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Spike Lee's Essential Film List (VIDEO)

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by Anne Thompson
July 29, 2013 4:10 PM
7 Comments
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My fellow NYU alumnus Spike Lee, now a grad school professor, has posted on Kickstarter the list of films that he considers to be essential viewing for any aspiring filmmaker. He gives it out to his students on the first day of class. It's a fabulous list! He's right. Any proper cinephile should have seen all these films. Have you? (Remember, I'm the one who called my college boyfriend a "movie moron" for not having seen "2001: A Space Odyssey"--which isn't on Lee's list.) Your Netflix queue awaits. True confession: I am ordering up "Cooley High," "Dead End," "Kung Fu Hustle," "I Am Cuba," "Miracle in Milan" and "Paisan."

Lee's list includes three films each by masters Akira Kurosawa (the filmmaker at the top of my personal pantheon of directors), Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, John Huston, and Federico Fellini. He also includes Arthur Penn's "Bonnie and Clyde," Bernardo Bertolucci's "The Conformist," Billy Wilder's "Ace in the Hole" and "Some Like It Hot," Charles Burnett's "Killer of Sheep," Charles Laughton and James Agee's "The Night of the Hunter" (which influenced Lee's "Do the Right Thing"), David Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia" (number one on my top 20 on Flickchart), Elia Kazan's "On the Waterfront" and "Face in the Crowd," Francis Coppola's "The Godfather" I and II, Martin Scorsese's "Mean Streets" and "Raging Bull," and Francois Truffaut's "Day for Night" and "The 400 Blows."

"The Seven Samurai"

The full alphabetical list by director's first name is posted below the jump. Lee wants us to give him any films he missed: "Send me films you think should be on my list." He's got the right directors on the list, including Mel Gibson ("Apocalypto") but predictably not John Ford and Quentin Tarantino (with whom he has issues), Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah (he may not be a western fan) and John Lasseter and Hayao Miyazaki (no animation) as well as Kathryn Bigelow (the list has no women). Lee also leaves off Frank Capra, Ang Lee, F.W. Murnau, Mike Nichols, Joseph Mankiewicz ("All About Eve"), Preston Sturges ("The Lady Eve"), Howard Hawks, Ingmar Bergman, Jean Renoir and silent masters Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin.



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7 Comments

  • Pritesh | July 30, 2013 12:47 PMReply

    Very good list. Shame you have to pay to add to it. Here's a few more though:

    The Graduate
    The Apartment
    The Gambler
    The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
    Fingers
    Les Enfants du Paradis
    Sideways
    Le Samourai
    Seven Men from Now
    Back to the Future
    Les Amants
    The Return
    Lantana
    Remorques
    Make Way for Tomorrow
    Classe Tous Risques

  • Griff | July 29, 2013 6:17 PMReply

    It's "Cooley High," not "Coolie High."

  • Zelda | July 29, 2013 5:35 PMReply

    Surprisingly unoriginal.

  • DJ | July 31, 2013 2:39 PM

    It's the quintessential list given to all first years in film schools like NYU, USC, et al.

  • Thedudeabides | July 29, 2013 6:16 PM

    The Pope,

    Actually the title reads Essential Film List. Which to film students and lovers, means films that are necessary to watch and soak in to learn the craft and beauty of the medium. I think Scorsese's list is the real definitive list. Don't get me wrong, he's covered some essentials, but when you're missing Bergman or Chaplin, you cannot get a rounded view of film history.

  • The Pope | July 29, 2013 5:57 PM

    Zelda,
    I think you're slightly missing the point. It is not about originality. It is about setting a framework within which students can look, listen and learn. I would have been disappointed, if not dismayed, had Mr. Lee not included The Conformist, Battle of Algiers and Rashomon. Am I unoriginal? That's not the issue. The issue is that those films added immeasurably to the art of cinema.

  • Jake | July 29, 2013 4:56 PMReply

    That's "City of God" not "City of Gods".

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