10 Best Films of All Time: Emily Nighman

8. The 400 Blows (1959)

Directed by François Truffaut, The 400 Blows is a seminal work of the French New Wave movement and perfectly embodies the experimental ethos of this ground-breaking group of filmmakers.

This coming-of-age film tells the story of a young boy named Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud) as he navigates the challenges of growing up in Paris. He gets in trouble with his parents, teachers, and the law, and struggles to find his place in the restrictive, conformist adult world. With its naturalistic performances and intimate storytelling, Truffaut’s semi-autobiographical film authentically captures the complexities of youthful rebellion.

Spanning from 1958 to the late 1960s, the French New Wave movement was instrumental in questioning the monolith of Classical Hollywood style. This band of film critics-turned-directors, including Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard, challenged the continuity editing and linear narrative structures characteristic of most American films in this period.

The 400 Blows is not only a deeply moving account of a young boy trying to find his way, but it is also a brilliant demonstration of the theoretical and practical principles that governed this movement. Truffaut employs location shooting and mobile cinematography, naturalistic dialogue and acting, freeze frames, and existentialist themes, to tell an intensely human story that has resonated with audiences for generations.

7. Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

Singin’ in the Rain is considered by many to be the greatest musical ever made and is one of my personal favourite films.

The movie follows silent film star Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) as he is forced to adapt to the arrival of sound in Hollywood. Through a light-hearted, often comedic narrative, audiences are given a glimpse into the golden age of American cinema and the challenges brought on by the advent of new technology. With its infectious songs, unforgettable dance numbers, and likeable co-stars Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor, this 1952 musical is a classic that has stood the test of time.

Of the dozens of musicals produced during Hollywood’s studio system era, Singin’ in the Rain has arguably had the largest impact on the course of film history and production since its release. The film has been referenced in everything from Kubrick’s controversial horror A Clockwork Orange to the television program ‘Glee’, and served as inspiration for Damien Chazelle’s hit musical La La Land. Its bright, colourful production design, self-reflexive in-jokes about 1920s Hollywood, and stand-out performance by Jean Hagen as the glamorous villain, Lina Lamont, make the film perfect from start to finish.

If you don’t believe me, check out Best Films lists by the British Film Institute, American Film Institute, and more.

6. Persona (1966)

In complete contrast to the joyousness and ease of Singin’ in the Rain, Swedish director Ingmar Bergman’s 1966 influential film Persona shatters expectations of what many think a narrative film should be.

This surreal and introspective film explores identity and selfhood as two women – a nurse named Alma (Bibi Andersson) and a mute actress named Elisabet (Liv Ullmann) – blur their personalities and likenesses together. With its haunting imagery, contemplative themes, and iconoclastic editing, the film demonstrates the height of Bergman’s ingenuity and indelible talent.

In many ways, Persona is one of the most complicated, frequently discussed films ever made. In an article for Criterion, prolific film historian Thomas Elsaesser compared the film to Mount Everest, calling it ‘the ultimate professional challenge.’

The film’s opening scene is one of the most memorable in history. It features a confusing, high-speed montage of symbolic imagery, which then launches us into the thoughtful, surrealist dreamscape of the Swedish countryside. Themes include psychological horror, duality, identity, sexuality and lesbianism, war and strife, modernism, and even vampirism.

Bergman’s classic has left an unmistakable mark on film history, influencing such acclaimed directors as Robert Altman, Jean-Luc Godard, Woody Allen, and more. It is undoubtedly one of the most unique, creative films ever made.

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