Day Three and we’re into the top 100…
As previously I’d like to stress that this is a personal list of the films that make me tick. It’s not meant to be the final word in what’s worth seeing. More a statement of my taste at this particular point in time. Making lists is fun. This one was a bit of an undertaking, and writing the justifications for it has taken a lot more time than anticipated. Really, I didn’t think this through at all. Still, everyone likes a good project.
Now, on with the countdown…
100. Only God Forgives (2013, Nicolas Winding Refn) – Last year’s most divisive film, mis-sold as a street-brawling actioner in the spirit of Drive, Refn and Gosling’s follow-up vehicle offers something quite, quite different. A neon-lit nightmare image of a man stuck in limbo, Only God Forgives bares closer resemblance to Lynch’s Eraserhead. If you’re curious about this bewitching horror show, keep that in mind.
99. That Obscure Object Of Desire (1977, Luis Bunuel) – Unable to choose between Carole Bouquet and Angela Molina, Bunuel chose them both. The actresses alternate at random, both playing Conchita in this tale of a man’s intoxicating obsession. That the object of his affection keeps changing only highlights the delirium of being swept up in the idea of another person.
98. Ghost World (2001, Terry Zwigoff) – Daniel Clowes’ cult graphic novel gets adapted for the big screen. The story may have morphed somewhat, but Zwigoff nails the tone, while Thora Birch nails the disaffected role of Enid. Notable support comes from Steve Buscemi in an expanded role as Seymour the insular record collector.
97. Airplane! (1980, Jim Abrahams, David Zucker & Jerry Zucker) – SO many jokes. This spoof of high-altitude disaster movies is crammed to the rafters with sight gags, dumb puns and a share of really clever moments. One of which inspires my love of movie magic. Read more on that here: https://thelosthighwayhotel.com/2013/11/16/why-i-love-58-airplane/
96. Dr. Strangelove: or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb (1964, Stanley Kubrick) – Kubrick wears his ‘why so serious?’ face, bringing belly laughs to the prospect of mutually assured destruction. Peter Sellers follows up his chameleonic work from Lolita by playing multiple characters. Universally acknowledged as one of the greatest of all comedies.
95. Boogie Nights (1997, Paul Thomas Anderson) – P.T. Anderson’s epic journey through the highs and lows of the porn industry as the videotape changed it is cast through the eyes of gifted lothario Eddie Adams a.k.a. Dirk Diggler. A film as impressive as Diggler’s own U.S.P.
94. Coffy (1973, Jack Hill) – Pam Grier’s vigilante action hero is a shotgun-toting high in the blaxploitation cinema cycle from the early 70’s. Jack Hill applies his usual drive-in aesthetic to this grimy genre picture; a film that also has the balls to stand up and say something about society.
93. The House Of The Devil (2009, Ti West) – At first glance West’s film is pure homage to the doomed-babysitter slasher cycle of the early 80’s. However what lingers is the impeccable craft, conspicuous in its absence from so much modern horror. West isn’t interested in jump scares (though he can do them), instead he’s more concerned with the slow-build. As much as anything else, The House Of The Devil is the best-shot horror film in years.
92. The Skin I Live In (2011, Pedro Almadovar) – Blending a Cronenbergian sensibility with visual motifs that strongly recall Franju’s Eyes Without A Face, this chilly, corkscrewing tale of secret surgeries and shifting identities was a real surprise treat from Almadovar. Best watched with as little knowledge as possible of where you’re to be taken.
91. The Fog (1979, John Carpenter) – Carpenter followed up the phenomenon that was Halloween (not listed, sorry) with this Hitchcockian ghost story that plays out – literally – like a spooky campfire tale. The most restrained of Carpenter’s horrors, The Fog works so well because of its slow creeping unease.
90. The Passion of Joan of Arc (1922, Carl Theodor Dreyer) – There are a few versions of Dreyer’s celebrated silent classic, with different musical accompaniments. If you can bare the rawness of it, however, try it with no backing at all. Maria Falconetti’s astonishing performance gains a further air of reverence for the silence it commands.
89. Mildred Pierce (1945, Michael Curtiz) – The Casablanca director draws one of Joan Crawford’s finest performances for this splicing of the Hollywood ‘women’s picture’ with the shady trappings of film noir. Crawford’s earnest, square-shouldered title character steers the whole movie though, shaping the audience’s emotional responses. All in all, a classy picture.
88. The Leopard (1963, Luchino Visconti) – Visconti’s adaptation of Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s novel works as a fine aristocratic perspective on Italian upheavals in the 1860’s, but really comes into its own in its final hour as time expands, and a luxurious ball reveals itself as one of cinema’s most elegant, protracted set pieces. Burt Lancaster’s lead performance is as laconic as it is tellingly sad, while Alain Delon and Claudia Cardinale (above) are impossibly beautiful.
87. Eraserhead (1977, David Lynch) – Lynch’s debut is an industrial nightmare… and a labour of love. Five years of night shoots in the making, it seems fitting that the film came to be a key entry in the ‘midnight movie’ phenomena. A beyond-weird exploration on the paranoia of parenthood. Just remember, in heaven everything is fine.
86. Serpico (1973, Sidney Lumet) – A key film when thinking of the rough’n’ready approach that overcame American filmmaking between the 60’s and 70’s. Al Pacino stars in this biopic of a New York police officer who refuses to take bribes and kick-backs. Pacino imbues Serpico with a furious righteousness, while Lumet presents New York at it’s most thrillingly grimy.
85. Excision (2012, Richard Bates, Jr.) – As low-budget horror films pile up around us to the point of sickly over-saturation, it increasingly seems to take a lot to shake our desensitised selves from a ‘been-there, done-that’ mentality. Excision is one of the most remarkable entries in recent times, trading in many of horror’s usual tropes for the veneer of a sunny high school movie. AnnaLynn McCord’s misguided outsider Pauline is a memorable creation, while Richard Bates, Jr. ought to be a name to watch.
84. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974, Tobe Hooper) – Yes, ‘Chain Saw’; it’s exactly how it’s spelled on the title card, but that’s beside the point. What is the point? Allow me to get profane. Holy fuck, this film messed with me. I watch a lot of horror movies; it’s a genre I enjoy, if that’s the right word. Something about its malevolent intentions lets filmmakers out of the box. Risks are taken, boundaries in form are pushed. But rarely does a horror film actually scare me. This one did. Hooper’s film is like no other before it, and arguably few since. Few films affect me like this one. You’ve got to respect a director who can physically change the viewer. I’d add it to my Why I Love… series, but it’s more of a love/hate affair.
83. Solaris (1972, Andrei Tarkovsky) – Russia’s answer to 2001? The two aren’t quite comparable, though they do offer tellingly different philosophical approaches to science fiction. Tarkovsky’s film operates at an even more languid pace, unfurling like some slowly wrought tragedy. But the pace is part of the telling. Worth your patience, and then some.
82. Three Colours: Blue (1993, Krzystof Kieslewski) – Supposedly Red is the prize of the trilogy, but I’ve only seen it the once. Until I’ve had the time to give it another go, Blue will remain my dear favourite. Juliette Binoche excels as a woman who loses everything, slowly accepting the freedom to do anything, but the real star here is Kieslewski himself, generating moments of calm and exceptional grace.
81. The Exorcist (1973, William Friedkin) – The grandaddy of the modern horror film, repeatedly (one might even say exhaustingly) copied from, sometimes to the point of plagiarism. Here was a horror film with stature, with solemn intent. The Exorcist has gravitas, from its opening prelude in Iraq to the downcast inner demons behind Jason Miller’s brow. The film’s greatest trick comes halfway through when young Regan (Linda Blair) is exposed to the rigors of Western medicine. This is the sequence which subconsciously terrorises the viewer, making us tip all the easier in the final hour.
80. Blow Out (1981, Brian De Palma) – Blending (as usual) the sordid mystery of Hitchcock with the conspiracy theories of 70’s America, De Palma’s Blow Out is probably the greatest of a brace of thrillers the director made in a short time. A sound technician hears too much when a political candidate’s car careers off of the road. If that weren’t enough, Blow Out then morphs into a bizarre serial killer flick. Pulp fiction of the highest order.
79. Nausicaa Of The Valley Of The Wind (1984, Hayao Miyazaki) – The film which helped to launch Studio Ghibli is still one of Miyazaki’s finest works. Based on his own manga (which sprawled out for far more pages than are condensed here), Nausicaa laid down the template which has served the Japanese animation studio so well ever since; strong female lead characters, a preoccupation with flying and an earnest desire to teach respect for nature.
78. The Godfather (1972, Francis Ford Coppola) – I’m not sure how much it’s worth me saying, save perhaps a justification of why this isn’t higher. Electrifying filmmaking, pure and simple. There was a time when I wrote off the entire trilogy. I’m learning, however, I’m learning…
77. Persona (1966, Ingmar Bergman) – Bergman was a punk. Imagine seeing this film in ’66. What the hell was it? Taking the rule book and throwing it out of the window, Persona is an attack on conservative attitudes to what a film ought to be. Invigorating, dangerous, playful, important. A landmark piece of work.
76. Se7en (1995, David Fincher) – If you were making a serial killer movie post-Se7en, or were even just given the creative brief to make a title sequence for something, it’s likely you ripped this baby off, even if you didn’t mean to.
75. Psycho (1960, Alfred Hitchcock) – Still spoken of, discussed and dissected for a reason. Hitchcock’s pulpy slasher crackles with life and daring over fifty years later. As much for those histrionic shower scene strings as for the audacity of switching protagonists part way through. Sympathy for Mr Bates? The film asks strange things of its audience… and then achieves them.
74. Oldboy (2003, Park Chan-Wook) – Stop! Hammer time.
73. Vertigo (1958, Alfred Hitchcock) – Considered something of a failure at the time, this disturbing spiral of psycho-sexual obsession only seems to grow in stature. Now it sits atop Sight & Sound’s venerated list of the greatest ever films. My list isn’t nearly so all-encompassing or respectable, but 73 is a more than respectable placing.
72. eXistenZ (1999, David Cronenberg) – …Still, it is a list where an oddball virtual reality yarn like this can trump the supposed greatest film of all time. Cronenberg’s last wholly original film appeared around the same time as The Matrix and got unjustly lost in the shuffle. This is the more charismatic creature; alive with ideas, overstuffed with eccentricities (the tooth gun) and bubbling with a perverse sexual undertone. For once Cronenberg’s body horrors were also erotic in their deviations from the ‘norm’.
71. The Master (2012, Paul Thomas Anderson) – Another divisive entry. Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest feature was billed as some sort of critique on Scientology, gaining interest that it maybe didn’t service. It has elements of that, granted, but The Master has more universal concerns; man’s struggle to understand his place. It’s a strange beast, to be sure, but a strangely compelling one. The late Phillip Seymour Hoffman is excellent. As is Joaquin Phoenix. And then there’s the cinematography. Beautiful.
70. Jaws (1975, Steven Spielberg) -The ultimate summer movie.. the first true blockbuster… Jaws comes with a lot of exaltation and just as many arms-aloft phrases of praise… So much so that one might even be underwhelmed on first encounter. But remember, it ain’t even about the shark. A film that genuinely improves with every viewing, the second hour is damned near ideal. Go watch it again, see if it isn’t better.
69. Two-Lane Blacktop (1971, Monte Hellman) – Non-actors in a non-film? Not even. Monte Hellman’s highway-based requiem for 60’s America is an achingly poetic depiction of a disaffected youth with nowhere to go… fast. In those endless horizons one sees both potential and oblivion.
68. Akira (1988, Katsuhiro Otomo) – Like the previous mentioned Nausicaa, Akira is merely the cliff notes of the story it is based on (Otomo’s own sprawling manga). Yet even with this taken into account the finished film is a staggering accomplishment. A brightly coloured, punky assault on the senses. A fistful of neon, anti-establishment middle fingers. See it, see it again, then see it on the largest screen you can find. Essential cinema viewing.
67. Shadow Of A Doubt (1943, Alfred Hitchcock) – A curious choice, perhaps, for the highest placing Hitchcock film on the list, as it rarely appears in discussions of his greatest works, yet for me this domestic thriller proved utterly charming. Sought out following claims that Stoker riffed heavily on it, I can’t deny those accusations. Thankfully Shadow Of A Doubt proved worth the effort and then some.
66. Eyes Without A Face (1960, Georges Franju) – A strange and deeply unsettling French horror film. Anyone familiar with The Skin I Live In will find the image above eerily familiar. As previously mentioned, a debt is owed. Eyes Without A Face proves Franju capable of conjuring some of cinemas strangest, most indelible images. A forthcoming BFI re-release here in the UK is long overdue. I can’t wait to see it restored.
65. 13 Assassins (2010, Takashi Miike) – Okay, I’ll admit it; I haven’t seen the original. Nevertheless, Miike’s remake is an incredibly impressive film, by turns solemn, austere and batshit frickin’ crazy. An hour of slow-build is essential to place the hell to come into context. When it comes, the 40-minute battle sequence is masterfully executed carnage; each individual segment of it successfully telling the larger story.
64. Sunset Boulevard (1950, Billy Wilder) – One of the greatest movies about movies (and a bitingly caustic one at that), Wilder’s flashback drama illuminates the coldness with which Hollywood discards it’s idols once they’re finished with. A film repeatedly referenced in the work of David Lynch (a scene is stolen outright and re-staged in Inland Empire), of whom, you may note, I’m a bit of a fan. All hail Wilder also. Magnificent.
63. Kind Hearts And Coronets (1949, Robert Hamer) – Superb Ealing comedy piece in which Alec Guinness performs as multiple members of the D’ascoyne family, all targets of the unscrupulous Louis (Dennis Price) who will not shirk from murder to move his way up the branches of such a prestigious family tree. Get the Earl Grey ready and stock up on crumpets.
62. The Misfits (1961, John Huston) – Written by Arthur Miller during his marriage to Marilyn Monroe, The Misfits has a heartbroken tone to it as a collective of lost souls converge in the desert, trying to make sense of their lot in life. It feels like a requiem for the golden age of cinema, for tarnished dreams and the ache of realising there’s no changing the road that brought you here. A bruise of a film, but a beautiful one.
61. The Virgin Suicides (1999, Sofia Coppola) – Sofia Coppola’s lyrical directorial debut doesn’t quite hit the highs of Jeffrey Eugenides’ source novel, but it perfectly captures the sleepy, sultry, hazy tone. A film about memory and nostalgia, about the dappled glass through which infatuation distorts it’s subject. Aided by a beautiful score from French band Air, Coppola’s film drifts through you like a humid breeze.
60. Les Diaboliques (1955, Henri-Georges Clouzot) – Part horror, part Hitchcockian crime thriller. Two school mistresses plot to do away with the school’s mean headmaster; one of them his mistress, the other his former wife. However going through with their plan and getting rid of the evidence turns out to be far greater an ordeal than either can imagine. Clouzot’s film is simply classic. Jet-black in tone, and, occasionally very unsettling.
59. The Wild Bunch (1969, Sam Peckinpah) – Following on from Arthur Penn’s Bonnie And Clyde, it seems inevitable now that Sam Peckinpah would be the next man to escalate the possibilities of screen violence. Blood splatter and gun battles aren’t all there is to The Wild Bunch though, not by a long shot. At its core is a palpable sense of comradery between its anti-hero gun slingers. The film’s end bids farewell to an era of American history both lamentable and mythic.
58. The Silence Of The Lambs (1991, Jonathan Demme) – Probably one of the most influential films of the 1990’s. Demme’s adaptation of Harris’ novel manages to straddle the line between fulfilling the mandate of a mainstream movie and providing genuine gasp-worthy thrills. Slick and accomplished, it swept the board at the Oscars, which, for a genre picture like this, is practically unheard of.
57. The Assassination Of Jammes James By The Coward Robert Ford (2007, Andrew Dominick) – An elegant modern epic, and a superb adaptation of Ron Hansen’s evocative novel (complete with superb narration from Hugh Ross), Dominick’s film is a genuine masterpiece, excelling across the board, from Casey Affleck’s prickly performance as Robert Ford to Roger Deakins’ sumptuous photography and a gorgeous score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. Quite simply, why aren’t there more modern movies like this one?
56. No Country For Old Men (2007, Joel Coen & Ethan Coen) – The Coens get Cormac McCarthy’s sparse prose down to a tee in this exceptional modern Western anchored by a trio of killer performances. Tommy Lee Jones plays world-weary as Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, Josh Brolin thinks on his feet as opportunistic Llewellyn Moss, but Javier Bardem steals the show as unstoppable force Anton Chigurh, who’ll flip life or death on the toss of a coin.
55. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010, Apichatpong Weerasethakul) – A film like no other I’ve yet seen; more often it resembles a half-remembered dream or a poem. This Palme d’Or winning film from Thailand works to a different sensibility; contemplative and spiritual, while seamlessly blending the humble and naturalistic with the incredible. A viewing experience so strangely relaxing that it almost literally put me in a trance. An acquired taste? Sure. But if you get it, there’re few experiences like it.
54. Singin’ In The Rain (1952, Gene Kelly & Stanley Donen) – Basically if you don’t like this movie you don’t like happiness. Also, massive Gene Kelly man-crush.
53. Touch Of Evil (1957, Orson Welles) – Touch Of Evil is my Welles film of choice; a sweltering encore to film noir’s glory days, steeped in the perpetual haze of injustice and corruption. Welles’ amoral monster Quinlan ambles menacingly through this crime tale from the Mexican border. A fevered dream of a film made famous for its ambitious opening shot. Don’t leave it there, for your own sake.
52. The Red Shoes (1948, Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger) – Professional ballet dancer Moira Shearer holds her own in this exceptional and quintessentially British film about life behind the curtain, openly echoing The Phantom of the Opera, but stepping boldly into its own for a show-stopping musical number in the mid-section, which showcases some superb visual effects work. It’d be nothing if there weren’t a story behind it though. A classic to be savoured.
51. The Ice Storm (1997, Ang Lee) – Chilly 70’s family drama featuring a staggering wealth of talent both seasoned and fresh. Among the young faces are Tobey Maguire, Elijah Wood and a never-better Christina Ricci. Elsewhere Joan Allen and Sigourney Weaver also shine. Hell, even Kevin Kline can’t mess this up. American Beauty‘s richer, more elegant cousin.
Into the top 50 tomorrow…