20. 8 ½ (Fellini. 1963)
Fellini’s Academy Award winning, semi-autobiographical account of a hotshot director with severe writers’ block has long been considered one of the finest films ever made. For many content-creators, the film is a reminder of the pressures to make reflective art while under heavy scrutiny. Some, like I, relate to Guido’s mental chaos and his struggles to remain honest and genuine to himself. Fellini had made 7 ½ films before this ambitious undertaking (hence the name 8 1/2), and while the film is certainly avant-garde, dream-woven madness, it is also jubilant in its ending tone. No director has come close (with Maya Deren and David Lynch as possible exceptions) to replicating dreams quite like Fellini does in this masterpiece.
19. WR: Mysteries of the Organism (Makavejev. 1971)
I do not know if there is a single person on the planet who could properly explain the plot of Dušan Makavejev’s 1971 half documentary/half dark comedy. WR begins with a docu-style focus on the controversial career of psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich (worth looking up), and then snowballs into an absurdly wonderful takedown of Soviet communism. A Serbian woman seduces an ice skater who is representative of Stalin (the character shares the dictator’s first and middle name), class oppression, and suppressed sexuality. Unable to relax long enough to fully allow himself to enjoy his sexual freedom - the skater’s lust quickly turns into shame-induced rage. Spoiler - he cuts the lady’s head off with an ice skate. That’s not even the craziest part! An interesting, expressive film that questions the West’s influence on true communism, and got its director convicted of “derision towards the state” and subsequently banished from his home nation - WR delivers one of the strangest experiences in all of cinema.
18. Watership Down (Rosen. 1978)
Watership Down is, to me, the finest book to film animated adaptation of all time. The film follows the story of a group of rabbits who risk everything they have to escape dystopia and find a peaceful home. Based on the astounding Richard Adams novel of the same name, Watership Down utilizes beautiful hand-drawn animation that exemplifies an overall eerie tone. It is easy to see that Adams was a fan of the expressionist art movement, as moods and feelings are often called upon through radical backgrounds and slightly distorted animation. The film does more with color, music, and mood than it does with an overall story - something that Adams must have been very aware of while meticulously crafting his passion-project. While Adams’ love for the source material helps make the film an excellent watch, the best thing about Watership Down remains the characters and how they develop. And how you grow attached. *Tear*
17. Hausu (Obayashi. 1977)
I have written about this film all over the internet, but I will not rest until the rest of the world has seen this movie. House is insane. Everything about it is nuts. In fact, after the script was green-lit it still took two years to start filming because no director at Toho Production Company wanted their name associated with this weird little nugget of a movie. Eventually they let the screenwriter himself, Nobuhiko Obayashi, direct his vision. What you get is an acid-trip of a movie with man-eating pianos, ass-biting disembodied heads, and special effects that are hard to compare to anything else available. I would not call this horror film scary, per se, but it is surreal enough to be a truly visceral experience. House is a seemingly (but apparently not) drug-induced fever dream that is as captivating as it is outright strange. One of the most unique motion pictures ever made - it is a film that should be watched at every Halloween - or anytime, really.
16. Suspiria (Argento. 1977)
Long story short, Italian horror is probably my favorite. Nobody encapsulates the absurdities of Italian horror quite like Dario Argento - his style being one of the best known and most replicated in all of movie-making. While perhaps the most inadvertently dated film on this list, everything about Suspiria is vibrant and fun. The ballet school in which the action takes place features a twisted set design that immediately reminds a viewer of the monumental sets in the classic, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Argento does everything well in Suspiria, and that has helped catapult the film to cult classic status. The score chimes throughout the action like a demented music box, and the colors are so incredibly animated that even the blood looks stylized. Classic Argento.
15. Seven Chances (Keaton. 1925)
The token and only silent film on this list is a revolutionary physical comedy from the mind of the legendary Buster Keaton. Like in all of his films, Keaton performs his own stunts - which is mind boggling considering the epic and famous chase scenes that take place. The film is centered on a single-joke premise - Keaton’s character has until 7pm that night to get married or he misses out on a seven million dollar inheritance from his deceased grandfather. While the plot is simple, the action is far from it. Just look at Keaton as he runs from the wave of brides who meet him at the chapel to get married. Once the brides are gone - Keaton outruns an avalanche with side-splitting physical comedic timing. According to legend, Keaton was once asked how he managed to do all of his stunts without getting hurt. In response the great silent actor turned around, lifted his shirt, and proceeded to brag about each scar and bruise. Keaton lived for physical comedy, and Seven Chances is a short, hilarious jaunt that features some of Keaton’s most dazzling stunts.
14. Dogtooth (Lanthimos. 2009)
I would not go as far as to say that I enjoyed Lanthimos’ Academy Award nominated masterpiece, because I do not think it is a very enjoyable film. Rather, Dogtooth is one of those movies that is a challenge to finish all the way through. While it is not exactly Salo-esque, some scenes are so emotionally charged and taboo that simply getting through the runtime can be considered an accomplishment. The film revolves around three children who are kept on a compound by their over-protective parents. These poor children are told horrible lies about the dangers of the world by their parents - who have convinced the children that they cannot leave their home until one of their dogteeth falls out. While graphic in its depiction of sexuality, the film also features a subtle color palette and astounding cinematography that help create an overall nightmarish tone. Not a date movie in the slightest, Dogtooth is a weird one. You’ve been warned.
13. Citizen Kane (Welles. 1942)
There is not much of a point in writing about Orson Welles’ greatest accomplishment, the monumental Citizen Kane. The film changed everything - including often being credited as the film that invented modern cinematography. The scene-setting in this film was different than anything that was being made in the early 1940’s, with some of the more breathtaking shots, like the mirror sequence, remaining influential to this day. Welles gives the best acting performance of his great career as the William Randolph Hearst-inspired Charles Foster Kane. The makeup in the film is incredibly impressive considering that a young Orson Welles not only plays Kane in his younger age, but also as a senior citizen. The major reveal at the end of the film was ruined for me at a young age thanks to a Citizen Kane themed episode of a Ghostbusters cartoon series, but the entire “Rosebud” plot point eventually fades behind the story of an obviously brilliant, but also troubled tycoon. I love the flashback sequences and how they flow perfectly with the other scenes. Things become cliché usually because they are great. Citizen Kane fits that bill perfectly.
12. Weekend (Godard. 1967)
Jean Luc-Godard is the director on this list that would probably care the least about being on a list. Either way, he is the only director who appears on this list twice. Weekend is a witty, pessimistic, tour de force of brutality, dark comedy, and literary allusions. The film follows a bourgeois couple who take a road trip across the French countryside in order to collect an inheritance. They quickly run into a traffic jam consisting of horrible wrecks, abstract images, and vibrant colors. The best known shot in maybe Godard’s entire career is when he takes his camera and slowly pans from right to left through the wreckage of the traffic jam. This shot is meant to represent society turned backwards as commercialism and materialism take over everyday life. Weekend serves as one of Godard’s funniest films, but also his sharpest satirical takedown of Western culture. It is his last film before his graduation into truly radical filmmaking, and you can see the seeds of his later career beginning to grow in this cutting work of art.
11. Clueless (Heckerling. 1995)
Amy Heckerling had her first major hit in the early 80s with Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and while that movie is a classic in its own right, she did not reach master-status until the release of 1995’s Beverly Hills teenage romp, Clueless. The quintessential high school film with a self-aware, ironic twist - Clueless contains hilarious dialogue, memorable characters, and fantastic young actors. Alicia Silverstone is at her best while winking at the camera in a role that allows her to be in on the joke, and Paul Rudd is as charming as usual as Silverstone’s older step-brother. The film also introduced the world to Brittany Murphey in the best role of her tragically short career. What makes Clueless different is that the characters almost seem to know that they are satirizing themselves. Some of the lines ooze with self-awareness ("She’s my best friend because we both know what it is to have people be jealous of us"), and while you may want to hate these teenagers, you also notice that they have the right intentions at heart. While the fashion, dialogue, and [amazing] soundtrack come off as dated in 2017, anyone who is a fan of satire or irony can enjoy Clueless. It is hardly just for teenage girls, as if!