When the Motion Picture Academy looked back at 1961, it gave its Best Picture award to West Side Story, a musical with vivid cinematography, an excellent score, and a lousy script. I prefer these:
Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Written by Kurosawa and Ryûzô Kikushima, from a novel by Dashiell Hammett
It was based on Red Harvest, it inspired A Fistful of Dollars, and it managed, impressively, to be better than both.
Written and directed by Jacques Demy
The Short Cuts of the French New Wave.
Directed by Servando González
Written by González, from a story by Jesús Marín
I'm not sure if this Mexican movie is available with English subtitles, but that doesn't really matter: There's hardly any dialogue, and when the characters do occasionally talk the words aren't all that important. The movie's sound, on the other hand, is very important indeed.
4. The Fabulous Baron Munchausen
Directed by Karel Zeman
Written by Zerman, Josef Kainar, and Jiří Brdečka, from a story cycle by Rudolf Erich Raspe
This film feels like it's set in a Cornell box.
5. Chronicle of a Summer
Directed by Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin
A documentary thorough enough to include a scene where the cast critiques the movie.
6. The Hustler
Directed by Robert Rossen
Written by Rossen and Sidney Carroll, from a novel by Walter Tevis
"You have the best excuse in the world for losing. No trouble losing when you got a good excuse. Winning, that can be heavy on your back, too, like a monkey."
7. The Innocents
Directed by Jack Clayton
Written by William Archibald, Truman Capote, and John Mortimer, from a novel by Henry James
A slow-burning horror flick inspired by The Turn of the Screw.
8. The Exiles
Written and directed by Kent MacKenzie
Life in L.A.'s Bunker Hill before the planners tore it down.
9. The Ladies Man
Directed by Jerry Lewis
Written by Lewis and Bill Richmond
If you really want to know why "the French" love Jerry Lewis, this is the picture to watch. The sets could have come from a Tati film, the story shatters more narrative conventions than anything by Godard, and tracking all the Freudian undercurrents could serve as a cineastes' full employment act. Beyond that, it's pretty damn funny. I could do without a couple of sappy scenes with Pat Stanley, but otherwise this is Lewis in peak form.
Written and directed by Ernie Kovacs and Joseph Behar
Kovacs was the first genius of TV comedy, experimenting with television the way an earlier generation of clown-artists experimented with film. That inventive spirit is on display in this surreal ABC special, which obviously owes a lot to the silent era but looks forward much more than it looks back.
11. Blast of Silence (Allen Baron)
12. Viridiana (Luis Buñuel)
13. Il Posto (Ermanno Olmi)
14. Underworld U.S.A. (Sam Fuller)
15. Accattone (Pier Paolo Pasolini)
16. Mother Joan of the Angels (Jerzy Kawalerowicz)
17. One-Eyed Jacks (Marlon Brando)
18. Last Year in Marienbad (Alain Resnais)
19. Killers on Parade (Masahiro Shinoda)
20. Zoo (Bert Haanstra)
Of the films of 1961 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in La Notte.
When the Motion Picture Academy looked back at 1971, it gave its Best Picture award to The French Connection, a thriller that I enjoyed but whose exalted reputation mystifies me. I like these better:
1. The Last Picture Show
Directed by Peter Bogdanovich
Written by Bogdanovich and Larry McMurtry, from a novel by McMurtry
I'm not sure if this counts as a "modern western," but if it does, it's my favorite modern western.
2. A Clockwork Orange
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Written by Kubrick, from a novel by Anthony Burgess
And for those people who would reduce every story to a simple political message, a quick reminder: A film can present two ugly alternatives without advocating either one.
3. Mon Oncle Antoine
Directed by Claude Jutra
Written by Jutra and Clément Perron
One of the darkest Christmas movies this side of Pandora's Box, but with some fleeting moments of genuine joy too.
4. McCabe & Mrs. Miller
Directed by Robert Altman
Written by Altman and Brian McKay, from a novel by Edmund Naughton
Altman does to the western what he did a year earlier to the war movie and would do over the following few years to the private eye film, the gangster picture, and the musical.
5. They Might Be Giants
Directed by Anthony Harvey
Written by James Goldman, from his play
My favorite Sherlock Holmes movie, though strictly speaking Sherlock Holmes isn't in it.
Directed by Nicholas Roeg
Written by Edward Bond
An enigmatic film about desire, communication breakdown, and the beautiful, treacherous Australian landscape.
Directed by Jacques Tati
Written by Tati, Jacques Lagrange, and Bert Haanstra
It's a worthy follow-up to Play Time, and if it isn't quite as good...well, not every movie needs to be a masterpiece.
Directed by Woody Allen
Written by Allen and Mickey Rose
"All children under 16 years old are now: 16 years old."
Directed by Roman Polanski
Written by Polanski and Kenneth Tynan, from a play by William Shakespeare
Welles did Macbeth as a film noir. Kurosawa did it as a samurai picture. And Polanski did it as a Hammer horror movie.
10. Dirty Harry
Directed by Don Siegel
Written by Harry Julian Fink, Rita M. Fink, Dean Riesner, John Milius, Terrence Malick, and Jo Heims
A peeping-tom cop is driven to sadism by the horrors of street crime and his department's inability to contain it. In the sequels he becomes an almost cuddly character, but here Harry Callahan is easy to empathize with but hard to like: an antihero in a movie with more nuances than many critics will admit.
11. The Hired Hand (Peter Fonda)
12. W.R.—Mysteries of the Organism (Dušan Makavejev)
13. Duck, You Sucker (Sergio Leone)
14. Two-Lane Blacktop (Monte Hellman)
15. Klute (Alan J. Pakula)
16. The Hospital (Arthur Hiller)
17. A New Leaf (Elaine May)
18. Jabberwocky (Jan Švankmajer)
19. Basic Training (Frederic Wiseman)
20. Play Misty for Me (Clint Eastwood)
Best monologue: Elliott Gould on writing letters to the spy who reads his mail, in Little Murders.
Of the films of 1971 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in Out 1 and The Working Class Goes to Heaven.
When the Motion Picture Academy looked at 1981, it gave its Best Picture award to Chariots of Fire, the film that appears in the dictionary next to the phrase "Oscar bait." Here are some better ways to spend your time:
1. The Decline...of Western Civilization
Directed by Penelope Spheeris
If this isn't the best rock doc ever made, it's certainly the funniest.
2. Coup de Torchon
Directed by Bertrand Tavernier
Written by Tavernier and Jean Aurenche, from a novel by Jim Thompson
Apparently, a Jim Thompson story still works when you transpose it to colonial Africa.
3. Blow Out
Written and directed by Brian De Palma
Like Blow Up crossed with a '70s conspiracy thriller.
Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Written by Fassbinder, Pea Fröhlich, and Peter Märthesheimer
Another conspiracy movie, sort of. One where everyone in town but one is in on the conspiracy.
Directed by István Szabó
Written by Szabó and Péter Dobai, from a novel by Klaus Mann
In 2006 it emerged that Szabó had been an informant in the aftermath of Hungary's failed 1956 revolution. He claimed at first that he had done this to save a friend's life, then admitted that this was a self-serving lie. I relate these unpleasant details not to criticize this absorbing film, but to suggest that its textured portrait of an opportunist adjusting to life under totalitarian rule might have a touch of self-lacerating autobiography to it.
Directed by Peter Weir
Written by David Williamson, from a story by Weir
One of the great antiwar movies. Such a shame about the soundtrack.
7. Time Bandits
Directed by Terry Gilliam
Written by Gilliam and Michael Palin
"Why does there have to be evil?" "I think it has something to do with free will."
Written and directed by John Waters
Few motion pictures are this cruel to a protagonist. Even fewer manage to be this funny in the process.
9. Stations of the Elevated
Directed by Manfred Kirchheimer
For anyone who ever suspected that a city's true public art is its billboards and graffiti.
10. The Aviator's Wife
Written and directed by Éric Rohmer
This starts with the sort of misunderstanding that has fueled a thousand sitcoms, then takes the story in a messier, more emotionally authentic direction.
11. Modern Romance (Albert Brooks)
12. Songs for Swinging Larvae (Graeme Whifler)
13. Ms.45 (Abel Ferrara)
14. Vernon, Florida (Errol Morris)
15. America is Waiting (Bruce Conner)
16. God's Angry Man (Werner Herzog)
17. Once in a Lifetime (Toni Basil, David Byrne)
18. Pixote (Hector Babenco)
19. Hôtel des Amériques (André Téchiné)
20. Das Boot (Wolfgang Petersen)
Of the films of 1981 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in Huie's Sermon.
When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences looked at 1991, it gave its Best Picture award to The Silence of the Lambs. There are things that I like about that highbrow slasher flick, and there are things that I don't; it squeezed its way into my honorable mentions, but it didn't make the top 10.
1. The Rapture
Written and directed by Michael Tolkin
The best movie ever made about apocalyptic Christianity.
2. Hearts of Darkness
Directed by Fax Bahr and George Hickenlooper
A behind-the-scenes look at Apocalypse Now that doubles as a remake of Apocalypse Now.
Written and directed by David Mamet
"When you start cumming with the customers, it's time to quit."
4. Raise the Red Lantern
Directed by Zhang Yimou
Written by Zhen Ni, from a novel by Su Tong
"It's all playacting. If you play well, you fool the others. If you play badly, you only fool yourself. If you can't even fool yourself, you can fool the ghosts."
5. Tribulation 99
Written and directed by Craig Baldwin
We'll get to JFK soon enough. But this is the great sprawling conspiracy epic of 1991.
6. Blooper Bunny
Directed by Greg Ford and Terry Lennon
Written by Ford, Lennon, and Ronnie Schelb
One of the few latter-day Bugs Bunny cartoons that retains the edge of the originals.
Directed by Oliver Stone
Written by Stone and Zachary Sklar
Stone throws so many theories into this movie that his psychedelic montages take on a life of their own; the cascading images and ideas sweep aside any single story about what happened in Dallas in 1963. As a result, whether he intended it or not, the film looks less like an historical thesis and more like a panoramic view of the psychic landscape in paranoid post-assassination America. Needless to say, that's much more interesting than the standard Oliver Stone message-movie.
Written and directed by Richard Linklater
Obsessive geeks, conspiracy theorists, alt-media weirdos, an anarchist invoking Guy Fawkes, even a "Ron Paul: Libertarian for President" sign: Here is your guide to the ensuing 30 years of the counterculture.
9. Point Break
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
Written by W. Peter Iliff
I'll tip my hat to Andrew Sarris and call this "expressive esoterica."
10. Prime Suspect
Directed by Christopher Menaul
Written by Lynda La Plante
How amazed I was by this miniseries when it first came out. A police procedural whose solution wasn't telegraphed from the beginning. With red herrings that might actually mislead you. On television! In those days this was just about unheard-of.
11. Delicatessen (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Marc Caro)
12. Blood in the Face (Anne Bohlen, Kevin Rafferty, James Ridgeway)
13. The Double Life of Veronique (Krzysztof Kieslowski)
14. Zentropa (Lars von Trier)
15. Little Man Tate (Jodie Foster)
16. Dogfight (Nancy Savoca)
17. Thanksgiving Prayer (Gus Van Sant)
18. The Death of Stalinism in Bohemia (Jan Švankmajer)
19. The Silence of the Lambs (Jonathan Demme)
20. Flirting (John Duigan)
Of the films of 1991 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in A Brighter Summer Day.
When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences looked back at 2001, it gave its Best Picture award to A Beautiful Mind, a biopic that starts strong, peaks with an ably executed plot twist, and then gradually degenerates into crap. It isn't on my list.
1. Mulholland Drive
Written and directed by David Lynch
In dreams it isn't unusual for a person to switch identities, for one figure to turn into several (and vice versa), or for time to fall out of joint. And as Lynch's soap opera evolves into a horror movie, it follows the logic of an especially nightmarish dream.
2. Spirited Away
Written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki
All of Miyazaki's fairy tales are wonderful, but this is the one I like the most.
3. Y Tu Mamá También
Directed by Alfonso Cuarón
Written by Cuarón and Carlos Cuarón
As engrossing as the plot is, what really lingers after this picture are the details of a larger world lurking in the background while the protagonists obliviously zoom by.
4. Sex and Lucia
Written and directed by Julio Médem
The picture that proved DV could be used as artfully as film—and did it by embracing the alleged drawbacks of the medium. I imagine Médem talking with his cinematographer: "So the sky looks washed out? OK; see if you can make that beautiful."
5. The Man Who Wasn't There
Written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
"He told them to look not at the facts but at the meaning of the facts, and then he said the facts had no meaning. It was a pretty good speech. It even had me going."
6. Donnie Darko
Written and directed by Richard Kelly
Harvey meets Carnival of Souls.
7. The Office
Written and directed by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant
Steve Kurtz always gives me a hard time when I put a season of a TV show on one of these lists. Well, look: This is a coherent three-hour story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Feel free to give me some shit if I start slipping in some seasons of the American Office, which is amazing at its best but is also more sprawling and open-ended. But these six episodes could be a miniseries.
8. Waking Life
Written and directed by Richard Linklater
Alex Jones' cameo haunts this movie the way Donald Trump's walk-on role haunts Home Alone 2, but as far as I'm concerned that just adds to the effect. (Reason #23,000 not to trust the Motion Picture Academy: It found room for Jimmy Neutron among its Best Animated Feature nominees, but not for this.)
9. The Sopranos 3
Written by David Chase, Todd A. Kessler, Robin Green, Mitchell Burgess, Terence Winter, Lawrence Konner, Frank Renzulli, Michael Imperioli, Salvatore J. Stabile, and Tim Van Patten
Directed by Van Patten, Allen Coulter, Henry J. Bronchtein, John Patterson, Jack Bender, Daniel Attias, and Steve Buscemi
Yes, more television. Come on: They're all moving pictures, right?
Directed by Ray Lawrence
Written by Andrew Bovell
"This is not an affair. It's a one-night stand that happened twice."
11. The Pledge (Sean Penn)
12. Storytelling (Todd Solondz)
13. Claire (Milford Thomas)
14. Amélie (Jean-Pierre Jeunet)
15. Gosford Park (Robert Altman)
16. The Others (Alejandro Amenábar)
17. Ghost World (Terry Zwigoff)
18. Buffy the Vampire Slayer 5 (Joss Whedon)
19. The Last Words of Dutch Schultz (Gerrit van Dijk)
20. What Time Is It There? (Tsai Ming-liang)
That item at #18 is the fifth season of a television show—sorry, Steve!—so Whedon is listed as the showrunner, not the director. Though he did, as it happens, also direct some individual episodes.
Of the films of 2001 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in Fat Girl.