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BFI Screen Guides are treasures for cinema list lovers

Dennis King Published: June 30, 2011

Most movie fans are familiar with the American Film Institute’s Top 100 lists. In the last decade, the award-winning AFI series has designated top 100 entries in numerous cinema categories (from best movies to best laughs, quotes, stars, songs, heroes and villains and so on).

Such lists are always highly subjective, but they serve as excellent initiators for discussions, debates, disagreements and further explorations of movies and all their glories.

For film buffs interested in a more Eurocentric and idiosyncratic version of cinematic list making, the British Film Institute proves itself a game player when it comes to compiling top 100s.

MacMillan offers 15 books in its catalog featuring BFI Screen Guides. The paperback guides (which retail at about $20 each) offer recommendations in specialized areas of popular and international cinema and television. Each guide represents its author’s personal but broadly representative summary of 100 recommended film and TV titles, together with an introduction and short credits.

Here’s a sampling of the series’ titles:

“100 Film Musicals” by Jim Hillier and Douglas Pye. “While centered on the dominant Hollywood tradition, (this guide) includes films from countries that often tried to emulate the Hollywood style, like Britain and Germany, as well as from very different cultures like India, Egypt and Japan.”

“100 Westerns” by Edward Buscombe. “This (guide) considers the defining features of the Western and traces its main cycles, from the epic Westerns of the 1920s and singing cowboys of the 1930s to the Spaghetti Westerns of the 1960s.”

“100 Silent Films” by Bryony Dixon. “This illuminating guide introduces a wide range of films of the silent period (1895–1930), including classics such as ‘The Birth of a Nation’ (1915), ‘The General’ (1926), ‘Metropolis’ (1927), ‘Sunrise’ (1927) and ‘Pandora’s Box’ (1928), alongside more unexpected choices, and represents major genres and directors of the period – Griffith, Keaton, Chaplin, Murnau, Sjöström, Dovzhenko and Eisenstein.”

“100 Documentary Films” by Jim Hillier and Barry Keith Grant. “This guide provides concise and authoritative entries on one hundred key non-fiction films, from the Lumière brothers and the beginnings of film history to the present day, including recent films such as ‘Bowling for Columbine’ and ‘March of the Penguins.’”

“100 British Documentaries” by Patrick Russell. “This guide ranges from the Victorian period to the present day. Alongside such classics as ‘Night Mail’ and ‘Touching the Void’ are documentaries that illustrate the many uses to which it has been put – from program-filler to political propaganda to classroom teaching aid – and the many styles and viewpoints it has embraced.”

“100 Film Noirs” by Jim Hillier and Alastair Phillips. “This guide provides an accessible, richly-illustrated introduction to 100 key noir films, from Hollywood classics such as ‘Double Indemnity’ to more recent titles such as ‘Sin City,’ as well as examples from Europe, Japan, India and Mexico, together with an editorial overview of the genre and its key debates.”

“100 European Horror Films” by Steven Jay Schneider. “This guide dissects classic films from directors and countries particularly noted for their horror production, as well as delving into sub-genres such as zombie, cannibal and vampire movies. The book also covers films by directors more commonly associated with art cinema, such as Bergman and Polanski.”

“100 American Independent Films” by Jason Wood. “This guide looks at one hundred of the most interesting and influential American independent films, featuring indie classics such as ‘Shadows,’ ‘Blood Simple’ and ‘Reservoir Dogs,’ with twenty-five brand new entries, including recent releases such as ‘Old Joy,’ ‘Junebug’ and ‘Me and You and Everyone We Know.’”

“100 Bollywood Films” by Rachel Dwyer. “Historically important films have been included along with certain cult movies and top box office successes, including ‘Mother India,’ the national epic of a peasant woman’s struggle against nature and society; ‘Sholay,’ a ‘curry western’ where the all-star cast sing and dance; ‘Dilwale Dulhaniya le jayenge,’ the greatest of the diaspora films in which two British Asians fall in love while vacationing in Europe before going to India; ‘Junglee,’ in which love transforms a savage who sings and dances like Elvis and creates a new youth culture; and ‘Pyaasa,’ portraying a romantic poet who suffers for his art in the material world.”

“100 Shakespeare Films” by Daniel Rosenthal. “From Oscar-winning British classics to Hollywood musicals and Westerns, from Soviet epics to Bollywood thrillers, Shakespeare has inspired an almost infinite variety of films. Spanning a century of cinema, from a silent short of ‘The Tempest’ (1907) to Kenneth Branagh’s ‘As You Like It’ (2006), this work includes a rich selection Shakespeare films.”

Other films in the series include “100 Modern Soundtracks,” “100 Anime,” “100 Videogames,” “100 Road Movies” and “100 Animated Feature Films.”

- Dennis King

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