I’ll try not to go on. I’ll try to be brief. But there are 100 films here, so this may run long, you understand? It’s been five years since I last drew up a top films list on The Lost Highway Hotel (that list, in mockery of Empire magazine, ran to 301 films). A lot has changed. I’ve seen a lot more. I’ve pried a little further into film history. My tastes have evolved (slightly). So here’s a sort of state-of-the-nation address for where my head’s at now. Not an objective list (could one really ever be perfected?), or a definitive list, but a personal one. The 100 movies which – in combination – sum up my taste. So, in the spirit of brevity, lets go.
100. Fellini – Satyricon (1969, Federico Fellini)
Fellini’s genderfuck transfiguring of ancient mythology into quasi-sci-fi spectacle is ambling and grotesque, but also beautiful. The product design wins out here. Few films have the perverse brutal feeling of Satyricon. A film flung out of nowhere, feverish and corrupted.
99. Leave Her To Heaven (1945, John M Stahl)
Technicolour noir that wholly rejects a lot of the conventions of the genre. Taking place out in the country, Gene Tierney’s unbalanced Ellen becomes obsessed with writer Richard (Cornel Wilde). A slippery slope of madness and murder follows, all the more striking for taking place out in the open. Audacious and very, very extra. Tierney is fierce.
98. The House Of The Devil (2009, Ti West)
My love of horror is well-documented across these pages. West’s open homage to the slow-burn B-pictures of the 70’s and 80’s vaults over mere pastiche and is one of the most effective genre exercises of recent times. Shot with the kind of slow-zoom prowess that would make Stanley Kubrick swoon.
97. Duelle (1976, Jacques Rivette)
Rivette, again, this time with a fantasy tale of two powerful avatars battling one another in the negative spaces of Paris; an intoxicating mystery for the audience to unravel (via proxy Hermine Karagheuz). A dreamy proto-Lynchian odyssey of weird clubs, scary stairwells and moody aquariums.
96. Giant (1956, George Stevens)
A – pun intended – goliath of Hollywood’s golden era of sweeping melodramatic epics, George Stevens’ pastoral family saga sees Elizabeth Hurley, Rock Hudson and James Dean strutting across the dusty plains of Texas in a love triangle for the ages; their respective celebrities accentuating the grandeur of, well, everything.
95. White Dog (1982, Samuel Fuller)
I’m mildly afraid of dogs. Sam Fuller’s late-career thriller – pulpy, angry and (like much of his output) bristling with liberal rage – hasn’t helped that much. The tale of one woman’s attempts to save the soul of a racist attack dog. An overlooked gem of the 80’s.
94. Lost Highway (1997, David Lynch)
The film that gave this blog it’s name, way before I realised brevity would’ve been better. Lynch’s psychosexual thriller is the first in a loose ‘identity crisis’ trilogy that continues with Mulholland Drive and INLAND EMPIRE. This is a hot, dusty, sexy and threatening mystery. Violence, fragile male egos and pornography all get mixed up in a pulpy nightmare.
93. The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001, Joel Coen)
Sorely underseen Coen Brothers film. Probably their finest work (certainly the one cinematographer Roger Deakins is most proud of). Billy Bob Thornton is dry as could be as a barber longing to be a dry-cleaner in this hat-tip to 50’s paranoia, noir and American gothic.
92. Annihilation (2018, Alex Garland)
Garland’s dramatic reinterpretation of Jeff Vander Meer’s sci-fi novel is one of the most ambitious of the decade. Perhaps beyond that, one of the most ambitious since the genre’s titantic high-water mark 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s wondrous throughout, but that psychedelic finale (set to an incredible score from Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury) set a new standard.
91. Magnificent Obsession (1954, Douglas Sirk)
The first Sirk to make the list is this wonderfully overblown affair, in which Rock Hudson’s wildcat tycoon falls for Jane Wyman’s blinded widow… but little does she know that he’s responsible for her husband’s fatal boating accident! The 50’s were maybe never as 50’s as this supremely entertaining title.
90. Eyes Without A Face (1960, Georges Franju)
Franju’s beautifully broken fairytale is one of the most influential horror films of all time. But its influence isn’t why I love it. The aesthetics are gaunt and scary (that mask… those kennels… that surgery scene), its music feels out of step and timeless. It’s like an artifact. Out of time, out of context. Brittle and sublime.
89. The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946, Tay Garnett)
This dusty noir usual sits on the shelf when the genre’s best are debated, overlooked for Double Indemnity or The Big Sleep. I love both of those movies, too, but Postman is the one I return to the most.
88. Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965, Russ Meyer)
Campy, hysterical and even arguably feminist, even in light of Russ Meyer’s bulbous preoccupations… Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! is the ultimate in 60’s grindhouse entertainment, as three rebel go-go dancers breakout on a criminal adventure in the desert. Meyer keeps the nipples covered (for once) and inadvertently produces his best and most iconic picture.
87. Your Vice Is A Locked Room And Only I Have The Key (1972, Sergio Martino)
The most overlooked of Martino’s giallo pictures made with genre mainstay Edwige Fenech; this twisted family tale bristles with animosity. What’s surprising – and welcome – is how it plays Fenech against type. She was usually the damsel in distress. Here, however, she’s the monkey in the wrench, playing a fraught married couple against one another. Not many people’s favourite Martino, but it is mine. And that title!
86. The Life of Oharu (1952, Kenji Mizoguchi)
Mizoguchi’s tragic portrait of a woman who descends from society through prostitution toward destitution is an angry rebuttal against Japan’s history of mistreating its women, brought to the screen with unforgettable tenderness and beauty. Austere brilliance.
85. Ms. 45 (1981, Abel Ferrara)
Another nun with attitude. Ferrara’s New York exploitation shocker is a bitter pill to swallow. Zoe Lund’s Thana gets raped twice in one day, veering into a radicalised mindset, wreaking vengeance on the leering male populous. A downward spiral of anger that is both tragic and stylish. That blurting score still rings in my ears.
84. Diabolique (1955, Henri-Georges Clouzot)
Getting rid of a body has never been so difficult as in Henri-Georges Clouzot’s timeless thriller, which twists its central tension like a knife in the back. An all-time classic, often thought of as the best film Hitchcock never made.
83. Cure (1997, Kiyoshi Kurosawa)
One of the creepiest of all films in the ‘J-horror’ boom, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s film is about the fragility of self, as a police detective hunts a mysterious man able to talk people into murder. It’s an eerie watch, masterful in its execution and performances, and it ends with a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it breathtaker.
82. Stalker (1979, Andrei Tarkovsky)
Tarkovsky’s none-more-dour sci-fi parable broods and ambles, shuffling at a defeated gait toward its inevitable conclusion. Three men navigate a treacherous ‘zone’ in order to reach a room that can grant any wish they desire. The journey deconstructs all of them. A philosophical odyssey that ends, fittingly, with a miracle.
81. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974, Tobe Hooper)
For some this is a badly dated, even cheesy horror. For me its still the most terrifying movie ever made. Something about the hot, seething evil exuded by Tobe Hooper’s classic just gets to me. And so a grim respect has built up. There’s a kind of sickening beauty in the ugliness here. The effectiveness is, to me, mindblowing.
80. Moonlight (2016, Barry Jenkins)
The most worthy Best Picture winner in recent years (and what a perfect way for it to win, too). Barry Jenkins’ triptych announced him to the world stage; a beautiful and tender expression of love in three acts. Mahershala Ali won a deserved supporting actor award, but the entire cast here is superb, across all ages.
79. Onibaba (1964, Kaneto Shindo)
It’s the textures with this one. Shindo’s creeping horror film is set – almost entirely – within a field of tall reeds. They’re like a million knives cutting up the frame; the black and white cinematography (crisply remastered on the Eureka! blu-ray) makes the film like a sea of tendrils hypnotising the viewer.
78. Jurassic Park (1993, Steven Spielberg)
Wonderful blockbuster escapism with a central set-piece so staggering in its slow, deliberate evolution that I will never not go to bat for this film.
77. What Have You Done To Solange? (1972, Massimo Dallamano)
My favourite giallo has the strange feeling of a warped British fairytale… A silent pact between school girls; a cottage in the country beholden with secrets; Ennio Morricone’s folkish score. Sure, there are brutal and controversial motifs, but that’s giallo for you. A genuinely interesting mystery with dark revelations.
76. Umberto D. (1952, Vittorio de Sica)
As previously stated, not a dog person. But this tale of man’s best friend is unstoppable. Vittorio de Sica’s neo-realist masterpiece is a harsh critique of how Italian society dealt with the poor and the elderly, as one old man (Carlo Batissi) finds solace in a lovable little pooch.
75. All That Heaven Allows (1955, Douglas Sirk)
A year after Magnificent Obsession, Sirk, Wyman and Hudson re-teamed for their most famous and praised collaboration; a detonation of mild-mannered suburbia in which Wyman’s housewife courts controversy spending time with a younger man from a lower class. This is Sirk at his most sumptuous and quietly antagonistic. Rainer Werner Fassbinder was taking notes.
74. Pickup On South Street (1953, Samuel Fuller)
The noir and the spy thriller are blended together in Sam Fuller’s celebrated firecracker of a film. Richard Widmark is the unlucky pickpocket drawn into a web of intrigue when he steals more than he bargained for from Jean Peter’s unwitting mule, Candy. When they lament that they don’t make ’em like they used to, they’re talking about movies like Pickup.
73. The Wind (1928, Victor Sjöström)
Edging ever closer to it’s 100th birthday and Sjöström’s silent howler (put intended) still has the power to scare. Lilian Gish used her celebrity to get the movie made, and stars as a woman whose guilty conscience is put to the test by an unremitting sandstorm. The imagery here is indelible, particular the early sections in which the storm is visualised as galloping horses in the sky.
72. Like Someone In Love (2012, Abbas Kiarostami)
Unfairly overshadowed by the more critically adored Certified Copy, Kiarostami’s second film made outside of Iran is this lightly surreal, intelligent and playful tale of mistaken identities in urban Japan. As ever, car journeys dominate the action. There’s heart here and a surprise ending that still packs a jolt.
71. Branded To Kill (1967, Seijun Suzuki)
Suzuki spent much of the 60’s criss-crossing genres, but is most keenly remembered for his high concept yakuza pictures. The creative zenith of which was this; a film so daring in its editing and construction that it got him fired from Nikkatsu, the finished product deemed ‘unwatchable’. In fact, its a playful, pulp fiction masterpiece.
70. Clouds Of Sils Maria (2014, Olivier Assayas)
Juliette Binoche stars as a renowned actress confronting mortality and Kristen Stewart works wonders as her PA. Olivier Assayas’ wordy, intellectual film is a gift to both actresses, who play off of one another marvelously. And, later on, even Chloe Grace Moretz gets in on the action. Under seen and under appreciated.
69. La Dolce Vita (1960, Federico Fellini)
Fellini’s sprawling exploration of hedonistic socialites and the merry-go-round of moguls and movie stars livin’ it up in and around Rome has lost none of its ability to beguile and charm, and I tend to find more to love in it each time I return. Those times are rare – its a lot of movie – but whenever I do, its like rediscovering a treasure.
68. Fargo (1996, Joel Coen)
The iconoclast in me wants to mark The Man Who Wasn’t There as the best film in the Coens’ considerable canon, but right now I’m leaning back to the more populist Fargo. A comedy of incompetence and a mean little thriller, every aspect of production is on point here. And it gifted us one of the great TV shows of the last decade, improbably.
67. The Women (1939, George Cukor)
I freely admit that there’s not an awful lot of levity in this list, but when it comes to comedy my tastes seem to vector back to another era. Consider how delightful I find George Cukor’s The Women; a witty riot from Hollywood’s most revered ‘women’s director’. The performances are a blast in this fizzing tale of a jilted wife’s exploits with her catty friends.
66. Bound (1996, Lana Wachowski, Lily Wachowski)
Bound sometimes gets dismissed as just prep-work for the Wachowskis in order to get The Matrix green lit, but I see this as their real masterpiece. A smouldering, seductively shot lesbian romance that turns into a riotously twisty gangster crime flick, as Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly try to pull a fast one on the mob. A tour de force.
65. The Pumpkin Eater (1964, Jack Clayton)
Honestly, is there anything more defiantly British than having a meltdown in Harrods? Jack Clayton’s bitter look at married life in middle class England features a strong and convincing central turn from American Anne Bancroft, while James Mason is unforgettable in a smarmy supporting role.
64. Airplane! (1980, Jim Abrahms, Jerry Zucker, David Zucker)
Some films I love for their artistic merit, some for their politics… And then there’s something like Airplane! which is pure goofy escapism. Brimming with puns and home to a frankly intimidating number of dumb gags; the success rate here is incredible.
63. If Beale Street Could Talk (2018, Barry Jenkins)
I feel like I’ve talked about the pleasures and power of If Beale Street Could Talk a lot lately, so I’ll simply point you in the direction of my review here.
62. Irma Vep (1996, Olivier Assayas)
Maggie Cheung plays herself in Olivier Assayas’ playful send-up of celebrity and of the auteur theory. Cheung finds herself cast as a catsuited vampire for an aging French director in an increasingly baffling production. The film’s final punchline is superb, while the journey there is filled with life and the mockery (and celebration) of art.
61. Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979, Werner Herzog)
Sticking with vampires for the moment, Werner Herzog’s remake of the F.W. Murnau classic is not only my favourite of his, but may even best the esteemed original in terms of sheer malevolent atmosphere. There’s something bewitchingly funereal about every frame of this misty retelling, caught in the transfixed expressions of Isabelle Adjani.
60. Tokyo Story (1953, Yasujiro Ozu)
The Japanese master’s most celebrated film (the temptation was there to include around 6 of his works in this list), Tokyo Story works so well because it earns its emotional punches. Ozu’s is a cinema of acute study and quietly built pathos. His family films tap universal feelings. We see ourselves.
59. The Big Combo (1955, Joseph H Lewis)
Fusing the most iconic elements from the gangster picture and film noir, The Big Combo is exactly that – a greatest hits of all the pictures that came before it. B-movie master Joseph H Lewis favours long takes, while the lighting from cinematographer John Alton leans hard into genre expectations. The Big Combo gives you everything. Massive entertainment.
58. The Hustler (1962, Robert Rossen)
Is there anyone cooler than Paul Newman in the 60’s? Probably not. Here he’s electric as the pool shark who doesn’t know when to quit, who comes a cropper when facing down Jackie Gleason’s Minnesota Fats. On the peripheries, there’s also his doomed love affair with alcoholic Piper Laurie. A classic.
57. Night Of The Demon (1957, Jacques Tourneur)
One of the all time great British horror pictures, Jacques Tourneur’s Night Of The Demon prefigures some of the cat-and-mouse routines played out to great effect years later in Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man. The practical effects shouldn’t be as effective as they are, but their audacity conjures an impressive aura all of its own.
56. Punch-Drunk Love (2002, Paul Thomas Anderson)
After the heavy sprawl of Magnolia, P.T. Anderson delivered this small, scrappy – utterly idiosyncratic – romantic comedy with a truly elevated performance from Adam Sandler. Sound and image percolate in itching synchronicity in this coy ode to the weird among us.
55. The Swinging Cheerleaders (1974, Jack Hill)
Not the kind of title that would appear on your typical ‘all-time greatest films’ list, granted, but The Swinging Cheerleaders is one of those delightfully unpretentious drive-in era joys that has managed to make itself a mainstay. Hill tackles exploitation head-on, but brings a lot of All-American charm with him. Cheesy, silly and (kind of) serious all at the same time.
54. The Fog (1980, John Carpenter)
John Carpenter followed-up mega-hit Halloween with a more traditional ghost story. The resulting film is an atmospheric throwback. Growing up in a seaside town, the rural setting evidently struck a chord. I’d argue that cinematographer Dean Cundey is the real star here.
53. Certain Women (2016, Kelly Reichardt)
A far cry from cheerleader movies or ghostly horror, Reichardt’s cinema is down to earth, quietly poetic, beloved of little humanistic details. This triptych, showcasing ordinary women living their lives in the rural MidWest, is as tenderly wrought as anything she’s brought to the screen. Aside from Lynch, probably my favourite director.
52. Daughter Of The Nile (1987, Hou Hsiao-Hsien)
Sticking with ‘slow cinema’, here’s Hsiao-Hsien’s wistful drama of youth caught in the chaos of gang violence. The Taiwanese director makes the 80’s feel like a forlorn dystopian future, and a chunk of the ‘action’ takes place in a multi-storey KFC. It’s sublime.
51. Female Prisoner Scorpion: Beast Stable (1973, Shunya Ito)
I love Meiko Kaji. This third instalment in the Female Prisoner Scorpion series is the darkest of the lot, cleaving closest to horror, as Kaji’s prison escapee discovers life in 70’s Japan has become a literal hell on earth. Bold, transgressive and visually daring.
50. Carnival of Souls (1962, Herk Harvey)
Carnival of Souls is an eerie damned movie, one that creeps a little further up this list every time I see it. Candice Hilligoss is eminently watchable as the car crash survivor who totters away from the accident, only to find herself inexplicably drawn to a dilapidated carnival. The film works like a short story, brisk at 78 minutes, though it lingers far longer.
49. eXistenZ (1999, David Cronenberg)
The black sheep of Cronenberg’s more high-concept pictures, frequently dismissed as a recycling of Videodrome, which I find quite unfair. eXistenZ has bags to offer, not least the bewitching central turn from Jennifer Jason Leigh. Plug yourself in.
48. Fixed Bayonets! (1951, Samuel Fuller)
My favourite Samuel Fuller film is this underappreciated outlier, which came out the same year as the also-great The Steel Helmet. Fuller was among the first to contextualise the on-going war in Korea. Fixed Bayonets! succeeds in spite of some considerable limitations, and crams in plenty of action and suspense like densely compacted snow.
47. The Naked Spur (1953, Anthony Mann)
I spent last year – in part – exploring the Western in the fifties, and came away with a new love for the films of Anthony Mann. The Naked Spur is a tight, almost terrifying movie. The cast, led by James Stewart in a surprisingly ruthless role, feel hemmed in by circumstances. This is a pressure cooker movie. Just terrific.
46. Through A Glass Darkly (1962, Ingmar Bergman)
Ingmar Bergman. For when you want to seriously contemplate death, but also be all arty about it. There’s high melodrama here in my personal fave from the notorious Swede.
45. The Leopard (1963, Luchino Visconti)
The Leopard is a film to luxuriate in as Luchino Visconti gently pries into the mores of the upper classes in the midst of Italian civil war. An epic of gallant proportions. The extended ball sequence of the third hour is cinema to revel in as time presses on these characters, but more immediately dazzling are all those costumes and hand-fans! My!
44. Cape Fear (1962, J Lee Thompson)
Scorsese’s Cape Fear is a weird one. You’re in far better hands with J Lee Thompson’s scorching original, in which Robert Mitchum astounds as the super slimy Max Cady, terrorising the family of Gregory Peck’s effete Dr. Bowden. The film is still gripping now, so audiences in ’62 must’ve felt thoroughly assaulted.
43. The Wicker Man (1973, Robin Hardy)
On that tree there was a limb
And on that limb there was a branch
On that branch there was a nest
And in that nest there was an egg
In that egg there was a bird
And from that bird a feather came
Of that feather was a bed…
42. The Children’s Hour (1961, William Wyler)
Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine star as teachers accused of being in a gay relationship in this sensational, histrionic adaptation of a similarly progressive stage play. Both actors astonish in this sensitive essay on persecution. William Wyler is often great; this is one well worth your time.
41. The Furies (1950, Anthony Mann)
Back to Anthony Mann, and my favourite discovery thus far is this feminist western starring genre queen Barbara Stanwyck. The feminist western is a wonderful subgenre of exceedingly giving films. See also Johnny Guitar, Rancho Notorious or Sam Fuller’s Forty Guns – also starring Stanwyck!
40. Out 1 (1971, Jacques Rivette)
Just your average 12 hour improvised French film that focuses on rival theatre troops and a powerful secret society hidden in plain sight. Rivette’s mammoth masterpiece has been made available again and is an absolute pleasure to get lost in. It is its own world.
39. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968, Stanley Kubrick)
Speaking of mammoth masterpieces, Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey remains one of the landmark science fiction films. It may be cold, stern and unblinking but, as HAL gazes back at you, its hard not to revel in the film’s sheer ambition and majesty. The ultimate trip, indeed.
38. Sullivan’s Travels (1941, Preston Sturges)
If you want a crash course on where the Coens get their humour from, check out the rat-a-tat comedic gold of Preston Sturgess’ wild Sullivan’s Travels. Joel McCrea and Veronica Lake are a double act for the ages. Possibly the funniest film I’ve ever seen.
37. Day Of The Outlaw (1959, André de Toth)
André de Toth’s icy western set in the bleak midwinter is one of the toughest the genre produced. Burt Ives’ cadre of outlaws cause havoc in a small town already seething with resentments. More hateful than The Hateful Eight, this is a diamond in the rough for sure.
36. Death Proof (2007, Quentin Tarantino)
Speaking of Tarantino… this is my pick. By a long shot, this is my pick. I love Death Proof. From the characters, through the colours, through how the film literally moves through time, accelerating past Kurt Russell’s Stuntman Mike. The dialogue, the score… I don’t care what you say. His greatest film.
35. Frances Ha (2012, Noah Baumbach)
Partners in crime Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig teamed up for this effervescent look at New York millennials. Hard pass, right? Wrong. Frances Ha is an outstanding showcase for Gerwig’s charm and comedic talents. Sister-piece Mistress America is well worth finding, too.
34. Blue Velvet (1986, David Lynch)
If there’s a villain scarier than Max Cady on this list, its Frank Booth as portrayed by Dennis Hopper in David Lynch’s dark suburban mystery Blue Velvet. The film at large feels like a 40s piece free of all censorship constraints. Lynch abuts innocence with extremes of violence; two vying natures that clash throughout his work.
33. Girlhood (2014, Céline Sciamma)
I love Céline Sciamma’s eye. Her films feel very comfortable, as she observes microclimates in which people are transformed. Girlhood – a depiction of young black women in Parisian suburbs – mixes docu-drama detachment with moments of elevated bliss, without lurching between the two disparate sensibilities. See the “Diamond” sequence for the most shining example of this.
32. Jaws (1975, Steven Spielberg)
The first – and still greatest – summer blockbuster. There was a time I didn’t ‘get’ Jaws. That kind of amazes me now. Spielberg’s aquatic menace almost isn’t the point here. The first hour impresses, but it truly comes alive when the three leads are sequestered together at sea. And John Williams’ score is an all-timer, with treasures well beyond its signature theme.
31. Juliet Of The Spirits (1965, Federico Fellini)
My favourite Fellini (that I’ve seen so far) is this colourful and exuberant piece dedicated to his wife, Giulietta Masina, who also stars as a middle-aged woman confronting her own sexuality, with the aid of her new neighbour, the exuberant Sandra Milo. Milo acts like a kind of sexy Willy Wonka. That should be enough to get you on board.
30. There Will Be Blood (2007, Paul Thomas Anderson)
Anderson’s grand and vaguely Kubrickian essay on American greed feels like it’s always existed. Daniel Plainview’s frontiersman’s attitude and the barren wastes of its locale make it feel like a piece of America itself. A thundering colossus.
29. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964, Jacques Demy)
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is one of the most influential (and gorgeous) musicals ever made, though in truth it has more in common with opera. Every single line of dialogue is sung, here. Demy works magic throughout this romance, with such sweet melodies at his disposal.
28. L’Avventura (1960, Michelangelo Antonioni)
Antonioni broke the mold with L’Avventura, a near-three hour film about… nothing. A woman goes missing. Her friends search for her. Gradually they lose interest. Visually, negative spaces overcome the picture. We wait, expectant. Antonioni stares back at us, asking what we want from cinema. And its all… incredible, somehow.
27. Blade Runner (1982, Ridley Scott)
Scott’s a first-class world builder, never more so than here, expanding Philip K Dick’s short story into a defined and lived-in vision of the future (well, 2019). You might even say Scott invented the future, so significant are the imprints of Blade Runner on the pop culture that followed it.
26. The Apartment (1960, Billy Wilder)
The Apartment is often billed as a romantic comedy – and it is, one of the greats – but its a lot more than that. For one thing, its a hell of a lot darker in tone than one might reasonably expect. Jack Lemmon is CC Baxter, the man who changes, while Shirley MacLaine is the layered object of his affections.
25. The Tarnished Angels (1957, Douglas Sirk)
Not often cited as the greatest of Sirk’s pictures, granted, but the one that I return to the most, The Tarnished Angels has a depression-era vibe with its outcasts and carnies, and in the desperation wrought by the master of melodrama. Don’t think of it as a lesser picture. It’s a great one.
24. Crash (1996, David Cronenberg)
Cronenberg’s controversial adaptation of JG Ballad’s novel is soon to be reissued following a remaster. This is long overdue, as the film is the Canadian director’s best; a fusion of sound and vision that is positively hypnotic.
23. Rebel Without A Cause (1955, Nicholas Ray)
The fifties were a riot of teens-gone-wild exploitation pictures. Nicholas Ray vaulted them all with this all-timer, starring the iconic James Dean. The bristling high melodrama is matched by Ray’s astonishing eye for a gorgeous frame.
22. Suddenly, Last Summer (1959, Joseph L Mankiewicz)
Mankiewicz is sometimes derided (or at least taken for granted) for his ‘stagey’ productions. Suddenly, Last Summer shows he was capable of more, even as he brings Tennessee Williams’ hysterical, melodramatic shocker to the screen. Guess the ending. I dare you.
21. 3 Women (1977, Robert Altman)
3 Women is like a lucid dream suffered through during a heatwave. An echo of Bergman’s Persona and appropriately preoccupied with doubles, Sissy Spacek and Shelly Duvall are marvelous as the lead characters whose personalities merge in a world devoid of functional, dependable male figures.
20. Phantom Thread (2017, Paul Thomas Anderson)
PT Anderson’s warped 50s romance; launcher of a thousand memes on Film Twitter; showcase for Vicky Krieps (who deserves to be in a lot more things already); swansong for Daniel Day-Lewis (though he’s said that before)… and the jewel in the director’s already well-encrusted crown.
19. The Night of the Hunter (1955, Charles Laughton)
Panned on release, Laughton’s film has gone on to be rightly revered as one of the greatest American films ever made. This slice of Southern Gothic veers from the darkly comic to the ethereal and fantastic (that boat ride). Massively influential, and yet another sinister Robert Mitchum turn for the list.
18. Late Spring (1949, Yasujiro Ozu)
Ozu again, this time with a sensitive tale of a woman devoted to her ailing father, even as he ushers her out into the world to start her own family. Ozu mainstays Setsuko Hara and Chishû Ryû are as perfect as they’ve ever been, while that final scene is an all-time heartbreaker.
17. Coffy (1973, Jack Hill)
Time for a couple more technically imperfect films that achieve high rankings for their genre trappings. Pam Grier is electric in Coffy; a pioneering black female action lead on a quest for vengeance with a shotgun. Hill’s blaxploitation flick also works as a serious essay on corruption. One of my most-watched movies.
16. Female Prisoner Scorpion: Jailhouse 41 (1972, Shunya Ito)
Shunya Ito was a master. His three Female Prisoner Scorpion films are all extraordinary in their theatrics. My pick of the three is this barnstorming and witchy chase movie. As ever, Meiko Kaji astounds with her killer stare and minimal dialogue – another female action lead way ahead of her time.
15. Dazed And Confused (1993, Richard Linklater)
I saw this flick at an impressionable age and it stayed with me. Years later I found out what it was and its been with me ever since. The ultimate feel-good flick, packed with memorable dialogue, characters and the sense of a lived-in history straight from Linklater’s own youth.
14. Lost In Translation (2003, Sofia Coppola)
Before Scarlett Johansson became synonymous with superhero spandex and dubious casting choices, she broke big in Sofia Coppola’s bittersweet tale of far-flung connection in Tokyo. She is just as superb as her co-star; a career-best Bill Murray. A modern classic.
13. The Shining (1980, Stanley Kubrick)
It’s possible I’ve seen The Shining too many times. It carries a sense of over-familiarity. I could probably lip-sync much of the movie. As such I don’t really return to it as often as I used to… but that doesn’t make it any less of a powerhouse. My favourite King book; my favourite Kubrick film. Grand, ridiculous and brilliant.
12. Carol (2015, Todd Haynes)
Carol is melt-your-heart great. A fine adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s also-excellent novel, this tale of lesbian romance in the 50’s is given life by its two leads; the ever-miraculous Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, while the picture is a gorgeous blur of smudged reflections and rain-dappled windows.
11. My Man Godfrey (1936, Gregory La Cava)
Just a pure delight. De Cava’s classic comedy of manners never fails to charm. William Powell is a ‘lost man’; homeless and down on his luck until he is taken on as butler to Carole Lombard’s privileged society girl. It’s a perfect romantic comedy set-up in what might just be a perfect film.
10. Sherlock, Jr (1924, Buster Keaton)
Five years away from its centennial, and Buster Keaton’s 45-minute masterpiece Sherlock, Jr still feels fresh as a daisy. Sure, you might have to explain to the young folks what a projectionist is, but Keaton’s understanding of cinematic conventions and physical comedy make this timeless.
9. The Thing (1982, John Carpenter)
A firm favourite here at The Lost Highway Hotel. Not a year goes by that this doesn’t get dusted off for an obligatory re-watch. Carpenter’s effects-laden sci-fi horror has genuine staying power long after the shocks have subsided… in theory (they’re still pretty shocking the 10th time…).
8. Audition (1999, Takashi Miike)
An insidious trap of a movie. Miike’s Audition strolls along like a low-key romantic drama, until he upturns the table and leads you into a surreal and gratuitous nightmare. What’s staggeringly impressive is how he gets you there, slyly manipulating the film’s reality, transfixing you.
7. Apocalypse Now (1979, Francis Ford Coppola)
I really don’t think we’ll see the likes of Apocalypse Now again, no matter how many times Francis F cuts and recuts the film. The magnitude of the shoot. The madness of it. It wouldn’t happen now. That helicopter would explode in a ball of CG flames and nobody would feel anything.
6. Under The Skin (2013, Jonathan Glazer)
Glazer’s alien art film gets called sci-fi and it gets called horror. It’s both of those things. But its also a sly study in humanity and in the loneliness of the outsider. Mica Levi’s score contemplates this otherness perfectly. Glazer’s next project can’t come soon enough.
5. Vivre Sa Vie (1962, Jean-Luc Godard)
Godard is a bastard who now makes unwatchable collage films and who ignored the door when Agnes Varda came to visit him. Maybe he was always a bastard, but in the 60’s he was rewriting the rulebook with an energy unmatched by his peers. Vivre Sa Vie is perhaps the greatest example of this non-more-hip disregard for what came before.
4. Harakiri (1962, Masaki Kobayashi)
The greatest film you’ve (probably) never seen. Kobayashi’s twisting tale of samurai vengeance is dramatic cinema at its steeliest, typified by some of the finest cinematography you’ll find in any genre. Kobayashi’s work is among the most overlooked in the popular cinema conversation, and ought to stand beside the justly acclaimed greats of Akira Kurosawa.
3. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992, David Lynch)
I saw Fire Walk With Me before any other element of Twin Peaks (or anything else by David Lynch for that matter) and the effect was profound. Here was a world of secrets, fully formed and orchestrated with a bewitching confidence. FWWM is also a deeply human character study and depiction of tragedy, impossible to look away from.
2. Alien (1979, Ridley Scott)
Speaking of films that are impossible to look away from, here’s Alien. I begrudge Ridley Scott his late-career arrogance, but I concede its at least well-earned. A masterpiece of design and orchestration. Like Giger’s abominable creation, Scott’s film really is a perfect organism.
1. Mulholland Drive (2001, David Lynch)
Took the crown five years ago; takes the crown now. In fact, it’s been top since I first saw it around 17 years ago. Every now and then I wonder… is this really still my favourite movie? I think about changing my answer to that question. Pick one of these others. Then I watch it again, and stop questioning. Mesmeric.