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13 Hidden Gems in Sean Price Williams’ ‘1000 Movies’

It’s fair to say that Sean Price Williams, director of last year’s “The Sweet East” and cinematographer on everything from the Safdies’ “Good Time” to Kristen Stewart’s music videos for Boygenius, has an appreciative, eclectic eye for great filmmaking. He’s honed it through his work, of course, but also through compiling a massive list of movies to watch. What initially started as a recommendation list, ever-evolving over the years and being handed out to Williams’ friends and colleagues, is now a fully-fledged book from Metrograph Editions.

To butcher an Ernst Lubitsch quote, there are a thousand “1000 Movies To Watch” type books, but now there’s really only one.    

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What’s interesting about the pocket-sized guide is that, unlike a lot of movie recommendation books, Williams isn’t interested in leading the reader with flowery explanations about why someone might or should love any one particular film. The titles are laid out, with year of release and director, in simple list form, with enough space in the margins for whatever notes, checkmarks, or sticker system an individual reader would care to implement. It’s a pristine guide that begs you not to keep it that way. 

Given that the first printing of “1000 Movies” has already sold out (don’t worry, Metrograph is printing more), we figured we ought to highlight at least some of Williams’ picks. And really, the only way that feels right to do it is to follow Williams’ own advice for readers as closely as an internet-based entertainment publication can: “Put your blood on it. Whatever it is, just engage with it, physically. Because otherwise, you just have tabs open on your computer,” Williams said.  

So, below is a list of 13 films arbitrarily chosen from before 1970. They represent directors that Williams returns to again and again, they include artistic forebears to the dragon’s horde of incredible ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s films that make up a healthy plurality of Williams’ list, they are particularly of interest for how they push what’s possible with film imagery, and also? They’re just the ones that this writer likes a lot. As much is written about each of them in this article as can fit onto their corresponding page of “1000 Movies.” This hopefully preserves Williams’ and the book’s appreciation for the reference manuals and film video store catalogs that have acted as portals to discovery beneath a minimalist exterior. 

The extra limitation that I have put on myself is not to mention any film that appears in some of the best places to have open tabs for film recommendations: Ebert’s Great Movies list; or films that are, as of this writing, on Letterboxd’s unofficial Official Top 250 by rating. Some of these titles have Criterion releases — the entities keeping movies alive through physical media are, after all, few in number  — but a lot of them don’t. They all, however, are viewable some way. So now you have no excuse! Go watch some great movies that rank among filmmakers’ and film lovers’ secret favorites. 

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