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Spike Lee's Essential List Of Films For Filmmakers (What's Missing? How Many Have You Seen?)

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act July 26, 2013 at 7:40PM

The one thing that immediately jumped out at me in looking over this list from Spike Lee, is the near-absence of films by black filmmakers. I counted 3 total: Charles Burnett's Killer Of Sheep, John Singleton's Boyz N The Hood, and Michael Schultz's Coolie High.
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Spike Lee

The one thing that immediately jumped out at me in looking over this list from Spike Lee, is the near-absence of films by black filmmakers. I counted 3 total: Charles Burnett's Killer Of SheepJohn Singleton's Boyz N The Hood, and Michael Schultz's Coolie High.

Although there are a few films listed that tell stories about black people, but weren't directed by black filmmakers, like Black Orpheus, for example, which was directed by Frenchman Marcel Camus.

And when I say black filmmakers, I'm not referring solely to black American filmmakers. I'm talking about the entire African Diaspora.

I'd love to have seen mentions of films by iconic and notable names of filmmakers who contributed to, or helped shift the conversation, with some very important work, like Ousmane Sembene, Djibril Diop Mambety, William Greaves, Med Hondo, Souleymane Cissé, Euzhan Palcy, Isaac Julien, and others.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not knocking his list. It contains many seminal, important and influential films that also happen to be some of my favorite films (and filmmakers) of all time, and that I also recommend anyone serious about film, should see. And this is, after all, a subjective list. I'm sure if I sat in a room with 10 other movie lovers, we'd endlessly debate the merits of each. But I can't really argue with his list. I just believe that there are more of *us* who have contributed to cinema, films that are also just as important and influential, and necessary for filmmakers everywhere to see - certainly not as widely-known as the names and titles on this list (which are primarily white American and European). 

I could even think of other white filmmakers whose names/films I'd put on a list like this. Peter Greenaway, for example. And for a list that's so standard, sticking primarily to the masters, I'm surprised he didn't mention a single BergmanTarkovsky or Ozu film.

And then there's Cassavetes

But, like I said, we can all argue who/what should be on the list, to infinity. It's all in good fun. Plus Spike does say (as you'll see in the video below) that if we feel there are other titles that belong on the list, to let him know.

On his list below, you'll find the usual names that I'm sure many of you are familiar with. Godard, Fellini, Kubrick, Truffaut, Huston, Hitchcock, De Sica, Wyler, Welles, etc, etc, etc... Although interestingly, not the Orson Welles film that you'd probably immediately think would be on a list like this. But it's still a great Orson Welles film in A Touch Of Evil that I've seen many times (sometimes just for the opening sequence alone).

Surprises? I didn't at all expect to see Neill Blomkamp's District 9 on this list. That one got an eyebrow raise out of me.

An even bigger surprise is Kung Fu Hustle. Interesting. That's actually one of the few films on this list that I haven't seen. I'll have to check it out then.

I've seen all but 11 films on this list. So I'll add those 11 to my to-watch list for the weekend.

Clearly, looking at Spike's list, cinema has long-been, and still continues to be a playground for those who are both white and male. The rest of us are catching up though. I wonder what a list like this will look in another 50 to 100 years of filmmaking history.

By the way, of the 86 films on Spike's list of essential films, just 6 of them are currently streaming on Netflix. Six!

That's it! Like I said, a ridiculously tiny number of the 86 films on Spike's list. About 7%.

And those 6 films are:

- Federico Fellini's 8 1/2

- John Schlesinger's Midnight Cowboy

- Roman Polański's Chinatown

Steve James' Hoop Dreams

- Terrence Malick's Days Of Heaven

- Vittorio De Sica's The Bicycle Thief

So, if you haven't seen any of these 6 films, and you're a Netflix streaming subscriber, you should check them out before they disappear, because there is an expiration date on Netflix's rights to each title - meaning, they won't be available indefinitely. So take advantage while you can! 

Take a look at the list and feel free to discuss.

This article is related to: Spike Lee, Lists


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