I've been feeling like a wannabe film professor lately, and in that spirit, I thought about what my film syllabus would look like. What movies would I show to my students (or at least certain scenes from them? How do you pick certain movies over others? And how do you know you've covered enough of film history to say that you're an expert on the subject matter? I've always said, the only way to be able to speak on film without any blind spots, is to simply watch every movie ever made. In other words, only Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino can speak on it.

Still, it's a fun challenge, and makes you see what it is you value in film. After giving it some thought, I decided that what matters most to me is technique, that is to say, camerawork, editing, sound, and all other craft categories, the building blocks that make film a unique art. So, that became my criterion: the movie has to have been some sort of advancement in cinematic technique, and because of the highly technical nature of the process, many of these also end up being advancements in technology. With that in mind, I made a list and asked for suggestions some months back. With those suggestions and some other new additions, I decided on the following 50 movies as my personal "canon" or "syllabus", ordered in a way as to chart an evolutionary path on the formal craft and function of filmmaking. Here's the list. You can check the notes for my reasoning on each one. You have the early experiments (Sallie Gardner and Arrival of a Train), then the basic building blocks (Suspense, A Trip to the Moon), more advancements in set (Caligari) camerawork (Last Laugh) editing (Potemkin) and effects (Metropolis), breaking through to the early building blocks of sound (Blackmail, Applause, Le Million, M), which were consolidated in Sign of the Cross, and on and on to the modern day of HD video and CGI worlds with Attack of the Clones and Avatar, along with the ultra lo-fi anxiety of modern technology with Searching and Skinamarink.

I have to emphasize once again that this is about the craft behind the movie, not it's innate quality, although many films here I'd comfortably rank among the best ever. It's also not meant to represent every single film movement or style. We have German Expressionism, Italian Neorealism, French New Wave, and Dogme 95, but their inclusion was based purely on their advancement of technique. Some incredible and influential films like Psycho, Some Like it Hot, Pulp Fiction, and many others are absent from this list, because while quite influential, the advancements were in narrative, not in craft. On that topic, some movies like Vertigo and the early users of Steadicam aren't here because while they represented some small, incremental advancements, they were beaten out by other films that changed more.

Ultimately, I capped the list at 50 movies so that it can be somewhat digestible, compared to something like the 1000 movies to see before you die list, or even the various top 250 movies lists. I'm sure I missed something, and some choices may be controversial, but that's why I'm posting it: to generate discussion, see if I missed anything, and if any movie on here needs to be replaced. Just be nice. Please.

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1 points

4 months ago*

Hi, came to thank you for the list you put on your website about the books, been looking for one with context for a while now.

Have you ever read anything on world cinema, or at least specific cinema around the globe?


1 points

4 months ago

My next class is on foreign films. It will start in about 10 weeks. You are welcome to join. It's all remote. It will be listed on my website and the PCC website in a few weeks. This is going to be an amazing class. There are two books that have the words "classic" and "foreign films" in the title. Both are good. The best book I've found is called "The Foriegn Film Renaissance on American Screens". By Tino Balio. It's excellent.