Let me start this with a very big disclaimer: the following is a list of my favorite films, not the films that I would necessarily consider the best. To get onto this list, a film only had to meet three criteria.
- It must have hit me in an emotional or intellectual way that went beyond just thinking “what a good film”.
- I must have seen it more than once and recommended it to at least three people.
- It must have left such a strong memory that I involuntarily thought back to it at a later point.
1. I’m Not There (Todd Haynes, 2007)
Why have I seen this movie so often, and why do I never tire of it? I honestly don’t know. It’s a movie about Bob Dylan which very much adopts the singers love of secrecy, shrouded allegory and puzzling stories. I have often rewatched the movie just to catch one more reference, decipher one more cryptic message, but the rabbit hole keeps getting deeper and deeper. I guess I’ll have to accept that this film will forever haunt me, but that mercurial mystery is also why I know I’ll keep returning to it time and again. I’m Not There is more than a movie for me: it’s a place in the mind, a place where nothing is what it seems, where rules are arbitrary and cumbersome, and where one can always reinvent oneself.
2. Persona (Ingmar Bergman, 1966)
More than the films itself, I remember the shock of watching this. If cinema is a religion, that was my holy moment. This film has shown me so much about life, about love, about film, but above all: about myself.
3. Der Himmel Uber Berlin (Wim Wenders, 1987)
At the final scene of this movie I cried. I don’t know why. I just did. It seemed like the only fitting reaction to something so beautiful, so pure, so true.
4. Last Year in Marienbad (Alain Resnais et al., 1961)
Boring? Maybe. Pretentious? Definitely. But also beautiful, esoteric, dreamlike, and one of the purest example of what’s possible in the medium.
5. Slacker (Richard Linklater,1991)
Although it’s often claimed that the next movie on the list has the greatest screenplay of all time, I find myself drawn more to the writing. There’s no story to speak of, but instead the movie just switches from one character to another, with little to nothing to connect them. Which, in turn, means that we have about 25 first acts to all sort of fascinating stories. The characters are at times hypocritical and stupid, but they are portrayed with honesty and wit, qualities that very few movies can claim even one of.
6. Casablanca (Michael Curtis, 1942)
The Ultimate Classic, and one of the few movies that nobody dislikes. It also has one of my favorite acting performances of all time in Claude Rains’ rascally Captain Renault.
7. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (Jim Sharman, 1975)
If you believe this picture to be vulgar, trashy, and in bad taste, you are absolutely right. You’re also missing out.
8. The Red Shoes (Powell & Pressburger, 1948)
The magnificent films of The Archers are still somewhat obscure to casual moviegoers, which is a crying shame. The favorite film of both fellow scribe Kevyn Knox and one of Scorcese faves as well, this is one you really shouldn’t skip.
9. The Virgin Suicides (Sofia Coppola, 1999)
Sofia Coppola peerless debut understands two things very well: girls, and the mystery girls are to boys. Coppola uses this fascination to give us a portrait of the fated Lisbon sisters that is both intimate and distant, both nostalgic and tragic, both constrained and profound. Although Lost is Translation is perhaps the better film, this is the one that fascinates me the most of her entire filmography, which is saying quite something.
10. Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1927)
It only took, oh, 80 years, but we can finally watch Metropolis as it was intended to be. And doing so immediately makes you realize what has motivated the reconstructionists for so long. It’s a hypnotic film, a whirlwind of sound and images, made with a craftsmanship and artistry that’s all but lost in this time of digital handicams. The single greatest silent film of all time, and a masterpiece of world cinema.
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