March 26, 2015 at 6:19PM


THE DECISIVE GUIDE - Directors / Films to Study? *Please help! Opinions wanted!*

Hello all,

As a young filmmaker, I often feel I'm lacking in knowledge of classic films. Would you lovely people help me compile the ultimate organized list of any and all films and directors to see and study to learn the craft?

Any age, any genre, any style, any subject. I aspire to be a cinematographer, but at this stage I'd like to learn as much as possible about all aspects of film. Story, composition, direction, characters, camera movement, score, etc...

Would it be possible to organize the films / directors / cinematographers based on what the films exhibit?

For example:

- Film 1
- Film 2
- Film 3

- Film 1
- Film 2
- Film 3

- Film 1
- Film 2
- Film 3

Thank you all so much, I can't wait to watch and learn from your suggestions!


Read these books: Film Art: An Introduction and Film History: An Introduction by Bordwell and Thompson.

March 27, 2015 at 11:02AM


Cinematography - Blue (Kieślowski), Paris, Texas (Wenders), In The Mood For Love (Wong Kar Wai), Tree of Life (Malick)
Directing - 8 1/2 (Fellini), Last Tango in Paris (Bertolucci), Vertigo (Hitchock), Hiroshima Mon amour (Resnais), Breathless (Godard)
Story - Chinatown (Polanski), Taxi Driver (Scorcese), Annie Hall (Woody Allen), Network (Lumet), The Coversation (Coppola)

I suggest you take a look at the sight and sound 2012 poll of best films ever for a canonical look at film history. Just go down the list and check them off. The AFI films list is also goo but not necessarily in an artistic sense.

March 27, 2015 at 11:08PM

Harris Gurny
Film Student

-Akira Kurasawa (Rashomon)
-Andrei Tarkovsky (Ivan's Childhood)
-Stanley Kubrick (The Shinning)

- Alfred Hitchcock (Vertigo)
- Orson Welles (Citizen Kane)
- David Lean (Lawrence of Arabia)

Ingmar Bergman (The Seventh Seal)
Yasujirō Ozu (Tokyo Story)
Werner Hertzog (Aguirre, the Wrath of God)

March 29, 2015 at 1:34PM


Take two seconds to google this and you'll find more comprehensive results than anything NFS will supply.

March 29, 2015 at 1:42PM

Benjamin Lebeau
Cinematographer, Colorist, Editor

Cinematography: 2001: A Space Odyssey (Geoffrey Unsworth), Gravity (Emmanuel Lubezki), Barry Lyndon (John Alcott), Three Colours trilogy (Klosinski, Idziak, Sobocinski), Stalker (Alexander Knyazhinsky)

Directing: Citizen Kane (Orson Welles), Tokyo Story (Yasujiro Ozu), 8 1/2 (Federico Fellini), The Searchers (John Ford), Goodfellas (Martin Scorsese) Andrei Rublev (Andrei Tarkovsky)

Story: Chinatown (Robert Towne), Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avary), Casablanca (Julius J. & Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch), Network (Paddy Chayefsky), All the President's Men (William Goldman)

March 29, 2015 at 1:47PM

Dan S
Film Student, Director

Cinematography - Barry Lyndon (John Alcott). Every shot looks like a painting and it is one of the most beautiful films ever made.
Fargo (Roger Deakins). Could have went for No Country or Shawshank however the ice cold cinematography is a beautiful canvas for the brutal violence and it contrasts with the polite characters.
Birdman (Emmaneul Lubezki) Children of Men and Gravity are both visual treats, however the film being made to look like one continuous shot really is a feast for the eyes. And its a film I can see inspiring a whole branch of up and coming cinematographers.

Directing- A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick). Most people would say 2001, however the more run and gun style filmmaking mixed with Kubrick's perfectionism makes this the best film he made in my opinion. It reflected the new style of films in the 70's yet it has transgressed to modern day very well.
Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino). Films like Clerks and El Maricahi may have kickstarted the independent cinema era of the nineties, however Pulp made it cool. Instantly quotable, darkly funny and ridiculously violent. The soundtrack alone makes this film a must watch. Also the use of focus is terrific.
The Raid 2 (Gareth Evans). This isn't my favourite film of all time, or best directed. However this film in my opinion has recharged action cinema. Even more then the first film. Gareth Evans knows how to handle action and a great story. Hopefully soon thanks to directors like Gareth Evans we will be out of the shacky cam phase of action filmmaking.

Story- The Three Flavour Cornetto trilogy (Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg). Ok so I'm including the trilogy as a whole. And even though their stories have simple set ups, the comedy, timing and character's make this unofficial trilogy fantastic.
Memento (Christopher Nolan). The story for this film is the biggest pro. Told backwards, however more engaging if it was told forwards. A film that should be seen to be believed.
Reservoir Dogs (Quentin Tarantino). So the story in this film isn't too flashy or big. However the scenario of the story is perfect. It makes for brilliant conflict and an exclent use of Stuck in the Middle With you.

They are the films I'd reccomend. I'm more of a directing and cinematography guy myself. So directors like Kubrick, Scorsese, Tarantino, The Coen Brothers and cinematographers like Emanuel Lubinzki, Robert Richardson and Roger Deakins I love.

March 29, 2015 at 2:00PM, Edited March 29, 2:00PM

Connor Stevenson-Wright

I'm sorry, I'll cheat a little but I guess we're all here to share oppinions together and lists are kind of limiting.

I guess the No. 1 classic movie that comes to everyones mind is Citizen Kane. Now saying that it is THE BEST is maybe a bit of a strech but it's a perfect blend of really good story, great direction and so.e of the best cinematography filmed. I haven't seen it for a long time but there is some great special effects trickery there, also the smal things that just help tell the story better... Like how the table gets longer and longer, representing distance Kane and his wife have developed, or using the good old Hitchcock technique how the person that is biggest in the frame has control, or how at the begginibg he set up the twist bu having child Kane in the background of the window playing while in the foregroung you have an argument concerning his future... It's one of the best character studies, a movie that can not be summed up in few sentences like movie producers like to do... just a perfect movie.

Also a great film is a Carol Reed picture, also starring Orson Welles... The Third Man. It has some of the best cinematography, simple but really moving story and great direction. Reed in on the top of his game at the moment, coming off of two big successes and here he excels. The Third man has the best use of tilt angles I have every seen in any movie ever, these days theres a certaing kind of thing you expect off of chase sequence and how it will be shot, here most of the shots are static, with a tilt but used to a such a great effect + great blocking of the actors, great lighting... You get a really suspenseful chace sequences and you didin't need all the fancy rigs and suff.

Roman Polanski movies... One of the best, on one hand he totally gets Hitchcock and his thing (size of the image, relation of the image with the pevious ones and the ones coming...) but unlike Hitchcock, he will get much better performances out of people (due to a fact that he took acting lessons and Hitchcock is more about casting the right peole and then letting the magic of cinema to it's trcik) and is a great perfectionist when it comes to his framing and shots. Knowing this you whould expect him to have some flashy cinematography but it actually isn't at all. He is all about progression of the story, and havibg the cinematography serve the story but not try too hard. If you can tell your story in one shot aka not interupting actors, then do it. But know when to cut and to what, know exactly how to frame it... what kind of framing sugests what to the audience member and how can I use that to my adventage. Every Polanski film is a film worth seeing, but I'd pay more attention to framing, nuonces, how he sets and reincorporates things in Chinatown (David Fincher did a great commentary for Chinatown with the screenwriter of the movie... They talk some grat stuff and helped me understand Polanskis framing even more), 101 how to do jump-scares in horror movies, ussage of music and mood in Repulsion... All there shings come together also in Tenant, Pianist and Rosemary's baby (being probably the best Polanski film).

I don'f even have to mention that Hitchcock is essential (Truffaut has great book on Hitchcok which is essential for the aspiting screenwriters and directors) but a lot of great things about him pee miss. Vertigo is a picture that come to mind, but it can actually teach us a lot about casting... It is the art imitating life scenario, Hitccock, losing his pecious bloond to a prince makes him desprate and tries to remake her... Grace Kelly is a perfect Hitch blond but the fact that Kim Novak is just not quite perfect really fits with the theme of the movie. But other Hitchcock classic i like is Lifeboat where he never took the camer off the boat, you're always there with the characters. Frenzy, even though not a great Hitchcok movie has some interesting camera movement, Rear Window, Notorious, Rope, The Wrong Man, Suspicion, To Catch a thief a have some great and neat visual trickery to tell the story visually.

Movie that I really enjoy and has some interesting camera movement is Americanization of Emilly. It isn't drawing attention to it self, it's simple and to the point but kind of fascinating. Even though it's made it 60s, it has all 50s cheese but in it's core theme, it's bald.

Last year at Marienbad is a film that has a stunning cinematography, and the story deals with the uncertanty issue and is really complex...

Martin Scorsese's work, obviously... David Fincher is a modern director who comes to mind also, Michael Haneke, Nicolas Winding Refn, Coen Brothers movies... I went on for too long, but I hope i was of some help. A lot of these movies don't have ehat many would call a great cinematography but it's because these days that has no meaning. Everyone is trying to make a pretty pictore that's over lit or over exposed or is staging a longtakes just to try and imlress you, or lots of jumpcuts... Try watching old filmsof D. W. Griffith or Jean Renoir or Fritz Lang to get the sense of how was film grammar invented and what visual toold they used because it' all dialogue today. Also, some of THE BEST cinematography i got from genious Werner Herzog who is one of the few to transcend all genres. I think now is enough... :)

March 29, 2015 at 2:41PM


Any Hitchcock! I'd say North by Northwest

March 29, 2015 at 2:46PM

Pip S.S. Watkins
Wannabe editor

Many of the very best movies excel in all the aspects you mentioned. The best of the best, in terms of cinematography, direction and story, I think, are:
La Dolce Vita (Fellini), The Rules of the Game (Renoir), Dr. Strangelove (Kubrick), The Lady from Shanghai (Welles), Strangers on a Train (Hitchcock) and Apocalypse Now (Coppola).
I think that those are about the most complete films that you will find, and should be viewed by everybody, I think, film student or not. They're just gorgeous.

In terms of cinematography, alone:
1) Days of Heaven (Mallick)
2) 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick)
3) The Third Man (Reed)
4) 8 1/2 (Fellini)

For directing:
1) Nashville (Altman) (Oh my God, Altman at his best was almost incomparable. So many moving pieces!)
2) The Godfather and Godfather 2 (Coppola)
3) The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Leone)
4) Amarcord (Fellini) (All 3 of the Fellini movies I mentioned are among the best of all time, in my opinion, and some of the most valuable for film students. He's taught me more about filmmaking than anybody else)
5) Touch of Evil (Welles)

1) Chinatown (Polanski)
2) Casablanca (Curtiz)
3) Manhattan (Allen)
4) Lawrence of Arabia (Lean)

Hope this helps!

March 29, 2015 at 3:05PM


To respond quickly. To cover directing just watch anything by Kurosawa.
Check out this video essay about how Kurosawa used his frames.

March 29, 2015 at 7:30PM

Dave Bullis


Days of Heaven
La Dolce Vita


Days Of Heaven-Almendros
La Terra trema-Aldo
Citizen Kane-Toland


The Shawshank Redemption.
Gone With The Wind.

March 29, 2015 at 8:11PM


These lists are always hard because I will invariably leave a film or filmmaker off the list. So understand that the films I list are only a drop in the bucket.
For color, watch THE RED SHOES (1948) - Director of Photography - Jack Cardiff.
Cardiff was a master of the Three-Strip Technicolor process. The rich and colorful images he composes are the stuff dreams are made of. In fact, watch EVERY film Cardiff shot, especially for the team of Michael Powell and Emerich Pressberger (directors of THE RED SHOES as well as other masterpieces like BLACK NARCISSUS and A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH). Hell, he even made RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II look fantastic!

For Black and White - IN COLD BLOOD (1967) - Director of Photography - Conrad Hall.
Hall is another D.P. whose work you should watch (ELECTRA GLIDE IN BLUE, FAT CITY, and AMERICAN BEAUTY are standouts) . He was from the new school of cinematography that knew how to manipulate the lighter cameras and faster film stocks by using light sparingly. The rich black and white photography of this picture is extraordinary, especially a scene toward the end of the film where the reflection of rain running down a pane of glass resembles tears running down the face of actor Robert Blake.

For camera movement and freedom - THE CROWD (1928) - Director of Photography - Henry Sharp.
Made just prior to the advent of motion picture sound, this extraordinary film by King Vidor attempted to break all the rules. The images were both realistic and expressionistic and with no burdensome sound equipment to tie him down, Sharp was able to move his camera about freely - strapping it to the back of a speeding car, sliding down a funhouse slide, or just tracking behind a character. It's a cinematic landmark.


THE SEARCHERS (1956) - John Ford
Ford is a master visual storyteller. He came from silent films so he knows how to tell his story in pictures, an artform that is being lost in filmmaking. He also knew how to photographs majestic landscapes as well as characters faces.

SEVEN SAMURAI (1954) - Akira Kurosawa.
Kurosawa is a master at EVERYTHING! Watch everything the man ever made. Study his shot compositions, his pacing, his editing, his blocking of actors, and you will be a great filmmaker.

JAWS (1975) - Steven Spielberg.
One of the greatest Horror/Thrillers ever committed to celluloid. Spielberg is brilliant at staging lengthy scenes without cuts, unbeknownst to the audience because the staging and the performances are so damn riveting. Also, his use of keeping the camera at water-level, in order to simulate something lurking beneath the surface, ratchets up the suspense even more.


THE SPANISH PRISONER (1997) - David Mamet.
Mamet is one of the great playwrites of past 40 years and his screenplays are just as brilliant. He loves the art of the con (many of his best works revolve around someone being played), and this brilliantly structured thriller boils down the elements of a great thriller in the vein of Hitchcock (complete with a Hitchcockian "MacGuffin" and the innocent man on the run) to its bare essentials. Plus, the dialogue is almost like music, almost a Blank Verse style of sentence structure.

SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS (1957) - Ernest Lehman and Clifford Odets.
More dialogue that is extraordinary - both beautiful and sinister. You can't go wrong with dialogue such as, "I'd hate to take a bite out of you, Sidney. You're a cookie filled with arsenic". "Dallas, your mouth is as big as a basket and twice as empty!", and, "Watch me run a 50-yard dash with my legs cut off!"

SHOCK CORRIDOR (1963) - Samuel Fuller.
Sam Fuller was one of the greatest storytellers of the 20th century (read up on the man - his life is as incredible and fascinating as one of his many great yarns). This film about a newspaper reporter committing himself to an insane asylum in order to catch a killer is a masterpiece of subversion. It confronts the most high-profile social ills of the day (ills that still plague us 52 years after the picture's release), and shoves them right in the audiences faces. Basically, Fuller loved to rub our noses in our own shit... but still make a damn riveting picture.

March 29, 2015 at 9:24PM

Max Magbee
Avid Editor


- The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)
- American Beauty (1999)
- In the Mood for Love (2000)
- Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011)
- No Country for Old Men (2007)


- Schindler's List (1993)
- Children of Heaven (1997)
- Mr. Nobody (2009)
- Mulholland Dr. (2001)
- Pather Panchali (1955)


- Se7en (1995)
- The Return (2003)
- 21 Grams (2003)
- 12 Angry Men (1957)
- Doubt (2008)

March 30, 2015 at 6:27AM

Rayhanur kabir
Director, DP

One more thing, it's not just about Cinematography or Story, editing also has a huge impact on the movie for example

-The Godfather: Part II (1974)
- Pulp Fiction (1994)
- The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)
- The Wrestler (2008)

These are also undoubtedly brilliantly directed movie but nothing matters when it comes to your personal preference!

March 30, 2015 at 6:49AM, Edited March 30, 6:49AM

Rayhanur kabir
Director, DP

If you are looking at movies for inspiration, it really is easy to see Kurosawa, Hitchcock, for both Cinematography, and directing. Orsen Wells for story, as well as the Nolan Bros. Good luck.

March 30, 2015 at 6:17PM

Kenneth Scrues

For cinematography ask yourself what movies you find the most beautiful.
For directing ask yourself what movie you find the best directed
For story ask yourself what movie you find its story and what type of story you enjoy the most.
Then study those.
ask yourself why? how? and try to understand it

personally i love kubrik, and nolan. the attention to detail and the spacial relations.
also the use of shapes by burton also saul bass intros.
directing i also enjoy kubrik, copolla, scorcesse' meticulousness
stories i always liked dark fincher, hitchcock. darker the better.

everybody enjoys different movies. you need to be honest with yourself on what you love and make what you love.

March 30, 2015 at 8:42PM

Kazu Okuda

Your insight and advise are always very valuable .....

... the last line you told above beyond any doubt!

Thanks Kazu.

April 2, 2015 at 6:33AM


There are lots of lists out there that have the films that are considered by most people to be important (Sight & Sound 2012 poll which someone mentioned earlier) so take a look at them.

A more interesting experiment would be to read up on the filmmakers that you like and find out what their influences are and explore the craft and history of cinema this way. You'll start to see how different techniques are used from filmmaker to filmmaker and that can be your springboard to start you thinking about how to approach the craft.

Most filmmakers talk about their influences in interviews, so it should be an easy thing to research, but a few examples: George Lucas influenced by Kurosawa. DePalma influenced by Hitchcock. Scorsese by Powell & Pressburger. Paul Thomas Anderson by Altman. David Fincher by Alan Pakula. Woody Allen by Ingmar Bergman.

March 31, 2015 at 10:05AM

Roger Francis Cook

Among the three you are asking for I would say Story is the most important! Without the story, you have nothing. Keep paying attention to the stories that affect you personally. Read some scripts of your favorite movies and see what it is that drives the film so well.

Also, something I have been learning recently is that classic films are great but the way you are going to learn is to simply study your own favorite type of movies and see why they work so well. They may have come out a year ago or 18 years ago, but they are still your favorites and they are the best to learn from! Here are some of my favorites that I have learned from.

Children of Men
American Beauty
The Place Beyond the Pines

Blue Velvet
It;s a Wonderful Life

A History of Violence
Lost in Translation
The Big Lebowski

March 31, 2015 at 10:21AM

Sean Freeman
Writer, Director.

To expand this conversation, we are sharing this ultimate film course by Mark Cousins (writing for BFI) because we believe that you must grow personally in order to find your voice, to understand your style. Your attitude toward life in all aspects is what makes great cinematographers, screenwriters, directors...

Here you are, use it well and think about your own topics to study, or live:

with Love,
Meraki Film Company

March 31, 2015 at 11:50AM

Meraki Film Company

The godfather
Pulp fiction
The Artist
2001: A space odyssey
Taxi driver
The Aviator
A clockwork orange
Schindlers list

Life of Pi

Check out the works of wally pfister and Emmanuel Lubezki

The godfather
The Kings speech
Inglorious basterds
The silence of the lambs
Blade runner
Pulp fiction
The deer hunter
Taxi driver
The departed
Gone girl
The curious case of Benjamin button

That's all I can think of right now... Plus you should start watching video essays online about cinematography and film making in general by directors like Martin Scorsese, David fincher, Quentin Tarantino, Ridley Scott, Steven Spielberg. Plus classic movie directors like John ford, Alfred Hitchcock, billy wilder.

March 31, 2015 at 11:58AM

Emre Ozkoca

It might be disheartening to learn by isolating examples of cinematography where truckloads of equipment costing many thousands of dollars are used. I would watch a series of films from each decade and incorporate foreign films in the mix, because I feel that develops an overall appreciation which includes cinematography anyway. Up your list to several hundred films - scratch the surface and titles will flag up. In the real world, perhaps start with humble three point lighting plus a few other combinations, but have an eye on how it might be appropriate to break the rules according to the films you have seen.

March 31, 2015 at 1:41PM

Saied M.

There are so many good films in the world! If you asked me another day, this would be a different list.

-Either MEDIUM COOL or WHO’S AFRIAD OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? … cuz Haskell Wexler is life
-KLUTE – Gordon Willis… before the nickname “The Prince of Darkness” was a term of endearment. (before The Godfather)
-THE CONFORMIST – Vittorio Storaro… and basically all of his other films as well

(Also, all of Malik’s and Kubrick’s films are literally paintings… so I recommend those too.)

-ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA - Sergio Leone… very meticulous in his old age
-A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE - John Cassavetes… contrary to popular belief Cassavetes actually wrote and planned the whole film… it was not entirely improvised… but it seems like it was, which is why it is great.
-THE PIANIST - Roman Polanski… in my opinion Polanski’s masterpiece, the film he was born to make.

-THE GRADUATE – Calder Willingham and Buck Henry, base on the novel by Charles Webb
-SOPHIE’S CHOICE – Alan J. Pakula, base on the novel by William Styron
-ANNIE HALL – Woody Allen

Adding another cat: editing… which I will dedicate to Bob Fosse.
Judging by the content of his films you would never guess that they contain the most innovative and tactful editing.

March 31, 2015 at 6:11PM


It's kind of hard to just pick three for each category because normally you study a few films for specific subtopics, like lighting in cinematography, or particular types of storytelling, or different techniques in directing. So my top three to study are really just off the top of my head/favourites kind of.

- Amelie (Bruno Delbonnel), for colour theory, composition, and lighting
- Days of Being Wild/In the Mood for Love (Christopher Doyle), for blocking, composition, colour
- Snowpiercer (Hong Gyeong-Pyo), for composition, lighting

- MASH (Robert Altman) - I would read up on the production of this film and Altman in general
- Kundun (Martin Scorsese) - also has great cine
- La Haine (Mathieu Kassovitz) - some really good documentaries about this production in the film's extras

- The Fall (Tarsem Singh) - not critically acclaimed but the story's a good study of unique relationships you don't normally see explored
- Little Miss Sunshine (Johnathan Dayton and Valerie Faris) - classic indie story
- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry) - best example I can think of for abstract storytelling

Also, I didn't mention Bladerunner on my cine list (including the doc in the DVD's extras) because I haven't seen it in a while and my memory of the movie's hazy, but this is often cited as important viewing as a lighting tutorial by pretty much everyone. And I wanted to second whoever mentioned the Place Beyond the Pines above - it's great for both directing (Derek Cianfrance) and cine/lighting (Sean Bobbit).

April 1, 2015 at 1:50PM


Tropical Malady, Days of Heaven, Dusty and Sweets McGee, Gummo

April 3, 2015 at 8:51AM

Anthony Lopez
Documentary Filmmaker

You can't limit yourself and your knowledge.. top 3 or top 5 suggestions won't do the trick for you. Sit down with the Top100 lists of all time and start watching... I would say to mix genres and periods in order not to get bored but you can watch films from the same director day after day in order to see his evolution.
All the great films will check more than one of your boxes... Naturally the first time you watch a film will be for the story and the second time you can pay more close attention to directing, cinematography etc.

April 4, 2015 at 5:37AM

Stelios Kouk

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