlegs”, about a hopelessly irresponsible but honestly loving dad spending his allocated two weeks with his two sons. There will surely be many better films made later this decade, but it’s going to take some doing to knock this one off my list.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.