When i first visit a person's home or office, i can't help staring at any collection of books, records, CD, tapes DVDs. Trying to find a picture of the person's inner life by their media choices, i suppose. There is a lot to see. how do your tastes overlap? How could anyone possibly like both those movies?
After the jump are my favorite 100 films, as of 2007. Much more than a “best” list, i would expect this to change a great deal over the years. Not meant to be crtical, but personal, and certainly not definitive. As such, i commented more on films not commonly seen or needing defense, less with popular stuff. This is sort of a desert island list. i'm inviting my friends who collaborated on the alternative AFI list to send me their lists as well, and i can post them here.
1) The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai across the 8th Dimension (1984)
Absolutely unique SF hunk-o-rama, i adore it in every way, and after over 20 years, it stays adored. Clancy Brown isn’t even the sexiest guy in the gang, and it has one of my favorite Ellen Barkin performances.
2) After Hours (1985)
Largely forgotten but beautifully made black romantic comedy, with a fine cast headed by Griffin Dunne and Rosanna Arquette, Scorsese shot this between Raging Bull and Last Temptation of Christ.. The film he made immediately before After Hours is further down this list - the mid 80s is my favorite Scorsese period.
3) Army of Darkness (1992)
Trapped in time. Surrounded by evil. Out of gas.
My personal favorite of the deadite trilogy, so here it is. Hail to the king, baby!
4) Augirre, The Wrath of God (1972)
Klaus Kinski was known to me in 1972, from his work in horror and western pictures. But nothing could have led me to expect one of the greatest performances in cinema for Werner Herzog in this gorgeous, hallucinogenic and heartbreaking film. As we later learned, Herzog and Kinski knew each other from childhood, and had a lifetime love/hate relationship. Commenting on Aguirre makes me sad i haven’t selected more of Herzog for this list - they are all worthwhile to spectacular!
5) Bad Lieutenant (1992)
Hey, i heart Abel Ferrara, and Bad Lieutenant has one of the greatest Harvey Keitel performances. He’s like the evil twin of Charlie in Scorsese’s Mean Streets. Like many films on my list, it’s debatable whether the given picture is actually bad or good, but in this case i say good. And you can form a drinking game around every time Harvey’s character does something really bad!
6) Badlands (1973)
Like Orson Welles after Citizen Kane, if Terrence Malick never made a better film, or any film at all after Badlands, why complain? Every time you watch it is like opening a gift. Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek are perfection, AND Warren Oates.
7) The Big Lebowski (1998)
Everybody knows and loves it. As i considered which Coen Bros. movie i love most this minute it wasn’t Miller’s Crossing or Raising Arizona or Fargo. The Dude abides.
8) Bigger Than Life (1956)
Nicholas Ray films are always packed with meanings and messages just below the plot line. The screenplay was spun from a magazine article about the dangers of a new miracle drug, cortisone. James Mason’s megalomaniacal .rants are simultaneously terrifying and hilarious, because his sensitive performance gets the truly sweet nature of his quiet character perfectly.
9) Blade Runner (1982)
My favorite Ridley Scott film no matter what version you care to claim, and Alien and The Duelists are nothing to sneeze at. No longer the most faithful Philip Dick adaptation, but still the best. In case Rutger Hauer wasn’t already your personal hero, he improvised his final speech in the rain.
10) Blood for Dracula (1974)
Because i wanted a Paul Morrissey movie. One with Joe. And Udo. And Wirgins.
11) Blue Velvet (1986)
“ It’s a sunny, woodsy day in Lumberton, so get those chain saws out.”
One of the coolest things about the immediacy of cinema is that a perfect, timeless work of art can also become a faddish cultural touchstone. In the 80’s post-punk bars, god help the man who dared to order a Heineken!
12) Boogie Nights (1997)
Though i’m a Paul Thomas Anderson fangirl, this is the only great film from him so far. Something like the best Altman films, every performance a winner. Burt Reynolds is a revelation, and Alfred Molina, OMFG.
13) Boxing Helena (1993)
How can i explain? The lingering fountain and garden shots, straight out of a Harlequin Romance made-for-TV movie? The uncomfortable erotic feelings that Julian Sands, Sherilyn Fenn, and Bill Paxton arouse in me? Maybe it’s a female thing, a sick, twisted girl thing. Or maybe hardly any of us ‘got’ it.
For the uninitiated, Julian Sands’ Dr. Cavanaugh, a simpering surgeon, is obsessed with Sherilyn Fenn’s Helena, a malicious cocktease. When Helena is run down by a car in front of his home, the doctor takes possession of her and begins amputating limbs, first to rescue, then to control her. Helena, a true dominant to Doc’s submissive, doesn’t intend to surrender the hand, even when she hasn’t got one any more.
If you have seen this picture and believe it couldn’t be worse, consider it with either of the actresses originally cast in Fenn’s role. Kim Basinger and Madonna backed out of the production, with Basinger sued for over 8 million after reneging on her agreement. Basinger would likely have tried for sympathy, and Madonna... i don’t want to think about it. As it is, Sherilyn Fenn delivers the best modulated performance in the movie. Julian Sands isn’t as bad as he’s painted, but seems to be struggling with his character’s self loathing. And i don’t know what happened to Bill Paxton, but his uncharacteristic histrionics are entertaining. This is one of the must-see bad movies, like Showgirls, Battlefield Earth, or The Doors, but it’s so much more unexpected and unique. i for one am looking forward to Lynch’s next film.
14) Boy (Shonen) (1969)
Most movies on this list i can just take off the shelf and watch, or at least rent or see on cable. This one i haven’t seen in many years, but has made a lifetime impression after seeing it several times in the 70’s.
Oshima is primarily known in the US for his erotic dramas Empire of the Passions and Empire of the Senses, Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence with David Bowie, Ryuichi Sakamoto, and Takeshi Kitano, and Taboo, also with Takeshi Kitano. Oshima often favors crime themed screenplays ripped from the newspaper scandals, and Boy is shot with a quasi documentary style appropriate to the tragic crime story which shocked Japan in the mid 60’s. There is nothing sentimental or movie-of-the-week in his treatment, and his deepest concerns are with Japanese society and modern values.
The story concerns the boy of the title (who has no other name in the film) and his father and stepmother’s exploitation of him in a series of automobile accident shakedowns. We watch as the boy is trained and disciplined by his father, no stranger to victimhood himself, to throw himself in front of cars. Oshima uses a combination of color and black and white to push and pull the viewer’s attention skillfully, and in the service of thinking, not feeling, about the family. Strangely, this and the boy (played memorably by Tetsuo Abe) rarely crying or showing emotion, expresses his loneliness and isolation most profoundly.
i sure would love to see Boy released on DVD, to share with others. To this day, the sight of a smashed snowman or a lone red boot breaks my heart.
15) Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia (1974)
The last great Peckinpah film, making this a very great film indeed. His most personal work, so much so that Warren Oates effectively impersonated him in Bennie.
16) Caged Heat (1974)
There doesn’t have to be a women’s prison movie on this list, but Caged Heat is the best one ever. Impressive that Jonathan Demme pulls this off without Pam Grier or Dick Miller. Soundtrack by John Cale.
17) The Children of Paradise (1945)
An explanation is only necessary if you haven’t seen this, in which case you won’t regret renting or buying the Criterion DVD the next time you have three uninterrupted hours for cinema. It was by far the biggest production of the French cinema of the day, and today is still widely regarded as the greatest French film ever made. The immaculately performed story revolves around a beautiful courtesan and her four suitors during the early nineteenth century. The main characters are all based on actual celebrities of the period, but the layered story makes pointed jabs at the German occupiers controlling every aspect of French life and culture during the fil’m’s creation.
The enormous production took two years of negotiating with and working around the Vichy government, and was halted after the allies landed at Normandy and resuming after liberation. Many crucial production workers were Jews (the director, Marcel Carne, was gay), and had to be shuffled about, hidden from the nazis and their henchmen. Food and sets were raided by starving extras. Ironically, one of the actors had to be replaced after fleeing a death sentence from the resistance for collaboration, and the lead actress, the unforgettable Arletty, was imprisoned in 1945 for a liaison with a German officer.
18) Chinatown (1974)
When Chinatown was released it ran at the Radio City theater three blocks from my home for months. i went to see it at least once a week for its entire run.
19) Crash (1996)
No, not that Paul Haggis thing. This is the David Cronenberg film based on the 1973 novel by J.G. Ballard, about a cult of car crash sexual fetishists. The book and the film share the quality of seeming to address different aspects of modern life each time you read or watch. It’s an inquiry into sex, celebrity, consumerism, media, BDSM, technology, and “Bob” knows what else, separately and simultaneously. It’s also profoundly disturbing.
One publisher rejected Ballard’s manuscript, saying “This author is beyond psychiatric help”. The film received the Jury Prize at Cannes after many people fled the theater during the screening. Ted Turner, who owned the production company said only “warped minds” would like it and stalled its limited release in the US for a year.
Crash inspires this controversy because it succeeds, and it does so because every aspect, from script to direction to design to acting to music , is in service to making us think around and over ideas and feelings. If you need a hero to cheer for, or don’t care for pretty things to look ugly, and vice versa, move along. This is for the rest of us.
20) Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Wo hu cang long) (2000)
It was tough to keep a lid on Chow Yun Fat movies for this list. But this picture also represents those windy period martial arts epics, the one type of Chinese movie you never see him in. A friend once told me, “If just once a man looked at me the way Chow Yun Fat looked at Michelle Yeoh, I would die a happy woman”.
21) Day For Night (La Nuit Americaine) (1973)
If you were 20 years old in 1973 and passionately wanted to direct, a film where the characters consider whether cinema or life are more important becomes YOUR film. One of the best movies from a golden age.
22) The Devils (1971)
Not only the finest Ken Russell film, but one of the greatest Oliver Reed performances make this movie essential. Sadly out of print, butchered VHS copies can be found in resale. This is crying out for the Criterion treatment.
23) Ed Wood (1994)
It was tough for me to whittle down to two Tim Burton movies. Ed Wood wins because its subject is close to my heart and obviously the director’s, Johnny Depp, and Martin Landau’s terrific, poetic performance.
24) Eating Raoul (1982)
This is probably the funniest black comedy not made by a Kubrick or Brooks. The most ingenious of Paul Bartel’s pictures with a great script, perfect cast and micro budget. With cameos from John Landis, Charles B. Griffith, Edie McClurg, Don Steele, John Paragon, Billy Curtis, Ed Begley Jr., Buck Henry, and Hamilton Camp. Be there AND be square!
25) Eyes Without A Face (Les Yeux sans visage) (1960)
i became a fan of this film in the cut, dubbed “Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus” version shown on TV, and didn’t see the complete film, now available on Criterion DVD, for several years. It’s truly a horror film, truly an art film, and truly an unforgettable masterpiece. It just occurred to me that the film shown as a second feature during “Dr. Faustus’” original US release is on this list, too.
26) Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas (1998)
No, it’s not the best Terry Gilliam picture, but it’s a damn fine one which resonates for many of us who remember reading the book when it was new. If you have only seen it once, watch it again and tell me it isn’t much better on repeated viewing.
27) Female Trouble (1974)
John Waters has been making great movies throughout his career, and i mean no disrespect to those by picking one from the seventies. Desperate Living might be a touch better, but this one has Divine. And David, Mary, Mink,Cookie, Edie, and so many cheap shocks and laughs. i love so many bits in this film that i often misremember them as being in Pink Flamingos or Multiple Maniacs.
28) Fight Club (1999)
Generally i’m not a David Fincher admirer, but he knocked this adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s novel right out of the park. i love a well played puzzle movie, but love it more when i laugh harder the second, and third time.
29) Flesh + Blood (1985)
A gritty, violent period fantasy by Paul Verhoeven which has some of the flash and acting brio of a Hammer film. Rutger Hauer and Jennifer Jason Leigh are terrific, also the fabulous Susan Tyrell. Brion James and Bruno Kirby. Need i say more?
30) Freaks (1932)
More than other Tod Browning pictures, or for that matter most early talkies, Freaks hits all the right notes. Chills and creepiness, characters to root for, and effective pathos. Viewing this for the first time in an art theater in the early 70’s my friend and i fell apart when Frieda begs Cleopatra to leave Hans alone. That scene still kills today.
31) From Beyond (1986)
From Beyond wins the Gordon/Yuzna competition for me because it’s just a smidge more over-the-top than Re-Animator, if a smidge less Lovecraftian.
32) From Dusk ‘Till Dawn (1996)
This wouldn’t have to be a good movie for it to be a favorite. Robert Rodriguez directing a Tarantino script, with Harvey Keitel, George Clooney, and Juliette Lewis? i’m already there. But From Dusk Till Dawn is actually good, with a tense family kidnapping drama in the first half, and an over-the-top vampire killfest in the second. Q.T.’s acting doesn’t suck in this, and Salma Hayek IS Santanico Pandemonium. All this, and Tito Larriva, too.
33) Ganja and Hess (1973)
A vampire film where the V-word is never spoken. An African-American art film unlike anything before or since. Even in its truncated “Blood Couple” form, this film enchanted me, in its restored DVD version, it rules.
34) Ghost World (2001)
Ghost World tackles adolescence poised on the edge of self awareness, and big ideas about art, consumerism and conformity, and mixes them into a perfect bittersweet confection. Terry Zwigoff also adapted Daniel Clowes’ Art School Confidential, but the art school critique in Ghost World is just as savage and true. Every performance is great, but it’s criminal Steve Buscemi didn’t get an Oscar nod for Seymour.
35) Glen or Glenda? (1953)
Ed Wood is a filmmaker i love so deeply that he’s no longer a joke to me. This is the film that made it so, a nutzo psychological autobiography posing as an exploitation film.
36) The Go-Between (1970)
When i started compiling this list of films i love right NOW, there were some surprises. One was seeing two Joseph Losey pictures survive the final cut. Of course Harold Pinter’s perfect adaptation of L.P. Hartley’s book deserves a share of the credit for The Go-Between’s considerable emotional impact. Julie Christie and Alan Bates are the sexy secret lovers, and Dominic Guard is very fine as their mercurial messenger. Cavalcade of wonderful actors, Margaret Leighton, Michael Redgrave, Edward Fox, Michael Gough. A reviewer on IMDB called this film sentimental (though not in a bad way), but i disagree. It is about sentiment and memory, but doesn’t use sentiment to work its magic. Sadly still unreleased on DVD and out of print on VHS.
37) Hard Boiled (Lat sau san taam) (1992)
Maybe your favorite Woo/Chow movie is the key to your personality, like your favorite Stooge. Hard Boiled. Curly. If anything, the violence and the story are even more incredible and over the top than A Better Tomorrow or The Killer, but Chow Yun Fat and Tony Leung completely sell it.
38) Harold and Maude (1971)
When Hal Ashby died in 1988 i felt there really wasn’t enough attention paid. i mean, think about it. The Landlord. The Last Detail. Shampoo. Bound for Glory. Being There, and he won an Oscar for Coming Home. Harold and Maude was only his second film, and when i watched it dozens of times in my teens it never occurred to me that i’d enjoy it just as much in my fifties.
39) Heathers (1989)
Bullied girls love a mean girls comedy, and this is still the very best one. Winona Ryder is great as the girl who’s cool enough but not cruel enough to be a Heather. Christian Slater does a Jack Nicholson impression for the ages. Blacker than black humor where the imitators are about charcoal grey.
40) Heavenly Creatures (1994)
When it was announced that Peter Jackson was directing Lord of the Rings, i said that people must have seen Heavenly Creatures. Even more than his entertaining earlier shockfests, this schoolgirl thriller based on a true story foretell the strength he showed with the Tolkien epic. Sensitive direction of Melanie Lynskey, Kate Winslet and Sarah Peirse and equally confident use of animation and special effects illuminate the characters’ interior lives. This film has slightly altered my feelings about Orson Welles forever. Mario Lanza, not so much.
41) Hellraiser (1987)
Because it’s beautiful, horrible, and sexy. The Clive Barker story was amazing, but it took the movie to make me realize i wanted to BE a Cenobite!
42) Hollywood Boulevard (1976)
There is more than one Joe Dante/Allan Arkush film on my list, but this is my iconic Dick Miller movie. i might have picked Dick’s first appearance as a guy named Walter Paisley, in A Bucket of Blood, or his best known, in The Howling. But he’s also Walter in this movie, which is in many ways a tribute to this wonderful character actor. The slapdash stoner screenplay, loaded with old school Hollywood references, is by Danny Opatoshu, who also wrote the delightful Get Crazy. With Candace Rialson, Mary Woronov, Paul Bartel, Robby the Robot and a Nash Metropolitan. Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen sing “Truckin’ and Fuckin’”. “ If it’s a good picture, it’s a Miracle!” Roger Corman heaven!
43) House of Games (1987)
If the script and the actors are awesome enough, sometimes you don’t need major filmaking chops to pull it all together. This is a psychological thriller which attracts some, repels others. i know a few people who name it as their favorite movie, others who think it’s a blight on humanity, or at least the female half. i just really, really enjoy it.
44) Ikiru (1952)
Perhaps the greatest of Kurosawa’s films, thus one of the greatest of all films. Takashi Shimura, who was in The Seven Samurai (and Godzilla!) plays a petty bureaucrat who finds out he’s dying and decides how to live. If you think you’ve seen films like this, you haven’t. It’s not showy, exciting or glamorous, but it is beautiful, and if you give it some time and attention you will never forget it.
45) Imitation of Life (1959)
i love Sirk, wanted to pick just one, and must admit that whenever this is on the screen, i can’t not watch. So it wins.
46) Insignificance (1985)
Nicholas Roeg’s adaptation of Terry Johnson’s play, about four characters representing Albert Einstein, Marilyn Monroe, Joe Dimaggio, and Joseph McCarthy meeting by chance in 1953. Insignificance isn’t one of the great Roeg films, but the most recent really good one. It has Theresa Russell’s best performance as Monroe, and an equally fine Michael Emil as Einstein. Not a well known movie, it has one famous scene where The Actress demonstrates to The Professor her knowledge of quantum theory with a flashlight and a toy train. Also starring the amazing David Hockney photocollage of Russell, referencing MM’s Playboy photo.
47) Jackie Brown (1997)
What’s not to love about this soulful valentine to Pam Grier? Tarantino’s thoughtful screenplay is arguably less violent than Leonard’s Rum Punch, but still packs a wallop.
48) Johnny Guitar (1954)
Americans love to mock the French for elevating our cultural castoffs. But the French are right about Nicholas Ray and Johnny Guitar. Joan Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge are the two forces to be reckoned with in this unique, whacked-out Freudian lollapalooza of a western. Sterling Hayden is perfection as Johnny, but this one is all about the girrrlz.
49) Kill Bill (1 AND 2, natch) (2003-2004)
They really ARE one film, so there. This is a movie geek’s movie, even more than other QT pictures. i was going to name a few of the dozens of tributes and swipes from international films and television, but suggest you visit the Quentin Tarantino Archives instead for a comprehensive tour. i saw these in the theater with my husband, who was unfamiliar with many films referenced, but still had a ball. In the past few years i’ve watched Kill Bill again and again, and the fun and thrills don’t stop. The two parts combined and restored to the four hour running time, called The Whole Bloody Affair, is due out in December.
50) King of Comedy (1983)
Martin Scorsese has been a favorite director since i first saw Mean Streets, but many of his most famous films are seen on cable and discussed all the time, and DVD copies tend to gather dust on my shelf - i wore out VHS copies in the 80’s, and now we are over. But King of Comedy gets taken out a lot, when i am bored or blue. It’s relentless nastiness always cheers me somehow.
51) Knightriders (1981)
It’s long, idiosyncratic, and meandering. It’s alternately obscure, poetic and corny. It’s also my favorite of many loved George Romero movies. If you check the comments at IMDB or amazon, you will find many others with similar passions for this movie. None of us seem to find a single scene we would cut.
Ed Harris plays a contemporary King Arthur in a collective that combines the SCA with a motorcycle gang. The Arthurian legend is an unexpected and apt springboard for Romero’s concerns with greed, capitalism, personal responsibility and loyalty. Even in his this film, you might expect Harris is good, but the surprise is that everyone, professional and less so, steps up and delivers a moving performance. If you’re a Tom Savini fan, this is the one to see. His Morgan is hands down his best role - yes, better than Sex Machine! This rarely seen film is available on DVD with an exceptionally fine commentary track, so if you haven’t seen it, what’s your excuse?
52) Life of Brian (1979)
i love Monty Python & the Holy Grail, but this is one of the funniest, perhaps the funniest, movie i’ve ever seen.
53) Life of Oharu (Saikaku ichidai onna) (1952)
Sometimes a person will tell me some movie or other was reeeeally sad, but then i say, “That wasn’t sad...”, because it wasn’t Life of Oharu, hands down the saddest story of the downtrodden you’ll ever see. It is profound and beautiful as well, with pleasantly low key, modern acting styles, especially Kinuyo Tanaka’s Oharu, who has so little to say about her own fate that she practically has to mime her role. Toshiro Mifune plays the only sympathetic male character, who doesn’t get to stick around for long. Director Kenzi Mizoguchi was very much concerned with the plight of women in Japanese society, and i suppose this film is his most profound statement in that regard. Maybe because i am a woman, or because i enjoy weepies, this is the Mizoguchi i love best. Out of print on VHS and not yet released on region 1 DVD, i expect Criterion will eventually release this as they have with the director’s Ugetsu and Sansho the Bailiff.
54) Lost In Translation (2003)
A friend who saw Lost In Translation told me that it was as if Sophia Coppola had made a film just for me, so i had to go see it. He was right, but i suspect the filmmaker’s own personal obsessions just dovetail nicely with mine. Like Jackie Brown to Pam Grier, the role of Bob Harris is a gift to Bill Murray, an actor who has been terrific in lots of films, but never more Oscar worthy. So i suppose it is impossible to make a movie good enough to win Murray a statue. Sophia did, however, win for her perfect screenplay, and Murray a nomination. i’m sure down the line he will win for some mediocrity, or a lifetime kinda thing.
55) The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976)
During the 70’s i experienced each Nicholas Roeg film as if it was a rosetta stone. If i could only see them enough times, stop and examine each detail, the biggest and most elusive secrets of the universe might be revealed. The Man Who Fell to Earth has always seemed the most dense with information and promise. This was before the age of home video, and i’m happy to report that this film has retained its splendor and emotional power, even as it hoards its mysteries in the digital age and the freeze frame.
56) The Manster (1962)
In It Came From Hollywood!, a clipfest of B movies released in the 80’s, Gilda Radner does a really funny bit about the scene in The Manster where the eye is discovered on poor Larry’s shoulder. i recall her saying it looked kinda cute, which it does, as well as genuinely creepy, setting it apart from other two-headed man movies that play things for laughs. This Japanese-American coproduction is silly, but also somber and scary, unlike later films like Frankenstein Conquers the World or War of the Gargantuas. Peter Dyneley’s Larry goes on a rampage at the hands of science. Tetsu Nakamura is the doctor who persuades him to be a genetic experiment, and pretty much acts the Japanese Jeffrey Combs.
57) The Mask (1961)
This is a really terrible, zero budget movie with bad acting and a dull, draggy screenplay. But the hallucinogenic sequences shown when characters put on the mask totally RAWK. They were credited to Slavko Vorkapich, a renowned Serbian-American filmmaker and artist. There is some dispute about how much of the dream sequences are actually Vorkapich and how much is director Julian Roffman’s. When i first saw The Mask it was on television, without the 3-D effects viewers in theaters and the later home video, and was blown away by the visions of the mask. Sadly out of print, it was released twice on VHS, and i’m sure will return on DVD with glasses, one of these days.
“Put the mask on now!”
58) The Matrix (1999)
There was a millennial tsunami of cosmic/neo-gnostic/clockwork universe type movies. They were pretty entertaining, but The Matrix is perfection of its type, untouched even by the inferior sequels.
59) Mr. Vampire (Geung si sin sang) (1985)
The best hopping ghost movie of course makes this list.
60) Mothra (Mosura) (1961)
i’ve been a kaiju fan since i was a kid, but as a teen i would have been suprised by my middle aged preference for the sunny, anti-capitalist Mothra over the somber anti-nuclear Gojira. It’s those fairy twins and their song. Peanuts rule!
61) My Favorite Year (1982)
This incredibly funny and well paced comedy was Richard Benjamin’s first feature as a director. Of course, he had years of directorial experience in theater and TV as well as an acting career by 1982. This movie also stands in for a Mel Brooks picture on this list, as it’s certainly inspired by him, and my beloved Producers has been overworked in recent years. With Joe Bologna as the Sid Caesar character, Mark Linn-Baker as the Mel Brooks, Peter O’Toole as the Errol Flynn, and Jessica Harper as the fair K.C.. Lanie Kazan’s best performance ever!
62) Mystery Train (1989)
Obviously i’d have at least on Jarmusch movie on this list. For years it would have been Stranger Than Paradise, for a while maybe Dead Man or Ghost Dog, and recently i’m thrilling to the new Criterion release of Night On Earth. But this one has really grown on me over the years, it’s about Elvis, and Joe Strummer is in it.
63) Naked Killer (Chik loh go yeung) (1992)
The ultimate Chingmy Yau fetish experience, this loopy, outrageous lesbian assassin movie once seen is never forgotten. No redeeming social value in this one, but lots of fabulous hot babes camping it up.
64) Nashville (1975)
This film is a billion tons of awesome. The best Altman film, i challenge anyone to watch it and deny it isn’t more relevant than it was 30 years ago.
65) Night of the Comet (1984)
“Daddy would have given us uzis!”
OK, i went overboard on the Waronov/Beltran movies here - but it’s MY list, damn it! NOTC has every obnoxious 80’s movie thing: hideous fashions, huge hair, valley girls, distracting squealing guitar rock and lame hairsynth. It also has a very smart screenplay and bright direction, with a cast of perfection.
Writer/director Thom Eberhardt made a film that looks like a typical 80’s horror flick, but picks threads from classic horror and sci-fi to weave an apocalyptic zombie story with heroines who would typically be victims. The biting dialogue paces laughs and gentle scares to good effect. Catherine Mary Stewart is excellent as Regina, a movie usher with advanced self defense skills, and her little sister Sam is played by the mightiest of the valgirls, Kelli Maroney. They come to believe they are the last girls on earth, and that’s where their troubles begin...
66) Night of the Hunter (1955)
Like the general audiences back in 1955, the first time i saw Night of the Hunter on television, i wasn’t really impressed. When i had a chance to see it again, i wondered what i could possibly have been thinking, to overlook this treasure of the cinema, frightening, moving and unique. The only film Charles Laughton directed, which is a shame. No spoilers or descriptions, if you haven’t seen it, do so ad after you will have tons of “aha!” moments because the film and Robert Mitchum’s character in particular, are cultural touchstones.
67) Nightmare Alley (1947)
As i kid i didn’t care much for Tyrone Power, but that was because i hadn’t seen Nightmare Alley. Power bought the rights to William Lindsay Gresham’s cynical and shocking novel of sideshow life in hopes of producing a film which would remake his career as a mature, serious actor. He gives an absolutely chilling performance as Stan, the hustling carnie who becomes what most disgusts him. Colleen Grey also has what was probably her best role as Molly, his shotgun bride.
68) 1941 (1979)
When i was working as a DJ in Northern Michigan, i was pretty lonely and blue. There was one theater downtown, around the corner from the studio and my apartment, which showed one movie at a time, one week engagement. Whatever it was, i saw it, usually alone, because i was practically the only person in town with no cable. When i saw 1941 there, in a nearly empty theater, i laughed till i cried. Kind of like Major General Stilwell at Dumbo. i didn’t have a war to fight, or citizens of the California coast to control, so i went back again before the week was over.
Later i heard it was this legendary flop (which was an exaggeration - it didn’t make as much as other Spielberg films, but made and continues to make money). It has a great Zemekis/Gale screenplay, it looks gorgeous and the effects and musical numbers are beautifully staged, and every actor in the ginormous cast is a stitch. i just don’t get it!
69) O Lucky Man! (1973)
If you’ve looked this far into this list you can tell i don’t have a problem with long movies, if i’m entertained. O Lucky Man! is the longest and most ambitious of director Lindsay Anderson’s Mick Travis trilogy (If..., O Lucky Man!, Britannia Hospital), and i think the most rewarding. Malcolm McDowell plays Travis, a young coffee salesman on the make, making his way though a predatory capitalist landscape. The rambling, surrealistic screenplay was actually very loosely based on episodes in Malcolm McDowell’s life, and was a collaboration between David Sherwin, Anderson, and McDowell. The spectacular song cycle soundtrack by Alan Price is the perfect framing device. Helen Mirren is smokin’, just as great as she was in Ken Russell's Savage Messiah the previous year.
By the time this list is posted, there should be a new two disc DVD reissue of O Lucky Man!
70) Once Upon A Time In The West (C’era una volta il west) (1968)
When we were putting together our counter-AFI 100, i did a bunch of lobbying for various westerns. But as you will see , not many made my true favorite list. i think this, the most minimal and poetic Sergio Leone film, resembles my Mario Bava selection below. Also, it has something in common with Kill Bill, in that it is a virtual encyclopedia of quotes and references to classic westerns. And, Henry Fonda plays the cruelest SOB you’d ever fear to meet.
71) (Terror at the) Opera (1987)
Well, i didn’t want to get carried away with Dario Aregento, which is pretty easy for me to do. It was reflexive to pick Suspiria, but currently i chose Opera if i just need that Argento fix. That or Tenebrae or Deep Red... well, it’s impossible to pick one, i suppose! But i actually like the contrast between metal and opera music, the film looks great, and it’s really the culmination of Argento’s big budget era. Your mileage may vary.
72) Pandora’s Box (Die Buchse der Pandora)(1929)
Great expressionist masterpiece of the silent era from Geog Wilhelm Pabst, whose artistry, humanity and love for actors shines in every frame. Louise Brooks is iconic in her portrait of destructive innocence. If you’ve never watched a silent film because you think they might be dull, begin with this one.
73) Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985)
If someone other than Tim Burton had helmed Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, it might have still made this list. The screenplay by Paul Reubens and Phil Hartman, is unrelentingly funny and imaginative, and Danny Elfman wrote terrific scores for both the 80’s Pee-Wee movies. But the Burton touch is so compatible with Reubens’ comedic sensibility that it produced a nearly perfect comedic gem.
74) Performance (1970)
When Warner Brothers executives first saw Performance in 1968, they were horrified by the picture they had bankrolled. Two years later it was released theatrically, which is when i first saw it, and it made me a lifelong fan of co-directors Donald Cammell and Nicholas Roeg. Before Mick Jagger was brought into the project (thus securing studio financing for what was thought to be a 60’s rock ‘n roll romp), the gangster part played so compellingly by James Fox, was supposed to be Cammell’s friend Marlon Brando.
When you watch Performance today, convenient because of the fresh DVD reissue this year, you may notice how much contemporary films, rock videos and music owe to this groundbreaking work. It still retains its power to unsettle and provoke, and is perhaps the most accurate portrayal of the more literate, Borgesian branch of 60’s psychedelica.
75) Phantom of the Paradise (1974)
Widely ignored or disparaged as being out of step with the times on its release, forgotten even by that vanishing species, the Brian De Palma fan, Phantom of the Paradise, his great Faustian rock musical, rarely even met its audience.
One of the disadvantages the film had was ironically Paul Williams, who wrote the brilliant songs in this stage based musical, as well as playing the devil opposite De Palma favorite William Finley as Winslow Leach. In 1974, Williams, who was very well known as a songwriter for The Carpenters, and Three Dog Night, and other treacly, non-rock pop acts, was decidedly unhip. In 1974, hipness was everything. And there really wasn’t much indication that Williams could write such an amazing cycle of clever satirical songs using several genres of rock. But he was deliciously good as Swan, the campy, babyfaced producer from hell. In fact, it’s impossible to imagine Phantom being as good without him. William Finley is excellent as always, Jessica Harper was never more luminous, and Gerrit Graham’s Beef must be seen to be believed.
A few towns like Phantom a little... it had an extended run here in metro Detroit, and more than once i attended screenings seated near others who apparently had committed every song and line of dialogue to memory. In keeping with its status as one of the all time great cult films, there is one city where fan’s love for ths unique treasure never dies - Winnipeg, Canada. Even citizens of Winnipeg cannot explain why it initially ran for four and a half months then enjoyed a Rocky Horror-like afterlife of major proportions, selling 20.000 copies of the original soundtrack, which remains in print in Canada. They even have a festival, Phantompalooza. There are various theories, smart, dumb, and downright insulting, for why Winnipeg loves The Phantom, but someday i hope to visit, because clearly they have excellent taste.
76) Play Time (1967)
When we were discussing our favorites lists, some friends mentioned Jacques Tati, usually Mon Oncle. But for me, this is the coolest and funniest M.Hulot film. Tati was originally a mime before beginning a film career in the late 40’s. His films are light on dialogue, but heavy on sound effects and very tightly choreographed sight gags. It’s common for many different things to occur simultaneously n different parts of each frame, and the effect is quite unlike any other movies like the cinematic equivalent of a Martin Handford book. If you enjoy Mr. Bean, this will knock you out.
Play Time was the last big budget Tati film, and by far the most extravagant, taking three years to shoot over a set which encompass three city blocks of futuristic Parisian fantasy. When i actually visited Paris in the 80’s i found myself thinking about Play Time at every turn. The comedic buildup as M. Hulot struggles to complete a simple task in this chrome and glass nirvana is impeccably paced. Like all Tati comedies, it is laugh out loud funny, and was constructed very much with the wide screen and a theater audience in mind. Some people believe it is simply not worth viewing unless it’s in the cinema. i disagree, having seen it in the theater and home video. Though it certainly loses something on television, and comedy is always diminished a bit without a larger audience, perhaps digital mediums will enable more people to enjoy a movie which demands to be seen again and again, at different angles and in different moods, in order to be fully enjoyed.
77) Pretty In Pink (1986)
This is one of the contrarian picks; most people would likely prefer the also excellent Sixteen Candles, or one of the other great movies John Hughes wrote and/or directed in the 80’s. Harold Deutch actually directed Pretty in Pink, possibly while Hughes was helming Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. i love this one so much because, great music and clothes, Molly Ringwald was never better, Harry Dean Stanton, and James Spader as the creep. i’m not altogether sure Andie does wind up with the wrong guy, either. It’s ALL good.
78) Providence (1977)
Watching this movie for the first time, it would be understandable if at first you thought director Alain Resnais was attempting some sort of precious melodrama of manners, and his tony British cast was failing woodenly. Next, a slight irritation might turn to puzzlement and amusement. Then the premise begins to kick in, and culminates about an hour later with a mind blowing ending. John Gielgud plays a dying novelist working on his final book while pain, death and his family intrude. The poetic screenplay by David Mercer is wonderful, and Gielgud is joined by Ellen Burstyn, Davis Warner, Elaine Stritch, and an Dirk Bogarde in one of his finest performances - a triple performance if you will. Norman Mailer called this the greatest film ever made about the creative process, and on this i can’t argue.
Only available on used VHS, here’s another one i expect to show up in the Criterion Collection.
79) Repo Man (1984)
Alex Cox films are always kind of cool, but often kind of half baked. Everything and everyone in this tawdry, punky gem does what it’s supposed to, even Emilio Estevez, so it rules. Harry Dean Stanton, Tracey Walter, what’s not to love? And remember, the more you drive, the less intelligent you are.
80) Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (1979)
Another Alan Arkush picture - Joe Dante was an uncredited codirector. This is my desert island Arkush/Dante movie! Another film where you need only list the cast to know you’re in for a good time - THE RAMONES, P.J. Soles, Vince Van Patten, Clint Howard, Dey Young, Mary Woronov, Paul Bartel, Dick Miller, (The Real) Don Steele. Eddie Deezen was supposed to be Eaglebauer, but Clint pw0nz. For everyone who wanted to blow up their high school.
81) Secretary (2002)
The key to making a successful BDSM themed movie is really no different than for any other depiction of extreme behavior. It requires precise insight into the psychology of the characters. Secretary turns its precision to a dark romantic comedy with very successful results. Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader are perfection as the very imperfect secretary and employer. A must-see for Gyllenhaal or Spader fetishists.
82) Seven Samurai (Shichinin no samurai) (1954)
i doubt this film’s inclusion requires any explanation at all.
83) Sisters (1973)
There was a time when Brian De Palma was a very big deal. Watch this, and see why.
84) The Sorcerers (1967)
There would be a Michael Reeves film here, and only three to choose from. Most people would pick Witchfinder General, but i have a sentimental attachment to The Sorcerers. Boris Karloff and Catherine Lacey are an elderly couple less than pleased with the discomforts and indignities of aging. Karloff has created a high tech hypnosis method whereby they can occupy and control the body of another, experiencing the subject’s sensations. Ian Ogilvy, who was also in Witchfinder and The She-Beast, is the smexy surrogate, at first used for cheap thrills, then exploited as a sex killer as the old lady’s bloodlust ignites. All three stars are really compelling, and the film has a seedy, swinging 60’s/slasher vibe, like a micro budget, B&W Peeping Tom. I
The first time i saw The Sorcerers it was being shown on The Ghoul, and even his relentless cheerful mocking couldn’t defang the creepiness of this movie. By the final scenes i was clinging to my housemate (normally we despised each other) while we both cried for mercy, unable to look away. Admittedly, psychedelics were involved, but i’ve watched it straight many times since, and it really holds up.
The Sorcerers is currently unavailable on Region 1 DVD, but i expect there will be a rerelease soon.
85) Spider Baby (1968)
Jack Hill has made cult films in many genres, but the oddball black comedy Spider Baby is in a class of its own. For one thing, it is the precursor to pictures like Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Eraserhead. Shot in 1964 (release was delayed due to producer bankruptcy issues), Spider Baby’s Merryes are the template for the cannibal family craze of the 70’s. Even more than other Hill films, Spider Baby does a great deal with very little.
Lon Chaney Jr. is Bruno, probably his best performance excluding Lenny in Of Mice and Men. He’s a caregiver determined to protect the Merrye family, who suffer a progressive dementia, from the clutches of predatory relatives. He also sings the title song, With Beverly Washburn, Carol Ohmart, Sid Haig, and Manton Moreland in a dumbass ‘race’ character part.
The “Spider Baby”, Virginia, was played by spooky, lovely Jill Banner, a 60’s beauty who was also in The President’s Analyst. She did a lot of TV, usually as a sexy hippie girl, and was employed by Marlon Brando as a script developer when she died in a car accident at the age of 35.
86) Starship Troopers (1997)
Many of my friends in the science fiction community who love the Robert Heinlein book detest this movie. i try not to tease Heinlein fans (some of my best friends...) who cry it’s “not like the book”, but it’s not unfaithful to the book in spirit. Are you really missing a mechanized Mobile Infantry? i doubt Heinlein would have a problem with the gender switches and character combining. What really offends them is Verhoeven’s satire of military propaganda and how it enables fascism. It’s debatable just how much the novel is a celebration of fascism or a military utopianism, but Heinlein’s fans might accept that people have been reading the book for almost half a century and making the same connections. Verhoeven admits he was bored and disgusted by Heinlein’s novel, and never finished it.
My defense is that as an antifascist, antimilitary satire it succeeds wonderfully, with extra juice for those of us who have hated the book for years. i suspect even if i liked the book, i’d have to respect that Verhoeven and screenwriter Edward Neumeier deliberately subverted the book by rather than just botching it up. The movie looks great, with spectacular production design and great effects for the period. and it’s laugh-out-loud, rip-roaring funny.
One of the subversive elements is the stunt casting, particularly Dina Meyer as Dizzy Flores, and Neil Patrick Harris as Colonel Carl Jenkins (or, as several wags called him, Dougie Himmler S.S.) . And i think lovers and haters agree that Clancy Brown IS Sergeant Zim.
87) Story of Adele H. (L’ Histoire d’Adele H.) (1975)
The film Truffault made after Day for Night is even more amazing, perhaps his masterwork. Adele H. is based on the true story of Victor Hugo’s daughter Adele who becomes romantically obsessed with an English army lieutenant she pursues to Nova Scotia. Isabelle Adjani as Adele is unforgettable, gorgeous and terrifying as she fights her way into madness like a tigress. It may sound depressing, but in fact is oddly triumphant, as we’re made to see the tragedy of her life as an epic act of creative will.
88) The Stunt Man (1980)
Director Richard Rush’s dream project turned out to be well worth the nine years it took brining it to the screen. A modern classic you’re likely to see on many favorite lists.
89) Tampopo (1985)
This is probably Juzo Itami’s most famous and popular film, the “Japanese noodle western” where a mysterious truck driver takes a widowed noodle shop owner on a quest for the perfect noodle recipe. All Itami’s movies are fine (i especially love his first, The Funeral), but this one has a special appeal for foodies and cinema buffs, who should check it out immediately if they haven’t seen it. Currently out of print in the US, it’s still not terribly hard to find.
90) These Are The Damned (The Damned) (1963)
“Black leather, black leather, kill, kill, kill...”
All three of the “Damned” movies (Village of the Damned, Children of the Damned, and These Are The Damned) are pretty interesting, but this one is probably one of the best science fiction movies ever made. The Damned was actually completed in 1961, but was shelved by Hammer for a few years and was cut for both its 1963 British and its 1965 US release.
The Damned is quite different than Village, which was based on John Wyndham’s Midwich Cuckoos, and Children, which is a sequel. Unlike the two MGM productions, The Damned has spooky radioactive kids being isolated and monitored secretly by a government agency. We don’t even meet them until well into the picture. i’m not going to recap the story here, because it actually sounds pretty stupid on the page. The drama and the layers of meaning in The Damned are formed by the acting and cinematic storytelling, not the plot details.
The screenplay is by Evan Jones, based on a novel called Children of Light by H.L. Lawrence, and this was the film Joseph Losey directed before The Servant. The cast includes Macdonald Carey, Shirley Anne Field, Viveca Lindfors, and Oliver Reed as the incestuous teddy boy, King. Currently out of print on VHS, it has been showing on TCM, so i’m guessing a DVD reissue is forthcoming.
91) This Is Spinal Tap (1984)
Because this will never be unfunny to me.
92) They Live! (1988)
The best Roddy Piper movie is also one of the finest John Carpenter films. Carpenter always casts his pictures well, and Piper, Keith David and Meg Foster are perfect. One of the most quoted movies i can recall, and a lasting cultural touchstone. Perhaps because it’s as contemporary now as it was twenty years ago.
93) Tokyo Story (Tokyo monogatari) (1953)
i’m not certain i love this film more than Good Morning (or I Was Born But..., the original wilder silent version of the same story), but perhaps i’m at an age when a film addressing late life issues takes on more importance.
The story concerns an elderly couple from the countryside who make a long trip to Tokyo to visit their busy children. The adult kids mean well but act selfishly. With kids of their own and in the middle of life, the old folks are an imposition. First they get packed off to a resort, then the old woman spends time with her kind widowed daughter-in-law while the old man gets drunk and blows off steam with old friends. On the way back home, the old mother becomes ill and dies, and the children reunite briefly at the old seaside home, then hustle back to Tokyo, leaving their widowed father behind.
If you have never seen an Ozu film, particularly later ones, the sedate pace and the static camera might throw you, but just surrender. If you’re a fan of Jim Jarmusch it may be easy to settle in and enjoy one of his big influences.
People don’t look noble in this film, but it’s never judgmental or depressing. In fact, one lifetime impression i got from first seeing this movie so many years ago is that people are generally trying as hard as they are able, and that life goes on...
94) Until The End Of The World (Bis ans Ende der Welt) (1991)
In keeping with my preference for the chaotic sprawling mess with heart and soul, i give you my favorite Wim Wenders movie. A globetrotting science fiction road movie, it’s widely regarded as something of a turkey, though like all of Wender's films it has its defenders. i love the actors - Solveig Dommartin, William Hurt, Sam Neill Chishu Ryu, Allen Garfield and Jeanne Moreau, to name a few. It takes place in the future, 1999, and the cobbled together after thought nature of the eight years hence tech is charming and beautiful. And the final third when the SF elements really kicked in worked for me. Wenders developed UTEOTW after discussions with Bertrand Tavernier, who made a 1980 film called Deathwatch which has a similar vibe. The movie also has a famously fabulous soundtrack, which unlike the film, remains in print.
The only version i’ve seen to date is the 158 minute theatrical cut, which ran on cable and was issued on VHS. There is a 280 minute directors cut, arranged in three parts with intermissions, which has been screened several times worldwide, with only an Italian DVD. Opinions vary among people who have seen the complete film, but to me the version i’ve seen bears the marks of major parts missing. It’s hard to imagine too much of this good thing.
95) Used Cars (1980)
This Zemeckis/Gale comedy starring Kurt Russell, Jack Warden, And Gerrit Graham is almost unbearably funny. And if you don’t agree, i’m not sure i want to know you.
96) Vampiros Lesbos (1971)
Vampiros Lesbos seems to me the ultimate Jesus Franco movie (admittedly, most folks probably don’t need an ultimate Franco movie), and it’s certainly the ultimate Soledad Miranda movie. Megasexy psychedelic eurohorror and the best soundtrack imaginable.
97) Visitor Q (Bijita Q) (2001)
“Have you ever been hit on the head with a rock?”
Extremely bizarre but well done remake of Pasolini’s Teorema, Takashi Miike’s Visitor Q was shot as part of a direct-to-video series by independent filmmakers to showcase digital video as a medium. A stranger invades the home of a wealthy and disgustingly dysfunctional family, provoking a spiral into incredible depravity until things twist back out again into an oddly redemptive conclusion. Just about every taboo and perversity is exploited to surreal, savagely funny effect. The picture opens with Dad, a television reporter, boffing his prostitute daughter, and takes off from there.
Miike pulls Visitor Q off with a variety of tricks, including a brisk documentary style, terrific performances from his cast, and the video camera the father uses, shifting users and changing the viewer’s emotional and moral point of view. This film is most definitely not for every viewer, in fact, this is one of those times it’s wise to recall that you can’t un-see something. Unicorn chaser NOT included.
98) The Whip and the Body (La Frusta e il corpo) (1963)
Rockin’ sadomasochistic masterpiece from Mario Bava, with great performances by Daliah Lavi and Christopher Lee. Anyone who thought Lee was hot as Dracula has to see this.
99) The Wicker Man (1972)
Robin Hardy and Anthony Schaeffer’s Pagan mystery-thriller is beloved and legendary for tons of reasons i don’t need to list here. Edward Woodward and Christopher Lee are terrific. Speaking of Christopher Lee, he worked without pay on this film, and has always said it’s the performance of which he’s most proud.
100) The Wrong Man (1956)
For me there are a few favorite Hitchcock films, but i’ve loved this somber quasi-documentary based on a true story since i was a kid.