Guilty Pleasure: My List of 200 Great Films You Need to See, and Why [updated periodically]]

A purely subjective list, and only from films I’ve seen. Film for me is a love, a philosophical interest, and increasingly, a large part of what I teach in my classes.  But I make no pretension to being a true cinema geek! For me, film’s a passion, but I approach film as a theorist first and foremost, theory’s where my training is, and I never pretend otherwise.

Ok, lot’s of disclaimers, you’ll find them below the list itself. There are so many ways you can rank films, ultimately it’s all apples versus oranges, and so I had to ask, when it’s all balanced out, how unhappy would I be if this film ceased to exist, either for me, the world, or both? While such a holistic approach is necessarily unfair, it’s still a fascinating if artificial exercise nevertheless, and total geek fun.

Hopefully the commentary can explain some of the more counterintuitive choices, and help sell some great films to folks who haven’t seen them yet. I ranked them in order, but take with a very large grain of salt.

But damn, what fun to make! I’ll try to keep updating this list periodically.

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My List of 200 Great Films You Need to See, and Why

— 1. Mulholland Drive, by David Lynch (2001, USA)

In my opinion, the most perfect film ever made. There’s not a single detail left to chance, it all fits together in this jigsaw-puzzle of a film. And while the hours spent putting it all together afterwards might make you think it’s merely a head film, even on a first viewing, even if you have no idea what to look for to help orient yourself, the sheer emotional power of so many of the scenes will leave you floored. When I first saw this film, I had high expectations, based on Lynch’s previous outings, and halfway through, I thought he’d radically misfired. But once I got to the end, and understood what I was seeing, and why it had to be the way it was, I realized it was one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had with a film. I teach the film now all the time, and it still hasn’t lost it’s magic. In terms of structure, the film starts off  as a series of seemingly unconnected set pieces, some hilarious and others simply bizarre, with some very non-traditional acting, all of which is made sense of later. The scenes slowly lace together into a plot, and increasingly get more and more emotionally wrenching and disturbing even as they continue to be obscure, until the film’s airtight logic slowly reveals itself. Even the seeming diversions are perfect, and underneath it all is a profound lesson on human frailty in the face of the sheer power of life itself. Disturbing, important, powerful.

— 2. Solaris, by Andrei Tarkovsky (1972, Soviet Union)

A film I find hard to watch without crying at several points – not because of the narrative, but rather, the sheer beauty, poetry, and power of the use of the cinematic image in this perfect film. To enter in the world of this film is to step into a different relation with time. Tarkovsky aims to teach us to see with new eyes, and slowness and repetition are the tools whereby he reveals the world to us as if for the first time. It’s a film that needs to be seen twice to be seen at all, because the first time, you don’t know what you are seeing. And if after this film you always ask yourself ‘what am I seeing?,’ then perhaps the film has really started to rework your entire visual relation to the world, as it has mine.  On the surface, a science fiction film, but only in the barest of senses. This is really a film about time, vision, love, suffering, memory. It’s a philosophical, visual, emotional exploration of the relation between humans, each other, and their world, and in the deepest possible senses. A haunting film with a terrifying ending, the film is a religious experience, and Tarkovsky a secular prophet. If you aren’t prepared for the radical slowness of Tarkovsky’s films, it can be difficult to get to the end. But once you see why it is the way it is, which requires subjecting yourself to the film’s pacing, it will stay with you, gnaw at your brain and soul, for years and years. The fact that the film can also function as political allegory, or also has much to say about family, well, these other layers are just additional icing on the cake.

— 3. Oldboy, by Park Chan-Wook (2004, South Korea)

This Korean revenge drama, full of violence and gore, is Greek tragedy for the 21st century. Few films left me feeling so destroyed afterwards as this one. What I find so powerful about Park’s films is the manner in which he can put us within the moral dilemmas experienced by his characters – given the complexity of the situations in which they find themselves, would you do the same? Another puzzle film, figuring this one out takes a lot of work, but as with many other films I love, the sheer power of the film is evident even on the first graphically disturbing view. Not for the squeamish, or those unready to peer a bit at the darker side of humanity.

— 4. Two or Three Things I Know About Her, by Jean-Luc Godard  (1967, France)

Godard is perhaps the most technically innovative filmmaker in history, and this film is not only my favorite film of his, but I think also his best. Godard breaks every single cinematic convention in this film-essay about industrialization, sex, capitalism, and film itself. This is the ultimate film about film, conscious of its every move, always in meta-commentary about its own activity. And while it’s mostly a ‘head’ film, it has some moments of sparse beauty and simple poetry that are missing from Godard’s other works.

— 5. 8 ½, by Federico Fellini (1963, Italy)

Pure cinematic joy. Fellini’s masterpiece on the impossibility of making a film is, no matter how many times I see it, pure fun, yet also, important, deep, real, profound, and full of life. This is a film that really captures how memory, fantasy, work, desire, play, boredom, and ambition intertwine in the bittersweet cacophony of voices, images, personae, roles, embraces, joys, failures, and excesses which define us. Filmicly gorgeous, simply classic.

— 6. Vertigo, by Alfred Hitchcock (1958, UK)

On the surface, a psychological crime thriller, but underneath, one of the most complex meditations on time and desire ever committed to film. Why do we love, and who do we love, and what do we want from them, and what could we do if we don’t get that, or worse yet, if we do and yet something still eludes our grasp? A languorous love story, gorgeously filmed, hauntingly profound, and Hitchcock’s greatest accomplishment.

— 7. Persona, by Ingmar Bergman (1966, Sweden)

So many different ways to read this film, a complex work in which memory, fantasy, flashback and desire all intertwine. A character study, and a film about how love can be one of the most terrifying forces on the planet, full of desire to dominate, control, destroy, and manipulate. Hell can be other people, and this fact is never clearer than in this film, a film full of masks and layers, one underneath the next. Compact, powerful, beautiful, perfect, one of the most important and influential films of the century.

— 8. Stalker, by Andrei Tarkovsky (1977, Soviet Union)

Tarkovsky’s other masterpiece. A haunting minimalist portrait of mystical intensity, the sheer power of this film is belied by the fact that much of it takes place in otherwordly wastelands that become sites of spiritual revelation by means of Tarkovsky’s slow, careful camera. A film about faith, passion, doubt, anger, and terror. Tarkovsky methodically reveals the world in all it’s overwhelming plenitude, but never gives us easy answers as to what this means. The start and end of the film are hallucinatory in their reworking of the ‘real’ world, while the ‘false’ world of hallucination seems more real than reality itself. Tarkovsky completely rewrites the language of film, and few films better give body to his theory of ‘sculpting in time’ than this attempt to radically reimagine the very relation between humans and the world.

— 9. Last Year at Marienbad, by Alain Resnais (1961, France)

Alain Resnais’ puzzle-box of a film is brutally cold, and leaves many viewers feeling nothing more than chilled and confused. What did I just see? What does it mean? Do I care? And yet, I think there is emotional depth here, hiding under the icy veneer of formal perfection, impossible plot, elaborately wealthy protagonists, and alienated vision. But it’s the plot, its impossibilities and layers and contradictions, that eventually raise the stakes to a fever pitch at which sheer contradiction tips over into the sublime. An ice palace, but a gorgeous one, one whose emotional reach is perhaps felt most severely in the pain of its very absence.

— 10. Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom, by Pier Paolo Pasolini (1975, Italy)

A brutal film. Nothing can prepare viewers for this, and I don’t mean the gore, which is tame by today’s torture porn standards. No, what makes this film shocking is the manner in which it lays out the logic of human brutality, for it shows the manner in which anyone can become monster, or victim. A terrible lesson we all need to learn. A film that uses our own desires against us, this is a film full of naked bodies, but Pasolini uses this to make what is ultimately a brutally ethical filmic machine. Meticulously filmed, terrifyingly perfect, and all in the service of teaching us a horrific yet essential lesson.

— 11. Hiroshima, Mon Amour, by Alain Resnais (1960, France)

One of the most powerful love films ever made. And yet, also a film about the impossibility of love, compassion, and understanding across cultures, even as this very impossibility seems to hold the key to understanding the attempt to move to something else. The brilliant first ten minutes say more via their counter-intuitive  visual experimentation than most whole films, even if the slow, gorgeous narrative of the rest of the film is the real payoff. The only crime is that we only learn the French woman’s story, and not the Japanese man’s . . .

— 12. Porcile (Pigsty), by Pier Paolo Pasolini (1969, Italy)

Another completely disturbing, merciless dissection of the human psyche, its self-deceptions, lust for violence, and will to petty power, this film truly holds an unflattering mirror up to the viewer. Another film that is confusing on first watch, yet full of scenes of undeniable power, this film is as psychological as it is cultural, familial and political, and Pasolini spares no-one in his indictment of postwar Europe, capitalism, and the powers of denial we all possess. The injunction to stay silent never seemed so sinister, or so important to understand.

— 13. Twelve Monkeys, by Terry Gilliam (1995, USA)

Set in both a dystopian future and the present day, this fractured film is a beautiful, quirky, subtle meditation on time, memory, and desire. While on the surface it’s a relatively mainstream film about time travel, or madness, or the end of the world, on closer inspection it’s really Vertigo and La Jetee for the modern day. An homage to cinema and how it shapes us, a powerful song of how we misremember our pasts, a film which critiques our often hapless attempts at personal and cultural history-making, it’s hauntingly strong, and even manages to have a sense of humor, all under the veneer of a mass-market sci-fi/thriller flick. But its the boy’s vision, and the way it comes to fruition in a logic which is both supremely human and yet completely from beyond, that takes this film outside the tree-rings of linear time onto a plane of its own.

— 14. Death by Hanging, by Nagisa Oshima (1968, Japan)

Powerful, difficult, in your face, funny, did I mention powerful? A man is executed, yet he doesn’t die, but does have a nasty case of amnesia. His executors realize they can’t re-execute him unless he remembers his crime, so after much debating, they begin to reeanct his crimes, and in the process, the accused puts the accusers on trial, and their dirty secrets begin to out. Oshima’s bitter satire is a dark comedy with the dramatic power of Shakespearian tragedy. Highly recommended, it’s two hours in which the pace doesn’t stop for a moment.

— 15. The Prestige, by Christopher Nolan (2006, USA)

The inability to decide between two alternate interpretations of events – how far can a film push this? This film is like an argument between two sides, an argument that gets more intense, more frantic, yet goes ever deeper and deeper, like a hall of mirrors with no bottom. Nothing here is what it appears, watch every detail, and watch the film several times. To what extent do we see only what we want to see? Don’t let the big-name stars and high production values dissuade you, this is a serious film. And it’s got a great David Bowie cameo.

— 16. Woman in the Dunes, by Hiroshi Teshigahara (1964, Japan)

Beautifully shot, a film full of sand as far as the eye can see, a film of hopeless situations with no way out, a film on the impossibility of getting beyond one’s past. A film of futility, and yet, one which also poses the question of hope in the deepest despair. A film about postwar Japan, about the relation of love and destiny, a film that’s powerful, slow, and moving.

— 17. Donnie Darko, by Richard Kelley (2001, USA)

Despite the fact that this film is wildly popular, eminently watchable, easily enjoyable, and quite funny at parts, it’s also a damn smart and moving examination of the question of time. And even though it seems to make some sense by the time you get to the end, it’s actually quite hard to put all the parts together. Much more to this film than meets the eye, it’s a wonder at how much the film accomplishes in the seemingly innocuous package of a teen coming-of-age story. Not to be underestimated, no matter how much fun it is.

— 18. Bad Education, by Pedro Almodovar (2008, Spain)

A sleek, fun, edgy film-noir, one which never forgets its role as commentary on the history of film, even as it explores obsession, desire, gender, loathing, control, and power. More character splits and mirrorings than you thought possible in a film not directed by Slavoj Zizek himself. Masterful. And one of Almodovar’s few films to star gay protagonists.

— 19. Cut, by Park Chan-Wook (2004, South Korea)

A relatively unknown film, this 45-minute mid-length film is in many ways Oldboy in miniature, yet without retreading the same ground. When a good man is pushed to his limits, what lies underneath? It’s on the omnibus film Three Extremes.

— 20. F for Fake, by Orson Welles (1974, USA)

Fun, smart, bottomless, circular. Welles’ parting gift to film. Welles is a master of illusions, and he plays that part to the extreme in a film about precisely this. An underwatched masterpiece that takes the topic of forgery as its entry-point into a wide ranging analysis of why we want fictions, lies, film, stories, and art.

— 21. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall his Past Lives, Apichatpong Weerasathekul (2010, Thailand)

A slow, beautiful meditation on time, regret, memory, trauma, what brings us together and keeps us apart, and what lives on. Important, moving, powerful.

— 22. Lost Highway, by David Lynch (1999, USA)

The companion piece to Mulholland Drive, a radical experiment in psychic and temporal fragmentation that’s an intense jigsaw puzzle, and a psycho-sexual explosion whose precision is just damn impressive. The words ‘you’ll never have me’ will haunt your dreams, and his Mystery Man character remains one of the most truly terrifying figures ever put to film. What’s more, the fact that Lynch actually makes the radical gesture of switching horses in midstream, in a manner much more extreme than Hitchcock did in Psycho, and manages to pull it off, is a virtuoso feat that’s gotta be worth something in and of itself. Shattered, important, violent, essential.

— 23. Suicide Club, by Sion Sono (2001, Japan)

Postmodern culture and the ultraviolence, a hall of mirrors, an abyss of a film, and an attempt to seriously pose the question: are you connected to yourself?

— 24. La Dolce Vita, by Federico Fellini (1961, Italy)

Parties, parties, more parties, it’s like crashing tons of parties in mid-sixties Italy. So much glamor never looked so kitschy, so much boredom never looked like so much fun, and life never felt so great on so many levels, no matter how bittersweet it all is.

— 25. The Spirit of the Beehive, by Victor Erice (1973, Spain)

Highly underrated, this film is the template that the infinitely less sucessfull Pan’s Labyrinth was built upon. A young girl’s look at the Spanish Civil War, through the eyes of a filmic monster that haunts her dreams. Magical, a film of the loss of innocence, a beautiful poem.

— 26. Mr. Arkaddin (Confidential Report), by Orson Welles (1955, USA)

The steel-trap closes slowly but carefully on its prey, and Welles meticulously sets us up until it’s too late for us to escape. A low-budget masterpiece that’s all story and acting, with Welles’ himself with a great performance in the lead.

— 27. There Will Be Blood, by Paul Thomas Anderson (2006, USA)

An over-the-top film about a culture that produces over-the-top personae who think they are real people, and who then ruin themselves, as well the lives of those around them. An allegory for the Bush years, set in the early days of the discovery of oil. More than meets the eye.

— 28. The Trial, by Orson Welles (1962, USA)

If you thought Kafka couldn’t be filmed, you were right, and Welles doesn’t try. He makes his own answer to Kafka, a filmic Kafka, and in the process of his transgressions, is truer to the spirit of the original than I ever thought possible. A great film.

— 29. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, by Robert Wiene (1919, Germany)

A terrifying puzzle of a film that still entertains nearly 100 years after it was first made. Even my most media-hip young students find they get sucked into this creepy gothic silent classic, by means of both its trippy sets and the  snake-eating-its-tail story.

— 30. Memento, by Christopher Nolan (2000, USA)

A simple device sets up this film, yet it’s the ending, and what it says about memory and self-deception, that’s the real payoff. Taut, well acted, like watching a beautiful math equation explain itself.

— 31. Audition, by Takashi Miike (1999, Japan)

What seems like a simple horror flick on the surface is much, much more. What really happens here, and what is this film really about? At which point do we leave reality? Come for the gore, stay for the questions . . .

— 32. Juliet of the Spirits, by Federico Fellini (1965, Italy)

An underrated Fellini film, and his first film in beautiful, lush, psychedelic color. Come for the visuals, but stay for the tender story of a repressed housewife that learns, hesitantly, to come into her own. This character study is as understated as the images are stunning. Wonderful.

— 33. Videodrome, by David Cronenberg (1985, Canada)

Sex and violence and media. This visionary film saw it all long ahead of time. Long live the new flesh!

— 34. Opening Night, by John Cassavettes (1974, USA)

Half stage-play, half film, somewhere between documentary, fiction, group biography, and group therapy, this largely improvised, hyper-method-acted story of an actress’ self-destruction feels so real because the actors and roles blurred on and off the screen via Cassavettes’ groundbreaking approach to filmmaking. And the play within a play within a film thing gets a lot of mileage here.

— 35. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, by Julien Schnabel (2009, France)

Seems maudlin on the surface, a real weepy, but it’s just done so well, and with killer cinematography. A film about a terrible accident, yet really a film about film, and the power of fantasy to keep us alive. Slow, but worth it.

— 36. Rashomon, by Akira Kurosawa (1950, Japan)

Three versions of the same event, none of them the same, and the stakes are high. A classic, a film about memory and trauma, with both personal and political ramifications.

— 37. Satyricon, by Federico Fellini (1969, Italy)

A formal experiment, an odd math equation, a post-modern spectacle, a play of surfaces, a gallery of grotesques, a paen to excess, a barren poem, a fragmented crystal, a cracked mirror. All of that and more, one of the few moments in which Fellini isn’t joyous, yet it still remains crucial. A diagnosis of both the times in which it was made, and our present day.

— 38. The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, by Werner Rainer Fassbinder (1972, Germany)

Minimalist in the extreme, the whole film takes place in one room, and is nearly performed by one main and one supporting actress. Yet it’s all in the performance and the story. The main character is sadistic, repulsive, a mess, yet it’s hard not to feel pity for her, how she ended up so disgustingly petty, cruel, crass. What’s not to like? Pain never looked so good. Nor a glitzy women more like a man in drag . . .

— 39. Dr. Strangelove, by Stanley Kubrik (1964, USA)

One of the most powerful satires of war, American ideology, the cold war, and human banality ever made. And quite funny . . .

— 40. Mirror, by Andrei Tarkovsky (1975, Soviet Union)

A semi-autobiographical collage. What is a person made of?

— 41. The Werkmeister Harmonies, by Bela Tarr (Hungary, 2001)

Lusciously filmed in sparse yet beautiful black-and-white, a film about time, obsession, paranoia, power, the pettiness of everyday life, the dangers of trying to impose order on the world, and the attempt to make sense of the absurdities of life between dissolution and reformation in the small towns of the former Soviet Bloc. Slow, musical, powerful.

— 42. Existenz, by David Cronenberg (1999, Canada)

Film as video-game. Revolutionary, circular, plastic, classic, tomorrow.

— 43. Earth Entranced, by Glauber Rocha (1967, Brazil)

Innovative, political, powerful. Rocha has characters represent ideas and then give speeches at each other in a film of powerful political drama, excellent camera work, and all the contradictions of the very rich and very poor that is Brazil.

— 44. Funny Games, by Michael Haneke (1997, Austria)

Brutal. It’s the sly winks to the viewer that just twist the knife, while the camera’s impassivity just watches us writhe in anguish at what our own sadism reveals.

— 45. The Thin Red Line, by Terrence Malick (1998, USA)

So much more than just war picture. It’s a film about the fantasies that keep people going.

— 46. The Virgin Spring, by Ingmar Bergman (1960, Sweden)

Painful, beautiful, harrowing, sad, and some great acting. For a short film, the characters are remarkably layered. Don’t let the fact that it’s set in medieval Sweden fool you, this film packs a punch. A simple story, but so powerful.

— 47. The Deer Hunter, by Michael Cimino (1978, USA)

A film in two parts, each of which makes sense of the other. You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone, nor how to fix what get’s broken once you’re no longer there. An honest look at American life in the 70’s. A lesson.

— 48. Sans Soleil (Sunless), by Chris Marker (1983, France)

A cine-essay about time and difference, jumping between France, Africa, Iceland, and Japan, it’s a serious film asking serious questions about the limits of trying to understand ourselves, others, and other cultures. It does this slowly, thoughtfully, and gorgeously.

— 49. Happy Together, by Wong Kar-Wai (1997, Hong Kong)

Bittersweet, shows the pain of being in love like few other films do. A queer cinema classic.

— 50. Waking Life, by Richard Linklater (2001, USA)

Waves upon waves finally coalesce into a sort of clarity. Amazing use of animation. Intellectual, but also moving.

— 51. Reservoir Dogs, by Quentin Tarrantino (1992, USA)

Somewhere between a crime genre flick with great dialogue and a Shakespearian tragedy. Despite Tarrantino’s later excesses, a great film.

— 52. Jacob’s Ladder, by Adrian Lyne (1990, USA)

Underrated. Simple premise that reveals itself slowly. While the ending might seem too easy, it’s the emotional heft of the execution that I think makes it all worthwhile.

— 53. Amores Perros, by Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu (2000, Mexico)

A knot deftly woven from three strands. Great acting, great stories. Why do we hurt ourselves?

— 54. Ararat, by Atom Egoyan (2002, Canada)

A knot deftly unwoven from several strands. No answers, many questions, and that’s the point. Nobody does ambiguity like Egoyan.

— 55. Spider, by David Cronenberg (2006, Canada)

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film pull the rug out from under me in quite this way. Scary, slow, and a bit too honest.

— 56. A Zed and Two Noughts, by Peter Greenaway (1985, UK)

Strange, playful, dark, bizarre, perverse, thoughtful. Film as a very serious game, and some of the most careful mise-en-scene by a true master.

— 57. La Jetee (The Pier), by Chris Marker (1969, France)

A classic experiment. Dreamy, a tale of love that stays with you long afterwards. A short, low-budget film, but incredibly influential, and so simply filmed!

— 58. Noriko’s Dinner Table, by Sion Sono (2005, Japan)

As long and spralling as Suicide Club is tight, this film’s all about the terror of the family. Some of the scenes are just so odd, its hard to know exactly what to feel.

— 59. The Nights of Cabiria, by Federico Fellini (1954, Italy)

Life never looked so pathetic, or so much fun.

— 60. The Last Supper, by Tomas Guttierez Alea (1976, Cuba)

A powerful indictment of the psychology of power.

— 61. Notorious, by Alfred Hitchcock (1946, UK)

Masterful, tense, it’s great to watch Hitchcock pull the strings when he’s in peak form. And some of his best shots ever – watch for the scene with the teacup, and the one with the key. Perfection, and still a tense thriller.

— 62. Blue Velvet, by David Lynch (1986, USA)

Simpler than many other Lynch films, but crucial nonetheless. I think I often forget how groundbreaking this film was in so many ways, but I doubt anyone seeing it for the first time will remain unwarped by it. Dennis Hopper’s crazed, nitrous fueled performance (and Dean Stockwell’s amazing cameo!) is still frantic, desperate, and at the center of a film that aims to disturb anything that holds us in place.

— 63. Dead Ringers, by David Cronenberg (1983, Canada)

Self-destruction never looked so sweet, or so creepy. Jeremy Irons gives an amazing performance. But despite his duplicity, is this film really about one person or two, love or hate? Either way, it’s pretty amazing which one they decide is the stronger one.

— 64. Rope, by Alfred Hitchcock (1948, UK)

Like a steel trap. And the scene with the rope! Nearly a work of theater as much as film, Hitchcock experimented with some interesting constraints on this one, with some excellent results. And so many camp subtexts!

— 65. The Man with a Movie Camera, by Dziga Vertov (1929, Soviet Union)

In some ways, this film belongs so much higher, but it’s really a quasi-documentary film essay. I’ve included it here simply because it’s also a great fiction film . . .

— 66. Dog Day Afternoon, by Sidney Lumet (1975, USA)

Gritty realism, great character study, and clear look at America in the 70’s. Classic.

— 67. The Firemen’s Ball, by Milos Forman (Czechoslovakia, 1967)

Once you realize it’s all an allegory for the communist government, you can see why this pretty damn funny satire (and its still funny today!) deserved to be ‘banned for all time’ by the Czechoslovak government at the time.

— 68. Wild Strawberries, by Ingmar Bergman (Sweden, 1961)

This is life. An old man looks back at his failings, and smells the roses a bit on the way. Could’ve been real cheezy, but Bergman manages to pull it off with style. A very human film.

— 69. Annie Hall, by Woody Allen (1977, USA)

For once, Woody actually works.

— 70. Contempt, by Jean-Luc Godard (1964, France)

The rare film where Godard controls his talents, and makes a relatively traditional film. The fact that he does so with such beauty and technical perfection is a testament to his many talents.

— 71. Primer, by Sean Carruth (2004, USA)

What seems on the surface to be a gimmick film about two d.i.y. inventors who stumble upon a way to make brief trips through time becomes so much more when we see the ways in which time travel destroys their relationships and lives bit by bit. The gimmick is only there to set up the exploration of the human psyche. Minimalist filming under largely florescent light gives the film an eerie sheen. Highly recommended.

— 72. Looking for Langston, by Isaac Julien (1987, UK)

A dream meditation on the ambiguity of queer black history. This dreamy mid-length film is one of the most important in queer cinema. Poetic, erotic, intimate, historical, essential.

— 73. The Godfather, Part II, by Francis Ford Coppola (1974, USA)

Mixed feelings on where to put this. I mean, it’s a great film, but also kitsch, yet so good at it.

— 74. Dogville, by Lars Von Trier (2003, Denmark)

Bombastic and minimalist, preachy yet piercing. Having no sets never looked so good.

— 75. The Draughtsman’s Contract, by Peter Greenaway (1981, UK)

A meticulous essay on the meaning of film, all packaged in 18th century intrigue. Meta-cinematic theorizing on gender, power, and vision, none of which spares anyone’s life in the end.

— 76. Alien, by Ridley Scott (1979, USA)

Groundbreaking, a film that really challenges the fabric of reality, of inner and outer space. And the first real kick ass female action hero. Which side scares us more, the beast within/without, or the techno-industrialists? Yes please . . .

— 77. Tokyo Story, by Yasujiro Ozu (1953, Japan)

We did the best we could.

— 78. Breathless, by Jean-Luc Godard (1960, France)

Joyous.

— 79. The Birds, by Alfred Hitchcock (1963, UK)

You do it to yourself, and that’s why it really hurts.

— 80. Metropolis, by Fritz Lang (1925, Germany)

Still crazy, after all these years . . .

— 81. The Sweet Hereafter, by Atom Egoyan (1998, Canada)

Such a small film, all about a disaster in a small town, but morally, there’s so much at stake.

— 82. Intervista (Interview), by Federico Fellini (1987, Italy)

Fellini’s late masterpiece entertains at each turn of the screw.

— 83. The Passion of Joan of Arc, by Carl Theodor Dreyer (1928, France)

The face as ocean.

— 84. Psycho, by Alfred Hitchcock (1960, UK)

A little less refined than films like Vertigo or Notorious, but essential nevertheless. My favorite: the scene where he invites her in for some food, up to and including the scene where the camera lifts off from her eye and develops a life of its own.

— 85. The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, by Michel Gondry (2004, USA)

How difficult yet beautiful it is to learn to let go.

— 86. Ivan’s Childhood, by Andrei Tarkovsky (1964, Soviet Union)

This early effort by Tarkovsky shows him before he rewrote the language of film, but it’s still a great work. And for a first film, such a use of light and shadow, camera angles, and glorious, spiritual shots of rippling water and trees that go on without end. Childhood never looked so strong, or so difficult.

— 87. Weekend, by Jean-Luc Godard (1969, France)

All over place, but still key. Many of the scenes just don’t really come together, but are worth it on their own.

— 88. Teorema (Theorum), by Pier Paolo Pasolini (1968, Italy)

Even though it’s all about the howl at the end, how you get there is pretty interesting as well . . .

— 89. The Shining, by Stanley Kubrick (1980, USA)

The hills have eyes. Or to quote CSN, ‘we have all been here before.’

— 90. Brazil, by Terry Gilliam (1985, UK)

Biting satire, yet once you get to the end, so much more.

—91. Fight Club, by David Fincher (1999, USA)

Psychosis with a flair. It’s all about the splitting. A really psychological film, despite the fun exterior.

— 92. Sunshine, by Danny Boyle (2009, UK)

Really underrated, a beautiful film on the sublime.

— 93. Talk to Her, by Pedro Almodovar (2002, Spain)

Circular, obsessional, talky, smart, enjoyable.

— 94. The Holy Mountain, by Alejandro Jodorowsky (1973, Mexico)

Visually stunning, over-the-top, seems like a random, crazy voyage of a film, but it actually has a strange logic behind it all. Trippy as all hell.

— 95. Elephant, by Gus Van Sant (2003, USA)

A film about trauma, yet it’s focused on the everyday. Flowing, otherworldly camerawork and characters as blank screens leave room for fantasies of explanation which the film adamantly refuses to provide, but the film provides a clearing for. A truly unsettling attempt to think the origins of senseless violence.

— 96. Light of a Century, Apichatpong Weerasathekul (2006, Thailand)

What if the past had been slightly different? A theorum followed through with poetic beauty, and a very surprising ending.

— 97. In the Realm of the Senses, by Nagisa Oshima (1976, Japan)

Masochism, anyone?

— 98. Strangers on a Train, by Alfred Hitchcock (1951, UK)

Well done, a sleek walk in the park by a master craftsman.

— 99. Titus, by Julie Taymor (1999, UK)

A great interpretation, over-the-top, modern, and makes this odd play speak to our age.

— 100. The Small Soldier, by Jean-Luc Godard (1962, France)

Underrated Godard, totally worth seeing.

— 101. Battle of Heaven, by Carlos Reygadas (2005, Mexico)

Brutal tale of the way the privilege and the forgotten move past each other in today’s Mexico, and how sex brings two of them together. A highly spiritual film about the ugliness and beauty of bodies, a slow, meditative vision of matter and spirit, of those moments in which all the world stops and life in it’s full contradictoriness puts itself before us in its nakedness.

— 102. The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice, by Yasujiro Ozu (1952, Japan)

Such a strange use of the camera, such a simple story, and as always with Ozu, bittersweet. Ozu is the master of raising the everyday to all that matters.

— 103. Peeping Tom, by Michael Powell (1960, UK)

Best Hitchcock film not made by Hitchcock. Highly meta-cinematic.

— 104. The Battle for Algiers, by Gillo Pontecorvo (Italy, 1964)

Shows us what we rarely see, and so realistically, many have thought it a documentary.

— 105. The Shop on Main Street, by Jan Kadar and Elmar Klos (1959, Czechoslovakia)

Powerfully human indictment of how ordinary people do terrible things.

— 106. The Man Who Put His Will On Film, by Nagisa Oshima (1972, Japan)

Relatively unknown gem of a film with a looping structure that’s likely a huge inspiration for Lost Highway. Very, very smart meta-cinema, and with something very real to say.

— 107. Rear Window, by Alfred Hitchcock (UK, 1954)

A bit over-obvious, yet still pretty damn good.

— 108. The Marriage of Maria Braun, by Werner Maria Fassbinder (1979, Germany)

Terribly cutting dissection of the post-war psyche . . .

— 109. 2001: A Space Odyssey, by Stanley Kubrick (1968, UK)

Some really cheezy moments mixed with some really profound ones.

— 110. Barton Fink, by The Coen Brothers (1991, USA)

Gloriously literate, great ending. John Turturo is neurotically fantastic, and John Goodman is on fire!

— 111. Celine and Julie Go Boating, by Jacques Rivette (1974, France)

Without question, one of the stranger things you’ll spend three hours doing.

— 112. The Wayward Cloud, by Tsai Min-Liang (2005, Taiwan)

An absurdist, nearly dialogue-less, semi-porno, semi-musical, and a wry satire about contemporary Taiwan. Visually unlike almost anything you’ve ever seen, and a very disturbing ending.

— 113. Tetsuo: The Iron Man, by Shinya Tsukomoto (1989, Japan)

See this very, very strange film! But don’t drink too much coffee beforehand.

— 114. The Sacrifice, by Andrei Tarkovsky (Sweden, 1984)

I take issue with some of the last scene, but while it’s not as good as earlier Tarkovsky, it’s still a great final statement.

— 115. Dune, by David Lynch (1984, USA)

A meticulously executed genre film, and haunting adaptation of an excellent book.

— 116. Time Regained, by Raul Ruiz (France, 1999)

Speak, memory . . .

— 117. Network, by Sidney Lumet (US, 1976)

Way ahead of it’s time, prescient, angry, smart.

118. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, by Peter Jackson (2001-3, New Zealand)

I love this stuff so much, but I realize that’s prob a guilty pleasure and personal thing. Not sure there’s anything profound here, but it’s such well done fun.

— 119. Suspiria, by Dario Argento (1977, Italy)

Never was color so important, or so treacherous.

— 120. A Woman Under the Influence, by John Cassavettes (1974)

Some of it is just too real.

— 121. Dreams, by Akira Kurosawa (1996, Japan)

I like this better than many of his hard-core samurai films. There’s a real sense of wonder here.

— 122. Miller’s Crossing, by The Coen Brothers (1990, USA)

Best gangster film ever. You givin’ me the high hat?

— 123. Andrei Rublev, by Andrei Tarkovsky (1966, Soviet Union)

Used to hate this film, but it really grew on me. The ending is glorious, and many of the scenes in the middle have a visionary quality. Just be prepared for it beforehand, once you realize it’s all about endurance, the task becomes a lot easier.

— 124. At Five in the Afternoon, by Samira Makmalbaf (2004, Iran/Afghanistan)

Neo-realism reinvented in the present day. A series of episodes from a war-torn country, an attempt to understand poverty, hope in destitution,and gorgeously filmed against stunning natural beauty. Powerful, a mirror of what the developed world has done to this part of the planet.

— 125. Y Tu Mama Tambien, by Alfonso Cuaron (Mexico, 2001)

Nostaglia. And what a kiss!

— 126. Red Desert, by Michaelangelo Antonioni (Italy, 1964)

Some pretty great visuals of industrial wastelands serve as the background for this tale of modern angst.

— 127. Germany, Year Zero, by Roberto Rossellini (1948, Italy)

A brutal examination of what war does to people.

— 128. Pulp Fiction, by Quentin Tarrantino (1994, USA)

At this point it all seems cliche, but this is the cliche that made cliche cool again. And it does have a nifty way of telling a story, and the dialogue was ingenious at its time. Too bad he never recovered from this.

— 129. The Joke, by Jaromil Jiris (Czechoslovakia, 1963)

Life under real existing socialism, but funnier.

— 130. Memories of Underdevelopment, by Tomas Guttierez Alea (1968, Cuba)

Bittersweet tale of love and loss in revolutionary Cuba.

— 131. Inception, by Christopher Nolan (2010, USA)

Not as good as some of his earlier films, the fact that it still doesn’t give all it’s secrets away at the end remains a strong point.

— 132. She Killed in Ecstasy, by Jesus Franco (1971, France)

Camp perfection.

— 133. Children of Men, by Alfonso Cuaron (2006, Mexico)

Amazing cinematography, especially the war scenes, and quite good on many other levels as well.

— 134. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, by Tobi Hooper (1974, USA)

The end is absolutely terrifying, and I’m not talking about the gore.

— 135. Man Push Cart, by Ramin Bahrani (2005, USA)

How life really is for the large majority of the world. Simple, understated, well done.

— 136. Shortbus, by John Cameron Mitchell (2006, USA)

A film about bodies, loves, lives. One of the most honest portrayals of gay love on film, within a very smart examination of bodies and pleasures.

— 137. Bicycle Thieves, by Vittorio De Sica (1948, Italy)

Neo-realism at its best.

— 138. Airplane!, by Jim Abrams and David Zucker (1980, USA)

So good it hurts.

— 139. The Third Man, by Carol Reed (1949, UK)

The best Orson Welles film not made by Orson Welles!

— 140. Last Days, by Gus Van Sant (2005, USA)

Static camera can say so much.

— 142. Chinatown, by Roman Polanski (1974, USA)

Splitting, anyone?

— 143. Mysterious Skin, by Gregg Arraki (2004, USA)

Queer alienation, and with Arraki’s sure yet sparse aesthetic.

— 144. Twelve Angry Men, by Sidney Lumet (1957, USA)

Still powerful. And its all script.

— 145. La Strada, by Federico Fellini (1954, Italy)

So low budget, this film that seems to be just about clowns is about a hell of a lot more. Like a long, slow, punch in the gut.

— 146. Sansho the Baliff, by Kenji Mizogushi (1954, Japan)

A heart wrenching tale, and gorgeously filmed.

— 147. Waltz with Bashir, by Ari Folman (2008, Israel)

Animation serves as cover for a very powerful dissection of memory and trauma.

— 148. Belle de Jour, by Luis Bunuel (1967, France)

Did she really?

— 149. Reassemblage, by Trinh T. Minh-Ha (USA, 1983)

An amazing examination of what we can’t understand about others.

— 150. Ali, Fear Eats the Soul, by Werner Rainer Fassbinder (1974, Germany)

Life can be very disappointing, yet beautiful nonetheless.

— 151. The Night of the Living Dead, by George Romero (1967, USA)

A message, on many levels.

— 152. Eraserhead, by David Lynch (1976, USA)

Psychoanalysis never looked so gooey . . .

— 153. This is Spinal Tap, by Rob Reiner (1984, USA)

I can’t figure out which great line to quote here, so I’ll let you do it instead.

— 154. Scenes from a Marriage, by Ingmar Bergman (1973, Sweden)

I’m sure divorce is actually this painful. Too realistic, at times.

— 155. Cleo from 5 to 7, by Agnes Varda (France, 1957)

French new-wave musical?! Yes, please!

— 156. Aguirre, Wrath of God, by Werner Herzog (Germany, 1972)

This is what monomania looks like.

— 157. The Baby of Macon, Peter Greenaway (UK, 1993)

One of the most brutal savagings of religion and hypocrisy put to film. Baroque, violent, very disturbing.

— 158. Glengary, Glen Ross, by James Foley (1992, USA)

As a good friend of mine put it, any film with a lot of yelling like this has got to be good. And it is.

— 159. The Godfather, by Francis Ford Coppola (1970, USA)

Leave the Hollywood ending, keep the first 3/4 of the movie.

— 160. Trainspotting, by Danny Boyle (1995, UK)

Some great accents, and a damn good film about growing up. More than a gimmick.

— 161. Ran, by Akira Kurosawa (1985, Japan)

At times reaches a fever pitch of intensity, and all with great colors.

— 162. American Psycho, by Mary Harron (2000, USA)

This is what detachment looks like. Or is it?

— 163. M, by Fritz Lang (1931, Germany)

Still important, still good.

— 164. Songs from the Second Floor, by Roy Andersson (2000, Sweden)

Dark, bitter, surreal, sardonic, wry comedy about the absurdity and alienation of modern life. Every tone of grey imaginable, I’ve never seen human bodies look so, um, lumpy. Existential angst for the skeptical age.

— 165. Moon, by Duncan Jones (UK, 2008)

A film about repetition. Ostensibly a sci-fi film on the recent possible future, cloning and capitalism, but really a film about memory, hopes and dreams, and how we can tell when things repeat.

— 166. Hunger, by Steve McQueen (UK, 2008)

Bodies, naked, starving. And a story told almost wordlessly with images, until dialogue spills out of characters, only to shut up agai. Gorgeously filmed, smart, taut, trying to say something.

— 167. Sleuth, by Kenneth Brannagh (2007, USA)

Harold Pinter script, excellent acting, and only two people in the whole film! Michael Caine and Jude Law are a great pair.

— 168. My Own Private Idaho, by Gus Van Sant (1991, USA)

Personal, powerful.

— 169. Cries and Whispers, by Ingmar Bergman (1972, Sweden)

A bit over-the-top Bergman for my taste, kinda like a pastry that’s too sweet and gives you a stomach ache, gives new meaning to existential despair.

— 170. The Dark Crystal, by Jim Henson and Frank Oz (1982, USA)

Magical.

— 171. Exit Through the Gift Shop, by Banksy (UK, 2010)

A tremendously enjoyable, quirky playground of fakery, a film that deconstructs the art world, mythmaking, the history of street art, and itself as a it goes. F for Fake for the present day.

— 172. Following, by Christopher Nolan (UK, 1998)

Strong, smart precursor to Memento.

— 173. Lady Vengeance, by Park Chan-Wook (2005, South Korea)

Oldboy-lite, but still good.

— 174. My Winnipeg, by Guy Madden (2008, Canada)

Who ever thought a semi-documentary could be so much fun? Ironically retro, plays fast and loose with the very idea of history, and one of my favorite depictions of scary motherhood on screen.

— 175.  Shallow Grave, by Danny Boyle (UK 1994)

Excellent theater.

— 176. Pandorum, by Christian Alvart (2009, USA)

Much more than just a space-horror film.

— 177. Saw, by James Wan (USA, 2004)

Not much more than a horror film, but a perfect one.

— 178. The Hour of the Wolf, by Ingmar Bergman (1968, Sweden)

The low-fi goth didn’t get me, but the stuff about memory and regret did.

— 179. Chop Shop, by Ramin Bahrani (USA, 2007)

More of the same, but excellent.

— 180. The Pillow Book, by Peter Greenaway (1996, UK)

Writing on the body turns into a giant game, and topological editing!

— 181. Bladerunner (Director’s Cut), by Ridley Scott (1982, USA)

Prophetic, lots of smart issues, and damn it’s beautiful both visually and sonically.

— 182. The Squid and the Whale, by Noah Baumbach (2005, USA)

Life as it really is – banal yet true.

— 183.  Battle Royale, by Kinji Fukasaku (2000, Japan)

More than meets the eye.

— 184. The World of Apu, by Sanjayit Ray (1959, India)

A simple story of a young, twenty something with nothing to tie him down, and how he ends up slowly turning into the generation before him. Human, moving, real.

— 185. Enter the Void, Gaspar Noe (France, 2010)

Despite all the bright lights, oddly spiritual and touching. One of the best opening credits sequences of any film ever.

— 186. Easy Rider, by Dennis Hopper (US, 1969)

More than just a time capsule to the late sixties, it’s a movie with some really wonderful meditations on life, with a pretty powerful ending.

— 187. Even the Rain, by Iciar Bollain (2010, Spain/Bolivia)

A film about just how difficult it is to be ethical in a post-colonial world. Complex and powerful. Not fully sure it it wants to be Hollywood or an art film, but it’s damn affecting either way, and an incisive look at our times. Heavy handed in some parts, but has some great moments.

— 188. Starship Troopers, by Paul Verhoeven (1997, USA)

Satire, anyone?

— 189. Akira, by Katsuhiro Otomo (1988, Japan)

A film that I think many Americans misread, takes a bit of context, I think, to see what’s going on underneath the surface.

— 190. Edward II, by Derek Jarman (UK, 1992)

A queer cinema masterpiece, and an excellent post-modern reworking of Elizabethan England.

— 191. Shaun of the Dead, by Edgar Wright (2004, UK)

Yeah, it’s great, and we all know it, so let’s just admit it.

— 192. Daisies, by Vera Chytlova (Czechoslovakia, 1969)

From Czech new wave, a film of riotous colors, quirky surrealism, absurdist comedy, and Tati-like play on the restrictions society puts on us.

— 193. Natural Born Killers, by Oliver Stone (USA, 1996)

Over the top and cheezy, but sometimes it really works, and when it does, it works well.

— 194. The Royal Tennenbaums, by Wes Anderson (2001, USA)

Seems like a light comedy at first, but there’s a lot to it

— 195. Symbiopsychotaxiplasm, Take One, by William Greaves (1968, USA)

Interactive semi-documentary in which a filmmaker stages an experiment in Central Park: seeing if he can get his crew to revolt against him.

— 196. Hate, by Mattieu Kassovitz (1995, France)

Gripping social drama, wonderfully filmed, powerful story about how three young guys get caught in a web of social contradictions.

— 197. House, by Nobuhiko Obayashi (1977, Japan)

This campy cult-classic is a wonderfully absurd haunted-house film with some of the strangest special effects of the late seventies, visually wonderful, has to be seen to be believed.

— 198. Lola Montes, by Max Ophuls (1955, France)

A bit dated, but it’s convoluted narrative structure and real pathos make it still worthwhile, not to mention some wonderful visuals.

— 199. Tales of Hoffman, by Michael Powell (1951, UK)

Trippiest color film from the fifties you’ve likely never seen, definite precursor to Willy Wonka . . .

— 200. A Woman is a Woman, by Jean-Luc Godard (1962, France)

Light, fun, smart. Incredible use of sound, the French New Wave at some of its most enjoyable.

— 201. Woodstock, by Michael Wadleigh (1970, US)

More than just a great music video, you really get a sense of the passion, power, and extent of this event. Mixing documentary and musical footage, and making extensive use of split screen, it’s a great film.

— 202. The Thing, by John Carpenter (US, 1982)

A very smart horror film.

Many disclaimers: Firstly, I think it gets less accurate in terms of ordering as you go down. Secondly, I think really each 10 rankings is prob more accurate than each 1. Also, how do you balance favorite with best? Film’s that were the first to do certain things with films versus those that have staying power, to me or to others? Horror films with comedies? Art films versus sci-fi versus cult? Films that  speak to me personally, but I’m not sure about  others? Films I just enjoy versus great films? It’s an impossible task, all apples and oranges. I mean, how do you rank a film with great drama against one with terrible acting and no plot but with amazing work with color? Or a satire like Airplane! against the existential angst of Bergman? Ultimately, you just have to do it, revel in the disparity. Cause its a lot of fun to create,really makes you think in its own way, and I love to read lists like these by others, so, why not.

Ultimately, I went for films that speak to me. That hit me in the head and gut. Somewhere between favorite and best, between personal affection and semi-disinterested judgment. I think that’s the only honest way, cause the exercise is flawed in its very structure. But potentially worth it. I mean, I love reading these sorts of lists when others make them. And I take always add new films to my own list of things to see soon.

And I’ll be honest. Its skewed strongly towards US, and recent. It’s what I know. And I love em cerebral and dark and powerful and quirky. Ultimately, I kept asking myself – would I and the world (weighted at about 50/50) be worse off if this film didn’t exist? I then rated it from there . . .

Things I didn’t count – things I haven’t seen, truly short films, films that are simply guilty pleasures (and those that I did include I ranked lower than I wanted to out of affection to compensate), true documentaries, and films that you’re ‘supposed to’ include but just don’t speak to my gut. I’ll likely try to expand this list, maybe flesh it out with annotations a bit, post it on the side of the blog, rearrange it as I see more. But between now and then . . .

Ok, enjoy, and post your own!

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~ by chris on December 28, 2010.

2 Responses to “Guilty Pleasure: My List of 200 Great Films You Need to See, and Why [updated periodically]]”

  1. wow Great and long Article but
    Great Thank to Information ! Very Usealy.
    Happy new year 2011

  2. This is a great list, probably because it mirrors my own taste so much.
    The first films that I feel have shaped my interest in cinema are Blow-Up by Antonioni, and Dekalog by Kieslowski. The latter, for me, can do no wrong, and I can watch La Double Vie de Veronique over and over again without getting bored. I love Rohmer (except Maud), though in a different way.
    The Japanese film Fish Story is a recent favourite, the type of hyperbolised quirkiness they sometimes pull of so well. The only film that goes with popcorn from the ones I’ve mentioned.

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