When I launched this site, I posted a mostly unranked list of my seventy-five favorite films. It was a good list, one that captured what I was interested in at the time. And, though my tastes haven’t change much since, I’ve decided to update and rank the list narrowing the focus even more to just fifty films. It includes many of those on the first, but a few I’ve either revisited or discovered for the first time this year. Consider those that didn’t quite make the cut this time around my #51-75.
My most revered filmmakers remain the same. Alfred Hitchcock, Abbas Kiarostami, Terrence Malick, and Yasujiro Ozu each have three. (It was painful to whittle down Kiarostami and Malick’s oeuvres unfortunately cutting Life, And Nothing More, Through the Olive Trees, Certified Copy, Badlands, and The New World.) Carl Th. Dreyer, Kenji Mizoguchi, Satyajit Ray, Eric Rohmer, Andrei Tarkovsky, and Wong Kar-wai each have two.
50) The Wind Will Carry Us (Dir. Abbas Kiarostami, Iran, 1999)
To cap off a decade of fantastic cinema, Abbas Kiarostami gave us one of his very finest with The Wind Will Carry Us – a riveting meditation on the urban/rural divide. The film’s protagonist leaves his stressful professional life as a journalist in Tehran to capture a traditional funeral ritual in a far-off village. There his patience is tested as he quickly discovers he must bend his own will to the ways of the villagers, and not the other way around. As usual Kiaromstami plays with cinematic form to trace this narrative; and as always, the story turns to one of celebrating and affirming the art of living.
49) An Autumn Afternoon (Dir. Yasujiro Ozu, Japan, 1962)
Treading familiar territory, Ozu’s final film is also fittingly one his finest in a long career of masterpieces. An Autumn Afternoon is a reworking of his earlier Late Spring, but this time around the story’s voice has shifted to that of the father losing his daughter to marriage. A few welcome subplots involving the patriarch’s other children fill out this narrative and result in one of Ozu’s finest portraits of then modern-day Tokyo life – a city grappling with major change while its inhabitants navigate the waters of tradition giving way to modernity.
48) Sherlock, Jr. (Dir. Buster Keaton, United States, 1924)
In his most entertaining and most endearing film, Buster Keaton humorously maximizes the limitations of the silent era and capitalizes on the outlandishness of his comedy by framing a good portion of the story as a dream sequence – to this day unparalleled in its influential approach. Vaudevillian tricks and puzzling editing techniques create the illusions we see on screen, and it still stuns when we see Keaton climb up on stage and walk into the screen at his local movie theatre. The comedic master may be remembered best for The General, but it’s Sherlock, Jr. that boasts the finest distillation of his best qualities.
47) The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum (Dir. Kenji Mizoguchi, Japan, 1939)
Kenji Mizoguchi’s early masterpiece is a technical wonder to behold – its endurance-testing long takes and meticulously choreographed mise-en-scène are enough to leave viewers wide-eyed. But, it’s in its remarkably mature handling of its themes of honor, familial duty, and the sacrifice of women in a fiercely patriarchal society that give The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum its lasting appeal.
46) Raise the Red Lantern (Dir. Zhang Yimou, China, 1991)
Destined for not more than the fourth wife of a wealthy landowner, Songlian is a tragic figure in Zhang Yimou’s breathtaking Raise the Red Lantern – a film that is at once a biting social critique on China’s devaluation of women, a study in the power of tradition, and a canvas for some of the most gorgeous visuals committed to film. Songlian and the other wives deceive and betray one another seeking preferential treatment and the affection of their distant husband. It’s a powerful film, but also one of great subtlety.
45) Rear Window (Dir. Alfred Hitchcock, United States, 1954)
Before Hitchcock took a dive into truly dark territory with Vertigo and Psycho, his light-hearted romance set against a neighborhood whodunit that is Rear Window revealed his unequivocal skills as a filmmaker like none of his other works before. Effectively claustrophobic and meticulously controlled, Hitchcock’s film takes place entirely within an apartment with a view of the courtyard below. That he manages to construct a rather suspenseful murder mystery within these confines (with humor and charm to boot) speaks to this legend’s vast array of talents.
44) Mulholland Drive (Dir. David Lynch, United States, 2001)
Often lauded as the last decade’s best film, David Lynch’s surrealistic tale of love and loss in Hollywood is complex, sexy, stylish, noirish, and thrilling all at once. Naomi Watts shines as both Betty and Diane, possibly split personalities or one a dream version of the other. The intrigue lies in this intentional ambiguity. Lynch offers no extra-film details to speak of, thus since its release, the Internet has been abuzz with possible solutions to the puzzle – one that will likely never be fully solved and one that is worth revisiting again and again.
43) Spring in a Small Town (Dir. Fei Mu, China, 1948)
Mainland China’s first cinematic masterpiece still resonates today. Its central conflict between bowing to tradition and pursuing personal happiness clashed with the growing Communist ideal that sought to snuff out any semblance of social individualism. But, today Fei Mu’s Spring in a Small Town is as relevant as ever as its delicate story challenges the conventions of arranged marriages versus marrying for love. But, in refusing to assign simplistic designations of protagonist or antagonist, Fei’s film is remarkably balanced as it seeks to show how one woman’s choice might affect everyone around her.
42) My Neighbor Totoro (Dir. Hayao Miyazaki, Japan, 1988)
The halcyon days of mid-century simplicity out in the Japanese countryside are alive in Miyazaki’s delightfully nostalgic My Neighbor Totoro. Devoid of easily defined villains or major plot devices, Miyazaki’s film is truly that rare film for all ages – neither beholden to children’s movie clichés nor overly serious. It’s a simple fable of rich spirituality, tender familial relationships, and the splendor of childhood imagination. It boasts some of the master’s most memorable characters in the cuddly Totoro, the mysterious soot sprites, and the grinning Catbus.
41) The Green Ray (Dir. Eric Rohmer, France, 1986)
Eric Rohmer’s The Green Ray is a wondrously subtle film of deep spirituality that beautifully chronicles the struggle of uncovering one’s identity and providing a welcome parable for finding yourself in the Christian faith. Delphine’s worry over where to spend her vacation may at first read like first world problems, but as the story unfolds it becomes more and more apparent that this central issue is merely a façade for an intense personal struggle waging war inside of her.