European cinematography has a long history. Each country with its own style and characteristics we recognise it for. Italian cinematography was extremely popular in the fifties and sixties. We were introduced to everyday characters, people who we meet in the streets, someone like us. And very often poor individuals who would tell us their stories.
We fell in love with those characters, laughed and cried with them. Everything felt so real. That’s why it’s called Italian neorealism. And it didn’t change much in the future, either. Full of emotions, real life situations and many dialogues, Italian cinematographers have a way of warming your heart and getting close to their characters.
Many Italian directors lived and worked abroad, but all of them filmed so many unforgettable movies in their mother tongue. We will write only about movies in Italian here. These are 15 best Italian movies of all time.
La strada (The Road, 1954)
One of all time classics, this black and white drama is a true representative of Italian neorealism, with some magical realism characteristics. Directed by one of Italy’s greatest, Federico Fellini, this story will remain with you for a long time.
Gelsomina is a poor girl who was sold by her own mother. Traded for 10 000 lire and a few kilos of food, she is now the property of zampano, a travelling showman.
Zampano is everything but nice to her and uses her for his well being. When they join a travelling circus, Gelsomina meets a man who supports her to question her choices. Fellini really knows how to get close to his audience and make them feel all kinds of emotions.
Ladri di biciclette (Bicycle Thieves, 1948)
Once again an absolute classic, one of the most beautiful stories about a connection between father and son ever written. Directed by Vittorio de Sica, who brought us numerous unforgettable movies. This is a heartbreaking drama which will force you to be thankful for what you’ve got.
Antonio struggles to get by after WWII and tries to find a job to take care of himself and his son. He finally gets one, as a poster hanger for which he needs a bicycle. As if he didn’t already have so much on him, his bicycle gets stolen. Now he and his son need to walk the streets of Rome in order to regain it. But there is no proof that the bike is his and Antonio and his son know that without it there is no more food on the table,
Once again Fellini and once again a true Italian masterpiece. It is definitely one of the first associations to Italian cinematography in general. It won an Oscar for the best international movie in 1975.
Amarcord is funny, and bitter sweet, it will make you laugh so hard and immediately after make you think and question many things. This is a movie about nothing and everything. About a year in an Italian coastal town, somewhere in the late 1930s. Catholicism governs everything, Facism is slowly gaining its importance and we are presented with Titta and his family. And many more. Titta’s father Aurelio, Volpina, the prostitute, town beauty Gradisca, Aurelio’s brother Teo. These are unforgettable characters responsible for some of the most iconic quotes and crazy situations they get themselves into.
La vita e bella (Life Is Beautiful, 1997)
Roberto Benigni is responsible for a movie which will tear you into pieces, make you cry so many times that you won’t bother wiping your tears anymore. And at the same time it will make you laugh your heart out. A story about the atrocities of WWII and the way a loving father decided to hide it from his son.
Guido, an open-minded Jewish waiter and his family are sent to a concentration camp and separated one from another. Guido stays with his son Giosue who is too small to understand what’s going on. And here is where Guido’s show begins. Making it a game, he tries to guide his son through war. We witness numerous unforgettable situations he gets in, fear for all of them and are thankful for this perspective in everything.
Nominated for seven and won three Oscars, this is one of the best and most successful Italian movies of all time.
Perfetti sconosciuti (Perfect Strangers, 2016)
New Italian cinema is best represented by this hour and a half long gem. A movie which goes very deep into the human psyche and shows us what we are capable of doing to hide our secrets. Many dialogues and even more emotions are its biggest asset. It’s tense and makes your brain work all the time.
Seven friends meet for dinner. They’ve known each other for a long time and believe there are no secrets among them. Therefore they decide to share their text message, e-mails and phone calls. Everything is in the open that night. This wasn’t a good decision. So many things are going to be revealed, so many bad words said. And literally nothing will ever be the same after that evening.
La dolce vita (1960)
Fellini again, this time in Rome, in a week of the life of a tabloid journalist. Marcello Rubini’s job is to catch celebrities in embarrassing situations. He’s that kind of journalist no one loves. Marcello loves getting a bit too close to his subjects and often shares bed with the actresses he follows.
But after many affairs, even during his engagement to Emma, Marcello starts questioning his way of life and decisions and begins to ponder on something calmer and simpler. Once more a combination of a normal man who makes mistakes and his thoughts on life. An Italian comedy drama we all love so much.
Il postino (The Postman, 1994)
A story about Pablo Neruda, the famous Chilean poet who is exiled to a small island due to political reasons. As this is great news at the time, they hire a new postman to gather the increased mail. He has to deliver fan letters to him. Soon the postman befriends Neruda and begins to appreciate poetry.
But as always, things become a bit more complicated. The postman falls in love and needs Neruda’s help. They go their separate ways after some time, but their connection never fades. This movie is a wonderful reminder of what friendship might become and how some people are meant to be parts of our lives.
Cinema paradiso (1988)
One of the most beautiful ever, a breathtaking story of cinema, its changes and love people feel towards this type of art. Wonderfully told, through going back and learning so much about movies and the way they were made.
We meet a boy who grew up in a Sicillian village, now a famous director who comes home after receiving sad news. Here we start going back to Salvatore’s past and together with him experience all these wonders regarding cinema. But this is not only a movie about movies. It is a heartwarming story of a boy who wanted to get out of a small town and find his place in the great world.
8 ½ (1963)
Fellini cast the greatest at the time and made one of the most memorable ever. Marcelo Mastroianni, Claudia Cardinale and Sandra Milo tell us a story of Fellini’s beginnings, success, but also thoughts on these happenings. And we meet women from his life, the ones he loved and left.
This movie shows Fellini’s great talent and is often listed as one of the most influential movies ever. It gained two Oscars and slightly moved from Italian neorealism into surrealism. Known as an avant garde movie, it will teach us so much about director’s blocks, difficulties they encounter while filming, but also drive us closer to the mind of one of the most talented directors of all time.
Italian cinema is not only neorealism. There is not only comedy and drama and a lot of talking and reminiscing. Dario Argento was the most important name in the horror genre not only in Italy, but around the world in the 1970s. Known for his bloody and gruesome movies, he was definitely a role model and influence for many future directors.
Suspiria is weird, suspenseful and extremely eerie. An American ballet dancer travels to Germany and enrols in a ballet school to perfect her dancing skills. There are many strange things at the very beginning of her arrival. And they are only getting worse. The revelation she is going to make is going to petrify us and it will be followed by many more surprises and nightmarish situations.
If we choose three or four most famous Italian directors, Antonioni would definitely be found on the list. As with Fellini and de Sica, we can be almost hundred percent certain that we are in for a movie treat. L’avventura is one of these treats. A mystery drama with a twist, a love story which shouldn’t have been.
A group of rich friends spend some time on a Mediterranean island and when they are about to leave, they find out that one of them, Anna, is missing. Her boyfriend and best friend try to find her, but hopelessly. While doing that, they fall in love and soon forget about Anna and her disappearance.
La ciociara (Two Women, 1960)
Sophia Loren was justifiably the most famous Italian actress at the time and still is one of their first associations to movies in general. Two Women is a classic, a strong war drama about a mother and a daughter who flee Rome. Cesira is alone with her daughter and fears for their safety.
They arrive in her birth town, wishing to leave a quiet and simple life. But Cesira is a beautiful woman and soon she isn’t lacking suitors. She is effectively refusing them and decides to return to Rome, as the allies advance. But this time she won’t be able to escape the horrors of war.
La stanza del figlio (The Son’s Room, 2001)
A complex and very difficult drama, the one which deals with the loss of one’s child, La stanza del figlio is emotionally devastating, but gives us hope at the end. It is one of the most notable movies belonging to modern Italian cinematography.
When his son dies in a scuba diving accident, a successful psychoanalyst Giovanni can’t forgive himself. He accuses everyone, including his patients. Everyone is hurting, his wife and daughter are on the edge, they are all inconsolable. Until they find out about his son’s secret which will change their lives forever. It might even give them peace.
Although not so artistically beautiful and maybe even not that interesting as many here, Gomorrah is a movie which deals with one of the most present Italian topics ever, mafia. It is told through five stories, from five different characters who describe what happens inside a contemporary Neapolitan mob.
There have been many more famous movies about mafia, but all English spoken and therefore Gomorrah is an excellent example of an Italian movie where main characters speak their mother tongue and give us a realistic insight of what they are allowed to do as some of the most influential people in general.
Matrimonio all’italiana (Marriage Italian Style, 1964)
Even though there could be so many more movies on this list, we will finish with one from one of the biggest directors and with two of the hottest actors at the time. De sica, Loren and Mastroiani have been a recipe for so many successful Italian movies. And this one is no exception.
We follow a game of playing dirty from both main characters. This is a story of love and hate, secrets and blackmail. It is a comedy, but also a serious view of a woman’s ways to keep her man by herself. With unforgettable roles and typical dialogues which never end, this movie is a must see for everyone who enjoyed previously mentioned masterpieces.