Film Education

My Top Twenty Films – Oorvazi Irani

Films are like an ocean and one list cannot contain them. But the following is a list of some of the films that touched me

Top Twenty Films

Oorvazi Irani

  1. The Apu Trilogy – Satyajit Ray

Pather Panchali” (Song of the Little Road) 1955   – Aparajito   (The Unvanquished) 1956 – Apu Sansar (Apu’s World) 1959

I shared in the joy and sorrow of Apu and his family and they live on with me, it’s a world that I experienced – ‘tender’  ‘sensitive’  ‘real’ and most importantly ‘truthful’. Durga, Apu’s sister  from “Pather Panchali” still haunts me – her free spirit not willing to be killed with physical death .

2. La Strada (“The Road”) 1954 – Federico Fellini

Giulietta Masina was the Epitome of Innocence  and the music by Nino Rota transformed me to the circus of the soul. The film in its first viewing did not move me but when I saw it for the second time I could not resist its power that overtook me.

3. Persona (1966) – Ingmar Bergman

B&W photography that mesmerized besides Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann’s rivetting performance. My first introduction to Bergman and I was hooked.

4. Eight and a Half (1963) – Federico Fellini


Uniquely Personal  Surreal world that is fresh till today. A uniqueness which as an auteur challenges me.

5. In The Mood for Love (2000) – Wong Kar Wai


Infidelity dealt with such sensitivity and tenderness it hurts. The music of  the film brings alive the melancholy of the director’s style and makes my heart weep but not with tears of sentimentality but a deeper experience of art than a raw emotion.

6. Ladri di biciclette (“Bicycle Thieves”) (1948) – Vittorio De Sica


A Neo Realist Classic !

Every time I see it there is a new discovery, a new detail , something I missed – from the play of light to the junior artists in the frame, Children can surpass adults as actors and this young child Bruno played by Enzo Staiola gives a memorable performance that adds the warmth to this cold bitter backdrop of  post  world war II Italy. A film that has been a huge inspiration for filmmakers right from Satyajit Ray to Anurag Kashyap.

7. Les quatre cents coups (“400 Blows”) (1959) – François Truffaut

The personal becomes art and how. The Antoine series ( 4 other films by Truffaut with the same actor  Jean-Pierre Léaud ) by Truffaut is one of its kind where the actor and character merge and filmic reality takes on another dimension. The two worlds of the reel and the real merging was very interesting for me personally to experience as an artist and audience.

8. Mirror (1975) – Andrei Tarkovsky


Seeing a film by this director needs you to be ready and attentive not tired from a long day with the medium of film to entertain. This director’s art is sacred and needs to be experienced like prayer with patience and total surrender. Deeply rewarding to be patient is my experience with this director.

9. Rashomon(195o) – Akira Kurosawa


An Auteur who is troubled by the dark side of human nature  and uses the medium of film to express his pain and share his insights.  The film journey’s into the dark forest exploring an unconventional narrative structure that takes the world by storm. The film was not a mere story but a philosophical exploration and that was the feeling that the film left me with wanting to explore as an artist, somewhere in my subconscious it connected.

10. Jules et Jim  (“Jules and Jim”) (1962) – François Truffaut

The character of Catherine played by the talented actress Jeanne Moreau fascinates me, not that I identify with her but the magic of her lives on. The spirit of freedom of the French New Wave is all over the film. And the cinematic treatment made me enjoy the characters and the story in a detached fashion not making me part of the narrative but like an observer. This is not to say that the emotions or actors were not powerful but the treatment was non classical  and did not allow you to slip into the indulgence of emotion.

11. Charulata (“The Lonely Wife”) (1964)– Satyajit Ray

A film adaptation from Rabindranath Tagore’s novelette “The Broken Nest” that is not limited to but surpasses an adaptation and stands alone as a masterpiece where Charulata, here is the hero of the film. I seem to identify with Charulata’s spirit and the scene on the swing is memorable when the camera merges and becomes one with the character and the audience experiences the world from her viewpoint.

12. Salaam Bombay (1988) – Mira Nair

What excited me about the film was the realistic character details and nuances along with the story. Realism that was fresh in India and spoke a million words. Most of the young actors who appeared in Salaam Bombay! were actual street children and much earlier than the recent “Slumdog Millionaire”. The film won the Audience Cannes Film Festival award in 1988.

13. The Apple (1998) – Samira Makhmalbaf

Real life and Fiction merge and each help to reveal the other. A critically acclaimed Iranian film  by a young woman director made at the age of 17 years is special to my heart and my representation of Iranian cinema.

14. MughalEAzam (“The Greatest of the Mughals”) (1960) – K. Asif

The sheer poetry of the dialogues and the beauty of Madhubala made me a fan of the film. Before I

saw the film I was not sure if I would like it, if it would seem dated but I was taken by surprise and loved it.  That the director wanted the classical arts part of his mainstream film and went to the extent of offering Ustad Ghulam Ali Khan fees of Rs 25,000 per song when the running rate was Rs 300 speaks of his respect for the artist. (Ustad  was trying to get rid of Asif by  demanding  such an exorbitant price  but it could not deter the director’s desire for including high art in his love epic  film)

15. Taxi Driver (1976)– Martin Scorsese


Noir in colour with Robert De Nero taking you to the depth of loneliness in the back alleys of America with an end that is unforgettable  jazz. The silent scream, that’s what the film is like, which is violent yet not raw.

16. Det sjunde inseglet (“Seventh Seal”) (1957) – Ingmar Bergman

Death can be a character beyond ‘ Yamaraj’  is what the film powerfully revealed to me.

Death personified and a powerful cinematic moment of ‘ the dance of death’ so simply and spontaneously brought to life and remain unchallenged in time and an inspiration for many filmmakers to strive for including myself

17. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) – Stanley Kubrick

Kubrick says the film is, ” basically a visual, nonverbal experience”

The language of silence and the drama of the beginning chords of music(from Richard Strauss’s classical piece) stand witness to a landmark film about the journey of man from the primal to the space age …imagery from the mysterious monolith to the fascinating star child floating in space are iconic. I experienced fear very deeply as an emotion when a character in the film is lost in space, that silence for those few seconds was like forever and very powerful for me where the filmmaker went beyond a mere narrative but tapped into something beyond.

18. La vita è bella (“Life is Beautiful”) (1997) – Roberto Benigni

The heights of tragedy can be reached with comedy and such depth is experienced with this film where the story of the Nazi concentration camp is told yet again, but how, is what makes all the difference.  The film was a moving experience.

19. Meghe Dhaka Tara (“The Cloud Capped Star”) (1960)– Ritwik Ghatak


Melodrama in its poetic form where suffering takes on an epic scale and goes beyond the human to  mythic dimensions.  Nita’ s last cry for life in the hills  perfectly brought to a climax by the actress Supriya Choudhury  is still echoing in my subconscious.

20. Easy Rider  (1969)– Dennis Hopper

One of the pioneering films of the Hollywood new wave, breaking the rules and opening up new horizons with a spirit that wants to be free and unbound. To me there was a kind of purity of experience shared, feeling of un adulteration in the film as its shot and presented.


30 Comments so far
Leave a comment

This is a great great list…but there are no thrillers

Comment by krishna gaurav

Krishna Gaurav agree ! 🙂 any suggestions. Ans also Ofcourse Hitchcock has not been addressed yet in this list like many others.

Comment by oorvazi

good selection! but i think you have missed to include sergei eisenstien (battleship potemkin) and charlie chaplin (the great dictator) …… in your esteemed list!

Comment by Premendra Mazumder

Battleship Potemkin is a great film but was not personally moved as an experience but yes a very important film and the Odessa Steps sequence is powerful and a landmark. Charlie Chaplin i just could not decide which one, a special list maybe :). Thanks Premendra for your response

Comment by oorvazi

great dictator, citizen kane, forest gump, dangerous mind, shawshank redemption, irreversible, clock work orange, pursuit of happyness, natural born killers……….god father, scar face…………

Comment by Agastya Kapoor

Agastya thanks for your response and sharing some of your fav films agree that most of them are memorable, hope my list was useful and tried making a personal comment on each film too

Comment by oorvazi

Oorvz.. great one… but as always listing these are difficult. and am not sure for me a top 50 would do justice or not as well.. but I would have had Tokyo story , Return, films of Kieslowski, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, few to choose from Kim Ki Duuk, Kiarastami, Breathless etc etc… now its flooding in…
I guess this list changes everytime you look at it :)… you are correct.. it’s an ocean and we can only reflect

Comment by Amitava Nag

Amitava thanks for your response and sharing some valuable films, yes its very difficult to decide but i think its a great way to reflect on your choices, themes and see what it tells you about yourself in one way.

Comment by oorvazi

It is really difficult to choose among millions of brilliant films. I would have put ‘The Saragossa Manuscript’ and ‘The Exterminating Angel’ in place of ‘Taxi Driver’ and ‘La Strada’ and probably ‘Umberto D’ in place of ‘The Bicycle Thief’. However, even then I would probably have missed a significant many 🙂 Good job

Comment by Riddhiman Basu

Riddhiman thanks for your response and sharing some of your fav films, i thought it was high time i did a post of this nature has been a demand from students

Comment by oorvazi

Well i would never be able to choose 20 or lets say even 50. However this list of yours is a must watch list for cinephiles. I still think citizen kane should be there not because its much talked about but because of the way that has been shot..Even Metropolis, M, 81/2 were path breaking as well. Coming to Indian Cinema apart from Satyajit Ray and Bengali movies I would like to point out Garam Hawa which is a classic. On a serious note there is too much of good cinema out there and too less a time in a lifetime to cover all that.

Comment by Harish Mallya

Harish Mallya thanks for your feedback and yes there are many films but its like a starting point for film students and discovering films is a lifelong journey but I thought I would start and add a little something from my side as we all have our personal fav besides them being great films and sometimes a great classic does not affect someone in the same way. There are quite a few other films “Bhuvan Shome”, “Mirch Masala”, “Mandi” and many others from regional cinema too besides Hindi cinema which are not listed lik some of Marathi new wave is interesting too like “Vihir” and the list continues …

Comment by oorvazi

It’s quite exhaustive exercise for anybody who grows on staple diet of watching classics of world cinema every day but your selection is refined one. I expect you to make separate list for Indian Top 20, Hollywood Top 20 and Woorld Cinema Top 20 in future to cover wide range in their respective categories. Not a single silent film or Chaplin classic is quite a question! Personally i prefer ‘Umberto D’ & ‘The Children are Watching You’ over De Sica’s ‘Bicycle Thieves’. The films which i find unlikely in the list are ‘Mughal-e-Azam’, ‘400 Blows’ & ‘Easy Rider’. Well that’s just subjective opinion, it’s fine selection nevertheless.

Comment by Hiren Dave

Hiren, thanks for your response. Yes its a good idea, maybe in the near future I will consider it 🙂 thanks . Charlie Chaplin yes I agree i would like to include it, but could not decide which

Comment by oorvazi

Absolutely brilliant list!!! Some of the greatest film makers of all times and their timeless cinema.. I have seen most of them and they are without a doubt films that have made a mark.. I am very happy to see Mughal-E-Azam in the list as it has been my favorite hindi film for many years now.. The ones I haven’t seen are definitely on my to-watch list.. 🙂

Comment by Swati Mittal

Swati ! thanks for your feedback and lovely to hear from you. Glad you have seen many of the films and now have a few more to see, do share your experience on this space after seeing them and hope my little personal comments about the made it interesting.

Comment by oorvazi

Awesome list! Need to catch up on a lot of movies that are mentioned here. 🙂

Comment by Hiral

Dear Hiral ! Thanks for your feedback and glad you liked the list and have some films that you would like to catch up with 🙂 happy viewing

Comment by oorvazi

Its very tough to do justice when you set about making an all time fav 20 Top 20 list & in that respect I’d say its a good job Oorvazi. Personally like a lot of your choices but then IMO if I were to nitpick I’d say that the list hardly does justice to Hindi Cinema or Hollywood & most definitely with regional cinema cos you’ve only featured Bengali Cinema here. I’d include films of Mani Ratnam ( a Nayagan or Iruvar ), Adoor Gopalakrishnan ( tough to select among his works cos like Ray he’s outstanding ), Bharathan,Padmarajan etc. In fact Malayalam Cinema traditionally along with Bengali Cinema spearheaded the ‘parallel film movement’ in India, a trend which now is extinct& replaced by a more relevant middle of the road cinema which Tamil and Marathi Cinema is now making good use of.

Comment by Sethumadhavan

Thanks so much for your feedback. Agree there are a lot of films left out (but atleast a start for many) specially other regional cinema besides Bengali. Thanks for the references 🙂

Comment by oorvazi

Great list! But I’ve always thought it an interesting exercise to make a ‘Top 20’ or ‘Top 100′ movie list, if only for the ever-changing, dynamic nature of such lists. We usually do not reassess the classics in relation to the contemporary films and film makers that we tend to ignore – Christopher Nolan’s Memento, The Dark Knight and Inception, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, Thelma & Louise and Matchstick Men, Michael Mann’s Heat and Public Enemies, Siney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men, Dog Day Afternoon, Network and Serpico, Coen Brothers’ Blood Simple, Fargo, O Brother Where Art Thou, Millers’ Crossing and No Country for Old Men, Spike Lee’s Inside Man – all these are nothing less than classics of the new era. And in my humble opinion, any movie list is incomplete without three things: Alfred Hitchcock, Quentin Tarantino, and The Godfather.

Comment by amborish

Amborish! nice to hear from you after a long time. And thanks for your feedback, infact contemporary filmmakers should be on a separate list, yes agree Memento is a nice film and so are some other that you mention but then there was a choice I had to make.

Comment by oorvazi

my top 20 now will be- 1)ajantrik (ritwik ghatak), 2) nostalghia (andrei tarkovsky), 3) eternity and a day(theo) ,4) citizen kane (welles) , 5) jalsaghar (satyajit ray), 6) duvidha(mani kaul), 7) throne of the blood(kuroswa), 8) the tenant (roman polanski) , 9)stranger than paradise (jim jarmusch), 10) city lights(chaplin), 11) vertigo (hitchcock), 12) swayamvaram (adoor), 13) aakrosh (govind nihalani),14) chalchitra(mrinal sen), 15) jules and jim (truffaut). 16) the searchers (john ford), 17) a bicycle thief (desica),18) valerie and her week of wonders( jiles) ,19) l’eclisse (antonioni), 20) blue (derek jarman).

ur list is fine,not seen 3 films from ur list ,most choices are fantastic only that i willn’t put space odissey,400 blows among my top lists .

Comment by debarshi ghosh

Debarshi, thanks so much for your top twenty and sharing it with us on this platform, appreciate it. Glad you liked some of my films too 🙂

Comment by oorvazi

Wow! Good you made this list. Thanks.

Comment by Swati Vaidya

Swati Vaidya 🙂 glad to know you liked my humble efforts

Comment by oorvazi

this is nice list keep up good work

Comment by Shirish Kulkarni

Thanks so much for your response, glad you liked it.

Comment by oorvazi

Thambidurai, thanks for your response. Ofcourse the list is not complete, there are so many good films and besides my list might not be completely your list 🙂

Comment by oorvazi

Goddard, Antonioni, Mani Kaul & Mrinal Sen are notable exceptions ?

Comment by Gopal Pillai

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