What makes a film one of the true greats? Critical acclaim? Innovation? How profoundly it affects you? It’s most likely a combination of all three criteria and more. Great art speaks to us, makes us think, makes us feel.
Film gets me where I live like little else and has done ever since I was a teenager. It’s almost impossible to pick just 10 films to stand in for over a century of my favourite form of artistic expression, so what follows are a combination of groundbreaking, ageless films and the most personally impactful cinematic works for me, today.
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10. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
This one’s a twofer. I love animation and I love superhero movies, and Spider-Verse is one of the finest examples of both to release in the last decade.
After being bitten by a radioactive spider, awkward teen Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) is thrust into inter-dimensional superherodom when his universe’s Spider-Man is killed in action. Miles must overcome self-doubt and team up with the many very different spider-people from other realities to stop his, and all other worlds, from being destroyed.
Animation is cinema, it has the potential to visualise anything you can imagine, and while I could have picked any number of films from Studio Ghibli, Laika, Disney or Pixar, nothing else was as revolutionary and influential to the medium’s aesthetic than Sony Picture Animation’s Spider-Verse in recent years. This didn’t look or feel quite like anything else, a living comic book packed with pleasing details and gags referring back to print mediums and constant movement and dynamism.
Few adaptations of popular characters manage to sum up their very essence with a single perfect phrase, but this film distils it all with “anybody can wear the mask”. So many superhero movies get the basics fundamentally wrong, but this gets it just so right – Spider-Man has always had incredible powers but struggled to balance his superhero responsibilities with everyday ones, and the same goes if you’re a dual heritage teenager, a cartoon pig or a black-and-white detective voiced by Nicolas Cage.
Recommended for you: Spider-Man Movies Ranked
9. The Wizard of Oz (1939)
The titanic cultural influence of the MGM fantasy musical The Wizard of Oz is often criminally overlooked. Musicals speak to me as a form of extroverted expression I could never hope to take part in myself, but Oz also stands for the whole fantasy genre.
This rough adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s children’s fantasy novel follows young Dorothy Gale (instant star Judy Garland), a Kansas dreamer who is swept away to the magical land of Oz by a tornado where she is persecuted by the Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton, still terrifying) as she quests to find her way home.
It wasn’t just the way film musicals were staged for decades it inspired, either. Next time you watch Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy and see the orc armies marching past the gates of Mordor, think about how similar the blocking and the aesthetic is to the patrols outside the Wicked Witch’s castle. Speaking of the Wicked Witch, you know the classic green-skinned, warty-nosed, pointy-chinned default look for such characters at Halloween? That comes from this film as well. And Margaret Hamilton’s all-timer of a baddie performance in contrast to the uncomplicated good of Dorothy and her companions is still one to behold.
The “it was all a dream, or was it?” story structure is clichéd now, but this helped start it all. Startling Technicolor fantasy is kept entirely separate from sepia reality (the moment one world becomes the other still takes your breath away), but there is always that playful, winking final scene for you to hope that Dorothy perhaps has further adventures on her horizon.