Since the list is so short, I have tried to include only one film for each director. If I didn't do this, half of the list that be comprised of works by Welles, Bergman, Scorsese, Chaplin, Hitchock, Neorealist, and French New Wave directors. As you can see my tastes lean toward film noirs, art films, and surrealist movies, and I am somewhat less interested in musicals, romantic comedies, and Oscar baiting films (such as "The Reader" with Kate Winslet and the overrated "The English Patient.").
- Touch of Evil (1958) .. Orson Welles
A Touch of Evil (director's cut) 1958-Seeing the director's cut for the first time at the Music Box (with the improved pacing) was one of my favorite film watching experiences ever- even though I never believed Charleston Heston was a Mexican. The wonderfully elaborate opening shot is unforgettable, and the cast (including Janet Leigh and Marlene Dietrich) is to die for.
- Persona (1966) .. Ingmar Bergman
The bizarre opening montage brilliantly encapsulates the whole history of cinema up until that point, and Liv Ullmann and Bib Andersson have never been better, plus Sven Nykvist's crisp, luminous cinematography is superb in the ultimate auteur art film, and the best film of the '60s (although Kubrick's works come close).
- Taxi Driver (1976) .. Martin Scorsese
Robert De Niro (in his signature performance) is unforgettable as a disturbed urban vigilante, and Bernard Hermann's often menacing score is one of his best and it is an essential part of the film.
- Modern Times (1936) .. Charles Chaplin
In this great quasi sci-fi comedy, Chaplin shows his great versatility (as actor/writer. composer), as he bids farewell to the Little Tramp character, and the female lead, Paulette Goddard has infectious energy to spare in her great tragic-comic performance.
- Vertigo (1958) .. Alfred Hitchcock
Suspense master, Hitchcock seems to be critiquing himself in this film (and perhaps all film makers) about a man that tries to remake a woman into his ideal with tragic consequences (Volumes can and have been written about the film's psychological implications and dual narrative viewpoint.)
- The Wizard of Oz (1939) .. Victor Fleming
Wonderfully imaginative and quotable fantasy/musical is Judy Garland's finest achievement, but Margaret Mitchell's witch (an early Dr. Doom/Darth Vader prototype) steals the show.
- Blue Velvet (1986) .. David Lynch
An absurd and horrific neo noir by David Lynch (Hitchcock's most original disciple) that features Dennis Hopper as one of cinema's most sadistic and unforgettable villains.
- La Strada (1954) .. Federico Fellini
Giuletta Masina channels the spirit of Chaplin playing as a tortured, mentally challenged wife who always manages to remain optimistic in this allegorical Fellini directed classic.
- Ran (1985) .. Akira Kurosawa
This Kurasawa directed samurai film is the finest and most unforgettable Shakespeare film adaptation ever, but the best character, Lady Kaede is an original creation.
- Dancer in the Dark (2000) .. Lars Von Trier
Danish director, Lars Von Trier, moves away from his Dogma '95 territory, and creates the most unforgettable anti-musical ever (influenced equally by Robert Wise and Carl Dreyer), and the lead actress, Bjork was robbed at the Oscars.
- Donnie Darko (2001) .. Richard Kelly
A rabbit masked entity from the future (or is he sent from God or Satan or a parallel universe?) encourages a disturbed schizophrenic teen to perform acts of vandalism in
’s greatest cinematic response to post 911 apocalyptic anxiety. America
- Do the Right Thing (1989) .. Spike Lee
Spike Lee takes on various social issues that no one else will touch, and he creates a whole town populated by memorable characters (Ossie Davis's "da mayor" is my favorite), and the film culminates with an incredible climax, plus it uses Public Enemy's classic anthem well.
- Blade Runner (1982) .. Ridley Scott
This gorgeous and prophetic cyberpunk noir provided Harrison Ford with his best role, and it masterfully deals with most of the same themes as Frankenstein.
- The Third Man (1949) .. Carol Reed
One of the peak film noirs benefits from Welles's turn as a sinister villain (he has one of the best character intro shots in all of cinema), and Sir Carol Reed's Welles inspired direction is breath taking (it's ridiculous that Oscar morons rewarded him for "Oliver!" instead of this film.)
- Duck Soup (1933) .. Leo McCarey
This hilarious comedy with an anarchic spirit pokes fun at politicians, and includes many of the great comedy group's most creative gags without any pedestrian songs or dances diluting the impact.
- Lawrence of Arabia (1962) .. David Lean
Peter O' Toole is at his commanding best (his voice is one of the most monumental instruments in cinema, and he has as much charisma and androgynous beauty as a young David Bowie), and this quintessential epic adventure is breath taking, sublime, and a bit perverse (try to see it in 70 millimeter version in a big theater).
- Jules and Jim (1962) .. François Truffaut
Jeanne Moreau is irresistible as a femme fatale in a ménage a trois that ends in an unforgettable tragedy in this new wave classic which inspired a song on Pete Townscend's "Empty Glass."
- A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) .. Elia Kazan
Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh give their most towering performances and this is the must-see film version of the classic play- despite the stupid edits of the racier material.
- The Maltese Falcon (1941) .. John Huston
This was the start of film noir, the beginning of Bogart’s ascendency to a first class actor/star status, plus Bogie’s Sam Spade is the epitome of American cinematic masculinity.
- Dr. Strangelove, Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) ..
It was hard to pick from the riches in Kubrick's oeuvre (In their own way, "2001: A Space Odyssey" and "Paths of Glory” equal this film), but this is the supreme political satire, and Peter Sellers is amazingly effective playing multiple characters.
- Un Chien Andalou (1929) .. Luis Buñuel
This silent Spanish short by Luis Bunuel (Salvadore Dali helped him write it) may have lost some of its shock value, but cinematic surrealism has rarely been this inventive.
- Sound?? (1966) .. Dick Fontaine
This bizarre and wonderful experimental short jumps back and forth between footage of John Cage lecturing on music in the park (he spouts out music philosophy while he is going down a slide), and shots of the music visionary, Rashaan Roland Kirk playing avant-garde jazz in the zoo (at one point the animals join in.)
- Meshes of the Afternoon (1943) .. Maya Deren
Maya Deren's brand of surrealism is more feminine and gentle then Bunuel's (she's like the cinematic equivalent of the painter, Remedios Varo), and her innovative use of space and jump cuts helps to create a masterfully disjointed anti-narrative film.
- Pierrot le Fou (1965) .. Jean-Luc Godard
Godard's chaotic crime comedy paved the way for "Bonnie and Clyde," plus all of Tarantino's films, and his then wife, Anna Karina, has never been as insanely attractive (or attractively insane) on screen again
- The Conformist (1970) .. Bernardo Bertolucci
Bernardo Bertolucci's glorious homage to Welles is about a man hired to kill his former teacher (this is of course a symbolic break from Godard's influence) , and it has gorgeous-beyond-words cinematography by Vittorio Storaro, and the tango scene is supremely erotic.
- The Lady Eve (1941) .. Preston Sturges
Barbara Stanwyck's performance as a sassy and experienced stripper in this romantic comedy is irresistible, and she has great chemistry with Henry Fonda, playing a character who is the epitome of naïveté.
- Three Colours: Blue (1993) .. Krzysztof Kieslowski
Three Colours: White (1994) .. Krzysztof Kieslowski
Three Colours: Red (1994) .. Krzysztof Kieslowski
Ok, so this is a bit of a cheat, but this trilogy of films by Krzysztof Kieslowski gains power when you watch them together, and I had to include one of my favorite actresses (Juliette Binoche) somewhere on the list.
- Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) .. Sergio Leone
This gritty European metawestern alludes to almost every previous classic in the genre (including "Red River and "The Searchers",) and it has enough style for 10 regular films, plus the casting against type (with the blue eyed, all -American Henry Fonda as a cold blooded killer, and Charles Bronson as the hero), is a risk that pays off marvelously.
- Kiss Me Deadly (1955) .. Robert Aldrich
Ralph Meeker is the definitive Mike Hammer, a first rate cad anti-hero in this Robert Aldrich directed film noir which served as a template for "Pulp Fiction."
- The Last Laugh (1924) .. F.W. Murnau
F. W. Murnau's film about a troubled door man is a
high pointof silent expressionism and it has a slight edge (at least this week) over " ," “Pandora’s Box, "and "The Blue Angel," which are equally impressive. Sunrise
- The Big Red One (1980) .. Samuel Fuller
The expanded version of Sam Fuller's masterpiece is the ultimate army movie/guy film and shows the struggles of a group commanded by Lee Marvin (he was born to play the role) which included Mark ("Star Wars") Hamill in his last role of any consequence.
- Richard III (1955) .. Laurence Olivier
Laurence Olivier, the greatest cinematic Shakespeare director hams it up playing the ultimate Machiavellian leader, and according to "The Filth and the Fury," Olivier's performance inspired Johnny Rotton's stage persona.
- The Girl Can't Help It (1956) .. Frank Tashlin
Frank Tashlin sends up publicity and the concept of celebrity in this first rate Jayne Mansfield vehicle (she was one of the queens of camp) which features exciting musical performances by some of rock's greatest early performers (such as Little Richard, The Platters, Gene Vincent, and Fats Domino.)
- Wings of Desire (1987) .. Wim Wenders
New German Cinema master, Wim Wenders' poetic and profoundly philosophical art film depicts an angel who gives up immortality for the love of a human trapeze artist, so he begins to see in color (or with moral complexity) for the first time.
- Seven Chances (1925) .. Buster Keaton
A shy, lonely man who usually strikes out with women must marry immediately or lose all his inheritance, the plot has been done to death, but Keaton's inventive acrobatic stunts make the film special, and he is Chaplin's only serious contender for the silent comedy king crown.
- Raise the Red Lantern (1991) .. Zhang Yimou
Zhang Yimou's dazzling epic (the director uses color like a painter) with feminist overtones is about a woman who is forced into a marriage with a monarch who already has several wives in feudal
- The Godfather - The Epic 1901-1959 (1977) .. Francis Ford Coppola
This version of Puzo's novels combines the first two movies, and tells the epic story in a more logical, chronological order, and it features brilliant performances by Brando, Pacino, Cann, and Duvall.
- McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971) .. Robert Altman
Robert Altman's magnificent anti western stars Warren Beatty and Julie Christie as a cowboy and a madam who try to resist the inevitable march of progress, and in a way, Altman ends ups telling the whole story of our country, with classic Leonard Cohen's songs meshing perfectly with the visuals.
- Portrait of Jennie (1948) .. William Dieterle
This sad, mystical love story (featuring the unlikely but effective pairing of Joseph Cotton and Jennifer Jones) is about an artist who falls for an enigmatic woman who has a big secret (don't give it away).
- Orpheus (1950) .. Jean Cocteau
Jean Cocteau retools a classic myth, and he depicts a poet who falls for a female personification of death (she's a darkly garbed motor cycle gang leader who comes out of a mirror).
- Lost Horizon (1937) .. Frank Capra
Extended cut with stills (1937)-I am usually resistant to Capracorn (which is what I call over sentimental Frank Capra films), but this tragedy/speculative film about a lost utopia had me entranced all the way through.
- Nightjohn (1996) .. Charles Burnett
Charles Burnett's classic social justice drama is about a wise-beyond-her-years slave girl who learns how to read from a rebel slave who risks his own life to spread literacy (so he is the opposite of most of today's college students.).
- Amadeus (1984) .. Milos Forman
The director Milos Forman, who came out of the Velvet Revolution, depicts Mozart as an artist rebelling against all of the conventions and social niceties of the aristocratic establishment, and although the history is suspect to say the least, this film (along with "Fantasia") helped ignite my life long love of classical music (but I still usually prefer punk or jazz).
- The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964) .. Pier Paolo Pasolini
Okay, so Pier Paolo Pasolini was a greater poet than film maker, but astonishingly, this gay, atheist/Marxist directed the most faithful, poetic, and artistic cinematic adaptation of the Christ story (compared to this, "The Passion of Christ' is a repellant, obvious, and stupid exercise in cinematic S and M.)
- Spider (2002) .. David Cronenberg
Dave Cronenberg, the inventor of perverse subgenre of body horror, managed to stay unconventionally brilliant after he entered the mainstream, and this boldly non-linear film which is told from the point of view of a man newly released from an asylum mingles reality and delusion brilliantly--allowing the audience to decide what is real.
- Silent Light (2007) .. Carlos Reygadas
Mexican director, Carlos Reygadas’ shows a remarkable maturity in his Bergmanesque anti-narrative depiction of the impact of an adulterous affair in a Mennonite community, and it's all in an obscure medieval German dialect.
- Charade (1963) .. Stanley Donen
Stanley Donen's witty romantic film combines a great script filed with irresistible Howard Hawks-like banter between a man and a woman (played by Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant), with a suspenseful story worthy of Hitchcock, so the whole thing is a pleasure from start to finish (The copyright lapsed so you can probably find it on DVD for a buck.)
- Spirited Away (2001) .. Hayao Miyazaki
Sorry, Disney and Pixar, but Japan's Hayao Miyazaki, is the greatest living animation genius on the planet, and this "Wizard of Oz" influenced fantasy is among his most imaginative works.
- Exotica (1994) .. Atom Egoyan
The Canadian-Egyptian director, Atom Egoyan, planned out each shot as carefully as an architect designing a building in this creepy, agonizing and psychologically complex film about a man who is suffering from a loss who tries to establish an emotional connection with an exotic dancer.
- Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965) .. Russ Meyer
Russ Meyer's exploitation/action film is one of my favorite cult films because of the campy dialogue, frenetic editing, and Tura Satana's immortal performance as a diabolical woman with an almost superhuman will-to-power, and larger than life physical gifts (but it was hard to pick between this film and "Freaks," "Santa Sangre," "Two Lane Blacktop and "Night of the Living Dead" for the best representative cult film.)