1. A Trip to the Moon – Possibly the first great narrative film, George Méliès loosely adapted Jules Verne and HG Wells into this film about a group of bearded scientists shooting themselves to the moon in a giant cannon, where they take a nap, assassinate the King of the Moonmen then make their escape back to Earth. The parallels with European colonial adventures are obvious. The wonder of the film though is its ambition: Méliès weds the stop motion magic tricks he perfected through the first 6 years of cinema to fantastical, multi-layered and interactive set design, elaborate costumes and a cast of dozens to create a unique cinematic world, one that, for one of the first times in movie history is less a recorded artifact of a stage performance and more its own creation. The movie starts a bit slow, as the scientists pose for an interminable group photograph, but once they change into their space suits (really just suits) and get loaded into the cannon by what appear to be a phalanx of chorus girls, the film piles mind-blowing image upon image. My favorite: that the moonmen, after what must have been millennia of evolution prove vulnerable only to that most dangerous weapon of all: the umbrella.
2. Gulliver’s Travels – Another Méliès literary adaptation, though a much less successful one. Rather than a coherent narrative in its own right, this is more a set of illustrations of scenes from the book. The best part is a tour de force bit of double exposure split screen action at the center of the film, where Gulliver is served a meal by the Lilliputians. Méliès almost seamlessly integrates the two images (filmed on separate sets with the camera at different distances, to create the size distortions, it looks like) in a way that remains marvelous even to modern eyes.