After coming across Josh Jackson’s recent list over at Paste Magazine, I thought: it’s a fine list, but my version would be considerably different. So, since I really really like compiling things, I decided to give it a go.
A few constraints/parameters:
(i) Despite the title, my list doesn’t pretend to be a “best of” list. It’s just a list of my favorites.
(ii) I didn’t repeat any of Jackson’s selections, even though he chose a few I might’ve included, like Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Delicatessen and Spike Jonze’s Being John Malkovich.
(iii) I only used one film per director, even in instances when I could’ve easily done multiple (Catherine Breillat, Wong Kar-wai, Buster Keaton, and Jean-Luc Godard come to mind).
(iv) Omissions abound, obviously. No room for Olivier Assayas’s Boarding Gate, Michael Haneke’s Funny Games, or Stephan Elliott’s Eye of the Beholder, to name but three of the missing I’d have liked to include. Then again, I enjoy the incompleteness of lists like these, that they can never truly be comprehensive is part of the fun I derive from composing them. Always, there will be a mistake. Always, they will be lacking. What a truly wonderful revelation!
(v) I started off intending to emulating Jackson’s numbering system, counting down from #50 to #1, but then I decided against it because it only reinforces the “best of” model by saying #1 is the best of the best and #50 is the least best of the best, and so on. Instead, you can just think about the fifty films listed below as one big assemblage of moving, striking, compelling, and provocative artworks I consider kick-ass and well worth your time.
Otto; or, Up With Dead People
Directed by Bruce LaBruce
Let’s begin with the undead. Given the recent surge in popularity of zombie tales such as The Walking Dead and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, it would seem the last thing we need is another one. Unless, of course, it was radically different. Otto is most certainly radically different.
Lara Glenum and the Montevideyo crowd (how’s that for a band name?) turned me on to this one. Writing for the New York Times, Nathan Lee described it as “straddling the line between art and smut, the underground and the indie scene.” I would add that it’s also a sad beautiful existential homosexual zombie film with a film inside it.
Directed by Julia Leigh
I could tell you how haunting this film is, could extol its quiet elegance, but I think the best way to convince you this one is a keeper is to share a couple of “negative” reviews.
James Berardinelli, for instance, writing for Reelviews, gave it two out of four stars saying that “with an emotional temperature approaching absolute zero, Leigh finds it difficult to accomplish more than present a pastiche of artistic images signifying little.” Are you kidding? That sounds awesome! Emotional zeroing. Artistic images signifying nothing, how is that a bad thing? Dear Berardinelli, have you never read Macbeth, dude? Remember the Act 5, Scene 5 soliloquy, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing, etc.?
Or consider Peter Debruge, of Variety, who described the film as frustrating, “more tiresome than anything,” and having “a distinctly first-draft feel.” I want to ask Peter Debruge: you do realize that art is meant to be frustrating, right? You’ve read at least an intro to Adorno, right? And I mean, I’m sorry, but if you don’t find a film with “a distinctly first-draft feel” exciting and interesting as hell, then you and I are worlds apart.
The Shape of Things
Directed by Neil LaBute
A play before being transformed into a film, this — like most of Neil LaBute’s stuff — is mean. For a long time I avoided his films because of how mean they are. But Jon Erickson required me to watch this one for a graduate class at Ohio State on Ethics and Aesthetics. I’m glad he did. This captivating and heartbreaking film brings performance art to a whole other level, while exploring the connection between art and cruelty.
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
Steven Shaviro dedicates the first chapter of his amazing book The Cinematic Body to a close examination of this film. He writes, “Vision in Blue Steel is excrutiatingly, preternaturally vivid; reality is heightened into feverish hallucination. Such hypertrophy of the visual is Bigelow’s way of undoing the security and possessiveness that have conventionally been associated with the “male gaze.” She pushes fetishism and voyeuristic fascination to the point where they explode.”
The Man From London
Directed by Béla Tarr
Cassandra Troyan turned me on to Béla Tarr years ago, while we were in a Deleuze study group together. The thing I love about Tarr is how he does black and white cinematography better than nearly anybody, how he moves the camera better than nearly anybody, and how he paces things. It’s mesmerizing. Should also credit cinematographer Fred Kelemen, who is a genius and obviously a big part of creating the look of this film. As for the pacing, you could maybe locate it somewhere between Pedro Costa and Tarkovsky, or at least at their end of the pacing scale.
Despite being his eighth film, this was his first to premiere in competition at the Cannes Film Festival. Sadly, it won neither the Palme d’Or (Cristian Mungiu won for 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days) nor the Camera d’Or (Etgar Keret and Shira Geffen won for Jellyfish) nor any other prize. Pity, really. This movie rocks.
Directed by Gaspar Noé
Typically associated with the “New French Extremity” movement, this film isn’t easy to watch; but that’s why you need to watch it. In the opening scene, the camera is rigged into this gyroscopic mount that flips around and around as though you are strapped into that amusement park ride called the Zipper (you remember that ride?), and the audio excretes a particular frequency that is said to induce vomiting. So there’s that. I’ll borrow critic David Edelstein’s description for the gruesome parts: “First comes brutality so extreme that it borders on pornography: a man’s head being battered into mush in close-up, an anal rape of Monica Bellucci that lasts nine minutes—filmed in one take with a stationary camera.” So there’s that, too. I chose this one over the other Noé film on Netflix (Enter the Void) because I personally had a more visceral reaction to it, but Enter the Void is certainly worth watching, too.
Thief of Baghdad
Directed by Raoul Walsh
A silent swashbuckler starring Douglas Fairbanks. Inspired by One Thousand and One Nights, this jawdropper was one of the most expensive films made in the 1920s. AFI listed it at #9 of the 10 best fantasy films ever made, for whatever that’s worth to you. Personally, I love watching it and imagining the audience who watched it for the first time, sitting in a darkened, smoke-filled auditorium, dressed in suits and flapper dresses, chugging illegal booze from smuggled flasks, hooting and hollering at the screen.
Directed by Takashi Miike
Thanks to my brother, I’m fairly well versed in Miike’s oeuvre. If you’re new to his work, this could be a pretty good place to start. Along the lines of Noé’s Irréversible, Miike’s films aren’t always easy to watch. He thrives on transgressing taboos (Visitor Q) and pushing boundaries (Gozu). However, Audition is a much more subtle psychological horror than other of his films, believe it or not. Well, until the last ten minutes or so, at least. Beware, once you hear Eihi Shiina say, “Deeper. Deeper.” after pushing long needles into her victim, it’s hard to erase that sound from your memory. It’s like she’s cooing. It will really haunt you.
Seducing Time: Selected Prize Winning Videotapes 1984 – 2008
Directed by Lynn Hershman Leeson
Pioneering multimedia artist Lynn Hershman Leeson spent most of the 60s and 70s working primarily in performance and installation art and photographic series. Currently, she’s the Chair of the Film Department at the San Francisco Art Institute. This fantastic set of films offers a rare glimpse into the evolution of an artist concerned with issues of gender and identity in a time of consumerism, privacy in an era of surveillance, interfacing between humans and machines, and the relationship between real and virtual worlds. About an hour and half into this, Kathy Acker appears in a cafe, and talks about her writing a little bit. It’s a real treat.
The Living End
Directed by Gregg Araki
Often identified as a seminal work in the “New Queer Cinema” movement, this super stylish road movie is fueled by the slogan “Fuck Everything!”
Critic Rita Kempley, writing for the Washington Post, says The Living End “chronicles the exploits, mostly erotic and excretory, of an HIV-positive couple on the lam in what director-writer Gregg Araki snidely refers to as “the desolate, quasi-surrealistic American Wasteland.” A scruffy road movie with Craig Gilmore and Mike Dytri as hunky homosexuals, this pretentious drama on alienation, anger and living outside the law recalls the punk outrage of “Sid and Nancy” and boasts of its cinematic influences — Jean-Luc Godard, Andy Warhol and assorted other poseurs.” She goes on to conclude, “Crudely made and in your face, “The Living End” is mostly annoying.”
Since I count Godard and Warhol as two of the most important artists of the 20th century, Kempley’s attempt to denigrate The Living End only serves to solidify my love for it.
Until the Light Takes Us
Directed by Aaron Aites and Audrey Ewell
Sort of a film version of Michael Moynihan’s Lords of Chaos: The Bloody Rise of the Satanic Metal Underground, this documentary traces the rise of Norwegian black metal. If you’re not up on your black metal, this could be a great introduction. If you are into it, but don’t know much about its origin story, you’d probably enjoy this, too. There’s suicide, murder, corpsepaint, church burnings, and a lot of pleasurable music.
Born in Flames
Directed by Lizzie Borden
Super creative gritty grainy documentary-style feminist science fiction film that explores racism, classism, sexism and heterosexism in an alternative United States Socialist Democracy. Critic B. Ruby Rich (who, I believe, coined the term for the “New Queer Cinema”) said, “Born in Flames is already controversial as one of the least assimilatable films for male viewers (they hate it) due to its assumption of an all-woman nonracist universe.” Of course that’s a little hyperbolically reductive, given that I’m a male viewer, and straight one at that, and I love this film. But, point taken.
Inspired by Bach’s Goldberg Variations, which Gould is famous for playing and recording — (if you don’t already own A State of Wonder: The Complete Goldberg Variations (1955 & 1981) you owe it to yourself to get that immediately! It’s pretty much the best music to write to ever recorded.) — this film is a must see for fans and a great introduction for newbies.
In an interview with The Film Journal, Girard explains the reason for the unique form of the film, “As Gould was such a complex character, the biggest problem was to find a way to look at his work and deal with his visions. The film is built of fragments, each one trying to capture an aspect of Gould. There is no way of putting Gould in one box. The film gives the viewer 32 impressions of him. I didn’t want to reduce him to one dimension.”
In a trilogy of experimental documentaries, pioneering director Barbara Hammer rewrites history by inserting lesbians and lesbian imagery throughout educational films, newsreels, medical footage and more from the past century. If you’re unfamiliar with Hammer’s work, she’s renowned for creating the earliest and most extensive body of avant-garde films on lesbian life and sexuality. She had an exhibit at MoMa PS1 back in the fall of 2010 where she said, “It is a political act to work and speak as a lesbian artist in the dominant art world and to speak as an avant-garde artist to a lesbian and gay audience. My presence and voice address both issues of homophobia [and] the need for an emerging community to explore a new imagination.” If you are interested in cut-ups, remixes, appropriation, that sort of thing, you will especially find this interesting.
Directed by Michael Powell
In Scorsese on Scorsese Martin Scorsese says, “I have always felt that Peeping Tom and [Fellini’s] 8½ say everything that can be said about film-making, about the process of dealing with film, the objectivity and subjectivity of it and the confusion between the two. 8½ captures the glamour and enjoyment of film-making, while Peeping Tom shows the aggression of it, how the camera violates… From studying them you can discover everything about people who make films, or at least people who express themselves through films.”
Directed by Christophe Honoré
Based on a novel by George Bataille. Do I really need to say anything else about it? Mother takes son on a night out into a world without morality, a world of sexual exploitation, exhibitionism, and wildness. It’s simultaneously beautiful and disturbing.
Directed by Dario Argento
Supernatural horror film from the Italian badboy with a gift for the macabre. This is the second film in Argento’s Three Mothers Trilogy (the first being Suspiria, the third being The Mother of Tears). Keith Emerson, from Emerson, Lake and Palmer, does the soundtrack, which is awesome. If I had to say one thing about this film, I’d say pay attention to the colors. Argento does some crazy cool stuff with colored lights and composition.
The Masque of the Red Death
Directed by Roger Corman
Hail Satan! This film, based on the E.A. Poe tale of the same name, is set in Medieval Europe, and is ostensibly about the cruel Prince Prospero who terrorizes a plague-ridden peasantry while merrymaking in a lonely castle with his jaded courtiers. But really, it’s about the joys of satanic cults. Vincent Price is rad in this one. And it’s certainly one of Corman’s best. Plus, Nicolas Roeg does the cinematography. Not to be missed.
It Came From Kuchar
Directed by Jennifer M. Kroot
Here’s a description from the official website, It Came From Kuchar “is a hilarious and touching story of artistic obsession, compulsion and inspiration.
Long before YouTube, there were the outrageous, no-budget movies of underground, filmmaking twins George and Mike Kuchar. George and Mike grew up in the Bronx in the 1950’s. At the age of twelve, they became obsessed with Hollywood melodramas and began making their own homespun melodramas with their aunt’s 8mm camera.
In the early 1960’s, alongside Andy Warhol, the Kuchar brothers shaped the New York underground film scene. Known as the “8mm Mozarts”, their films were noticeably different than other underground films of the time. They were wildly funny, but also human and
Their films have inspired many filmmakers, including John Waters, Buck Henry, Atom Egoyan, Guy Maddin and Wayne Wang (all are interviewed in this film). Despite having high profile fans, the Kuchars remain largely unknown because they are only ambitious to make movies, not to be famous.”
I love this film.
Directed by Richard Linklater
What I love about this film is its plotlessness. It begins with one character and then moves on to another character and then on to another and so on, spanning a single day in the life of an ensemble of mostly twenty-something bohemians and misfits in Austin, Texas.
It was one of the galvanizing forces behind the rise of Indie films in the 90s. For sure it was one the movies that inspired me to go to film school.
The Saddest Music in the World
Directed by Guy Maddin
It took me a while to get into Guy Maddin’s work. At first I resisted it, but now I can’t imagine not loving everything he touches. He’s got such a unique fingerprint, I really don’t think there’s anyone making anything comparable. How to describe it? Anachronistic, silent-era, philosophical dreamscapes. That about does it.
Roger Ebert opened his review of the film for his column in the Chicago Sun-Times with, “So many movies travel the same weary roads. So few imagine entirely original worlds. Guy Maddin’s “The Saddest Music in the World” exists in a time and place we have never seen before, although it claims to be set in Winnipeg in 1933.” And he ended his review with, “To see this film, to enter the world of Guy Maddin, is to understand how a film can be created entirely by its style, and how its style can create a world that never existed before, and lure us, at first bemused and then astonished, into it.”
Plus, Isabella Rossellini is magical in this movie.
Directed by Peter Jackson
Before Jackson directed hobbits, before Winslett rode the Titanic, there was this creepy, intense and stylish work of magical realism. It’s based on the true story of Pauline Rieper and Juliet Hulme in Christchurch, New Zeland from 1952 to 1954. It’s the story of young love, teenage girls, murder, imagination, and quarantine.
Directed by Catherine Breillat
I went back and forth between this one and Anatomy of Hell, which is perhaps the more well-known of Breillat’s work, given its controversial integration of “pornography” — a word critics use to describe the fact that Breillat shows genitals up close and also shows penetration, which is the ultimate no-no in commercial film making. I decided to go with this film instead because it is so unbelievably gorgeous, the first time I watched it my jaw literally dropped open in astonishment at the framing/composition, the lightening, the mise-en-scène, all of it, simply exquisite. The only negative thing I can say about it is that it’s too short. Otherwise, it’s like candy for your eyes.
The Gleaners and I
Directed by Agnès Varda
During the Nouvelle Vague, Varda associated more closely with the Rive Gauche (the Left Bank filmmakers, such as: Chris Marker, Alain Resnais, Marguerite Duras, Alain Robbe-Grillet). She made one of my all-time favorite movies, Cléo from 5 to 7, but you can’t stream that one on Netflix. Anyway, this is a fascinating experimental documentary in which Varda roams around France with a handheld camera recording the movements of gleaners as they hunt for food, knicknacks, and personal connection. It may not sound captivating, but it is.
Directed by Godfrey Reggio
Edited by Jon Kane
Music composed by Philip Glass
I included the names of the editor and the composer for this film because they are just as important to this film as the director, given the unique nature of the film.
The title refers to the Hopi word for “life in war.” This is the third and final film in the Qatsi trilogy. Strangely, Netflix doesn’t allow you to stream the first (Koyaanisqatsi) or second (Powaqqatsi) film in the series. If we’re playing favorites, mine is the first one. But this one is great, too. Like all of the films, it’s a nonverbal collage of material, rather than a conventional narrative. If you haven’t watched any of thee films, I don’t think it matters if you watch this one first. And you should. It’ll titillate your mind.
The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975
Directed by Göran Olsson
This is just amazing archival work. Basically, footage shot by a group of Swedish journalists documenting the Black Power Movement in 60s-70s went unedited until this contemporary Swedish filmmaker got a hold of it. So many important and fascinating cultural figures make appearances in this documentary, including Stokely Carmichael, Bobby Seale, Angela Davis and Eldridge Cleaver. As someone who has always been fascinated with the Black Panthers and the Black Arts movement, I found this film exciting and invigorating. Although I think A.O. Scott makes a good point at the conclusion of his New York Times review when he writes, “…you are left in a bracing state of confusion, wondering how much has changed and how the change took place. How did we get from the America of Stokely Carmichael to the America of Barack Obama, who represents a very different kind of black power? To what extent is it the same America?”
Directed by Jan Švankmajer
Švankmajer’s first full-length feature. Crazy, trippy, wild rendition of Lewis Carroll’s classic. Looking at the Rotten Tomatoes page for this film (boasting a rare 100% rating!) I come across this comment and thought, yeah that pretty much says it: “Blissfully bizarre! Exactly how Lewis Carroll would have envisioned it had he been a crack addicted taxidermist with a fetish for sock puppets.”
Phantom Museums: The Short Films of the Quay Brothers
Pretty good description from the distributor: “Since the late 1970s, identical twins Stephen and Timothy Quay have made a unique contribution to animation in general and the puppet film in particular. Filtering arcane visual, literary, musical, cinematic and philosophical influences through their own utterly distinctive sensibility, each Quay film rivets the attention through hypnotic control of décor, music and movement, evoking half-remembered dreams and long-suppressed childhood memories, fascinating and deeply unsettling in turn.”
Directed by by Celine Dahnier
This documentary weaves together an oral history of the “No Wave Cinema” and “Cinema of Transgression” movements through compelling interviews with some of the luminaries who began it all, like Jim Jarmusch and John Waters, Steve Buscemi, Amos Poe, Debbie Harry, Fab 5 Freddy, Thurston Moore, Richard Kern and Nick Zedd, to name but a few. I found it captivating to learn about this particular historical period, which seems to paint a picture of “Alphabet City” below 14th Street as a kind of cultural rival to Paris in the 20s in terms of creative foment.
Directed by Astra Taylor
A really great philosophy documentary that features Cornel West being chauffeured around Manhattan, Avital Ronell walking around a park, Michael Hardt rowing a boat on a lake, Slavoj Žižek wandering around in a waste management facility, and Judith Butler shopping for clothes. There’s also other people, but those were my favorites.
Jereme Dean mentioned this movie on Facebook a while back and I decided to take his advice. I’m glad I did. This Taiwanese film is far out. Kinky and quirky. Like many of the films on this list, there’s no real plot. (As a matter of fact, there’s not much dialog either.) Instead, we get a series of bizarre set pieces. I think Kam Williams might have said it best when he described the film thusly, “A curiously-compelling and impossible to pigeonhole romantic romp which blurs the line between pornography and legit cinema in magnificent fashion.” Plus, you will never again look at a watermelon in the same way.
Les Bonnes Femme
Directed by Claude Chabrol
This was an early entry in the French New Wave. (Godard’s Breathless and Truffaut’s 400 Blows both came out the year before.) Personally, and I know this could be considered sacrilege, I like Les Bonnes Femme better than those other two. To be honest, I don’t care for Truffaut’s work in general, and despite its fame and popularity I find Breathless to be merely a warmup for the genius that Godard would produce between 1961-1967. Anyway, about this film, Chabrol focuses on three days in the lives of a quartet of Parisian shopgirls looking to escape their monotonous existence. They soon discover they live in a cruel world that scorns them, exploits them, and exposes their dreams as hopeless fantasies. Sounds like a downer, I know. But it’s captivating to watch, I assure you. Especially the final image, which sticks with me always: the spinning disco ball shinning light on all the dancers.
The Color of Pomegranates
Directed by Sergei Parajanov
Writing for Senses of Cinema, Rahul Hamid describes this Armenian film as “an earnest attempt to fuse poetry and film by seriously exploring the poetic potential of the cinema. This deliriously beautiful film is made up of autonomous, resonant images that –- like lines of poetry –- stay in the mind long after the film has run its course.” Pretty good job. All I will add is that it, like many of the films on my list, privileges style, attention to form, colorful and often musical expressions of visionary experience, over the conveyance of a plot.
Directed by David Fincher
I have a thing for simulated reality movies. I love them. Total Recall, Truman Show, eXistenz, Dark City, I love those movies. Since this one falls into that camp for me, it’s my favorite Fincher film.
Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn
Before seeing either of Refn’s other films (Drive, which I love, and Bronson, which I still haven’t seen) I stumbled upon this by accident simply because one day I was getting ready to eat lunch and had a hankering for watching something about Vikings.
Set in 1000 AD, it follows a Norse warrior named One-Eye and a boy named The Boy as they travel with a band of Christian Crusaders in pursuit of a Crusade. Cinematographer Morten Søborg does a phenomenal job creating mood and atmosphere, which are two of the films strengths by far. Indeed, style takes precedence over story, which if it hasn’t already become glaring obvious, is how I determine the mark of a successful film.
Directed by Buster Keaton
Keaton made a bunch of excellent films. (Although personally, if I had to choose, I’d take Chaplin over Keaton in a heartbeat. Sadly, Netflix doesn’t stream the best Chaplin flicks.) At any rate, despite the fact that most people would probably say The General was Keaton’s greatest achievement, I say it was Sherlock Jr.. Check out the logline: “A film projectionist longs to be a detective, and puts his meagre skills to work when he is framed by a rival for stealing his girlfriend’s father’s pocketwatch.” That’s so much cooler than the logline for The General: “When Union spies steal an engineer’s beloved locomotive, he pursues it single handedly and straight through enemy lines.” And what Sherlock Jr.‘s logline doesn’t tell you is that there’s a film-within-the-film that makes it absolutely magical. Even if you hesitate to watch a silent movie, you should watch this one. You really should.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
Directed by Robert Wiene
Often considered one of the most influential German Expressionist films and one of the greatest horror movies of the silent era. It’s so big and “important” that I wonder if many people have actually watched it. You know what I mean? Like when you try to have a conversation with someone about Ulysses or Don Quixote or Moby Dick, and you find out that they haven’t actually read any of those “important” books or else they’ve only read parts of them. If you haven’t seen this film, you owe it to yourself to give up the hour and 11 minutes it takes to watch it. The sets alone are worth the time, not to mention the actor’s exaggerated movements, the lighting, or the creepy progression of narration and the “twist ending” that will have you saying, “Oh, that’s where that ubiquitous twist comes from.”
Talk about candy for your eyes. This film is a luscious feast of color and set design. Just amazing. The IMDB description does a good job rendering the basics: “The wife of a barbaric crime boss engages in a secretive romance with a gentle bookseller between meals at her husband’s restaurant. Food, colour coding, sex, murder, torture and cannibalism are the exotic fare in this beautifully filmed but brutally uncompromising modern fable which has been interpreted as an allegory for Thatcherism.” I don’t personally believe in interpreting films anymore than I believe in interpreting literature — which is to say, not at all — so I’d ignore that Thatcherism crap, but oh what a visual treat.
Directed by Wong Kar-wai
Again, style style style. Color. Camerawork. Bravado. Rogert Ebert said, “It’s kind of exhausting and kind of exhilarating. It will appeal to the kinds of people you see in the Japanese animation section of the video store, with their sleeves cut off so you can see their tattoos. And to those who subscribe to more than three film magazines. And to members of garage bands. And to art students. It’s not for your average moviegoers—unless of course, they want to see something new.”
Directed by Tod Browning
With the over saturation of vampire stories today, it’s easy to forget the brilliance of Tod Browning’s achievement. Don’t! This movie rocks! If you haven’t seen it before, you are in for a treat. Pay special attention to the silence. It’s eerie. Unlike the majority of movies today, which rely on soundtracks to manipulate emotional responses, Browning forces the audience to sit in creepy silence. The introduction of Bela Lugosi descending that giant winding staircase holding his candle, stopping to admire the howling of his “children of the night.” It’s so so good.
A Shot in the Dark
Directed by Blake Edwards
Last summer, my wife and I decided to watch all of the Pink Panther movies. Overall they were fun and it was a good time, but this film (the second one in the series) was particularly exceptional. In some ways, the first Pink Panther movie was a test run. Here Sellers seems to really begin to embody Inspector Jacques Clouseau, the charming but bumbling fool of a detective. The writing is superb — believe it or not, Edwards co-wrote the script with William Peter Blatty, the dude who wrote and directed The Exorcist! And Sellers is funny from start to finish. If you haven’t seen a Pink Panther movie, or if you enjoy hilarious genius, then this is the one for you.
Directed by Leo McCarey
Speaking of hilarious genius, the Marx Brothers kick ass. That’s the long and short of it. Duck Soup is tied with Animal Crackers as my favorite, but Netflix doesn’t offer the latter. The Surrealists loved the Marx Brothers. Artaud, for one, wrote about them with passion. Groucho, Chico, and Harpo were all Transcendent Satraps in the College of ‘Pataphysics. They were popular vaudevillians, and full tilt film stars. So they had cred from all sorts of places. To say something about this film is to talk about absurdity, surrealism, audacity, puns, endless one liners, costumes, gestures, stage gags, slapstick, the list goes on and on. If you haven’t read Wayne Koestenbaum’s The Anatomy of Harpo Marx yet, you should consider doing that this summer. It is a terrific book. Duck Soup will make you smile and twist your imagination simultaneously. I can’t say enough good things about it.
Un Chien Andalou
Collaboration by Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí
Clocking in at around 15 minutes, this is by far the briefest film on my list. But it packs quite a punch. I think I’ve watched it close to a hundred times, and I still don’t tire of it. Eyeball slicing, bicycle homicide, dead mules in a piano, armpit hair transforming into a sea urchin, ants crawling out of a hole in someone’s hand, the displacement of time, sex face morphing into corpse face, a gun becoming a book, people coming back to life, unmotivated hysteria, policemen, a large crowd, a severed hand, so much goodness.
After being endlessly hassled by those bores who want to interpret everything, Buñuel finally said that the only conditions he and Dalí gave themselves were that “no idea or image that might lend itself to a rational explanation of any kind would be accepted.” And furthermore, he said, “Nothing, in the film, symbolizes anything.” You can check out more of him talking about it in his book My Last Sigh. Of course that won’t stop the eggheads deadset on destroying — I mean “understanding” — the film. Just don’t be one of those, please. Experience the film, don’t try to colonize it.
Directed by Federico Fellini
Frequently topping “best films of all time” lists, this is probably the most obvious selection on my list. In fact, I was surprised Jackson left it off his list at Paste Magazine. It won Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Costume Design. It’s a film about film-making, so most people who love film love it. As Derek Malcom says in an article at the Guardian, “At least half of all film-makers asked about the directors they most admire include Federico Fellini in their top three.” Indeed, I chose this one over Satyricon, even though you can also stream that one, and even though it’s far more visually spectacular, because 8 1/2 was one of the films I saw when I was a teenager that had a dramatic effect one me. The hallucinogenic mixture of fantasy and reality really appealed to me then, and still does now. It’s so cool and sexy and fun and inspiring. As we near the final few films on my list, you’ll probably notice that I turn into a gushing fanboy, which I certainly am for 8 1/2.
Directed by Ingmar Bergman
Psychological vampirism at its finest. Film-making as poetic expression of paranoia, anxiety, neurosis manifest: the celluloid literally melts at one point! Whereas some consider Hitchcock the master of psychological wizardry, I am firmly committed to team Bergman. I’ve seen handfuls of his films, and love so many of them, but this one has been and always will be one of my all-time favorite films, not just amongst Bergman’s oeuvre but in general. In many ways, along with Santa Sangre and a few others which aren’t available on Netflix streaming, this film came at a time when I was in the early stages of forming my life long aesthetic commitments. Sure, we change in life. And it’s best to never say never. But chances are, I’m not going to disavow my love of the strange in favor of a love for the common. So the impact this film had on my young mind can’t really be overstated. Well, maybe it can. Maybe I’ve overstated it here. Anyway, if you haven’t seen this film I envy you getting to experience it for the first time now.
Directed by Giorgos Lanthimos
In an interview with Time Out London:
Q: The obvious question to ask about ‘Dogtooth’, such a mysterious film, is: what’s it all about?
A: ‘I find it very hard to talk about and analyse this film. People are always trying to get me to confirm their point of view, and I just won’t do it. If I wanted to talk about politics or social problems, I’d become a writer. But I’m a filmmaker and that’s all I can do.
I try to make my films very open so you can think whatever you want about them, then when people ask me, I can just agree.’
Yeeeeees! Let me say this much: a family exists, the children have no experience of the outside world, they believe they have a brother who lives on the other side of the fence, they have invented their own language, there is a mystery element, a sci-fi element, an art house element, and above all it’s a beautifully shot film. Odd, eccentric, and diabolical.
Peter Bradshaw, reviewing the film for The Guardian, describes it as, “A black-comic poem of dysfunction, a veritable operetta of self-harm, this brilliant and bizarre film from the Greek director Giorgos Lanthimos is superbly acted and icily controlled – it grips from the very first scenes. Development does not get more arrested than this.”
Directed by David Cronenberg
Body horror. Television addiction. S & M. Conspiracy. Debbie Harry.
According to Tim Lucas, the original title was Network of Blood.
In his book Technophobia!: Science Fiction Visions of Posthuman Technology, critic Daniel Dinello calls it “techno-surrealist.” In his essay “Videodrome: The Slithery Sense of Unreality,” Gary Indiana writes:
” ‘Eroticism,’ Luis Buñuel told an interviewer, ‘is a diabolic pleasure that is related to death and rotting flesh.’ No filmmaker conveys this idea with more ingenuity and macabre gusto than David Cronenberg, whose movies (hilariously, terrifyingly) illustrate the equation of penetration with contagion and infection.”
Directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky
Brilliantly bizarre. A cult dedicated to an armless saint, who bath in a pool of holy blood. A circus complete with a knife thrower and a tattooed lady, a boy magician and a trapeze artist, a deaf-mute mime, pimps, prostitutes, and bleeding elephants. Emotional and physical enslavement. Creepy weirdo goodness.
Roger Ebert opens his review of it by saying, “To call “Santa Sangre” (1989) a horror film would be unjust to a film that exists outside all categories.”
I first saw Santa Sangre when I was in Junior High. It had just come out on video cassette, and my friends and I were drawn to its odd cover art and it’s NC-17 rating. It quickly became my favorite movie, because it was unlike anything else I’d ever seen. Looking back at it now, I still love it. Maybe Holy Mountain (which is not available on Netflix streaming) has surpassed Santa Sangre as my favorite Jodorowsky film, but if so only by a slight margin.
Night of the Hunted
Directed by Jean Rollin
Jean Rollin is another one of those directors with a bunch of great films on Netflix streaming, but this one is far and away my favorite. Memory loss, insanity, sex, suicide, medical experiments, mysterious scientists, a doomed love story, it has it all.
Ben at Breakfast in the Ruins has a strong review essay of the film, where he writes, “Shot on a porno budget, on a schedule that works out at about a quarter of the shooting time usually allowed for even the lowest budget feature film in the ‘70s, and further compromised by copious quantities of producer-enforced sex and gore footage, to call ‘Le Nuit des Traquees’ ‘threadbare’ would be something of an understatement.”
I came across this really weird trailer for the film, which greatly exaggerates the gunplay in the film, for what reason I’m not exactly sure. I guess maybe to suggest that it’s more of an action film than it really is? Don’t be fooled. In actuality, it’s more meditative or, I don’t know, wandering, than that trailer would lead you to believe.
Une Femme est Une Femme
Directed by Jean-Luc Godard
I lied when I said I abandoned the hierarchy of the numbered system.
This is undoubtedly, unquestionably, unarguably, the absolute best film available on Netflix streaming.