My Favorite Movies of All Time, circa age 30 – #90-81

90. Rushmore (Wes Anderson, 1998, USA)

As a Wes Anderson apologist, I strongly feel this movie is the best argument against the idea his fussy style is shallow. It helps that his deliberately lateral tableaux approach is applied here against earthy grounded real-world environments, but it also confesses all the hyper-control comes from a vulnerable kid who needs to grow up and learn the world is bigger than his head. Might be a tiny bit personal to me having first seen it at the exact age where that was a life lesson I had to learn and cope with. Also the soundtrack is just so cool.

89. A Trip to the Moon (Georges Méliès, 1902, France)

I had a chance to see Neil DeGrasse Tyson speak in person once and the subject of his choice was not a specific celestial object or phenomenon but was Vincent van Gogh’s masterpiece painting Starry Night as an example of how people view the skies. There’s a much too short amount of space movies on this list unfortunately (including the absence of the most obvious cinephile choice, which was one of the last removals I had to make to fit this in 101), but this seems like the quintessential idea of artistry fancily imagining what objects are up there. None of this is based in plausibility but every bit of it feels real somehow, bringing the fantasy and magic directly to us and declaring you exist in the same world as this. Personal weird note: I can’t think of this movie without also having “Tonight, Tonight” by The Smashing Pumpkins playing in my head, one of my favorite songs ever, and so the sense of adventure in my soul is activated with either work.

88. Nosferatu, A Symphony of Horror (F.W. Murnau, 1922, Germany)

Can you imagine a world without this movie? Shudder to think. Fortunately, in its most complete form, this ends up making me shudder on its own merits: the grotesque designs on Max Shreck’s face amplified by his slow deliberate movements like a creature acting as a man, the nightmare atmosphere drawing out shadows in the otherwise realist location shooting (it’s curious how this is considered an exemplar of the Expressionist movement while eschewing the angular artificial sets that define its visuals). Taken from the text of the quintessential vampire story (to the point of the movie’s peril), Murnau arranged a sense of cinematic horror when the genre was barely defined in the medium and that is the act of a master of the moving image.

87. The Crowd (King Vidor, 1928, USA)

Yet another master of the moving image (but I’m biased and believe all the silent era masters are so…), this time emphasis on being emotionally moving. In an era that lent itself to broad performance styles directed towards the universal soul, this doesn’t stand away from that approach but it does feel a lot more clear-eyed and realist about the couple it lands its eye on, the profundity of their lives’ ups and downs together, and their extremely small place in the greater scheme of a world of stories as complex as theirs. The latter point is stressed by the tremendous representation of the city as a general set of lines and geometry, dwarfing the central drama within its cells of one moving city where everybody can find success or tragedy. Jean-Luc Godard called Au Hasard Balthazar “the world in 90 minutes”, this is “the city in 98 minutes”.

86. Viridiana (Luis Buñuel, 1961, Spain)

In a career full of relentless stinker shots to all sorts of powerful institutions, this feels like the most electric and outrageous. Its swings are nasty, the result of its fearless appropriation of contemporary images and gluttony for targets without feeling unfocused one bit. Indeed, the central anchor of men in power and Catholicism are never being spared no matter where Buñuel sets his sights. But it’s the shameless perversity at hand and cruel sense of humor that gives Viridiana its edge most at the hands of one of cinema’s greatest satirists. It’s also probably what ensured this would be the last film he could make in his home country, but nobody ever mistook Francisco Franco of taking criticism well.

85. The Three Colors trilogy (Krzysztof Kieślowski, 1993-’94, France/Poland/Switzerland)

The first of my several “cheat by giving a whole-ass trilogy or duo one spot” entries (heck, another one is coming up on this post). Certainly all three films are distinguishable by their style and tone (the chilly funereal Blue, the drily comic White, the distant but comradely Red) and masterpieces on separate levels so it’d be tough to summarize what I love about them in a singular summary. But there’s no denying the films’ conversation with each other as individual heightened human dramas maps onto the social observation Kieślowski is making towards the relationship between the European nations this is set in. But they also combine into a survey of the moral order of the universe, giving us a compulsory sense of how we as people live with one another, whether we try to fight the fact or embrace it.

84. Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978, USA)

Part of this is a silly exercise: there is no consistency on the color timing of the film’s day-night dichotomy through its multiple home video releases. And they all look beautiful, any version of this features the images in horror cinema that I consider to be the most elemental in conveying dread and menace. John Carpenter and Dean Cundey use only the essentials to craft a lean experience in encountering a random force of evil and it’s resulted in the crown jewel of their career.

83. Battleship Potemkin (Sergei Eisenstein, 1925, Soviet Union)

Of all the entries on my list, this one feels the most obligatory: as somebody who considers editing to be where the film is made, it would only be expected to have the movie that most codified how narrative cinema is constructed and arranged. But the fact is that Battleship Potemkin doesn’t get to that spot without being as watchable as it is, propaganda in that it is a compelling and succinct portrayal of one of the great acts of revolution. So good, most cuts are just trying to catch up.

82. The Wicker Man (Robin Hardy, 1973, UK)

A whole lot of tensions that stuck around in my brain ever since I watched this as a high schooler: certainly many literal within the central characters’ representation of conservativism vs. freedom without clocking a good or evil in there. Introduced me to my interest in folk music and probably planted the seeds early for my vehement rejection of organized religion by the time I entered college. Putting aside my personal response to the film, it magnificently uses rustic pleasantries as a source of never-ending unease, the music gives it a dreamy haze that matches the soft visuals, and this stands with Planet of the Apes as a movie where the first thing anyone knows about it is its ending and yet the journey never fails to disarm one enough to take a blow to the gut once we get to those final moments.

81. Die Nibelungen (Fritz Lang, 1924, Weimar Republic)

Metropolis is the best remembered work of visual world-building in Lang’s career and I don’t want to imply that the achievement of Metropolis‘ set designs is not intimidating and one of the great feats of cinema. But the pair of films he released as parts to the Die Nibelungen story is, carving an entire mythic fantasy out of stone and fire and forest and making that the overwhelming backdrop to an arch tragedy befitting of this source material’s famous opera adaptation. And even in all the arresting bombast, it has such an enthusiasm for its theatrics that one of the goofiest movie dragons ends up among the most charming parts of this duology.


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