8. Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972) – Werner Herzog’s first collaboration with Klaus Kinski, in an authentic-feeling drama about conquest and insanity. Filled throughout with unforgettable images, a film about a lunatic made by lunatics.
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6. Le Samourai (1967) – Some folks find this picture static; I get it. A striking series of images, most taken from iconic gangster films of the 1940s, given Jean Pierre Melville’s eye for detail and the phenomenon that is Alain Delon. What does it mean? Perhaps not as much as it supposes, but even as a pop sensation it is nearly unbeatable for its aesthetic values alone. Hugely influential, most obviously on John Woo and Chow Yun-Fat.
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4. Rio Bravo (1959) – In a key scene Ward Bond observes to John Wayne, “You mean that’s all you got?? A drunk and that crazy old man?” Without missing beat Wayne replies, “That’s what I’ve got.” The greatest of all the Howard Hawks westerns, and one of the latest, and one of the great Guy films ever made. Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson sing, Angie Dickinson knocks back drinks and displays fantastic legs, and there are more witty lines and perfect moments than another hundred pictures put together. If you can’t like this, I can’t like you. Much.
3. Vertigo (1958) – Hitchcock’s acknowledged masterpiece, except for a few grumps (like William Goldman, who prefers Rear Window. I won’t quibble.) The first time I saw it, the film actually made me physically ill. Not for the vertigo viscerally shown onscreen but the existential vertigo of Jimmy Stewart’s decisions (and Kim Novak’s agreement!) The second half of this film goes to really strange places – what happens is not rape, certainly, but it evokes that feeling – and that first time watching it I received a wave of nausea. A brilliant film, and also brilliantly manipulative, and extraordinary in impact.
1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) – Stanley Kubrick is my favorite director, and for me every film he made was a masterpiece perhaps apart from Killer’s Kiss – but even that has points. (I leave out his director-for-rent picture Spartacus, which is quite good but not in the same arena as his own work.) There’s not much I can say about this picture that hasn’t been said already, but it is the single most influential film on my life and my own literary work. And since this entire list is subjective, as this whole subjective will be, that is the best I can say for it. It lives, it recurs in my thinking and my writing, and I think about it all the time both on the level of its technical execution and the vividness of the ideas within.