1. Repulsion Directed by Roman Polanski Written by Polanski, Gerard Brach, and David Stone
The most claustrophobic and horrific of Polanki's claustrophobic horror movies.
2. The Saragossa Manuscript Directed by Wojciech Has Written by Tadeusz Kwiatkowski, from a novel by Jan Potocki
A story within a story within a story within a...
3. The Battle of Algiers Directed by Gillo Pontecorvo Written by Pontecorvo and Franco Solinas
Torturers battle terrorists in colonial Algeria. In the '60s, would-be Guevaras watched this to teach themselves revolution; nearly four decades later, the Pentagon screened it for tips on fighting terror. Whatever else they found in it, both groups got to see one hell of a movie -- a film so utterly unflinching in its amorality that it feels more like a dispassionate documentary than a propaganda picture.
4. The Loved One Directed by Tony Richardson Written by Terry Southern and Christopher Isherwood, from a novel by Evelyn Waugh
The Duck Soup of pet cemetery movies.
5. A Game with Stones Written and directed by Jan Svankmajer
Many surrealists have directed abstract films without narratives, but only Svankmajer made movies as rich and engaging as the paintings of Dali, Ernst, and Magritte. The stones in this film arrange themselves into simple shapes, into more intricate patterns, and eventually into human beings who swallow each other. Sorry if that description sounds a little abstruse: It isn't easy to describe the plot of a Dali poster either.
6. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold Directed by Martin Ritt Written by Paul Dehn and Guy Trosper, from a novel by John Le Carre
A spy movie that plays like a film noir. In Le Carre's bleak story, the intelligence agencies of the Cold War aren't entirely separate -- they're more like competing forces within one vast corrupting system.
7. Simon of the Desert Directed by Luis Bunuel Written by Bunuel and Julio Alejandro
A meditating monk faces off with the devil. This being Bunuel, there's no reason to assume the devil will lose.
8. Chimes at Midnight Directed by Orson Welles Written by Welles, from plays by William Shakespeare
Falstaff was always more interesting than Henry. Now he gets to take center stage.
9. Looking for Mushrooms Directed by Bruce Conner
There's actually four versions of this psychedelic travelogue: a silent 8mm loop first shown in 1965; a 16mm version set to the Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows," first screened in 1967; a slowed-down 1996 version -- my favorite of the lot -- set to Terry Riley's "Poppy Nogood and the Phantom Band"; and, in 2001, an interactive installation that lets you move the film at your own speed. The only one of those I haven't seen is the 1965 edition, but by the arbitrary rules I've set for these lists, this is a 1965 movie. Go figure.
10. Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte Directed by Robert Aldrich Written by Henry Farrell and Lukas Heller, from Farrell's novel
Frequently written off as a retread of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, this over-the-top gothic soap opera is a fine film in its own right.
And speaking of arbitrary rules: In theory, I'm assigning these movies to the year in which they were first screened, not the year they went into general American release. But when I realized I had left The Secret of Roan Inish out of my 1994 list last year and Swept Away... out of 1974's top ten, I bent the law to include them this time around. Also, I've secretly authorized a warrantless wiretap on your phone. Sorry about that.