30) Annie Hall (Dir. Woody Allen, United States, 1977)
One could easily make a case for Woody Allen’s Annie Hall as the greatest romantic comedy of all time. Certainly it’s one of the funniest in the oft-explored genre, and it’s perhaps the most unique in its non-linear structure and avoidance of rom-com clichés. Allen’s Alvy Singer tells us at the film’s beginning that things don’t work out for the unlikely pair, but their story captivates nonetheless. In the end, we learn Annie Hall is more a cheerleader for all relationships, not just the ones that succeed. After all, most of us really do need the eggs.
29) Killer of Sheep (Dir. Charles Burnett, United States, 1978)
More a series of simple vignettes than a plot-driven film, Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep is a wondrous collection of the everyday moments of life. Shot with an extremely low budget and mostly non-professional actors, the film is a champion of neorealism as it depicts the very real lives of African-Americans living in the urban sprawl of Los Angeles. The stories are moving, the cinematography is striking, the use of pop music is impeccable, and the understated performances are spot-on. It’s a quintessential American film.
28) The Headless Woman (Dir. Lucrecia Martel, Argentina, 2008)
Lucrecia Martel’s cinema is profoundly metaphorical. And, though she has staged societal critiques in her two films prior to The Headless Woman, neither is as challengingly oblique or visually arresting as her modern masterpiece. Here Martel cloaks her critique of bourgeois privilege in the story of one woman’s mental breakdown as she deals with the guilt of possibly having accidentally killed a young boy with her car. Requiring nearly as much viewer participation as a Kiarostami film, The Headless Woman rewards multiple viewings as it reveals layers upon layers of hidden depth.
27) The 400 Blows (Dir. François Truffaut, France, 1959)
Has another film better captured the oftentimes-ignored challenges of adolescence quite like François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows? It’s quintessential French New Wave; it’s honest, realistic, never sentimental, and yet still incredibly moving. Too, it boasts a host of memorable set pieces – an aerial view of schoolboys mischievously breaking from formation as they march down Parisian streets, tears streaming down Antoine’s face as he clings to the bars of the police truck ending his life as he knows it, and, of course, that iconic freeze frame that ends Truffaut’s equally unforgettable masterpiece.
26) Psycho (Dir. Alfred Hitchcock, United States, 1960)
Still terrifying to this day, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is a perfect exercise in genuine horror – something so few films actually get. Save one legendary murder sequence and a few others smattered throughout, Hitchcock’s classic is short on gore, but heavy on bone-chilling terror. Dread lurks around every corner, and Hitchcock’s unprecedented decision to kill off his leading lady mid-film effectively subverts his audience’s expectations and leads to an uncomfortable fear that anything could happen.
25) Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (Dir. Chantal Akerman, Belgium, 1975)
Chantal Akerman’s seminal film carries a title nearly as long as its runtime. But, not a second of Jeanne Dielman’s carefully framed sequences is wasted in its three and a half hours. Akerman explores both the possibilities of cinematic time and space as its titular character moves about her apartment or around town, but in addition to its visual pleasures she also crafts an important feminist document that reveals what happens when a woman, trapped in tradition and routine, is brought to her boiling point.
24) Andrei Rublev (Dir. Andrei Tarkovsky, Soviet Union, 1966)
More than it is a historical epic to rival the cinema’s finest (though it is that too), Andrei Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev is concerned with the burden of creating. Throughout, the strength, faith, and endurance of several creators are tested time and again as each one is challenged to carry on creating despite external and internal obstacles. From its narratively opaque prologue to its stunning, brightly colored epilogue, Tarkovsky’s early masterwork is staggering in its sheer ambition and triumphant in cinematic achievements.
23) Trouble in Paradise (Dir. Ernst Lubitsch, United States, 1932)
Ernst Lubitsch’s sometimes forgotten classic is remarkably as fresh today as it was back in 1932 when it first shocked audiences with its devilish humor and witty double entendres. It still holds up for its comedy that incites laughter to this day (bolstered by three winsome lead performances), but it’s most notable now for its progressive portrayal of women – individuals in control of their own sexuality, enjoying it and never apologizing for it. For that, the influence of Trouble in Paradise is no laughing matter.
22) Days of Heaven (Dir. Terrence Malick, United States, 1978)
Days of Heaven was the beginning and (temporary) end of Terrence Malick’s fantastic, decades-spanning career as one of cinema’s finest visual contemplatives. Yes, Badlands showed signs of things to come, but it was this tale of love and deception set against the turn-of-the-century American southwest that solidified the director’s signatures: voiceover narration, wandering paper-thin narratives, and thoroughly exquisite and breathtaking imagery. People may not have been ready for Malick’s brand of filmmaking, which pushed him into twenty years of solitude, but in retrospect, Days of Heaven remains one of his best.
21) Syndromes and a Century (Dir. Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand, 2006)
Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s cinema is post-modernism at its finest – self-reflexive, structurally audacious, narratively non-linear, and never too serious to risk delighting in its own peculiarity. The apex of his fruitful career so far is Syndromes and a Century, a film that brings his penchant for exploring dualities to its logical conclusion: a story twice told. The two halves aren’t simply mirrors of one another, but rather two different versions of one story, each with unforeseen possibilities of its own. Weerasethakul’s greatest film is light on its feet, visually challenging, and open to innumerable metaphorical interpretations.