Dane Benko

Dane Benko is an independent filmmaker and student in the Cinematic Arts department of UNM. He is graduating this year.

I’ve never attempted a list of this magnitude before, so this should be an interesting exploration. As always, 50 films is very limited as well as very broad. “Great” is an interesting and debatable word. The 50 films I’ve chosen reflect movies that I believe are well made, important, showcase the possibilities of cinema, infinitely rewatchable, and emotionally affecting. Of course, they are in no particular order.

  • L'Eclisse (1962) .. Michelangelo Antonioni
    Every single frame reflects the overall structure which reflects the plot which reflects the theme: that of bodies moving, emerging, covering each other, and disappearing in relationship to other bodies via a certain perspective.

  • Performance (1970) .. Nicolas Roeg & Donald Cammell
    Nicolas Roeg and Donald Cammell’s feature film featuring Mick Jagger is both an example of something of the era and a historical document criticizing the era. It exactly signifies and represents the end of the optimistic 60s and the beginning of the addicted 70s via the rise of the dark underbelly to the forefront of consciousness happening socially at that time.

  • Sans Soleil (1983) .. Chris Marker
    Chris Marker’s impossibly complicated and yet unnervingly finely tuned musings on the post-modern world via documents shot and found around the world is also a consummate example of a form not yet fully recognized by the broader ideas of the medium, that is, of a visual critical essay as opposed to a documentary.

  • Sherlock, Jr. (1924) .. Buster Keaton
    Buster Keaton’s proto-cinematic journey through the dreamscapes of cinema and its ability to release fantasies into realized adventures is also nearly immaculate in special effects. I still don’t know how he jumped through the man with the suitcase against the wall.

  • A Trip to the Moon (1902) .. Georges Méliès
    Méliès was a master and this is his greatest renowned work. The idea of filmmaker as magician has been somewhat lost in film history, but the technical properties of film are precisely what opens it up to the possibilities of creating entirely new, yet pointedly logical, worlds out of it.

  • Man with a Movie Camera (1929) .. Dziga Vertov
    A lot of early cinema meshed theory and practice as visual essays seeking to prove the ideas of the filmmaker. This is probably the greatest shining example, standing out even past Eisenstein’s work because of its lack of political affiliation.

  • À Bout de Souffle (1960) .. Jean-Luc Godard
    This film has been seen by everyone even if they haven’t watched it yet. Again, Godard seeks to prove several points on film theory and does it with aplomb; the reason why it matters is that he manages to tell a very good story about a very unlikeable character at the same time.

  • Seven Samurai (1954) .. Akira Kurosawa
    In terms of cinema as populist medium, go no further than Seven Samurai. The only people who don’t like this movie are those who don’t like “old movies” in black and white and with subtitles. Even beyond the broader narrative of the movie, each character is so purely developed that one can watch the movie from the perspective of that character as “main character” and find a fully functioning narrative. It’s Rashomon and Yojimbo condensed into beauty and brilliance.

  • The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920) .. Robert Wiene
    As well as being the token example of German Expressionism, one cannot watch Conrad Veidt dance-walking along the fractured linear landscapes without understanding deeply inside how terribly haunted this film is, through the influences of the time, place, and creators it was made by.

  • Dog Star Man (1962-1964) .. Stan Brakhage
    Pretty much a rote example of “experimental film” (whatever that means), nonetheless Dog Star Man shows the capabilities and possibilities of non-narrative cinema and also the ability of the viewer to interact/experiment with the film as more than just an observer. Though Dog Star Man was created with the express purpose of being completely silent, nonetheless various musicians and artists have projected the film with their own compositions to recreate entirely new dialogs with it.

  • Anaemic Cinema (1926) .. Marcel Duchamp
    Dadaist concepts inform many movements in society today, and yet many people are unaware of it. Anaemic Cinema is a map towards Dada and its relationship to collage, which of course is intricately and unbreakably linked to montage and the very way in which film is structured and created to make moving images.

  • Un Chien Andalou (1929) .. Luis Buñuel
    Same with the Surrealists. Same with Un chien andalou, this time in terms of dreamscapes and continuity.

  • Peeping Tom (1960) .. Michael Powell
    Did you know that it’s possible to create a horror film so well done that it nearly destroys the career of a prolific and well-respected filmmaker? Ask Michael Powell.

  • Pink Flamingos (1972) .. John Waters
    B-films and independent cinema is its own movement, and it’s nice to know that a cult following and film career can be created with fat shit-eating transvestites competing with bourgeois rapists who sell babies to lesbians to fund public flashing over who is the more disgusting person. Cassavetes proved that cinema can be made with the purpose of being perfectly uncomfortable, and John Waters proved that you can do that and still make it fun.

  • Triumph of the Will (1935) .. Leni Riefenstahl
    October (1928) .. Sergei M. Eisenstein
    These are listed together because they are both examples of how film has been used as propaganda, and how propaganda can still be artful. I dare anyone to watch Triumph of the Will and not be filled with apprehension at the thought of going up against such massively regulated and controlled armies, and October makes me proud to be a Bolshevik even though I’m not! You just can’t argue with these films, which is what is so disturbing about them.

  • Requiem for a Dream (2000) .. Darren Aronofsky
    Darren Aronofsky is a master subject filmmaker, the camera that puts the audience into the space of the subject and inhabits its body. Here, the subject is addiction, which is daring because it’s so good it could have destroyed his career, but instead provided an immediately compelling movie that is somehow magnetically attractive to a wide range of people. And the music! One time my co-worker put “Summer Overture” on the overhead system in the music department and you could tell by the cringes who had seen this movie before.

  • Street of Crocodiles (1986) .. The Quay Brothers
    Film and Freudianism are intricately connected through both film’s symbolic visual relationship to dream logic and also because they are synchronistic inventions. However, it’s the Brothers Quay that best make Freudian statement out of film, which is interesting because their stop-motion technique makes the movement of film itself exaggeratedly sexual.

  • Vinyl (1965) .. Andy Warhol
    This film is great because it condenses all of narrative form into a single frame and two basic shots. It’s also a historical document that provides some insight into the world of Andy Warhol.

  • 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) .. Stanley Kubrick
    When I first saw this as a teenager with my mother, she said, “Thousands of doctorates were written about the significance of the black monolith.” Dozens of viewings later, I realize it’s because this movie is technically and structurally beyond words, in a more literal sense than the breathless cliché.

  • The Shining (1980) .. Stanley Kubrick
    Along with condensing many horror film tropes into a single movie, yet again a film proves just how much film is about space. If you don’t feel the space in this film, then I don’t really know what movie you are watching.

  • Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986) .. John McNaughton
    Serial killers are popular in horror movies. Very few present serial killers as the unattractive antisocial deviants they are.

  • Born in Flames (1983) .. Lizzie Borden
    Probably one the greatest feminist films ever made, at least the best one I’ve ever seen. A pastiche of media criticism, subversive narrative, call to arms, and re-exploration of signifiers culminating in an explosion on the World Trade Center, an image that would come to even more significance for post 9/11 viewers.

  • Tetsuo: the Iron Man (1989) .. Shinya Tsukamoto
    Cyberpunk hipsterism mixed with sonic and visual barrage mixed with interpenetrating space and skin mixed with dream and logic fragmenting… basically everything that has ever been good in film? Admittedly not for everyone and yet some of the strongest 50 min. of cinema out there.

  • Stalker (1979) .. Andrei Tarkovsky
    Andrei Tarkovsky’s camera is impossible. No, really, watch one of his movies and attempt to map out in your head where the actual camera device is during each shot—it’s as if it floats and has no mass. Incredible, AND the man goes and creates a deep and dark labyrinth—in open fields, using only the psyches of the three characters. Flabbergasting.

  • Deep End (1971) .. Jerzy Skolimowski
    A lesser known psychotic thriller, and yet one of the strongest statements on unchecked hormones in youth in history. An almost literally shocking film.

  • Woman of the Dunes (1964) .. Hiroshi Teshigahara
    Sand as image, continually explored and re-contextualized, down to the very essence of sand as both a constantly flowing force and a solid; also a philosophical criticism on society in transition, human sexual relationships, claustrophobia, and the meaning of life. You know, among other things. Sand and film have very textural/tactile analogies between them, as well.

  • The Battle of Algiers (1966) .. Gillo Pontecorvo
    A movie that is both an immersive and engaging fiction and a very informative document into the nature of urban-center resistance and warfare. For some reason, this movie has been viewed by military personnel for information on engagement and torture in such situations, but not by politicians as a revelation into the Sisyphean nature of empire. What gives?

  • Frames of Reference (1960) .. Richard Leacock
    This very little-known Physics documentary uses incredibly precise filmmaking techniques to explain relativity. As such, it unintentionally re-interprets filmmaking itself as a relativistic, as opposed to objective or subjective, art form.

  • Dawn of the Dead (1978) .. George A. Romero
    George Romero’s Dead series is in and of itself a magnificent topic and cult classic series, but Dawn of the Dead itself is just so superb it’s worth mentioning individually. The ironic thing is that I really want to discuss the editing, but many different edits of this film exist that it would be a pain to try to sift through them all. Instead, a consummate example of how something to say combined with a thoughtful symbol combined with creative low-budget techniques can create something so amazingly good.

  • Toy Story (1995) .. John Lasseter
    Along with starting the CG craze that set the trend for animation for years to come, Pixar came out of basically nowhere to prove that children’s entertainment can…*GASP!* have a well-developed plot, too! A-and they never stopped living up to that standard, which is downright amazing if you ask me.

  • Rejected (2000) .. Don Hertzfeldt
    There’s a sad dearth of independent animation out there, though not through lack of trying on Don Hertzfeldt’s part. He proves the medium deftly using the most expressional stick-figures ever created and a savvy control of the paper medium itself to add three-dimensionality (or more like… fourth dimensionality…?) to his world. What a better topic to take on, then, than commercialism, something he decidedly does not fit into.

  • Eraserhead (1977) .. David Lynch
    I admit I have something of a bias towards horror/sci fi in low budget, but profoundly crafted, contexts. Where would this list be, then, without David Lynch, and not only David Lynch but specifically Eraserhead? You simply cannot watch this movie without being repelled, disgusted, and shocked. And he funded it with a bike route, for Christ’s sake!

  • Videodrome (1983) .. David Cronenberg
    David Cronenberg’s fascination with medium, technology, and body horror comes to its apex in this particular film. More importantly, “television” is the closest he comes to directly taking on cinema, at least as visual language is concerned. I can’t resist saying it: Long live the new flesh!

  • Come and See (1985) .. Elem Klimov
    Have you ever had that dream where you’re trying to run, but can’t move? Um, yeah, that’s this movie. Except you’re getting shot at and starving to death while it’s happening.

  • The Red and the White (1967) .. Miklós Jancsó
    See, the irony of this title is that the movie is in black and white, and the uniforms look exactly the same. Basically plays off of the absurdity of war by letting either side win one, lose one, back in forth in a steady graceful flow of futility.

  • Meshes of the Afternoon (1943) .. Maya Deren
    Discussing film is practically impossible without taking on dreams, dreamscapes, and dream logic. Yet while even I compare other works, even in this document, as to dreams, I’ve yet to see such a complete dream-expression as Maya Deren’s seminal Meshes of the Afternoon.

  • The Seventh Seal (1957) .. Ingmar Bergman
    Bergman was a master, but Seventh Seal deserves special consideration because of its iconic portrayal of Death. The Death figure in Seventh Seal is both immediately recognizable and yet uniquely different from previously established Deaths, especially the ones painted on church walls within this movie. The use of this image was so effective, that that very Death characterization became endlessly and shamelessly re-used, repeated, and parodied since.

  • Serene Velocity (1970) .. Ernie Gehr
    Wavelength typically gets all the credit for the structuralist films of the 70s. While ultimately deserving of its praise, Serene Velocity does much the same with much less. The technique is constant throughout the movie, but the effect is completely different from moment to moment. Every four frames the camera zooms further out, then further in, back and forth. Sometimes the result is indeed serene, sometimes painful, sometimes boring, sometimes beautiful, sometimes dizzying, sometimes hypnotizing, sometimes you can see the hallway, and sometimes it looks completely abstract. One technique, a new effect every four frames. Ever since I’ve seen this I’ve very much wanted to watch it again.

  • Suicide Club (2002) .. Sion Sono
    I basically have or can form an opinion on just about anything I watch. I still don’t know what the fuck is going on here. Seriously. Also, “seriously” as in it impresses me.

  • The Adventures of Milo and Otis (1986) .. Masanori Hata
    This amazing adventure story has a more naturalistic live-action approach than most. Interestingly enough, even though a voice-over contributes the animals’ monolog, I feel like this is the least anthropomorphizing view of animals in children’s entertainment ever. It’s both worth mentioning in that context, plus it’s an awesomely entertaining movie that everyone should watch at LEAST once in their life.

  • Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988) .. Robert Zemeckis
    Hell, animation and live action mixing isn’t any new thing—that’s technically what many special effects are. And yet this movie does it so perfectly. Plus, I mean, film noir is awesome, but film noir involving animated sex-pots and freaky demonic wonky-eyed baddies? Um, yeah.

  • Ugetsu Monogatari (1953) .. Kenji Mizoguchi
    Mizoguchi’s magical realist journey is one of the most lovely and yet haunting movies ever made. The ghosts that exist in this movie haunt the viewer internationally.

  • Night and Fog (1955) .. Alain Resnais
    I mean it when I state my distress that any documentary or fiction movie has been made after that hasn’t even tried to live up to the standards created by Resnais’s movie. No, really, everything that ever has needed to be said about the Holocaust is here—take note, all you filmmakers trying to get a cheap Oscar.

  • The Manchurian Candidate (1962) .. John Frankenheimer
    Ever wondered what paranoia felt like?

  • The Matrix (1999) .. The Wachowski Brothers
    No, really. A couple of bad sequels and an over-use of special effects technique to the point of cliché in later works gave this movie a severe and undeserved backlash. A great piece of science fiction pulling ideas and staples from many different sources, a document of popular philosophy, and a kick-ass action film. Everyone these days seems to have a reason to hate it, but that wasn’t true back when everyone loved it, and unfortunately for the haters I was there when they said they loved it too. For shame.

  • The Muppet Movie (1979) .. James Frawley
    Say what you want about this choice, I’m still trying to figure out how Kermit rides that friggin’ bike. And meanwhile, how come such fun punning and song-and-dance routine isn’t in children’s entertainment anymore? We’ve got musical moments in CG cartoons, but nothing matches the Muppet’s lyrics or moves.

  • Blade Runner (1982) .. Ridley Scott
    To be perfectly honest, I didn’t see a whole lot of difference between the Final Cut and the Director’s Cut. That’s mostly because the special effects were as beautiful then as they are today, even updated. Meanwhile, boy, what a great story, and what subtle ways it reveals its true nature.

  • The Double Life of Veronique (1991) .. Krzysztof Kieslowski
    Kieslowski’s more famous works, this and the Three Colors trilogy, are basically about being simultaneously Polish and French. This one is also gorgeous, romantic, heart-warming, tragic, mysterious, and contains a puppet show that puts Jirí Barta and Being John Malkovich to shame.

  • Outer Space (1999) .. Peter Tscherkassky
    This movie came out in the late 90s, as the issue of film being replaced by digital video was raising fears that film would die. So Peter Tscherkassky cut up a film (The Entity, to be precise) to signify the “death” of film. Ironically, he created an effect that can only be done on film, showing that ultimately the medium cannot be replaced.

  • Decasia (2002) .. Bill Morrison
    And on that note, to wrap up the list: even lost, destroyed, and derelict footage has found its place in the filmmaking world as people like Bill Morrison dig into archives and unearth artfully decayed art.