30 Essential Films Missing From The Sight & Sound Top 100

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by The Playlist Staff
August 16, 2012 12:20 PM
26 Comments
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13. “La Terra Trema” (1948)

A director of Italian theater and opera, Luchino Visconti’s cinematic oeuvre is naturally marked by its lush, lavish milieu in pictures like "The Leopard" (which made the S&S top 100), “The Damned" and "Death in Venice." However, it's his earlier Italian neo-realism that arguably resonates at a higher emotional frequency. “Rocco and his Brothers” wonderfully bridges both periods, but “La Terra Trema” is arguably his most austere, emotionally raw and striking film. Featuring non-credited, non-professional actors in lead roles, this 1948 Italian drama was called a "docufiction" during its day, because of Visconti’s desire to be as realistic as possible, but there’s no denying this stark and depressing exploitation of working-class fishermen is no documentary. Chronicling harsh economic realities in a small Sicilian village, the eldest son of a local fishing family convinces his family to mortgage their house in order to wrestle more control (and money) away from the wholesalers that are dominating the local fishing market. It’s a risky move, and most of the timid, under-the-boot-heel townsfolk are afraid to rock the boat (no pun intended). Everything goes prosperously until a storm ruins their boat, plummeting the the family into deeper poverty and triggers one tragedy after another that essentially destroys the entire dynasty. In the end, the consequences of their gamble force them to come back crawling to the monopolizers with their tails between their legs, and more importantly are left spiritually broken. Sparsely shot and using little music, "La Terra Trema" is unnervingly quiet outside of the hollow and cold sounds of wind. It's a bleak effort for sure, but a powerful snap-shot of neo-realism from a filmmaker generally known for his affinities toward the extravagant.

14. “That Obscure Object of Desire” (1977)

A wicked, devilish and surrealist look at the ravenousness of longing, lust and passion, Luis Buñuel’s “That Obscure Object of Desire” is perhaps the most perfectly suited film for its subject on this list. Told in flashback and set against the backdrop of a terrorist insurgency in Spain, ‘Obscure Object’ centers on an aging Spanish man (Fernando Rey) who falls in love with and obsessively attempts to win the affections of an aloof, unattainable 19-year-old chambermaid. Played by two different women (Carole Bouquet and Angela Molina), this unattainable paramour repeatedly frustrates this man’s romantic and sexual desires with a teasing back and forth that might drive any lover mad. Ostensibly a representation of the girl’s two disparate personalities (both Bouquet and Molina demonstrate two different types of behavior), it’s perhaps simply too facile to box in Buñuel like this, as the picture has its sly satirical elements and indictments of bourgeois society as is per his usual. Buñuel's 30th and final picture, the director died five years later, but the picture did earn him two Oscar nominations (Best Foreign Language Film and Best Adapted Screenplay).

15. “Veronika Voss” (1982)

Loosely based on the true story of Sybille Schmitz, a former Nazi starlet, whose star faded after the Third Reich crumbled -- she committed suicide as a lonely old relic the nation would rather soon forget -- the captivating and lush “Veronika Voss” is German filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder at the height of his powers. On a dark, rain-soaked evening, the unbalanced and melodramatic Voss (Rosel Zech) meets and befriends an empathetic sports writer (Hilmar Thate) who takes a curious interest in her faded-glory story. The well-meaning writer soon discovers the erratic and often desperate former star is propped up by an unscrupulous “Dr. Feelgood”-like physician (Annemarie Düringer) who lords over her -- fueling her insecurities with a controlling dose of opiates, but only if she can pony up the exorbitant costs. Meanwhile, the self-sacrificing writer risks his own relationship to rescue the aging ingenue, but to no avail. Having long sought recognition within Germany -- the provincial media generally despised his always quotable “enfante terrible” mien -- Fassbinder finally received homegrown love when this picture rightfully won the Golden Bear at the 32nd Berlin International Film Festival. And while many Fassbinder pictures could have made the list, this seems like the one to go for.

16. "La Notte" (1961)

Michelangelo Antonioni’s heralded alienation tetralogy about modernity and its discontents is well recognized among cinephiles as a towering achievement in cinema (and yes, it should include “Red Desert” even if it’s in color and therefore slightly different in aesthetic, but absolutely the same in theme). The haunting “L'Avventura” rightly made the Sight & Sound top 50, “Red Desert” and “Eclipse” both have cemented their position as classics thanks to the Criterion Collection. But 1961's "La Notte" is somewhat of an overlooked child, and this is a shame considering that it's possibly the most emotional and accessible of them all. Featuring the amazing trio of Antonioni regular Monica Vitti, plus Marcello Mastroianni and Jeanne Moreau, “La Notte” plays out as a the day in the life of an unfaithful and unhappy couple that are experiencing their relationship in the death knell of decay. Giovanni Pontano (Mastroianni) and Lidia (Moreau) -- a married couple already experiencing the slow crush of indifference and deterioration in their relationship -- begin their day visiting a dying friend. Shaken by the incident, Giovanni fails to comfort his wife and the woman then departs, wandering the streets of Milan in search of some kind of existential fleeting answers. They meet later in the evening at a party where Giovanni is already trying to strike up an affair with the daughter of a wealthy industrialist (Vitti). Perhaps most devastating is its climax. As the couple acknowledges the failure of their marriage in the breaking hours of dawn long after this party has run its course, Lidia reads aloud from a profoundly poetic moving love letter. Giovanni asks, who wrote it? Lidia tells him that he wrote it years ago to her. They make love on the grass unable to accept the end, but clearly their relationship is in irreparable disrepair and this last act is a grueling and piercing sequence for anyone who has done their best to keep a dying light alive.

17. “Umberto D.” (1952)

Vittorio De Sica topped the first ever Sight & Sound poll with "Bicycle Thieves," which was only released four years earlier. These days, it's dropped all the way down to number 37, and it's the filmmaker's only movie in the Top 100. His particular brand of Italian neo-realism is somewhat out of fashion now, but unfairly so, given the brilliance of that film, and in particular of 1952's "Umberto D." Involving the day-to-day struggles to survive of an elderly man (Carlo Battisti) and his faithful dog Flike, it sits with "Tokyo Story" as one of the great screen portraits of aging, as well as a firmly political look at the little man overpowered in society. It's a little manipulative, of course, but what is filmmaking if not manipulation, and only someone with a heart of stone would fail to be moved by the film by its end. It mostly disappeared on release, but it was the favorite film of both its own director and of Ingmar Bergman, and has since deservedly had its reputation restored.

18. "Day for Night" (1973)
For this writer at least, who worships the filmmaker, François Truffaut is somewhat underrepresented in the S&S Top 100: the great filmmaker only makes the list with one picture, "The 400 Blows." Were we to add another, though, it might not be the one you'd expect. Because since our teens, we've loved "Day for Night," the director's rich, playful tribute to filmmaking, with Truffaut himself playing the helmer of a drama named "Meet Pamela" with Jacqueline Bisset and Jean-Pierre Leaud as his tempestuous stars. Funny, warm and pretty much manna from heaven for any would-be-filmmaker, or indeed cinephile in general, it feels more universal and profound than most behind-the-scenes dramas and deserves a place alongside "8 1/2" and "Singin' in the Rain" as one of the great movies about movies.
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26 Comments

  • mass | August 21, 2012 2:56 AMReply

    You forgot about Lumet's masterpiece, "Network".

  • Blessing | August 21, 2012 1:06 PM

    Agreed!

  • bob hawk | August 20, 2012 4:25 PMReply

    Thanks for including COME AND SEE -- a masterpiece worthy of anyone's top 100 of all time. I first saw it at the Roxie Theater in S.F. I knew nothing about it except for the calendar blurb. To say that it blew me away is an understatement. At certain points I could barely breathe, the imagery was stunning, and the "content" (the innocent POV amidst the mesmerizing devastation) was profoundly affecting. When it was over, I could hardly believe what I just saw, went to the concession stand for reinforcements, and sat through it again. In the following days I recommended it to as many people as possible, and went back two more times.

  • JAMES SMITH | August 19, 2012 5:31 PMReply

    How about: The French Connection; The Philadelphia Story; All About Eve; High Noon; Dinner at Eight; Dodsworth; The Letter; The Maltese Falcon; Network; The Exorcist; Patton; The Graduate; Judgement at Nuremberg; Our Hospitality; The Painted Veil (2006) - shall I go on?

  • Bill Murray | August 17, 2012 9:12 PMReply

    There Will Be Blood.

  • Adam Pelletier | August 17, 2012 11:50 AMReply

    “pretty much soft-core porn In the Realm of the Senses,”
    Nice one dick, thanks for shurgging off a great movie like that. I watched a lot of porn in my days, hardcore and soft, kinda remember jerking off to that. I don`t recall having the urge to do it during In the Realm of the Senses. Instead I was blown away by a truly great film, not a soft core porn...you dope.

  • Fry | August 16, 2012 11:56 PMReply

    I already mentioned this some time earlier in another post, but Sergei Parajanov's 'Shadows of our Forgotten Ancestors' really deserves consideration, to me it's an unparalelled masterpiece. And maybe some Nicholas Ray?

  • StephenM | August 16, 2012 7:44 PMReply

    "Three Colors Trilogy --which explored the themes of the three colors represented in the French Flag, fraternity, justice, love" ----Umm, not to be too much of a pedant, but the themes are Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. Getting them wrong is kind of like misquoting the Declaration of Independence or something, and it can totally screw up your reading of the films.

  • Rodrigo | August 16, 2012 11:58 PM

    Whoops. Thanks for the flag, not pedantic at all. You are very correct. I wrote this on the subway and put in fillers cause i couldn't remember it offhand (you can tell Fraternity was in caps while the others were not) and meant to switch out and forgot to do once it went live. i should have just used the standard TK and it woulda been caught in the edit.

  • Lucy | August 16, 2012 6:44 PMReply

    Great list! Sullivan's Travels and Le Bête et la Belle are two of my favorite films!

  • Wes | August 16, 2012 6:43 PMReply

    Here, here for: La belle et la bête, Last Picture Show, Conversation, and Badlands!

  • E'le | August 16, 2012 6:30 PMReply

    Cria Cuervos is a good pick (especially in comparison to The Spirit of the Beehive, which I wasn't crazy about).

  • Wes | August 16, 2012 6:44 PM

    I feel the same way about the Conformist, but I might be a minority there.

  • Wes | August 16, 2012 6:41 PM

    I agree about Spirit of the Beehive. The only thing I liked about it was the cinematography.

  • Wes | August 16, 2012 5:53 PMReply

    This is my current (probably for the last two years or so) list of favs (in no particular order): No Country for Old Men, Persona, Vertigo, Citizen Kane, 2001, Mirror, Raging Bull, Apocalypse Now, Fargo, and Chinatown. However, I've been inspired by the Olympics to create a tournament bracket of my favorite 50 or so films. I'll watch two per week, and this list will likely change in the next year or so. Haha.

  • tristan eldritch | August 16, 2012 3:09 PMReply

    Great list. I really agree about La Notte - it's as formally brilliant (if not more so) than the others in the trilogy, and has that emotional accessibility (even warmth, I think) that you mention. And some of the most rapturously gorgeous b and w cinematography ever committed to film. Man, I love that film!

  • Wes | August 16, 2012 6:40 PM

    I always go back and forth between La Notte and L'Avventura. I remember really liking La Notte as I was watching it for the first time. I don't remember enjoying my first experience with L'Avventura. However, with repeated viewings of the latter, it has grown on me very much.

  • Rodrigo | August 16, 2012 5:21 PM

    Nice to hear someone agree. Outside of L'avventura, it's tops of his 4-tryptch.

  • yer | August 16, 2012 2:00 PMReply

    Malick is an arthouse god. How are none of his films on the list??

  • Lucy | August 16, 2012 6:47 PM

    I love Malick! The New World is in the top tier of my favorite film list! I was in high school when the film came out and I had the best film experience I was so moved. The same happened with the Tree of Life, his films affect me in ways many other films just don't.

  • Wes | August 16, 2012 6:38 PM

    All of his movies are awesome! Badlands, Days of Heaven, Thin Red Line, New World, and Tree of Life! What's wrong with these people?

  • E'le | August 16, 2012 6:33 PM

    Is there one Malick film you're thinking of in particular? I've been disappointed by all I've seen of his except for Days of Heaven.

  • yer | August 16, 2012 2:21 PM

    JT, stick to Chris Nolan films buddy!

  • jt | August 16, 2012 2:04 PM

    Yer, not all of Malick's films are great ( or even good) , but they are great to look at. Thats for sure.

  • [A] | August 16, 2012 1:11 PMReply

    Terrific list! And I've seen many of these movies, too.

  • Anton Jacoves | August 16, 2012 12:26 PMReply

    I mean look this can go on forever really

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