Updated: Dec 31, 2020
Fig. 1: The ninth Google Images search result for "film snob".
The chips are down. It’s that all-important summer before college apps open in the fall, and with a truly commendable amount of blind faith in yourself and the American labor market, you’ve decided to apply as a film major. Here are 21 great films you can watch now to hone your craft — godspeed, and may you always have law school.
21. Sallie Gardner at a Gallop (1878)
Widely regarded as the world’s very first film, this series of photographic plates depicts a horse at a full gallop. Clocking in at 2.11 seconds, this film provides exactly the kind of fast-paced gratification a generation raised on TikTok can relate to. Whoopie!
20. Battleship Potemkin (1925)
Sergei Eisenstein stages the 1905 mutiny of the crew of the Russian battleship Potemkin, in theatrical, filmic form. With its pioneering montage technique, Battleship Potemkin is referred to by many as the greatest film of all time.
19. Citizen Kane (1941)
Referred to by many as the greatest film of all time, Citizen Kane chronicles the rise and fall of fictional newspaper magnate Charles Foster Kane.
18. City Lights (1931)
Hee! Hee! Look at the funny man go! Some joys, like the vibrant silent-film mannerisms of actor and director Charlie Chaplin, are timeless. You’ll notice we stopped going chronologically... that’s right. Discard everything you know about linear narrative:
17. Memento (2000)
Actually, scratch that. Just run some parts backwards. Such is the simple genius of complex genius Christopher Nolan. We are on film-major hallowed ground.
16. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
Speaking of auteurs, welcome to what David Ehrlich, writing for IndieWire, called “contemporary American cinema’s most hostile aesthete”: director Wes Anderson. Pastel perfection and a pornographically powerful plot.
15. Hot Fuzz (2007)
How does it feel to have greatness thrust upon you once again? Don’t worry, once you get to film school you’ll be doing plenty of thrusting of your own. For now, laugh with delight at this very British action-comedy cop movie directed by the very British Ed-gar Wright.
14. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Don’t like cops? How about the prison-industrial complex? Tim Robbins plays Andy Dufresne, a man wrongfully convicted of murder and jailed in Shawshank Prison, in this cult classic drama film.
13. Le Deuxième Souffle (1966)
Prison break! This thriller by French director Jean-Pierre Melville features shifty underground characters, a tightly wound third act, and a surprising amount of black-and-white violence.
12. Lolita (1962)
How did they ever make a movie of Lolita? Anachronistically funny, deeply dark. Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov’s novel is a classic gem.
11. Uncut Gems (2019)
This film is absolute candy, featuring glittering sets, a jaw-dropping score, and the Weeknd getting beat on by Adam Sandler. The Safdie brothers perform a modern-day alchemy, with paranoia turned to euphoria. You’ll want to watch it again. Then you’ll want to make it.
10. Burning Cane (2019)
Wrote, directed, and shot by a senior in high school (Phillip Youmans), this stirring meditation on faith in rural Louisiana may itself inspire quite a few aspirant filmmakers towards creation.
9. Pépé le Moko (1937)
Thought you were done with the French gangsters? You’re never done with the French gangsters. According to critics, this film champions something called “poetic realism.” Luckily, you’re going to go to school to figure out what that means. Watch this now, think later.
8. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Think now! Think now! This cerebral space epic will expand your consciousness to cosmic horizons, and you’ll want a poster for your dorm room wall.
7. The Social Network (2010)
Aaron Sorkin’s standout dialogue is crucial for your education as a cinematic thinker. What’s more, you’ll learn what college is really supposed to be like. Get ready to call your parents and tell them you’re dropping out!
6. Eraserhead (David Lynch) (1997) (David Lynch)
Directed by David Lynch, this experimental masterpiece was directed by David Lynch. [Chorus x4].
5. La Grande Illusion
Tension builds among a group of French prisoners-of-war as they plot their escape. Maybe the real Grand Illusion was the friendship we found along the way.
4. Parasite (2019)
You’ve probably already seen this movie. Your friends have seen this movie. Celebrities worth millions of dollars have seen, and raved about, this movie. But the rules are strict: you must watch it again.
3. Pulp Fiction (1994)
Yeah, you’ve definitely seen this movie.
2. Cinema Paradiso (1988)
We’ll close off with this orchestral masterpiece set at a small movie theater in Mantova, Italy, where a wildly successful film director spent his most formative years. You can’t watch this in a cinema now, but the magic of this film is strong anywhere. Oh, the romance of the movies — the tender silver gold of the celluloid moving image.
1. Trolls (2016)
What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to love, and then to lose?