Yes, I gave in and decided to play the game… But I couldn’t narrow my list down to 25, so I generously allowed myself additional 10 slots. The following list is in chronological order.
- *All of Hong Sang-soo’s films since Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors (2000)
—To love Hong Sang-soo is to love cinema. Thank goodness, I speak Korean!
- Mulholland Drive (2000 / David Lynch)
—Fantastic remake of Jacques Rivette’s Céline et Julie vont en bateau. New rules of the game: cinema as a maze.
- Yi Yi (2000 / Edward Yang)
—Cinema still hasn’t fully recovered from losing Edward Yang so soon. Between a wedding and a funeral, Yang manages to pack in a panoramic vision of life.
- Werckmeinster Harmonies (2000 / Béla Tarr)
—The Turin Horse (Tarr’s final film) is great too, but can’t beat this one.
- Eureka (2000 / Shinji Aoyama)
—What it means to shoot a western in Japan in the new millennium. What it means to embrace John Ford with the kind of humanism we need now.
- In Vanda’s Room (2000 / Pedro Costa)
—Bringing “pure sensations” back to our sensationalism-addicted contemporary cinema. The result is a beautiful film that tries so hard not to look beautiful.
- Platform (2000 / Jia Zhangke)
—At age 30, Jia Zhangke made a masterpiece comparable to Hou Hsiao-hsien’s A City of Sadness. I could’ve easily selected Still Life or Unknown Pleasures, but this was my first Jia Zhangke film.
- Millennium Mambo (2001 / Hou Hsiao-hsien)
—Like Jean-Luc Godard, Hou Hsiao-hsien keeps returning to ground zero and starts again. In Millennium Mambo, he reinvents himself yet again, and delivers one of the most remarkable films about the mechanism of memory.
- Decasia (2002 / Bill Morrison)
—In Bill Morrison’s hypnotic decay fantasia, the textures and shapes of nitrate damage on film become abstract poetry itself. Cinema’s materiality has rarely been celebrated and documented this lovingly.
- Ten (2002 / Abbas Kiarostami)
—D. W. Griffith famously said that to make a film “all you need is a girl and a gun.” In Ten, Abbas Kiarostami seems to say “all you need is a car and a driver.”
- Elephant (2002 / Gus van Sant)
—A gut-wrenching lesson on the ethics of visual representation, Elephant is not just an artistic triumph, but furthermore a declaration of van Sant’s moral commitment as a filmmaker.
- Goodbye, Dragon Inn (2003 / Tsai Ming-liang)
—If this isn’t one of the most “perfect” films ever made, I don’t know what is. Tsai Ming-liang at his most formalist, meditative, and romantic.
- Come and Go (2003 / João César Monteiro)
—Cinema’s most lovable vampire fades away before our eyes. Kurt Cobain was wrong. Sometimes, it is better to fade away than to burn out.
- Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003 / Thom Andersen)
—Compulsively watchable and endlessly quotable. Thom Andersen reclaims Los Angeles from ridiculous mythologies, using Chris Marker-like poetic logic.
- Tomorrow We Move (2004 / Chantal Akerman)
—Chantal Akerman’s almost-musical where the rhythm and melodies of our everyday life become musical numbers themselves. La captive (2000) and No Home Movie (2015) are undeniably more beautiful and powerful, but this is the one I see myself revisiting over and over again. Je vous salue, Chantal!
- Les amants réguliers (2005 / Philippe Garrel)
—Philippe Garrel’s devastating response to Bernardo Bertolucci’s dreadful Dreamers, Les amants réguliers is a miracle of cinema that proves to us that films can still be made in the spirit of nouvelle vague (both aesthetically and politically) and how beautiful that struggle can be. At last, Jean Eustache’s post-May ’68 confession La maman et la putain meets its worthy companion.
- A History of Violence (2005 / David Cronenberg)
—Don’t get me wrong, David Cronenberg has consistently been a great filmmaker since the 70’s, but A History of Violence came as a mighty sucker punch. A bold antithesis to John Ford’s frontier myths, A History of Violence not only dissects the inner-workings of America’s capitalist foundation, but also challenges the spectator’s relation to violence on screen and gangster genre tropes.
- My Dad is 100 Years Old (2005 / Guy Maddin, Isabella Rossellini)
—Isabella Rossellini defends her father’s legacy with true cinephilic love that matches the intensity of religious fervor. As she whispers “in the name of the father, the daughter, and holy cinema,” Guy Maddin provides his signature visual surrealist poetry par excellence.
- Marie Antoinette (2006 / Sofia Coppola)
—Probably one of the most misunderstood and underrated films of this century, Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette hits the perfect balance between a ravishing exercise in cinematic style and a kino-eye that perfectly captures female subjectivity.
- Syndromes and a Century (2006 / Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
—A black hole of a film that will swallow you up. When Weerasethakul’s camera floats around in an empty hospital room, the whole world gets sucked into the screen. If his previous Tropical Malady (2004) opened up the possibility of new kind of cinema, Syndromes and a Century fully cemented it.
- Autohystoria (2007 / Raya Martin)
—The real hot bed for political cinema of the century is the Philippines, and Raya Martin is one of its great cine-poets. Inheriting the legacies of Straub-Huillet and Béla Tarr, Martin’s Autohystoria is both a bold expression of Martin’s commitment to politics and history and a metaphysical rumination on the nature of moving image.
- Fengming, a Chinese Memoir (2007 / Wang Bing)
—Wang Bing’s camera carries the enormous weight of the history of modern China, using a single fixed camera position. Following the footsteps of Jean Eustache’s Numéro zéro (1971) and Claude Lanzmann’s Shoa (1985), Fengming, a Chinese Memoir manages to speak the ineffable.
- 35 Shots of Rum (2008 / Claire Denis)
—It was between this and White Material (2009), but ultimately my love of Ozu trumps Isabelle Huppert’s virtuoso performance in the latter. (Her collaboration with Hong Sang-soo in In Another Country (2012) makes up for it, I hope!)
- Melancholia (2008 / Lav Diaz)
—Emancipated cinema, as Lav Diaz himself calls it. A truly “free” film that helps you understand what it feels like to gaze at the abyss of history and despair.
- The Beaches of Agnès (2008 / Agnès Varda)
—Agnès Varda’s beach is vast, and always hospitable for those who are kind. If this film doesn’t convince you that Varda is one of the most lovable creatures on this planet, please unfriend me now.
- Mother (2009 / Bong Joon-ho)
—What comes between “mother” and “murder” is amour fou. Bong Joon-ho does what he is best at (genre exercise), and even manages to paint a profound portrait of maternal love gone wild. The ending of this film, which is beautifully shot, is one of the most moving dance scenes in film history.
- The Strange Case of Angelica (2010 / Manoel de Oliveira)
—Manoel de Oliveira’s late masterpiece The Strange Case of Angelica is a magical-realist tale of fascination with moving image, and the film itself becomes the very explanation for the existence of cinephilia.
- Meek’s Cutoff (2010 / Kelly Reichardt)
—Picking up from where Barbara Loden’s The Frontier Experience (1975) left off.
- The Clock (2010 / Christian Marclay)
- Holy Motors (2012 / Leos Carax)
—Any serious attempt at deciphering all the cinephilic references made in Holy Motors is futile and stifling. Like much of Lynch’s best work, you have to enter Carax’s world and lose yourself in it. I’ll gladly do it a dozen more times.
- Adieu au language (2014 / Jean-Luc Godard)
—Yet again, Jean-Luc Godard reinvented cinema once and for all. “Adieu” in the title is somewhat misleading because it is simultaneously a “salut” to a new visual language.
- Bridge of Spies (2015 / Steven Spielberg)
—I had long regarded War of the Worlds as Spielberg’s finest work, but then Bridge of Spies came out. This is by far Spielberg at his most mature and elusive, with the intoxicating Hawksian touch of cinematic classicism.
- Mad Max: Fury Road (2015/ George Miller)
—O.M.G. Movies are still made this way?
- Happy Hour (2015 / Ryusuke Hamaguchi)
—Have you ever thought to yourself “jeez, I wish I made that” after a movie? Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s five-hour melodrama epic Happy Hour is like that for me.
- Hermia & Helena (2016 / Matías Piñeiro)
—Recently, I became good friends with two exchange students from Europe, and watching this film right before they left New York was profoundly touching.
In the Mood for Love (2000 / Wong Kar-wai)
Pistol Opera (2001 / Seijun Suzuki)
The Man Without a Past (2002 / Aki Kaurismäki)
Sharasôju (2003 / Kawase Naomi)
Kings and Queen (2004 / Arnaud Desplechin)
Flags of Our Fathers – Letters from Iwo Jima (2006 / Clint Eastwood)
Alexandra (2007 / Alexander Sokurov)
Tokyo Sonata (2008 / Kiyoshi Kurosawa)
Jauja (2014 / Lisandro Alonso)
Phoenix (2014 / Christian Petzold)