100 Essential Films

Because space was tight, documentaries, shorts and animated films were not eligible. Additionally, we limited directors to no more than one spot on the list.

100 Essential Films

In response to the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 greatest American movies, film scholar Jonathan Rosenbaum took the AFI to task for what he saw as a product “symptomatic of an increasingly dumbed-down film culture that continues to outflank our shrinking expectations.” Of course, any list of this kind (including Sight and Sound’s decennial roster and the Village Voice Film Critic’s Poll from a few years back) is not without its blind spots. Participants are often forced to pick a select group of favorites and make a number of concessions (“Well, if I want Antonioni to make it into the collective top 10, I’d better hedge my bets with L’Avventura instead of my personal favorite Zabriskie Point.”). Consequently, underdogs and obscure gems have little chance of being represented on a composite list that’s typically unveiled with little-to-no “justification for any of its titles” (to borrow again from Rosenbaum). Rather than present a list that looks like everyone else’s, Slant Magazine has decided to do something a little different.

While you will find many popular classics and critical favorites on our list of 100 Essential Films, our goal was to mix things up a bit. This list should not be construed as a definitive “greatest films” package, but as an alternative compiled by a group of kinky film-lovers wanting to give serious critical thought to neglected, forgotten and misunderstood gems. We aimed for the kind of list where post-Cahiers Orson Welles could stand shoulder-to-shoulder with a pre-pastiche Brian De Palma; where it’s understood that Hitchcock, Dreyer, Ford and Ozu created masterpieces besides film-school staples like Vertigo, The Passion of Joan of Arc, The Searchers, and Tokyo Story; and where the postmodern irony of Douglas Sirk’s Imitation of Life is allowed space next to its modern-day equivalent: Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls (gasp!). Because space was tight, documentaries, shorts and animated films were not eligible. Additionally, we limited directors to no more than one spot on the list. Check back every few days as we randomly introduce a new film.

And if this goes over well, we’ll return soon with another list, tentatively referred to in our small circle as “100 Essential Films 2: Electric Boogaloo.”

Les Vampires (Louis Feuillade, 1915)
Broken Blossoms (D.W. Griffith, 1919)
Foolish Wives (Erich Von Stroheim, 1922)
Faust (F.W. Murnau, 1926)
Hindle Wakes (Maurice Elvey, 1927)
The Cameraman (Edward Sedgwick, 1928)
The Crowd (King Vidor, 1928)
The Fall of the House of Usher (Jean Epstein, 1928)
Spies (Fritz Lang, 1928)
Earth (Aleksandr Dovzhenko, 1930)
An American Tragedy (Josef Von Sternberg, 1931)
¡Que Viva México! (Sergei Eisenstein, 1931)
Freaks (Tod Browning, 1932)
Love Me Tonight (Rouben Mamoulian, 1932)
The Black Cat (Edgar G. Ulmer, 1934)
The Crime of Monseiur Lange (Jean Renoir, 1936)
Gueule D’Amour (Jean Grémillon, 1937)
Make Way for Tomorrow (Leo McCarey, 1937)
Stage Door (Gregory La Cava, 1937)
Only Angels Have Wings (Howard Hawks, 1939)
The Mortal Storm (Frank Borzage, 1940)
To Be or Not to Be (Ernst Lubitsch, 1942)
The Leopard Man (Jacques Tourneur, 1943)
Monsieur Verdoux (Charlie Chaplin, 1947)
Portrait of Jennie (William Dieterle, 1948)
The Flowers of St. Francis (Roberto Rossellini, 1950)
In a Lonely Place (Nicholas Ray, 1950)
Ace in the Hole (Billy Wilder, 1951)
The Life of Oharu (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1952)
Le Plaisir (Max Ophüls, 1952)
I Confess (Alfred Hitchcock, 1952)
Ensayo de Un Crimen (Luis Buñuel, 1955)
Autumn Leaves (Robert Aldrich, 1956)
Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (Frank Tashlin, 1957)
Bonjour Tristesse (Otto Preminger, 1958)
Imitation of Life (Douglas Sirk, 1959)
The Ladies’ Man (Jerry Lewis, 1961)
Cléo from 5 to 7 (Agnès Varda, 1962)
Confessions of an Opium Eater (Albert Zugsmith, 1962)
Winter Light (Ingmar Bergman, 1963)
Charulata (Satyajit Ray, 1964)
Gertrud (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1964)
Yearning (Mikio Naruse, 1964)
7 Women (John Ford, 1966)
Kill, Baby, Kill! (Mario Bava, 1966)
Masculin Feminin (Jean-Luc Godard, 1966)
Point Blank (John Boorman, 1967)
The Shooting (Monte Hellman, 1967)
Memories of Underdevelopment (Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, 1968)
Once Upon a Time in the West (Sergio Leone, 1968)
Hi Mom! (Brian De Palma, 1970)
The Lickerish Quartet (Radley Metzger, 1970)
Trash (Paul Morrissey, 1970)
McCabe & Mrs. Miller (Robert Altman, 1971)
A New Leaf (Elaine May, 1971)
Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (Sam Peckinpah, 1974)
Celine and Julie Go Boating (Jacques Rivette, 1974)
Lancelot du Lac (Robert Bresson, 1974)
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Tobe Hooper, 1974)
Jeanne Dielman (Chantal Akerman, 1975)
The Passenger (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1975)
Xala (Ousmane Sembène, 1975)
Assault on Precinct 13 (John Carpenter, 1976)
F for Fake (Orson Welles, 1976)
The Tenant (Roman Polanski, 1976)
Killer of Sheep (Charles Burnett, 1977)
In a Year of 13 Moons (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1978)
Stalker (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1979)
The Big Red One (Samuel Fuller, 1980)
Possession (Andrzej Zulawski, 1981)
Fitzcarraldo (Werner Herzog, 1982)
Tenebre (Dario Argento, 1982)
The Ballad of Narayama (Shôhei Imamura, 1983)
The Day of the Dead (George A. Romero, 1985)
Empire of the Sun (Steven Spielberg, 1987)
Yeelen (Souleymane Cissé, 1987)
Distant Lives, Still Voices (Terence Davies, 1988)
The Last Temptation of Christ (Martin Scorsese, 1988)
A Short Film About Killing (Krzysztof Kieślowski, 1988)
Close-Up (Abbas Kiarostami, 1990)
A Brighter Summer Day (Edward Yang, 1991)
Hard Boiled (John Woo, 1992)
Husbands and Wives (Woody Allen, 1992)
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (David Lynch, 1992)
The Puppetmaster (Hou Hsiao-hsien, 1993)
Sátántangó (Béla Tarr, 1994)
Dead Man (Jim Jarmusch, 1995)
Showgirls (Paul Verhoeven, 1995)
Underground (Emir Kusturica, 1995)
Crash (David Cronenberg, 1996)
Fireworks (Takeshi Kitano, 1997)
Mother and Son (Aleksandr Sokurov, 1997)
Beloved (Jonathan Demme, 1998)
The Hole (Tsai Ming-liang, 1998)
Velvet Goldmine (Todd Haynes, 1998)
Beau Travail (Claire Denis, 1999)
Platform (Jia Zhang-ke, 2000)
Fat Girl (Catherine Breillat, 2001)
Pulse (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2001)
Twentynine Palms (Bruno Dumont, 2003)

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