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Top 10 Movies You Should Watch In Film School

By Preston Garrett · June 2, 2010

10. Dumb & Dumber

Yeah, seems stupid and Philistine-esque, but this Farrelly Brothers romp is a great starter for an intro film class.  It's a heist film, a buddy comedy, a road trip movie, has a fantasy sequence, and has a tight narrative to boot – in short, there's no fat on this film.

9. Un Chien Andalou (An Andalusian Dog)

One of the ultimate surrealist films from 1929, penned by Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali.  Simply put, without this film there would have been no Eraserhead, no career for David Cronenberg, nor the song "Debaser" by The Pixies ("slicin' up eyeballs…" is the centerpiece of this movie…)

8. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans

F.W. Murnau's silent film from 1927.  I mean, I'm not a huge fan of this movie, though it's beautifully shot.  Everyone should be exposed to strictly visual storytelling, and this is the best of the best.

7. On the Waterfront

Elia Kazan's Best Picture winner from 1954.  This is really an actor's movie – amazing performances all around, in particular Brando's as Terry Malloy, and Karl Malden as Father Barry.  It's a perfect marriage of film technique without overshadowing the actors' A-games.

6. Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid

George Roy Hill's 1969 Western classic.  He takes the Western genre and flips it on its head, seamlessly intertwining comedy and tragedy.  Also, one of few films to have a 4-Act structure, something every writer should be exposed to.

5. The Great Dictator

Charlie Chaplin's amazing satire of the 3rd Reich circa 1941, 9 months before the US entered WWII.  Chaplin plays both Hitler (renamed Hynkel) and the Tramp as a Jewish Barbeer (his recurring film persona), creating one of the most interesting dual performances of all time.  It ranks with Dr. Strangelove as one of the most clever scripts ever written, and arguably created the template for Peter Sellers' performance in Strangelove.

4. No Country for Old Men

Okay, the Coen Brothers' 2007 Best Pic Winner is a little new to put on this list, but it's one of the tightest cat and mouse chase films ever made.  Also an amazing study of one of the most potent villains to hit the silver screen, Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh.

3. Psycho

Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 ode to shower terror.  There needs to be a thriller on this list, and this one more or less reinvented the genre back in the day, and also paved the way for the Slasher film.  Also, an amazing study of places acting as characters (the Bates' brooding hilltop home and the Bates Motel – there never would have been The Shining or Alien without this movie).

2. The French Connection

William Friedkin's 1971 hardboiled crime classic, and arguably one the first American cinema verite-styled films.  It's the epitome for the tone of most critically acclaimed films from the 1970s – Gene Hackman's Popeye Doyle and the ambiguous (almost dissatisfying) ending set up the 70s to have antihero protagonists and bleek resolutions through the end of the decade (Taxi Driver,Apocalypse Now, the Godfather films, The Exorcist (another Friedkin film), The Deer Hunter, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Chinatown, just to name a few).

1. Casablanca

Alright, you knew this one was coming – Michael Curtiz's 1942 classic is one of the most acclaimed films of all time, but for good reason.  It's an amazing genre blender, mixing a sweeping love story, a wartime drama, and noir into one of the most complex and interesting stories ever told on the silver screen.  It's also amazing that this film was written on the fly, more or less as it was shot.

1.1) Citizen Kane

I couldn't in my right mind leave this off here.  Just watch it.  No explanation necessary.