The Populist Art House Top 150!
Lat year I got a ways into my Top 150 Movies of All Time…and then my hard drive crashed and I lost the list. So I had to remake it, which of course led to a rethinking of some choices and some alterations, but now I’m ready to give it another go. So starting from scratch, here’s the Populist Art House Top 150!
Note: This is a list of the best films that I have seen, in alphabetical order. I’ve seen every film on this list, but there are certainly many great film’s that I haven’t come across yet, and many more than are worth reconsidering. I chose to do 150 instead of 100 because I felt that allowed me to present a more panoramic picture of how I view cinema as a whole, and make room for some great films that might have been squeezed out on a shorter list, yet which I believe deserve recognition. These are all great films to me, but if you see any glaring omissions or want to debate some inclusions, feel free!
The 400 Blows
Francois Truffant took the cinema knowledge he’d honed through criticism and applied it to this striking journey through the wilderness of youth. Truffant went on to an illustrious career (Shoot the Piano Player, Jules and Jim), and his New Wave techniques would influence a generation of filmmakers, but he would never surpass the artistic heights he reached here.
2001: A Space Odyssey
At once impenetrably complex and disarmingly simplistic, Stanley Kubric’s 2001 explored how humanity deals with its technological leaps forward. As it turns out, we don’t deal with them very well. Stunning visual effects and an unnerving since of isolation appealed to audiences even if they were lost by the narrative, but this is one of science fiction’s most profound meditations of the march of our species through time.
Aguirre, The Wrath of God
An insane rush of a film as only the director/actor combo of Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski could create, this journey of a glory-hungry conquistador threw convention to the wind and ended up as something oddly moving. The volatile real-life friendship between the two men gives their film the feel of two competing bits of genius finding mad harmony together, monkeys and all.
A. I.: Artificial Intelligence
Perhaps Spielberg’s most profound achievement, this science fiction fable is also his most misunderstood and under appreciated. Stylistically and thematically, it’s much less about Spielberg wrestling Stanley Kubrick (the originator of the project before his death) than Spielberg wrestling with himself, trying to find a place for his trademark optimism and childlike wonder in his changing vision of humanity, a vision with some heavy anxieties about who we are, and where we are going.
By transporting gothic horror to the depths of space, Ridley Scott solved the question plaguing most haunted house stories: why don’t they just leave the house? Here there is nowhere to go, and with the help of stunning art design by H. R. Geiger, this space vessel becomes a floating tomb where our worst fears of bodily invasion are brought to terrifying life.
All Quiet on the Western Front
All these years later, it’s still one of the most powerful anti-war movies ever made, painting a brutal landscape of blood and mud and death that drains war of its heroic trappings and leaves it a disgusting waste of bright young souls. That final scene, with Lew Ayers’ hand reaching out for a nearby butterfly, has lost none of its devastating power.
The conventions of the modern Hollywood comedy were barely in place when Woody Allen ripped them all to shreds. In following the process of two intelligent people trying to come to grips with the unintelligent faculties of love, we are left as puzzled as the characters by the warring factions of logic and passion, and somehow made more optimistic by the journey.
The rare example of a film trying so damn hard to be great and actually succeeding, it survives its own bloated sense of self-importance by reveling in the madness of both the process used to create it and the conflict it portrays. Plagued by all manner of calamity as he directed the film, Francis Ford Coppola defied the gods and gave us a surreal nightmare of war that can be applied to most any instance of man’s great folly.
The Apu Trilogy
One of the most lyrical musings on the human condition ever committed to film, this trio of films from Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray prizes relevant imagery above words, from the interminable flow of a river to the silent communication between two young lovers. In doing so it creates a portrait of maturation and love capable of affecting anyone in the world, in any era. A masterpiece of restraint and grace.