When the Motion Picture Academy looked at 1968, it gave its Best Picture award to the Dickens-goes-Broadway musical Oliver! I wouldn't say I dislike that movie, but...best picture? That's just perverse.
1. Je t'Aime, Je t'Aime Directed by Alain Resnais Written by Jacques Sternberg
A New Wave film—"New Wave" as in both New Worlds and Nouvelle Vague—about a man who comes unstuck in time. It was shot around the same period that Kurt Vonnegut was writing Slaughterhouse-5, so presumably the writers invented the idea independently.
2. Hour of the Wolf Written and directed by Ingmar Bergman
This isn't Bergman's only horror movie—you can make a case for classifying The Virgin Spring, Persona, even The Passion of Anna under that header—but it's the one most obviously indebted to the genre.
3. Shame Written and directed by Ingmar Bergman
"Sometimes everything seems just like a dream. It's not my dream; it's somebody else's. But I have to participate in it."
4. The Prisoner
Written by Patrick McGoohan, David Tomblin, George Markstein, Vincent Tilsley, Anthony Skene, Terence Feely, Lewis Greifer, Gerald Kelsey, Roger Woddis, Michael Cramoy, Roger Parkes, and Ian Rakoff
Directed by McGoohan, Tomblin, Don Chaffey, Pat Jackson, Peter Graham Scott, and Robert Asher
This spy-fi allegory about a mysterious totalitarian archive was both the most experimental and the most anti-authoritarian TV show of the '60s. And it has enough of an arc for me to treat it here as a miniseries, even if the fans have never been able to agree on the "right" order of the episodes.
5. Coogan's Bluff Directed by Don Siegel Written by Herman Miller, Dean Riesner, and Howard Rodman
Clint Eastwood stars as a fool of a cop who stumbles his way through a case and somehow prevails. Suspenseful, quietly funny, thoroughly anti-heroic. Siegel's best movie.
6. Night of the Living Dead Directed by George Romero Written by Romero and John Russo
It was alternately ignored and damned at the time, but would anyone disagree today that it's one of the most important pictures of the '60s?
7. Once Upon a Time in the West Directed by Sergio Leone Written by Leone and Sergio Donati, from a story by Leone, Dario Argento, and Bernardo Bertolucci
There's making a revisionist western, and then there's casting Henry Fonda as a cold-blooded psychotic.
8. High School Directed by Frederic Wiseman
An academic dystopia.
9. 2001: A Space Odyssey Directed by Stanley Kubrick Written by Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke, from a story by Clarke
"Daiiisy, daiiiiiiiiiisy, give me your annnnnswer, dooo..."
10. The Lion in Winter Directed by Anthony Harvey Written by James Goldman, from his play
"If you're a prince, there's hope for every ape in Africa." (See also #20, below.)
11. Stolen Kisses (François Truffaut)
12. Madigan (Don Siegel)
13. Les Biches (Claude Chabrol)
14. Faces (John Cassavetes)
15. Picnic with Weissman (Jan Svankmajer)
16. Bullitt (Peter Yates)
17. The Swimmer (Frank Perry)
18. Death by Hanging (Nagisa Oshima)
19. The Flat (Jan Svankmajer)
20. Planet of the Apes (Franklin J. Schaffner)
Of the films of 1968 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in Hell in the Pacific.
When the Motion Picture Academy looked back at 1978, it gave its Best Picture award to The Deer Hunter. It's in my list too, but not at the top spot:
1. Gates of Heaven
Directed by Errol Morris
"Death is for the living and not for the dead."
2. Dawn of the Dead
Written and directed by George Romero
Everyone knows that these zombies are a Metaphor for Mindless Consumption, but the script is far too sly to stop there. When our heroes hole up in the abandoned Monroeville Mall, consumerism doesn't seem like such a bad thing; if anything, the place feels like a utopian playground. At least until we see the zombie hordes outside trying to push their way in. Then yet another layer of meaning presents itself, one where most of the world is locked out of the wealth that a lucky few get to enjoy. At that point you might be tempted to sympathize with the zombies.
3. Blue Collar
Directed by Paul Schrader
Written by Schrader and Leonard Schrader
"They pit the lifers against the new boys, the old against the young, the black against the white—anything to keep us in our place."
4. The Deer Hunter
Directed by Michael Cimino
Written by Deric Washburn, from a story by Cimino, Washburn, Louis Garfinkle, and Quinn K. Redeker
The scenes in America offer a closely observed realism, and the scenes in Asia are a paranoid fever dream. You can criticize that politically, and a lot of people have done just that. But that contrast does give the film a dizzy power.
5. Pennies from Heaven
Written by Dennis Potter
Directed by Piers Haggard
I like the American remake with Steve Martin too. But if you watch just one version, you've got to go with Bob Hoskins.
6. Days of Heaven
Written and directed by Terrence Malick
The plot is the stuff of a hard-boiled crime story, yet the movie is more like a pastoral mood piece.
7. A Walk Through H: The Reincarnation of an Ornithologist
Written and directed by Peter Greenaway
The Tibetan Book of the Dead meets The Field Guide to Birds.
Directed by Claudia Weill
Written by Vicki Polon, from a story by Weill and Polon
"You know, I'm gonna be old before I get to do what I want. Then I'll have forgotten what it was."
9. Always for Pleasure
Directed by Les Blank
"This is one of the only cities in the world that you can do what you're doing here: drink beer out on the street, throw the cans on the sidewalk. It's one of the greatest places in the world."
10. The Cramps: Live at Napa State Mental Hospital
Directed by Joe Rees
The title tells you what you're getting: A punk band plays a concert at a psychiatric institution. But that doesn't get across the ecstatic weirdness of a show where the audience wanders freely onstage and it's not entirely clear which people are the patients and which are the band's usual hangers-on. I want to believe the guy who takes the microphone about 13 and a half minutes in is a patient.
11. Make Me Psychic (Sally Cruikshank)
12. The Driver (Walter Hill)
13. Mongoloid (Bruce Conner)
14. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Philip Kaufman)
15. The Marriage of Maria Braun (Rainer Werner Fassbinder)
16. The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (Fred Schepisi)
17. ...Forever and Always... (George Kuchar)
18. Afterlife (Ishu Patel)
19. Special Delivery (John Weldon, Eunice Macaulay)
20. Phase Transitions in Liquid Crystals (Jean Painlevé)
And finally, a shoutout to The Last Waltz. I don't like this one as much as I used to: The older I get, the more absurd it seems to be so valedictory about a bunch of guys in their thirties. But it's still one hell of a concert.
Of the films of 1978 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in Big Wednesday, The Suspended Vocation, and Future Boy Conan.
When the Motion Picture Academy looked back at 1988, it gave its Best Picture award to a feel-good formula flick called Rain Man. Which isn't bad as such films go—I've always liked the scene when Dustin Hoffman blithely confesses to counting cards—but it certainly isn't as good as any of these:
1. A Fish Called Wanda
Directed by Charles Crichton
Written by John Cleese, from a story by Crichton and Cleese
The last great John Cleese movie.
2. Apartment Zero
Directed by Martin Donovan
Written by Donovan and David Koepp
"If that's a mask, either take it off now or leave it on forever."
3. Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser
Directed by Charlotte Zwerin
Genius wrapped up in madness.
4. My Neighbor Totoro
Written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki
The phrase "family movie" is usually a euphemism for "children's movie," but this really is a picture that people of all levels of maturity can enjoy.
Directed by Bernard Rose
Written by Matthew Jacobs, from a novel by Catherine Storr
Like My Neighbor Totoro, this is about illness, parenthood, and kids' fantasy worlds. But, um, not in the same way.
6. Distant Voices, Still Lives
Written and directed by Terence Davies
Like a modernist novel crossed with a music-hall singalong.
7. Grave of the Fireflies
Directed by Isao Takahata
Written by Takahata, from a novel by Akiyuki Nosaka
A good movie to watch if you want to cry uncontrollably for a bit.
8. Hôtel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie
Directed by Marcel Ophüls
There are those who collaborated with the Nazis during the war, and there are those who collaborated afterward.
9. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen Directed by Terry Gilliam Written by Gilliam and Charles McKeown, from a novel by Rudolph Erich Raspe
"Have him executed at once. This sort of behavior is demoralizing for the ordinary soldiers and citizens who are trying to lead normal, simple, unexceptional lives."
10. The Naked Gun Directed by David Zucker Written by Zucker, Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Pat Proft
In addition to featuring O.J. Simpson's finest performance outside a courtroom, this is the best baseball movie ever made.
11. Prometheus' Garden (Bruce Bickford)
12. Cane Toads: An Unnatural History (Mark Lewis)
13. Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (Pedro Almodovar)
14. The Vanishing (George Sluizer)
15. Miracle Mile (Steve De Jarnatt)
16. Cannibal Tours (Dennis O'Rourke)
17. The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Philip Kaufman)
18. Running on Empty (Sidney Lumet)
19. Virile Games (Jan Svankmajer)
20. Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (Robert Zemeckis)
And a shoutout to The Thin Blue Line, which can credibly claim to have gotten an innocent man freed from prison. Also, a shoutout to They Live: If I were to judge movies only by their best parts, that one would be in the top 10.
Of the films of 1988 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in Bird.
When the Motion Picture Academy looked at 1998, it gave its Best Picture award to a trifle called Shakespeare in Love. These are all better than that:
1. The Big Lebowski Written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
"Fair? Who's the fucking nihilist here?"
2. Happiness Written and directed by Todd Solondz
Daniel Clowes drew this picture's poster, and the movie matches his sensibility. When I think back to the darkly funny final scene, my mind usually distorts the memory so that I'm imagining a Clowes comic, not a film.
3. After Life Written and directed by Hirokazu Koreeda
My favorite Japanese movie of the '90s, and my favorite cinematic vision of the afterlife ever.
4. Rushmore Directed by Wes Anderson Written by Anderson and Owen Wilson
It has what may be Anderson and Wilson's best script, it has what may be Bill Murray's best performance, and it has what is definitely the best use of the Who on a motion picture soundtrack. Yes, that includes Tommy.
5. The Celebration Directed by Thomas Vinterberg Written by Vinterberg and Mogens Rukov
It would be a spoiler to reveal what this story is about. I'll just say that there are approximately 10,000 films on that particular subject, and that this is one of maybe five that are good.
6. Oz 2 Written by Tom Fontana with Sean Jablonski, Bradford Winters, and Debbie Sarjeant Directed by Nick Gomez, Uli Edel, Bob Balaban, Keith Samples, Kathy Bates, Alan Taylor, Mary Harron, and Jean De Segonza
Your reminder that the Golden Age of HBO was already underway before The Sopranos came along.
7. A Simple Plan Directed by Sam Raimi Written by Scott B. Smith, from his novel
Raimi's best movie.
8. Out of Sight Directed by Steven Soderbergh Written by Scott Frank, from a novel by Elmore Leonard
Part of a great run of Elmore Leonard adaptations in the mid/late '90s, along with Barry Sonnenfeld's Get Shorty and Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown.
9. Velvet Goldmine
Directed by Todd Haynes
Written by Haynes, from a story by Haynes and James Lyons
"According to legend, when Curt was 13 he was discovered by his mother in the family loo at the service of his older brother and promptly shipped off for 18 months of electric shock treatment. The doctors guaranteed the treatment would fry the fairy clean out of him, but all it did was make him bonkers every time he heard electric guitar."
10. High Art
Written and directed by Lisa Cholodenko
"I haven't been deconstructed in a long time." "Yeah, I bet you hate that."
11. Pi (Darren Aronofsky)
12. Buffy the Vampire Slayer 2 (Joss Whedon)
13. O Night Without Objects (Jeanne C. Finley, John H. Muse)
14. There's Something About Mary (Bobby and Peter Farrelly)
15. Buffalo '66 (Vincent Gallo)
16. Dark City (Alex Proyas)
17. Billy's Balloon (Don Hertzfeldt)
18. The Truman Show (Peter Weir)
19. The Last Days of Disco (Whit Stillman)
20. Babe: Pig in the City (George Miller)
And a shout-out to Kurt and Courtney, which is brilliant if you take it as a mockumentary.
Of the films of 1998 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in The Apple and The Decline of Western Civilization III.
Nick Gillespie says this is the 9/11 movie, and he may be right. Though I should note that this was also the year of Cloverfield.
8. The Class
Directed by Laurent Cantet
Written by Cantet, François Bégaudeau, and Robin Campillo, from a novel by Bégaudeau
It's a movie about a young teacher in the inner city, and yes I know that those are usually dumb savior fantasies, but this one avoids the clichés of the genre.
9. The Order of Myths
Directed by Margaret Brown
The mystic societies of Mobile, Alabama.
10. The Headless Woman
Written and directed by Lucrecia Martel
11. The Baader Meinhof Complex (Uli Edel)
12. Bronson (Nicolas Winding Refn)
13. The Wire 5 (David Simon)
14. Mock Up On Mu (Craig Baldwin)
15. In Bruges (Martin McDonagh)
16. Lies (Jonas Odell)
17. Civilization (Marco Brambilla)
18. A Matter of Loaf and Death (Nick Park)
19. Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog (Joss Whedon)
20. The Facts in the Case of Mister Hollow (Rodrigo Gudiño, Vincent Marcone)
As you probably know, The Wire is a TV series, not a traditional feature film. So the fella in parentheses on that line is the showrunner, not the director.
Of the films of 2008 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in Let the Right One In and Helsinki, Forever.