10 Best Films of All Time: George Taylor

8. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)

The third instalment in the loosely connected ‘Dollars’ trilogy, Sergio Leone’s epic spaghetti western follows three gunslingers who are on the hunt for buried treasure during the American Civil War. Leone’s direction is masterful, creating a tense and gripping atmosphere that builds throughout the film, coming to a terrifically satisfying climax. Yet he never refuses to be fun. So many action set pieces are a riot, such as the technical feat that is the bridge scene. 

Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, and Eli Wallach are perfect in their respective roles and play off each other superbly. The iconic score by Ennio Morricone, with its haunting vocals and memorable melodies, perfectly complements the action on screen and has rightfully earned its place as one of the most recognisable soundtracks in film history. His track ‘The Ecstasy of Gold’ beautifully scores the moment Tuco arrives at the destined Sad Hill Cemetery, creating what is quite possibly the greatest scene of all time. Although I’m sure many people would say the same thing about the standoff scene. The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’s only flaw is that no one can agree on the best scene.

Sergio Leone’s masterpiece opened my eyes to what films can be and my life was never the same. For that reason, it will always hold a special place in my heart.

7. Shame (1968)

Ingmar Bergman has released countless masterpieces, from the existential Seventh Seal to the illusive Persona. But the middle entry in the thematically linked ‘island trilogy’ is my pick for his best. Set on an unnamed island during an unspecified conflict, the film follows a married couple, Jan (Max Von Sydow) and Eva (Liv Ullman), as they struggle to survive amidst the chaos and violence of war. As the fighting intensifies and the couple becomes more desperate to escape, their relationship is tested in ways that are both heartbreaking and profound.

Bergman is on top form, creating an atmosphere of unrelenting tension that never lets up. The stark, naturalistic cinematography captures the bleakness of the war-torn landscape, and the use of long takes and close-ups intensify the emotional impact of the film’s powerful performances. Even Bergman naysayers cannot deny his mastery over each element in this film.

Max von Sydow and Liv Ullmann are at their best in careers filled with great performances. Their dedication to the film, along with Bergman’s artistry, make Shame a deeply haunting and harrowing portrayal of war’s destructive power on the human psyche.

6. High and Low (1963)

Akira Kurosawa is known for his samurai films, but he achieved just as much success in other genres such as contemporary dramas and, in this case, crime thrillers.

High and Low tells the story of a wealthy businessman, played by the incomparable Toshiro Mifune, whose chauffeur’s son is kidnapped for ransom. He faces a dilemma of whether to pay the ransom, which could ruin him financially, or stand his ground as the detectives try to find the culprit. The film also explores themes of social inequality and stark contrasts between the affluent lifestyles of the wealthy and the struggles of the poor.

What makes me pick High and Low above other masterpieces like Seven Samurai, Ran and Yojimbo, is its perfect three-act structure. It’s rare that a film is this tightly written, but Kurosawa doesn’t waste a single second. The core detective story is treated with gripping urgency, but it’s the humanity injected by Kurosawa that elevates this film above its peers. The exploration of class divide is expertly handled and timeless (similar to that of Parasite). The final scene between Gondo and the kidnapper is stunningly harrowing. Tsutomu Yamazakisome showcases some of the strongest acting I have ever seen – so strong that Kurosawa changed the ending of the film to revolve around this scene.

I think that Akira Kurosawa is the greatest filmmaker of all time, so I could really choose any of his films, but High and Low ever so slightly edges the others out.

Recommended for you: Akira Kurosawa, Toshiro Mifune: Cinema’s Greatest Collaborations

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