As a lifelong movie buff, choosing my top 10 favorite films was really, really, really difficult. I gave myself some rules: no honorable mentions and I had to pick films that stand on their own, not because I love the director’s oeuvre. That means the work of several of my favorite filmmakers surprisingly didn’t make the list: Martin Scorsese, Alfred Hitchcock, Roman Polanski, Steven Spielberg, Arthur Penn, Ridley Scott, et al.
Those films that did make the list represent the ones that have in some way had the greatest influence on me. They’re also films I never tire of watching and studying.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly — My vote for the greatest western ever made, Sergio Leone’s sweeping, sprawling epic features three of the most indelible characters ever committed to celluloid, and a legendary soundtrack.
Brazil — Monty Python member Terry Gilliam is a true visionary, and this drolly dark film is perhaps his most imaginative work. At the risk of being blasphemous, I think I prefer the final U.S. cut to the European. Either version, it’s a must-see.
Blue Velvet — David Lynch struck a deal to make this if he directed Dune. He’s one hell of a shrewd negotiator. This film is funny and freaky, beautiful and brutal. Probably Dennis Hopper’s most iconic role.
Bliss (1985) — Not too many people know of or appreciate this Australian gem by Ray Lawrence, adapted from Peter Carey’s novel. It’s a delightfully surreal film where I see something new every time I view it. Give it a try.
Lawrence of Arabia — Watching the restored 70mm print of David Lean’s epic on the big screen was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Great storytelling, and gorgeous in every way. Just perfect.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest — Actor Jack Nicholson at his best, director Milos Forman at his finest, and a supporting cast of familiar faces (Danny DeVito, Christopher Lloyd, et al), I’ve met only one person in my life who told me they hated this film. We haven’t spoken since.
A Clockwork Orange — Kubrick’s still controversial, ultra violent and ultra cool window into the (near?) future features so much imagery that sticks in my brain to this day. A tour de force of style.
Aguirre, the Wrath of God — A deliberately paced spectacle from German filmmaker Werner Herzog, starring a spectacular Klaus Kinski as a Spanish conquistador going mad searching for El Dorado, this is breathtaking cinema.
Straw Dogs (1971) — Sam Peckinpah’s savage examination of the human capacity for violence, and what drives them to it, is intense, visceral filmmaking. The last 20 minutes still pack a punch. Make that several punches.
The Devils — Ken Russell’s historical tale of debauchery, hysteria, religion, and politics is a visceral exercise in dramatic storytelling presented in the director’s trademark lurid style. Try to see the restored version for most (blunt force) impact.