6. Romeo and Juliet (1968) – dir. Franco Zeffirelli
Romeo and Juliet might be the most well known love story of all time. A simple yet gut wrenching tale from the pen of William Shakespeare, set in the beautiful Verona, dissecting the complicated complications two lovers face, it needs very little introduction and any attempt to summarize it and bring it down to a few paragraphs would be unsuccessful and quite likely a tad insulting to the Bard.
Like many of his works, it has been frequently adapted and referenced in various forms of art, to varying degrees of success. Many would dare to claim Zeffirelli’s 1968 picture is one of the best ones when it comes to the silver screen.
Filmed in Rome, with the two leads being portrayed by the then non actors, Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting, and legendary Lawrence Olivier charmingly narrating the feature, it was an instant success among the critics and the viewership alike. It has been especially well received by teenage audiences, who were rejoicing for finally getting teenage leads in a teenage film. It continues to retain the legendary status to this day among only a few lovers of the Shakespearean adaptation.
7. Cyrano de Bergerac (1990) – dir. Jean-Paul Reppenau
The life of Cyrano de Bergerac, the now legendary French poet and warrior, famed for his unusually long nose, was forgotten to time in the two hundred and fifty years or so after his death. All of that changed after Edmond Rostand’s play, written in 1897, concerning the life and work of de Bergerac’s. Truth be told, it was not the most faithful of adaptations, nor did it try to be: Rostand took what many would call excessive freedom in portraying the life of his subject, ending up with a story that did not have as many similarities with the actual happenings as one may expect. Still, his dramatic work can be credited with reanimating interest in this wonderful man of many qualities.
The film adaptation, based more on the mentioned play than Cyrano’s life, was also quite a hit when it hit the theaters back in 1990. Praised for almost everything one could think of, especially scenography, the costumes and the lead role, brilliantly delivered by Gerard Depardieu, it was also decently received outside its native France (in the United States, for example), but has, in the meantime, reached a criminally underrated status.
8. The Thin Blue Line (1988) – dir. Errol Morris
Thin Blue Line is widely regarded as one of the greatest documentaries of all time. It has been met with mixed reviews upon its release, however, conservative circles dubbed it an attack on the institution of police and tradionalist documentary circles dubbed it an attack on the way a documentary should be made and structured. In particular, the use of live action sequences to portray the happenings that real life figures the film concerns talk about and the lack of narration has been repeatedly criticized by the critics of The Thin Blue Line.
The objective of the film was to prove the innocence of Randall Dale Adams a man unjustly accused of murder and waiting to be executed at the time of the film’s release.
Thanks to a series of interviews with people who confirmed Adams’ involvement in the case was not proven beyond reasonable doubt, his death sentence was suspended and he walked out a free man after a long and painful stay on death row.
9. Ashes of Time (1994) – dir. Kar-Wai Wong
For such a small area, the cinema of Hong Kong is a marvelous achievement: spanning across ages and genres, it affected filmmakers and film lovers far away from the corners of East Asia. One of its chief figures is undoubtedly the great Wong Kar-Wai, a man who most likely left the biggest mark on the cinema of Hong Kong, and quite possibly all of Chinese speaking world.
Two of his best known flicks are Chungking Express and In the Mood for Love. These two retain a legendary status throughout the world and are almost universally dubbed classics of Asian cinema. Happy Together, a brave and fierce tale of romance is also among his better known achievements. The rest of his masterful works are not as widely known. Ashes of Time must be the most underrated one, even by the domestic audience.
Mixing traditional elements of martial arts hits with modern storytelling techniques, it is told through a series of brief sequences that explain the morals and beliefs of the protagonist in an elegantly simple way.
It was generally dismissed by both audiences and critics upon its release, but its retrospective reception has been much more positive, praising the amazing blend of diverse qualities that Wong managed to pull off.
10. The Stoning of Soraya M (2009) – dir. Cyrus Nowrasteh
Iranian woman by the name of Soraya Marutchehri was brutally executed in 1986. Sentenced to death under false allegations of adultery, she was publicly executed. Her death caused wide outrage and was presented to the foreign public through a best selling book and a major motion picture.
When the film adaption, accordingly titled The Stoning of Soraya M, hit the theaters, it polarized Iranian audiences, with some perceiving it as an attack on traditional values of the Islamic society, rather than a justified critique of the flawed legal system of the staunchly patriarchal country, obviously rigged against women.
Told through a series of flashbacks, a story carefully told by the deceased woman’s aunt to a foreign journalist, it is also an interesting work from a cinematic perspective besides the obviously important moral one.
The international reception was quite warmer in regards to the message of the film, though there was a handful of detractors when it came to its plot.