10. “The Wages of Fear” (1953)
Henri-Georges Clouzot’s nail-biting odyssey features anxiety in its most welcoming form. Its suspense is unbounded — featuring a story of four men who are hired to transport trucks of nitroglycerin across a remote South American jungle to extinguish an oil fire. An adaptation of Georges Arnaud’s novel of the same name, the film follows the dynamic pace of the source material, enriching its characters while offering a unique perspective on the ethics of corporations hiring underprivileged workers. The film’s set pieces work in close conjunction with this sentiment. At every obstacle, it becomes increasingly clear that the film does not aim to please the audience.
9. “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” (1964)
French New Wave pioneer Jacques Demy’s luscious use of color is at its best here, paving the way for the sung-through script to enter the viewer’s heart. French icon Catherine Deneuve is wonderful as always, with her co-star Nino Castelnuovo complimenting her character to build a yearning sensation that only increases by the second. Michel Legrand’s music swells with a sense of undeniable emotion. In the end, the bittersweet charm of the story and its simplistic yet dreamy tone will win over any lover of musicals, especially “La La Land,” which was heavily inspired by this film.
8. “All That Jazz” (1980) (shared with “Kagemusha”)
If there is anyone who came the closest to perfecting the art of the musical, look no further than Bob Fosse. An amalgamation of both fiction and reality, vignettes of Fosse’s own life work their way into the fantastical presentation. Roy Scheider’s incredible physical performance as Joe Gideon, a version of Fosse himself, is one of his best. Technical talent is featured in abundance; masterful dance sequences to the realistic portrayal of the destructive nature of addiction are balanced superbly. Self-aware but never pretentious, there has never been a more meta-propelled, hybridized reflection on oneself ever made quite like this.
7. “Paris, Texas” (1984)
Human connection within a landscape of endless desolation, the co-mingling of urban and rural life, and the past’s entanglement with the future — these are all themes that the disordered Travis (Harry Dean Stanton) wanders through in search of his missing wife. Cinematographer Robby Müller’s use of lighting and mise en scène work crafts an inescapable sense of nostalgia that Ry Cooder’s guitar-driven score only reinforces. Stanton is backed by a stellar supporting cast containing Dean Stockwell and Nastassja Kinski, who are all guided to subtle excellence through the gentleness of Wim Wenders’ direction.
6. “Farewell My Concubine” (1993) (shared with “The Piano”)
5th generation Chinese filmmaker Chen Kaige broke new ground with his debut feature, “Yellow Earth” in 1984, highlighting the political repression in his nation visually. Spanning multiple decades, this film intertwines art with life itself through the relationships of its three main characters. Grand in every sense of the word, the variability of the illustrious costume design parallels the malleable nature of its themes. Although the performers control what occurs on stage, it’s the spectators who decide whether the show goes on, serving as a perfect allegory of the harshness of the Chinese government at the time. “Farewell My Concubine’s” initial ban in the country to this day only serves as a testament to the power of artistic expression.
5. “Underground” (1995)
Emir Kusturica’s bombastic portrayal of Yugoslav history from World War II to the Yugoslav Wars can be analyzed in any shape or form. Impressive in its comedic timing, the lighthearted moments of camaraderie work alongside the enthralling sequences of political conflict. Each sequence depicted somehow triumphs over its predecessor; the perseverance of the human spirit in the face of adversity serves as an ode to the unquenchable chaos of life. The epic will contain chapters of the good and bad, but it will remain an epic.
4. “Secrets and Lies” (1996)
Mike Leigh’s characters know how to hold a conversation. In “Secrets and Lies,” silence and sound are of equal importance, the former serving as a requiem for what is to come. The film revolves around a peculiar predicament; a Black optometrist whose adoptive mother passes away, only to eventually find out that her birth mother is white. Some of Britain’s finest performances, (Brenda Blethyn, Marianne Jean Baptiste, Timothy Spall, Phyllis Logan) are showcased through the staggering cathartic conservations and elongated expressions of emotion. Leigh’s screenplay is unflinching and holds nothing back, creating a dynamic web of thematic intricacy in the process.
3. “Dancer in The Dark” (2000)
Provocative and heartbreaking at its core, Lars Von Trier crafts a raw masterpiece in “Dancer in The Dark,” with components of his Dogme 95 cinematic movements rising to the occasion. The audience’s senses are assaulted repeatedly, overpowering all those who resist. Featuring a one in a generation performance from singer-songwriter Björk, its musical prowess serves as a stark juxtaposition to the misery and systematic abuse of the oppressed depicted. Von Trier’s trademark handheld directorial style may be off-putting to many, but its nauseating effect certainly matches its dark subject matter.
2. “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives” (2010)
Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s distinct, contemplative style is fully formed in this personal lamentation on the “death” of cinema. The film’s multifaceted six-reel structure mirrors its surreal subject matter, seemingly normal scenes of animals are juxtaposed against the omnipresent “ghost monkey,” who turns out to be the main character’s son. Minimal camera movement and non-professional actors are used to pose many pertinent spiritual questions. Merely describing the focus of the work would be a disservice to its ambiguity and mystical nature.
1. “The Tree of Life” (2011)
Among the greatest poetic filmmakers of all time, Terrence Malick’s visual splendor knows no bounds. His partnership with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezcki returns in divine form, crafting a meditation on faith and the beauty of human existence. Improvisation drives the work since a strict, traditional narrative structure is forsaken to establish an experience spearheaded by emotional resonance. The free-flowing nature of the composition and unorthodox performances culminate in a pure feeling only made possible by the shattering of once-rigid cinematic conventions.