I have got as far as D without giving up, but that’s not even one quarter of the way yet.
Rather that confuse my choices with research, I have decided to go from the top of my head with today’s selections. Foreign language films are usually the first to spring to mind when I think about films, so I am straight in with the thrilling German submarine saga, ‘Das Boot’. (1981) This was actually better as a TV series, running to a length of almost five hours. That said, the film edit for cinema made it an easier watch, and it remains as the definitive film about submarine warfare. The little-known sci-fi wonder, ‘Dark City’ (1998) is better than the ‘Matrix’ films that followed, and were undoubtedly inspired by it, so it was always going to be in my D choices. As was ‘Dark Star’, John Carpenter’s 1974 comedy-drama set in space.
Fans of Spielberg epics might not even be aware of his debut film from 1971, ‘Duel’. This taut thriller stars Dennis Weaver as the hapless ‘everyman’ driver, terrorised on the road by a huge truck, the driver of which is never seen. Spike Lee has had something of a hit and miss career, but ‘Do The Right Thing’ (1989) remains as the seminal film about modern life on the streets of New York City. During a hot summer, racial tensions boil over, and performances from Danny Aiello, John Turturro, and Spike Lee himself raise this film to the status of a classic.
Back to World Cinema once again, with the role of a lifetime for Bruno Ganz, as Adolf Hitler, in the Oscar-nominated ‘Downfall’. (2004) It seems strange to write about the best portrayal of Hitler ever, but this was. Not only that, the film always feels 100% authentic, and the rest of the cast all deliver memorable performances too. It was a very close run thing for my top spot today. Kurosawa’s almost forgotten Japanese-Soviet film, ‘Dersu Uzala'(1975) has haunted me ever since I first watched it. This tale of fish out of water is not only touching, it is beautifully filmed, (in 70 mm) in some striking scenery too. Dersu is a native Goldi tribesman, guiding Army surveyors in their expedition to the far east of Russia, at the turn of the 20th century. They are the fish out of water in this wilderness, and when they take Dersu back with them to see the city, his confusion is a joy to behold. This film really should be better known.
Once again, Ridley Scott takes my prize, this time for ‘D’. Long before ‘Gladiator’, and a full two years before ‘Alien’, he made the wonderful film ‘The Duellists’, (1977) starring Harvey Keitel, and Keith Carradine. Set in the army of Napoleonic France, and covering a period of many years, rarely has an historical film looked and felt so completely authentic. From the duels of the two opposing officers, to the tragic retreat from Moscow in a harsh winter, everything is just so.
And just right too.