The 100 Best Movies on The Criterion Channel (September 2021)

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The 100 Best Movies on The Criterion Channel (September 2021)

If ever there was a streaming service that was delightfully difficult to pull highlights from, it’s The Criterion Channel. The streaming side of the Criterion Collection that rose after the death of FilmStruck, The Criterion Channel is the undisputed arthouse king. HBO Max and Amazon have massive libraries that include some cinephile delights, but you could throw a digital dart into Criterion’s catalog and hit something that’ll blow your mind—and a few supplemental special features to educate its remains.

Showcasing some of the biggest names in film history, pulling from masters that dominate our superlative lists of both country and decade-specific cinema, the streamer is a gold mine. Yasujiro Ozu, Agnés Varda, Chantal Akerman, Akira Kurosawa, Satyajit Ray, Federico Fellini, Charlie Chaplin—basically, if they turn up in a History of Film textbook, it’s more than likely you’ll find a way into their work here. Obviously the work of these filmmakers isn’t boxed into the quiet, black-and-white highbrow movie cliché that keeps some movie lovers at arm’s length from anything with subtitles, but the Channel’s modern filmmakers only disrupt this exclusionary, gatekeeping notion further. Turning to Steve McQueen, Kelly Reichardt, Paolo Sorrentino, Wong Kar-wai—heck, even Jackie Chan—there are movies in every era and every genre for those looking for a quality time.

The $10.99/month fee also includes guest curators (who contribute interviews alongside their picks), short films and built-in binge-ready collections, but there’s no getting around the main draw: A massive, essential collection of high-quality international cinema. While the films available shift from month to month (the hazard of any streamer), Criterion’s always offering new collections to help those of us that need a little push into watching something. We’ll keep this list updated with the latest and greatest classics and curios. Only two movies left this list in September. We’ve replaced them with equally excellent fare like Walkabout.

Here are the 100 best movies on Criterion Channel right now:


1. 8 1/2

8-1-2.jpg Year: 1963
Director: Federico Fellini
Stars: Marcello Mastroianni, Claudia Cardinale, Anouk Aimee
Runtime: 140 minutes

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With Fellini we wander through a shadow of his psyche, wondering where his memories begin and where Guido’s (Marcello Mastroiani) psychoses end. Perhaps Fellini’s most impressive blending of dreams and fantasies, of moral truth and oneiric fallacy, of space and time, 8 1/2 tells its story in Möbius strips, wrapping realities into realities in order to leave audiences helplessly buried within its main character’s self-absorption. Guido’s obsession is so inward-looking he can’t help but destroy every single close relationship in his life, and yet, in hanging the film’s narrative on the struggle of one filmmaker to make his latest film—the title refers to the fact that this was Fellini’s eighth-and-a-half feature—the iconic Italian director seems to claim that artistic genius practically demands such solipsism. It’s a brazen statement for a film to make, but Fellini does so with such grace and vision, with such seamless intent, 8 1/2 becomes a bittersweet masterpiece: Clear, aching and steeped in nostalgia, it celebrates the kind of glorious life only cinema can offer. —Dom Sinacola


2. Cameraperson

Cameraperson285x400.jpg Year: 2016
Director: Kirsten Johnson
Runtime: 102 minutes

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Kirsten Johnson’s title for her latest documentary feature could not be any more nondescript. And yet, the anonymity of that title points to perhaps the most remarkable aspect about this film: its maker’s sheer selflessness, her devotion to her craft and her subjects, her seemingly complete lack of ego. The film is pieced together from outtakes from the long-time documentary filmmaker/cinematographer’s extensive body of work, but beyond occasionally hearing her voice behind the camera (and one shot towards the end in which we finally see her face as she points the camera toward herself), Johnson forgoes the safety net of voiceover narration to tie all this footage together. The footage speaks for itself, and for her. Which is not to say that the film is just a compilation of clips strung together willy-nilly. Johnson breathes an animating intelligence into Cameraperson’s construction, employing a method that suggests a mind processing one’s life experiences, contemplating the sum total of her work, veering off into tangents whenever she happens upon a piece of footage that triggers broader reflections. It’s a measure of Johnson’s overall humility that she is willing to be as brutally honest about herself with the viewers in this way—and it’s that humility that ultimately makes Cameraperson such an inspiring experience. —K.F.


3. Stalker

stalker-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1979
Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Stars: Marcello Mastroianni, Claudia Cardinale, Anouk Aimee
Runtime: 140 minutes

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“Once, the future was only a continuation of the present. All its changes loomed somewhere beyond the horizon. But now the future’s a part of the present.” So says the Writer (Anatoli Solonitsyn) in Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker, somewhere deep in the Zone, contemplating the deeper trenches of his subconscious, of his fears and life and whatever “filth” exists within him. “Are they prepared for this?” he asks. In Tarkovsky’s last Soviet film, the director seems to be admitting that what he’s feared most has come to pass. What that means is of course nebulous for a viewer not steeped in the director’s life or in the history of the country that was both home and hostile to him and his work throughout most of his life. Based very loosely on Roadside Picnic, a novel by brothers Boris and Arkady Strugatsky (who also wrote the screenplay), Stalker imagines a dystopic future not far from our present—or Tarkovsky’s present, before the fall of the Berlin Wall or the devastation of Chernobyl—in which some sort of otherworldly force has deposited a place humans have called “the Zone” onto Earth. There, the laws of Nature don’t apply, time and space thwarted by the hidden desires and wills of all those who enter it. Of course, the government has set up cordons around the Zone, and entry is strictly prohibited. Guides/liaisons called “stalkers” head illegal expeditions into the Zone, taking clients (often intellectual elites who can afford the trip) into the heart of the restricted, alien area—in search of, as we learn as the film slowly moves on, the so-called “Room,” where a person’s deepest desires become reality. One such Stalker (Aleksandr Kaidanovsky) is hired by the aforementioned Writer and a physicist (or something) known only as the Professor (Nikolai Grinko) to lead them into the Zone, spurred by vague ideas of what they’ll find when they reach the Room. The audience is as much in the dark, and through Tarkovsky’s (near-intolerably) patient shots, the three men come to discover, as do those watching their journey, what has really brought them to such an awful extreme as hiring a spiritual criminal to guide them into the almost certain doom of whatever the Zone has waiting for them. And yet, no context properly prepares a viewer for the harrowing, hypnotic experience of watching Stalker. Between the sepia wasteland outside the Zone (so detailed in its grime and suspended misery you may need to take a shower afterwards) and the oversaturated greens and blues of the wreckage inside, Tarkovsky moves almost imperceptibly, taking the rhythms of industry and the empty lulls of post-industrial life to the point of making the barely mystical overwhelmingly manifest. Throughout that push and pull, there is the mounting sense of escape—of Tarkovsky escaping the Soviet Union and its restrictions on his films, maybe—as equally as there is the sense that escape should never be attempted. Because some freedom, some knowledge, isn’t meant for us. —Dom Sinacola


4. Beau Travail

beau-travail-poster.jpg Year: 2000
Director: Claire Denis
Stars: Denis Lavant, Michel Subor, Grégoire Colin
Runtime: 93 minutes

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Where most iconic actors have faces akin to national parks and vast landscapes, French actor Denis Lavant’s is a booming metro, its spaces and cracks like the carefully sculpted facade of a city block. He’s gargoyle-like, and so when he plays the lead in Claire Denis’ Beau Travail, he wears all his implicit machismo right there on his mug. As Chief Adjutant Galoup remembering his time in Djibouti, he snarls, lips twisting into a spiral staircase leading into his fractured psyche. His obsession with Gilles Sentain (Grégoire Colin) manifests as competition, and underneath the heat of the beating sun, Galoup lets this fixation eat away at him until there is almost nothing left. The film moves back and forth between Galoup’s time in the army and his present, writing of his experiences, trying to grasp at what made him so hungry for Sentain, but the scars of queer repression are only one note that informs the hypnotic lyricism of Denis’ film. With blasting critiques of colonialism and masculinity, Denis plunges us into the rhythm of the night, however lonely it ultimately is. —Kyle Turner


5. Vitalina Varela

vitalina-varela-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2020
Director: Pedro Costa
Stars: Vitalina Varela, Ventura, Manuel Tavares Aplmeida
Runtime: 124 minutes

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If black defines the visual tone in Vitalina Varela, stillness provides the picture’s structure. Portuguese master Pedro Costa shot Vitalina Varela using an aspect ratio close to the Academy ratio (1.33:1 instead of 1.37:1); the result is a movie almost squarely framed, and from that comes the feeling of being hemmed in. There’s very little room to breathe, much less move around; the images do move, but so slowly and so haltingly that they practically read as still anyways. Life in Lisbon’s utterly devastated Fontainhas shantytown is a parade of smothered humanity. Residents march, shamble and occasionally lie prone on the ground, faith depleted, energy drained. Why anyone would return here after spending decades away is a question Costa answers within its first 10 minutes, when the title character, named for the actress who plays her, touches down on the tarmac and is immediately met with bad news. “Vitalina, you arrived too late,” one of the airport workers serving as the welcome wagon tells her. “Your husband was buried days ago. There is nothing in Portugal for you.” Vitalina’s angry. She’s heartbroken. For 40 years, she lived alone in Cape Verde, her husband, Joaquim, having abandoned her. Now, at long last able to reunite with him, she finds that she’s inherited the mess—worldly and spiritual—he left with his passing: the house he built for them, but also the demons he collected over the course of their separation. Each person who comes to Vitalina’s door has demons of their own, too, and no one the audience meets is free from grief, the emotion for which the movie’s pervading darkness functions as an avatar: There’s nothing here for Vitalina other than the task of reconciliation. Withstanding the procession of Vitalina Varela’s suffering requires patience and endurance, but maybe the way Costa and Varela explore grief’s every nook and cranny will yield unexpected relief from our own. —Andy Crump


6. The Samurai Trilogy

samurai-trilogy-1-movie-poster.jpg Years: 1954 -1956
Director: Hiroshi Inagaki
Stars: Toshiro Mifune, Rentaro Mikuni, Kuroemon Onoe
Runtime: 93, 103 and 104 minutes

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The Seven Samurai gets a lot of mainstream credit for being the samurai movie’s defining epic, but we should probably fix that and give equal kudos to Hiroshi Inagaki’s massive, three-chapter chronicle of the life and times of Miyamoto Musashi (Toshiro Mifune), a legendary swordsman and the author of The Book of the Five Rings, essentially a text devoted to the subject of kicking ass. Maybe the comparison to The Seven Samurai isn’t fair to The Seven Samurai: That’s a single three-hour movie in contrast to three movies each in the ballpark of 90 to 140 minutes in length. Simply put, The Samurai Trilogy is epic defined, wrought as cinema that helped shape the samurai film alongside Kurosawa’s watershed picture. (It’s worth noting that the first chapter of Inagaki’s trilogy, Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto, opened in 1954, the same year as Seven Samurai. It’s only natural to stack the two against each other.) The Samurai Trilogy is a work of enduring maturity, capturing Musashi’s arc of growth as a fencer, and as a man, over the course of years spent dueling, studying and tending his very soul. The films alternate between mediation and action, both in context as individual movies and as parts of a greater whole; Samurai II: Duel at Ichijoji Temple in particular emphasizes action more than its siblings, ending with a massive battle between Musashi and a horde of bad guys in need of a few sword slashes apiece. But even so, that movie can’t help being about tenets of samurai discipline, and the search for self-improvement through marriage of mind and body. Combined, Inagaki’s films make up the most sweeping, romantic and rigorous production of its kind, bolstered by what’s arguably the most sophisticated and nuanced performance of Mifune’s career. —Andy Crump


7. Cléo from 5 to 7

cleo-from-5-to-7-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1962
Director: Agnès Varda
Stars: Corinne Marchand, Antoine Bourseiller, Dominique Davray
Runtime: 89 minutes

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Halfway through Agnès Varda’s sophomore film, the titular Cléo (Corinne Marchand), a pop singer awaiting the potentially devastating results of some sort of medical test, looks directly into the camera, weeping as she sings a song during an otherwise typical practice session. It’s a revelatory moment: Varda addresses her audience directly through her character addressing her audience directly, all while on the precipice of total dissolution. Cléo, a beautiful, burgeoning celebrity, seems to understand that she may be empty without her looks, just as she rails against the forces that put her in such an untenable position. In other words, realizing in that moment of melodrama, of the heightened emotion she knows all too well is the stuff of pop music at its most marketably patronizing, that her attractiveness may be soon over, she’s driven to tears, unable to reconcile her talent with her face, or her fragility with her livelihood, leaving it to the audience to decide whether she deserves our sympathy or not. If not, Varda wonders, then why not? Shot practically in real time, Cléo from 5 to 7 waits along with our character as she waits for life-changing news, floating from coffee shop to home to park to wherever, not doing much of anything with the life she has, the life she may find out she’s losing soon enough. She watches a silent film featuring cameos by Jean-Luc Godard and Anna Karina, meets a soldier on leave from the Algerian front (Antoine Bourseiller) who confesses he believes people are dying for nothing, drives past a murder scene and senses that the universe maybe has misdirected her bad luck towards another soul. One of the defining films of the Left Bank branch of the French New Wave (as opposed to those of the “Right Bank,” the more famous films of Truffaut and Godard, the movement’s more commercial, cosmopolitan cinephiles), Cléo from 5 to 7 is a fever dream of the ordinary, a meditation on the nothingness of everyday living, as existential as it is blissfully bereft of purpose. —Dom Sinacola


8. Hunger

hunger-210.jpg Year: 2008
Director: Steve McQueen
Stars: Michael Fassbender, Stuart Graham, Liam Cunningham
Runtime: 96 minutes

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Hunger exists in minutiae and mundanity and excruciating detail—in long takes and philosophical discussions with no end and lots of pain, both physical and existential. Director Steve McQueen’s (Shame, 12 Years a Slave) feature-length debut understands that the human body is the last battlefield over belief, that nationalism, politics, religion and civil rights will always, eventually come down to the flesh—to whether or not we have full control over ourselves—and so in this recounting of the 1981 hunger strikes by Republican prisoners in Northern Ireland, McQueen focuses on the visceral drudgery of political action. McQueen would go on to further explore the ways in which physicality can be expressed on film as thematically as it is immersively (especially in Shame, also starring Michael Fassbender, which is perhaps his most direct examination of belief and the limits of the flesh), but in Hunger he so seamlessly juxtaposes the quotidian with historic events that you can’t help but watch his film and feel it—all the way down to your guts. —Dom Sinacola


9. Black Narcissus

black-narcissus-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1947
Directors: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Stars: Deborah Kerr, Sabu, David Farrar
Runtime: 101 minutes

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A melodrama set in a convent in British-ruled Himalayan India, directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and starring Deborah Kerr and David Farrar, Black Narcissus provides a recipe for … strangeness. And it’s a beautiful kind of strangeness. Five nuns are sent to establish a convent, school and hospital in a former harem. It’s difficult to adapt to the new surroundings, and the agent who’s on call to help them do it is, well, he’s a bit of a temptation. There are tragic consequences, naturally. The story’s compelling enough, but what really blows me away about this film is the otherworldly visual sensibility. Powell’s camerawork is mesmerizing and the film is steeped in supersaturated color, underlining the exoticism and confusion faced by the nuns, sending the viewer to another dimension. —Amy Glynn


10. Hiroshima Mon Amour

hiroshima-mon-amour-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1959
Director: Alain Resnais
Stars: Emmanuelle Riva, Eiji Okada
Runtime: 90 minutes

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Alain Resnais’s 1959 masterpiece begins like a documentary, one reminiscent of his harrowing 1955 nonfiction short Night and Fog, except focused on the aftermath of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima during World War II. Instead of an omniscient voiceover narrator, however, we hear what we eventually discover are two lovers: a French actress (Emmanuelle Riva) and a Japanese architect (Eiji Okada) who, in the present day, have met in Hiroshima are both carrying on extramarital affairs with each other, even as they realize it can’t last. It sounds like pure Casablanca-like forbidden romance, but under Resnais and screenwriter Marguerite Duras, Hiroshima Mon Amour touches on broader ideas: chiefly, the potential impossibility of art to measure up to personal experience and memory. The man’s repeated incantations to the woman that “You saw nothing in Hiroshima” suggests a level of perspective on the horrific event that even she, starring in a well-meaning “movie about peace,” can’t possibly access. She can only try to identify through her own experience as a tormented outsider in the village in which she grew up—but really, how can even that possibly measure up to the devastation of such a horrific event? Even Hiroshima itself, as captured in black-and-white by cinematographers Sacha Vierny and Michio Takahashi, seems to want to try to forget its past, by covering it up in a preponderance of neon lights. Resnais aids Duras’s reflections on history and memory with a then-groundbreaking editing style that fluidly goes back and forth between past and present. The enduring miracle of Hiroshima Mon Amour, though, is that all its formal and philosophical ambition doesn’t obscure the poignance of its central romance, especially with Emmanuelle Riva’s indelible expressions of passion, anguish and regret. —Kenji Fujishima


11. The Great Beauty

the-great-beauty-poster.jpg Year: 2013
Director: Paolo Sorrentino
Stars: Toni Servillo, Carlo Verdone, Sabrina Ferilli
Runtime: 141 minutes

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Move over Gatsby, the best movie of 2013 about rich people’s problems was Paolo Sorrentino’s gorgeous The Great Beauty. A dapper gentleman (Toni Servillo), in the truest of director Federico Fellini’s traditions, strays from exorbitant party to outlandish party with a circle of friends while musing on life, Rome and love. But on his 65th birthday, he’s thrown off his groove and begins to wonder about the limited worldview and superficial party culture he’s a part of. While maintaining a sense of the absurd, the movie is artfully composed to encapsulate the opulent lifestyle of the rich and aimless. Beauty is both a loving tribute and spiritual continuation of Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, and manages to pull off both feats in style.—Monica Castillo


12. I Knew Her Well

801_BD_box_348x490_original.jpg Year: 1965
Director: Antonio Pietrangeli
Stars: Stefania Sandrelli, Mario Adorf, Jean-Claude Brialy
Runtime: 115 minutes

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Ever wonder what La Dolce Vita would look like if Federico Fellini had shot it through a feminine perspective? Wonder no longer. I Knew Her Well, an unsung masterpiece from Commedia all’italiana director Antonio Pietrangeli, is essentially what the sweet life looks like from the point of view of a young woman, Adriana (portrayed in a stunning lead performance by Stefania Sandrelli, whose video interview is a must-watch among the Blu-ray’s supplemental features). Adriana’s a country girl who self-relocates to Rome in pursuit of fame, celebrity and all the spoils that notoriety afford those who are able to capture it; she has no greater aspirations than to bask in stardom’s scintillating warmth, or at least none that are articulated explicitly through text. Either unwittingly or not, I Knew Her Well—a title whose suggestion of familiarity reminds us that we’ve all read about a person like Stefanie in tabloids or seen her on television—flips the male gaze inhabited and critiqued in Fellini’s masterpiece on its head. Pietrangeli shows his audience what it is to be manipulated and used, rather than what it is to be the manipulator or the user. The results are equally as shocking as they are revelatory. —Andy Crump


13. Black Girl

black-girl-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1966
Director: Ousmane Sembène
Stars: Mbissine Thérèse Diop, Anne-Marie Jelinek, Momar Nar Sene
Runtime: 60 minutes

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Senegalese director Ousmane Sembène grew up a French citizen in the final throes of his country’s centuries-long period of colonialism, almost 40 when Senegal joined French Sudan to gain independence. Made six years after France transferred power, Black Girl, Sembène’s first feature-length film as writer and director (based off of his own short story), aches with wounds still lifetimes away from healing, worsened by the shallowness of a people (French) who just want to move on and with the humiliation and resentment of a lot more people (Africans) who physically live everyday—in their language and social structures and economic lots—surrounded by the reminders that they for so long were not their own. Sembène makes this divide dreadfully clear, telling the story of quiet Diouana (Mbissine Thérèse Diop), hired by a French family to serve as their nanny in Dakar, until they move back to the Riviera and encourage (expect) Diouana to go and live with them. Of course, once she arrives, the bitter, malicious Madame (Anne-Marie Jelinek) expects her to cook and clean, callously stretching the bounds of Diouana’s duties as nanny into a kind of indentured servitude, exacerbated by Diouana’s inability to read and lack of money. She is, literally, stuck in France. Meanwhile, Sembène cuts to memories of Diouana’s life before she left Senegal, in which she lived in relative poverty but had family and boyfriend (Momar Nar Sene) to support her, telling her not to leave but still needing the money she could potentially earn. Juxtaposing these two realities, Sembène slowly crafts a vision of post-colonial slavery in a post-war world, building a tension that gives Diouana no choice but to tragically get out the only way she knows how. Despite whatever the Madame and her family had in mind, Diouana’s story could have ended no other way. —Dom Sinacola


14. The Battle of Algiers

the-battle-of-algiers-poster.jpg Year: 1966
Director: Gillo Pontecorvo
Stars: Brahim Haggiag, Jean Martin, Saadi Yacef
Runtime: 121 minutes

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A perfect meeting of story and style, Gillo Pontecorvo’s guerrilla warfare drama The Battle of Algiers reflects in its grainy docu-style the scrappy tactics of the combatants: the revolutionary Algerian National Liberation Front, executing police and civilians in cafes and in the streets, and the French governors and counter-insurgents, struggling to combat a threat to their existence in a land they rule but don’t fully understand. Like a great documentary would, The Battle of Algiers takes a coolly balanced and non-judgmental view of its subjects, coming down neither on the side of the radicals nor the colonialists, but in another way Pontecorvo’s raw newsreel design is deceptive: what appears improvisational is actually meticulously arranged. The director’s great achievement is that not a second of his film is without purpose, yet it unfolds as a constant surprise, almost as though the footage was not shot but discovered. —Brogan Morris


15. Rashomon

rashomon-poster.jpg Year: 1950
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Stars: Toshiro Mifune, Machiko Kyo, Masayuki Mori
Runtime: 88 minutes

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What you get out of Rashomon likely reflects what you bring into it, but it might help to bring a basic grasp of cubism into it. You hear the word “cubist,” your brain probably goes right to Picasso and Braque, but in cinema it ought to head straight to Kurosawa, who in essence gave birth to the movie version of cubism with Rashomon by performing a feat as deceptively simple as filtering a single narrative through multiple character perspectives; the more Kurosawa filters that narrative, the more the narrative changes, until we can no longer determine which to trust and which to write off. In the trial that comprises the bulk of the film’s plot, who is telling the truth? The bandit, the man accused of murdering a samurai and raping his wife? The wife? The samurai himself, summoned to the trial via spirit medium? Even when Kurosawa generously reveals what actually happened when the bandit crossed paths with the samurai and his wife via the post-trial testimony of a humble woodcutter, we’re still left to wrestle with the question of who, and what, we should believe. Kurosawa’s technical mastery is always awesome to behold, but in Rashomon, it’s his gift for utterly blurring reality that dazzles most. —Andy Crump


16. The Gold Rush

gold-rush.jpg Year: 1925
Director: Charles Chaplin
Stars: Charles Chaplin, Georgia Hale
Runtime: 88 minutes

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The Klondike gold rush made the perfect setting for Charles Chaplin’s tramp to run wild. Chaplin took all the motifs he could find from adventure novels, melodramas and other stories of the northern frontier, tossed them in a blender and served up a collection of what would become his most famous scenes. He finds humor in peril—with a suspenseful teetering cabin scene, as well as starvation (when he famously makes a meal of his boot) and of course finds time to show off with his dancing roll scene. However, no one has succeeded in finding any humor in the atrocious voiceover Chaplin added to the 1942 rerelease. Be sure to watch the original version. For a more serious take on the Klondike hardships, see Clarence Brown’s The Trail of ’98 (1928).


17. La Strada

la-strada-poster.jpg Year: 1954
Director: Federico Fellini
Stars: Giulietta Masina, Anthony Quinn, Richard Basehart
Runtime: 109 minutes

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I like to imagine that if Fellini made La Strada today, we’d all be able to marvel at the depth of compassion he feels toward the film’s male lead, Anthony Quinn, playing the brutish traveling circus performer Zampano, a strong man who shatters chains with the might of his Herculean pecs. The reality is that asking your audience to pity an abusive, terrible human being at the near-literal last minute is asking a lot, but Fellini’s grace as an artist makes that pill easier to swallow. He heaps cruelties both physical and spiritual upon his two subjects, Zampano and the childlike Gelsomina (played by Fellini’s luminous and eminently talented wife, Giulietta Masina), reserving the brunt of the film’s suffering for her: Gelsomina labors under Zampano’s merciless direction and by consequence lives in a state of constant existential anxiety, ever pondering what her place is in the universal order. Maybe it’s just her lot in life to hurt. Maybe there is no universal order. Or maybe she was put on Earth to visit justice beyond the grace on Zampano as he collapses weeping on the beach, broken by the realization of his sins. La Strada is a deceptively simple picture layered with intricate, empathetic subtexts, and this, perhaps, is why it remains the most essential neorealist effort in Fellini’s body of work. —Andy Crump


18. Mikey and Nicky

mikey-nicky-criterion.jpg Year: 1976
Director: Elaine May
Stars: Peter Falk, John Cassavetes, Ned Beatty, William Hickey
Runtime: 107 minutes

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Everyone’s got a friend like Nicky (John Cassavetes), though the Nickys of the world exist on a sliding scale. Not every Nicky works for the mob, or womanizes, or betrays the mob, or generally acts like a large diameter asshole at any provocation or under any amount of strain. But strip Mikey and Nicky of its genre particulars, its gangster trappings, and what remains is a recognizable story of two friends at loggerheads, joined by the history of their lifetimes, inseparable, and yet chemically volatile when standing in arm’s reach of each other. Mikey (Peter Falk) and Nicky go way back. They’ve been pals since always, since before they became small time crooks, since before their parents shuffled their mortal coils. Mikey’s the equanimous one, Nicky the hothead, though Mikey’s only cool and composed when stood next to Nicky. “You give me that in 30 seconds or I’ll kill you, you hear me?” he roars at a diner counterman, desperate for a cup of cream to help soothe Nicky’s ailing stomach. Neither is especially good to women, and both are in boiling water, though Mikey’s only up to his toes and Nicky’s waist-deep, having ripped off his boss and earned a hit on his forehead. The most honest move Mikey can make is to leave Nicky to the mob’s mercies, but he’s not an honest man and honestly, male relationships aren’t all that honest. Elaine May understands how quickly men oscillate between emotion and violence, rancor and play. One minute Mikey’s fretting over Nicky catching a cold. The next, they’re scrapping in the street, as if their friendship never mattered in the first place. Amazing how easily men can transgress from adults to boys, whether they’re trading blows or just gleefully racing one another down the sidewalk. Even when they’re all grown up, they’re still children at heart. Over 40 years later, Mikey and Nicky has aged better than both of them. —Andy Crump


19. Rome, Open City

rome-open-city-poster.jpg Year: 1945
Director: Roberto Rossellini
Stars: Aldo Fabrizi, Anna Magnani, Marcello Pagliero
Runtime: 103 minutes

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When you think of Italian neorealist cinema, your mind probably zips straight right on over to Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves, a beautifully made movie about the harsh realities of life in postwar Italy. Bicycle Thieves marries sober observations about its time and place with an abiding sense of optimism that’s fully realized in the film’s climax. By contrast, Roberto Rossellini’s Rome, Open City denies its viewers the admittedly mild succor granted us by Bicycle Thieves, offering instead a raw, righteous outrage that stems from Rosselini’s national pride. The film understands wartime trauma in ways most war films simply don’t; it captures Italy’s emotional, and sociopolitical fragility in the aftermath of World War II on celluloid like an insect trapped in amber, indulging in slight degrees of wish fulfillment while staging a credible representation of Italian resistance to German occupation in 1944. Rossellini contrasts Italian fear with Italian heroism, creating opportunities for the movie’s German characters to look inward and realize that force of arms isn’t the same thing as force of courage. It doesn’t take much to do violence upon others. It takes much more to show honest to goodness bravery on pain of death. —A.C.


20. The Seventh Seal

seventh-seal-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1957
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Stars: Max von Sydow, Inga Landgré, Gunnar Björnstrand
Runtime: 96 minutes

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Like any cultural touchstone, any ubiquitous landmark of the arts more mitotically absorbed than actually experienced, The Seventh Seal is bound to be misremembered. We know well the chess game with Death (Bengt Ekerot), as well as Death’s get-up—a sort of gothic mix between Musketeer and monk—etched into the firmament of our pop obsessions (for most my age, it was in Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey that the bone-white face and cape were first encountered), even if we’ve never actually seen the film. We know well the name of director Ingmar Bergman or that of star Max von Sydow (recently in Force Awakens), even if we aren’t familiar with their work, so ingrained into any working conception of “international cinema” are they, much of which is due to The Seventh Seal. We know well the dour chiaroscuro of Swedish cinema, the arch-symbolic pretension of art house stuff that squeezes all mirth from every orifice of the viewer. But do we forget how little of this movie is the chess game—how dimwitted Death can be? How funny The Seventh Seal actually is? “Is it so cruelly inconceivable to grasp God with the senses?” asks knight Antonius Block (von Sydow). “What is going to happen to those of us who want to believe but aren’t able to?” With The Seventh Seal, a simple story about a jaded knight returning from the Crusades to find that the world he fought for has seemingly been abandoned by God, Bergman sought clarity in the problem of faith—he wanted to map the vast spiritual terrain between experiencing and knowing, between feeling and believing. The reason why today the film still resonates, why we know the movie without having to experience it, is because of that clarity in Bergman’s vision: The Seventh Seal is all symbol, metaphor, allusion—but what it’s symbolic of, a metaphor for or alluding to isn’t too hard for any of us to figure. When the knight asks a question, God answers with silence—and there’s little humans understand better than how that feels. —Dom Sinacola


21. Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles

JeanneDielmanCriterion285x400.jpg Year: 1975
Director: Chantal Akerman
Stars: Delphine Seyrig, Jan Decorte
Runtime: 201 minutes

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Belgian director Chantal Akerman built a formidable edifice of domesticity in order to pull it down piece by piece, habit by habit, hourly ritual by daily routine. The title of her second film, a name and a location, reflects a submission to a time and to a place, and over the course of nearly three and a half hours, Akerman defines that name, Jeanne Dielman (Delphine Seyrig), through the ways in which Dielman—mother, single homemaker, occasional prostitute—fills that location, a small Brussels apartment of modest means, with the cooking and cleaning and mothering and fornication of a person trapped within the order and regiment of a society that doesn’t so much care for her as expect her to continue to uphold that order, all for the benefit of the men in her life, who make no attempt to understand the intricacies of what she’s accomplished. On the first day, Akerman establishes Jeanne Dielman’s quotidian, an architecture of perfectly calibrated chores, meals, joyless sex, vigorous bathing and thankless evenings spent with her aloof wad of a son (Jan Decorte), all of which she assembles seamlessly seemingly for him, and for no one else. On the second day, a few items go awry, Jeanne overcooks the potatoes and remainders begin to appear in the facade of her daily algorithm. On the third day, chasms open in the midst of her everyday pattern, Jeanne unable to fill that space with anything at all, because she has nothing save for that structure, no passion or personality besides the ways in which she coddles her progeny and basely satisfies her clients. In the midst of literal minutes’ worth of Jeanne sitting, staring, silent, Akerman introduces tension by default: When Jeanne Dielman can no longer be manifest through her methodical fulfilling of the mundane, does she even exist anymore? Akerman responds with violence, pointless and fatal—followed by more sitting, more staring and the bleak notion that the life lived within the walls of this film may not be anything more than a name, a place and a single act of humanity. —Dom Sinacola


22. Hedwig and the Angry Inch

hedwig-criterion.jpg Year: 2001
Director: John Cameron Mitchell
Stars: John Cameron Mitchell, Michael Pitt, Miriam Shor
Runtime: 91 minutes

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This troubled yet lovable “slip of a girly boy” is the best thing that happened to us since Frank N. Furter. With this film, John Cameron Mitchell not only proved himself as a bona fide rocker with a killer set of legs, he also got to show off his writing and directing skills, prompting him to further explore his talents with Shortbus (2006) and Rabbit Hole (2010). The film tells the story of Hansel Schmidt (Cameron Mitchell), growing up in communist East Germany, fascinated with rock music and already seemingly very in tune with his sexuality. This self-awareness is enhanced when he meets Luther Robinson (Maurice Dean Wint), an American soldier who wins Hansel’s heart with licorice drops and jelly rolls. Hansel needs some sugar in his bowl! Hansel and Luther get married, but in order for Hansel to leave the country, he needs to undergo an official sex change. Hansel takes on his mother’s name, Hedwig, and agrees to the operation—but wakes up to find that something went wrong. All she’s left with is a one-inch mound of flesh between her legs—the infamous “Angry Inch.” Hedwig and Luther’s romance doesn’t last, and soon Luther leaves her for another man. To deal with her pain, Hedwig forms a rock band with some Korean Hausfraus, before meeting Tommy Speck (Michael Pitt), a fair-skinned, innocent-looking young boy whom she believes to be her soul mate. Tommy, whose Christian background stops him from pursuing the affair any further, leaves Hedwig—but not before she christens him with his stage name: Tommy Gnosis. When he goes off to become a famous rock star, Hedwig is appalled to find he is performing the songs she had written for him. Fueled with hurt and humiliation, Hedwig and The Angry Inch—now consisting of Eastern European musicians—follow Tommy’s tour in order to preach their predicament to the masses. Most of the film’s songs are performed live, and with songs like “The Origin of Love,” “Wig in a Box” and “Angry Inch,” one can totally imagine Hedwig fanatics going wild in small, atmospheric theaters for decades to come—just around midnight. —Roxanne Sancto


23. L’Avventura

lavventura-poster.jpg Year: 1960
Director: Michelangelo Antonioni
Stars: Gabriele Ferzetti, Monica Vitti
Runtime: 143 minutes

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After honing his craft as a filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni arrived on the international scene in 1960 with a loose trilogy: L’Avventura, La Notte and L’Eclisse, three films about privileged people so bored with their lives that they have little to do but wander the city and lament their failing relationships. But Antonioni—counter to expectations—watched those people with extreme precision. His camera moved as if it were choreographed down to the millimeter because, while the characters in the films may have been bored, the man watching them was not. He was riveted. And he transferred his fascination to the audience, not telling them tales or teaching them lessons, but raising questions, big ones about existence—why we move around the earth, why we interact with other people, and who we are.—Robert Davis


24. Bacurau

bacurau-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2020
Directors: Kleber Mendonça Filho, Juliano Dornelles
Starring: Barbara Colen, Thomas Aquino, Silvero Pereira, Sonia Braga
Runtime: 132 minutes

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Brazilian directors Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelle’s Bacurau begins with a woman named Teresa (Barbara Colen) being driven down a winding mountain road with sweeping swathes of lush greenery below. Suddenly, a splintered wooden casket appears in the middle of the asphalt. After the driver swerves to avoid it, there is another one. And another. Soon, broken caskets litter the entire road. The cause of the coffin calamity is revealed when Teresa sees that an open-back truck transporting caskets has collided into the mountainside, killing its passengers. The scene is oddly pleasant, though, as opportunists have quickly begun selling off the least damaged goods to a line of passersby, both seeming giddy about the exchange. Death is pervasive in the film, but it is often funny, and coincidentally Teresa is on her way to a funeral. Her grandmother—the beloved matriarch of Bacurau, a small Brazilian village where she grew up—has died. The entire town mourns her death, oblivious to the fact that their little village is slowly, literally, being erased from the face of the earth. Here, what has seemed like a horror film morphs into a weird Western that incorporates psychoactive flora, a seemingly benign history museum, and even an apparition or two. That’s not even counting the UFO. Bacurau is wildly creative, and its hilarious, Dadaist aura provides an uncanny comfort despite ample bloodshed. This is not to say that it’s without heart-wrenching loss and tearful contemplation of a world on fire. It’s clear that there is no space for moral ambiguity in this film. In reality, the Amazon is ablaze, rampant inequality festers and indigenous populations are displaced all for the net benefit of the ruling class. Bacurau is a long overdue neo-colonial revenge fantasy. —Natalia Keogan


25. Paris is Burning

13-Netflix-Docs_2015-paris-burning.jpg Year: 1991
Directors: Jennie Livingston
Runtime: 77 minutes

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Madonna’s “voguing” phase has nothing on—that is, took everything from—the drag scene of 1980s New York City chronicled in this vibrant doc. Delving into the subculture of fierce, catwalk-styled posing and the clubs in which it thrived, Jennie Livingston depicts the less-than-glamorous realities of life as a drag queen before RuPaul was mainstream: issues of gender and sexual identity, race, bigotry and hate, HIV/AIDS, poverty, crime—theft is a commonplace means by which these would-be “Legends” seek a desired end: transformation. Named after one of the underground balls in which its subjects find a sense of family—in “houses,” no less—Paris is Burning is a joyous affair, and a curiously meta celebration of what it means “to be real.” —Amanda Schurr


26. Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One

symbiopsychotaxiplasm-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1968
Director: William Greaves
Runtime: 76 minutes


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Symbiopsychotaxiplasm meta-weaves three interconnected parts into one unnerving synthesis: 1) a documentary of the casting process for an unmade film called Over a Cliff; 2) a documentary of the documentary of the casting process for an unmade film called Over a Cliff; and 3) a documentary about the documentary of the documentary of the casting process for an unmade film called Over a Cliff, wherein the director of the first documentary also happens to be directing the third documentary to capture additional footage of people in Central Park that has something tangentially to do with “sexuality,” which may or may not be what Over a Cliff is about. That the first documentary seems to be only the repeated filming of different actors having the same offensively tone-deaf conversation is but one point of contention; that the crew can’t seem to possibly grasp what’s going on, let alone get any sort of coherent idea about what they’re supposed to be doing from director Bill Greaves, makes much of the film feel like an inchoate disaster. Which of course compels the crew to gather, apart from Greaves, in a sort of mutiny room to discuss whether they should continue with the production, filming that meeting with full intention of giving the footage to Greaves at the end of whatever it is they’re doing, whenever it is that will happen—all the while debating if, somehow, Greaves orchestrated the whole thing, because there’s no way the audience will know what’s staged and what’s not. And we don’t. So when later Greaves gathers the crew to hear their dissent and then—shutting them down like the genius badass he is—plainly tell them that he did orchestrate all of this, we immediately call into question how easily any kind of film, whether it’s fictional or not, can manipulate our experience of truth—no matter what side of the camera we happen to find ourselves on. —Dom Sinacola


27. A Hard Day’s Night

hard-days-night.jpg Year: 1964
Director: Richard Lester
Starring: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr
Runtime: 87 minutes

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That opening chord of “A Hard Day’s Night” is iconic on its own, but when it’s paired with scenes of the Fab Four gleefully outrunning a crowd of screaming fans? Forget about it. The first Beatles movie—a mockumentary filmed at the height of Beatlemania—also happens to be their best; it’s funny, silly, weirdly melancholy at times (it’s hard not to see the foreshadowing when Ringo temporarily quits the band after feeling unappreciated) and full of some fantastic early performances. It manages to poke fun at the fame machine from the inside, and we always get the sense that no one found it funnier than John, Paul, George and Ringo.—Bonnie Stiernberg


28. Throne of Blood

throne-of-blood-poster.jpg Year: 1957
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Starring: Toshiro Mifune, Isuzu Yamada, Minoru Chiaki
Runtime: 109 minutes

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In adapting Macbeth from Scotland to feudal Japan, Akira Kurosawa visually inflected his version with an evocatively chilly ambience—especially with its preponderance of fog and that seemingly isolated castle in the mountains—that gives William Shakespeare’s tragedy of ambition run amok the feel of a horror movie. He also brought elements of Noh theater into the mix—seen in its ceremonial set designs, Masaru Sato’s use of flute and drum in his score, and especially in the deliberately affectless performance styles of Isuzu Yamada and Chieko Naniwa—that has the effect of giving Throne of Blood a ritualized feel, a sense of haunting inevitability. In Kurosawa’s hands, one hardly needs Shakespeare’s own language to experience the horrifying poetry of Washizu’s (Toshiro Mifune) inexorable path toward his own personal doom, imprisoned not just by greed, but also by fear, guilt and heavens-defying egotism. Here is one of cinema’s rare shining examples of a great director transforming a great play and making it indelibly his own. —Kenji Fujishima


29. In the Mood for Love

in-the-mood-for-love-poster.jpg Year: 2000
Director: Wong Kar-wai
Stars: Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Maggie Cheung Man-yuk
Runtime: 98 minutes

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Wong’s most acclaimed movie, In the Mood for Love, details the forbidden romance between jilted individuals. In 1962, Chow Mo-wan (Leung) moved into an apartment complex with his wife. Meanwhile, Mrs. Chan (Maggie Cheung) has moved into an adjacent apartment with her husband. They spend their nights alone as both have spouses who work late and are often out. Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan come to the conclusion that their spouses have been cheating on them. In the Mood for Love then focuses on the budding friendship between Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan which began as a perverse game to discover how their spouses began their entanglement. The charade of make-believe entertains the couple for a while, but soon they begin falling for each other. There is an understanding between the two of them from the start, the idea that if they were to fall in love with each other, they would be no better than the spouses that have caused them so much pain and anguish. That sacred oath of marriage ties their hands. Had they met at some other time or with different circumstances, perhaps their love story would’ve been complete. There’s moments of weakness, where our protagonists are ready to follow through with their own desires of infidelity, only to miss each other due to some unfortunate happenstance. Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan often passed each other on a set of stairs leading down to their favorite noodle shop. Before their relationship would begin in earnest, they would be like two ships passing in the night. While these moments seem to exist only for a brief second, Wong extends the sequence far beyond reason, perfecting his technique of step printing. Step printing is the process of shooting the movie in fast motion with a slow shutter speed and then slowing it down in post-process. Wong experiments with motion to make everyday life seem extraordinary.—Max Covill


30. Frances Ha

frances-ha-poster.jpg Year: 2012
Director: Noah Baumbach
Stars: Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Michael Zegen, Adam Driver
Runtime: 85 minutes

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In a single gesture from actor/writer/Baumbachian collaborator Greta Gerwig, there is an entire universe. She makes a sort of “trespassing” buzz when Lev (Adam Driver) reaches out to touch her shoulder, then, taking a deep sigh of resignation, her body once tense in obligatory “Am I into this guy?” reservation, she relaxes. They might as well be friends. Nothing really goes the way Frances plans; not when she’s asked to move in with her then-boyfriend at the start, not her prospects as a dancer, not her relationship with her best friend, Sophie (Mickey Sumner). But she’s a dancer, right? Her body awkwardly tries to roll with the punches life throws her way—maybe not with the wherewithal of actually trying to figure out what the next thing should be. Even as she continually loses stability after effectively losing her constant (Sophie), Frances has an irrepressible exuberance, running all about Chinatown to David Bowie’s “Modern Love,” scouring the Lower East Side for an ATM and hiding her whole body as she serves as university benefactor’s wine pourer/ward. There is a gracefulness to Gerwig’s gangly gracelessness, as if all of her warmth, fear, pain and joy cobbles itself together in beautiful unwieldy movements. It’s in these moments, and in the shared body language between Frances and Sophie, that Baumbach and Gerwig find the tenderest moments in their career. And in digital black and white, the movie shimmers, recalling not just the buoyancy of the French New Wave, but the economic and social uncertainty of young New Yorkers (perhaps of a particular social subset) who want everything—with the heart, body and soul—except to grow up. —Kyle Turner


31. Shane

shane-poster.jpg Year: 1953
Director: George Stevens
Stars: Alan Ladd, Jean Arthur, Van Heflin
Runtime: 118 minutes

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Shane is another of the great Hollywood westerns and probably the most archetypal and mythical in its execution. The heroes are truly good, the villains badder than bad. It explores one of the classic Western expansion themes, cattle ranching—or the freedom and lawlessness of the open range—versus farming, which eventually leads to civilization and settling down in one place, bringing families and the laws of the city into play. Visually a character straight out of the Old Testament, Rufus Ryker (Emile Meyer) is a shaggy bearded cattle baron hell-bent on driving farming families from the land he considers his. A mysterious rider named Shane (Alan Ladd) arrives in the nick of time to bolster the courage of a group of homesteaders led by Joe Starrett (Van Heflin). Shane and Ryker, along with their cohorts, are relics of the past, ultimately doomed to extinction once the wives and children move in. Unlike Ryker, Shane knows this, and spells it out in their final showdown. The future of the West is in cities and communities. There is no place for lawless men like them in these new frontiers. All these years later, we know that Shane was wrong. Killing and lawlessness still abound in the cities, and big business still tramples the rights of the common man. The film is a reminder, though, that if communities band together, holding strong in faith and trusting one another, they can take back what is rightfully theirs and shape a collective destiny. —Joe Pettit Jr.


32. Jules and Jim

jules-and-jim-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1962
Director: François Truffaut
Stars: Jeanne Moreau, Oskar Werner, Henri Serre
Runtime: 106 minutes

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Widely regarded as a French touchstone, François Truffaut’s classic WWI-era love triangle is based on a semi-autobiographical novel of the same title by Henri-Pierre Roche, which Truffaut stumbled across in a Paris bookstore in the 1950s. The adaptation tells the tragic story of Jim (Henri Serre), a French Bohemian, Jules (Oskar Werner), his Austrian friend, and Catherine (Jeanne Moreau), Jules’ girlfriend/wife. The two men are besotted with Catherine, who bears an eerie resemblance to a statue they both love. She marries Jules. The war breaks out, and the two men, on opposing sides of the conflict, struggle with the fear that one might unwittingly kill the other in battle. (What actually happens is arguably worse.) Both survive, and later, Jim visits Jules and Catherine in their Black Forest cottage. Jules confides he’s miserable, that Catherine has constant affairs, has left him and their baby, Sabine, for months at a time, and that he lives in terror of losing her. Catherine tries to seduce Jim. The three try an experimental situation where Catherine is with both men, but tragedy only ensues from there. Perhaps a definitive example of the French New Wave, the film incorporates a vast lexicon of cinematic techniques—newsreel footage, stills, wipes, panning shots, freeze-frames, voiceover narration (by Michel Subor)—though shades of its towering influence in subsequent films, television and music are almost innumerable. —Amy Glynn


33. The Gleaners & I

gleaners-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2000
Director: Agnès Varda
Runtime: 82 minutes

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There’s an argument that the explicit subject of The Gleaners & I—gleaners, their habits and practices—isn’t nearly as important as the woman at the center of it, director Agnès Varda. Her place in the film is deliberate—in telling the story of French gleaners, rural and urban scavengers protected by a series of hilariously specific but often debated French laws, Varda frames herself as a gleaner, a fellow traveler in a world of thrift-minded men and women who survive on what others throw away. As Varda follows gleaners who comb farmer’s fields for leftover produce and urban landscapes for food and other curiosities, the story mutates into a semi-autobiographical narrative about Varda herself, and the simple pleasures of finding. I love the film because it pings several intellectual currents in the late 1990s and early 2000s related to the sharing of information and memory thanks to the Internet. The Gleaners & I becomes a lo-fi take on memory, curating, nostalgia and the reframing of discarded cultural detritus, which itself becomes a metaphor for the film’s argument: that the world of poverty might also be reframed, because Varda’s exhaustive studies show the spirit of gleaning is strong among people of all walks of life. Her wonderful presence at the center of these discussions makes the film deeply personal and brimming with optimism, but also far more profound than its subject matter might suggest. —Mark Abraham


34. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

umbrellas-of-cherbourg-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1964
Director: Jacques Demy
Stars: Catherine Deneuve, Nino Castelnuovo
Runtime: 92 minutes

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Jacques Demy’s masterpiece is a soaring, vibrant, innately bittersweet story of love lost, found and forever disbanded, another wartime casualty in a country scarred by military conflict. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is lived-in, a story derived from Demy’s life experience, and that keyword—“experience”—is essential to making the film click. Take away its musical cues, and you’re left with a narrative about a young man (Nino Castelnuovo) and a young woman (Catherine Deneuve) who fall deeply in love with one another, only to be torn apart when he’s drafted to fight overseas. The story remains rooted in Demy’s pathos, and pathos gives Umbrellas’ gravity. The music, of course, is a critical part of its character, a dose of magic Demy uses to buttress the rigors of life in wartime with grandeur and meaning. It’s a film about people in love falling out of love, and then falling in love all over again with new partners and altered sentiments, a beautiful picture as likely to make you swoon as to crush your heart. —Andy Crump


35. The Passion of Joan of Arc

passion-joan-of-arc-210.jpg Year: 1928
Director: Carl Th. Dreyer
Stars: Renée Falconetti, Eugene?Silvain, André Berley
Runtime: 81 minutes

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Renée Jeanne Falconetti’s face is in your brain, whether you’re aware of it there or not. Its contours and stipples, topped by hair shorn of substance or style—her head centered by two wide eyes rimmed with tears, always in some sort of superposition between ecstasy and misery—consumes boundless space in Danish director Carl Th. Dreyer’s silent masterpiece, seemingly suspended over the long course of history between now (whenever now happens to be) and when Dreyer first envisioned this immersive, expressionist experience. Dreyer wrote of his film, “What counted was getting the spectator absorbed in the past,” and then explained further, “A thorough study of the documents from the rehabilitation process was necessary; I did not study the clothes of the time, and things like that. The year of the event seemed as inessential to me as its distance from the present.” Though The Passion of Joan of Arc Dreyer based on the 1491 transcripts of its titular saint’s trial for heresy (the director welcomed by the Société Générale des Films to make a film in France, his choice of subject bolstered by France’s canonization of Joan of Arc after World War I), he provides little visual detail or historical context. Instead he submerges the viewer in Joan’s perspective, keeps his hand on our heads as we drown in the torment of what she’s subjected to, rarely releasing his weight except for in the film’s final moments, when Joan’s brutal execution at the stake unleashes violence throughout the citizenry. But mostly: that face, awestruck throughout time. Most notably, in Jean-Luc Godard’s Vivre sa vie, the director watches as his protagonist, Nana (Anna Karina), watches Joan of Arc, lighting her tear-streaked face in close-up as she experiences something of the same images before her. Godard reflects Falconetti’s face in Karina’s, spanning more than three decades as if they’re nothing. There is perhaps no better ode to the power of what Dreyer achieved: Timelessness borne by the tragedy of our all too weak, all too human, flesh. —Dom Sinacola


36. Breathless

breathless.jpg Year: 1960
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Stars: Jean-Paul Belmondo, Jean Seberg, Daniel Boulanger
Runtime: 90 minutes

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Godard is arguably the most prolific, impactful French director of all time, and Breathless is his first New Wave film: To some, it spawned a revolution, and even if you object to that narrative, its influence on his home country and the New Hollywood period in 1970s America is undeniable. Breathless stars Jean-Paul Belmondo as an incompetent criminal in love with an American student named Patricia (Jean Seberg) in Paris. When he murders a cop, the film turns from a light Parisian affair to a tense love story, and the question that hangs in the balance is whether Patricia will betray her criminal beau. —Shane Ryan


37. Welcome Mr. Marshall!

welcome-mr-marshall-poster.jpg Year: 1953
Director: Luis García Berlanga
Stars: Lolita Sevilla, Manolo Morán, José Isbert
Runtime: 79 minutes

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Besides the beach, sunshine and tortillas—what comes to mind when you think of Spain? Images of exotic women galore, dressed in polka-dotted flamenco dresses, might flood your brain, or you’ll suddenly remember your Grandma marveling over a typically Andalusian flower wall she saw on one of her first YouTube escapades. So what do the Spanish think of when they imagine the United States? In Luis García Berlanga’s Welcome Mr. Marshall!, we get a sense of the Spanish perception of the U.S. during Franco’s reign. When Villar del Río’s town crier (Joaquín Roa) announces the arrival of American diplomats in relation to the Marshall Plan, the residents light up like children on Christmas Day. The people of Villar del Río have probably never been outside of León, let alone Spain. And America? Well, you may as well ask whether they have visited the moon. Welcome Mr. Marshall! is proof that even during modern Spain’s darkest era, directors like Berlanga were able to defy Franco’s oppression much like the Monty Python crew and their “wink-winks” did decades ago, albeit on an entirely scarier level. A glimpse into the dreams the people of Villar del Río have about American ways and American life in general reveal sweetly innocent and partially fantastical images that only reinforce the grittier horrors of censorship Spain is now beginning to face, once again.—Roxanne Sancto


38. Do the Right Thing

do-the-right-thing.jpg Year: 1989
Director: Spike Lee
Stars: Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Richard Edson, Giancarlo Esposito, Bill Nunn, John Turturro, Samuel L. Jackson
Rating: R

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Do The Right Thing, Spike Lee’s brutally direct masterpiece about America’s fraught race relations, compacted within a block of Bed-Stuy during the hottest day of a 1989 summer, might be hypnotically entrenched in late ’80s aesthetic and style, but its tragic breakdown of racial conflict is timeless. Like a master manipulator of tone and tension, Lee meticulously turns up the heat until the inevitable explosion tears apart the society with which Lee’s spent the course of the movie making us fall in love. Tragedy expands tenfold. Powered by amazing performances from a great ensemble cast—from established heavy hitters like Ossie Davis, Danny Aeillo and Ruby Dee, to then-newcomers Martin Lawrence, Samuel L. Jackson and John Turturro—and Ernest Dickerson’s scorching cinematography, Do The Right Thing is one of those rare achievements that manages to be equal parts hilarious and devastating. It’s certainly one of a handful of quintessential American films. —Oktay Ege Kozak


39. Black Orpheus

black-orpheus-poster.jpg Year: 1959
Director: Marcel Camus
Stars: Breno Mello, Marpessa Dawn, Lourdes de Oliveira
Runtime: 107 minutes

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The Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice has been the source of countless works of art over the centuries. Marcel Camus’ adaptation is set in a Rio de Janeiro favela and features a brilliant soundtrack by Tom Jobim and Luiz Bonfa. Brenno Melo plays Orfeu, a talented guitarist in a somewhat reluctant engagement to Mira (Lourdes de Oliveira) who falls in love with Eurydice (Marpessa Dawn). Eurydice is taken from him by Death. Orfeu tries to get her back, fails, and is killed by the jilted Mira. It’s an ancient story and Camus does a marvelous job of making it new and fresh in its recontextualization. The samba and bossa nova music are befitting of mythology’s greatest singer-songwriter, and the production is stylish and colorful and full of heart. Visually lush and ebullient, this is a film to roll around in, not to be overly cerebral about. Lavishly sensuous, with stunning cinematography and a soundtrack to die for (and come back from Hades to hear all over again). —Amy Glynn


40. City Lights

city-lights.jpg Year: 1931
Director: Charlie Chaplin
Stars: Charles Chaplin, Virginia Cherrill, Harry Myers
Runtime: 86 minutes

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In his later years, Charlie Chaplin was known for bringing pathos into his comedy whenever he had the opportunity. City Lights is the movie where he earns every bit of it. While its structure resembles Chaplin’s usual picaresque format, there’s more of a deliberate purpose as the tramp tries to help a poor, blind flower girl, played adorably by Virginia Cherrill. Harry Myers also deserves a mention for his performance as the millionaire who’s generous when he’s drunk and can’t remember his good deeds when he’s sober.


41. Strike

strike-poster.jpg Year: 1925
Director: Sergei Eisenstein
Stars: Maksim Shtraukh, Grigori Aleksandrov, Aleksandr Antonov
Runtime: 81 minutes

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While Sergei Eisenstein is best known for his theories on and use of montage, Strike is most engaging for its dazzling camera trickery. Eisenstein shoots reflections, brings still photos to life and dramatically captures the ill-fated attempt of workers to rise against their exploitative employers. Of course, he still gets in his trademark pointed editing, such as juxtaposing the strikers with the rich factory heads who are “considering” the workers’ demands.


42. Harlan County USA

harlan-county-usa-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1976
Director: Barbara Kopple
Runtime: 104 minutes

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Kentucky, 1974. Brookside coal miners have tried to unionize, and their company, fearing a domino effect, refuses to sign their contract with the union, setting a 10-month strike into motion. Barbara Kopple and her mostly female crew made their Oscar-winning documentary after spending years with the miners, bravely following them to the picket line in spite of threats from company “scabs.” As a result, the scenes Kopple and her crew are privy to are riveting; she is knocked sideways in a hail of bullets, and witness to the solidarity as well as the squabbles of the tough-minded coalition of miner’s wives. It seems prescient that so much of the focus in Harlan County, USA is on women; Kopple seems interested in the ways deeply traditional portions of the U.S. still contained powerful matriarchal figures—women with voices and real political agency. Combining plaintive protest song with displays of the miners’ abject poverty, Kopple underlines the need for Brookside mining company to improve its workers’ living conditions—or else. —Christina Newland


43. Taste of Cherry

taste-of-cherry-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1997
Director: Abbas Kiarostami
Stars: Homayoun Ershadi
Runtime: 100 minutes

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An existential tone poem of exasperating pace and deliberation, Taste of Cherry takes the long way in almost every conceivable fashion. Kiarostami stages a bare minimum of plot in his favorite setting—a moving vehicle—his middle-aged protagonist driving around the dusty roads of the Northern Iranian village of Koker. Mr. Badii (Homayoun Ershadi), a Range Rover-driving stoic, surveys stranger after stranger, inviting a few into his car to discuss a low-effort, high-paying job. He needs help committing suicide.


44. Close-Up

close-up.jpg Year: 1990
Director: Abbas Kiarostami
Stars: Hossein Sabzian, Abolfazi Ahankhah, Mahrokh Ahankhah
Runtime: 97 minutes

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Like the incident at the heart of Close-Up, the film itself is something of a well-intentioned con. Hoping only to clarify, and never exploit, Abbas Kiarostami hybridizes the documentary form, asking the people embroiled in an odd bit of tabloid fodder to play themselves. When we engage with art, Kiarostami asks—truly relate to it—aren’t we making it a part of ourselves? And so, through the story of how an impoverished film buff named Hossein Sabzian took on the identity of Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf in order to ingratiate himself with the admiration and friendship of an upper-middle-class Tehran family, Kiarostami allows Sabzian to finally make the art he never thought he could. Cultivated via interviews, courtroom scenes and seamlessly integrated retellings in Kiarostami’s own words, Close-Up’s sense of truth and so-called “fraud” is hopelessly blurred. By the film’s conclusion, in which Sabzian’s story comes full circle and he finally meets the real Makhmalbaf, the intentions behind the impostor’s actions may still be unclear, yet the authenticity of his character feels calmly complete. —D.S.


45. The Wolf House

the-wolf-house-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2020
Directors: Joaquín Cociña, Cristóbal León
Starring: Amalia Kassai, Rainer Krause
Genre: Horror, Animation, Drama
Rating: NR
Runtime: 75 minutes

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Joaquín Cociña and Cristóbal León’s Spanish-German language film The Wolf House is equal parts surreal, tragic and disturbing, due to both its uncanny stop-motion animation style and the real-world inspiration from which it draws. The film follows the perilous journey of María (Amalia Kassai), a young German woman who has narrowly escaped the jaws of a Nazi cult but must now outrun a hungry wolf hot on her trail. The cult María flees is based in Southern Chile, making it an evident parallel to Colonia Dignidad, a German sect established in Chile in the early ’60s by a man named Paul Schaefer, who was about to go on trial for child molestation in West Germany before he was granted sanction to enter Chile. As the wolf draws nearer, María stumbles upon a small house in the middle of the woods. She quickly makes herself at home. The house is ostensibly abandoned, save for two small pigs living in squalor in one of the bathrooms. María vows to raise the pigs as her own children, naming them Pedro and Ana. She clothes them, feeds them the little unspoiled food remaining in the house and excitedly tells them that she will teach them “everything that she knows.” But María finds it difficult to navigate what the cult has imparted on her, and complicated feelings surrounding pleasure, punishment and eugenic aesthetic ideals begin to find themselves seeping into her lectures to Pedro and Ana. Accordingly, The Wolf House can feel sickening at points, mostly due to the ever-morphing vessels that serve as avatars for María, Pedro and Ana. Their corporeal forms emerge crudely shaped from clay, ooze onto the walls and windows as painted figures, grow bloated and disjointed as paper-mache, stitched together and dressed with felt and plush. The titular lycanthropic abode was a real house that the filmmakers utilized to create the film’s uncanny, human-scale dioramas, the diligent craftwork of the years-long undertaking captured in the finished product’s every frame. By confronting the state-sanctioned violence in Chile’s recent past, Cociña and León construct a physical space to reflect the emotional space one must inhabit to process these traumas and to confront the evil figures that may still live within them. —Natalia Keogan


46. Summer Hours

summer-hours-poster.jpg Year: 2008
Director: Olivier Assayas
Stars: Toni Servillo, Salvatore Abruzzese, Gianfelice Imparato
Runtime: 103 minutes

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After making several films about cat women who jet across the globe and slink through buildings of glass and steel, Olivier Assayas returns to the lower-key interests of his earlier films with Summer Hours. When Hélène (Edith Scob) reunites with her grown, far-flung children at their old home in rural France, the siblings remember growing up on the estate. And when she dies shortly thereafter, they must decide what to do with the house and its contents now that they’ve all moved on. Films about families often depict melancholy souls who reach under old beds for shoeboxes of curled photos and yellowing mash notes. Assayas has made an entire film around that moment—it’s a meditation on how objects carry history, how they reflect our decaying bones, how they sometimes outlive us. The film ends beautifully with a rockin’ party thrown by Hélène’s granddaughter on the sprawling estate: It’s a last gasp for the family home but also a poignant glimpse of a new generation claiming old spaces. —Robert Davis


47. Pickpocket

pickpocket-poster.jpg Year: 1959
Director: Robert Bresson
Stars: Martin LaSalle, Marika Green, Pierre Leymarie
Runtime: 76 minutes

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The Crime and Punishment-inspired Pickpocket is of a piece with Bresson’s previous masterpiece, 1956’s A Man Escaped. Both hold a single-minded focus on the richly detailed world of the lead character, in this case an aspiring criminal who thinks he’s extraordinary enough to take money from others without any concern for morality or the law. That titular pickpocket, Michel (intentionally played with no emotion by first time actor Martin LaSalle), elevates his love of theft above any of his personal relationships, turning it into an almost euphoric act despite his stone-faced exterior, and one that ultimately leaves him alone. Driven primarily by LaSalle’s narration, Pickpocket is a hermetically sealed glimpse into one criminal’s life, and a dispassionate treatise on morality and responsibility. —Garrett Martin


48. The Adventures of Prince Achmed

the-adventures-of-prince-achmed-poster.jpg Year: 1926
Director: Lotte Reiniger
Runtime: 65 minutes

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Lotte Reiniger spent three years moving back-lit cardboard cutouts around to make this animated feature adaptation of the ancient Arabian Nights stories. The characters move with their own unique rhythms, taking on an otherworldly feel. The silhouette format naturally limited what could be communicated via facial details and the like, but that didn’t stop Reiniger from using her careful craftsmanship and design skills to create emotionally expressive body language.


49. Desert Hearts

desert-hearts-poster.jpg Year: 1985
Director: Donna Deitch
Stars: Helen Shaver, Patricia Charbonneau
Runtime: 91 minutes

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Donna Deitch’s classic cowboy love story is in no way an obfuscated part of queer film history, and yet, it bears repeating that Desert Hearts holds up today as a lush, atmospheric and sweeping romance. Every rewatch of buttoned-up professor Cay (Patricia Charbonneau) and reckless ranch hand Vivian’s (Helen Shaver) honest, clumsy meet-cute in dusty 1950s Reno yields a new detail to admire—from the lilt of its score, to the embroidered flourishes of its extensive period wardrobe. Though billed as the first major motion picture to portray lesbians in a positive light, it’s clear from Deitch’s need to do her own publicity (and the lukewarm critical reception that nearly buried it) that it’s still up to us to rediscover its legacy.—Shayna Maci Warner


50. Children of Paradise

au-revoir-les-enfants-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1945
Director: Marcel Carné
Stars: Arletty, Jean-Louis Barrault, Pierre Brasseur
Runtime: 190 minutes

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This is the movie Francois Truffaut said he’d revoke his entire oeuvre to have directed. The very fact of its existence seems to contribute to its rather magical quality. (it was filmed in 1945 during the Nazi occupation of France, which of course created significant obstacles for director Marcel Carné.) A historical piece set in the 1820s Paris theater world, it centers on an enigmatic performer named Garence (Arletty) and four men who are drawn to her, each for slightly different reasons. Only one, a mime named Deburau (Jean-Louis Barrault), has pure intentions: Naturally, he’s the one who gets hurt. Les Enfants du Paradis is a tale of grand passion between men and women, between actors and audiences and between actors and the stages they inhabit—epic, lavish, tragic, enchanting, a film with enormous style. —Amy Glynn


51. La Ceremonie

Year: 1995
Director: Claude Chabrol
Stars: Sandrine Bonnaire, Isabelle Huppert, Jacqueline Bisset
Runtime: 112 minutes

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Director Claude Chabrol is often referred to as the French Hitchcock, but a film like the unsettling La Ceremonie reveals the distinct difference between the two filmmakers. Though Chabrol, like many French New Wave directors, is an admitted devotee of the suspense master (having authored a study of Hitchcock’s work with Eric Rohmer), he went on to develop his own, more understated style. While La Ceremonie is a tale of suspense and psychological drama, it also functions as a portrait of class warfare and a subtle character study. Catherine (Jacqueline Bisset) hires Sophie (Sandrine Bonnaire) as a maid to her family’s estate outside a small French village. The family is initially pleased with Sophie’s hard work until her increasing isolation and clandestine illiteracy create a widening gap with her employers. When a nosy postal worker (Isabelle Huppert) befriends her, the tension begins to slowly rise, leading to a shocking climax. However, anyone seeking Hitchcockian thrills will likely be disappointed. Where Hitchcock built his suspense through mounting stakes in an inherently suspenseful situation (mistaken identity, the early introduction of a sociopath, etc.), Chabrol lets a languid pace and socially awkward interactions establish an unsettling tone. It’s the offhanded nature of the final violence that makes the film so effective. —Tim Sheridan


52. Beauty and the Beast

beauty-and-the-beast-poster.jpg Year: 1946
Director: Jean Cocteau
Stars: Jean Marais, Josette Day, Mila Parély
Runtime: 93 minutes

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Before there were Jerry Orbach and Angela Lansbury voicing animated animate household items, there was Jean Cocteau. This story’s been with us since the 18th century and rendered in countless iterations, so I’ll forego the plot summary and just say: From the fourth-wall-breaking preamble, in which the director entreats the audience to approach the film with inner-child-forward faith in the magic of fairy tales, to the end, Beauty and the Beast remains a treasure of subtle imagery, mesmerizing music, baroque opulence, sexual intensity and total indulgence in fantasy, aided by Jean Marais (Beast) and Josette Day (Belle) delivering enchanting performances. The themes explored here are traditional fairy tale tropes: innocence and greed, the transformative power of love, the fear of the unknown, magic. Cocteau was a celebrated poet as well as a filmmaker, and this is a strong example of how the two crafts inform one another, in the way it harnesses imagery to create metaphorical connections. Weird and powerful filmmaking. —Amy Glynn


53. Chocolat

chocolat-poster.jpg Year: 1988
Director: Claire Denis
Stars: Isaach De Bankolé, Giulia Boschi, François Cluzet
Runtime: 104 minutes

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Praising Chocolat, Claire Denis’ first film and a semi-autobiographical story about a white French family living in colonial Africa, Roger Ebert wrote, “It is made with the complexity and subtlety of a great short story, and it assumes an audience that can understand what a strong flow of sex can exist between two people who barely even touch each other.” Such a statement might surprise those who’ve seen the movie, since it neither shows nor overtly discusses sex, but he’s right: The unsaid words in Chocolat could fill volumes. The movie compares that part of the world’s racial divide with the horizon, a steady line separating the sky from the earth. You walk toward it, and it continually moves back. Of all the characters in the movie, the family’s African servant Protée (Isaach De Bankole) best understands the social rules under which everyone lives, but the movie conveys his enormously complex outlook with very little dialogue. He’s a nearly silent presence in a house full of chatter. Chocolat is a movie for adults, in the very best sense. Such maturity might be expected from someone who made her first film at the age of 40, and then after she’d worked as an assistant director for such legendary filmmakers as Jacques Rivette, Wim Wenders and Jim Jarmusch. Denis is the co-writer of all her films, and a wide variety of resources provide inspiration—from Melville and Faulkner to her own experiences growing up in Africa and France. She combines all this in films that are both incredibly cohesive and truly cinematic. Where a novelist might describe what a character is thinking, Denis will convey something similar in a fleeting shot with a nuanced perspective. —Robert Davis


54. Three Colors: Blue

blue-poster.jpg Year: 1993
Director: Krzysztof Kieslowski
Stars: Juliette Binoche, Benoit Régent
Runtime: 104 minutes

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Using the colors blue, white and red as the focus of his “Trois Couleurs” trilogy, Krzysztof Kieslowski manifests the ideals of the French Republic—liberty, equality, fraternity—through zealous accuracy. The atmospheres presented in each film are highlighted by the scores written by Zbigniew Preisner, Blue probably being the most important of all, musically. In this first entry, the viewer is introduced to Julie de Courcy (Juliette Binoche), the sole survivor of a car crash in which her husband and daughter were killed. Her husband was the famous composer Oliver Benoit (Benoit Régent), who had been working on a score to celebrate the European unity at the end of the Cold War, and Oliver’s music accompanies Julie’s daily struggles, taking on different tones depending on the circumstances surrounding her. Following her family’s death, as an act of defiance, Julie destroys the score, rids herself of all her possessions and moves to Paris, avoiding all memories of the past—taking only her daughter’s blue chandelier. In each film of the trilogy, one object links them to the past: the blue chandelier, the bust of the protagonist’s lost love in White, and in Red a fountain pen which plays an important role. A recurring image seen throughout Blue is that of people falling, suggesting that of all of the films, Julie’s process of letting go, of finding the “freedom” of the trilogy’s three ideals, may be the most emotionally obliterating. —Roxanne Sancto


55. Fantastic Planet

fantastic-planet-poster.jpg Year: 1973
Director: René Laloux
Stars: Jennifer Drake, Eric Baugin, Jean Topart, Yves Barsacq
Runtime: 72 minutes

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It doesn’t matter if you’re watching René Laloux’s excellent, eccentric Fantastic Planet for the first time or the fortieth, under the influence or stone sober: The film is such a one-of-a-kind oddity in cinema that each viewing feels like its own wholly unique experience. Put simply, there’s nothing quite like it. If you’ve yet to see this masterwork of 1970s psychedelia-meets-social-commentary, you’re missing out. If you have seen it, chances are you haven’t seen anything quite like it since, because there isn’t much in animated cinema to match it. The closest you’ll get is Terry Gilliam’s paper strip animation stylings in Monty Python’s Flying Circus, or maybe the still painting approach of Eiji Yamamoto’s Belladonna of Sadness. Neither of these equate with Fantastic Planet’s visual scheme, though, which just underscores its individuality. Where does a movie like Fantastic Planet come from? How does it even get made? Laloux has offered few answers over the years, though the documentary Laloux Sauvage holds some insight into how his mind works. Maybe the answers aren’t worth pursuing in the first place, and maybe the best way to understand Fantastic Planet is just to watch it, and then watch it again. —Andy Crump


56. Pigeons in the Square

jean-painleve-poster.jpg Year: 1982
Director: Jean Painlevé
Runtime: 27 minutes

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Jean Painlevé’s art saw artistry and a distinct aesthetic as inseparable from documentation of animal life. This is exemplified best in Square, his final public film which, after years of voiceover-only appearances, at last featured the director on camera. Painlevé is repeatedly shown in a local park teaching children about the habits and history of the common pigeons who surround humanity. A scene of the children imitating the pigeons’ odd movements is simply delightful. Classic techniques like slow motion, reverse motion, and long close-ups are used to not only teach the viewer the history and features of the birds, but to change common perception of them. Pigeons are often stereotyped as dirty and mindless, but the film photographs them at play with a ball (complete with excited play-by-play commentary), mating and enduring lonely exile from the humans they once served. The final sequence of the birds flying is a classic Painlevé moment: Humans seeing a familiar part of the natural world transform before their eyes into something alien, and often quite beautiful.—C.M. Crockford


57. The Rules of the Game

the-rules-of-the-game-poster.jpg Year: 1939
Director: Jean Renoir
Stars: Nora Gregor, Paulette Dubost, Mila Parély
Runtime: 106 minutes

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When Rules of the Game—Jean Renoir’s angry satire against the contempt the bourgeoisie displays for the working class—was first shown to an audience, a man who heard of the film’s supposed communist message tried to start a fire. In an interview that can be found on the film’s Criterion release, Renoir tells this story, adding that if someone is willing to burn down a theater to destroy your work, you must have done something right. Rules of the Game operates as an ensemble melodrama about the various secret and not-so-secret love affairs between a group of upper-crust stereotypes, but underneath this straight genre veneer lies a brutally honest takedown of ruling class apathy. Renoir meticulously and gradually exposes his characters’ narcissism, until the film’s climax presents us with a sociopathic choice made between supposed best friends. Yet, as much as he obviously sympathizes with the plight of the working class serving the rich, Renoir doesn’t let them off the hook either, portraying their impulsive and brutish behavior as potentially one of the reasons behind their station in life. Despite all of that, Rules of the Game is not a joyless experience, but a refreshingly honest take on romance between classes—as well as an early cinematic exploration and exposing of the intractable human nature behind income inequality and class warfare. —Oktay Ege Kozak


58. Mayor

mayor-poster.jpg Year: 2020
Director: David Osit
Runtime: 93 minutes

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Musa Hadid only addresses David Osit’s camera once throughout all of Mayor, simply asking if Osit knows whether Americans understand what’s really happening there, in the city of Ramallah in occupied Palestine, or not. Osit replies quietly, “I don’t know.” What’s happening there is never stated plainly, but instead described through the exigencies of Mayor Hadid’s everyday job, which, as he tells countless citizens, foreign visitors and press people, entails ensuring that the municipality takes care of its community’s basic needs. He meets with sheep farmers whose land is filling with sewage due to the Israeli settlements increasingly hogging the fringes that loom uphill of the town; he debates with his staff whether their Christmas tree, typically a centerpiece of seasonal festivities, should bear a political message opposing Trump’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem; he meets with German cadres to promote sisterhood between metropolitan centers, only to have to explain why they simply can’t just cooperate with the Israelis to promote confidence in outside investors. These are responsibilities that are in the job description, and Hadid fulfills his obligations with the accessibility and patience of someone who believes in what he does, 20 or so months in his tenure chronicled by Osit’s fly-on-the-wall documentary. Though we only watch violence from a distance, and though Mayor Hadid’s quotidian often borders on the depressingly mundane (until a breathless climax involving encroaching Israeli soldiers), Osit elegantly assembles a portrait of leadership—confident, caring and above all committed to the people—that feels genuinely alien to the American experience today. —Dom Sinacola


59. Claire’s Knee

claires-knee.jpg Year: 1970
Director: Eric Rohmer
Stars: Jean-Claude Brialy, Aurora Cornu, Béatrice Romand
Runtime: 106 minutes

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Eric Rohmer’s 1970 Claire’s Knee—part New Wave, part standalone curiosity—has a bit of a strange plot: A diplomat vacationing in the French Alps (Jean-Claude Brialy) becomes obsessed with touching the knee of a local teenage girl (Laurence De Monaghan). I wish that description sounded less uncomfortable and borderline perverse, but I’d hasten to add that this desire does not represent the substance of the film. Instead, Rohmer’s produced an aching look at the passage of time, and the melancholy produced by the interplay between love and obsession. Though the protagonist here is not a monster of Humbert Humbert’s ilk, the way Rohner evokes these emotions is reminiscent of Lolita, in the sense that sexuality is only a subtext for something deeper. I’ve never seen a film with more beautiful pacing, that accomplishes such a modest plot turn with such patient, inexorable rhythm—it’s no surprise that the New York Times’ Vincent Canby called this “something close to a perfect film.” —Shane Ryan


60. Playtime

playtime-poster.jpg Year: 1967
Director: Jacques Tati
Stars: Jacques Tati, Barbara Dennek, Georges Montant
Runtime: 106 minutes

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Excepting people with rural dispositions, we’ve all visited unfamiliar cities at one time or another, puttering about their streets in discombobulated states. That experience is the core of Jacques Tati’s Playtime, his fourth venture as his most famous character, the bumbling Monsieur Hulot, here taking a jaunt to Paris and finding it unrecognizable on his arrival. He understands Paris as an abstract idea and as a place in his memories, but he can’t get his head around the Paris of the film’s present tense. In Playtime, any metropolitan city in Europe could stand in for Paris. Only fleeting glimpses of La Ville-Lumière reminds us of Tati’s chosen backdrop, and in those instances we feel, as Hulot does, a deep melancholy, a wistfulness for a locus of culture and romanticism long sentimentalized by the movies, and utter despondency at the implications of its cold modernization in Playtime’s frames. If this can happen to Paris, it can happen to any city we hold dear in our hearts. Make no mistake, this is an uproarious comedy and a towering work of cinema, but it’s Tati’s embedded sense of loss that echoes the loudest. —Andy Crump


61. Pather Panchali

pather-panchali-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1955
Director: Satyajit Ray
Stars: Subir Banerjee, Kanu Banerjee, Karuna Banerjee
Runtime: 125 minutes

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Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali is, depending on who you ask, either the saddest movie ever made or one of the saddest, and if you don’t believe the former then you likely believe the latter (unless you are made of stone, but aside from rock golems and Republicans, people tend to be made of flesh and blood). But whether the film makes you weep more or less is, perhaps, besides the point. When we talk about the classics of cinema, we talk about influence, and one note worth making about influence is that it comes in all shapes and sizes: Some movies have impact on a micro scale, others on a macro scale. Pather Panchali’s influence may be best evinced on a micro scale, in specific relation to Indian cinema, presenting a watershed moment that sparked the Parallel Cinema movement and altered the texture of the country’s films forevermore. This, again, isn’t proof of Pather Panchali’s actual substance, though let’s be realistic here: Ray’s masterpiece doesn’t need to prove anything to anyone. It’s extraordinary on its authentic artistic merits, an aching, vital movie crafted to transmute the harshest rigors of a childhood lived in rural India into narrative. Maybe it’s presumptuous for an American critic with no frame of reference for Pather Panchali’s cultural context to describe the film as “true to life,” but Ray is so good at capturing life with his camera that we come to know, to understand, the life of young Apu, regardless of who we are or where we come from, and isn’t that just the absolute definition of cinema’s transporting power? —Andy Crump


62. Belladonna of Sadness

belladonna-sadness-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1973
Director: Eiichi Yamamoto
Stars: Aiko Nagayama, Tatsuya Nakadai, Katsuyuki Ito
Runtime: 87 minutes

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Inspired by Jules Michelet’s book Satanism and Witchcraft, the third and final film in Osamu Tezuka’s “Animerama” trilogy was so expensive and avant-garde, its failure bankrupted its production company, Mushi Pro. The only film in the trilogy not directed by Tezuka (he left the project in its conceptual stages), Eiichi Yamamoto’s Belladonna of Sadness is amongst the most unusual animated films ever put to celluloid. This is not a huge surprise from a talent as legendary as Yamamoto, among whose mighty credits are titles like Kimba the White Lion and Space Battleship Yamato. Belladonna of Sadness is the tale of a village woman named Jeanne who is raped by her liege lord and his men on her wedding night, then makes a literal deal with the devil to gain magical powers and lead a rebellion against her rapists. Belladonna is extreme in every sense of the word: Start with the look—the film consists almost entirely of pans across still watercolor paintings, with occasional expressive bursts of color and movement scattered throughout. The designs owe virtually nothing to traditional anime character construction, or even Tezuka’s own, more cartoonish style. Instead, the film’s great debt is to European painters like Gustav Klimt, Degas and Kandinsky, among others. Filled with haunting music, lots of disembodied voice-over and vibrantly rendered yet horrifying scenes of rape, nudity, murder and madness, it’s no surprise Belladonna of Sadness was banned in many countries for decades. The feminist subtext of the film is very much foregrounded—clearly Jeanne is an avatar for Jeanne D’Arc (Joan of Arc), and there are also direct links in one scene between Jeanne and Marianne, the female personification of the French Republic—and despite the darkness Jeanne wallows in and the horrors she is subjected to, this is a film worth experiencing, mostly because there has really been nothing like it either before or since. The tale is brutal, but the beauty in which it’s told means we can’t look away. —Jason DeMarco


63. Tokyo Story

tokyo-story.jpg Year: 1953
Director: Yasujiro Ozu
Stars: Chishu Ryu, Chieko Higashiyama, Setsuko Hara
Runtime: 137 minutes

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Tokyo Story could be described as a film about regrets. It could also be described as a film about disappointment, or the speed at which families drift apart, or modernity’s absolute indifference to custom and tradition and the old ways. But maybe just save yourself some time and some word count and describe it as a film about life, orchestrated by one of cinema’s most revered masters, Yasujiro Ozu, a director who spent his career making exquisitely calibrated but deceptively simple films. You don’t need to be an insufferable cinephile to enjoy an Ozu movie, especially Tokyo Story, undoubtedly his most accessible, though it does help; this makes him a great gateway filmmaker for anyone looking to increase their appreciation of cinema, and Tokyo Story his gateway film. Its aesthetics are pristine, its performances poignant and powerful, but the most impactful quality Ozu brings to his narrative of intergenerational divide is the passage of time, hours, days, weeks, months, years, all neatly articulated in two plus hours of running time. By the time it all ends, you’ll feel like you’ve lived a life with the Hirayama clan, too. —Andy Crump


64. Godzilla

godzilla-showa-era-criterion-cover.jpg Year: 1951
Director: Ishiro Honda
Stars: Akira Takarada, Momoko Kochi, Akihiko Hirata
Runtime: 96 minutes

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It’s amazing, isn’t it, how something so seemingly childish and flat-out dopey on paper could be as substantive, and as enduring, as Ishiro Honda’s Godzilla? Hire a couple of actors and have them alternate donning an unwieldy rubber monster suit, and then let them stomp all over a miniature Tokyo set, smashing buildings with wild abandon, and presto: Just like that, you’ve made unexpected movie history. However silly Godzilla sounds when broken down into its component parts, it remains every bit as meaningful today as it did back in 1954, less than a decade after the U.S. of A. dropped nuclear ordnance on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a colossal and nightmarish metaphor for the horrors of nuclear warfare. The King of the Monsters’ first major outing spawned legions of imitators and about as many sequels and spin-offs and reboots—we’re still making Godzilla movies, after all, and will continue to if Warner Bros. has anything to say about it – but there’s only one Godzilla movie that matters, Honda’s, a film awash in the fears of a nation and ablaze with radioactive nihilism. —Andy Crump


65. Stagecoach

stagecoach-poster.jpg Year: 1939
Director: John Ford
Stars: John Wayne, Claire Trevor, Andy Devine
Runtime: 96 minutes

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And just like that, with one swift zoom shot, John Ford gave John Wayne his breakthrough role and reintroduced American audiences to the man who would become one of their most lasting movie icons. Two Johns, making it happen. Stagecoach isn’t exactly a John Wayne movie despite the fact that John Wayne is in it; this was before the days of The Searchers, of She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, of The Quiet Man, even of Hondo, movies that each helped shape Wayne’s persona and forge his screen legend bit by bit. In Stagecoach, he’s just a man with a rifle, a mission of vengeance and a soft spot for a prostitute named Dallas. Rather than the tradition of Wayne, the film belongs to the tradition of strangers on a journey; it’s about an unlikely and incongruous grouping of humans banding together to make it to a common destination. They ride a dangerous road, but Ford’s great gift as a filmmaker is his knack for making peril buoyant and entertaining, and in Stagecoach he does both effortlessly. —Andy Crump


66. Late Spring

late-spring.jpg Year: 1949
Director: Yasujiro Ozu
Stars: Chishu Ryu, Setsuko Hara, Yumeji Tsukioka
Runtime: 108 minutes

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If you want to know what an artist’s critique of postwar censorship in Allied-occupied Japan looks like, just watch Yasujiro Ozu’s Late Spring and keep your eyes peeled for the Coca Cola sign. Late Spring isn’t about American control of Japanese territories in the 1940s; rather, it’s about a father and daughter going about their business within that world, a film that honors minutiae and celebrates the mundane with superlative grace. (It’s also the blueprint for an entire niche of movies, the shomin-geki, a genre in Japanese film, television and theater that favors realism and which portrays the lives of working class Japanese families.) But folded within the tale of Shukichi Somiya (Chishu Ryu) and Noriko Somiya (Setsuko Hara) lie a handful of barbs aimed at censorship protocols imposed upon Ozu during Late Spring’s production, which is itself a nod to the kind of tension Japanese citizens had to live with every single day of the occupation. The truest mark of the film’s brilliance is its accessibility: Even if you know zip about postwar history, you’ll be dazzled by Ozu’s unparalleled discipline as a filmmaker, charmed by Hara’s wonderful performance, and moved by the themes present in the fabric of the narrative, especially its painful depiction of what it means to let go of the ones we love most. Such is Ozu’s skill as a director that he can devastate us just by filming a man peeling an apple, a perfect image that captures Late Spring’s compassion with heartbreaking clarity. —Andy Crump


67. The Testament of Dr. Mabuse

Year: 1949
Director: Fritz Lang
Stars: Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Otto Wernicke, Oskar Beregi, Sr.
Runtime: 120 minutes

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Psychologist Stanley Milgram’s landmark study Obedience To Authority suggested human beings are easily led to do horrible things, especially when a domineering figure is calling the shots. Years earlier, director Fritz Lang came to a similar conclusion with his masterful The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933), now available in a fine two-DVD set. By the time Lang made Testament he’d been incorporating the figure of evil authority into many of his films. He contributed to script development for The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) and went on to explore the theme in Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler (1922), Metropolis (1927) and M (1931). But for Testament, Lang revived the figure of Mabuse, expanding the role of the twisted überman, whose mad genius and hypnotic power prove irresistible even to medical science. The film begins with Mabuse confined to an asylum, spending his days in a catatonic state and scribbling his plans for an “empire of crime.” As his blueprint for anarchy begins to come to life in a string of illegal acts, the dogged Inspector Lohmann (Otto Wernicke reprising his colorful role from M) is called in to crack the case. Lang’s sly incorporation of elements from another great German commentary on totalitarianism, Dracula, makes his intentions all the clearer (including hypnotism and the clear parallel to the lunatic Renfield in the role of Hofmeister). It’s no surprise Joseph Goebbels immediately banned the film, causing Lang to flee Germany and the Third Reich. With impressive bonus material, such as filmed interviews with Lang, supporting actor Rudolf Schündler and Mabuse expert Michael Farin, the set offers a particularly enlightening view into one of the great fascist cautionary tales ever committed to film. It doesn’t hurt that it’s also an endlessly entertaining potboiler. —Tim Sheridan


68. Gomorrah

gomorrah.jpg Year: 2008
Director: Matteo Garrone
Stars: Toni Servillo, Salvatore Abruzzese, Gianfelice Imparato
Runtime: 137 minutes

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Gritty like The Godfather or the work of Martin Scorsese, Gomorrah depicts five microcosmic stories of the brutal underground mafia scene in Naples. The cast of largely untrained actors only enhances the film’s grim authenticity, and that authenticity is bolstered by the fact that the film’s source material, the bestselling book of same name, required author Roberto Saviano to get a permanent police escort. Harrowing in its matter-of-factness, the Academy criminally overlooked one of 2008’s best by not nominating it for Best Foreign Film. —Jeremy Medina


69. Battleship Potemkin

battleship-potemkin-poster.jpg Year: 1925
Director: Sergei Eisenstein
Stars: Aleksandr Antonov, Grigori Aleksandrov, Vladimir Barsky
Runtime: 74 minutes

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It’s hard to say what Sergei Eisenstein’s most famous film influenced more: The Soviet spirit or film course syllabi. While the novelty of the film’s montage may be a bit overstated (Abel Gance—and he’s not the only one—played gleefully with rapid editing in La roué a couple years beforehand, and many U.S. films were cutting together exciting action sequences at the same time), there’s a genuine excitement and urgency in this workers’ rallying cry.


70. Paris, Texas

paris-texas-poster.jpg Year: 1984
Director: Wim Wenders
Stars: Harry Dean Stanton, Dean Stockwell, Nastassja Kinski
Runtime: 145 minutes

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In a career-redefining performance by Harry Dean Stanton, 1984’s epochal Palme d’Or-winning Paris, Texas also placed West German director Wim Wenders at the fore of the decade’s art-house cinema, a position later cemented by Wings of Desire. Harrowing yet nuanced, breath-catching and heart-rending, infused with a humanity rarely captured on celluloid, none of the film’s emotional power has dimmed in the last quarter-century. No wonder it was reportedly a favorite of everyone from Kurt Cobain to Elliott Smith, and an artistic touchstone for U2’s The Joshua Tree. Wenders’ bleak, unique vision of an emotionally estranged America is a cinematic masterpiece.—Andy Beta


71. Police Story

police-story-crtierion.jpg Year: 1985
Director: Jackie Chan
Stars: Jackie Chan, Maggie Cheung, Brigitte Lin
Runtime: 101 minutes

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Remember that scene in The Blues Brothers where Jake and Elwood drive the Bluesmobile through a mall and wreck it up good? That’s basically what Jackie Chan does to a shopping center in Police Story, except it’s with his own two hands. Seriously, there’s enough breakaway glass in that one, nine-minute fight scene for ten martial arts movies. Chan plays a cop (again) who goes after bad guys (again). Why complicate the plot synopsis any more than that? The only sensible way to rank Jackie Chan movies is simply to focus on the action and the death-defying stunts. Chan has called Police Story his greatest film, and who are we to argue? —Jim Vorel


72. Tampopo

TampopoCriterion285x400.jpg Year: 1985
Director: Juzo Itami
Stars: Tsutomu Yamazaki, Nobuko Miyamoto, Koji Yakusho, Ken Watanabe
Runtime: 114 minutes

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Juzo Itami’s sensual, spiritual and all-around humorous 1985 film Tampopo has long since taken its rightful seat at the table with cinema’s great “food” movies. Like Babette’s Feast and Big Night, Itami’s film explores the consummate role of food—and of the cooking experience—in knitting together the human condition. In terms of story, Tampopo centers on the efforts of its title character (Nobuko Miyamoto) to become a top-notch ramen chef. Surrounding the main storyline are myriad vignettes, mostly unconnected in character and setting, depicting the many ways (sometimes subtle but usually not) the consumption of food is inescapably intertwined with all aspects of our lives. Not every vignette hits the mark, and to modern audiences, some will be more likely to trigger a raised eyebrow, or perhaps an “okay”—I couldn’t help but think of Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life in that regard. But as a whole, Itami’s film remains a uniquely joyous affair. You may not come away from the film yearning for soft-shell turtles or interested in the sensual reward of passing an egg yolk back and forth, but it’s pretty much guaranteed you’ll discover a hankering for ramen. —Michael Burgin


73. The Times of Harvey Milk

the-times-of-harvey-milk-poster.jpg Year: 1984
Director: Robert Epstein
Runtime: 88 minutes

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Rarely can one historical figure’s story so saliently capture a point of immense cultural transformation, yet director Rob Epstein’s account of Harvey Milk’s time as a San Francisco City supervisor—which, unbelievably, lasted less than a year before he was assassinated by ex-supervisor Dan White—is in itself a brilliant attempt to manifest Milk’s message, stretching the man’s advocacy for human rights into the sphere of documentary filmmaking with a hope and urgency that the gay rights movement had never experienced before. Paying little attention to Milk’s past, Epstein is frank about the ordinariness of Harvey Milk—so much so that his accomplishments sometimes come off like the work of a lucky man who was in the right place at the right time. Still, he was an incredible speaker with seemingly boundless empathy, a true man of the people, and so his story essentially speaks for itself, so much so that the tragedy of his death makes The Times of Harvey Milk as much a testament to his spirit as it is a compelling true crime dissection of why the United States even today seems so unable to escape the bigotry and hate that’s courted us since the beginning. —D.S.


74. Vernon, Florida

33-Netflix-Docs_2015-vernon.jpg Year: 1981
Director: Errol Morris
Runtime: 55 minutes

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Errol Morris’s purpose in Vernon, Florida is to let his subjects speak for themselves. The residents of the titular town have a variety of obsessions—turkey hunting, policing, sand growing, philosophizing—and part of the appeal of the film is the way these snapshots of American life feed into one another. But the greater part, I think, is how these specific, precise stories suggest that every one of us, American or not, construct narratives to explain our interests and identities, and how our enthusiasms for specific things can end up sounding exotic and strange when explained in any detail. In other words, the point of the documentary isn’t that these specific people are strange; the point is to explore, depending on one’s perspective, how all human beings are strange. Mark Abraham


75. Down By Law

down_by_law_poster.jpg Year: 1986
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Stars: Tom Waits, John Lurie, Roberto Benigni, Ellen Barkin
Runtime: 107 minutes

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What makes Down By Law the quintessential Jarmusch film is in the deliberate exclusion of a sequence most other directors would have turned into their calling card. Two innocent inmates (John Lurie and Tom Waits) are joined by a third prisoner (Roberto Benigni), who is guilty but has a pretty airtight argument for self-defense. While playing cards, they discuss various exciting prison break scenes in film history, which motivates Benigni’s character to mention that he has a foolproof plan of escape. After a scene that references such cinematic moments, Jarmusch directly cuts to the prisoners already running away from prison, having cut the escape sequence all together. Jarmusch succinctly demonstrates that he isn’t interested in action but is far more fascinated by the individual quirks and mannerisms of his characters, while the dialogue that references such other prison break films expresses how deeply American mainstream pop culture has defined a big part of his personality. —Oktay Ege Kozak


76. For All Mankind

for-all-mankind-poster.jpg Year: 1989
Director: Al Reinert
Runtime: 80 minutes

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Al Reinert did mankind a solid by poring over nearly six million feet of film and 80 hours of NASA interviews to piece together an immersive, elegant and above all awe-struck cinematic document of humankind’s first missions to the moon. Laying astronauts’ VO accounts over lunar vistas that even today ply the imagination, For All Mankind is really the only thing Reinert’s known for—though he did write the script for Apollo 13, because duh—and even then he acts more like an expert curator than a director. Yet, there is an intimate, intuitive grace to the voices he chooses, and the quotes he places delicately throughout, splicing the astronauts’ insightful testaments to wonder and the fragility of life with mundane descriptions of how to go pee in space. Plus, having Brian Eno compose an original score for the film was nothing less than a genius decision. More than a necessary historical record of our species finally pressing into the incomprehensible beyond, For All Mankind is a searching glimpse into what it’s like to be—on the simplest of levels—in the midst of an experience you desperately want to keep with you forever. Because, for all of the prestige and unbelievable luck attached to their being on such missions, the astronauts in this film are portrayed as uncomplicated, good-natured men—and really only that. In their ordinary lives aboard the shuttle, in the countless hours they spend spinning junk through zero gravity, in the way they pull some dumb fun out of playing the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey—in all of that Reinert finds a perfect way to portray both the immensity of their accomplishments and the insignificance of so-called “mankind” against the vastness of the universe we’ve only begun to explore. —D.S.


77. M

m-fritz-lang-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1931
Director: Fritz Lang
Stars: Peter Lorre, Otto Wernicke, Gustaf Gründgens
Runtime: 109 minutes

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It’s rather amazing to consider that M was the first sound film from German director Fritz Lang, who had already brought audiences one of the seminal silent epics in the form of Metropolis. Lang, a quick learner, immediately took advantage of the new technology by making sound core to M, and to the character of child serial killer Hans Beckert (Peter Lorre), whose distinctive whistling of “In the Hall of the Mountain King” is both an effectively ghoulish motif and a major plot point. It was the film that brought Peter Lorre to Hollywood’s attention, where he would eventually become a classic character actor: the big-eyed, soft-voiced heavy with an air of anxiety and menace. Lang cited M years later as his favorite film thanks to its open-minded social commentary, particularly in the classic scene in which Beckert is captured and brought before a kangaroo court of criminals. Rather than throwing in behind the accusers, Lang actually makes us feel for the child killer, who astutely reasons that his own inability to control his actions should garner more sympathy than those who have actively chosen a life of crime. “Who knows what it is like to be me?” he asks the viewer, and we are forced to concede our unfitness to truly judge. —Jim Vorel


78. The Thin Blue Line

thin-blue-line.jpg Year: 1988
Director: Errol Morris
Runtime: 101 minutes

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A little after midnight on Nov. 28, 1976, Dallas police officers Robert Wood and Teresa Turko made a routine traffic stop for a car driving without headlights. When Wood approached the vehicle, the driver pulled a handgun and shot him five times. The car sped off into the night while Turko fired hopelessly in its wake and Wood died at her feet. A cop killer was on the loose in Dallas. Turko’s recollections of the driver were meager, and 50 investigators worked through the sparse clues without a single witness. But less than a month later, on Dec. 21, Dallas police arrested Randall Dale Adams, a 28-year-old itinerant laborer from Ohio. Though Adams claimed his innocence, a jury found him guilty and the judge handed him the death sentence. The man once branded in court as “Charles Manson” was safely locked away. Dallas breathed again. Nine years later, in 1985, a documentarian named Errol Morris drifted into town from New York. Morris had never heard of Randall Dale Adams; he was in Dallas to speak to a doctor. By the time Morris left three years later, he had freed an innocent man, identified a murderer, uncovered widespread corruption and earned death threats, law suits and debt. He had also made one of the finest documentary films of all time—a nimbly stylized and obsessive pursuit of truth; a study in and a shrug to the pitfalls of myopia; the Serial podcast before podcasts ever existed; an epic story of life, death and the misuse of power that has repercussions to this day. He called it The Thin Blue Line. —Neil Forsyth


79. The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant

bitter-tears-petra-von-kant-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1972
Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Stars: Margit Carstensen, Irm Hermann, Hanna Schygulla
Runtime: 124 minutes

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The austerity of German New Wave’s enfant terrible and ridiculously prolific Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s emotionally sadomasochistic romance/character study is a bit of a joke. In the tormented relationship between Petra (Margit Carstensen), her muse Karin (Hanna Schygulla) and Petra’s silent and subservient assistant Marlene (Irm Hermann) is an air of deadpan terror and eroticism. Fassbinder distributes power unequally amongst the trio: Karin has her way with Petra, going hot to cold from one line to the next, while Petra regularly dismisses and disregards Marlene. The women around Petra von Kant—her mother, her friend, her daughter—all look back with varying amounts of awe and disgust as they recount their own interpersonal relationships and how those relationships are connected to Petra’s sense of self. For a fashion designer as haute as Petra, the archness of her affairs contrasts with her carefully designed looks, as each of Fassbinder’s characters bounce between the humanity of vulnerability and the artificiality of their cruelty. —Kyle Turner


80. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me

fire-walk-with-me-poster.jpg Year: 1992
Director: David Lynch
Stars: Kyle MacLachlan, Sheryl Lee, Ray Wise, Moira Kelly, David Bowie, Kiefer Sutherland, Chris Isaac
Runtime: 136 minutes

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In retrospect, in light of The Return, David Lynch’s prequel to the Twin Peaks series emerges as an extraordinarily compassionate prayer in the midst of the director’s canon. If 25 years ago Fire Walk with Me bore a reputation for unnecessary brutality, nihilism even—booed at its Cannes premiere and a box office failure—today its brutality seems more necessary than ever, the depths of its bleakness matched only by just how deeply felt Lynch’s characters develop on screen. Everything, of course, feels weird, and somehow unsafe, though the horror we witness Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) survive and then succumb to is both rendered in all of its terrible boldness and tempered by Lynch’s inability to exploit the tragedy he unfolds. This last week in Laura Palmer’s life, before she’s killed and bound within plastic, an image which still seems strange making it onto network TV then—this last week in Laura’s life passes with ever creeping intensity, malignant energies converging upon a poor girl’s soul. We learn the identity of her killer, though we probably should have known all along, because this is a David Lynch film, and the graphic, upsetting shitty absurdity of reality is always hiding in plain sight. Kiefer Sutherland and Chris Isaac are there too, playing FBI agents just as quirky and inevitably lovable as Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan); Agent Phillip Jeffries (David Bowie) emerges from nowhere at a Philadelphia FBI building, then disappears as if ripped from our reality into another. Fire Walk with Mepretty much works that way: People—especially “women in trouble,” a Lynch favorite—cross over into the film from different worlds regularly, usually carried by pain and trauma, two powerful forces that Lynch uses against women at the hands of men, who are all pretty much vessels for evil, except for those in the FBI, who are damn good folks. Is it misogyny? Maybe, though Lynch seems to really hate men more than anyone else. —Dom Sinacola


81. The Brood

the-brood-poster.jpg Year: 1979
Director: David Cronenberg
Stars: Oliver Reed, Samantha Eggar, Art Hindle
Runtime: 92 minutes

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Even by the standards of David Cronenberg, The Brood is a particularly nasty piece of work. This is a meanspirited and misanthropic yarn that blends body horror and science fiction into a new-aged parable of revenge and repressed rage, erupting forth whether we want it to or not. The titular “brood” are a deformed band of what look like dwarf-like children, created not by mad science but new-age psychobabble—a woman turns her latent anger, fear and mental illness into a physical product, which becomes a series of small, psychically linked killer dwarves who are sent out to destroy those who caused her grief. Totally absurd? Oh, 100% accurate, but also just as deeply off putting as you’d expect the work of Cronenberg to be in so many cases. It’s a messed-up metaphor on the destructive power of pent-up bitterness, inspired by Cronenberg’s own rancorous divorce. —Jim Vorel


82. Kwaidan

kwaidan-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1964
Director: Masaki Kobayashi
Stars: Rentaro Mikuni, Tatsuya Nakadai, Katsua Nakamura, Osamu Takizawa, Noboru Nakaya
Runtime: 184 minutes

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Ghost stories don’t get much more gorgeous than the four in Masaki Kobayashi’s sprawling Kwaidan. Between two acerbically political and widely lauded samurai epics, Hara-kiri (1962) and Samurai Rebellion (1967), Kobayashi led what was then Japan’s most expensive cinematic production ever, an anthology film with its parts loosely connected by Lafcadio Hearn’s collection of Japanese folktales and Kobayashi’s intuitive penchant for surreal, sweepingly lush sets. In “The Black Hair,” a selfish, impoverished ronin (Rentaro Mikuni) abandons his wife to marry into wealth, only to realize he made a dire mistake, plunging him into a gothic nightmare of decay and regret. “The Woman of the Snow” follows a craftsman (the always welcome Tatsuya Nakadai) doomed to have everything he loves stolen from him by a patient bureaucratic specter. The movie-unto-itself, “Hoichi the Earless,” pits the titular blind monk musician (Katsua Nakamura) against a family of ghosts, forcing the bard to recite—in hushed, heartbreaking passages on the biwa—the story of their wartime demise. Rapt with indelible images (most well known, perhaps, is Hoichi’s skin completely covered in the script of The Heart Sutra to ward off the ghosts’ influence), “Hoichi the Earless” is both deeply unnerving and quietly tragic, wrung with the sadness of Kobayashi’s admission that only forces beyond our control hold the keys to our fates. The fourth, and by far the weirdest, entry, “In a Cup of Tea,” is a tale within a tale, purposely unfinished because the writer (Osamu Takizawa) who’s writing about a samurai (Noboru Nakaya) who keeps seeing an unfamiliar man (Kei Sato) in his cup of tea is in turn attacked by the malicious spirits he’s conjuring. From these disparate fairy tales, plenty of fodder for campfires, Kobayashi creates a mythos for his country’s haunted past: We are nothing if not the pawns of all those to come before. —Dom Sinacola


83. Burden of Dreams

burden-of-dreams-poster.jpg Year: 1982
Director: Les Blank
Runtime: 94 minutes

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Werner Herzog is no stranger to the ecstatic toil of movie-making, and so it comes as no surprise that one of the greatest films ever filmed about filmmaking is Les Blank’s The Burden of Dreams, a documentary ostensibly about the harrowed making of Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo in the jungles of South America, and really about, like Hearts of Darkness, what an artist is willing to do to wrench his or her vision free from the mind’s morass. Herzog, an experimental documentarian in his own right, seems to at times toy with Blank, posturing himself as a madman on the brink of a psychotic break, unleashing one bout of intimidating crazy talk after another; years later, Blank admitted as much on his end, claiming that he fussed with the film’s vérité style, asking Herzog, for example, to repeat rants the director once shared off-camera. Whether Herzog’s playacting or not, his horrific monologues only service the narrative Blank’s building: that sometimes an artistic vision must be seen through, no matter the cost. Whether Blank was instigating drama in the director’s reality or not, Herzog was on board: the audience must understand the seriousness of his vision.—D.S.


84. Persona

persona.jpg Year: 1966
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Stars: Liv Ullmann, Bibi Andersson
Runtime: 83 minutes

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Ingmar Bergman didn’t seem to have any answers to the questions he raised in this film or those raised in many of his others. But he kept asking them, and he had a knack for bringing his stories to an appropriately dramatic conclusion without cauterizing all of his characters’ wounds. He was a smooth, precise director, but one who—unlike Antonioni—worked within the conventions of film grammar rather than pressing at the medium’s edges…most of the time. My favorite Bergman film, Persona, not only acknowledges this medium but rips it wide open. Liv Ullmann and Bibi Andersson—two actresses who worked with Bergman many times—play a stage actress and a nurse, respectively. The actress has had a breakdown and been rendered mute in the middle of a performance, and she’s recuperating at a seaside cottage. This simple plot is the skeleton for a very complex examination of identity and psychology. The two women seem to merge at certain points—perhaps they’re two sides of the same woman—and their histories bleed into the present through a variety of cinematic techniques, from the first shot of a projector lighting up and being threaded with film, and the moment in the middle, when the film seems to burn and run in reverse, to the famous, dazzling montage that seems to unearth the unconscious. Persona doesn’t reveal its meaning easily, and it’s open to a number of interpretations. But it’s noteworthy that the actress in the film works on the stage. Bergman was forever balancing the world of the theater with the world of film; he was an artist with a split personality.—Robert Davis


85. Putney Swope

putney-swope-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1969
Director: Robert Downey Sr.
Stars: Arnold Johnson, Stan Gottlieb, Allen Garfield
Runtime: 85 minutes

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Supposedly inspired by director Robert Downey’s experiences in advertising, Putney Swope would be a bleakly cynical expectoration of the bile inherent to the machinations of capitalism—that is, were it not so funny. In Downey’s most popular film, life means nothing next to the rhythms of language and the poetry of farce, telling the story of an agency in thrall to a complete overhaul care of the new democratically chosen Chairman of the Board, token African American Putney Swope (Arnold Johnson, with Downey dubbing in his comical voice, adding an extra shade of cartoon chaos to an already surreal scenario). Swope purges the company of most of its “lilys,” replacing them with Black Panther acolytes and Five Percenters and assorted blue collar Black workers to resist the tide of empty corporatism taking over America. In turn, Swope takes on the personae of various revolutionaries—sometimes dressing in NOGE garb, sometimes suiting up like a Castro impersonator—navigating the many strains, violent and not, of anti-establishment thinking at the tail end of the ’60s, but ultimately unable to escape the lure of capitalist power. Swope is a bad leader, in other words, stealing ideas from his underlings and generally embracing every hypocritical behavior he can, but the genius of Downey’s vision is that his idea of corruption corrupts absolutely, no regards for race or inequality. A sort of pre-Zucker Brothers bounty of slapstick and absurdity, Putney Swope portrays people floundering through these many layers of power (and, therefore, oppression), unsure of how best to get what they want from society—unsure if that’s even possible. Replete with a series of offensive, uncomfortable and super-weird commercial spots seemingly tapped into America’s horrifying Id, Putney Swope has a lot to say, but doesn’t really seem all that concerned with being heard. —Dom Sinacola


86. Carnival of Souls

carnival of souls poster (Custom).jpg Year: 1962
Director: Herk Harvey
Stars: Candace Hilligoss, Herk Harvey
Runtime: 80 minutes

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Carnival of Souls is a film in the vein of Night of the Hunter: artistically ambitious, from a first-time director, but largely overlooked in its initial release until its rediscovery years later. Granted, it’s not the masterpiece of Night of the Hunter, but it’s a chilling, effective, impressive tale of ghouls, guilt and restless spirits. The story follows a woman (Candace Hilligoss) on the run from her past who is haunted by visions of a pale-faced man, beautifully shot (and played) by director Herk Harvey. As she seemingly begins to fade in and out of existence, the nature of her reality itself is questioned. Carnival of Souls is vintage psychological horror on a miniscule budget, and has since been cited as an influence in the fever dream visions of directors such as David Lynch. To me, it’s always felt something like a movie-length episode of The Twilight Zone, and I mean that in the most complimentary way I can. Rod Serling would no doubt have been a fan. —Jim Vorel


87. Dont Look Back

dont-look-back-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1967
Director: D.A. Pennebaker
Runtime: 97 minutes

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“When I made Dont Look Back with Dylan, we just shook hands,” documentary icon D.A. Pennebaker said in 2011. “It was 50/50 … I think that bond means you will be fair about money, but it also means you’re not making the film just for yourself. You’re making it for the subject because it’s all he’ll ever have of that experience, and it should be as true for him as it is for you.” Far from a disposable fan item, Don’t Look Back is a bracing portrait of an artist colliding headlong with both his growing fame and the confusion of those in the press who don’t know how to approach this mercurial young man—or the generation he represented. Most famous for its iconic, much-parodied non sequitur opening—Dylan flipping white cards with lyrics from “Subterranean Homesick Blues”—Dont Look Back somehow manages to capture the promise of the decade’s counterculture movement, all embodied in a willful little genius who loved tormenting reporters and Donovan with equally bratty gusto. Explaining the movie’s eternal appeal, Pennebaker used an analogy. “In the ’60s, every kid would buy certain records,” he once explained. “To their parents, the record covers were just pictures. But for [the kids] it was a whole secret symbolic language that told them what kind of dope to smoke, where things were hidden, where to go and all kinds of things they naturally needed to know. Film is one more way you can convey secret information. Dont Look Back provided coded information for people who didn’t want the other generation to know what they were really into. When the older generation looked at it, all they saw was out-of-focus, shaky pictures they weren’t used to.” —Tim Grierson


88. Night of the Living Dead

24. night of the living dead (Custom).jpg Year: 1968
Director: George A. Romero
Stars: Judith O’Dea, Duane Jones, Marilyn Eastman, Karl Hardman, Judith Ridley, Keith Wayne
Runtime: 96 minutes

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What more can be said of Night of the Living Dead? It’s pretty obviously the most important zombie film ever made, and hugely influential as an independent film as well. George Romero’s cheap but momentous movie was a quantum leap forward in what the word “zombie” meant in pop culture, despite the fact that the word “zombie” is never actually uttered in it. More importantly, it established all of the genre rules: Zombies are reanimated corpses. Zombies are compelled to eat the flesh of the living. Zombies are unthinking, tireless and impervious to injury. The only way to kill a zombie is to destroy the brain. Those rules essentially categorize every single zombie movie from here on out—either the film features “Romero-style zombies,” or it tweaks with the formula and is ultimately noted for how it differs from the Romero standard. It’s essentially the horror equivalent of what Tolkien did for the idea of high fantasy “races.” After The Lord of the Rings, it became nearly impossible to write contrarian concepts of what elves, dwarves or orcs might be like. Romero’s impact on zombies is of that exact same caliber. There hasn’t been a zombie movie made in the last 50-plus years that hasn’t been influenced by it in some way, and you can barely hold a conversation on anything zombie-related if you haven’t seen it—so go out and watch it, if you haven’t. The film still holds up well, especially in its moody cinematography and stark, black-and-white images of zombie arms reaching through the windows of a rural farmhouse. Oh, and by the way—NOTLD is public domain, so don’t get tricked into buying it on a shoddy DVD. —Jim Vorel


89. Hausu

hausu-poster.jpg Year: 1977
Director: Nobuhiko Obayashi
Stars: Kimiko Ikegami, Miki Jinbo, Ai Matubara, Kumiko Oba, Mieko Sato, Eriko Tanaka
Runtime: 88 minutes

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Oh, how to describe Hausu? Anyone who has seen this crazed Japanese mishmash of horror, comedy and fantasy knows this is no easy task—it’s simultaneously as simple as saying “It’s about some girls who go to a haunted house,” and much more complicated. Hausu has often been described as being “like Jaws, but with a house,” but the comparison isn’t exactly accurate—where Spielberg’s film is classic adventure, Obayashi’s is like a bad acid trip, sporting trippy, day-glo color schemes and mind-bending visuals. Animated cats, disembodied flying heads and stop-motion monsters are all par for the course as Hausu goes for the jugular, seemingly trying to overwhelm the viewer with an all-out assault on the senses. As a piece of modern camp spectacle it’s top tier, but it would be a shame to overlook the genuinely imaginative visual effects and how they would seem to presage the likes of Evil Dead 2 in the years to come. If there’s another film where a woman is eaten by a living, evil piano, I haven’t yet seen it. —Jim Vorel


90. Hoop Dreams

hoop-dreams-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1994
Director: Steve James
Runtime: 171 minutes

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The documentary labeled by none other than Roger Ebert as the single best film of the 1990s alternates often between beautiful and crushing, an intense profile of life in inner city Chicago pitted against dreams of escape—through basketball of all things. The story of two young men recruited by a wealthy, predominantly white high school to play basketball, Steve James’ Hoop Dreams, his first feature, obviously raises serious questions about how modern education exploits race and socioeconomic status, but shot over the course of five years and condensed from 250 hours of footage, the film’s true accomplishment is its sprawl, leaving out seemingly absolutely nothing in its portrayal of multiple families. Yet, that it was snubbed from a nomination in the Academy’s best documentary category, leading to public and critical outcry? It doesn’t get more illuminating, more heartbreakingly real than this. Both of the young Illinois men profiled—William Gates and Arthur Agee—had older brothers gunned down in Chicago street violence in the years that followed the film’s release, one in 1994 and another in 200: The film is never far from the reminder of just how life-saving these dreams can be. —Jim Vorel


91. Chungking Express

chungking-express-poster.jpg Year: 1994
Director: Wong Kar-wai
Stars: Takeshi Kaneshiro, Tony Leung, Faye Wong
Runtime: 103 minutes

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Loneliness and the search for connection. Fabrication and the search for authenticity. Despair and the search for meaning. It’s almost as if we’re in 1920s Paris. Instead we’re in 1990’s Hong Kong, though Wong Kar-Wai is less an existential master than a Hemingway or Gertrude Stein. He largely abandons traditional narrative here in service to a more impressionistic study of four characters. We keep expecting for things to happen, waiting for the story to begin, and it never does. It’s as if we as viewers are drawn into the same dilemma as Vladimir and Estragon—or of Wong’s characters.—Michael Dunaway


92. Cronos

cronos-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1993
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Stars: Federico Luppi, Ron Perlman, Claudio Brook
Runtime: 92 minutes

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Even working with a small budget in his first feature film, the vitality of Guillermo Del Toro’s imagination was immediately on full display in Cronos, his Mexican vampire horror drama. Reflecting themes and visual elements that the director has continued to refine in The Devil’s Backbone, Pan’s Labyrinth and Crimson Peak, Cronos is a simply told but visually striking story about an antique shop owner who is slowly and unwittingly transformed into a vampire-like creature after a 450-year-old mechanical device clamps onto his arm and refuses to let go. At first he enjoys the new vitality of the transformation, before other parties come hunting for the device, turning the movie into almost a vampire crime story, as it were. Regardless, Cronos features a very sympathetic vampire at its core, an old man who is simply thrilled by what at first appears to be a new lease on life but eventually requires deadly sacrifices. It’s certainly not Del Toro’s most spellbinding feature, but it was an excellent debut. —Jim Vorel


93. Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!

tie-me-up-tie-me-down-poster.jpg Year: 1990
Director: Pedro Almodovar
Stars: Antonio Banderas, Victoria Abril
Runtime: 92 minutes

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Porn, junk, obsession, madness, coercion and Antonio Banderas? It must be Pedro Almodovar. Critically and popularly successful in Spain, Almodovar’s excursion into the heart of Stockholm syndrome was controversial on its U.S. release, which came around the time the NC-17 rating was established. The story of a mentally ill young man in love with a porn star gone legit, Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! uses a fusion of rom-com and horror conventions to explore the metaphorical potential of restraint. Ricky (Banderas) abducts Marina (Victoria Abril) so that he can establish himself as a devoted partner, which obviously requires her being tied up in an apartment so she can give him her undivided attention. And it works; she falls in love with him. Making that dynamic believable is no small feat. Marina, who is acting in a horror film within the film, remarks to her director that it’s “more of a love story than a horror story,” to which the director quips, “Sometimes they’re indistinguishable.” For Almodovar they nearly always are; he’s a master of dark obsessive impulses and desires that defy the conventions of society. —Amy Glynn


94. The Player

the_player_poster.jpg Year: 1992
Director: Robert Altman
Stars: Tim Robbins, Greta Scaachi, Fred Ward, Whoopi Goldberg
Runtime: 124 minutes

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Robert Altman’s cameo-heavy Hollywood satire was rapturously received in 1992, and along with the next year’s Short Cuts it represents his late-career peak. Structured a bit like a film noir, albeit in the shallow, pampered world of movie executives, The Player’s mockery of the business gradually grows warmer until it seems to embrace the schmaltz and insincerity of Hollywood. It’s smart satire with a wicked bite and a couple of great performances from Robbins and Goldberg, and a bonus Burt Reynolds cameo for all you Gator fans.—Garrett Martin


95. Metropolitan

metropolitan-poster.jpg Year: 1990
Director: Whit Stillman
Stars: Carolyn Farina, Edward Clements, Chris Eigeman, Taylor Nichols, Allison Parisi, Dylan Hundley
Runtime: 98 minutes

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There have been nearly as many “next Woody Allens” in film as there have been “next Michael Jordans” in basketball or “next Bob Dylans” in music, but sometimes the moniker fits. In Whit Stillman’s debut, he staked his claim as the Woody of the upper-class WASPy NYC set and won a whole army of loyal followers. For good reason, too—seldom has any director, regardless of experience, so deftly juggled dialogue that could so easily have delved into too-clever-by-half-isms, or trained such a sympathetic eye on a sometimes questionable nostalgia for the end of an age. Most of all, though, seeing Metropolitan just makes you feel smart and witty and somehow elevated. Not bad for the price of a movie ticket.—Michael Dunaway


96. An Elephant Sitting Still

elephant-sitting-still-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2018
Director: Hu Bo
Stars: Yu Zhang, Yuchang Peng, Uvin Wang
Runtime: 234 minutes

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Filmmaker Hu Bo’s suicide shortly after completing this epic drama added extra layers of melancholy and bleakness to a movie that hardly needed them. Judged on its own considerable merits, An Elephant Sitting Still is a despairing look at modern China, as four disparate individuals navigate a dreary industrial town while coping with their individual woes. (A teenager has severely injured a bully by accident. A classmate is involved in a relationship with one of her teachers. An adult male reels from the consequences of having an affair with his best friend’s wife. A senior citizen isn’t ready to be put in a home.) Sporting long takes in which the camera moves down the street or through apartment complexes, the film immerses us in these character’s dire circumstances—making showoff-y efforts like 1917 look downright shallow by comparison—and, over the course of an eventful day, leaves us pondering how much lives can change over the course of a few hours. We’ll never know what else Hu, who was 29 when he took his life, could have achieved as an artist. (He also wrote several novels.) An Elephant Sitting Still is haunted by that question, as well as the many others his film lays out for audiences. —Tim Grierson


97. Walkabout

walkabout-poster.jpg Year: 1971
Director: Nicolas Roeg
Stars: Jenny Agutter, Lucien John, David Gulpilil
Runtime: 100 minutes

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Walkabout’s narrative follows an Australian sister and brother who encounter an Indigenous boy performing the traditional Aboriginal coming-of-age rite: the walkabout. Based on the James Vance Marshall book of the same name, Edward Bond’s original screenplay totaled 14 pages (barely enough for a short film). In Roeg’s hands, it became a meditation on modern rituals and ancient ones, conflicts between the native Aboriginal and invasive European cultures, human language and storytelling, female and male gender roles and the misunderstanding between them, the cruelty of nature and the madness of the modern world.—Andy Beta


98. Certain Women

certain-women.jpg Year: 2016
Director: Kelly Reichardt
Stars: Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart, Michelle Williams
Runtime: 107 minutes

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Silence speaks volumes in Kelly Reichardt’s films. In works like Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy and Meek’s Cutoff, she has explored how people spend most of their day thinking, not talking, and that perhaps those quiet moments can be as revealing of character as anything that comes out of their mouths. (And, let’s not forget, even when we speak, we’re rarely saying precisely what we mean.) Reichardt’s less-is-so-much-more approach is again on display beautifully in Certain Women, a series of three barely interconnected stories in which empty spaces are pregnant with meaning and resonance. In the first vignette, a vaguely unsatisfied lawyer named Laura (Laura Dern) must counsel an aggrieved client (Jared Harris) who’s unhappy with the amount of money he’s received in a lawsuit settlement. In the second, Gina (Michelle Williams), a focused wife and mother, is on the search for some limestone for the house she and her disengaged husband (James Le Gros) are building. And finally, a lonely cattle rancher named Jamie (Lily Gladstone) stumbles into a nighttime legal class taught by an out-of-towner (Kristen Stewart), striking up a friendship with the disenfranchised woman. As usual with her films, Certain Women is so delicately but smartly constructed that ecstatic reviews may give people the wrong idea about its greatness. It’s wonderful not because it’s some towering, imposing colossus, but because every small moment feels thoughtfully considered, fully lived-in. Certain Women seeps into the skin and expands in the mind. It leaves you shaken—even though nothing seemingly momentous has happened. Reichardt treats cinema as a kind of meditation, which probably explains why her movies almost never feature traditional endings. Lives are a process, not necessarily a destination, and Reichardt honors her characters’ journey by letting it ebb and flow as it pleases. Like so many of her films, Certain Women is muted and restorative. Suddenly, the real world feels too loud. —Tim Grierson


99. The Executioner

TheExecutioner285x400.jpg Year: 1963
Director: Luis García Berlanga
Stars: Nino Manfredi, Emma Penella, José Isbert
Runtime: 91 minutes

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It’s a tough life being an undertaker and a tougher life being a garrotter, which just adds to the layers of political commentary in Luis García Berlanga’s The Executioner. Oh, sure, things look pretty sunny for José Luis, el enterrador, but the film is about climbing social and professional ladders, wherein the higher Luis’s lead ascends, the worse off he becomes. He’s got a sweet apartment, a wonderful wife, a pretty awesome father-in-law, and job duties that he rarely if ever has to carry out courtesy of the Spanish government’s capital leniency. But come the day that he actually has to do that job, he freaks out, because anyone would: It’s no small thing to kill a man, and that’s exactly what José Luis gets paid for. How he gets into that kind of a pickle is the sum total of The Executioner’s macabre delights, the film masterfully taking the demonstrably unfunny business of state sanctioned murder and turns it into a black hearted chuckle fest. —AC


100. The 400 Blows

400-blows-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1959
Director: François Truffaut
Stars: Jean-Pierre Léaud, Claire Maurier, Albert Rémy
Runtime: 100 minutes

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Sometimes a movie can be boiled down to its final shot. The Long Goodbye has Philip Marlowe, unhurriedly strolling down a road in Mexico, playing his harmonica after killing his best friend. 8 1/2 has young Guido, bringing down the lights as he marches along with his flute, sending the audience out of the theater wondering whether his presence affirms life or nods to death. The 400 Blows has Antoine Doinel gamboling about on the coast before François Truffaut’s camera zooms in on the boy’s face, freezing the frame just as his eyes meet with the lens. For anyone who saw Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight, that description probably sounds familiar, but this shot has been long-copied since The 400 Blows became a part of the cinematic canon after its 1959 release. (For example: Catherine Breillat’s Fat Girl, or even George Roy Hill’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which both use a similar effect to achieve altogether different ends.) In Truffaut’s film, the shot is meant as a capstone, or, if you prefer, the closing of a book: It’s the climax of one chapter in Doinel’s life, though Truffaut probably didn’t have any thought of making sequels to the film to begin with. Questions linger as the credits roll, and of course they should. When one comes of age, their next age begins, and so The 400 Blows leaves itself open at the last, leaving us to consider what fate may befall Antoine from here. —Andy Crump