The Twenty Greatest Ambitious Films

January 20, 2016

It’s hard to achieve perfection when you’re reaching for the stars.  It’s easy to fall when you’re not sure of your footing.  But, that to me is what an ambitious film is all about-walking the high wire without a net.  It’s hard not to admire these artists for their guts, their moxy.  These individuals are not just content to entertain you; they want to say something with film.  So, let’s give it up for these gamblers, these wonderful risk takers…The Twenty Greatest Ambitious films.

In no particular order…

  1.  “Apocalypse Now”   (1979)  Francis Ford Coppola  (Coppola went deep into his own heart of darkness, ending an era of great personal film making.
  2. “Intolerance”  (1916)  D.W. Griffith  (Talk about your ambitious film!  Griffith took on the subject of humanity throughout the ages.  This film was made in response to the allegations of racism he received for making “Birth of a Nation”.
  3. “1900”  (1977)  Bernardo Bertolucci  (The violence would be easier to take in novel form; this Marxist epic is still shocking after all these years.)
  4. “Day of the Locust”  (1975)  John Schlesinger ( Polarized critics and audiences alike in   with its downbeat surrealism.  It’s amazing that a major studio financed this project- love the 70’s!)
  5. “Looking for Mr. Goodbar”  (1977) Richard Brooks  (Film leaves a nasty aftertaste.  I think the problem is that it tries to say too much and ends up saying very little.  It will make your skin crawl, though.)
  6. “All That Jazz”  (1979)  Bob Fosse  (Fosse’s dance of death was a dazzling display of narcissism -complete with a scene of Fosse’s own open heart surgery…Wow!)
  7. “Pennies from Heaven”  (1981)  Herbert Ross  (It was perhaps too odd for a mainstream audience, but I think this was our last great film musical.)
  8. “Catch 22”  (1970)  Mike Nichols  (Definitely misses the humor of Heller’s novel.  However, it has a surreal quality all its own.)
  9. “The Deer Hunter” (1978)  Michael Cimino  (Epic film of small town people thrust into war.  Flawed, although very well directed.)
  10. “Little Big Man”  (1970)  Arthur Penn  (Penn finally got to do his big epic, taking on Thomas Berger’s satirical novel and telling us some hard truths along the way.)
  11. “Reds”  (1981) Warren Beatty  (Not quite the masterpiece that Beatty had intended.  It’s still an impressive film about early American radicalism.)
  12. “Gangs of New York”  (2002)  Martin Scorcese  (Violent retelling of the beginning of New York’s Five Points.  Flawed, but vivid.)
  13. “Once Upon a Time in America”  Director’s Cut  (1981)  Sergio Leone   (Structured like an opium dream.  This unique gangster film plays with our memory of time.)
  14. “The Mission”  (1986)  Roland Joffee  (Beautiful cinematography belies an ugly historical truth.)
  15. “Wild at Heart”  (1990)  David Lynch (  Epic road comedy is at times too high-pitched for its own good.)
  16. “Greed”  (1924)  Erik Von Stronheim  ( Legendary film was drastically cut by the studio big shots- what’s left, though, is still brilliant.)
  17. “Nashville”  (1975)  Robert Altman  (Altman’s masterpiece is an alarming comment on just how dangerous America is.)
  18. “Tabu”  (1931)  F.W. Murnau  (Murnau’s last film is an interesting mix of  documentary and narrative.  Filmed entirely in Tahiti, Murnau died shortly after the film was completed.)
  19. “Midsummer Night’s  Dream” (1935)  Max Reinhardt and William Dieterle  (Warner Bros. took on The Bard, using many of their best contract players in this imaginative version.)
  20. “The Loved One”  (1965)  Tony Richardson  (After Richardson won an Oscar for “Tom Jones”, he was given carte blanche to do anything he wanted.  He decided to do Evelyn Waugh’s classic, which offended many people at the time…a wild film!)

One thought on “The Twenty Greatest Ambitious Films

  1. Brad — wondering if this is the Brad Kahn who grew up in Azusa CA? Photo looks like it might be you? If so, hello from Bill L — used to live across the street (sort of) and hang out in the 70’s. You turned me on to Monty Python, Kurt Vonnegut, Phil Ochs, and others. Been wondering what you’ve been up to all these years! If inclined, let me know how you are and what is happening in your world. BL


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