Great Italian Films

by MaestroMoretti | created - 23 Jan 2014 | updated - 03 Nov 2017 | Public

A chronological list of my favourite Italian films - some well-known, others less so - from Rossellini through to Sorrentino.

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1. Rome, Open City (1945)

Not Rated | 103 min | Drama, Thriller, War

During the Nazi occupation of Rome in 1944, the Resistance leader, Giorgio Manfredi, is chased by the Nazis as he seeks refuge and a way to escape.

Director: Roberto Rossellini | Stars: Anna Magnani, Aldo Fabrizi, Marcello Pagliero, Vito Annichiarico

Votes: 19,656

Harrowing throughout, 'Rome, Open City' offers an insight into the activities of the Italian resistance in Nazi-occupied Rome. Some characters ring truer than others - in retrospect the camp Gestapo commander comes across as rather contrived - but powerful performances from Anna Magnani and Aldo Fabrizi easily compensate for the film's weaker moments. The conclusion is deeply moving and leaves you with a glimmer of hope, after a very distressing final act.

2. Bicycle Thieves (1948)

Not Rated | 89 min | Drama

In post-war Italy, a working-class man's bicycle is stolen. He and his son set out to find it.

Director: Vittorio De Sica | Stars: Lamberto Maggiorani, Enzo Staiola, Lianella Carell, Elena Altieri

Votes: 120,591 | Gross: $0.33M

3. Miracle in Milan (1951)

Not Rated | 100 min | Comedy, Drama, Fantasy

An open hearted and unrelentingly energetic orphan struggles to make the best out of his life on the streets of Milan.

Director: Vittorio De Sica | Stars: Emma Gramatica, Francesco Golisano, Paolo Stoppa, Guglielmo Barnabò

Votes: 5,138

4. Umberto D. (1952)

Not Rated | 89 min | Drama

92 Metascore

An elderly man and his dog struggle to survive on his government pension in Rome.

Director: Vittorio De Sica | Stars: Carlo Battisti, Maria Pia Casilio, Lina Gennari, Ileana Simova

Votes: 19,480 | Gross: $0.07M

Of all Italian Neo-Realist cinema that I've seen, this film left by far the greatest impression on me. Umberto D. is the ultimate outsider - forgotten and humiliated by the country he once served. His plight is profoundly upsetting, yet the film's ending is incredibly life-affirming. De Sica cited this as his personal favourite among his own films and Ingmar Bergman named it his favourite film - it's easy to see why.

5. I Vitelloni (1953)

Not Rated | 104 min | Comedy, Drama

87 Metascore

A character study of five young men at crucial turning points in their lives in a small town in Italy.

Director: Federico Fellini | Stars: Alberto Sordi, Franco Fabrizi, Franco Interlenghi, Leopoldo Trieste

Votes: 12,456 | Gross: $0.10M

A much overlooked Fellini film, which deserves a place amoung his best works. Structurally much more straight-forward than his later films, it explores the lives of five lazy young Italians, living in a provincial seaside town. Their sense of apathy remains just as relevant today: there are still countless men in their 30s living with their mothers in Italy, unable to find work. Notably, 'I Vitelloni' was responsible for launching the career of Alberto Sordi (see below).

6. An American in Rome (1954)

94 min | Comedy

Nando Moriconi is a young Italian living in Rome. He is fond for everything coming from the United States. He tries to speak American-English, to wear clothes he thinks Americans wear, to ... See full summary »

Director: Steno | Stars: Alberto Sordi, Maria Pia Casilio, Ilse Peterson, Anita Durante

Votes: 1,295

Genius comedy about a young Roman who wants to be American. Sordi, one of the best comic actors of all time, oozes charisma as Nando Moriconi - his incomprehensible attempts at American English will have you in stitches. Really can't understand why is this isn't much rated higher here - the macaroni scene alone is one of the most iconic sequences in Italian cinema. "M'hai provocato e io te distruggo, macaroni!"

7. The Nights of Cabiria (1957)

Not Rated | 110 min | Drama

A waifish prostitute wanders the streets of Rome looking for true love but finds only heartbreak.

Director: Federico Fellini | Stars: Giulietta Masina, François Périer, Franca Marzi, Dorian Gray

Votes: 37,187 | Gross: $0.75M

8. La Dolce Vita (1960)

Not Rated | 174 min | Comedy, Drama

93 Metascore

A series of stories following a week in the life of a philandering paparazzo journalist living in Rome.

Director: Federico Fellini | Stars: Marcello Mastroianni, Anita Ekberg, Anouk Aimée, Yvonne Furneaux

Votes: 57,150 | Gross: $19.52M

9. Rocco and His Brothers (1960)

Not Rated | 177 min | Crime, Drama, Sport

84 Metascore

Having recently been uprooted to Milan, Rocco and his four brothers each look for a new way in life when a prostitute comes between Rocco and his brother Simone.

Director: Luchino Visconti | Stars: Alain Delon, Renato Salvatori, Annie Girardot, Claudia Cardinale

Votes: 13,726

10. Divorce Italian Style (1961)

Not Rated | 105 min | Comedy, Drama, Romance

A married Sicilian baron falls in love with his cousin and vows to wed her, but with divorce illegal he must concoct a crime of passion to do away with his wife.

Director: Pietro Germi | Stars: Marcello Mastroianni, Daniela Rocca, Stefania Sandrelli, Leopoldo Trieste

Votes: 9,823

Mastroianni gives a memorable performance as a selfish, amoral Sicilian baron intent on murdering his wife at a time when divorce was illegal in Italy. Black humour at its best - an Italian 'Kind Hearts and Coronets'.

11. Il Sorpasso (1962)

Not Rated | 105 min | Comedy, Drama

An impulsive braggart takes a shy law student for a two-day ride through the Roman and Tuscany countries.

Director: Dino Risi | Stars: Vittorio Gassman, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Catherine Spaak, Claudio Gora

Votes: 7,391

12. The Leopard (1963)

PG | 186 min | Drama, History

100 Metascore

The Prince of Salina, a noble aristocrat of impeccable integrity, tries to preserve his family and class amid the tumultuous social upheavals of 1860's Sicily.

Director: Luchino Visconti | Stars: Burt Lancaster, Alain Delon, Claudia Cardinale, Paolo Stoppa

Votes: 19,409

I would definitely advise people to read the novel first, one of the masterpieces of Italian literature. This is a fairly faithful adaptation, which, with its talented cast and lavish sets, beautifully presents the tale of a powerful man's dilemmas in the face of great social change. Burt Lancaster plays the Prince well - my only complaint is that an Italian actor wasn't used - it somehow jars, hearing such a recognizable actor speaking with a dubbed voice. In fact Visconti initially shared this sentiment - it was 20th Century Fox's stipulation that a Hollywood star be used in order the justify the large budget.

13. The Hawks and the Sparrows (1966)

Not Rated | 91 min | Comedy, Drama, Fantasy

Innocenti Totò and his son Innocenti Ninetto are drifting on a road in Italy, when they meet a Marxist speaking crow. The trio travels together in a long journey as their hunger increases.

Director: Pier Paolo Pasolini | Stars: Totò, Ninetto Davoli, Femi Benussi, Umberto Bevilacqua

Votes: 3,531

14. Il medico della mutua (1968)

98 min | Comedy

The eventful ascent of a doctor in the corrupted Italian healthcare system.

Director: Luigi Zampa | Stars: Alberto Sordi, Bice Valori, Sara Franchetti, Nanda Primavera

Votes: 1,059

The literal translation is 'The National Health Service Doctor'. A very clunky title, but why they settled on the terrible one above is a mystery.

15. Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970)

R | 115 min | Crime, Drama

89 Metascore

A chief of detectives, homicide section, kills his mistress and deliberately leaves clues to prove his own responsibility for the crime.

Director: Elio Petri | Stars: Gian Maria Volontè, Florinda Bolkan, Gianni Santuccio, Orazio Orlando

Votes: 7,204

16. Amarcord (1973)

R | 123 min | Comedy, Drama

A series of comedic and nostalgic vignettes set in a 1930s Italian coastal town.

Director: Federico Fellini | Stars: Magali Noël, Bruno Zanin, Pupella Maggio, Armando Brancia

Votes: 34,450

17. Sogni d'oro (1981)

105 min | Comedy, Drama

Nuovamente nei panni del suo alter-ego Michele Apicella, Nanni Moretti scrive la sua commedia apparentemente più ilare ma anche surreale ed inquietante. Il regista Michele, ancora sulla ... See full synopsis »

Director: Nanni Moretti | Stars: Nanni Moretti, Piera Degli Esposti, Remo Remotti, Laura Morante

Votes: 827

Nanni Moretti's early films have generally all slipped under the radar, at least outside of Italy, which is a great shame. He has been described as an Italian Woody Allen and there is some truth in this: like Allen, he often stars as the protagonist in his own films, exploring his personal neuroses and convictions through an exaggerated version of himself - Michele Apicella. 'Sogni D'oro' is a highly autobiographical film, which alludes to Moretti's own battle to maintain artistic integrity while his contemporaries willingly stoop to anything in order to achieve success.

18. Bianca (1984)

R | 96 min | Comedy, Drama

Michele is a mathematics professor who just started a new job in a school with some peculiar teaching methods. After a woman in his neighborhood is murdered, Michele meets beautiful ... See full summary »

Director: Nanni Moretti | Stars: Nanni Moretti, Laura Morante, Roberto Vezzosi, Remo Remotti

Votes: 2,382

'Bianca' is the finest of the Apicella films - a gentle tragicomedy about a highly neurotic, intolerant man, obsessed with solving other people's problems, but incapable of finding happiness in his own life. There are some wonderful comic moments, most memorably in connection with the trendy new school where Michele teachers - the 'Marilyn Monroe' school. Listen out for one of the most beautiful Italian songs ever written - 'Il cielo in una stanza' by Gino Paoli, a masterful songwriter who Moretti repeatedly draws on in his films.

19. La messa è finita (1985)

94 min | Comedy, Drama

The young priest Father Giulio returns to Rome, his hometown, after a long pilgrimage. Don Giulio hopes to live peacefully with his family and his friends, but discovers that many of them ... See full summary »

Director: Nanni Moretti | Stars: Nanni Moretti, Ferruccio De Ceresa, Marco Messeri, Enrica Maria Modugno

Votes: 1,337

Here Moretti plays Don Giulio, who is Michele Apicella in all but name.

20. Johnny Stecchino (1991)

R | 102 min | Comedy, Crime, Romance

A kindhearted but bumbling idiot who likes to steal bananas, is passed off for a snitch hiding from the mob.

Director: Roberto Benigni | Stars: Roberto Benigni, Nicoletta Braschi, Paolo Bonacelli, Franco Volpi

Votes: 8,906 | Gross: $0.57M

21. The Monster (1994)

R | 112 min | Comedy, Crime, Mystery

A vicious serial sex killer is on the loose, and landscape gardener and shop-window outfitter Loris is the prime suspect, thanks to his unfortunate habit of getting caught in compromising ... See full summary »

Director: Roberto Benigni | Stars: Roberto Benigni, Michel Blanc, Nicoletta Braschi, Dominique Lavanant

Votes: 8,570 | Gross: $0.64M

22. The Best of Youth (2003)

R | 366 min | Drama, Romance

89 Metascore

An Italian epic that follows the lives of two brothers, from the 1960s to the 2000s.

Director: Marco Tullio Giordana | Stars: Luigi Lo Cascio, Alessio Boni, Jasmine Trinca, Adriana Asti

Votes: 18,593 | Gross: $0.25M

One of my absolute favourite films - this should be seen by everyone, and particularly those with an interest in Italy. Every character in it is believable and complex - by the end of the film you feel totally involved in their lives and above all, profoundly moved. It is also a fascinating insight into Italian history from the 1960s through to the 2000s, as well as a reminder of the not-so-distant horrific malpractice in some psychiatric hospitals. Now if only they would bring out a Region 2 version with English subs so that this could be accessible to more people!

23. Le conseguenze dell'amore (2004)

100 min | Crime, Drama, Romance

An introverted man's life changes completely when he finds himself attracted to a young bar-maid.

Director: Paolo Sorrentino | Stars: Toni Servillo, Olivia Magnani, Adriano Giannini, Antonio Ballerio

Votes: 12,887

Practically every frame in Sorrentino's films is an artwork in its own right - here the cinematography is bleaker and colder than in 'Il Divo' and 'The Great Beauty', an approach which perfectly matches the protagonist's isolation and loneliness. The film offers an unromantic view of the workings of organized crime in Italy, more akin to the stark realism in Gomorrah than to the world of Don Corleone. Tony Servillo is mesmerizing as the solitary Titto di Girolamo and the film boasts a brilliant, minimalist score from the likes of Mogwai and Lali Puna.

24. We Have a Pope (2011)

Not Rated | 102 min | Comedy, Drama

64 Metascore

A story centered on the relationship between the newly elected Pope and his therapist.

Director: Nanni Moretti | Stars: Michel Piccoli, Nanni Moretti, Jerzy Stuhr, Renato Scarpa

Votes: 12,020 | Gross: $0.48M

This has garnered indifferent reviews because people find it difficult to place. Some have taken offense at its representation of the Vatican, while others argue that it isn't critical enough. Ultimately, Moretti wasn't intending to attack or defend the Church, but simply to humanize it. It is a gentle, thought-provoking film about human fragility, with a moving performance from Michel Piccoli and some great comic setpieces like the cardinals' volleyball tournament. It also contains some stunning cinematography, particularly during the scenes in the conclave.

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