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Best films of all time (2021)

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A thread on the top 30 best films of all-time (at a global level) considering 2021 dynamics. The list is expanded to 30 from the usual 10 because the films are from all regions including Hollywood, Europe and Asia, and cover various genres. Best films are not necessarily favorites but score high on a variety of elements including screenplay, acting, direction, background score, cinematography, impact, uniqueness, etc. To keep it simple considering the breadth and depth of films available from across the globe, I am going to go by selected categories. Within the category, the films (max 3 per category) would be listed in the order of release (so this is not a ranking). Without further ado, let's delve into the list for 2021:

 

Silent

  • Metropolis. Directed by Fritz Lang. This was released over 90 years ago in 1927. A good example of German expressionism. It not only captured a gothic environment nicely but also created a visual grammar for Sci-Fi films. Over the years (1936-2008), the film was seen in various cut versions. Its full or relatively full length version was discovered in Argentina in 2008. It has been restored and available to enjoy in its full glory. 

 

Charlie Chaplin: No all time best films list would be complete without films from Charlie Chaplin, one of the best filmmakers ever. He has been an inspiration for many. 

  • City Lights. You could pick any of the top Chaplin films. However, I have gone with City Lights as it also showcases a beautiful love story (inspired films like Sadma, which had a different twist). This film probably taught Hollywood how to make rom-coms. 

 

Gothic: Gothic films present a unique environment which mixes a variety of elements including great locations/sets (usually dilapidated castles), mystery, some elements of supernatural, maybe an anti-hero and/or a vampire, and so on. 

  • Rebecca. The only Hitchcock film to receive an Oscar for best film. Many Hitchcock films have Gothic elements but this one has subtle Gothicness so much ingrained in it that you forget it is a Gothic film. The film also sports a superb star cast including Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine and George Sanders. "Manderley" and Mrs. Danvers, who is one of the best onscreen villains, create a mysterious environment. 
  • Vertigo. Another Hitchcock classic that was picked by Sight and Sound as the greatest film of all time in its 2012 critics poll (the poll happens every 10 years so the next one should be in 2022). This one is a great example of filmmaking as well with excellent use of colors and framing techniques, all backed up by a brilliant score by Bernard Herrmann. 

 

Horror Thriller

  • Psycho. One more Hitchcock film. This one is unique as at first Hitchcock takes you in one direction, only to switch things completely by killing off the key character of the first half. Has well known characters such as Norman Bates. Once again Bernard Herrmann shines with a memorable score. Technically, it is a solid film. 
  • The Silence of the LambsA monumental film in the horror thriller genre and among the only 3 films to have won the 5 Big Oscars (Film, Director, Actor, Actress and Screenplay). Dr. Hannibal Lecter is a legendary character. 

 

Epic

  •  Mughal-e-Azam. A great opportunity to talk about a Bollywood film. M-e-A gets the nod for being an art. Bollywood is known for its random use of song and dance sequences but here it is done in a relatively logical manner where such sequences come by and large through entertainment activities in the court. The passion in relationships is captured nicely. Director K Asif went to great lengths to make an extraordinary film. Also a small tribute to Dilip Kumar considering the latest event. 
  • Lawrence of Arabia. Technically one of the best films ever made. Screenplay, direction, locations, acting, background score, locations, and cinematography are all great. 
  • Ran. Kurosawa's adaptation of King Lear. Watching it is like moving back in time to feudal Japan. For a change, the war scenes are touching too, highlighting suffering and pain. It appears as if Kurosawa used all his experience to craft this gem. 

 

Neorealism:

  • Journey to ItalyStarring Ingrid Bergman and George Sanders, who share a passionless marriage. On a trip to Italy, their differences get so pronounced that they spend the trip separately. Eventually, events make them come close again. Cinematography is beautiful. Italy is captured nicely. You must have seen various Bollywood version of this theme. 
  • Battle of Algiers. There are two films I, usually, do not talk about. This is one of them as it is like a textbook on how to gain freedom using terrorism. Almost shot like a documentary ... The other is The Collector (1965), which is about holding women as hostage. 
  • Anand. A unique Bollywood film chosen for delivering a meaningful message in a beautiful way through one of the cinema's most iconic characters - Anand. The film tells the story of a last stage cancer patient attempting to spend his remaining few months laughing and making a positive difference to others. Highlights the fact that while you come to the earth crying, you have the option to depart it laughing.

 

Post Neorealism/New Wave:

  • L'aventura: A simple story about the search of a missing woman. Beautifully shot. Philosophical. 

 

Sci-Fi

  • 2001: A Space Odyssey. Directed by Kubrick. A work that blends art with technical brilliance. A film that was ahead of its time. When in the right mood, watching this film can be a mind blowing experience. Shows you a glimpse of an AI influenced future.  
  • Stalker. Tarkovsky's masterpiece. A philosophical journey as well. A film that encompasses multiple genres. The film is known for its cinematography. 
  • Inception. Nolan puts everything you would expect in the film, technically brilliant with a memorable Hans Zimmer score, and a story angle not seen/experienced before. 

 

Action/Adventure

  • Raiders of the Lost Ark. Directed by Steven Spielberg. Once this film was released, adventures fun films were never the same! Indiana Jones became a household name. 
  • Casino Royale. A terrific spy adventure film with great action sequences (the parkour chase for e.g.), nice locations, appropriate background score, calculating villains, and a high stakes poker game. What more can we ask for?
  • The Dark Knight. A dark superhero movie that explored new domains for the genre and made more memorable by the performance of Heath Ledger as Joker. 

 

Experimental/Different

  • The Grand Budapest Hotel. Wes Anderson's modern classic sporting an ensemble of well known actors. It is a facetious adventure-comedy-crime film that creates a colorful fairy-tale environment that is rarely seen on screen. Visually a stunning film. 

 

War/Anti-war

  • The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. Directed by Powell and Pressburger, this film tells the tale of a rotund Clive Candy (played by Roger Livesey) through 3 wars - Boer War, First World War & the Second World War. It weaves in romance (with 2 Deborah Kerr, who plays 3 roles) and a tale of friendship with a German officer (played by the magnificent Anton Walbrook) in a witty manner. Since it is a Powell and Pressburger film, visually it is pleasing too. Churchill is said to have tried to ban it as he thought the film could be a sarcastic take on him.  It is one of the best war/anti-war films. 
  • Dr. Strangelove. Kubrick's satirical take on the cold war, showcasing how easy it is to destroy the world. Peter Sellers plays multiple roles in it. 
  • Schindler's List. Spielberg's masterpiece on a man's quest to save Jews from the Nazis. After this film, Spielberg could not make films with Nazis as comical villains.  

 

Studio Ghibli

  • Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. The difference in quality among the top Studio Ghibli films is marginal. You could pick any of them. I decided to go with the film that started it all. Weaves unique visuals of apocalyptic future while providing a great message. The background score is probably the best among Studio Ghibli films hence it also gets bonus points for that. 

 

Musical

  • King Creole. When talking about musicals, how can we ignore Elvis Presley? King Creole is directed by Michael Curtiz (Casablanca) and sports a good support cast which includes Walter Matthau.  Unlike many of Presley's timepass fun films, this one is a solid drama combining various elements including film noir and pleasing photography of New Orleans in B&W. 
  • The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. A French New Wave film that hits the ball out of the park. Vibrant with its use of colors. It is a great musical experience ... you have seen its influence on Bollywood in films like Julie. 
  • The Sound of Music. Capturing events in the Nazi occupied Austria, this film takes us on a journey with the von Trapp family, whose latest addition is a nun turned into Baronin von Trapp. To make things more interesting, there is an escape plot from the Nazis as well. The film has won many Oscars. 

 

Romance

  • It Happened One Night. Directed by Frank Capra and one of the 3 films to win all the Big 5 Oscars (others being One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and The SIlence of the Lambs). Has inspired Bollywood films such as Chori Chori and Dil Hai Ki Manta Nahin. A perfect rom com film.  
  • In the Mood for Love. Directed by Wong Kar-Wai. An unusual romantic drama by and large set in the 1960s Hong Kong. It is a pleasing film to not only look at but also listen to.  

 

Gangster: Not a big fan of this genre now. Typically, it would involve a bunch of people munching spaghetti and shouting at each other during dinner. Bollywood ones may include generous use foul language with characters trying to do funny things to look cool. But good films in this genre are memorable. 

  • Godfather. Amazing star cast, a great adaption of the Mario Puzo novel, and a superb background score. 

 

Edited by zen
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Talking about M-e-A, its producer and director, K Asif’s next film, Love and God (based on Laila and Majnu), took 23 years to release. 
 

Its production started in 1963 with Nimmi and Guru Dutt in the lead. However, Guru Dutt died, leading to the film being shelved. In 1970, K Asif started its production again with Sanjeev Kumar in the lead, but K Asif died to leave the film incomplete. 
 

Later, K Asif’s family released the film in 1986 by putting clips together. By the time the film was released Sanjeev Kumar had died too.

 

The production of this film is an unusual story.

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1 hour ago, zen said:

Talking about M-e-A, its producer and director, K Asif’s next film, Love and God (based on Laila and Majnu), took 23 years to release. 
 

Its production started in 1963 with Nimmi and Guru Dutt in the lead. However, Guru Dutt died, leading to the film being shelved. In 1970, K Asif started its production again with Sanjeev Kumar in the lead, but K Asif died to leave the film incomplete. 
 

Later, K Asif’s family released the film in 1986 by putting clips together. By the time the film was released Sanjeev Kumar had died too.

 

The production of this film is an unusual story.

Even M-e-A took forever to produce. Around 15 years after the plot was written. The initial lead actor suffered a heart attack and passed away. The financier backed off. K Asif had to shoot the entire movie again and find new financiers. Stealing the ideas and seeing that the project is shelved, one of the co-writers decided to write/direct/produce Anarkali which is also on the same subject. It released nearly 5 years before M-e-A and became a box office hit in its own right.

 

The story behind M-e-A can be a movie in itself!

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1 minute ago, Mariyam said:

Even M-e-A took forever to produce. Around 15 years after the plot was written. The initial lead actor suffered a heart attack and passed away. The financier backed off. K Asif had to shoot the entire movie again and find new financiers. Stealing the ideas and seeing that the project is shelved, one of the co-writers decided to write/direct/produce Anarkali which is also on the same subject. It released nearly 5 years before M-e-A and became a box office hit in its own right.

 

The story behind M-e-A can be a movie in itself!

 

There is also a story on how K Asif brought in Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, who does not prefer to sing for films, to do a couple of songs. 

 

If I recall correctly, at that time singers were paid a few hundred Rupees to sing. K Asif was not taking "no" for an answer from the Ustad. Thinking that K Asif would go away, the Ustad asked for INR 10K for a song. K Asif put the money (or some big advance) on the table and Bade Ghulam Ali was caught in his own trap. 

 

 

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If I am not wrong, when M-e-A was released, the initial shows tickets, costing in black Rs 100 or so at that time when regular tickets were less than Rs 2, were specially made with trivia and info on the film. These tickets could be collector's item now.

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Horror:

 

Silence of the lambs

Exorcist

 

Desi

 

Sholay

 

Funny

 

Blazing Saddles

Porky's (Has anyone seen Mike Hunt)

 

Western

 

Unforgiven

 

Entertainment

 

Way too many to list but tops is - The Godfather. (Luca Brassi Sleeps with the fishes)


 

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@Khota Note that this is a thread on best (not necessarily favorites) films at a global level … We have dedicated threads for best in Bollywood, one for masala films and one for non-masala films

 

Here, Sholay for e.g. would be a curry western so it would be in the western category and compete with films like Seven Samurai (Japanese western equivalent and can also be in epics), The Searchers, Yojimbo (Japanese samurai film equivalent to westerns), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Once Upon a Time in the West, etc. for a spot in that category 

Edited by zen
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7 hours ago, zen said:

@Khota Note that this is a thread on best (not necessarily favorites) films at a global level … We have dedicated threads for best in Bollywood, one for masala films and one for non-masala films

 

Here, Sholay for e.g. would be a curry western so it would be in the western category and compete with films like Seven Samurai (Japanese western equivalent and can also be in epics), The Searchers, Yojimbo (Japanese samurai film equivalent to westerns), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Once Upon a Time in the West, etc. for a spot in that category 

I missed it. I just put my personal preference over here.

 

My thumbrule is simple. I have to like it and I dont care about critics. If I dont like it I wont watch it and I generally shy away from movies that win awards. Those mostly turn out to be less entertaining to me. For e.g. the movie last emperor won all sorts of awards but I personally could not stand it.

 

Put me down in the category of viewers who sit in the front and throw coins at the screen.

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3 hours ago, Khota said:

I missed it. I just put my personal preference over here.

 

My thumbrule is simple. I have to like it and I dont care about critics. If I dont like it I wont watch it and I generally shy away from movies that win awards. Those mostly turn out to be less entertaining to me. For e.g. the movie last emperor won all sorts of awards but I personally could not stand it.

 

Put me down in the category of viewers who sit in the front and throw coins at the screen.


There are various kind of films. One type can be a Police Academy or a Johnny English or a Police Story (may not have aged well), which you can watch without much fuss and high expectations. Another type is a Grand Budapest Hotel or a Silence of the Lambs or a Godfather, which you can not only enjoy but admire for their brilliance/art. You have listed some of these excellent films too. 


Btw, you talked about the Exorcist. Have you watched it recently? In my last viewing, which was fairly recently, I found that it did not age that well for its horror elements. In fact, I was laughing during many of its scary sequences. 
 

PS 

 

Edited by zen
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21 hours ago, zen said:


There are various kind of films. One type can be a Police Academy or a Johnny English or a Police Story (may not have aged well), which you can watch without much fuss and high expectations. Another type is a Grand Budapest Hotel or a Silence of the Lambs or a Godfather, which you can not only enjoy but admire for their brilliance/art. You have listed some of these excellent films too. 


Btw, you talked about the Exorcist. Have you watched it recently? In my last viewing, which was fairly recently, I found that it did not age that well for its horror elements. In fact, I was laughing during many of its scary sequences. 
 

PS 

 

It is hard for action and horror movies to age well. Dramas will age well.

 

Look at old Bond movies and with old cars in chase scenes and old technology. Does look primitive.

 

Exorcist when it came out was absolutely tops and now I can understand some peoplnot liking it.

 

Look at Star Trek movie. The deck of USS Enterprise was crappy compared to the deck of current USS Enterprise. Hard for action/technology to age well. But it is always epic when Captain Kirk says "Punch it Mr. Sulu. Punch it."

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4 hours ago, Khota said:

It is hard for action and horror movies to age well. Dramas will age well.

 

Look at old Bond movies and with old cars in chase scenes and old technology. Does look primitive.

 

Exorcist when it came out was absolutely tops and now I can understand some peoplnot liking it.

 

Look at Star Trek movie. The deck of USS Enterprise was crappy compared to the deck of current USS Enterprise. Hard for action/technology to age well. But it is always epic when Captain Kirk says "Punch it Mr. Sulu. Punch it."


A film would show technology related to the respective period. For e.g. a film on Alexander will not have cars. A 60s film will show tech related to that period. Therefore use of on-screen technology does not age a film but the concepts that go into making a film. 
 

Talking about 70s horror films, in 2021, The Omen (1976) looks pretty good. #666, the background score, etc., still connect with the audiences… Many Italian horror films like Suspiria (1977) also captivate … The Shining (1980) has a cult following. 

From a 2021 perspective, the Exorcist does not click as much as a horror film. One key reason could be the concepts used to create horror on screen.  And it probably does not have additional strengths to cover up for the shortfalls. Rather than a film in the best horror films category, it is more like a time pass film now. 
 

I saw Dracula from 1930s a couple of weeks back. It still feels like a good film. Because of it, I may check out other such films from the 30s like the Bride of Frankenstein!

 

Edited by zen
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1 hour ago, zen said:


A film would show technology related to the respective period. For e.g. a film on Alexander will not have cars. A 60s film will show tech related to that period. Therefore use of on-screen technology does not age a film but the concepts that go into making a film. 
 

Talking about 70s horror films, in 2021, The Omen (1976) looks pretty good. #666, the background score, etc., still connect with the audiences… Many Italian horror films like Suspiria (1977) also captivate … The Shining (1980) has a cult following. 

From a 2021 perspective, the Exorcist does not click as much as a horror film. One key reason could be the concepts used to create horror on screen.  And it probably does not have additional strengths to cover up for the shortfalls. Rather than a film in the best horror films category, it is more like a time pass film now. 
 

I saw Dracula from 1930s a couple of weeks back. It still feels like a good film. Because of it, I may check out other such films from the 30s like the Bride of Frankenstein!

 

I understand the technology relative to the era as in Bond movies and that is the reason old Bond movies are not fun.

 

Star Trek otoh is all futuristic. The technology upgrade is amazing and if you look at cell phones today the concept was shown in Star Trek decades back.

 

I still think Exorcist is amazing and Friday the 13th has aged equally well.

 

And ofcourse as scary movies go Chucky has done well thru years.

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21 minutes ago, Khota said:

I understand the technology relative to the era as in Bond movies and that is the reason old Bond movies are not fun.

 

Star Trek otoh is all futuristic. The technology upgrade is amazing and if you look at cell phones today the concept was shown in Star Trek decades back.

 

I still think Exorcist is amazing and Friday the 13th has aged equally well.

 

And ofcourse as scary movies go Chucky has done well thru years.

 

Films have various elements such as screenplay, cinematography, direction, acting, locations, atmosphere, background score, uniqueness, etc. ... Best films would cover up any shortfall with their strengths in many of the other areas 

 

As for fun, one can have it watching a Laurel & Hardy film like March of the Wooden Soldiers, but that would be a different topic ... or not have it watching a film like 2001: A Space Odyssey ... but the later would be among the best films, which is what we are talking here  

 

 

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2 hours ago, Khota said:

I understand the technology relative to the era as in Bond movies and that is the reason old Bond movies are not fun.

 

PS  Come on buddy ... that appears like a general statement as Bond's portfolio has 24 films ... Even ordinary Bond films like DAD and SP have something in them to be fun (they are ordinary relative to other Bond films) 

 

 

*******

 

Talking about 60s films, GF for e.g., I feel that its final act from when Bond lands in Kentucky does not hold up relatively well now.  However, its Switzerland segment, along with the pre title and Miami sequences, is brilliant to keep the film relevant. The Switzerland segment has iconic cinema moments like the 007-GF interaction:

 

 

 

 

If you take YOLT, it does have some segments that may appear relatively outdated now but it also has one of the best villain lairs (considered the best in Bond franchise) in the history of cinema, an excellent background score and title song. The fight sequences sporting an effective score like the one below are brilliant:

 

 

 

While some of these Bond films may now miss out on certain elements, they are still very strong in many of the other elements to be considered among the best in their genre ... If a period Bond film were made today, it would be like FRWL which captures the spirit of Fleming's era. You do not need a period Bond film, you have FRWL!

 

 

 

PPS Films like TSWLM take many things to the next level ... For e.g. ppl still talk about the car sequence below:

 

 

Edited by zen
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