1. Blue Velvet. Because it’s Blue Velvet. Because of its historical significance, and because it embodies David Lynch’s artistic integrity. After the financial disaster of Dune, Lynch was still under contract with the De Laurentiis group but refused to do anything else unless he had final cut. It didn’t matter that he had a minuscule budget; he called Dino’s bluff and got it done. It stands as his greatest accomplishment.
2. Wild at Heart. Because of sentimental reasons, i.e. the crazy ex-girlfriend who identified a little too closely with Lula. Lynch at his most unrestrained and chaotic. I think this is probably his most entertaining film, in the traditional sense, and rewards multiple viewings.
3. Mulholland Drive. His most artfully crafted film, which continues to grow on me with each viewing, but I don’t quite love it as much as my top two choices.
4. Lost Highway. Because it’s fun to be utterly confused once in a while. Slavoj Zizek gave a great psychoanalytic description of Lost Highway’s plot structure in The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema, but that kind of killed off some of the mystery for me. Anyone claiming to fully understand this film should be viewed with suspicion. Bringing Hegel into the argument won’t help you either. Bonus points for casting Robert Blake as the “Mystery Man.”
5. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. Say what you will, but I think this is a great film. Obviously it can’t stand up as a complete film without seeing the TV series, but it does an admirable job of tying everything up. And it features some of the creepiest moments ever captured on film. The tracking shot where Laura enters her room to see “Bob” lurking behind her dresser still gives me the willies.
6. Eraserhead. The beginning of Lynch’s longstanding relationship with Jack Nance. Also, a seriously unnerving film and a truly original effort. We can count ourselves lucky that anyone would take a chance on Lynch after this.
7. The Elephant Man. Turns out that Mel Brooks was the one to give Lynch his big break. This film makes beautiful use of black and white photography and tells a compelling story, but you can sense Lynch is restraining himself quite a bit.
8. Dune. I’ll be a bit of a contrarian here, but Dune has really grown on me. I have no idea why Dino De Laurentiis would entrust a multi-million dollar science fiction epic to David Lynch and expect anything different than what he delivered. I really love the production design and the level of weirdness brought to the whole effort. Also, I was living in Mexico during the film’s production and one of my third-grade classmates was a stand-in for Paul Atreides’ sister Alia.
9. Inland Empire. I’ll give this one another shot, but I guess I’m still on the fence about it. Is it Lynch unfiltered, or is he finally losing it?
10. The Straight Story. The credit “Directed by David Lynch” is the most interesting thing about this film. Sorry.