My film-hunter's top 500 movies, and why I love filmby oOgiandujaOo_and_Eddy_Merckx | created - 15 Dec 2011 | updated - 7 months ago | Public
This is not a greatest films list, it's a personal favourites list (I don't know how to make a greatest films list). The first 100 movies in the list have my notes by them, I hope to write notes for the rest of the movies that don't have automatic summaries or pictures, so that you can see more than just a title and a date, but it's is an extremely laborious process and so I hope you'll bear with me. Some of the films I last saw a long time ago, and so to write my notes I've had to look at my reviews from the time, or have a real scrabble around in the toolbox to remember exactly what triggers ignited my passion for the film in question so markedly. I hope you'll forgive me if a few of the comments are therefore slim. I've tried to make them as personal and conversational as possible. As a whole document I hope the reviews and this intro make clear why I absolutely adore films, and if you don't already share this passion, why it could be for you. Roberta Flack once sung (and the Fugees later covered) a song called Killing Me Softly, a lyric of which goes, "Strummin' my pain with his fingers. Singing my life with his words. Killing me softly with his song." That's a great deal of the appeal of the movies to me, as well as trying to reach a better understanding of life (of mine and others' emotions in particular), and attaining sensations of grace.
Types of films and aesthetics I have a penchant for.
There's several types of films here, classic auteur films from the likes of control freaks von Sternberg/Lang/Welles/Borzage/Bresson; films that programmers clunkily refer to as artist's film and video/experimental film/avant-garde cinema, by folks like Dorsky/Hutton/Klahr/Jordan/Bokanowski/Fischinger/Deren; films that I'd call Amerarkana (low profile, minimalist, enchanted, anonymous American crime/horror), The Music of Chance/The Kill-Off/Liebestraum/Crawlspace/The Passion of Darkly Noon; dreamlike films, such as La Nuit Fantastique/Dementia/Amer/Judex/Fascination/The Alphabet Murders; film noir; films with unrequited love, particularly The Unsent Letter and Les Enfants du Paradis; films portraying outsider experiences, films about the art of living (these are mainly French); portrayals of ecstatic experiences; westerns; films dealing with the fact of the human body (as opposed to cerebral films) and human lifecycle such as the Cremaster Cycle, False Aging, Stereo, Belly of An Architect, and Seconds; well-handled treatments of Buddhism (Kim Ki-Duk films); films regarding existential folly such as Youth Without Youth and the Shanghai Gesture; films with fairy-light-style diegetic lighting (this means lighting that comes from within the fictional world of the film as opposed to huge lights behind the camera) such as This World, Then The Fireworks; films showcasing great/interesting interior design, like David Lynch films or White of the Eye (not usually felt to be the primary merits of these movies of course!). I was a teenager in the '90s so there are quite a few '90s genre movies in the mix, particularly '90s action movies, that I love, if taken at face value these can be hard to understand, but they're all visually beautiful and generally have something clever going on under the surface, examples being Wes Craven's Shocker, Richard Stanley's Hardware, Albert Pyun's Adrenalin: Fear the Rush and Russell Mulcahy's Silent Trigger. Emotionally-resonant film treatments of metanoia, or the process or realising that you never knew yourself, or that your conception of the world is/was entirely wrong, for example Pasolini's Oedipus Rex, The Shanghai Gesture, Night Sun, and Shutter Island (The Truman Show wouldn't qualify because it's other people fooling Truman rather than himself). Films within the tradition of Bildung, or a film version of the Entwicklungsroman, that is to say stories of hard won personal growth, such as Adam and America America, and perhaps the opposite, "what doesn't kill you makes you weaker" (my little joke treatment of Nietzsche's famous phrase) type stories such as Apartment Zero, or even films where these ends are shown as beginning as a forked path (Franklyn). Escapism is an obvious one that I share in common with everyone! Films that deal with perception or the nature of the mind, such as Memento, The Prestige, La Nuit Des Traquées. Recently highly aesthetic treatments of people discovering their sexuality (not for erotic content) such as Lewis Klahr's Pony Glass, Philip Ridley's The Passion of Darkly Noon or Steven Shainberg's Secretary. All sorts of films really. In another person's words, IMDb User Ear_Poisoner pointed out to me on the List and Recommendations forum, "your interest tends to more visual and tonal experience rather than narrative based.". I also like for films to be intriguing or interesting, I want lots of secondary neural detonations after the movie has ended. Speaking of explosions I think the idea for me has always been that a movie should blow my mind, so I sometimes find the distinction between entertainment and art movies moot in that they're just different ways of achieving the same end.
A note on availability, and how to see more of these should you wish to.
A lot of the films in this list are not available on dvd or blu-ray in your region, or just not available on dvd or blu-ray at all. Here's some suggestions. Hack your DVD/Blu-ray player so that it plays whatever you want it to play, this is usually dead easy with DVD. I drew the short straw and bought a hard-to-hack player, but for a small fee and a remote control in the post, this obstacle was overcome. I still buy and watch VHS tapes all the time where the dvd is out of print; the last batch of VHS players made will play SECAM, PAL, NTSC, anything you want, though you have to buy these off restorers now. Other outlets. There are websites all over the world selling official dvds that you won't find in chain stores or just any store if you don't live in a capital city in an affluent country: the German Filmmuseum website, Re:Voir, FNAC for Spain, the Danish Film Institute, the University of Massachussets (DEFA archive films), Amazon has various branch outs in other countries, even the Japanese Amazon is usable to non-Japanese speakers, with a little patience and thought. You can get Minerva Classics and Raro Video films off of Italian Amazon, and many more! Some directors even sell DVDs on their own websites, like Jon Jost, Ken Jacobs, Frederick Wiseman, Barbara Hammer, and Barney Platts-Mills (and I'm sure many others). Travelling to see films is not an unreasonable thing if you are able. I am happy to travel over 100 miles to see a film that I'm dying to see and can't be seen any other way. If you'd do the same to see the Mona Lisa, why not do it for the film equivalent? Go to a good film festival. All sorts of amazing films play at film festivals and nowhere else, if you complain about the quality of contemporary films, this is the shot in the arm you need! Cannes requires a special effort (you would need press accreditation), however large urban festivals such as London, TIFF, NYFF, are just as good in terms of quality, and will take the cream of the Cannes, Berlin, and Venice crop. All sorts of other amazing niche ones are around such as Pordenone for silents and Oberhausen for shorts. A large majority of the short films mentioned are on Youtube, Vimeo, Google Video, or UbuWeb, don't miss out! Rental/streaming services like Netflix, MUBI, LoveFilm, they're all there for you. Phone a friend for more info on this, but there are also invitation-only websites where members download genuinely unavailable movies, these are a treasure trove. Blind buying. An expensive habit, but can be eye-opening. Making sure you understand your taste is good for blind buying, this means that you will do well more often than not when you buy, get used to knowing what sorts of elements in a film you like, and who is good at recommending them. If you recognise that you've never enjoyed a portmanteau film, don't blind buy one! Local cinemas you don't know about. They are often around, and the folks inside will not bolt the doors and eat your entrails (unless they do). Often they can be a bit grungy and dilapidated, and there's not fifteen different varieties of cokey cola, abbattoir slurry in a bun (hot dogs), and buckets of million percent mark-up popped corn; however these facilities often offer alternatives like absinthe and apple pie (at least mine does), and they show different movies.
Warnings and confusions.
The list can be confusing to mainstream fans (I've no beef with people whose dreams are mirrored by the blockbuster makers, but also not much in common). I often get a response from people who have seen the say 20 mainstream movies on the list (and nothing else), where they just tell me the entire list is rubbish because the movies mentioned aren't much kop by mainstream criteria. I tend to enjoy these movies when they become zany and unabandoned, examples being The Spirit and Bad Boys II. The gradual process where I came to really enjoy movies mostly involved realising that I disagreed strongly with the implied values in mainstream film (promiscuous people generally dying first in horror movies would be an example of an implied value, i.e. promiscuity is bad).
To avoid confusion it's worth pointing out that although I enjoy irony in every day conversation, none of the appreciation of films listed below is ironic. There are five Roger Corman movies on the list, but they're there in earnestness, that particular gentleman was fond of subtext, in my opinion he was a bona fide auteur, and a socially comitted filmmaker.
Miscellaneous notes and typically requested statistics.
**The average IMDb rating of these films at the current time is 7.1/10. The highest is 9.0/10 for The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, the ones under 5.0/10 are:
Eye of the Beholder (1999 - Stephan Elliott) 4.9/10 The Face of an Angel (2014 - Michael Winterbottom) 4.7/10 Ett Hål i mitt hjärta / A Hole in My Heart (2004 - Lukas Moodysson) 4.6/10 Gas! -Or- It Became Necessary to Destroy the World in Order to Save It. (1970 - Roger Corman) 3.9/10 Adrenalin: Fear the Rush (1996 - Albert Pyun) 3.9/10
Always take the IMDb rating with a pinch of salt!
**Whenever publishing something like this before I always get asked about the director count, so here it is to pre-empt the question. It's slightly spurious in the sense that, with only three films extant (and only one available on dvd), no matter how much I like Sadao Yamanaka's work he can't ever get to the top, whereas, Fritz Lang must eventually triumph with such a large filmography. 3 films: Peter Greenaway, Michaelangelo Antonioni, Dario Argento, Oskar Fischinger, Manoel de Oliveira, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Alex Cox, Jean-Luc Godard, Orson Welles, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Jacques Rivette, Matthew Barney (taking Cremaster 3 and 4 as two separate films), Monte Hellman, and Werner Herzog. 4 films: Fritz Lang, Lewis Klahr and René Laloux. 5 films: Marguerite Duras, Lars von Trier and Roman Polanski.
** There are several films here which are particularly subjective personal choices, the main example is The History of Mr Polly, I've feel a very close personal similarity to the character of Mr Polly. This probably bought the film to life for me a lot more than for another viewer. This is as opposed to Les enfants du Paradis where pretty much anyone is going to associate with at least one of the characters.
** A hopefully diminishing list of films that are on my top 500 but not on IMDb is below. Usually I try and get these films added to IMDb and antnield of criterionforum has also helped with this.
94 Art Herstory (1974 - Hermine Freed) 181 Exit (1971 - Denys Irving & Naomi Zack) 319 Wolkenschatten (2014 - Anja Dornieden & Juan David Gonzålez Monroy) 397 Dach / Roof (1994 - Anja Czioska) 429 Schwebebahn (1995 - Darren Almond)
Please don't be afraid to leave me recommendations if you have any, no-one alive has ever watched more than a fraction of the good stuff!
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1. Ana-ta-han (1953)
PG | 92 min | Drama, War
In June 1944, twelve Japanese seaman are stranded on an abandoned-and-forgotten island called An-ta-han for seven years. The island's only inhabitants are the overseer of the abandoned ... See full summary »
Votes: 675 | Gross: $0.05M
2. Les maîtres du temps (1982)
78 min | Animation, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Piel, a 7 or 8 year old boy, is alone on the desert planet Perdide, only survivor of an attack by giant hornets. Calling for help, Piel's father's friend Jaffar keeps contact with the kid ... See full summary »
I first saw this film when I was a little boy in its English-language dub. It haunted me for years later, and all I could remember was that there was a this little boy like me lost in a strange forest with glowing red and yellow fruits. I came across it quite by chance in it's French-language version, which is what you should see if you're an adult. It has the most amazing upbeat but weird soundtrack and is staggeringly beautiful in every single way you could think of. It works for all ages and has themes regarding the importance of individuality, and the possibility for redemptive acts, the nature of childhood and loss, the passing of time, and metanoia. It is scary and tender, and wonderful and I am very grateful to all the artists involved.
3. Le soulier de satin (1985)
410 min | Drama
During the century of the Spanish Gold, Doña Prouhèze, wife of a nobleman, deeply loves Don Rodrigo, who is forced to leave Spain and go to America. Meanwhile Prouhèze is sent to Africa to ... See full summary »
The Satin Slipper is a near seven hour metafictional trans-continental theatrical epic, realised by Manoel de Oliveira from the staged period drama of Paul Claudel. It is weighty, inspiring, and exquisitely beautiful. The movie opens with two quotes, which frame the film, regarding the mysterious ways of God, the second of which, "etiam peccata", "even sins", is a reference to St Augustine, who added this to a then famous phrase, giving, "Omnia cooperantur in bonum, etiam peccata", which is to say that everything happens for the glory of God, even sin.
The opening scene contains an exhortation by a dying priest, that his brother, Don Rodrigo, who has given up his studying for the priesthood, in favour of an exploration of power, for yoking the world to his will, be led back onto the path of righteousness, and that his sins be Augustinian in nature. Rodrigo's journey provides a skeleton for the movie, which however contains numerous supplementary stories and messages.
After the introduction, I do not think that you could watch straight the next nearly seven hours of this film without going mad, or rather it would be like holding a cup and letting the continuous pouring of wisdom and beauty overflow and go all over the floor. The Satin Slipper has seven hours of content, of talking where it pays to listen.
There will be home truths for everyone here, but for me Dona Prouheze's condemnation of her husband Don Pelagio, "Or it may be he is so proud, to make me love him, he disdains to appeal to anything other than the truth.". I also liked pearls of wisdom such as couples only loving what they build together, and descriptions of love, such as the feeling of regret for the time you did not know your lover.
The excesses of God's plan seem often to be exorbitant, even for One so mysterious, twice a whole ship of people drown in aid of details of the destinies of two of the main characters, and highly winsome characters often exist on this earth only as auxiliaries to the blithe. The message here may well be about tyranny, but also that the vast majority of people on earth can only expect to hear stories and get used, with the implication that they should prepare for the next life. The fruits of Rodrigo's labour, a tremendous gift, are rudely compensated for by his humiliation.
4. Donkey Skin (1970)
Not Rated | 91 min | Drama, Family, Fantasy
A fairy godmother helps a princess disguise herself so she won't have to marry a man she doesn't love.
Lovely is an excellent word. To me it describes someone or an aspect of someone you can't not love. The folks that made this movie transmitted and transmuted a lot of their beauty for the world to see when they made this movie. They are lovely, and Peau d'Ane is a lovely movie.
A movie without malice, set in a sugary Medieval noplace, it has a colour scheme from a Chagall painting, bright and joyful.
The story is about a princess who has to avoid marrying her father, and find true love. Despite some of the content theoretically being quite strong, the movie comes off as being utterly absent of ill feeling. Watching is like being a child again and sung a tale by your mother, if it ever takes a serious tone it's a faux serious tone.
Peau d'Ane singing a song about baking a cake for her love is a highlight for me.
The only actual problem with the film is that it ends.
5. Vertigo (1958)
PG | 128 min | Mystery, Romance, Thriller
A former police detective juggles wrestling with his personal demons and becoming obsessed with a hauntingly beautiful woman.
Votes: 305,533 | Gross: $3.20M
6. America America (1963)
Not Rated | 174 min | Drama
A young Anatolian Greek, entrusted with his family's fortune, loses it en route to Istanbul and dreams of going to the United States.
I've never personally experienced migration. However Elia Kazan's highly personal project America America had me fighting back tears all the time, with it's depiction of the peregrinations involved in searching for a safe life for yourself and your family. We're not talking about a small film here though, it's got it all going on, meditations about what it is to be a man, and how to become one, passion buried deep inside, screaming to escape, quiet desperate lives, friendship, the possibilty of altruism. It wasn't shot by any old chump either, double Oscar laureate Haskell Wexler here revelling in his first big budget shot at the big time. Over three hours of souls etched on film, buckle up!
7. Eden and After (1970)
Unrated | 93 min | Drama
A group of French students are drawn into the psychological and sexual games of a mysterious Dutchman. Once they sample his "fear powder" the students experience a series of hallucinations.
A metafictional film where a group of bored French students who play out theatrical games of sex and death are visited by a gent who offers them "poudre de peur" or powder of fear, a drug which removes their inhibitions and sees them off to Tunisia for real games of sex and murder and sadomasochism, or is it all just more theatre / hallucination? Although arguably you would provoke fear responses from anyone who caught you watching this, it's actually fundamentally chaste and geometric, the fantasy of a bookworm and maths student. Much of the spirit of the Zanzibar filmmakers may be here, in a twisted and warped form; the idea of the film more being to provoke recognition of ideologies and conditionings in which the viewer exists. A very bad idea for a watch if you're not used to freethinking (freethinking is seen as a meliorative word, but I'm here to tell you of it's neutrality, freethinking is by no means a good plan). Its high position on this list is a testament to its power.
8. Khrustalyov, My Car! (1998)
137 min | Comedy, Drama
Military doctor General Klenski is arrested in Stalin's Russia in 1953 during an anti-Semitic political campaign accused of being a participant in so-called "doctors' plot".
German's films are a joy to watch for any addict of film as an artform, the level of the technical achievement is practically miraculous. With Khrustalyov the entire film is composed of takes that most directors would never even try to attempt. The camera is in almost constant motion, close to a large number of actors coordinating with it with full intimacy. It is a bravura effort. To me it really outdoes Fellini in terms of a display of cultural colourfulness (stuff like Roma), and it's in black and white!
The film mostly follows General Klensky, a doctor with a military rank, who is in charge of a large dysfunctional hospital, and a large dysfunctional family, during a period where Communism had turned into a personlity cult of Stalin, and was hysterically lashing out at both friend and foe.
It makes me laugh a lot, all the silly little things which were happening all the time, tiny instances of slapstick. It's also a very subtle movie, there's a bit later on in the movie where Klensky looks out of quite a small window at a little bird that's staring back, pretty fleetingly, it's hard to describe how it made me feel, it was poetic in the way Pasolini can be at his very best. Hard to describe the sublime but I'll attempt, it was like the bird was a spectator, looking at the crazy humans from a much better off place (even though it's perched on a wintery branch), it just kind of made me feel the sheer madness of Russia at that time. Going back to Roma, it also has this connection with the past too, there's definitely a nostalgia for Tsarist times.
Reading up a little bit about the historical background helps a lot with this one, e.g. about the doctors plot and the anti-Zionist purge etc.
What does an intelligent man do in a crazy world? It's such a schizophrenic movie!
9. Cesarée (1978)
10 min | Short
A short film Marguerite Duras which documents the Tuileries Gardens.
Cesarée leaves me speechless with every watch, Duras' voice is magnetic. Rosenbaum has described her as a narcissist, if that's so, Cesarée is a splendiferous fragrant tiger-lily of narcissism. It's narrated by the inexorable and love-wracked voice of Marguerite Duras herself, the Prix Goncourt winning novelist. Duras, high priestess, prostrate at the altar of Venus in this film. How curious is cinema that, what would be my favourite film on another day, should prove to have been made from unused shots of another? That it should be made by a writer who considers the images secondary to the narrated text? The images themselves are mostly lovely tracking shots of the Tuileries Gardens, and the Malliol sculptures inhabiting it at the time. Amy Flamer's violin score is a harrow to the soul, making you wonder if there is any difference between love, longing, and grief.
Suetonius records in his "Lives of the Caesars" that Emperor Titus had fallen in love with Queen Berenice, but against both of their wills he had found it necessary to expel her from Rome. They never met again, this is the story Duras relates. On the subject of the images being leftovers from Le Navire Night, I have read that huge-hearted Marguerite, on occasion, cooked for the crew of her films, I bet she made a mean bubble-and-squeak!
10. Gymnopédies (1965)
Not Rated | 6 min | Animation, Short
An experimental short from Larry Jordan in which a horse rider and gymnast are filmed.
Director: Larry Jordan
The Soundtrack of this stop motion collage short is indeed Satie's Gymnopedie #1. The movie is all footage of old engravings/etchings tinted blue. I absolutely love the innocence of the whole thing, such as an androgynous angel with a fig leaf fluttering along the screen. It's a sexless affair that luxuriates in naive Victorian fantasies of the world beyond the boarding school and the library. It's also about the protean nature of thought streams and the beauty of ideas and dreams. Something that I massively enjoy in terms of technique is seeing reversals in motion, which is why the micro-short Newark Athlete of 1891 (William K.L. Dickson) is more than a curiosity to me and indeed a pleasure (the movie shows a gent swinging Indian clubs, played forwards and then reversed back mid swing, at the current time both movies are available on YouTube)
11. Children of Paradise (1945)
Not Rated | 189 min | Drama, Romance
The theatrical life of a beautiful courtesan and the four men who love her.
I saw a re-release of Les Enfants du Paradis at a film festival and the announcer introduced it by saying, "If you have seen this film before, it needs no introduction, if you have not seen it before, I have only this to say, I envy you.". There are not many films that a hardened programmer might say this about, and I totally agree. Although I abhor objectivity Les Enfants du Paradis, is probably the greatest film ever made. The title refers to the section of a theater auditorium, paradise, which is at the rear of the theatre and is the cheapest part. The children of the paradise are the merry masses who make up the audience in this area of the theatre (the characters and the action revolve around a variety theatre). The movie covers love and heartbreak from many angles, there are many characters to associate with however for me Baptiste is the one, poor oversensitive Baptiste who does not apprehend the simplicity of love. Watching his emotions tearing him apart is perhaps the most savage thing I have seen in the cinema and speaks to the audacity of the filmmakers, so realistic it verges on the profane. The stage act he performs after his initial letdown made me feel that I was not watching a movie, but that some strange alchemist had distilled life and poured it on the screen, I was literally rapt with agony and ecstasy.
13. Ferdinand the Bull (1938)
Approved | 8 min | Animation, Short, Comedy
Little Ferdinand the bull is stung by a bumblebee when men come to pick a bull for a fight. When he gets in the arena, all he cares about are the flowers in the matador's hands.
This is a 10 minute Disney short that neatly points out that you should not be afraid of being different. Ferdinand the Bull likes sitting under his cork tree and smelling flowers whilst the other bulls butt heads and jump around. He has beautiful brown eyes, black velvet back, cream undercarriage, and a tuft of blue hair on his smiley head. I have fairly uncanny connections with this short, I was always bigger than the other kids, and I'm still taller than anyone I ever meet, always kept my own company, never wanted to be competitive, had a mother who was worried that I didn't play along with the other kids, have a childish grin, and I specialised in botany at university. It is hard for me to watch this and not cry. Ferdinand the Bull is a thoroughly lovely short and won the Academy Award for Best Short Subject (Cartoons) in 1938.
14. Club de femmes (1936)
81 min | Comedy, Crime, Drama
A hotel for women-only and catering to working girls is the setting for not being able to get a USA PCA seal-of-approval for this French-film, but New York City's 55th Playhouse played it ... See full summary »
Club de femmes is a story about a stylish modern hotel run for women in Paris. The young lady lodgers pay a nominal rent amount and the balance is picked up by a charity/league of decency that is trying to stop them being exploited (lured into prostitution or dishonored by men of ill repute). It's a loving and sympathetic film that follows a variety of these women during a formative period in their lives. It's as camp as you like. It is as elegant as you would want a film to be. The scene where Alice falls in love with Juliette, sketching her as she swims, is the most beautiful moment I have seen in film. Claire (Danielle Darrieux) kissing her boyfriend whilst he wears her pyjamas is somewhat blissfully confusing. It's just a wonderful film, directed by Patrick Deval and assisted by Jean Delannoy.
15. Zardoz (1974)
R | 105 min | Fantasy, Sci-Fi
In the distant future, a savage trained only to kill finds a way into the community of bored immortals that alone preserves humanity's achievements.
Sherlock Holmes is recorded by Dr John Watson as having mentioned the "...giant rat of Sumatra, a story for which the world is not yet prepared". Similarly Zardoz was made in 1974 and the world is still not prepared for its colourfulness and its anti-elitism. It was created completely outside of the Overton window of its time and still outside of the current window. I was put off from watching it for many years by seeing pictures of Sean Connery in a ridiculous skimpy orange ammo-belt outfit, please don't let the same happen to you.
16. Li'l Quinquin (2014)
Not Rated | 206 min | Comedy, Crime, Mystery
A murder mystery that opens with the discovery of human body parts stuffed inside a cow on the outskirts of a small channel town in northern France.
This was the turning point in Dumont's career, when he started to use comedy to lighten some of his rather weighty messaging. The movie also has an excellent attitude to the mentally disabled.
17. The Spiral Staircase (1946)
Approved | 83 min | Drama, Mystery, Thriller
In 1916, a shadowy serial killer is targeting women with "afflictions"; one night during a thunderstorm, the mute Helen feels menaced.
A fundamentally perfect corker of a horror movie, with more emphasis on tension, suspension and implication than any actual violence. I absolutely adore Old Dark House movies, and will happily watch even bad ones, but this is not just for the likes of me. The premise of the movie is pretty nasty, there's a guy who likes to kill women with disabilities, which is quite unforgivable one must admit. The conceit here is that the girl who is mute (the protagonist) cannot scream when he comes for her. It's a gen-yoo-eyne old fashioned hide-behind-the-sofa cuddle-your-loved-ones horror movie that can set the hairs on your back standing up.
18. Amer (2009)
Not Rated | 90 min | Horror, Thriller
As a young girl Ana was a rebellious child. She was also tormented by images of death and a shadowy, ominous figure in black. Now an adult, she is once again tormented by shadowy, other-worldly forms.
Amer is the French word for bitter. It is a plot-light study of the life of Ana, as a girl, a teenager, and as a young women. To call it impressionistic would imply a superficial capturing of moments in her life, however the film is deeply inside her experiences. Amer is a sensorium. I have a lot of connection with it, in that my strongest memories involve kaleidoscopic childhood nightmares, and fleeting encounters with members of the opposite gender wearing highly sexualised clothing.
In terms of lineage, it comes from giallo, and indeed uses classic giallo film scores, and had colour-explosion cinematography tracing from Bava and Argento. I think it is not sufficient to call Amer a homage though, in that I think it improves upon the aesthetic, and is essentially the best-looking movie I have ever seen.
It's a tough film in that it's really not clear what happens in the last segment, potentially a descent into madness, potentially pursual by a maniac.
20. Meshes of the Afternoon (1943)
Not Rated | 14 min | Short
A woman returning home falls asleep and has vivid dreams that may or may not be happening in reality. Through repetitive images and complete mismatching of the objective view of time and space, her dark inner desires play out on-screen.
Maya Deren's lasting legacy, shot with her first husband Alexander Hammid, and scored by her second, Toru Takemitsu, this film has had many interpretations. I've no real interest in rational interpretations of the film, for me it's title says it all. Why not the dreams of a woman sleeping in a house with a carbon monoxide leak, or on an acid trip. I know that from the instant I saw the first scene, from the moment the sunflower is handed down in front of me, that I had fallen in love with the film. It strips absolutely everything away, it is an animal film, I think about what I imagine a fox in a forest thinks when it skulks through the undergrowth and the pools of light, feeling and instinct only. The phone is off the hook, the connection to all this crud that makes humans so grotesque, the bills and the self-control and the conditioning. An Attenborough documentary on plants once showed an emerald-eyed black panther rolling around in the jungle, drunk on catnip, that's what this movie makes me for just a few minutes.
21. The Pumpkin Eater (1964)
Not Rated | 118 min | Drama
Film screenwriter Jake Armitage and his wife Jo Armitage live in London with six of Jo's eight children, with the two eldest boys at boarding school. The children are spread over Jo's three... See full summary »
Anne Bancroft's grave has a statue of an angel weeping perched on top of it. There can be no doubt that this is merely a faithful representation of what was happening in heaven as the gift of her life left the earth. She was in my opinion a truly estimable person who makes the modern era's idols looks unutterably ridiculous. The Pumpkin Eater is a movie about a relationship and a family, of Jo and Jake Armitage (Anne Bancroft and Peter Finch). Jo is one of those wonderful people who shame you by comparison, a self-sacrificing mother, full of soul and passion, denying herself even the most minor of pleasures, an entity that exists only to give. Jake is a serial adulterer who tries his level best to stop this from damaging his marriage, but at the end of the day can only follow his nature. On a personal level, Jo reminded me very much of my mother. No less than Harold Pinter wrote the screenplay for this one. Yes, once upon a time adults went to see adult films like this at the cinema, deep films, though you can scarcely believe it if you see what they go and watch now. The only film approaching this in modern times that I can think of is Revolutionary Road.
23. Heaven's Gate (1980)
R | 325 min | Adventure, Drama, Western
A dramatization of the real-life Johnson County War in 1890 Wyoming, in which a Sheriff born into wealth, attempts to protect immigrant farmers from rich cattle interests.
Votes: 11,682 | Gross: $3.48M
25. The Bat Whispers (1930)
Passed | 83 min | Crime, Thriller, Horror
A master criminal terrorizes the occupants of an isolated country mansion.
So this is just a joy to watch, pure comfort viewing, a mystery thriller about a highly skilled criminal called the Bat. Some of the camerawork is so lovely, there are two points where a camera does a huge swoop along sets that are models and then there's a match cut into a life-size set. You can just have these extremely elegant moments on rewind. This beauty and craft in special effects, I would argue got lost a long time ago. This despite it being much cheaper than modern techniques and more satisfying, I'd argue that the only visually interesting part of Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull was the model shooting, where there's a temple purchased above the Nazca Lines.
It turns into an Old Dark House movie. I have to admit that this is my very favourite genre of movie, however it's one with a history of imperfect realisations, and this a very rare good one. Sometimes you have to admit that in very fanciful films with little higher pretensions, the dialogue can shame much more serious-minded films, and this is the case in this one where a maid scolds her lady.
There's something refreshing in the visual format of this film, I doubt there are many films floating around that were shot on 65 mil and in an aspect ratio of 2:1 !
26. La nuit fantastique (1942)
103 min | Comedy, Fantasy, Romance
Denis is distracted: he's studying all day for philosophy exams and working all night at the flower market; plus, whenever he closes his eyes, he dreams of a mysterious woman in white. His ... See full summary »
A student dreamer who works in a flower market falls asleep and has a wonderful dream about a lady in white whom he falls in love and must save from a rotter, it's nonsensical and beautiful and makes me really appreciate all over again the terms fantastic and night, finally not being abused. This movie is an asylum into which you can climb, it is an impervious haven where the bastards can't get you. It has an American dvd release, but it's gone out-of-print and new copies are retailing at about $100. Should anyone who is filthy rich be grateful for the steers on this list, it would put a smile on my face that a chisel couldn't remove if you bought me the beautiful original poster!
27. Shutter Island (2010)
R | 138 min | Mystery, Thriller
In 1954, a U.S. Marshal investigates the disappearance of a murderer, who escaped from a hospital for the criminally insane.
Votes: 958,669 | Gross: $128.01M
Shutter Island is many things to many people. For me it was a story of a man hiding from himself who undergoes a metanoiac transformation that I hugely identified with. It's got other elements that go in my favourite cooking, a music literate soundtrack to die for (I have literally wept to Dinah Washington singing "This Bitter Earth", and then there's all sorts of goodies from avant-garde composers like Adams and Cage) and unrestrained voluptuous visuals.
28. Fünf Patronenhülsen (1960)
87 min | War
The Spanish Civil War in the year 1936. Five brigadiers are singled out to stay behind in the Spanish Sierras and fend off the fascist enemy while the rest of the troops recede. They are ... See full summary »
The time of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), at least in this movie, is a time of idealism and solidarity, when soldiers of conscience came from all over the world to fight in the International Brigades against the Fascists of Spain, Italy, and Germany (and the American corporations who eagerly supplied Franco and his rebels). In reality, whilst I'm sure there was a large flavour of comradeship, there was also a great deal of factionalism on the Republican side, fomented in part by the Soviet sponsors.
As to the story, Commissar Wittig, five volunteers and a radioman stay behind in the trenches of the Jarama front to cover the retreat of the Republican forces to the Ebro river. They spend a witching hour in the deserted trenches, using up all the heavy machine gun ammo on the enemy before fleeing into the hills. They are chased and chased again, and over again, until their bodies and their ideals are brittle, will they shatter?
29. Deadfall (1968)
R | 120 min | Crime, Drama
Cat burglar Henry Clarke and his accomplices, the Moreaus, attempt to steal diamonds from the château of millionaire Salinas. However, Henry's partners in crime aren't the most emotionally stable people.
Deadfall is one of the great underrated movies, and I'll tell you why in a bit. What everyone seems more than appreciative about, is the greatness of the piece that John Barry wrote for it, Romance For Guitar And Orchestra, which he appears during the movie personally conducting, intercut with scenes from a robbery. People are mostly happy that the robbery scene is great as well.
What really chills my bones in that robbery scene is the triumph of the will (a phrase unfortunately robbed of it's awe by Leni Riefenstahl), how Henry bends matters to his will, and you can feel the bruises and lacerations that came with that in the scene.
It's unfortunate that the art house crowd haven't get round to this one, and it's more Michael Caine completists and genre fans, because it's truly exceptional. It probably has my favourite joke in a movie, deliciously dark, "What's the use in happiness, it can't buy you money.". Nietzsche's idea that, "Man does not strive after happiness; only the Englishman does that." always brings a smile to my face.
The movie is full of jaded, weary, and intelligent people, into whose web falls jewel thief Henry. The thing about these people is that they do actually all love, they have hearts, it's their great secret. It's really, despite the crazily beautiful robbing, a movie about love, bitterness, and youth versus growing old. I liked a lot of things in the movie, how Fé sees through the fatalism of the men, how facades come crumbling down, how there's all this lovely turquoisey colouring going on.
30. Au coeur de la vie (1963)
95 min | Drama, War
This Civil War anthology adapts three Ambrose Bierce stories "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," "Chickamauga" and "The Mockingbird."
This compendium of three Ambrose Bierce US Civil War short story adapatations is primarily know for the part "An Occurence at Owl Creek Bridge", which has often been shown separately. This part is probably the strongest of the three, and has a yearning for life that is very accessible. Chickamauga and A Mockingbird are the other two parts and are very special indeed. It is very strange to me that the two most authentic looking American Civil War movies were made by Europeans (the other is American Torso, directed by Gábor Bódy), and both use Ambrose Bierce as source. These are eerie, macabre and sublime stories that are perfectly realised.
31. Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)
PG | 115 min | Drama, Mystery
During a rural summer picnic, a few students and a teacher from an Australian girls' school vanish without a trace. Their absence frustrates and haunts the people left behind.
Votes: 29,234 | Gross: $0.23M
A beautiful unsolved mystery. A group of Australian schoolgirls and one of their teacher go missing forever on a field trip to Hanging Rock. It's just that simple. Something makes me feel that the girls just turned into sunshine, that youth so giddy and guileless scintillated into light. The hard thing about this movie is that it has to end and you have to get off the sofa and get back to living.
32. Three Colors: Blue (1993)
R | 98 min | Drama, Music, Mystery
A woman struggles to find a way to live her life after the death of her husband and child.
Votes: 74,494 | Gross: $1.32M
I learnt about having ice cream "affogato" from this movie, and Kieslowski uses it metaphorically, to portray a woman hurting herself, guilty to take pleasure in life after the death of her husband, desperate for surcease from grief. I watched this as a youngin and was transfixed by this rapacious performance from Juliette Binoche, who gave her all in this movie, physically hurting herself for the famous ivy scene.
34. Mavro livadi (2009)
104 min | Drama, Romance
Greece, 1654. A seriously wounded Janissary arrives at a cloister situated on a cliff, and the sisters take him in and care for him. Sister Anthi, one of those who tends him, falls in love ... See full summary »
35. La fin du jour (1939)
99 min | Drama
Aged penniless actors are living in a old people's home. They always talk about their past glory or failures. One day Raphael Saint-Clair comes; he has been a famous actor and had a lot of ... See full summary »
36. Upstream Color (2013)
Not Rated | 96 min | Drama, Sci-Fi
A man and woman are drawn together, entangled in the life cycle of an ageless organism. Identity becomes an illusion as they struggle to assemble the loose fragments of wrecked lives.
Votes: 27,589 | Gross: $0.44M
37. The Grand Maneuver (1955)
106 min | Comedy, Drama, Romance
A French lieutenant makes a bet that he can seduce any woman in town in the two weeks before his regiment leaves for maneuvers, but his chosen target (a Parisian divorcée) isn't like other girls he's known.
39. Excalibur (1981)
PG | 140 min | Adventure, Drama, Fantasy
Merlin the magician helps Arthur Pendragon unite the Britons around the Round Table of Camelot, even as dark forces conspire to tear it apart.
Votes: 52,007 | Gross: $34.97M
40. Happiness (1935)
Not Rated | 95 min | Comedy, Drama
A hapless loser (with the surname of Loser) undergoes misadventures with avaracious clergy, a tired horse, and a walking granary (among other things) on his road to collectivized happiness.
41. Accattone (1961)
Not Rated | 117 min | Drama
A pimp with no other means to provide for himself finds his life spiraling out of control when his prostitute is sent to prison.
Accattone is a Roman pimp who lives off his girlfriend Maddalena's earnings. Pasolini's cheeky aim is to put forward this young man as a modern saint. To this end he lathers Bach's St Matthew's Passion (inspired by the Apostle's experience of the crucifixion of Christ) over scenes of Accattone's life. In one of Accattone's first scenes he's shown devouring a slice of tomato, displayed horizontally as if a cardinal's galero, whilst an sculpture of perhaps a guardian angel can be seen over his shoulder in the distance (an anti-clerical pro-Christ stance seems to be a consistent theme for Pasolini). Later, a prophecy regarding Accattone's descent is eerily similar to Christ's pronunciation of Peter's forthcoming triple renunciation.
Whatever Accattone is, he's not sunless; when he tries out the world of work (legitimate work involving labour), he becomes Vittorio, his Christian name, and the light goes out. The film reminds me very much of Fassbinder's Gods of the Plague in that sense, young men with brio but no skills or education who, given the choice between drudgery or crime, choose crime. Both films polemicise against urban post-industrial capitalist societies, which have become increasingly removed from the milieu in which humanity evolved and is "designed" to cope with.
42. Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
R | 159 min | Drama, Mystery, Thriller
A New York City doctor, who is married to an art curator, pushes himself on a harrowing and dangerous night-long odyssey of sexual and moral discovery after his wife admits that she once almost cheated on him.
Votes: 262,986 | Gross: $55.69M
Jocelyn Pook worked out that if she played Romanian liturgical chant backwards it sounded like the primal deranged hymn of a secret society of Nietzschean master moralists. How did she do that? How did Stanley "Special K" Kubrick manage to pick out Shostakovich's Waltz from his Jazz Suite #2 as the perfect psychosexual mood setter for a Schnitzler adaptation? Kubrick's vast mastery makes Otto Muehl's attempts to open the same doors look positively peasantish.
43. Parsifal (1982)
PG | 255 min | Drama, Music
Richard Wagner's last opera has remained controversial since its first performance for its unique, and, for some, unsavory blending of religious and erotic themes and imagery. Based on one ... See full summary »
45. A Farewell to Arms (1932)
Unrated | 80 min | Drama, Romance, War