Blowup – introduction to the great Italian arthouse director Michaelangelo Antonioni, set in swinging ’60s London.
Blue Velvet – great introduction to David Lynch, one of America’s few art house directors. Detective tale set in small town America, very weird.
Seven Samurai / Yojimbo – two introductions to Akira Kurosawa, the most entertaining and accessible Japanese director. Basically westerns / action movies.
Stalker – probably the most accessible Tarkovsky — a sci fi film, not too long — though still a challenge. Big on eerie atmosphere. Slow but gorgeous.
Persona – probably the most famous Bergman. Pretty grim and very serious but also exactly what Bergman is known for – deep psychological melodrama.
Pierrot le fou – Godard is without a doubt the best post war filmmaker, but he’s so smart that his films can be a challenge. This is from the end of his first period of filmmaking, where he is at the height of pop-yness and pop culture, so this one can be enjoyed for it’s color and fun, it’s divergent paths. A good starting place.
Claire’s Knee – hard to choose a good Rohmer, another French New Wave master like Godard, as they are all quite similar: sexy, talkative, beautiful photography, beautiful people, endlesss debate. This is my favorite.
Chinatown / The Godfather / McCabe & Mrs. Miller / Apocalypse Now / The Conversation – all high water marks for early / mid 70s “comeback” of American cinema with a new wave of young American filmmakers — Altman, Coppola, Polanski (import). All genre pieces.
Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb – good starting place for Kubrick, one of the greatest directors of all time, straddling art house and mainstream. Satirical war movie, very insane, doesn’t date despite end of Cold War.
Sunset Blvd. – A secret: 70% of all great films are made before 1960. Here’s a good one to start with, a noir / melodrama about the death of Hollywood. Very famous.
His Girl Friday – One of the all time great romantic comedies, filled to the brim with wild, back and forth bantering dialog. By one of the great American directors, Howard Hawks. Stars Cary Grant.
Trouble in Paradise – Another classic screwball romantic comedy, made about 8 years earlier by another great, Ernst Lubitsch, probably the most respected American comedic director of the sound era.
Written on the Wind – Overblown, over colored, over sexed melodrama from the 1950s. Viewed often as camp nowadays, but it is both very funny and very serious. And seriously entertaining. Directed by Douglas Sirk, beloved for his mainstream melodramas that satirize American values.
Anatomy of a Murder – Directed by Otto Preminger, this is a great, thorough and genre defining court room drama. Long but riveting. Stars Jimmy Stewart.
Beau travail – Directed by one of the great contemporary directors, Claire Denis, this film is like a poem shot on film, all sound and images, about the foreign legion. One of the great films of the 90s.
Close-up – As is this, directed by another contemporary master, Abbas Kiarostami. Worth looking up the story to this before watching it, as the film mixes documentary and fiction in an entirely innovative way. Amazing.
Cache – Directed by grim Austrian provacateur Michael Haneke, a great contemporary thriller by an art house staple.
The Marriage of Maria Braun – Fassbinder, one of the greatest German directors of their new wave (70s), makes this incredible melodrama which riffs off films like Sirks (Written on the Wind, see above).
Aguirre The Wrath of God – The other great German new wave filmmaker, Herzog, shoots this fiction film about a conquistador looking for gold in the amazon like it’s a documentary. Amazing, groundbreaking.
Les Amants du Pont-Neuf – an efant terrible of current French cinema, Leos Carax, directed this madman’s romance. Has to be seen to be believed.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – Music video maker Michel Gondry’s one true success, scripted by Charlie Kaufman, an amazing postmodern romance involving memory wiping. Stars Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey.
The Mission / Election + Election 2 / Exiled – three films by Johnnie To, Hong Kong’s current genre master. An action movie, two gangster epics, and another action movie, all terrific watches by a total craftsman.
The Killer / Hard Boiled / Once Upon a Time in China – 3 early 90s / late 80s Hong Kong action masterpieces, the first two by John Woo (both gangster action films) the last by Tsui Hark (martial arts starring Jet Li). Shows you what all Hollywood action is missing.
Dead Man – Jim Jarmusch’s best film, an acid western starring Johnny Depp. Dreamy, weird, funny, slow, also very serious.
The Apartment – best picture winner 1960, directed by Bill Wilder (Sunset Blvd., see above). Good romance / dramedy.
Days of Heaven – Terrence Malick, one of Hollywood’s rare contemporary poets, directed this unreal and gorgeous masterpiece taking place on a farm in the Depression. Looks better than it sounds, one of the most striking looking films ever.
Double Indemnity – great entry point into old Hollywood noir, a terrific genre. Also directed by Wilder (The Apartment, Sunset Blvd.)
Tokyo Story – the most well known film by Japanese master Yasujiro Ozu. IMO one of the saddest and greatest movies ever, and a classic story. This is my favorite filmmaker, FWIW.
Irma Vep – great contemporary director Olivier Assayas made this postmodern look at movie making, where a director in the 1990s wants to remake an old french silent film but starring a Hong Kong action star woman! So good.
Yiyi – the last film by amazing Taiwanaese director Edward Yang who died too young (middle age) a couple years ago. Simply beautiful drama.
8 1/2 / La dolce vita / Amarcord – three films by Federico Fellini, the most well known and beloved Italian auteurs, these are his most accessible, about filmmaking, living a life of fame, and a look into his past, respectively. Immensely enjoyable.
In the Mood for Love – Wong Kar-wai’s best film, a dreamy romance starring beautiful people in beautiful places ruminating beautifully.
Sonatine / Fireworks – two contemporary semi-gangster films made deadpan and beautiful by Japanese star-director Takeshi Kitano
Winchester ‘73 – a great place to start to get into old Hollywood westerns, this one is spare, brutal, stripped of silliness. Story follows the path of a famous gun. Stars Jimmy Stewart. In a similar vein as the Coens’ True Grit.
No Country for Old Men / Fargo – two of the better, though darker, films by the Coen brothers.
Fantastic Mr. Fox – best film by Wes Anderson; animated in stop motion, seems childish at first but is really very grown up. Very American/English language based jokes and tone.
Taxi Driver / Goodfellas / The Departed – three films from 3 eras by Martin Scorsese. All guys’ movies, tough, violent.
Spirited Away – best film by beloved Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki. Unmatched imagination.
Jackie Brown – IMO best film by Tarantino. Relaxed, long, great characters, amazing sense of Los Angeles.
Le boucher / Une femme infidel / Les biches – three sexy thrillers by Claude Chabrol (died last year), member of French New Wave, heir to Hitchock. Accessible French films.
North by Northwest / The Lady Vanishes / Psycho / The Birds / Rear Window – the best Alfred Hitchcock films to start with. Masterpieces, all.
City Lights – The best Charlie Chaplin to start with — probably cinema’s funniest and sweetest filmmaker. A silent comedy romance. Does not date, everyone cries at the end.
The General – one of the other great silent comedians, Buster Keaton. Pure physical comedy, unrivaled even now. Super funny.
Hannah and Her Sisters – probably the best of Woody Allen’s second peak period (mid/late 80s, first peak period being with Manhattan / Annie Hall, also recommended).
Heat – one of the best genre directors in America now with an epic LA crime film starring Pacino and De Niro. One of my favorites of the 90s.
The Thing / Halloween / They Live – three films by American genre master John Carpenter, one of the best genre directors of the 70s / 80s.
400 Blows – beautiful French New Wave debut by Francois Truffaut, a bittersweet ode to childhood.
The French Connection – great American crime film from the 70s.
2001: A Space Odyssey – Kubrick space classic. Slow, deep, boring but amazing, a must see.Read less