Recommending a movie to a friend requires taking both taste and personal preferences into account. You wouldn’t recommend a visceral horror film to someone who frightens easily, nor would you recommend a sprawling meditation on the meaning of life to someone with a short attention span. Few movies fall firmly into the category of films that are not just great for everyone, but basically required viewing for movie-lovers. The following are four such films that you owe it to yourself to see if you haven’t, or to see again if it’s been a long time.
“Citizen Kane” (PG)
Orson Welles’ directorial debut is frequently mentioned in the conversation of the best films ever made, and with good reason. Nearly 80 years after its release, “Citizen Kane” holds up as a singular vision of epic proportions, and as a film that was formative in fleshing out the very language of film as we know it today. Key to its legacy are its innovative use of flashback and multiple unreliable narrators; its deep focus, beautifully rendered by cinematographer Gregg Toland; and vibrant performances from Welles, Joseph Cotten and Dorothy Comingore. While the revelation of the thrust behind Kane’s final words has become a frequent pop-culture gag, its effect — and what it says about a man who seemingly had it all — resonates even today.
The original summer blockbuster, “Jaws” launched director Steven Spielberg into a stratosphere where his name is virtually synonymous with the craft of filmmaking. The taut, terrifying tale of a small beach community terrorized by a massive great white shark maintains much of its edge nearly a half-century later, thanks in large part to Spielberg’s decision to avoid showing his monster and to the power of John Williams’ foreboding score. The heart of “Jaws” is its cast, from Roy Scheider’s powerful lead turn as Chief Martin Brody to Lorraine Gary’s understated performance as his wife, Ellen. Perhaps the most iconic performance belongs to Robert Shaw, who delivers a monologue recounting the sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis with a conviction that would have you believe he truly lived through it.
“Seven Samurai” (Not Rated)
With films like “Rashomon,” “The Hidden Fortress” and “Throne of Blood” to his name, Akira Kurosawa sits comfortably among the finest filmmakers in history. But even with so many great films under his belt, his true masterpiece may very well be “Seven Samurai,” the 1954 samurai epic set during Japan’s Sengoku Period. The film tells the story of farmers who hire seven ronin to help them stop bandits from stealing their crops, and the masterful writing, performances and action sequences lift its premise to heights that have made the film one of the most imitated and referenced in the history of cinema.
“8 1/2” (Not rated)
Federico Fellini is one of the few filmmakers whose work is so distinctive and influential that his name has become an adjective. “Felliniesque” — or the quality of being dreamlike and surreal in nature— stems largely from the filmmaker’s “8 1/2,” which opens with a harrowing dream sequence and unrelentingly mingles reality and fantasy as it tells the story of a filmmaker struggling to complete a science-fiction epic. With music, magic and bombast, Fellini tells a personal story of crisis that the late, great Roger Ebert hailed as “the best film ever made about filmmaking.”
If you are in need of a fulfilling movie night, these films make great options. Not only will they leave you enthralled as you watch, they’ll provide plenty to chew on well after the credits have rolled.