Sátántangó (1994) Béla Tarr’s seven-and-a-half-hour albatross expands on the work of Andrei Tarkovsky, treating a Communist-era Hungarian farming collective to some of the slowest and most gorgeous shots ever lensed. Miserablist, although sporadically hilarious, it gained an acolyte in Susan Sontag, who said, “I’d be glad to see it every year for the rest of my life.” Ditto. (M.P.)
Saturday Night Fever (1977) Harder-edged and more profane than you probably remember, boasting a combustible turn by John Travolta as a Brooklyn mook mired in a dead-end milieu of casual racism and Cro-Magnon sexual politics. But one night a week on the dance floor, thuggish drudgery is transcended by grace. Watch it again. (S.B.)
The Last Laugh (1924) F.W. Murnau ( Nosferatu , Sunrise ) was one of cinema’s first great show-offs. In this heartbreaking tragedy of the common man, his camera moves, spins, shakes, even glides to and fro on a rope. Had he not perished in a car accident seven years later, who knows what other wonders he would have done with the medium? (M.P.)
The Third Man (1949) Orson Welles so commandeers this movie by sheer force of personality, it’s hard to remember he’s barely in it. Director Carol Reed, working from Graham Greene’s spectacularly cynical scenario, puts old friendships to the test on the shadowy streets of Vienna. The catchy zither music and world-weariness cast a lingering spell. (S.B.)
To Live and Die In L.A. (1985) The nastiest thriller of the 1980s pins that decade’s selfish, coked-up illusions to the wall. Director William Friedkin’s relentlessly brutal and exceedingly unpleasant attempt to one up The French Connection boasts the best car chase of the past 30 years. You’ll want to wash your hands when it’s over. (S.B.)
Unforgiven (1992) Clint Eastwood has spent his entire career questioning and reflecting upon the dubiousness of his role as cinema’s righteous avenger. But for some reason he didn’t get credit until this diamond-hard 1992 masterpiece, which forever demolished whatever lingering romantic notions anybody still might hold about the Old West. (S.B.)
U.S. Go Home (1994) This rarely seen miniature from Claire Denis finds three youths attending an adult party. There, they’re faced with a variety of new experiences and emotions, and, eventually Vincent Gallo. The film runs only an hour and is perfect. (M.P.)
Virile Games (1988) In Jan Švankmajer’s funniest Czech animation, a working stiff calmly watches as football players have their clay heads massacred by plungers, corkscrews, model trains and cookie cutters. This may not be exactly what nonsports fans think of sports fans, but such gleeful mayhem is hard to resist. (M.P.)
Violence at Noon (1966) Nagisa Oshima was roughly the Godard of the Japanese New Wave: a busy bee who constantly changed as he learned new tricks. His most thrilling work in his most prolific decade studies an irredeemable cretin—a rapist—through the eyes of the women who love him, namely his wife and one of his victims. Manic editing (more than 2,000 cuts in 99 minutes) makes it exciting and mirrors the film’s fragmented gaze. (M.P.)
The Wild Bunch (1969) For my money, the greatest movie ever made. Director Sam Peckinpah called it: What happens when men go to Mexico. William Holden and a cast of craggy-faced character actors make a run for the border, fleeing their outlaw obsolescence in the face of a more civilized age, going out in a blaze of stupid, awesome glory. (S.B.)
Withnail And I (1987) The best-ever onscreen depiction of a never-ending hangover stars Richard E. Grant and Paul McGann as two boozy, unemployed actors living in unspeakable squalor while staring down the end of the 1960s on a diet of cheap wine and witty repartee. Heartbreaking, and all too true. (S.B.)
Zodiac (2007) Less a true crime docudrama than an eerily accurate embodiment of OCD, David Fincher’s masterwork follows bum leads, hits dead ends and, most disturbingly, has dates for every scene, all in search for truth in the realm of the unknowable. All that, plus Robert Downey Jr. (M.P.)
Zorns Lemma (1970) The most incredible of Hollis Frampton’s avant-garde works rewires your brain, slowly translating the alphabet into images, thus creating a visual language. Ernie Gehr has said that when one “gets” Lemma, “a small light, possibly a candle, will light itself inside your forehead.” (M.P.)
Defiantly and gloriously retro from start to finish, this proudly 2-D movie eschews computer animation in favor of felt puppets, embracing the schticky vaudeville ethos of Henson’s original television program, in which anarchic silliness and un-ironic sweetness stand hand in hand.
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