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Essential List of Films for Filmmakers

Posted by Spike Lee (Creator)
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I've Been A Professor At The NYU Graduate Film For The Past 15 Years.The 1st Day Of Every Class I Hand Out My List Of Films That I Feel You Must See If You Want To Make Films. Please Look At This List And See What You Might Have Missed. As I Tell My Students If You Want Your Film "Game" To Be Tight You Must Have Seen Great Movies, World Cinema, It Just Can't Be Hollywood Films. Educate Yourself. Learn. Grow. Evolve. Make Great Films.

Peace, Onward And Upward,

Spike Lee.

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    1. Missing avatar

      Andrea Hetheru on

      My favorite Spike Lee Joint: Mo Betta Blues. It is one of only two films about black male/female love that approach the artistry allowed for love between a white man and white woman.

      My least favorite Spike Lee joint; Miracle At St. Anna. The adoration of the white woman and the white child was too much for me to take.

    2. Missing avatar

      Brad Avery on

      There's just so many possibilities.

      The Passion of Joan of Arc (Carl Th. Dreyer)
      Vampyr (Carl Th. Dreyer)
      2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick)
      Aguirre, the Wrath of God (Werner Herzog)
      Stroszek (Werner Herzog)
      Punch Drunk-Love (Paul Thomas Anderson)
      Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese)
      The King of Comedy (Martin Scorsese)
      Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock)
      Knife in the Water (Roman Polanski)
      Harakiri (Masaki Kobayashi)
      A Woman Under the Influence (John Cassavetes)
      Eraserhead (David Lynch)
      Hunger (Steve McQueen)
      Daisies (Vera Chytilová)
      Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Mike Nichols)
      Gun Crazy (Joseph H. Lewis)
      Olympia (Leni Riefenstahl)
      Metropolis (Fritz Lang)
      Sunrise (F.W. Murnau)
      The Last Laugh (F.W. Murnau)
      Synecdoche, New York (Charlie Kaufman)
      The Exorcist (William Friedkin)
      Putney Swope (Robert Downey Sr)
      Barton Fink (Coen Brothers)
      Night of the Living Dead (George A. Romero)
      Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (Melvin Van Peebles)
      The Panic in Needle Park (Jerry Schatzberg)
      Robocop (Paul Verhoeven)
      Two-Lane Blacktop (Monte Hellman)
      3 Women (Robert Altman)

      This list could go on into infinity.

    3. Missing avatar

      David Glassey on

      That's a great list Mr. Lee, I'm surprised you missed Seven Samurai but I'm loving that Thief is on there. Others that I don't see mentioned but come to mind quickly that I'd put on are:

      Ikiru, Akira Kurosawa
      Dark City, Alex Proyas
      Alien, Ridley Scott
      The Asphalt Jungle, John Huston
      Princess Mononoke, Hayao Miyazaki
      Spirited Away, Hayao Miyazaki
      Say Anything, Cameron Crowe
      The Spirit of the Beehive, Victor Erice
      The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
      The Shawshank Redemption, Frank Darabont
      Antwone Fisher, Denzel Washington
      Fresh, Boaz Yakin

      I could probably go on for quite a while.

    4. Missing avatar

      Noel McIntosh on

      The Deer Hunter 1978 #Michael Cimino

    5. Rita Osei on

      To add to the list:

      The Piano. Jane Campion
      The White Ribbon. Michael Haneke
      Amores Perros. Alejandro González Iñárritu
      Biutiful. Alejandro González Iñárritu
      The Deer Hunter. Michael Cimino
      Betty Blue. Jean-Jacques Beineix
      Feston. Thomas Vinterberg
      Manderlay. Lars von Trier
      Kes. Ken Loach
      Repulsion. Roman Polanski
      Saturday Night, Sunday Morning. Karel Reisz
      Blade Runner. Ridley Scott
      City of God. Kátia Lund, Fernando Meirelles
      Lantana. Ray Lawrence
      Whale Rider. Niki Caro
      Life Is Sweet. Mike Leigh
      Scum. Alan Clarke.
      Vampyr. Carl Theodor Dreyer
      Bad Education. Pedro Almodóvar
      Three Colours Red. Krzysztof Kieslowski

    6. pete nicks on

      Pete's BIG 25 addendum

      The Connection (Shirley Clarke, 1962)
      Man On Wire (James Marsh, 2008)
      4 Little Girls (Spike Lee, 1997)
      Rocky (John G. Avildsen, 1976)
      Burden of Dreams (Les Blank, 1982)
      Sans Soleil (Chris Marker, 1983)
      Harlan County USA (Barbara Koppel, 1977)
      Locks (Ryan Coogler, 2011 short)
      A Prophet (Jacques Audiard, 2010)
      Man With A Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov,1929)
      The Deer Hunter (Michael Cimino, 1978)
      Children of Men (Alfonso Cuarón, 2007)
      Salesman (Albert Maysels, 1968)
      Gimme Shelter (Albert Maysles & Charlotte Zwerin, 1970)
      Titticut Follies (Frederick Wiseman 1967)
      Night and Fog (Alain Resnais, 1955 short)
      Melancholia (Lars Von Trier, 2011)
      Reservoir Dogs (Quentin Tarantino, 1992)
      Gates of Heaven (Errol Morris,1978)
      Grizzly Man (Werner Herzog, 2005)
      The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)
      The Hurt Locker (Katherine Bigelow, 2009)
      Maria Candelaria (Emilio Fernandez, 1943)
      The Lives of Others (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2007)
      An Education (Lone Scherfig, 2009)

    7. Regina Koehler on

      Thanks to everyone for such great lists. Here are my suggestions:

      The Kid - Charlie Chaplin - 1921
      Metropolis - Fritz Lang - 1927
      M - Fritz Lang - 1931
      The Great Dictator - Charlie Chaplin - 1940
      Citizen Kane - Orson Welles - 1941
      The Third Man - Orson Welles - 1949
      Morte a Venezia - Luchino Visconti - 1971
      Monty Python and the Holy Grail - 1975
      Die Blechtrommel (The tin drum) - Volker Schlöndorff - 1979
      Hong gao lian (Red Sorghum) - Yimou Zhang - 1987
      When Harry met Sally - Rob Reiner - 1989
      Kafka - Steven Soderbergh - 1991
      Lola rennt - Tom Tykwer - 1998
      Das weiße Band - Michael Haneke - 2009
      Des hommes et des dieux - Xavier Beauvois - 2010

    8. Rebecca J. T. on

      This is a nice, well-rounded list. Here are my contributions:

      True Grit - 2012 - Coen Brothers
      Monty Python and the Holy Grail -Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones - 1975
      Fiddler on the Roof - Norman Jewison - 1964
      The Blues Brothers - John Landis - 1980
      Metropolis - Fritz Lang - 1927
      Nosferatu - F. W. Murnau - 1922
      Alien - Ridley Scott - 1979
      Blade Runner* - Ridley Scott - 1982
      Slingblade - Billy Bob Thornton - 1996
      Hero - Zhang Yimou - 2002

      *This one is influential, but it has been recut so many times, it may be difficult to justify its inclusion.

      I have a sad story to tell. I am a mathematics professor. (That is not the sad part.) I give my students a one-point quiz each day to keep track of their attendance. On the day after the exam, I had no new material with which to quiz them, so I asked them to, "Draw a picture of your all-time favorite movie." I had one student that gave me the mistakenly-titled, "Fear and Loathing From Las Vegas," one that said, "The Lord of the Rings," and the rest of the auditorium of students drew movies that had been released that very week. I chatted with them, and most had never seen movies from before the late 90s (they were all born around '95). I have become resigned to the fact that students have never read a book, but I thought movies were their artistic expression, their form of culture. I guess they just have texting.

    9. Missing avatar

      Roy Endsley on

      for the love of Film and for your consideration:
      The Hedgehog - Mona Achache
      The Diving Bell and the Butterfly - Julian Schnabel
      see you in class Mr. Lee

    10. Missing avatar

      kim applebury on

      Do you have a list of guilty pleasures? I like to watch The Towering Inferno and Zero Hour, for example. Any list like that? Or, any must see scenes?

    11. Lee on

      You certainly know your Hitchcock film, both Jimmy Stewart film there my top 2!

      Great list. I'd add Scorsese's After Hours and Jarmusch's Midnight Train.

      Wells Touch of Evil I really must see.

    12. Turki Al-Asmari on

      seven samurai

      Mr. Smith goes to Washington

    13. Missing avatar

      deleted on

      This user's account has been deleted.

    14. Kris Schultz on

      And yes! you were too humble. I second all who point out you have not placed any of your own films on the list. At least DO THE RIGHT THING and MALCOLM X belong on there. If not more!

    15. Kris Schultz on

      This is a great list, and I am grateful you are sharing it with us. As I said in the comments right after I donated to your kickstarter, it is an honor to be asked, as I deeply respect your work. (And I am not a kissa$$.)

      My list would include more comedy, though you include two of my favorites: SOME LIKE IT HOT and RAISING ARIZONA. And old silent slapstick ones, too, with Charlie Chaplin. Or Buster Keaton. Busby Berkley (sp?) I would include some Rob Reiner & Nora Ephron for sure. Definitely a Mel Brooks film. Hard to pick which ones, though.

      I also would include at least two Quentin Tarantino movies: Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs. I respect why you may have not, though, if memory serves correctly. To me he is crucial to a must see list.

      I would put an unorthodox movie like A CABIN IN THE WOODS by Joss Whedon. I think it is one of the best movies in recent years. Or SHAWN OF THE DEAD by Pegg and Frost. To combine comedy and horror, not easy to do. Both of those movies succeed with the mashup resoundingly.

      I can love all those movies and yours too.

      Reminds me of the quote: in matters of taste, there is no dispute. Also, I am not a filmmaker. So perhaps I don't know what the heck I am talking about. But I am at least smart enough to kickstart your next film!!!

    16. June Frances Coleman on

      It's only ten bucks-- I got my own film to make... I just want to show love to the filmmaker that showed me there was a way to do what I love and love what I do. With that said, here's my amendment to your list.

      "Amelie" Jean-Pierre Jeunet 2001
      "La Femme Nikita" Luc Besson 1990
      "Leon: The Professional" Luc Besson 1994
      "Eve's Bayou" Kasi Lemmons 1997
      "Ma Vie en Rose" Alain Berliner 1997
      "Daughter's of the Dust" Julie Dash 1991
      "Born on the Fourth of July" Oliver Stone 1989
      "Sweetie" Jane Campion 1989
      "The Piano" Jane Campion 1993
      "Chocolat" Claire Denis 1988
      "Beau Travail" Claire Denis 1999
      "Do the Right Thing" Spike Lee 1989
      "Girl 6" Spike Lee 1996
      "Bamboozled" Spike Lee 2000
      "She Hate Me" Spike Lee 2004
      "Slums of Beverly Hills" Tamara Jenkins 1998
      "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" Amy Heckerling 1982
      "Clueless" Amy Heckerling 1995
      "His Gal Friday" Howard Hawks 1940
      "In Bruges" Martin McDonagh 2008
      "Blue Valentine" Derek Cianfrance 2010
      "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" Pedro Almodovar 1988
      "The Wedding Banquet" Ang Lee 1993
      "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" Ang Lee 2000
      "Match Point" Woody Allen 2005
      "My Beautiful Launderette" Stephen Frears 1985
      "Welcome to the Dollhouse" Todd Solondz 1995
      "My Own Private Idaho" Gus Van Sant 1991
      "Mi Vida Loca" Allison Anders 1993
      "The Graduate" Mike Nichols 1967

    17. James Dellow

      What a great insight for those of us who will never be part of your class. As Kim noted, this provides us with an opportunity to interact with someone we would never normally get access to. Prior to this campaign, I think that if people around the world were asked to name a list of truly independent film makers, then you would figure prominently on the vast majority, so I believe that Kickstarter is a natural home for you.

      I notice that there are only 5 films from the 2000s, is that because you think that there hasn't been the quality or that, maybe, film needs a bit of distance before being truly classic?

    18. Lisa Vollrath on

      Something tells me we'll all be blowing up Netflix and Hulu this week :)

    19. Missing avatar

      Paul Alaoui on

      That’s an amazing list but as someone else said, Do the Right Thing definitely belongs on there too!

      I know there’s only a finite amount of films you can add and it’s subjective but I’d also add:

      Wake in Fright (Ted Kotchef)
      Performance (Donald Cammell/Nicolas Roeg)
      Don’t Look Now (Nicolas Roeg)
      Halloween (John Carpenter)
      Blue Velvet (David Lynch)
      Rosemary’s Baby (Roman Polanski)
      Harold and Maude (Hal Ashby)
      The Shining (Stanley Kubrick – my all-time favourite film!)
      Annie Hall (Woody Allen)
      La Haine (Matthieu Kassovitz)
      Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (Elio Petri)
      Aguirre, the Wrath of God (Werner Herzog)
      Fitzcarraldo (Werner Herzog)
      Once Upon a Time in the West (Sergio Leone)
      Easy Rider (Dennis Hopper)
      If…. (Lindsay Anderson)

      I could probably add more but I’d need a long time to think about it.

    20. Missing avatar

      Nicholas George Ferguson on

      I would also suggest
      Born on the Fourth of July (Oliver Stone, 1989)
      and maybe even Forrest Gump (Robert Zemeckis, 1994)

    21. Missing avatar

      Nicholas George Ferguson on

      You have a great list here, Spike. There are many great films people wouldn't care to watch these days, but they have no idea what they're missing. Anyways, I wanted to help out with the list, but I don't want to repeat what everyone else is saying. They have plenty of essential additions, but one I don't see anyone has said yet is The Deer Hunter by Michael Cimino (1978), which is such a powerful movie. Another one would be The Good, the Bad and the Ugly by Sergio Leone (1966).
      I also heard you say Goodfellas in the video, but it's not on the list. Also, don't be modest, most, if not all, of your films deserve to be on there.

    22. Nikita Rybak on

      There's no one like Yasujiro Ozu (Floating Weeds, Tokyo Story). He may not be the most technically sophisticated director, but the human side in his films is like nothing I ever saw.

      Thank you for the list! I haven't seen many of the films on it and will check some out.

    23. Barry Woodward on

      12 Monkeys (Terry Gilliam, 1995)
      Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979)
      Battle Royale (Kinji Fukasaku, 2000)
      Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982)
      Broadcast News (James L. Brooks, 1987)
      Collateral (Michael Mann, 2004)
      Ed Wood (Tim Burton, 1994)
      Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004)
      Fight Club (David Fincher, 1999)
      Flirting (John Duigan, 1991)
      JFK (Oliver Stone, 1991)
      Joint Security Area (Park Chan-wook, 2000)
      Léon: The Professional (Luc Besson, 1994)
      Live Flesh (Pedro Almodóvar, 1997)
      Magnolia (Paul Thomas Anderson, 1999)
      The Matrix (The Wachowskis, 1999)
      Memento (Christopher Nolan, 2000)
      Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994)
      Raiders Of The Lost Ark (Steven Spielberg, 1981)
      Requiem For A Dream (Darren Aronofsky, 2000)
      Rocky (John G. Avildsen, 1976)
      Rushmore (Wes Anderson, 1998)
      Seven (David Fincher, 1995)
      The Thing (John Carpenter, 1982)
      The Untouchables (Brian De Palma, 1987)

    24. Bob Amaden on

      I was hoping to spend part of this weekend streaming some of the movies on this list that I haven't seen. Turns out not a single one of the ones I haven't seen is streamable on Netflix! :-(

    25. Ricky Bardy on

      Some more essentials

      Andrei Rubulev- Tarkovsky
      2001 a space odyssey- Kubrick
      City Lights- Chaplin
      Apocalypse Now- Coppola
      Battleship Potemkin- Eisenstien
      Passion of Joan or arc- Dreyer
      Persona- Bergman
      Cries and whispers- Bergman
      Citizen Kane- Welles
      Spirited Away- Miyazaki
      Manhattan- Allen
      M- Lang
      Metropolis- Lang

      Film that although it may have helped write cinematic language, should be avoided at all costs:
      Birth of a Nation- DW

      also i commend you on not putting Psyco on the list because it isnt half a good as Vertigo or Rear Window

    26. Marco Landi on

      Amici Miei I-II-III (Mario Monicelli)

    27. Missing avatar

      Philip Victor Colon on

      Thanks for this extensive list of films Mr.Lee! From my viewing experience, I would also add "Caro Diario" by Nanni Moretti (1994).

    28. Missing avatar

      MaryJ on

      I added my list, but I don't see it. Here it is again:

      The Red Balloon Albert Lamorisse 1956
      Like Water For Chocolate Alfonso Arau 1992
      Strangers on a Train Alfred Hitchcock 1951
      Payback Brian Helgeland 1999
      The Third Man Carol Reed 1949
      A Man and A Woman Claude Lelouch 1966
      Blue Velvet David Lynch 1986
      A New Leaf Elaine May 1971
      City of God Fernando Meirelles & Kátia Lund 2002
      It Happened One Night Frank Capra 1934
      The Women George Cukor 1939
      The Vanishing (Spoorloos) George Sluizer 1988
      Bhaji on the Beach Gurindar Chadha 1993
      Drugstore Cowboy Gus Van Sant 1989
      Wild Strawberries Ingmar Bergman 1957
      A Day In The Country Jean Renoir 1936
      Woman Under the Influence John Cassavetes 1974
      Men With Guns (Hombres armados) John Sayles 1997
      Lone Star John Sayles 1996
      Pecker John Waters 1988
      The Man Who Knew Too Little Jon Amiel 1997
      Powwow Highway Jonathan Wacks 1989
      Daughters of the Dust
      Better Luck Tomorrow Justin Lin 2003
      Black Orpheus Marcel Camus 1959
      The King of Comedy Martin Scorsese 1983
      Taxi Driver Martin Scorsese 1976
      Blow Up Michaelangelo Antonioni 1966
      Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf Mike Nichols 1966
      Natural Born Killers Oliver Stone 1994
      Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown Pedro Almodóvar. 1988
      Rosalie Goes Shopping Percy Adlon 1989
      A Clockwork Orange Stanley Kubrick 1971
      2001: A Space Odyssey Stanley Kubrick 1968
      She’s Gotta Have It Spike Lee 1986
      Do The Right Thing Spike Lee 1989
      Malcolm X Spike Lee 1992
      Sex, Lies and Videotape Steven Soderbergh 1989
      A Sinful Life William Schreiner. 1989
      Paris Texas Wim Wenders 1984

    29. Missing avatar

      kim applebury on

      I see a lot of movies I love. I am happy that White Heat and Dead End made the list. I didn't know that anyone was paying attention to Dead End anymore. Some Like It Hot and Ace in the Hole, of course. I like The Searchers, and I noticed it didn't make your list. That's okay. We can't agree on everything.
      I knew you liked Cool Hand Luke because I saw the poster in 25th Hour. I love that movie. There is something that F. Scott Fitzgerald would like about that ending. American Dream and Re-invention.
      Biggest surprise: Singing in the Rain. Once I think about it, I understand since it is a film about making movies. I was waiting for Sunset Boulevard.
      A Mel Gibson directed movie? That showed me that art is art is art. You respect the process. I really wish I could take your class. I am afraid that is not going to happen.
      As for those who question why you are using Kickstarter? Well, how else would I have the "thrill" of being part of the process?
      If I hadn't decided to teach, I would have wanted to be in film. So, thanks for giving me a window into the process.

    30. Missing avatar

      Gilberto Martinez Jr on

      Alfonso Cuaron- Y Tu Mama Tambien
      Alfonso Cuaron- Children of Men
      Charlie Chaplin- The Kid
      Michael Mann- Ali

    31. Missing avatar

      Diana Ng on

      'Nostalghia, 1983' by Andrei Tarkovsky.

    32. Missing avatar

      Diana Ng on

      'Raise the Red Lantern'?

    33. Missing avatar

      Diana Ng on

      Oh and 'Brazil', 'Naked Lunch', 'Eraserhead'?


    34. Faisal A. Qureshi on

      Incidentally, why no silent films?

    35. Ryan Graham on

      Ong bak - Rocky - The Crow

    36. Missing avatar

      Diana Ng on

      No 'Delicatessen, 1991' by Marc Caro, Jean-Pierre Jeunet?
      Nor 'Days of Being Wild' by Wong Kai Wai?

    37. Barry Woodward on

      Elevator To The Gallows (Louis Malle, 1958)
      Harakiri (Masaki Kobayashi, 1962)
      The Lady Eve (Preston Sturges, 1941)
      The Life And Death Of Colonel Blimp (Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, 1943)
      Safety Last! (Fred Neymeyer & Sam Taylor, 1923)
      Samurai Rebellion (Masaki Kobayashi, 1967)
      Sleuth (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1972)
      Sullivan's Travels (Preston Sturges, 1941)
      Sweet Smell Of Success (Alexander Mackendrick, 1957)
      Unfaithfully Yours (Preston Sturges, 1948)

    38. Marco Landi on

      Amarcord - Federico Fellini (R.I.P. Tonino Guerra)

    39. Missing avatar

      Matt Bowman on

      Everyone has a list. It's great conversation. But it's really cool to see the list that Spike actually uses in his class. I think that She's Gotta Have It! should be on that list though, but he's not going to do that. Thanks Spike.

    40. Barry Woodward on

      Blow Out (Brian De Palma, 1981)
      Delicatessen (Jean-Pierre Jeunet & Marc Caro, 1991)
      High And Low (1963)

    41. Olju Man on

      Love your list. A few other films I can think of:

      Double Indemnity - Billy Wilder (1944)
      The Big Sleep - Howard Hawks (1946)
      The Asphalt Jungle - John Huston (1950)
      Tokyo Story - Yasujiro Ozu (1953)
      Bande a Part - Jean-Luc Godard (1964)
      Chungking Express - Wong Kar Wai (1994)
      Do the Right Thing - Spike Lee (1989)
      In the Mood for Love - Wong Kar Wai (2000)
      Moon - Duncan Jones (2009)

    42. Missing avatar

      Dana Tucker on

      I watched a lot of your films in my multicultural studies classes in college and I learned so much for them. They include Jungle Fever, Do the Right Thing, She's Gotta Have it, and Malcolm X

    43. Missing avatar

      David on

      Some Westerns too. HIGH NOON, WINCHESTER' 73, THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE, Sergio Leone films.

    44. Missing avatar

      David on

      Gotta Have some silent era classics on there. I say: THE GENERAL, CITY LIGHTS, SUNRISE, PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC, METROPOLIS. Also, some Antonioni - L'AVVENTURA.

    45. Charlie Strive on

      Les Triplettes de Belleville (2003) - Strange, beautiful, oozes style and there's basically no dialogue. The fact that it can not only pull you in but make you connect with these characters is a testament to Sylvain Chomet.

    46. Marco Landi on

      Down By Law - Jim Jarmusch.(Roberto Benigni,Tom Waits)

    47. Missing avatar

      David Sayre on

      Excellent selections. A few others that come to mind are Lone Star (1996; John Sayles), La Haine (1995; Mathieu Kassovitz), There Will Be Blood (2007; Paul Thomas Anderson) and Pickup on South Street (1953; Samuel Fuller).

    48. Branden Jaquays on

      Citizen Kane, Goodfellas, The Searchers, Stagecoach, Unforgiven, Schindler's List, Apocalypse Now, Persona, 6th Sense, the Exorcist, American Psycho, Trainspotting, Romper Stomper, Boogie Nights, The 7th Seal, Cinema Paradiso, Chronicle of a Summer, Natural Born Killers....Do The Right Thing.

    49. Marco Landi on

      Life is Beautiful-Roberto Benigni. (R.I.P.Vincenzo Cerami...)

    50. Omari Cahill on

      Birth of a Nation - D.W. Griffith's 1915 Civil War epic, The Birth of a Nation, with its groundbreaking camerawork -- including close-ups, night photography, and tracking shots ground breaking.

      Gone With The Wind-Victor Fleming