Woman in the Dunes
This adaptation of the surrealist novel by Kobo Abe is weird, horrific, beautiful, and unlike anything else. The story of a man trapped in a giant sandpit with a “woman in the dunes” is filled with stunning black-and-white imagery, and its themes of repression have never been more potent.
For All Mankind
This is sheer bliss and existential wonderment. It should be required viewing—not just for filmmakers but for people in general. It stitches together all the Apollo missions into one beautiful trip to the moon and back. The voice-overs from the astronauts are so poignant—these are men who have been to the moon and have seen things that none of us will ever see, yet they are so humbled by it. It’s magical. As is the score by Brian Eno!
How can I not list this “dream of dark and troubling things.” Lynch has made such a vast impact on today’s culture, and this is where it started. The midnight movie—sorry to Waters, Jodorowsky, Argento, and Romero, but Eraserhead owns that mantle. I know there are some who don’t “get it,” and that’s fine, but to me it is so inspiring that someone can spend years of his life making such a far-out slice of deranged weirdness, and somehow, somewhere, there are people who not only “get it” but love it to death.
I went to a school like the one depicted in this film for a year of my life and that was enough—any longer and I too might have resorted to revolution! Even though this film is so specifically about boys in a British public school, it hits so many themes that are relatable to anyone: adolescence, lust, rage, and rebellion. Plus, the dream sequence in the café is so fun!
Nights of Cabiria
People talk about Fellini and Mastroianni, but for me it’s all about Fellini and his wife, the endlessly watchable and entirely unique Giulietta Masina. This is one of the most beautiful, sad, and funny human stories ever told. I love all sides of Fellini so much, but if I must choose, it’s this—for its heart, Giulietta’s face, and an ending that is a testament to the resilience of the human soul.
. . . Speaking of the human soul! This is a film of profound beauty made by a master of cinema, who could go from action-packed samurai epics to this tear-jerking gut-wrencher. This, The Apu Trilogy, and pretty much all of Ozu’s output (man, ten is just too small an amount to list here!) are micro-stories that focus on giant human themes, and I’m so glad they exist!
Loves of a Blonde
I had to add some comedy to this list, and this is a very funny film. It shows the dry, observational comedy that Miloš Forman cut his chops on before leaving Czechoslovakia for Hollywood. I’m still waiting for a decent release of Taking Off, which is also ridiculously funny (c’mon, Criterion!).
The Night of the Hunter
Again, another adult fairytale, and like Eyes Without a Face, a one-off. It is a loss to cinema that Charles Laughton never got another chance to direct a film. The Night of the Hunter shows such a willingness to do things in his own highly stylized and theatrical manner, I can’t imagine where he could have gone from there. Still, if you’re going to make one film, it might as well be as unforgettable as this.
All That Jazz
I choose this not because it’s my favorite but because, alongside the great sixties and seventies documentaries of Ken Russell and Peter Watkins and the films of Nicolas Roeg, this was a big influence on the stylistic choices I made when approaching my film SHOT! It’s so excessive and theatrical, and the choreography is of course stunning, but Fosse’s complete irreverence toward the subject of his own death is what really gets me.
I can’t not mention these: 3 Women, Blood for Dracula, Harakiri, Harold and Maude, The Innocents, Kwaidan, Multiple Maniacs, Onibaba, Peeping Tom, Persona, Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Red Shoes, Repo Man, Rosemary’s Baby, Le Samouraï, Seconds, The Third Man, Tokyo Story, Videodrome, Wim Wenders’s Road Trilogy, and Yojimbo.