1. “In the Mood for Love”, Wong Kar-Wai (2000)

Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list.

In the Mood for Love

In the Mood for Love aka 花樣年華

dir. Wong Kar-wai scr. Wong Kar-wai cin. Christopher Doyle, Mark Lee Ping-bin with Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung

In 100 words: For me, this movie defined cinema: as an artform, it’s the perfect blending of rich colors, graceful camerawork, rhythmic editing, incredible framing and angles with sensual musical choices. As an experience, we watch the central romance blossom and evoke guilt, reluctance, and acceptance, while Cheung and Leung perfectly capture the sensation of ardor and devastation with their electric chemistry and full-bodied performances. And as an auteur statement, this film best captured Wong’s inimitable style and magnified its strengths. If good movies transcend screens, set your synapses on fire, and create a transporting experience, then behold, the greatest movie ever.

Other Movies for Context: Wong is so influential. I can think of Moonlight (2016), which takes a lot of its cues from the colors and rhythms of this movie. Additionally, the entirety of Wong Kar-wai’s filmography is sublime and varied and so stylish and uniquely Wong’s. My favorite, apart from this is Happy Together (1997), which finds Wong and Doyle experimenting with colors and saturation, while putting together one of the most exhilarating gay romance movies ever, featuring my favorite Chinese male movie stars: Tony Leung and Leslie Cheung. Chungking Express  (1994) gave us iconic Faye Wong and Bridget Lin and Takeshi Kaneshiro and really became the other peak of Wong’s stylistic expression. 2046 (2004) proved too diffuse and kinda rushed, but still has some gorgeous compositions and interesting storyline, while The Grandmaster (2011) gives Wong an excuse to create wuxia movie with his style. Ashes of Time (1994) was a mess that preceded The Grandmaster, while Days of Being Wild is memorable for its sensual images and sweaty vibe (1990). Fallen Angels (1995) and As Tears Go By (1988) are interesting discoveries, even if they are minor Wong. My Blueberry Nights (2007) is baffling, but worth seeking for Wong’s English-language debut.

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2. “Mirror”, Andrei Tarkovsky (1975)

Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list.

Mirror

Mirror aka Зеркало aka Zerkalo

dir. Andrei Tarkovsky scr. Aleksander Misharin and Andrei Tarkovsky cin. Georgi Rerberg with Margarita Terekhova, Ignat Daniltsev, Larisa Tarkovskaya, Alla Demidova

In 100 words: Tarkovsky is the ultimate visual artist and the very definition of a cinematic poet. Mirror is his most personal movie, and his most gorgeous: I’m floored by its photography, by its emotional textures, by its haunting soundscape. His control of even the elements astounds me. But what finally moves me is Tarkovsky’s guts, melancholy, and unabashed love for his mother. Few films can be classified as “experiences” the way Mirror can be. And few films can infer so much about memory, about nostalgia, about grief, and about life the way this film does. It is like magic in a bottle.

Other Movies for Context: Tarkovsky’s filmography is instantly recognizable. His formal mastery of the craft is astounding. Andrei Rublev (1966) is insanely great and unique, barely missing the Top 100 as well. Solaris (1972) is philosophical and kind of confusing. Stalker (1979) feels like a horror movie about post-apocalyptic world. Nostalghia (1983) feels oddly like what I imagine purgatory would be like. I have two more of his films to watch and I can’t wait.

3. “Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans”, F.W. Murnau (1927)

Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list.

Murnau Sunrise

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans

dir. F.W. Murnau scr. Carl Mayer cin. Charles Rosher and Karl Struss with George O’Brien, Janet Gaynor, and Margaret Livingston

In 100 words: The greatest of all silent movies is this universal tale of love and redemption that verges on simplistic were it not for the beautiful humanity that its makers have imbued within every frame. Sunrise does not even bother giving a name to its characters, just pronouns, but Murnau uses his brilliant expressionistic style to subtly highlight a romance rekindled or to suggest the overwhelming feeling of being lost in a big city. The freedom of his camera to move and to create such poignant images during the era made this an even more stunning accomplishment. Gaynor and O’Brien are unimprovable.

Other Movies for Context: One of the great masters of cinema, F.W. Murnau made other invaluable contributions to film, including the landmark horror film Nosferatu (1922), the social realist The Last Laugh (1924), and the great documentary-like Tabu (1931).

4. “A Brighter Summer Day”, Edward Yang (1991)

Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list.

A-Brighter-Summer-Day

A Brighter Summer Day aka 牯嶺街少年殺人事件 aka Gǔlǐng jiē shàonián shārén shìjiàn

dir. Edward Yang scr. Edward Yang, Hong-ya Yan, Ming-tang Lai, Shun-ching Yang cin. Hui-kung Chang and Long-yu Zhang with Chang Chen, Chang Kuo-chu, Elaine Jin, Lisa Yang, Wong Chizan, Lawrence Ko, Tan Zhigang, Lin Hung-ming, Wang Chuan, Chang Han, Chiang Hsiu-chiung, Stephanie Lai

In 100 words: The greatest triumph of  Yang’s short filmography is this tragic coming-of-age film drawn on an epic canvass. The novelistic script deftly juggles a lot of plotlines, motifs and themes: I loved its clear-eyed depiction of the tense post-war period in Taiwan and the confused identities of the kids and their families that lived during that dark age. Items hold enormous significance while images sustain awe and power. Even better is the breadth of details he imbues in characters as indelible as an Elvis-loving falsetto singer or a reformed gangster or a sad and hardened girlfriend just trying to survive. Perfection.

Other Movies for Context: If it wasn’t clear from the three movies he had here, Edward Yang is like a big fucking deal to me. This is his best and the best of an era. I think a lot of Chen Kaige’s Farewell My Concubine which has a similar scale to this and even the intimacy that sometimes is lacking in films this long (4 hours!) or with this many characters.

5. “Diary of a Country Priest”, Robert Bresson (1951)

Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list.

diary-of-a-country-priest

Diary of the Country Priest aka Journal d’un curé de campagne

dir. Robert Bresson scr. Robert Bresson based on the novel by Georges Bernanos cin. Leonce-Henri Burel with Claude Laydu, Jean Riveyre, Andre Guilbert, Adrien Borel, Rachel Berendt, Nicole Maurey, Nicole Ladmiral

In 100 words: Bresson’s greatest movie will wallop you with its simplicity and generosity to this priest who has suffered a stirring crisis of faith. But its simplicity reveals such a depth that few films can match: Bresson has tremendous visuals, like Chantal’s unforgettable confession, or the priest being always behind bars, a constant reminder of his spiritual and physical imprisonment, and sense of editing, abruptly cutting away from scenes that have strong emotions, until a few choice moments. His powerful technique brings out the quiet grace and serenity that this material possesses, aided tremendously by Laydu’s perfect performance. All is grace indeed.

Other Movies for Context: Bresson’s admirers are numerous, which belie the simplicity of his technique but the majesty of his films. Pickpocket and A Man Escaped are my two other favorite movies by him, because I love the choreography of his characters and how he portrays them. I wasn’t particularly fond of either Au Hasard Balthazar and L’Argent.

6. “The Passion of Joan of Arc”, Carl Th. Dreyer (1928)

Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list.

Passion of Joan of Arc

The Passion of Joan of Arc aka La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc

dir. Carl Th. Dreyer scr. Joseph Delteil and Carl Th. Dreyer cin. Rudolph Mate with Renee Falconetti, Eugene Silvain, Andre Berley, and Maurice Schultz

In 100 words: Dreyer’s greatest film is also one of the most perfectly shot, cut, and blocked films in history. Each image has expertly framed mise-en-scene, each cut from close-up to mid-shot is so precise and jarring, and each performance is so exacting and attuned to the sensational material, that one feels transported into an alternate dimension watching it. The bare-bones production design greatly assists the alienating feeling that the images suggest, and amps up the lines on these people’s faces, both to terrifying and depressing effect. Renee Falconetti, and this cannot be said enough, truly gives the greatest performance in recorded cinema.

Other Movies for Context: I’ve seen one other Joan of Arc picture, starring Mila Jovovich called The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (1999) for a Religion class. Anyway, Dreyer is an interesting director, in that the spareness of his images have been widely praised. Lars von Trier’s Dogville (2003) has a similar spareness that seems directly influenced by this movie and the other works of Dreyer. I’m not fond of most of his work, Ordet (1955) was painfully boring, while Gertrud (1964) and Day of Wrath (1943) inspired the same lukewarm reaction from me. Only Vampyr (1932), which I saw in a theater with a live orchestra came close to getting me excited about his work.

7. “Woman in the Dunes”, Hiroshi Teshigahara (1964)

Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list

Woman-in-the-Dunes-1

Woman in the Dunes aka 砂の女 or Suna no Onna

dir. Hiroshi Teshigahara, scr. Kobo Abe based on his novel Sand Woman cin. Hiroshi Segawa with Eiji Okada and Kyoko Kishida

In 100 words: “Are you shoveling to survive, or surviving to shovel?” This stunning masterpiece of eroticism, adventure, and post-apocalyptic vision entices the audience with its loopy, Sisyphean storytelling, sensual images and sinuous sounds. The story builds slowly, suspense pulsating from every edit, music invading spaces, but once that ladder disappears, the film speeds through one existential dread after another, inviting such fascinating discussions about human dependency, survival, and community. Teshigahara’s craft is astonishing: few images are more tactile than two bodies covered in sand, a man stuck in quicksand or as terror-inducing as a wall of sand.  Elusive, dreamy, and certainly unforgettable.

Other Movies for Context: Teshigahara’s movie is one of a kind, it’s form so distinguished and so refined, few have the same sort of effect, although he’s definitely an important of the Japanese New Wave. When I think of this movie, I think about Nagisa Oshima and his impressive films like In The Realm of the Senses (1972), a hypnotic and landmark erotica, and Shinji Aoyama’s Eureka (2001), a startling Japanese movie that functions as psychological character study after a trauma.