These are some of my favorite films. The order is alphabetical within each section, and I selected only one film per director. I have ten entries in most categories, except American and French, which cover six from each of the best five decades, a silent, which includes six in each of five regions.  I update the list from time to time.
Silent Films

  1. Greed (Erich von Stroheim, 1924).
  2. He Who Gets Slapped (Victor Sjöström, 1924).
  3. It (Clarence Badger, 1927).
  4. Lonesome (Pál Fejös, 1928).
  5. The Man Who Laughs (Paul Leni, 1928).
  6. Modern Times (Charlie Chaplin, 1936).  Like City Lights, this is a consumation of Chaplin's career as the best physical comedian in the hisotry of film.  Where that film is touching, this film is (comedically) chilling, as it signals the rise of an increasingly dehumanized world.  It also signifies the end of the silent era with voices coming through machines as if sound-film were the final insult of industrialization.  For an interesting comparison, watch this along side Fritz Lang's Metropolis, Jacques Tati's Playtime, or Rene Clair's À Nous la Liberté, which influenced Chaplin significantly.
  1. Coeur Fidèle (Jean Epstein, 1923).
  2. El Dorado (Marcel L'Herbier, 1921).
  3. La Roue (Abel Gance, 1920).
  4. Menilmontant (Dimitri Kirsanoff, 1926).
  5. The Smiling Madame Beudet (Germanie Dulac, 1923).
  6. Le Révélateur (Philippe Garrel, 1968) 
German (in progress)
  1. Alraune (Henrik Galeen, 1928).
  2. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Robert Wiene, 1920).   Caligari is one of the best contributions to German expressionist art.  With its manacing characters, dynamic camera angles, and geometrically convoluted sets, it delivers frame after frame of gallery-worthy images, and  sinister, disorienting mood that has never been surpassed.  Wiene's other films, especially The Hands of Orlac and Raskolnikow, are also worth seeking out.  And, for more visual extravagance, see Paul Leni's Waxworks or Karlheinz Martin's From Mornng till Midnight
  3. Faust (F.W. Murnau, 1926).  Murnau's adapatation of the classic tale is visually sumptuous, poetic, and tragic.   Murnau's Last Laugh, with no intertitles, is another favorite--perhaps the high water-mark in silent cinema.  And Nosteratu is one of the finest horror films ever made.  But my second favorite Murnau is Sunrise, a technically inventive, sordid, and gripping film about a love-triangle that takes a violent turn.
  4. Pandora's Box (George Wilhem Pabst, 1930).  Germany had two great period's for film: the Weimar years and 1970s with the young guns, Fassbinder, Herzog, and Wenders.  Many of the best Weimar films are silent and hold up to the best talkies.  Pandora's Box has some expressionist flourishes, but it is essential a darkly realist film, based on Frank Wedekind plays, that deals with the seedier sides of urban life (gambling, prostitution, poverty, murder).  It's most famous for the extraordinary perfomance of its lead, Louis Brooks, who manages to remain strong and charmingly resiliant, despite many bad events and a cast of unpleasant characters who want to control her.  Pabst avoids moralizing, or rather, he suggests presents the Brooks' classless and openly sexual persona as a kind of moral paragon. For more like this, see Diary of a Lost Girl, and for a slightly lighter side of Brooks, see Prixe de Beaute.  My second favorite Pabst is his harrowing film about trench warfare, The Westfront 1918.
  5. The Wonderful Lies of Nina Petrovna (Hanns Schwarz, 1929).
  1. Arsenal (Alexander Dovzhenko, 1928).
  2. By the Law (Lev Kuleshov, 1926).
  3. Happiness (Aleksandr Medevkin, 1934).
  4. Storm Over Asia (Vsevolod Pudovkin, 1928).
  5. Strike (Sergei Eisenstein, 1925). Potemkin may be more celebrated, but I prefer Eistenstein's first feature, Strike, with its extraordinary interspersing of shadows, reflections, machines, mahogany, and animals (both living and dead).  Grotesque, beautiful, and incessantly innovation, Strike remains more visually compelling and inventive than almost anything made before or since.  Among  the other masters of soviet silent cinema, I adore Pudovkin's Life is Beautiful and Dovzhenko's Arsenal.
  6. Twilight of a Woman's Soul (Evgeni Bauer, 1913).
Other (in progress)
  1. Borderline (Kenneth Macpherson, 1930).  An extraodinary film made by Macpherson, film theorist and ring leader of the Pool Group, an avant garde collective that include the poet HD and her lover Bryher, who both act in Borderline, along with Paul Robeson.  Primarily a meditation on jealousy, the film also deals with gay and interracital relationships, and the bigotry they elicit.
  2. Erotikon (Mauritz Stiller, 1922).
  3. Limite (Mário Peixoto, 1931).
  4. A Page of Madness (Teinosuke Kinugasa, 1926).

English Language Films

American Films

  1. Freaks (Tod Browning, 1932).  Made on the heels of his timeless classic Dracula, Browning's 1932 feature about sideshow performers is arguably even better.  Though it might come across as an exploitation film, it is actually a film about exploitation, and the talented cast members are portrayed with far more dignity than they probably received when they were exhibited in county fairs for their physical abnormalities.  The climax is one of the most memorable in cinema history.
  2. The Informer (John Ford, 1935).
  3. I Am a Fugitive from A Chain Gang (Mervyn LeRoy, 1932). Based on a true story, the film combines prison escape action, rags to riches drama, and uncompromising social commentary.  Paul Muni gives one of his best performances.  My second favorite LeRoy film is Gold Diggers of 1933, which features spectacular dance numbers choreography by Bugsy Berkeley and a hard-hitting depression-age theme.
  4. Lost Horizon (Frank Capra, 1939).  Capra is usually a bit sappy for my taste, but this film (which has been partially lost) is an exception.  It's a captivating and perhaps metaphorical tale of people who stumble onto what appears to be a utopian society in the Himalayas.  Should they stay in Shangri-la or return to their old lives?  The question is compounded by mounting evidence that paradise is not what it appears.1935
  5. Mad Love (Karl Freund, 1935). Peter Lorre plays a mad surgeon who is obsessed with a singer and turns her husband into a unwitting murderer by performing surgery on his hands.  Freund also directed The Mummy, but this one is more deliciously twisted. Freund is also one of the most accomplished cinematographers in film history, with credits including The Last Laugh, The Golem, Metropolis, Michael, Dracula, and Key Largo. The second best American-made horror film of the '30s is probably Frankenstein.
  6. Ninotchka (Ernst Lubitsch, 1939).  The 1930s was a great decade for comedies and, Lubitsch had the touch.  Here he casts Swede, Greta Garbo, as a Russian government official who has come to Paris to make observations about life in the West.  She succumbs to the discrete charm of the bourgeoisie, of course, but along the way delivers some of the best deap pan lines in  cinema history.  If only all Cold War films were this good.  My second favorite Garbo film is Grand Hotel.  Other favorite romantic comedies of the era include It Happened One Night, The Awful Truth, Sullivan's Travels, and His Girl Friday.
  1. Citizen Kane (Orsen Welles, 1941). Enough has been written about this one.
  2. Out of the Past (Jacques Tourneur, 1947).   A definitive noir with plot twists, flashbacks, crime, seediness, dark cinematography and, of course, a femme fatale.  The excellent cast includes Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, and Kirk Douglas.  Hard to beat.   Tourneur also made excellent horror thrillers, including the creepy, campy Cat People and I Walked with a Zombie.  Other favorite cinema noir films include John Huston's Asphalt Jungle, John Farrow's The Big Clock, Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity, Rudolph Maté's D.O.A., Jules Dessin's Night and the City, Howard Hawks's The Big Sleep, Charles Vidor's Gilda, Stanley Kubrick's The Killing, Robert Siodmak's The Killers, Robert Aldrich's Kiss Me Deadly, Otto Preminger's Laura, Tay Garnett's The Postman Always Rings Twice, Boris Ingster's Stranger on the Third Floor, and Alexander Mackendrick's Sweet Smell of Success.  The best noir cinematographer was John Alton (see especially Raw Deal and The Big Combo).
  3. Portrait of Jennie (William Dieterle, 1948). Haunting, creepy, and vaguely surrealistic, this film was a favorite of Bunuel, and it's easy to see why.  A struggling artist meets a mysterious young girl in Central Park and then becomes obsessed with finding her again.  A metaphor for the artisitc process?  The stellar cast includes Joseph Cotton, Ethel Barrymore, and Lilian Gish.
  4. Spellbound (Alfred Hitchcock, 1945). Hitchcock is British, of course, but this is one of his American productions.  It is a  suspenseful tribute to psychoanalysis.  For authenticity, Hitchcock consulted the psychoanalysis of his producer, David Selznick (King Kong, Gone with the Wind, The Third Man).  Admittedly, there are better Hitchcock filmsMy top votes go to Rear Window, Notorious, Rebecca, and North By Northwest .  And, he made some wonderful films while still in Britain, including The 39 Steps, The Man Who Knew Too Much, and, especially, The Lady Vanishes.  But Spellbound gets my vote because of the Dali dream sequence.
  5. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (John Huston, 1948).  I think this is Bogart's best performance.  He is absolutely despicable a gold prospector corrupted by greed.  And Sierra Madre also has one of the best misquoted lines of all time: "We don't need no badges.  I don't have to show you any stinking badges!"  For an even better film about desperate expats in Latin America, see Clouzot's explosive thriller, Wages of Fear (below).  For another look at Bogart's dark side, see In a Lonely Place or Angels with Dirty Faces.  My second favorite Bogart film is Beat the Devil, which is also directed by Huston.   The characters in that film are more interesting than the better known Maltese Falcon (also Huston/Bogart), and I even prefer it to Casablanca, which has a similar ex-pat theme.  Peter Lorre is wonderful in all three.  My second favorite John Huston film is Night of the Iguana with Ava Gardner and Richard Burton (written by Tennessee Williams). 
  6. White Heat (Raoul Walsh, 1949). James Cagney preferred to do musicals, but his greatest talent was bringing gangsters to the screen. This is his top performance, and it's also a case study in the Oedipal complex.  Cagney is also incredible in Angels with Dirty Faces, The Public Enemy, which is particularly edgy for the time, and The Roaring Twenties, also directed by Walsh.  If you tire of Cagney (per impossible), you can enjoy Paul Muni the original Scarface, which is better than the Paccino platform, or Edward G. Robinson's Little Caeser.  Many of these films are about two-bit hoods with too much ambition.  My second favorite mob film is von Sternberg's Underworld.
  1. Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton, 1955). Robert Mitchum is terrifying as a murderous preacher, with Love and Hate emblazoned on his knuckles. Good suspense, visually sensational, and oozing with atmosphere.  Mitchim reprises his role as a creepy stalker in Cape Fear, which is also essential viewing for thriller fans.  Director Laughton is better known as an actor; he gives a great performance inWitness for the Prosecution. 
  2. Twelve Angry Men (Sidney Lumet, 1957).  Perhaps the greatest of all courtroom dramas, it tells the story of one juror (Henry Fonda) who courageously resists voting with the majority.  Even if you find the theme hokey, it's impossible not to be impressed by the excellent performances and the taught direction.  Lumet also directed other classics, including especially Dog Day Afternoon, The Pawnbroker, and Network.  My other favorite trial films include Anatomy of a Murder (with its gorgeous Ellington soundtrack), Confession, Inherit the Wind, La Verite, The Passion of Joan of Arc, Paths of Glory, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Witness for the Prosecution.
  3. Shadows (John Cassavetes, 1959).  Shadows is an imperfect film, but a very impressive first effort, and a breakthrough in American cinema.  Raw, gritty, realism--not melodramatic like the Italian neo-realists or some Hollywood social commentary films of similar vintage, but edgy and uncomfortable, with unknown performers ad-libbing there lines.  This is cinéma vérité and it brings a new honesty, hardly anticipated and rarely rivaled, in American film.  Shadows is also remarkable for it's subject matter: the racism of a white man who doesn't realize that his girlfriend is black.  The film was released 3 years before To Kill a Mockingbird, and unlike that film and other important films about race, this one is set in the urban north, not the rural south.  It was not, however, the first film to focus on the theme of "passing"--the classic treatment of that phenomenon is The Imitation of Life, made in 1934, and remade in 1959.  Both versions are excellent.  For more Cassavetes, I would recommend Woman Under the Influence, Husbands, and Faces.  These films are difficult to watch because they deal with human ugliness, but they are all very worthwhile.
  4. A Streetcar Named Desire (Elia Kazan, 1951). Brando's best performances have never been topped by anyone, and in this adaptation of the Tennessee Williams play, he is at his best: unpredictable, crude, loathsome, and captivating.  My second favorite Brando performance is On the Waterfront.  My second favorite Kazan film is A Face in the Crowd with an imitable and terrifying lead performance by newcomer Andy Griffith.  For close runner's up, I'd include the psychologically harrowing Splendor in the Grass and the sexually charged thriller, Baby Doll.
  5. Suddenly Last Summer (Joseph Mankiewicz, 1959).  Elizabeth Taylor in a psycho ward?  Katherine Hepburn as an overprotective mother? A melodrama about lobotomies and homophobia?  A store by Tennessee Williams adapted by Gore Vidal?  Yes!  This extraordinary and neglected classic packs a powerful punch and is just odd enough to keep cult film junkies drooling.
  6. Sunset Boulevard (Billy Wilder, 1950).  It would be hard to exaggerate Billy Wilder's talent as a director.  He made some of America's best comedies (Some Like it Hot, The Apartment), dramas (Lost Weekend, Ace in the Whole), noirs (Double Indemnity), courtroom pics (Witness for the Prosecution), and genre benders (such as Stalag 17, which straddles comedy, drama, war, a prison escape).  Sunset Boulevard is arguably the best of the lot.  Narrated by a dead man, it is an eviscerating critique of Hollywood, showing the ugly side of flops, flunkies, and megastars. Gloria Swanson is magnificent as an aging icon of the silent screen.  For quintessential Swanson, see Sadie Thompson.
  1. In Cold Blood (Richard Brooks, 1967). Based on Capote's book, this is one of the best true crimes films ever made. The murderers represent two very different faces of evil, and each is depicted with unusual humanity. Chilling yet sympathetic. Brooks knows that showing less can make the audience feel more.  The film is shot in noir style but has vastly greater depth then the typical crime thriller thanks to Capote's extraordinary psychological investigation.  Brooks is also the director who brought us Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Key Largo, The Killers, and Blackboard Jungle, all of which could make a more inclusive favorite film list.
  2. Midnight Cowboy (John Schlesinger, 1969). A touching tour of the seedier side. Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voigt give stellar performances.  My second favorite Voigt film is the disturbing and atmospheric Deliverance. My favorite Hoffman's are Papillon, Little Big Man, and Lenny . Rain Man is seriously overrated. Hoffman and Schlesinger team up again, effectively, in Marathon Man, but I find Olivier underwhelming--in any case, it's a nice juxtaposition of character acting and method acting.  My second favorite Schlesinger is Darling.
  3. Night of the Living Dead (George Romero, 1968). A damn good movie, and the first American film, as far as I know to have a black protagonist, but no discussion of race. Brilliant opening scene. For the zombie genre, also check of Peter Jackson's over the top Dead Alive (which is much better than his Tolkien adaptations). Some of my other favorite horror films include 2000 Maniacs, The Bad Seed, Basket Case, Evil Dead, Frankenstein, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Psycho, Rosemary's Baby, The Shining, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and The Wickerman.
  4. Shock Corridor (Samuel Fuller, 1963).  Sam Fuller was rightly called the tabloid poet for his gritty, high impact glorified B-movies, that influenced many other directors including the pioneers of the French New Wave.  Luc Moullet praised Fuller as a director who has nothing to say, but much to do.  Highlights include his seedy cold-war noir, Pickup on South Street, and The Naked Kiss, which has one of the best opening sequences in movie history.  Shock Corridor, my favorite, tells the tale of a journalist who gets himself committed to an insane asylum with the hope that he can write a Pulitzer prize winning story.  Though clearly sensationalizing, the film also offers some sympathetic portraits of the mentally ill.  Other outstanding asylum films include Head Against the Wall, Splendor in the Grass, Suddenly Last Summer, One Flew Over the Cuckcoo's Nest, and The Ninth Configuration.
  5. Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? (Robert Aldrich, 1962). Bette Davis is unforgettable as a former child star, who must look after a disabled sister (Joan Crawford) whom she despises. The film is frightening and sad, and it also includes some good tips on how to apply make-up.  Bette Davis also plays a past-peak performer in All About Eve, which is a phenomenal movie.  For a third extraordinary film about a fallen Hollywood star, see Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard (above).
  6. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf (Mike Nichols, 1966).  This Edward Albee adaptation is not exactly easy to watch.  Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton play the alcoholic couple from hell, and, after watching it, you'll never want to drink with your colleagues again.  Taylor and Burton give astonishingly good performances.  Other good films by Mike Nichols includeThe Graduate, Silkwood, and Carnal Knowledge.   For equally uplifting films about alcohol, see Billy Wilder's Lost Weekend or Blake Edwards's Days of Wine and Roses.  For more fun with Richard Burton, see Night of the Iguana.
  1. Annie Hall (Woody Allen, 1977). Woody Allen is like a trip home for me. His characters are typical neurotic New Yorkers, who all think too much. This is his best romantic comedy. For a more cynical look at romance, see Husbands and Wives.  I also love Crimes and Misdemeanors, Manhattan, and some Allen's sillier comedies, including Sleeper, Bananas, and Take the Money and Run.
  2. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (Sam Peckinpah, 1974).
  3. Killer of Sheep (Charles Burnett, 1977).
  4. The Last Movie (Dennis Hopper, 1971).  On the heels of his breakthough success with Easy Rider, Dennis Hopper produced one of the most resiliently unmarketable, unwatchable films of the decade.  A deconstruction of cinema that pokes fun at the film-making process, the myth of celebrity, and the macho mystique of cowboys.  Hopper gives a characteristically unsettling performance, but the risks he takes as a director are even more laudable, if not entirely successful. Other interesting American art film's from the '70s include Mark Rappaport's Causal Relations, Jon Jost's Last Chance for a Slow Dance, and Amos Poe's Unmade Beds.
  5. Three Women (Robert Altman, 1977).  Altman made so many good films over his career that it's hard to pick a favorite.  His ambitious multi-character films, like Nashville and Short Cuts, are perhaps his most impressive.  But this chilling chracter study about identity, mistreatment, and madness is my personal favorite.  Sissey Spacek and Altman regular, Shelly Duvall are particularly compelling as two women united by the their social ineptitude.  Janice Rule, the third woman, works effictively as the conscience of the film.  My second favorte Spacek film is Terrence Malick's badlands, and my second favorite Duvall is Altman's McCabe and Mrs. Miller; these two also stand out as among the best films of the decade, and they would make an illuminating double feature.
  6. Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976). The quintessential antihero film. De Nero has never been better, Cybill Shepherd gives one of her better performances, and Jodie Foster deconstructs the damsel in distress.  The movie also contains my professional mantra, "One of these days, I'm gonna get organizized."  After Taxi Driver, my favorite Scorcese film is Mean Streets.
(Are there any truly great American films since the 70s?  Films that could be listed among the best ever made?)

British Films
  1. Brief Encounter (David Lean, 1954).  A sensitively handled film about an affair.  Lean is better known for his epics (Lawrence of Arabia and Bridge Over the River Kwai), but this film has a more human touch, and unlike those other films, he attempts to tell this story (based on a Noel Coward play) from a woman's perspective.
  2. A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick, 1971).  A Clockwork Orange succeeds by depicting extreme violence under an irresistible veneer of mod kitsch.  The viewer is forced into complicity by finding entrainment in cruelty.  Ironically, the film is the inversion of the re-conditioning at the center of it's plot, in so far as it inoculates against horror, and thus serves as a commentary on film itself.  Kubrick's mastery as a directer can be seen both in his attention to detail, and his ability to create masterpieces in multiple genre (Clockwork and 2001 would both easily make a top-ten sci-fi list, and Paths of Glory, The Shining, The Killing, and Dr. Strangelove are also top examples of their respective species).  My second favorite Kubrick is Lolita.
  3. If... (Lindsay Anderson, 1968). Malcolm McDowell is more known for his A Clockwork Orange, but this portrait of life in an English boarding school is also highly rewarding. It is beautifully shot in a combination of color and black and white, and the soundtrack features the phenomenal Misa Luba, an African mass. If... harks back to Jean Vigo's Zero For Conduct, another boarding school story, produced at a time when there was no clear boundary between film and art.  Lindsay Anderson's other masterpiece is This Sporting Life, which is less artful, but might just be the finest British film ever made.
  4. The Lion in Winter (Anthony Harvey, 1968). Ignore the silly outfits in the pseudo-Shakespearean melodrama and listen to the dialog. Katharine Hepburn and Peter O'Toole head up a highly dysfunctional royal family. Anthony Hopkins makes a brilliant debut.  O'Toole is also wonderful in Lawrence of Arabia, but this film is more entertaining and more quotable.  Hepburn delivers one of my favorite lines in movie history during the finale.  It's not my favorite Hepburn picture, however.  That prize goes to Suddenly Last Summer.
  5. The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (Tony Richardson, 1962).  The British New Wave was famous, in part, for a sub-sub-genre: films about angry young men.  This is perhaps the finest, or at least most representative, of that genre (The Sporting Life may be finer). Boredom, poverty, neglect, and alienation blend together to form a cocktail of disaffected anti-authoritarianism which courses through the lead character.  It's the same sensibility you find in British punk rock years later, but with less humor.  Richardson made other fine films, including the influential kitchen sink drama, Look Back in Anger, the politically courageous Taste of Honey, and the iconic Tom Jones.  He also made a terrific French thriller, Mademoiselle, with his then wife Jeanne Moreau, based on a Marguerite Dumas adaptation of a Jean Genet story.
  6. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (Terry Gilliam, 1975).  Where'd you get the coconuts?
  7. Peeping Tom (Michael Powell, 1960).  Though essentially a B-movie, this film delights with its creepy protagonist, stylized suspense, and super-saturated technicolor.  Powell is famous for his luscious collaborations with Emeric Pressburger, such as the magical realist dance classic, Red Shoes, and the psychosexual nun drama, Black Narcissus.  Here Powell branches out on his own to tell the story of a murderous, perverted filmmaker.  Released the same year as Psycho, it shocked audiences and lead to Powell's banishment from British film-making.  Though hardly timeless, the film does hold up for it's period aesthetic and for it's sympathetic depiction of a man made monstrous by childhood abuse.
  8. Room at the Top (Jack Clayton, 1959).  Ambition and heartbreak in this equisitely conceived Brit classic.  Simone Signorete gives an extraordinary performance as the aging lover of an upwardly mobile young man. 
  9. The Servant (Joseph Losey, 1963).  Dirk Bogarde delivers a grippingly sinister performance as a plotting servant in Losey's classic socially conscious thriller.  My second favorite Bogarde is Schesinger's Darling, and my third favorite Accident, which is also directed by Losey and written, like The Servent, by Harold Pinter.  Among Losey's other works, honorable mention must go to The Boy with Green Hair.
  10. The Third Man (Carol Reed, 1949).  This perfect British noir classic set in post-war Vienna features excellent performances by Joseph Cotten and Orsen Welles.  It's also known for its Oscar winning cinematography and mesmerizing zither soundtrack.  Cotton and Welles had teamed up before in both Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons; but on those occasions Welles was in the director's chair.  The Third Man is more entertaining than either.  My second favorite Carol Reed film is The Fallen Idol, about a man under suspicion of killing his wife, and a boy who knows what really happened.
English Speaking Countries Outside UK & US (in progress)
  1. Careful (Guy Maddin, 1992).  A truly strange Canadian film about a Alpine village in which every one avoids making loud noises because they might set off an avalanche.  This in an homage to The Brothers Grim, Freud, and Wagner, and it is shot using a two-color process that makes it look like a hand-colored black and white photograph.  Maddin's Tales from the Gimli Hospital is also worthwhile, as is The Saddest Music in The World, which stars is Isabella Rosselini as a rich, legless entertainment promoter, possessed by grief and greed.  The aesthetic in these films shares something with David Lynch's best work, Eraserhead, but they are more campy than creepy.
  2. The Harder They Come (Perry Henzell, 1972).
  3. Videodrome (David Cronenberg, 1983).  Cronenberg is one of the most original directors of recent times, and one of the best directors from Canada.  His work contrasts interestingly with Adam Egoyan, another Canadian, because both make films at the boundary between mainstream and avant garde, with philosophical themes, but Egoyan tends to be pretentious, where Cronenberg is just the opposite. His films often have a B-movie feel, which makes them accessible and cultishly entertaining.  Videodrome is my favorite by far, and not jut because it features Deborah Harrie at her prime and James Wood.  It is a sci fi horror story that explored the boundary between entertainment and reality, flesh and technology, mind and media.
  4. Ten Canoes (Rolf de Heer and Peter Djigir, 2006).
  5. Wake in Fright (Ted Kotcheff, 1971).
  6. Walkabout (Nicholas Roeg, 1971).  Kind of a cheat, Since Roeg is a Brit, but Walkabout really stars the Australian outback.  I also like Roeg's Performance and, especially, his under-appreciated Bowie vehicle, The Man Who Fell to Earth.

French Language Films

  1. The Blood of a Poet (Jean Cocteau, 1930).
  2. The Grand Illusion (Jean Renoir, 1939).
  3. L'Atalante (Jean Vigo, 1934).
  4. Le Million (René Clair, 1931). Clair thought that talkies would ruin cinema, and he was right.  Films lost much of their distinctively cinematic style.  The stopped being other-worldly objects of art, and became recording of plays and simulacra of life.  But this early sound outing from Clair retains the magical qualities of the silents.  But he also uses sound brilliantly.  Part musical, part screwball comedy, all fun, this film is one of the sparkling acheivements of French film.  There is only one Clair film I like more: his dada masterpeice Entr'acte.
  5. Pépé le Moko (Julien Duvivier, 1937).
  6. Prix de Beauté (Augusto Genina, 1930).
1940s (in progress)
  1. Carnival of Sinners (Maurice Tourneur, 1943)
  2. The Children of Paradise (Marcel Carné, 1945).  This fairytale soap opera presents the lives and loves of a group of performing artists.  Carné is something of a magical realist.  Nothing peculiar happens, but somehow Carné infuses his familiar story with a kind of poetic magic that makes it completely captivating.   He creates a similar mood in Le Quai des Brumes and Le Jour se Levé, both with Jean Gabin.  For another magical French film about love, don't miss Jean Vigo's L'Atalante, which one of Truffaut's favorite films.
  3. L'Éternel Retour (Jean Delannoy, 1943).
  4. Goupi Mains Rouges (Jacques Becker, 1943).
  5. Riptide (Yves Allégret, 1949).
1950s (in progress)
  1. Ascenseur Pour L'Echafaud (Louis Malle, 1958). Proto New Wave thriller with a brilliant Miles Davis soundtrack.  Need I say more?  The plot is simple (an adulterous couple plot a murder a murder, and everything goes wrong from there), but it's completely riveting.  For other proto New Wave crime films, see Pepe Le Moko, Quai des Brumes, Touchez Pas au Grisbi, Rififi, and Bob le Flambeur. The first three on this list all star the extraordinary Jean Gabin.  My second favorite Malle film is The Lovers, which scandelized audiences and led to a Supreme Court case on pornography when it was released.
  2. Les Enfants Terribles (Jean-Pierre Meville, 1950).
  3. Forbidden Games (René Clément, 1952)
  4. Mon Oncle (Jacques Tati, 1958).
  5. The Pickpocket (Robert Bresson, 1959). Bresson may be my favorite director. His characters (usually played by non-actors) speak without affect and engage in extreme, seemingly gratuitous acts. Despite all this, or perhaps because of it, his characters seem deeply human.  They wrestle with fundamental existential problems: freedom, faith, morality. The Pickpocket is the story of a thief whose motives for stealing are inscrutible.  In a related film, L'Argent, Bresson follows the descent from petty crime into extreme criminality. My second favorite Bresson, Au Hasard Balthazar, is about the mundane cruelties of everyday life as seen through the eyes of an donkey. I am also fond of Une Femme Douce, which is about a woman led to suicide by the stifling banality of her life, and Mouchette, which is a devastating portrait of a girl who is victimized but refuses to be a victim.  For another great film about a pickpocket, see Sam Fuller's Pickup on Southstreet, which may have inspired Bresson's masterful opening scene.  For another great new wave director with existentialist leanings, see early works by Agnes Varda, especially Cleo from 5 to 7, and Happiness.
  1. Eyes Without a Face (George Franju, 1960).
  2. Happiness (Agnes Varda, 1965)
  3. Last Year at Marienbad (Alain Resnais, 1961). This film isn't for everyone, because it is short on plot and heavy on narration. It's based on a screenplay by Alain Robbe-Grillet, the guiding force behind the nouveau roman movement in French literature. Like Robbe-Grillet's novels, this film manages to be intensely psychological while focusing narrative attention of architectural details and other minutia. Another great writer, Marguerite Dumas, wrote the screenplay for Resnais's Hiroshima Mon Amour, which is a gripping study of impossible love and the tragedy of war.  For something a little less experimental, I also like Resnais La Guerre et Finie, which examines the futility of leftist efforts in fascist Spain.
  4. Les Bonnes Femmes (Claude Chabrol, 1960). Chabrol is considered the French Hitchcock, and, though apt, that title does not do justice the originality of his films. This is my favorite. Every character and every scene is memorable. Totally ordinary people, yet completely bizarre; the subtle weirdness of the commonplace. I also like other Chabrol films including The Butcher and This Man Must Die, but Les Bonnes Femme is my favorite.
  5. The Truth (Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1960).  A compelling film in which Brigitte Bardot gives the performance of her career as a woman who is on trial for murder, but is, in reality, being judged for having a less than chaste lifestyle.  Bardot gives a good perfomance (see also And God Created Woman), and the femmist message works, though Clouzot also exploits Bardot as a sex symbol, and thus implicates the audience in the jury's mistreatment of her character.  Clouzot is more famous for suspense films, such as his unbearably stressful Wages of Fear or his murder mystery Diaboloque.  My second favorite Clouzot iss Le Courbeau, a chillingly cynical portrait of persecution and paranoia in a small town (which, like Rules of the Game, was banned in France during the occupation).  Perhaps Clouzot's best film, Inferno, was never completed, though there is an excellent documentary about it.
  6. My Life to Live (Jean-Luc Godard, 1962).  Anna Karina plays a woman who descends (?) from her life as a mother/wife to a life a prostituion.  Not the most quintessential Godard, but perhaps the most evocative.  There are many other Godard films that I love, including his fims about relationships, such as Weekend, with its excruciating 30 minute car wreck, Masculin-Femanin, about gender warfare, A Married Woman, about an unfaithful wife, and  Contempt, with Brigitte Bardot victimized by her film-maker husband (self-critique?).  Godard can  pull off poitical cinema as well, as in La Chinoise, with it's sympathetic but also scathing critique of fashionable Marxism, and even the more recent Notre Musique.  I also like Godard's genre deconstructions, like Les Carabiniers, which perverts the war film into an idiotic farce (see also Luc Moullet's ostentatiously imbecilic, The Smugglers), and A Band of Outsiders, which pokes fun at crime films.  My second favorite instantiation of the French New Wave is Jacques Rivette's seminal Paris Belongs to Us, in which Goddard makes a cameo.  Of course, the best introduction to French new wave cinema Godard's Breathless, with its flagrant amateurism, hand-held cameras, jump-cuts, thin story line, plot-irrelevant scenes, narrative ambiguity, and internal film references.
1970s (in progress)
  1. Eden and After (Alain Robbe-Grillet, 1970).  The seminal novels of the nouvelle roman also made some excellent films, along with some cheesy ones.  Eden and After is both.  An experiment in aestheticism, and non-linear narrative, it presents a group of younf people who spend their days in a faux Mondrian cafe pretending to kill each other.  Like much of Robbe-Grillet's work, it is sado-masochistic and misogynist. Trans-Europ-Express also fits this description, and is perhaps a better film, but it relies too much on new wave aesthetics.  The Man Who Lies is another worthwhile new wave effect.  Eden is aesthetically fresher.   L'Immortelle is also worthwhile, and less sado-massochistic--an unsolved mystery, akin to Marianbad and a love letter to Istanbul.
  2. Claire's Knee (Eric Rohmer, 1970). One of Rohmer's moral tales, with pleasingly unappealing characters and a plot that revolves around a simple question about the ethics of romance.  In this case, an author encourages her male friend to have an affair with a teenager, in order to provide material for a novel.  A nice essay on inappropriate desire.  I like the whole moral tales series, though I am less enthralled by Rohmer's later films, which are often repellently innocuous.
  3. Jeanne Dielman (Chantal Akerman, 1974).
  4. Nathalie Granger (Margueritte Duras, 1973).
  5. Mother and the Whore (Jean Eustache, 1973).
  6. The Salamander (Alain Tanner, 1971).

Italian Films
  1. 8 1/2 (Federico Fellini, 1963). Fellini's films are amazing. He resides in a world of clowns and prostitutes that is sometimes unsettling, but always warmly human.  La Dolce Vita and Amacord are all almost as good as this subtly surreal biographical film.  I also love the sumptuous excesses of Satyricon.  For Fellini in a more realist mood, I like Nights of Cabiria, I Vitelloni, and La Strada.  An even earlier film, The White Sheik, anticipates many tropes that define Fellini's mature work.  It is not in league with the others, but it is utterly charming.
  2. L'Avventura (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1960). L'Avventura begins as a mystery, but it transforms into a film about alientation.  Antonioni's films confound viewers because their stories are incidental and characters are treated as props.  Departing radically from Italian neo-realism, his films are abstract, existential, moddle-class mood studies, rather than narrative melodramas about the tribulations of working class life.  L'Avventura is the first film in an excellent trilogy, with The Eclipse and Red Desert. The latter is one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen, despite its minimalist palette.  For two more accessible films with a similar mood, see La Notte, which is about alienation within a relationship, or The Passenger, with Jack Nicholson, which deals with alienation from one's own identity.  Antonioni's hit, Blow Up, is much accessible than any of these, and highly entertaining (dig the Herbie Handcock soundtrack), but like the others, it leaves many riddles unanswered.  I also like Antonioni's earlier films, when he was still working with in a neo-realist mould, especially Il Grido and Story of a Love Affair--both involve the hopeless longing for a relationship, but in one the lead character wanders, and in the other the lead waits.
  3. Dillinger Is Dead (Marco Ferreri, 1969).
  4. Fists in the Pocket (Marco Bellocchio, 1965).  Talk about dysfunctional families, imagine worrying about whether your psychotic brother might decide to kill your mother or your other siblings.  This is an edgy and entertaining film was classified as neo-real on its release, but it has a new wave sensibility.  The volatile lead is at war with social conventions and traditional values.  The film also has a fine soundtrack by Ennio Morricone (my favorite Morricone sountracks are The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly and The Mission).
  5. Germany Year Zero (Robert Rossellini, 1949). Harrowing portrait of Berlin just after WWII.  The film is shot in the decimated city and recounts the story of a family struggling to survive.  The main character is a young boy who must find food for the family since his older brother is home-bound for fear he will be captured by the occupying forces.  The sory is presented without judgment, which is remarkable given the unfavorable portrait of German's that Rossellini presents in the companion film, Rome, Open City.  Even more than that masterwork, this presents a disturbing glimpse into the human side of war.
  6. Love and Anarchy (Lina Wertmüller, 1973).  A touching story set in a brothel.  The success of the film owes much to Giancarlo Giannini who also appears in other Wertmüller hits.  Here he plays a hapless peasant who has been recruited to assassinate Mussolini.  His expressive face harks back to the heyday of silent films and has few cinematic rivals.
  7. Mamma Roma (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1962). A harrowing example of Italian Neo-Realism.  Mamma Roma is a mother and former prostitute who just can't seem to gain respect and straighten out her life.  Accattone is another fine Neo-Realist effort, but my second favorite Pasolini is Teorema about a young man who seduces an entire household.  If you are in the mood for something more bizarre, you might try The Hawks and the Sparows (talking birds) or Pigpen (can you say cannibalism).  For more Neo-Realism, De Sica's classics, Bicycle Theives, Shoeshine, and Umberto D are, of course, also rewarding, but I prefer the edgier Pasolini films.
  8. Rocco and His Brothers (Luchino Visconti, 1960). Visconti's masterful film is a Neo-Realist saga about a group of struggling brothers who have moved up to the big city from the impoverished south.  The brothers range from sympathetic to sick, and their story is told with a kind of journalistic objectivity, typical of this period.  The film's influence on the Godfather trilogy is unmistakable.  For Visconti in a historical mood,  see The Leopard, with Alain Dillon and Claudia Cardinale.  I am also fond of Conversation Piece, about the tenants from hell.
  9. Seduced and Abandoned (Pietro Germi, 1964).  An unmarried young woman gets pregnant, and her family tries to pressure the father into marrying her, lest the pregancy destroy the family's good name.  That is the premise of Germi's scathing and comedic critique of the perverse logic guiding the Sicilian culture of honor.   Similar themes are taken up to great effect in Germi's Divorce Italian Style, which is even more over-the-top, but I prefer Seduced and Abandoned.  Much of its success derives from Stefania Sandrelli's captivating performance in the lead role, who, despite being victimized by her lover and family, remains the symbol of sanity and strength.
  10. Two Women (Vittorio de Sica, 1960).

Spanish Films - Latin America

  1. Aventurera (Alberto Gout, 1950).  The queen of trashy Latin American melodramas.   Aventurera tells the tale of a decent girl turned into a nighclub singer and prostitute, hell-bent on revenge.  The music is sensational as is the twisting, turning plot.  Strong performances by leading ladies, Ninon Sevilla and Andrea Palma.
  2. The Castle of Purity (Arturo Ripstein, 1975).
  3. The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz  (Luis Bunuel, 1955).  I like all stages of Bunuel's career, from his avant garde early works, like Un Chien Andalou to his mature surrealist masterpieces, such as The Exterminating Angel, The Discrete Charm of the Bourgeoisie, and Phantom of LibertyThe Criminal Like of Archibaldo de la Cruz was done during Bunuel's Mexican period, and it tells the tale of an artistocrat who thinks he has the power to kill by act of will.  It covers many classic Bunuel themes: the upper classes, the Church, machismo culture, and a sexual fetishes.  The film is low budget and full of wooden performances, but all the deficits in prodcution quality are fully compensated for by its perverse originality and comic, surrealistic charm.  The film contrasts sharply with my second favorite of Bunuel's Mexican films, Los Olvidados, which (minus a disturbing surrealistic dream sequence) is a darkly realist portrait of street kids and their violent world.  My favorite of Bunuel's late films is That Obscure Obect of Desire, for which he ended up casting two women in the lead role when he fired the troublesome Maria Schneider (Last Tango in Paris) from the set during production.  The best starting place for Bunuel may be Belle de Jour, which is an accessible and entertaining surrealist classic.
  4. El Dependiente (Leonardo Favio, 1969).
  5. El Topo (Alejandro Jodorowsky, 1970).  The Ukrainian, Jewish, Chilean artist, composor, and direcor Jodorowsky does not suffer from a lack of talent, energy, or originality.  His films are among the most unusual that have ever been made.  Offensive, exploitational, violent, absurd, dated and completely captivating.  El Topo (the mole) is his version of a spagetti western, complete with a mysterious, black-clad, amoral gunslinger who sets out (for romantic gain) to take on a serious of increasingly dangerous and bizarre fighting masters who live in a stark desert landscape.  Think Leone meets the Shaw Brothers on acid.  But for all it's low-brow weirdness El Topo remains a peice of art.  It's a blend of pop, po-mo, and shock that anticipates the sensibility of Jake and Dinos Chapman by 20 years.  Other favorite westerns include Bring me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, Once Upon a Time in the West, The Great Silence, and The Man Whe Shot Liberty Valance.
  6. La Colonia Penal (Raul Ruiz, 1977).
  7. Maria Candalaria (Emilio Fernández, 1944).  A rich land owner covets a poor farmer's wife, and things go south from there.  That is the simple plot of this draw-droppingly beautiful and poetic film.  Rightfully regarded as one of the high water marks in Mexican cinema, Maria Candalaria is a political commentary on the integrity of indigenous people, and the hardships they endure.  It is also a great artistic acheivement, aesthetically akin to masterworks like Soy Cuba.  Ironically, the story also involves a artist, whose desire to capture native beauty also leads to devastation.
  8. Memories of Underdevelopment (Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, 1968).  Perhaps the greatest Cuban film of all time, Memories tells the story of a wealthy landloard, writer, and art collector, who decides to stay in Havana after the revolution.  His relationships with women are a source of disappointment (some are lost memories, some are mere fantasies, and some go badly wrong), and perhaps they serve as a metaphor for his relationship to his changing homeland.  The film is quintessentially new wave, and Alea uses newsfootage, montage, and non-linear narrative elements to great effect.
  9. Presage (Luis Alcoriza, 1975).
  10. The Swamp (Lucrecia Martel, 2001).

Spanish Films
- Spain (in progress)
  1. Cria Cuervos (Carlos Saura, 1976).  Ana Torrent gives a captivating performance as a child who sees too much.  The film can be seen as a metaphor for the way in which Spain's fascist leaders betrayed the people, or as a commentary on mundane human selfishness and cruelty, or an essay on memory and lost innocence.   The soundtrack is also excellent, espcially Jeanette's sad and catchy pop hit, Porque te Vas.  Watch this as a double feature with El Sur, below.  Cuervos dance films are also superb.
  2. Death of a Cyclist (Juan Antonio Bardem, 1955).
  3. Rapture (Ivan Zulueta, 1980).
  4. El Sur (Victor Erice, 1983).
  5. Strange Voyage (Fernando Fernán Gómez, 1964).

Films (in progress)
  1. All the Women in the World (Domingos de Oliveira, 1967).
  2. Black God, White Devil (Glauber Rocha, 1964).  The crowning achievement of Brazil's Cinema Novo movement, Rocha blends the realism of Italian filmmaking, the freshness of the French, the theatrical qualities of the Japanese, and the lyricism of local folk music.  Shot in arid Bahia, this sparsely scripted masterpiece captures the complexity and contradictions of Brazilian culture.  It tells the story of a poor herder turned outlaw, who encounters cult leaders and bandits, while hunted by rich land owners and the church.  The influence on Sergio Leone in aesthetic, theme, and sound design is unmistakable.  I am also fond of Raucha's Terra Em Transe, which is a kind of tragic visual political poem.
  3. Eros (Walter Hugo Khouri, 1964).
  4. The Margin (Ozualdo Ribeiro Candeias, 1967).
  5. Orfeo Negro (Marcel Camus, 1959). Magical realism in the favelas of Rio.  One of cinema's great soundtracks adds an added pleasure to this contemporary retelling of the Orfeus myth, which captures the exuberant spirit of Carnival.  Orfeo Negro triumphantly rejects the prevailing approach of Italian neo-realism, because it explores rich sources of joy and meaning in the lives of poor people, rather than melodramatically glorifying hardship in a pseudo-documentary style.   Perhaps  the upbeat lyricism would have been tempered had Camus been Brazilian rather than French.
  6. The Unscrupulous Ones (Ruy Guerra, 1962).  This exquisitely composed Cinema Novo classic presents an episode in the life of two men who try to profet off the explotation of women.  The result is penetrating psychological study of casual sadism and wasted youth.  It's also a film about isolation and longing, with each character seeking fruitlessly for honest affection.  The mood evokes Antonioni, but it's edgier, and the style and setting are unquestionably Brazilian.

Japanese Films
  1. Branded To Kill (Seijun Suzuki, 1967).  Suzuki made a series of gangster films in the 1960s that become increasing abstract.  By the time he made this film, he had essentially given up on plot.  The film is a series of amazingly photographed vignettes involving a mobster (the Number 3 Killer), who has sexual obsession with the scent of boiling rice.  Susuki was promptly fired and almost lost his career for crafting this rarified masterpiece.  Other great Susuki films include Gate of Flesh, about a gang of post WWII prostitutes, Youth of the Beast, about sadistic mobsters and a vengeful cop, and Tokyo Drifter, about a gangster who tries to get out of the business.  The last of these films, with its stylized Technicolor photography and  funky jazz soundtrack, is regarded as an important work of a pop art.  Perhaps his greatest film, however, is Story of a Prostitute, which is more subtle and serious than any of these.
  2. The Burmese Harp (Kon Ichikawa, 1956).  American WWII films tend to glorify the war.  Things looked different from the Japanese side.  This poetic film tells the story of Japanese soldiers in Burma at the end of the war.  It advertises the dignity of peace and compassion over the honor of victory and conquest.  To see a less sympathetic perspective on the Japanese, see Wen Jiang's Devil's on The Doorstep, which tells the story of Chinese villagers who are trusted to hide a captured Japanese soldier and his translator in a town that has been occupied by the Japanese army.
  3. Death by Hanging (Nagisa Oshima, 1969).  Oshima is mostly known for his  artful erotic (or pinku) films, but his output is diverse and highly impressive.   Death by Hanging is part farce, part social commentary, part surrealist experiment, part philosophical essay.  It deals with Japan's bigotry towards Koreans and with the morality of the death penalty.  It also raises two perennial philosophical questions: what is the link between memory and identity?  are we responsible for our actions or are we shaped by our environment?  The impact of the film is helped by the lead actor whose stoic performance transforms him into a moral beacon despite having a monstrous past.  My second and third favorite Oshima films are Diary of a Shinjuku Thief and The Man Who Left His Will On Film.  The other great directors to bridge pinku and arthouse are Yasuzo Masumura, Masao Atachi, Akio Jissoji, and Koji Wakamatsu, who is especially remarkable for his blend of avant garde, political activism, and horrifying sadism.
  4. The Face of Another (Hiroshi Teshigihara, 1966) This is the stunningly photographed story of a man who loses his face in a chemical accident and is given a replacement by a deranged plastic surgeon.  The new face changes the protagonist's personality, raising interesting questions about identity and character.  I also love Teshigaha's haunting and beautiful allegorical film, Woman in the Dunes, as well as his genre-blending first feature, Pitfall (a murder mystery, leftist social critique, and ghost story all in one).  All three of these are adaptations of Kobo Abe novels.  If you want a good double feature, watch The Face of Another with Georges Franju's brilliant French horror-noir, Eyes Without A Face.  For other films that deal with identity, I'd strongly recommend Antonioni's The Passenger , Bergman's Persona, and Kiarostrami's Close-Up (below).
  5. Flame and Woman (Kiju Yoshida, 1967).  Not well know in the West, Yoshida was a major figure in Japan's new wave.  Flame and Woman is  about a woman who becomes obsessed with the natural father of her child after getting articficially inseminated.  Yoshida's films are masterpeices of aesthetic formalism.  In Flame and Woman, the camera is often looking down on the actors.  In Heoric Purgatory, the camera consistently crops  actors at the neck, leaving large expanses of empty space.  In The Affair, their is a vertical line at about the midpoint of almost every shot, subtly dividing the image in two.   The Affair is my second favorite Yoshida; it's about the affairs of a woman whose mother had affairs and whose husband is having an affair.
  6. The Pornographers (Shohei Imamura, 1966). A quirky and entertaining film about the family life of a pornographer who becomes obsessed with making a perfect sex doll.  Despite it's theme, this is not a "pinku" film--no gratuitous sex or nudity (compare Wakamatsu).  It indulges in some of the the bizarre excesses of that genre, withou the distraction of actually containing ponrnographic elements.  It is more of a deranged and comedic family drama.  For the more serious side of Imamura, see The Insect Woman, which can be interesting juxtaposed with Naruse's supperb When a Woman Ascends the Stairs. Another fascinating effort is the pseudo-documentary A Man Vanishes, which should be watched along with Teshigahara's The Man Without a Map.
  7. Onibaba (Kaneto Shindô, 1964).  A stunningly beautiful and nightmarish film, about feudal Japan.  Two women survive by killing samurai and selling their armor.  The film is based on an old fable, and it includes the most beautiful footage of grass fields that I have ever seen.  Shondo's aestheticism is apparent throughout his work.  Naked Island, for example, resembles a Hokusai manga.
  8. Rashomon (Akira Kurosawa, 1950). There is no way to select a favorite Kurosawa film. Few directors have created as many masterpieces. Rashomon is not the most sumptuous (that honor goes to Ran), nor the most moving (Ikuru is the obvious choice), nor the most entertaining (for that see Yojimbo, The Seven Samurai, or High and Low), but it may be the most innovative. The film involves a trial in which we are shown multiple perspectives on the same event. It reminds us that film, even when factual, can present only a version of reality.
  9. Sansho the Bailiff (Kenji Mozoguchi, 1954). A heart-wrenching epic set in medieval Japan. It tells the story of a family torn apart when the father is exiled, the mother is sold as a courtesan, and the children are forced into slavery. Almost every scene is poignant, and each shot is exquisitely framed like a wood block print.  Mozoguchi's Ugetsu  and Life of Oharu are equally rewarding.  Ugetsu focuses on the consequences of greed and the horrors of war; Oharu tells the almost unbearable story of a women who is sold by her family intro prostitution. These films are unmistakably Japanese in their focus on family, duty, status, and tradition.
  10. Tokyo Story (Yasujiro Ozu, 1953).  Ozu's masterpeice is a movie story about aging and the clash between old Japan and new.  Executed with charactersitc subtlety  and understatement, no film better captures the style of this master director.  Also not the frequent use of low camera angles, which give this film a distinctively Japanese aesthetic.  The camera, like the performers, is often sitting on the floor.  My second favorite Ozu is Late Spring and perhaps, after that, Floating Weeds.   Though, really, the whole corpus is great, and, like a painter, many of the films are thematically and stylistically related.

Indian Films (in progress)
  1. Cloud-Capped Star (Ritwik Ghatak, 1960).  Ghatak's most famous film tells the story of a woman who is exploited by her family -- members of the Bengali community displaced after the creation of Bangaladesh.  Though noteworthy for it's feminist themes, the tragic theme is not unusual in Indian cinema.  What makes the film so striking is Ghatak's direction, including his masterful sound design, which gives the film a haunting and poetic quality.  Also checj out Ghatak's Subarnorekha.
  2. Dividha (Mani Kaul, 1975).
  3. Interview (Mrinal Sen, 1970).  Indian cinema is more known for Bollywood splash than for avant garde experimentation, but Mrinal Sen made films whose artisitic merits rival the great European autures.  This Kafkaesque entry in his Calcutta trilogy tells the tale of a man who is desperately tyring to find a Western suit for a job interview.  Sen plays with the viewer throughout and preserves a light and ironic touch, but doesn't lose touch of the serious subject matter: a critique of capitalism and colonialism.  My second favorite Sen is Bhuvan Shome--a creatively crafted and charmingly acted tale of a tough boss who grows a heart.
  4. Maya Darpan (Kumar Shahani, 1972).
  5. Pather Panchali (Satyajit Ray, 1955).  The most famous Bengali film in the West is almost certainly Ray's masterful, Pather Panchali. This is the first film in Ray's Apu trilogy, and the most moving.  Ray manages to avoid facile sentimentality while breaking your heart.  The third film in the trilogy is my second favorite, and the second ranks third.  Ray directed an impressive number of first rate films that are less known then these.  Outside the trilogy, my favorite Ray's are The Music Room, The Adventures of Goopy and Bagha, and Charulata.
  6. Pyaasa (Guru Dutt, 1957).  My favorite Bollywood film, this is a poignant story about a struggling poet, who is shunned by his family.  Dutt directs and plays the lead, giving a haunting performance. Dutt's Kaagaz Ke Phool is also extraordianry, and he is an excellent leading man  in Abrar Alvi's Sahib Bibi Aur Ghula, which is an interesting study in gender and caste.  All these films are from the Golden Age of Bollywood cinema.  Like current films from Mumbai, they are musicals, but this should not be off-putting.  They are not at all corny; the music is gorgeous, and they give the films a magical realist quality.
  7. Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam (Abrar Alvi, 1962).  A story of decadence and decline, set in the household of rich man who indulges in wine an women, leaving his wife into despair.  Guru Dutt plays an architect of humble means and high caste, who serves as the narrator and conscience of the film.  The acting, music, and editting are superb and the story, while indulging in some architypes and cliches, provides a fascinating window in Indian culture and history.
  8. Shree 420 (Raj Kapoor, 1955).  It's hard to choose between Raj Kapoor films.  They often deal with an honest and poor protagonist, heavily inspired by Chaplin's little tramp, who discovers corruption in the big city.  They are lushly produced, with great music, and a classic Bollywood blend of comedy, tragedy, romance, and fast-paced drama.  In this one, Kapoor is a homeless bumpkin who falls for a school teacher played by superstar Nargis (see also Awaara).  In his efforts to woo her, he decides to take up a lucrative life of crime (the title refers to the Indian criminal code).  It's all very over-the-top, of course, but no one can pull this off as well as Kapoor.  For another good film about a poor man in the big city, see Mitra and Mitra's Jagte Raho.

Middle Eastern Films
(in progress)
  1. Adrift on the Nile (Hussein Kamal, 1971).  Ostensibly a moral tale, about excessive drinking and drug use, this film gives us a window into the decadent world of Egypt's social elite.  In some ways, it recalls Antionioni's explorations of the aimless upper echelon, but the the deviant clique featured in this film includes a wider range of social stata, including performing artists, and a disaffected city clerk.  The moralizing works because the characters are portayed with sympathy, everyone is equally guilty, and the theme is escapism not iniquity.
  2. The Battle of Algiers (Gillo Pontecorvo, 1966).  This Italian produced film has Arabic dialog and concerns the the Algerian independence movement, so I've put it in this category.  It is essential viewing for anyone who wants deeper insight into terrorism.  Rather than portraying terrorist bombers as homicidal maniacs, Pontecorvo examines how ordinary people can resort to violence under conditions of occupation.  For another classic about occupation, see Melville's Army of Shadows--a true strory about the French resistance.  Together, these films show both sides of the French experience with imperialism.  Also worth seeing is Pontecorvo's Queimada, in which Marlon Brando plays a British colonialist, who helps incite a slave revolution in a fictional Caribbean country.
  3. Cairo Station (Youssef Chahine, 1958).  A neo-realist picture from Egypt revolving around a group of poor women who sell soft drinks for pocket change.  Part thriller, part expose, and part social commentary, Chahine gives depth and dignity to characters who have failed to follow prevailing social norms.
  4. Gaav (Dariush Mehrjui, 1969).  This breakthrough film marks the dawn of great Iranian cinema.  A farmer loses his cow and descends into madness.  Almost every shot is memorable, starting with the opening titles.  The film is a window into village life in Iran, but also a universal portrait of loss. For a more recent, brilliant Mehrjui, see Hamoun.
  5. A Moment of Innocence (Mohsen Makhmalbaf, 1996).  As a young political activist Makhmalbaf stabbed a policeman.  In this film, he re-enacts that event.  The film moved between re-enactment and the director's interactions with the cast members, whose lives echo his own past.  An innovate film from one of Iran's best current directors.  I also recommend Makhmalbaf's The Cyclist, a moving and mythic story about a poor man who agrees to cycle for days without stopping in order to pay hospital bills for his dying wife.
  6. The Nightingale's Prayer (Henry Barakat, 1960).  An Egyptian feature based on a classic novel dealing with the mistreatment of women in both small towns and big cities.  Essentially a melodrama, but the acting and art direction are superb, the plots twists effectively, the characters are compelling, and the message has deep moral resonance.  There is also something irresistably clever about the central narrative device: love is a murder weapon.  Also superb is Barakat's A Man in Our House.
  7. Three Days and a Child (Uri Zohar, 1967).
  8. The Wind Will Carry Us (Abbas Kiarostrami, 1999).  Essentially a visual poem, this film follows the mundane routines of a man who has come to a remote village to photograph a mourning ritual.  Though virtually plotless, the film explores the protagonist's changing attitude toward death against the background of a place that is frozen in time.  This may be Kiarostrami's masterpiece but other films come close.  In Taste of Cherry, he follows a man who is looking for someone to help him commit suicide.  Close-Up is a semi-documentary re-enactment of an incident in which a poor man impersonated the director Makhmalbaf in order to win the affection of a wealthy family.  Kiarostami's first feature, The Report, is a brilliant meditation on bureacracy.

Other East Asian Films (in progress)
  1. The Housemaid (Ki-Young Kim, 1960).  In this perfect psychosexual thriller, a middle class family hires a maid who proceeds to seduce the husband.   Will the wife try to kill her?  Or will she kill the wife? Ki-Young Kim uses sound, situation, sordid characters, and striking imagery to keep viewers at the edge of their seats.  The film came out the same year as Psycho and Peeping Tom, and it belongs in the same league.
  2. In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-Wai, 2000). This is an exquisite essay on unfulfilled love. Wong ingeniously frustrates the viewer by shooting scenes from behind barriers and keeping central characters concealed from the camera. Watching it, you feel like a voyeur, which captures both the eroticism of the relationship portrayed and the impossibility of its consummation. The film is visually stunning and the soundtrack is superb.  The sequal, 2046 is almost as pleasing aesthetically, but it's not nearly as haunting emotionally. For a better choice, see Wong Kar-Wai's masterful early effort, Days of Being Wild, which forecasts the style of In the Mood For Love, or see his neo-new wave hit, Chun King Express.
  3. Last Life in the Universe (Pen-Ek Ratanaruang, 2003).  A Japanese man with OCD get involved with an untidy Thai woman in Bangkok in this carefully paced, surreally inflected, imaginatively conceived film.  There are also some dramatic subplots here, having to do with suicide, mobsters, and car crashes, but these twists take backstage to the unlikely and somewhat ambiguous relationship in the foreground. 
  4. The Nail of Brightness (Lino Brocka, 1975).
  5. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2010).
  6. What Time is It There (Ming-Liang Tsai, 2001).  One of the more interesting active directors, Ming-liang Tsai focues, in this film, on the themes of time and solitude.  A young man who sells watches on the street starts changing public clocks to European time when an attractive stranger tells him she is going on a trip to Paris.  Her experience there, like his back home, is lonely and lacking in direction.  Shades of Antonioni here and also a tribute to Truffaut with a cameo by Jean-Pierre Léaud.
German Films (in progress)
  1. The Blue Angel (Josef von Sternberg, 1930).  The ultimate Weimar Period film, The Blue Angels tells the story of a professor, Emil Jannings, who falls in love with a night club singer, Marlene Dietrich, who leads him on a path to destruction.  Should we blame the singer, the professor, or the social system that makes status lines impenetratble?  The film is morally ambiguous, but it deilvers a subtle jab at the status norms of high society.  Both stars do a superb job; it's probably Dietrich's best role, and Janning's second best (his best is in Murnau's The Last Laugh).  Jannings ended his distinghuished carreer in dishonor, becaue he was an active supporter of Hitler during the war.  Dietrich moved to the United States just before the release of The Blue Angel, and became a staunch critic of Hitler, receiving a Medal of Honor for her efforts to denouce Nazis through entertainment.  She and von Sternberg made other great films in the States, including Shanghai Express and Morocco.  My second favorite von Sternberg is Salvation Hunters, his poetic first film.
  2. Ecstasy (Gustav Machatý, 1933).
  3. Fitzcaraldo (Werner Herzog, 1982). So many Herzog films tell the same story: an obsessed man, taking on an incredible challenge, for no good reason.  This is perhaps his greatest work.  Klaus Kinski wants to bring opera to a remote part of the Amazon, and to fulfill his ambition, he needs to move a ship over a stretch of land to get from one river to another.  A documentary about the making of this film, Burden of Dreams, is almost as good.  My second-favorite Herzog-Kinski collaboration is Aguirre, Wrath of God, based, like Apocalypse Now, on Conrad's Heart of Darkness.
  4. The Goalie's Anxiety After the Penalty Kick (Wim Wenders, 1972).  A goalie  goes off wandering after poor performance on the field.  He commits an arbitrary murder and then continues on his aimless journey.  Like Antonioni, Wenders is  interested in alienation, and he trades in plot for mood.  My other favorite Wenders films include  Paris,Texas (in English),The  Wrong Move (with a young Nastassja Kinski), and The American Friend (with Denis Hopper in Wender's rendition of the book that inspired The Talented Mr. Ripley and Plein Soleil).  Many people love Wings of Desire, which, like The Goalie's Anxiety, is based on a Peter Handke story, but I find it a bit pretentious in comparison to Wenders's earlier films.
  5. M (Fritz Lang, 1931). One of the best films all time. Peter Lorre is magnificent a child killer, who gains our sympathy when he is hunted by all walks of society: parents, police, mobsters, and beggars. Lange uses sound brilliantly from the opening nursery rhyme to the terrifying whistle of the Peer Gynt suite.  I also recommend Fury, Fritz Lang's first American film, for another look at how ordinary people can become possessed by a thirst for retribution.  Scarlet Street is also terrific, with Edward G. Robinson as an amature painter who gets snookered by a femme fatale.  My second favorite Lang, however, is his breakthrough silent classic, Destiny, in which Death gives a mourning woman vistas onto love and loss in three other cultures.
  6. Mädchen in Uniform (Leontine Sagan, 1931).
  7. The Paralllel Street (Ferdinand Khittl, 1962).
  8. In a Year of 13 Moons (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1978).  Fassbinder was the enfant terrible of German cinema, and is his short career he produced an astonishing number of good films.  So consistently good, in fact, that it is hard to pick a favorite.  He is better known for The Marriage of Maria Braun and The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant13 Moons is perhaps his most ucompromisingly brutal, but also among his most humane.  It tells the story about a man who gets a sex change to pleasure his lover, which initiates a tragic pursuit of love an acceptance.  My other favorite Fassbinder's include Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, Chinese Roulette, Gods of the Plague, Why Does Herr R. Run Amok?, and Veronica Voss.
  9. Yesterday Girl (Alexander Kluge, 1966).  A major influence on Fassbinder, Alexander Kluge effectively launches new german cinema with this, his first feature.  Kluge's sister plays a Jewish woman from East Germany who has imagrated to the West in search of a better life.  Instead, she finds herself imprisoned, repeatedly fired, evicted, and abandoned.  The film is austerely shot, and exploits numerous unconventional stylistic and narrative devices, which frustrate interpetation and give it an enduringly irreverant vitality.  Kluge's brilliance also shines in The Artist in the Circus Dome: Clueless, the closely related Die Unbezähmbare Leni Peickert, and Part-time Work of a Domestic Slave.
Scandinavian, Dutch, and Belgian Films  (in progress)
  1. Day of Wrath (Carl Dreyer, 1943).  Set in the 17th century, a young woman falls in love with the son of her own husband, an aging minester, and is suspected of being a witch.  The film is spiritually ambiguous (are there really supernatural powers at work?) and morally ambiguous (do we pity the yong woman or dispise her?).  Dreyer is Denmark's greatest director and his films acheive a high degree of dramatic tension despite their careful pacing, and, as a former silent film maker, he knows how to use visuals--often the stern faces of his actors--to engage our emotions.  I also like Dreyer's Ordet, which is one of the best films about religious belief, and Gertrude, one of the best films about infidelity.  Dreyer's silent films, Joan of Ark and Vampyr, are aslo great viewing.
  2. Hour of the Wolf (Ingmar Bergman, 1968).  My favorite Bergman film, it took me years to find on video. An artist seeks isolation on an island, but is instead tormented by his very peculiar neighbors. Dig the Mozart puppet show.  My second favorite Bergman is Persona, which is perhaps his most accomplished film, from a filmic and narrative perspective.  My third favorite is Passion of Anna, which may be the most experimental.
  3. Hunger (Henning Carlsen, 1966).
  4. Levoton Veri (Teuvo Tulio, 1946).
  5. Loving Couples (Mai Zetterling, 1964).
  6. The Man Who Cut His Hair Short (André Delvaux, 1966)
  7. Raven's End (Bo Widerberg, 1963)
  8. Torment (Alf Sjöberg, 1944).
  9. Turks Fruit (Paul Verhoeven, 1973).

Russian (Language) Films (in progress)
  1. Ascent (Larisa Shepikto, 1977).
  2. Come and See (Elem Klimov, 1985). One of the most disturbing war films I have seen, about a Belarussian boy who tries to join a makeshift army of Partisans, as Germans lay seige on villages of farmers. Hundreds of Belarussian farming villages were burnt to the ground during the war, and this film serves as a horrifying memorial.  For other films that depict WWII from a child's perspective, see Clément Forbidden Games and Rosellini's Germania: Anno Zero, which contains extensive footage of the devestation post-war Berlin.
  3. Dzhamiliya (Irina Poplavskaya, 1969).
  4. The Eve of Ivan Kupala (Yuri Ilyenko, 1968).
  5. The Lonely Voice of Man (Alexander Sokurov, 1987).
  6. Mirror (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1975).  If you can endure plotless films, this is my favorite.  Tarkovsky's father was a famous Russian poet, and this film is like a piece of poetry (in also features poems by Tarkovsky's father and a cameo from his mother).  Mirror manages to have vastly more narrative depth than most films despite the fact that it doesn't have a linear plot.  Instead, it is a loose assembly of memories.  Tarkovsky is an amazing director, and this is his most personal film.  I am also fond Nostalghia, Solaris, and Andrey Rublyov.  These are slow-paced films, but they are completely absorbing and highly rewarding.  The most accessible Tarkovsky may be Ivan's Childhood, an early film about the horrors and heroics of war.
  7. Soy Cuba (Mikhail Kalatozov, 1964).  This Russian/Cuban co-production was a total failure when it was released.  Too Russian for Cuban audiences, and too artistic for the Russians, in fell into obscurity for many years.  But it is one of the greatest movies ever made: a visual poem about the Cuban revolition that has some of the most innovative editting and stunning camerawork that I have ever seen.  Kalatozov's other great movie is The Cranes are Flying;  it is a stunning and tragic love story set during the Second World War.  Though less ground-breaking than Soy Cuba, it offers another opportunity to revel in Sergei Urusevsky's incredible cinematography.

Czech Films (in progress)
  1. Closely Watched Trains (Jirí Menzel, 1966).  This Oscar-winning film is a classic of the Czech new wave.  It is the amusing, and ultimately moving, story of a young railway dispatcher who is trying to lose his virginity, set against the backdrop of the German occupation.  It is interesting to compare this film and those of Wajda to earlier depictions of the war in Eastern European cinema, which are often feel more like artistically elevated propaganda.  The crowning acheivement in this genre may be Grigori Chukhrai's unabashedly sentimental Ballad of a Soldier from 1959.  Chukhrai's story is morally black and white, and its protagonist, a young farmer turned soldier, is the personification of decency.  Menzel's protagonists are bumblingly human, in comparison, and Wajda is a master of the anti-hero.
  2. The Ear (Karel Kachyna, 1970).
  3. Fruits of Paradise (Vera Chytilová, 1970).
  4. Loves of a Blond (Milos Foreman, 1965).  A sensitive portrait of a young factory worker (the sister of Foreman's first wife) and the vile men that she encounters.  A landmark of Czech new wave.  Loathsome, lusty men are also a theme in Foreman's Fireman's Ball and in the psychedelic romp, Daisies, by Vera Chytilová.  There was clearly a feminist streak in Czech cinema at the time.
  5. Marketa Lazarová (Frantisek Vlácil, 1967).
  6. Martyrs of Love  (Jan Němec, 1967).
  7. The Shop on Main Street (Ján Kadár and Elmar Klos, 1965).
  8. Squandered Sunday (Drahomíra Vihanová, 1969).

Polish Films (in progress)
  1. Ashes and Diamonds (Andzej Wajda, 1958). A entertaining, wartime, anti-hero film, which might be watched along side The Wild One for an interesting comparison.  Ashes is part of a series of war films, that includes Wajda's spine tingling Kanal, about a group of resistence fighters who must hide in the sewers in order to escape the encroaching Germans.  My second favorite Wajda, though, is Innocent Sorcerers.  Also of interest are Wajda's Man of Marble, a film about the making of a film about a the making and unmaking of a communist hero, and Gates of Paradise, based on a novel that consists of one long sentence. 
  2. Barrier (Jerzy Skolimowski, 1966)
  3. Diabel (Andrzej Zulawski, 1972).
  4. Iluminacja (Krzysztof Zanussi, 1973).
  5. Knife in the Water (Roman Polanski, 1962).  Great Polish period Polanski--a psychological drama set in a small boat on the open sea.  The jazz sountrack  by Krzysztof Komeda is also worth the price of admission.   Polanski's made some great films after leaving Poland, including The Tenant and, of course, Rosemary's Baby.  My second favorite is Repulsion
  6. Mother Joan of the Angels (Jerzy Kawalerowicz).

Yugoslavian Films (in progress)
  1. Dancing in the Rain (Bostjan Hladnik, 1961).
  2. Man is Not a Bird (Dusan Makavejev, 1965).  Sylistical original Yugoslavian film about a worker who falls for his landlord's young daughter.  The camera work is occasionally stunning, the sub-plots are engrossing, and the performances are compellingly understated.  But the great strength of this film comes from its less conventional elements, including the performance of a hypnotist and the orchistration of Beethoven in the lead protagonist's factory.  Makavejev's film The Love Affair is also highly worth seeing, though somewhat less innovative in narrative and style.
  3. The Promising Boy (Misa Radivojevic, 1981).  One of my favorite punk rock movies.  Also a tribute to Phineas Gage.
  4. When I Am Dead and Gone (Živojin Pavlović, 1967).
  5. Young and Healthy As a Rose (Jovan Jovanovic, 1971).

Hungarian Films (in progress)
  1. Merry-Go-Round (Zoltán Fábri, 1955).
  2. The Red and the White (Miklós Jancsó, 1967).
  3. Werkmeister Harmonies (Bela Tar, 2000). An odd and oddly enthralling film by one of Hungary's greatest directors.  A simple town collapses into paranoia and chaos when a giant wale is trucked in as a traveling public spectacle.  The beautiful long shots in high contrast black and white will stay with you forever.
Other Eastern European Films (in progress)
  1. The Color of Pomegranates (Sergei Parajanov, 1968).  Perhaps the most aesthetically  gratifying film ever made.  Every frame  is almost overwhelmingly beautiful.  The film is a biography of the great Armenian troubadour, Sayat Nova, thought it would be difficult to decipher his life-story from the series of cryptic and haunting images that fill the screen.  The Color of Pomegranates is innovative is almost every respect: the camera is still in each shot, there is no dialog, and one actor plays many different parts (male and female).  For a more accessible but equally rewarding film, see Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors. Parajanov's genius was too much for the Soviets: after Pomegranates was made, he was sentenced to the gulag on trumped up charges.
  2. The Big Green Valley (Merab Kokochashvili, 1967).
  3. Kaïrat (Darezhan Omirbayev, 1992).
  4. The Goat Horn (Metodi Andonov, 1972).
  5. Lived Once a Song Thrush (Otar Iosseliani, 1967).
  6. Pirosmani (Giorgi Shengelaya, 1969).
Greek and Turkish Films (in progress)
  1. Lily of the Harbor (Yorgos Javellas, 1952)
  2. Time to Love (Metin Erksan, 1965).
  3. Young Aphrodites (Nikos Koundouros, 1963).

Sub-Saharran African Films (in progress)
  1. Black Girl (Ousmane Sembene, 1966).
  2. Touki Bouki (Djibril Diop Mambéty, 1973).