Anybody can put together a list of their picks for the greatest films ever made. Many have. In a rush of hubris and the desire for self-entertainment, I decided to join them. I figured that I’d certainly seen, loved and critically evaluated enough films in my many decades to take a stab at it. The actual idea and motivation to do so evolved from some conversations with a young co-worker and fellow fledgling actor. (Thank you, Akeem!) He asked me for a list of films he should see, so a list I promised to give him. Here was a guy entering the acting profession, but who had a woeful lack of knowledge or sense of history of the very medium he was hoping to get into. To my thinking, he hadn’t seen anything. I thought this was a pity, possibly a crime.
A simple list evolved into a more thoughtful and detailed description of all the greatest films of 8 decades and why you should see them—–the Essentials of Cinema.
I knew going in that my list would be a very subjective one. But I also felt confident that my love of cinema was deep enough and broad enough that the project would be engaging and meaningful for the reader (and viewer!). Not just one more “Movies I like” list. I hope my hunch was correct.
Right from the beginning, my intention was to define “essential” as meaning the films that are just too good to miss. Their contributions to cinema are artistic ones. They may at times also be commercial successes, but no films are included that were merely box-office smashes or technically innovative.
In compiling the list, I soon realized that many of the same directors kept re-appearing again and again, while others got scant mention. I knew that this would happen, and for the most part I am just fine with it. But with cinema, as with all art, too much emphasis on a select group of artists obscures the beauty of the art itself. So as not to be found guilty of that, I will occasionally pause to make note of a director who may not have made a single masterwork, yet whose overall contribution is essential to cinema itself. I may also select one key film by a director to spotlight and then elaborate on his career, noteworthy as it is. As a proponent of the auteur theory (especially as interpreted and advanced by Andrew Sarris), I adhere to the belief that the director is king. All the evidence supports it.
Also, while compiling the list, I realized that there were a great number of films that I simply adored and that meant a great deal to me and that I would actively, passionately defend against criticism. But were they “essential”? Hm-m-m. Hence the inclusion of JEFF’S PICKS. The films in this category are not “honorable mentions”, nor are they films that almost but didn’t quite make the A-list. In fact, many of them could be considered to be more influential than the Essentials. Rather, they simply have elements within them that resonate so deeply that they become indispensable to the movie lover. Granted, some of them are blatant personal favorites. I make no apologies. I only insist that your cinematic life will be incomplete without them. Trust me!