LIFE CHANGINGLY GREAT:
A Brighter Summer Day (Edward Yang, 1986)
Coming of age in Taiwan in the 60s. Rebel Without A Cause as imagined by Wim Wenders, when he was on his game. Humane and epic. Even better than Yang's also-great Yi Yi.
Elephant (Alan Clarke, 1988)
Utterly mesmerizing series of short scenes about violence in Northern Ireland. The best tracking shots in the history of cinema. Bleak subject, exhilarating art.
Los Olvidados (Bunuel, 1952)
Youth gangs in Mexico City. Collective fever dreams of family and loss. The producers wanted an expose in the neo-realist style and instead got this tough and strange tone poem about the dispossessed.
Spirit of the Beehive (Victor Erice, 1973)
Franco's Spain during WWII. About surviving in a repressive society, the unusual workings of our memory, watching Frankenstein as a young girl, and the type of people who hide out in abandoned wells. A visionary work.
Battle Royale (Kenji Fujisaka, 2002)
Unruly students put on an island and ordered to kill one another. The winner gets to live. Gripping and also quite melancholy. Caused protests and pickets when it played one show at BAM.
Blood for Dracula (Paul Morrissey, 1974)
Udo Kier as the Count, who can't find any wirgins to satisfy his wud lust. Lush and baroque visuals. The unique tone veers between scary and laugh-out-loud hilarious. Pretty much genius.
In A Year of 13 Moons (Fassbinder, 1978)
Transvestite looking for love. Operatic cri de couer and tour of Berlin underworld, made by Fassbinder weeks after his lover committed suicide. One of his very best.
Kes (Ken Loach, 1969)
Lower-class British boy trains a hawk. One of the great child performances. Incredibly well observed and subtle drama. Avoids social schemata of much of Loach's other work.
Killer of Sheep (Charles Burnett, 1980)
A fantasia of African-American life in lower-middle class Los Angeles. An L.A. Story where people actually use public transit. Similar to Scorsese's Who's That Knocking At My Door, only better realized.
Land of Silence and Darkness (Werner Herzog, 1971)
Portrait of woman who's both deaf and blind and assists others in her condition. Herzog's most tender film - and it doesn't stint on the strangeness.
L'Argent (Bresson, 1983)
So fast-paced it practically gives whiplash. Tolstoy novel in 80 minutes, updated to modern France, leeched of any traces of sentiment. Bracing.
Man with a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, 1929)
Film as collage. An assemblage of disparate images of Moscow city scenes - kept lively through great editing and pacing. Pure cinema.
The Match Factory Girl (Aki Kaurismaki, 1990)
Quiet and understated hilarity runs throughout this should-be-sad-sack tale of a meek woman oppressed by her family and betrayed by a man. Has exactly the sort of ending you dream these stories will have but almost never do.
Onibaba (Shindo, 1965)
A mother and daughter-in-law survive during a feudal civil war by killing lost samurai and selling their armor. Then a virile neighbor returns from the war. And a ghost starts appearing.
The Passenger (Antonioni, 1975)
Antonioni and Jack Nicholson making a political thriller? Only in the 70s. Comes off like a tale ripped from Paul Bowles notebooks and updated by Graham Greene. Deliberately paced but pays off. One of the greatest last shots ever.
Porco Rosso (Miyazaki, 1992)
Pure joy. Porcine flying-ace-turned-mercenary has to defend his turf, save his business, and maybe even win back his lost love. Filled with unexpected details, great animation, and plot twists that keep the story from ever going where you expect.
Scum (Alan Clarke, 1976)
Originally banned by the BBC, this British bortstal drama is as tough as its title. Starring Ray Winston - later in Quadraphenia - and a secret influence on punk rock. Exciting, not exploitive.
Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (Todd Haynes, 1987)
Right: the Karen Carpenter story as played by barbie dolls, but actually not gimmicky. Like a cross between Goddard and Behind the Music, this affecting and innovative film actually makes you care about the bland pop act.