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The Game Changers

I’ve been doing a lot of discussion about recently released films, yet none of them would be possible if it weren’t for these select films that I am about to discuss.  The art of filmmaking has changed significantly over the years, and it only changed as a result of films that were well ahead of their time.  Many may disagree with the ones I have chosen, but there is importance around each and every one of these films.  Let’s begin to discuss some of the films that altered the course of history!

The Birth of a Nation (1915)

Regarded as one of the most controversial films, The Birth of a Nation did things that no other film before it dreamed of doing.  Centered around the Cameron family during the Civil War, the film featured huge and expensive battle scenes.  Before this, film simply recorded action that was happening, it did not recreate it.  While not as obvious an accomplishment, the film was also the first time that the art form was used as a narrative piece and got audiences involved in the plot.  Despite all this, the film was horribly racist.  One example of this is the way it glorified the Ku Klux Klan.  We may never forgive it for its racism, but The Birth of a Nation is masterpiece in filmmaking that deserves all our respect.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

Last year, many hailed Toy Story 3 as the greatest animated movie of all time, yet they often forget that it would be nonexistent without the fairest of them all and her seven friends.  Actually, Pixar and much of Disney would disappear were it not for this film.  It is the first full length animated Disney movie and still stands up with the best.  Snow White has not become outdated as a result of its unbelievable animation, which still looks beautiful in 2011.  I cannot begin to think where modern cinema would be without this treasure.  Animation is a huge genre nowadays and garners much respect from the film community.  Thank you Disney, for creating one of the most beloved films of all time.

Little side note: This scene still gives me goosebumps.

Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz (1939)

You may wonder why I grouped these two together.  While they are vastly different in content, both movies have a number of similarities.  Two are very obvious: they were both released in the greatest year in film history and they have the same director, Victor Fleming.  The other two may not be as obvious.  Throughout the 1930s, Americans were suffering from poverty, hunger, and natural disasters.  Films were mostly escapism and rarely delved into dramatic material.  Then when Gone With the Wind arrived, audiences were able to connect with a protagonist that lost everything, and would do anything in her power to gain it back.  Although, The Wizard of Oz is not as gritty as the former, it still features a young woman who feels overwhelmed by the world around her and through her perseverance, she is able to find comfort.  These uses of strong female protagonists sparked a change in female roles all across film as it proved that women could lead a film just as well as any man.  The other similarity comes from the productions of these films.  Both required elaborate art direction and a hefty budget to boot.  The Wizard of Oz used surreal special effects, as Gone With the Wind incorporated realistic costumes of the era.  All these aspects set a standard for large productions, and soon became something audiences expected from films.  The world was never the same after two of the greatest works in history were released.

Here’s two of the most iconic scenes:

Citizen Kane (1941)

Sorry Citizen Kane fans.  I would attempt to cover its significance but it is so important in film history that I know I would butcher it.  However, this may be THE most important movie ever made, and simply because I cannot give a good enough description does not lower its level of importance in the slightest.  Even though it may not have aged well, its influence continues to live on in film today.

Psycho (1960)

Hitchcock is now synonymous with the term “horror.”  The one of a kind director received this honor for the way he redefined and propelled the genre into the future.  His scares are unique in their style and unexpectedness.  Countless slasher films have yet to match the initial shock that audiences received when Janet Leigh’s Marion got the axe within the first third of the movie.  That simple scene was perfected through countless takes, but it all paid off for now this:

is one of the most recognizable scenes in history and can be seen every Halloween.  Horror was never a genre audiences took seriously, yet Hitchcock proved that terror is a force to be reckoned with.  At the time, few realized the significance of his work, but nowadays cinephiles across the globe continue to praise his work as horror fanatics thank their lucky stars that Hitchcock paved the way for cult favorites such as Halloween, The Exorcist, and even Scream.  We have plenty to thank Mr. Hitchcock for.

Little side note: Notice that throughout this scene, never is the blade seen meeting flesh and not a peek of a breast.  Always keeping it classy Alfred.

The Graduate (1967)

It may seem odd to some for me to put this film on my list, but this is probably because we forget the time that it was made.  Up until 1967, sex was never something openly discussed on film.  Instead, sex was addressed through innuendoes as characters nodded and winked at the camera.  The Graduate aimed to change all that through its matter of fact exploration of sex.  Many actresses were approached for the iconic role of Mrs. Robinson, including Doris Day (the queen of nod and wink films), but they turned it down for they believed the script to be vulgar.  In the end, the role went to Anne Bancroft, who gives a performance for the ages.  While The Graduate had no part in the progression of special effects, costuming, or other technical aspects, the film has deep cultural influence as it captures an entire generation on film and brings the hush hush topics of sex and adultery to the forefront of filmmaking.  Plus, it has a killer soundtrack!

Arguably one of the greatest endings:

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

There are endless accounts of writings about Kubrick’s masterpiece, and with good reason.  Not only is this a technical achievement unlike any other, it was a box office smash and went on to become the highest grossing movie of 1968.  After many years though, some are still unable to connect with the film.  It contains little dialogue and instead, focuses on human evolution and extraterrestrial life through plenty of ambiguous imagery.  However, the visionary special effects revolutionized the science fiction realm and continue to inspire those in the field today.  The success of this film goes beyond the box-office, 2001, and far into the future.

Jaws (1975)

Teens were a market as ignored as the summer box-office.  Neither were taken seriously, and had trash studio films dumped on them year after year.  This all changed when a relatively unexperienced director took both markets by storm.  The up and coming artist was Steven Spielberg, and was he in for a real surprise.  Jaws began as a simple project that was riddled with problems.  However, the persistent director refused to give up easily and pushed through the many issues.  Spielberg was  rewarded for his handwork when Jaws went on to become the first summer blockbuster with over 67 million viewers.  Nobody could have anticipated that this shark movie could have been this successful.  Yet, after seeing this opening scene, you can begin to understand why no one wanted to go into the water.

Pulp Fiction (1994)

The film that made watching independent films cool.  Before this, art house films were rarely released to the general masses, but someone had the brilliant idea of showing Quentin Tarantino’s small film to the mainstream.  Many had never seen anything like it before, and that’s probably because there was never anything like it before.  This roller coaster ride of a film takes audiences on a ride unlike any other.  Tarantino has a knack for that sort of thing.  The film revived the careers of John Travolta, Uma Thurman, and Samuel L. Jackson, as well as placed Tarantino in the spotlight as one of the top directors.  All independent film would never be the same after this tour de force, and I am damn happy about that!

Honorable mentions: Star Wars, A Streetcar Named Desire, Blade Runner, City Lights, Avatar, Toy Story, City of God, Midnight Cowboy, and The Godfather. 

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