25 must-see films
by Jim Schembri
TWAS in an episode from the second season of The O.C. that this illuminating exchange took place. Reed (Marguerite Moreau) was telling Summer (Rachel Bilson) how special she was. "Seth and Zach have talent. They could have careers in comics. But you are the Nico of the group."
"I'm sorry," replied Summer. "I don't get references before 1990."
Like a knife through the heart, this was. Yes, yes, it was an emblematic gag of Generation I - that's I for Irony - where ignorance is the new attitude and referencing is the new wisecrack and anything worth knowing about pop culture will be on The Simpsons or Gilmore Girls or Family Guy or South Park.
What was disturbing, though, was not that a member of Generation G - that's G for Google - didn't know of the legendary Warhol protege whose 1967 album with the Velvet Underground launched a thousand bands. It's that she didn't care to know.
This raised in my tiny mind the spectre of something director Kevin Smith (Clerks, Chasing Amy, etc) once said. It was OK that he hadn't seen the films of the great European masters, he believed, because the directors he admired had, and that was close enough.
As a film reviewer I've often come across this insouciance from Generation W - that's W for Whatever - when discussing cinema. You say how the original version of Gone in 60 Seconds was far superior because back then they didn't have CGI to substitute for stunt drivers and students look at you funny. "There was an original?" they mutter.
Then you talk to people you hoped would know better and drop a reference to Shelley Winters and Lolita, but it's not until you mention The Poseidon Adventure or the Adrian Lyne remake that they twig. That's when your heart falls through the floor.
What excuse can there be for this? The digital era has turned every DVD outlet into a veritable film archive, the breadth of which cineastes dared not dream of 20 years ago. Then it hits you. Of course. That great paradox of the information age. The more accessible you make something, the less likely people are to access it.
So, how to avoid the Summer Syndrome? Behold, our instant, user-friendly register of 25 must-see, easy-to-find films designed to cure any case of pop-culture poverty. It is, of course, far from comprehensive but it should provide enough great material to inspire further exploration - or, at least, to bluff your way through a dinner party. Beware, though, some of the films are old - made before 1990.
[the original article also contains brief descriptions of each movie -- click on the link to see them]
All About Eve (1950)
Adam's Rib (1949)
The Virgin Spring (1960)
Easy Rider (1969)
City Lights (1931)
Gone with the Wind (1939)
Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
King Kong (1933)
North by Northwest (1959)
The Towering Inferno (1974)
Rosemary's Baby (1968)
The Godfather (1972)
Taxi Driver (1976)
Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)
Annie Hall (1977)
Animal House (1978)
A Night at the Opera (1935)
Dr Strangelove (1964)
The Sound of Music (1965)
Planet of the Apes (1968)
Love Story (1970)
This article got me thinking about movies and cultural literacy -- the notion that a well-educated person should know something about canonical works of film in the same way that we expect a well-educated person to know something about Shakespeare or Greek mythology. Or, to put it in more prosaic terms, a person should know enough about film to get the jokes on The Simpsons
or the references made by Dennis Miller. Such movies don't have to be great, they just have to be well-known enough that everyone should, at least, be familiar with them. So Animal House
, therefore, qualifies, whereas The Last Emperor
(a far superior film) doesn't. I'm not saying that the above list is definitive (I'd add Citizen Kane
and Dr. Strangelove
, among others), but I think it's a good start. Anyone else care to add some films that are essential for the well-rounded, culturally literate citizen?