Best Movies Ever (according to me)

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  1. Um, yeah, I don't know...

  2. Persona (1966, Ingmar Bergman, Sweden)
  3. Un Chien Andalou (1929, Luis Buñuel, France)
  4. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968, Stanley Kubrick, UK)
  5. Citizen Kane (1941, Orson Welles, USA)
  6. (1963, Federico Fellini, Italy)
  7. Memento (2001, Chris Nolan, USA)

Mullholand Drive?, i've only seen 2 of these, Citizen Kane and Un Chien Andalou, both excellent movies.

Mulholland Drive is my favorite movie but it is in many ways a Lynchian post-noir remake of Persona.

Don't your favorites rate very high on a greatest movie list?

Your myspace is the best looking myspace page i've seen. It's legible! And there's no enormous background image obscuring everything. And no auto-playing music. Wow : )

Thanks. I actually spent a good hour designing my Myspace page. It is actually harder to make a good-looking Myspace page than it is to make an incredibly ugly Myspace page.

For me, my "favorite" is "the movie I most enjoy watching", whereas the "greatest" refers to "film's greatest contribution to the development of human aesthetic communication."

I definitely think Mulholland Drive is a great movie, maybe even one of the 100 Greatest. But I don't have time to formulate such a list and rewatch all the greats (and hunt down the ones I haven't seen).

How did Un Chien Andalou contribute to "…the development of human aesthetic communication."?

Lemon Mahler, I do not have the time to respond to all your recent questions.

It was an exaggeration to say that every track in TMR is brilliant and innovative. I do hope to elaborate my thoughts on TMR and other music you asked about in a podcast I'm developing.

Un Chien Andalou is a surrealist nightmare - the first and still one of the most powerful - put to film. Read up on it. Whichever reviewers are the most enthusiastic about it are the ones I agree with for now. :)

I find it intriguing that your film list seems to mirror your rock album list to a certain degree: Persona/Un Chien Andalou being Faust's film equivelant (though I think there must be something closer, perhaps something by Godard such as Weekend or his collected film series Histoire Dus Cinema, neither of which I've seen but are just guesses), 2001 = Irrlicht, perhaps the Mirror = Rock Bottom, and Battleship Potemkin = Parable of Arable Land. Perhaps this isn't your intention and it was mere coincedance but if it is your intention I agree with the logic of it. It is how I would probably go about it as well.

By the way, if you want what is probably the closest film equivelant for Rock Bottom try Murnau's silent masterpiece Sunrise, and for The Modern Dance it is most definitely Lang's Metropolis.

I'm reworking this list at the moment. It is odd but sometimes fun to compare film to music. I do love Sunrise and Metropolis. I wonder if a nice companion piece to Rock Bottom might be Dreyer's Passion of Joan of Arc.

Passion of Joan of Arc...

That's an interesting idea...I'd have to see it again to give a more educated response. I got to see it years ago in a beautiful and comfortable theatre with a live supremely talented and emotional cellist playing, which was quite an experience, making the film extra devasting and impactful. I do own it, but haven't watched it in years. From memory, I don't think it explores similar thematic material such as Sunrise or The Mirror, (unless I am missing something) but emotionally it may be fit the bill. What do you see in it that makes you say that? Did it contribute to film history in a similar way that Rock Bottom has towards rock?

That sounds great; I wish I'd seen it that way.

Joan of Arc adapts the mid-late 20s vanguard techniques to a fairly accessible narrative/filmic format, like Rock Bottom adapts late-60s, early-70s vanguard techniques to a slightly more accessible rock format.

Both are highly emotional, personal stories.

Of course, you can find lots of thematic similarities, like you can find thematic similarities between almost any two things.

Etc.

I'm just spitting about.

That would be a fun board game. "Okay, Luke, now find thematic similarities between (picks card) James Joyce's Ulysses and (picks another card) Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. You have 60 seconds. Go!"

Nice.

Yea, I can see what you're saying. I'll have to watch it again within the next week or so.

Wow, after many years away, returning to Dreyer's Passion of Joan of Arc tonight was an incredible experience. In my opinion it is easily one of the greatest films of all time. I would say it is the "Desertshore" of film, not "Rock Bottom", but I don't think we look at these things quite the same. When I compare a film to an album I am looking at the comparison emotionally (thematically isn't as important but really helps), not so much how they fit historically into their respective arts.

So for me, The Passion of Joan of Arc is the closest film equivelant of Desertshore emotionally but you may have a point there on how it compares to Rock Bottom from a historical standpoint. Thanks for influencing me to want to watch it again. It was truly astonishing. Falconetti gives probably the greatest, most devastating performance that I've ever seen on film. She is possessed! I forgot just how powerful it was, and during the film my jaw physically dropped several times. Amazing!

Glad you liked it. Actually, I like your Desertshore comparison quite a bit!

The Desertshore of films is this one

Any chance of extending this list? I'd love to see some more of your opinions on the greatest films.

I wish I had the time!

Nice additions! Meshes of the Afternoon and Sátántangó will no doubt be making my list soon.

Now that you've included a film by Deren, how do you feel towards other experimental film-makers? What is your opinion on the works by, say, Viking Eggeling, Oskar Fischinger, Norman McLaren, Stan Brakhage, Michael Snow and Peter Kubelka?

Personally I have a great interest in avant-garde cinema, though I haven't found that many people to share it with.

I haven't found much avant-garde film that I like. I've seen some Eggeling, Brakhage, and Snow and didn't like any of it. For some reason, avant-garde film does not grab me like avant-garde music... most of the time. Meshes of the Afternoon is a happy exception.

By the way, there's a big gap between #3 and #4. The top three are the Holy Trinity of film to me.

Actually, I agree with you to some extent. I too find avant-garde music more interesting.

In case you haven't seen them, here are some avant-garde shorts that I recommend:

Begone Dull Care by Norman McLaren
The Dante Quartet by Stan Brakhage
Serene Velocity by Ernie Gehr (scroll down a bit)

Unfortunately, the poor quality makes the experience of these films a lot less exhilarating. Ideally you should buy them on DVD, or, if you find the occasion, watch them on the big screen. Though I fully understand if you don't want to spend your time and money on experimental cinema...

Btw, I am currently writing a history of avant-garde cinema. I'll get back to you when I finish it and put it on the web!

Except for the quality, YouTube is a better medium for these experimental shorts than rare, expensive DVD sets. Thanks for the links!

I enjoyed the McLaren short. The counterpoint between (and among) visuals and music is one of my favorite genres of avant-garde film.

Brakhage I've just never cared for. The Gehr flick was boring.

I tend to find myself responding most to films that have living subjects and a narrative, however convoluted (Un Chien Andalou, Meshes of the Afternoon, Begotten, Lost Highway).

I look forward to your history of vanguard cinema! I can't imagine you are going to be very thorough unless you've been killing yourself for ten years.

Michael Sicinski has some interesting writings.

I think that, to some extent, I have the same "problem", meaning I prefer a narrative. Many experimental films I appreciate mostly on a theoretical level.

I first wrote a 30-page history of experimental cinema about a year ago for a project in high school (in Swedish). At the moment I am translating parts of it, as well as adding a lot more.

To be honest, I neither have the competence nor the interest to write lengthier pieces on the subject. Hopefully, this will be my first and last venture into the history of avant-garde films :-)

Oh, and thanks for the link!

No, no, no, that there Gehr flick is astonishing. Movement, man, movement.

Lukeprog I'm intruiged as to why Memento is in such a high place on this list. I personally feel the film is fantastic and it's definitely one of my favourites though I haven't seen enough of the classics to judge as well as you. You have seen so many films from different eras and styles I was just wondering what you felt placed it among more critically acclaimed well-known greats such as Citizen Kane & 2001.

Right. I've seen nearly all of the best films from every genre, country, and era. And Memento is one of the absolute greatest. It can be ranked among the masterpieces of every art form - Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, Kafka's The Metamorphosis, Van Gogh's Starry Night.

What makes a great film?

A great film not only writes a new language for cinema, but also it uses that new language in ways that are technically, cinematically, narratively, emotionally, and even scientifically powerful.

A great film also makes each of its special elements relevant to each other, so that the film gets caught in a kind of positive feedback loop that continuously escalates its greatness.

Now let me explain myself.

Many films invent a new language but do not do much with this new language: The Great Train Robbery (1903), Entr'acte, Berlin: Symphony of a Great City, Mothlight. Some invent a new language but falter: Intolerance, Earth, Rome, Open City, Time Code. Some invent a new language and are very great but not quite top 10: The Last Laugh, Breathless, Pulp Fiction.

Some innovative films are effective technically, cinematically and emotionally, but not narratively: Sunrise. Some are effective cinematically and narratively, but not emotionally: Last Year at Marienbad. Some are effective narratively, emotionally, and scientifically, but not technically or cinematically: Primer.

Some really great films are innovative and effective in almost all of these areas. I've listed them above. Take a look at other masterpieces and you will find several of these elements "just average": Vertigo, The Rules of the Game, The Godfather, The Searchers, The Seven Samurai, Tokyo Story, Singin' in the Rain, The Battleship Potemkin, Lawrence of Arabia, L'Atalante, Bicycle Thieves, etc.

I'll get to Memento in a moment.

But first, I also said a great film makes all its elements stylistically relevant to each other. Some examples:

- "Bullet time" in The Matrix is not just a technology gimmick - it relates to this story about a virtual simulation world like it would in no other series ever made.
- The single long take of Russian Ark is a technology gimmick that bears no relevance to the plot or setting. On the other hand, the long takes of Sátántangó reflect the slowness of life in rural Hungary. The long, eventless shots in Gerry subject the viewer to the characters' torturously unending escape from the empty desert.
- Everything about Sin City is unreal, oozing, gritty pulp: the story, the dialogue, the cinematography, the after-effects, and the shooting environment.
- The sets in Rashomon are few and simple, just as our memory often simplifies or forgets the surroundings of a scene. The characters are lit with what Robert Altman calls "dappled" light, which causes further ambiguity (again, like memory). And of course the film is told and shot as a confusing and often ambiguous mess, like memory, even to the point of showing a flashback within a flashback.

Compare these examples to a few "masterpieces" that don't maximize their effect so well. The Rules of the Game could have benefited from some filmic techniques invented for Playtime, given the excess and playfulness of its characters. Taxi Driver could've benefited from the stylings of Requiem for a Dream. Etc. I don't fault these films for not being 30 years ahead of their time, but rather applaud Memento and the others I list above for having invented new languages for film on several levels in ways that complement each other.

Now, Memento. I won't do an in-depth analysis. (Though, each of these films deserves it. John Ivan Simon wrote a good one for Persona.)

Memento tells the story of Leonard, who has a (scientifically accurate portrayl of) anterograde amnesia, a fresh story that fits perfectly with:

- the entire film being played in backward chronology
- a brilliant inversion of the find-the-killer mystery plot
- every scene presenting us with obvious clues, except that we are as helpless as Leonard because the film is playing backward. We want to take notes, as Leonard does on his body.
- the 5-minute length of each scene, which is the length of Leonard's memory
- its theme of revenge, which cannot satiate or solve the problem (especially since Leonard cannot even remember his revenge)
- its rough editing, that also alternates color with b&w (each of which, you'll notice, has a distinct musical score)

The film chronology and the screenplay are so revolutionary and perfectly executed, they alone launch this film past most lesser masterpieces like Lawrence of Arabia or Bicycle Thieves. But watch it again and you will continue to find it a film of great narrative and philosophical depth.

Memento makes my short list because it succeeds in every area, while so many other awesome films aren't quite as revolutionary or effective in certain areas.

(And now you know why I don't write movie or music reviews, even though I love both. I can't write worth shit.)

Thanks so much for taking the time to write that and explaining it, I agree with you on Memento being a fantastic film, though I can't really judge as I haven't seen enough classics (though I'm trying! lol). In fact, I thought that review was really helpful and interesting to read, it'd be a pleasure to read your thoughts on your other top films. I saw Lawrence of Arabia last night and it had a really profound effect on me, where would you place that if you did extend this list?

Top 1000, probably. It's a good film, but has unjustified name recognition. A couple films each year are basically just as good.

Ahh ok cool, I guess I just need to see more to put it into context then. Given time do you think you would ever add reviews to this list?

More likely, you will watch all the films I have and come to a totally different conclusion!

Eh, I haven't been in a reviews mood for years. We'll see. :)

Have you seen the following?
Céline et Julie vont du Bateau by Jacques Rievette
F for Fake by Orson Welles

If so, what do you think of them?

The Rivette is the biggest single hole in my viewing history.

The Welles was great; very engaging and special. If I had friends who cared about good movies, I'd show it to them right away so they could discover that Welles was not just Citizen Kane and Touch of Evil.

Hey lukeprog!

Sorry for asking a similar question to my last one but having just seen Un Chien Andalou (which was a unique and surreal experience) I am curious as to why you feel this 16 minute film, which as far as I can see has no conceivable plot (not to say plot is the most important thing in a film by any means) is so great? This is not a dig at you, I am just genuinely interested as to why people feel it is a masterpiece. Personally at this stage I am refusing to pass judgement on it as I know my mind will change with later views anyway.

Un Chien Andalou was a massive turning point in cinema. Maybe the most massive ever.

Watch every film you can get your hands on before Un Chien Andalou and you won't find anything remotely like it. This is more true of Un Chien Andalou than of any other film I can think of.

"Surrealism" before Un Chien Andalou usually meant silly experiments of editing and superimposition. A skyscraper skyline flipped up-side-down and superimposed on a camera planted on top of a driving car. That kind of thing.

This is the case even if we look at the most "important" surrealist films before Un Chien Andalou: Entr'acte and The Seashell and the Clergyman.

Entr'acte basically runs through a list of new camera techniques: slow motion, backwards motion, shooting a ballet dancer from beneath, blah blah blah.

The Seashell and the Clergyman is better, but still boring and empty. The lustful clergyman's black coattails grow longer as he walks, which supposedly symbolizes the growing weight of his unChristian thoughts. Okay. And it can't resist the superimposition gimmick: a scene towards the end shows the priest's face gradually covered up by images of broken glass, water, and a pile of trash.

Then in 1929, Un Chien Andalou ripped the face off of everything we knew about cinematic art.

Nothing in Bunuel's film means anything. There is no plot. The chronology makes no sense. The images mean nothing, unless one uses them to psychoanalyze Bunuel and Dali.

Rather, it is a dream-like (nightmare-like) sequence of free association scenarios of such shocking intensity, originality, and emotion that one might spend a lifetime extracting symbolism from it!

In that way, it is a movie that gives you something new every time you watch it, and it is easily the first to do so in the history of cinema. For me, Un Chien Andalou is a milestone in the development of film as a serious art, capable of so much in its own unique way (the temporal juxtaposition of framed images).

I am forever indebted to Un Chien Andalou for making the impossible possible in such a frightening, emotional, ingenious, passionate, holistic, and maddening way.

I've watched it a dozen times and still enjoy it.

Its rock music parallel is certainly Faust by Faust.

Thanks for taking the time to write that, once again it was very insightful to read. I felt the highlight of Un Chien Andalou was the transition between the cloud over the moon and the knife on the eye, it was brilliant.

I can certainly identify with your comparison of it to Faust - Faust, oddly enough I listened to it almost straight after seeing Un Chien Andalou. They both have a profound experimental approach to the message and emotion they convey, and both do provide a very intense experience.

I'm attempting to track down L'Âge d'or as it is another surrealist piece made by the Dali & Bunuel. Is it anywhere as good as Un Chien Andalou?

It's quite good, just later and longer and less compressed.

Just my opinion, but while I think the stylistic comparison to Faust is very clear with Un Chien Andalou, I don't find it nearly as powerful. By comparison I find Andalou too timid and not nearly explosive enough. Faust seems like it is constantly building skyward into some gargantuan monolith of shape-shifting, disintegrating apocolypse. To me (and maybe I just need to see it a few more times) Un Chien Andalou seems to be passing by. Startling, yes, but by comparison it seems anti-climactic, failing to build the same degree of overwhelming emotional significance (but that doesn't mean it's a failure. It's unfair to compare pretty much any work of art to Faust).

Having just watched Un Chien Andalou again, I agree with you, but I feel that Un Chien Andalou isn't about emotion, it's about distorted reality, deep-seated fantasies, surrealism and the meshing together of these themes in one inexplicable fascinating piece of film. Faust for me is (like you said) an apocalyptic vision, just bursting with emotion, a horrific journey through a destroyed landscape. It is much more focused on content and what the content means, rather than form - which is what Un Chien Andalou is all about. The latter is an experiment to how cinema can be presented, while Faust is much more about emotional intensity.

I agree with you. ( :

Anybody have any ideas on what the film parallel/equivelant to Suicide might be?

Taxi Driver is the most obvious, but I want something superior, more emotional.

Also, any help on these others? I'll include my thoughts, if I have any, to the right in parenthesis:

-Twin Infinitives-Royal Trux (don't say Eraserhead. It would have to be Eraserhead times 10)

-Y-Pop Group (Raging Bull is the closest I've found to it's relentlessness and psychological devastation, but is there a masterful war film that truly matches it's avant-garde/freeish forms and intensity? Underground by Kusturica is a great choice but I'd prefer something else)

-Nail-Foetus (???? It probably doesn't exist. Perhaps if The Road Warrior were delivered at twice the intensity, anxiety and desperation...)

-Blonde On Blonde-Bob Dylan (So far I've settled with The Godfather Part 2 just because it is a "double" film, it's epic and successfully overwhelming, sad and in-depth and poetic in a sense, but there are possibly more accurate choices out there. La Dolce Vita perhaps? It touches on much of Blonde On Blonde's recklessness, moodswings and meditations on love, but it may be a bit too hollow...I don't know...)

-Lullaby Land-Vampire Rodents (wtf? maybe Lukeprog can help with this one. The Kingdom by Von Trier? Murnau's Faust isn't a bad choice)

-Well Oiled-Hash Jar Tempo (good luck...)

-Uncle Meat-Frank Zappa (It would have to be an insane, seemingly pointless avant-garde film that is flippant while blending numerous genres and emotions...or something like that...like The Holy Mountain only if it had ended with 30 or so minutes of everything around being crushed and exploding)

-Yerself Is Steam (no idea...)

-The Ascension (It's hard to find a film with so little personality yet so straightforwardly intense, structurally organized and unrelentingly, climactically powerful.)

It's a fun game, isn't it?

Nail -> Begotten?
Blonde on Blonde -> Days of Heaven?
Lullaby Land -> pffffff...

Hmmm, never seen Begotten but it sounds like I should check it out, and Days of Heaven is more Astral Weeks to me.

If Suicide were a film, it would probably be Combat Shock.

The first film that comes to mind for Twin Infinitives is Robert Frank's Cocksucker Blues, with all the positives and negatives that implies.

Also, it's probably cheating to pair Nail with Richard Kern's The Manhattan Love Suicides, but there it is.

Lastly: I haven't heard it, but your description of The Ascension sounds like pretty much anything Bresson made. Especially The Trial of Joan of Arc. Or, barring that, Reygadas's Silent Light.

A documentary? John Waters comes to my mind for Twin Infinitives.

To Cosgrove and Lukeprog:

I haven't seen any of those so thanks for the suggestions!

Persona floored me tonight. My God it did. I can see why you consider it the greatest film of all time now. Wow.

Glad you liked it! I could probably watch that one once a year and still be fascinated by it.

I agree. A strange, fascinating film of enigmatic psychological complexity.

Just out of curiosity Luke, how do these rate on a numerical scale? You rate your 07 numerically and I was wondering how they compared.
Also, does the number scale you use for music directly correlate with the film one, or is it different because they are two different aesthetic forms?

I suppose it might be something like:

9.8 Persona (1966, Ingmar Bergman, Sweden)
9.7 Un Chien Andalou (1929, Luis Buñuel, France)
9.7 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968, Stanley Kubrick, UK)
9.3 Citizen Kane (1941, Orson Welles, USA)
9.1 8½ (1963, Federico Fellini, Italy)
8.9 The Mirror (1975, Andrei Tarkovsky, Russia)
8.8 Meshes of the Afternoon (1943, Maya Deren, USA)
8.8 Memento (2001, Chris Nolan, USA)
8.7 Sátántangó (1994, Béla Tarr, Hungary)

I suppose it would roughly correlate to my music ratings, yeah. For example, there hasn't been a rock album this decade as good as Memento.

But who knows. The numbers are very imprecise. This is art we're talking about. :-)

Ahh that helps, it's also interesting to note that even though Sátántangó is just eight places below Persona it's 1.1 lower than it. What is your opinion on Wild Strawberries by the way? I recently acquired it was wondering what you thought about it.

It's been several years but I remember thinking Wild Strawberries was not overrated.

Who are your favourite directors?

Kubrick.

After that, I'd need to narrow it down by genre or era.

I agree, but that's probably only because I've not seen enough of other directors. Bergman & Fellini look promising though. Hitchcock is also awesome.

Lukeprog, is that commentary track you recorded on Persona still somewhere on the Internet? I've always wanted to listen to it, even more so now that I rewatched the film. If it still accurately represents what you think about the film, I'd love a link to it. Thanks.

Here is the link.

I relistened to some of it and I hate how dull I sound, but the commentary does still reflect some of my thoughts on the film. But Persona is so dense that in almost every scene I could have spoken about 20 different things and I could only choose one.

Would this be your first fan commentary?

I'm not too embarrassed by my Persona commentary, but your hours would be better spent listening to Flak Magazine's Mulholland Drive commentary, or reading John Ivan Simon's book on Bergman.

Thanks! It would be my first fan commentary. I actually tend to listen to commentaries on movies extremely rarely because I generally tend to think my time could be better spent just watching different movies, plus I think few commentaries can maintain my interest the whole way through the film. I thought yours might be different through for three reasons: Persona is a relatively short film, it almost screams out to be interpreted, and you're an interesting and insightful person.

I'll probably pass on the commentary on Mulholland Drive because I've already read some good interpretations of it, enough to say that I think I get the film, and don't really feel like investing the time unless you think the commentary will really open my eyes to a lot of things I didn't even realize about the movie. The Bergman book sounds interesting though. Did it inform your commentary, or did you read it after the fact?

Yup, I don't listen to commentaries for the same reason. If you already get Mulholland Dr., I suppose the Flak Magazine commentary won't be as interesting.

The Bergman book was great, and certainly informed me on some of the possibilities for Persona. I skim-read the rest of the book and focused on the chapter for Persona.

pianoshootis has listed Persona as the greatest film ever, too, so I asked him about it and he recommended the John Ivan Simon.

I do wish you'd expand this a little. Whenever I rate a movie I head to your archives to check if you've seen it (usually you have, and usually we agree). In any case, I'd personally like to see more of your top picks!

That's very flattering, but I'd have to rewatch hundreds of movies to expand beyond this and I simply don't have the time! I recommend you check your opinions against much better critics. :)

Well, hopefully you'll change your mind eventually as I doubt you'll re-watch all those films anytime soon. Any film critics/websites you can recommend?

If you try a wide variety, you'll get good results:

Michael Sicinski, Roger Ebert, Sight & Sound, these lists, John Ivan Simon, Manohla Dargis, David Thomson.

Usually I don't spew my opinions as facts at other peoples lists, but I just can't help it right now.

Tarkovsky's Nostalghia must must must be added to this list. Anything less than the #1 position is unacceptable!

Sincerely,
The Thought Police

Forgive me ( :

WHAT!? You're wrong! Metropolis is #1!!!

Hey Luke, I know you're busy but any chance you'll join my "Greatest Films" Poll?

I for one am very interested in your point of view...and I'm sure others are too