25. The Handmaiden (2016)
Director: Park Chan-wook (3)
Park Chan-wook is a master craftsman of provocation and The Handmaiden is his masterpiece. From a technical and performance perspective, it’s simply perfect. The narrative is constructed flawlessly to play brilliantly off these diverse, underhanded characters. It’s a beautiful film based on the symmetrical and clean aesthetic and a dirty one when it comes to character and the writing. The way Park uses this to tell this incredibly impacting narratively. The ambition displayed here is unparalleled. An incredible experience.
“It would have been better if I was never born. To have never taken a breath and live.”
24. The Master (2012)
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson (4)
The technical mastery from Paul Thomas Anderson in The Master is unmatched. The writing is incredibly strange but also extremely sharp while allowing two of the greatest actors ever to become fully invested in these characters. Joaquin Phoenix and Phillip Seymour Hoffman are otherworldly and I’ve never seen two actors play off each other so effectively. It’s astonishing whenever these two take the screen together. One of the best modern films.
“If you figure a way to live without serving a master, any master, then let the rest of us know, will you? For you’d be the first person in the history of the world.”
23. La Haine (1995)
Director: Mathieu Kassovits (1)
La Haine is arguably the most powerful statement on the list. The hidden underbelly of Frances disenfranchised and forgotten about communities is the hateful divide that draws a line in the middle of La Haine. A masterfully constructed film, following an explosive group of impoverished friends, shows the type of trouble this environment creates for citizens and police. Vincent Cassel is magic, but the entire cast is just as good. The film works on every conceivable level to get its point across. Quickly falling down from a skyscraper filmmaking
“So far so good… so far so good… so far so good. How you fall doesn’t matter. It’s how you land!”
22. The Shining (1980)
Director: Stanley Kubrick (4)
The Shining is the most meticulously detailed, mind-bending film in existence. No part of the frame is without Kubrick’s fingerprints making each shot of the film packed with story elements and narrative. It’s stunning the way Kubrick used every possible space to tell his story. And, I didn’t even mention the all-time great lead performances from Jack Nicholson and Shelly Duvall.
“Some places are like people: some shine and some don’t.”
21. The Night of the Hunter (1955)
Director: Charles Laughton (1)
The epitome of style in filmmaking with every breathtaking moment presenting visuals that are so rich and unique. There’s never been another film quite like Charles Laughton’s masterpiece. Robert Mitchum delivers a perfect performance.
“Leaning… leaning… safe and secure from all alarms. Leaning… leaning… leaning on the everlasting arms.”
20. All That Jazz (1979)
Director: Bob Fosse (1)
In a slow dying examination of death itself, told through music and song, Roy Scheider delivers a transcendent performance that’s beautifully nuanced and happy. Bob Fosse takes the musical genre and spins it, taking it to unforeseen places that shock the senses. It might feature the greatest ending to a film of all-time.
“Sometimes I don’t know where the bullshit ends and the truth begins.”
19. Possession (1981)
Director: Andrzej Zuławski (2)
Never has a horror film ever shook me to my core like Possession. Andrzej Zulawski’s masterpiece, an intensely haunting experience on a psychological and physical leveled by the inexhaustible shriek of the supreme Isabelle Adjani. In fact, Adjani delivers something utterly remarkable in this performance. Her derangement is evocative in a way that is more troubling than anything I’ve ever experienced. An incredible piece of horror cinema.
“I can’t exist by myself because I’m afraid of myself, because I’m the maker of my own evil.”
18. The Godfather: Part II (1974)
Director: Francis Ford Coppola (4)
The Godfather: Part II is nearly flawless. It delivers on two of the greatest performances ever as the plot continuously drops impactful moments onto the screen. Coppola refined his work in the original and made an all-encompassing film that expands on aspects of the original. Robert De Niro as the young Don Corleone is arguably the greatest performance of all-time. He expands on the Brando character while keeping the character intact. The Sicilian scenes in the third act are otherworldly gorgeous and effective.
“Do me this favor. I won’t forget it. Ask your friends in the neighborhood about me. They’ll tell you I know how to return a favor.”
17. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
Director: David Lean (2)
David Lean’s Lawrence Of Arabia is perhaps the most impressive accomplishment in film history. The greatest epic tale ever told on a screen, remembered for its legendary cinematography from Freddie Young, the revolutionary match cut and editing from Anne V. Coates, the incredible cast led by the great Peter O’Toole and brought home by Alec Guinness, a truly magnificent production. It’s such a grand scale picture that’s never been reproduced. The magnitude of the film is far beyond almost any in history.
Jackson Bentley: What is it, Major Lawrence, that attracts you personally to the desert?
T.E. Lawrence: It’s clean.
16. Tampopo (1985)
Director: Juzo Itami (1)
Tampopo is a dream. A bright ray of sunshine showing life in such a beautiful light, filtered through the love of Japanese food culture that flows through like ramen in a colander. Structured like an old Samurai/Western/Gangster films with a series of vignettes sprinkled throughout that capture the lighthearted spirit of Tampopo. Every single scene is meaningful and full of humanity. The euphoria of Juzo Itami’s direction creates this romance of food, combining the love for food with a level of eroticism, and a spiritual connection to it that flows through all of us. It’s cinema, pure and simple
“I’ll kill you if you make that noise once the movie starts! Understand? And… I also don’t like watch alarms going off.”
15. Irreversible (2002)
Director: Gaspar Noe
Noé’s Irreversible is an experience that immediately sucks you into this broken world that is slowly piecing itself back together. Noe has an eye for unconventional narrative storytelling and Irreversible is arguably the best example in film history of manipulating story structure to effectively tell a narrative in greater detail. It’s unbelievably gratifying watching this film play out because the experience is genuinely numbing. There are moments in this film that leave you utterly speechless. Masterpiece.
“Time destroys everything.”
14. Clockwork Orange (1971)
Director: Stanley Kubrick (5)
Clockwork Orange was the experience that spurred on my love and interest in films. Stanley Kubrick opened pandora’s box, adapting Anthony Burgess’s novel where he essentially created a language and made something entirely unique. The world-building is unparalleled and the dystopian environment feels lived in and existing. Malcolm McDowell in the titular is a provocative force of nature. All-time great leading performance in an absolute surreal ride of a film. The use of music is some of the best mixing works in history.
“There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim, and we sat in the Korova Milkbar trying to make up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening. The Korova milkbar sold milk-plus, milk plus vellocet or synthemesc or drencrom, which is what we were drinking. This would sharpen” you up and make you ready for a bit of the old ultra-violence.
13. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Director: Stanley Kubrick (6)
A visual and intellectual masterpiece that is both challenging and beyond gratifying. The execution behind the camera is years beyond its time and the sheer amount of production that went into this film is unheard of. No aspect of the filmmaking is overlooked. It’s such an ambitious project, and when done with a heavy focus on the art. It’s a space opera with the most daring visuals.
“I am putting myself to the fullest possible use, which is all I think that any conscious entity can ever hope to do.”
12. Come and See (1985)
Director: Elem Klimov (1)
Elem Klimov’s ferocious anti-war film Come and See lives up to the billing of its own set of expectations. As the title suggests, come and see is taken literally and what follows is a very devastating, sometimes dramatized, but mostly realistic look at Nazi-controlled Byelorussia (now Belarus) and the ruinous injustice of the Nazi cause. It leaves little room for ambiguity or any semblance of moral truth. It’s truly heartbreaking and one of the most effective uses of the medium to make a point. Klimov’s Come and See is a masterpiece that needs to be digested and discussed throughout time.
11. Paths of Glory (1957)
Director: Stanley Kubrick (7)
Kubrick’s Paths of Glory is the definitive statement on war. A triumphant of the war genre and the most powerful statement possibly ever put on film. It’s about the cost of a soldier’s life in accordance with the rule of law. The stringent protocols soldiers follow to protect rank. Few scenes are as powerful as the trial scene and Kirk Douglas is absolutely masterful with his defense against human injustice. It’s a jaw-dropping film that pushed cinema visually and narratively.
“Gentlemen of the court, there are times that I’m ashamed to be a member of the human race and this is one such occasion”
10. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
Director: Mike Nichols (1)
Incredibly biting, vitriol, and meaningful screenplay. One that continually changes as alcohol and emotion come into play. The reality of the writing is so truthful that it hurts to experience this situation along with the characters. The dialogue is a minefield and the actors maneuver it beautifully. Each performance is surreal in depiction making the turn to the truth so damn impactful. Albee’s story is a true American classic and there’s nothing else like it.
“I swear, if you existed, I’d divorce you.”
9. Network (1976)
Director: Sidney Lumet (4)
Peter Finch as Howard Beale is the greatest character of all-time and his performance has the touch of divine intervention. But this isn’t the legendary film it is without Lumet’s vision for this story and the incredible Paddy Chayefsky script. Truly one of the best screenplays in history being performed by one of the best cast ever: Faye Dunaway, Will Holden, Beatrice Straight, Robert Duvall, Will Beatty (with one of the greatest monologues ever), and Marlene Warfield
“This was the story of Howard Beale: The first known instance of a man who was killed because he had lousy ratings”
8. There Will Be Blood (2007)
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson (5)
Visual storytelling. The art of cinema itself is captured in Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterpiece of sight, sound, and performance. One performance, in particular, the indomitable Daniel Day-Lewis as the oil tycoon Daniel Plainview, is utterly remarkable work. It’s definitely my favorite performance of all-time, but the greatness of this film is the visceral nature of the storytelling.
“Ladies and gentlemen… I’ve traveled over half our state to be here tonight. I couldn’t get away sooner because my new well was coming in at Coyote Hills and I had to see about it. That well is now flowing at two thousand barrels and it’s paying me an income of five thousand dollars a week”
7. Ikiru (1952)
Director: Akira Kurosawa (12)
Ikiru is a celebration of life in death and a brilliantly structured narrative to show the depths of a man’s compassion. Takashi Shimura is vibrant and so real in his dying days. The script excellently tells the story of his last-ditch effort to build a playground. Kurosawa’s most humane picture and a beautiful depiction of legacy through Shimura.
“I can’t afford to hate people. I don’t have that kind of time.”
6. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
Director: Miloš Forman (3)
This film makes the audience go through an unbelievably wide range of emotions and it’s brilliant. It’s a laugh-riot filled with lovable characters, great performances, and a deep, meaningful story. Jack Nicholson as Randle Patrick McMurphy was the part he was born to play. He was the perfect mix of insane, depressed, and happy. On top of a perfect cast of oddballs, who all deliver real, outstanding performances. Louise Fletcher is absolutely wicked. No scene will ever impact as much as the shock therapy scene.
“Jesus, I mean, you guys do nothing but complain about how you can’t stand it in this place here and you don’t have the guts just to walk out? What do you think you are, for Chrissake, crazy or somethin’? Well you’re not! You’re not! You’re no crazier than the average asshole out walkin’ around on the streets and that’s it.”
5. Rashomon (1950)
Director: Akira Kurosawa (13)
The first time I caught Rashomon, it was like my entire body was transported to another realm of existence. I cease to exist and my soul lived on through this film. Kurosawa spoke to a specific part of my psyche and brought me in through sheer visceral curiosity and characters that intrigued beyond reason. Toshiro Mifune and Machiko Kyo deliver something unseen in their performances.
“It’s human to lie. Most of the time we can’t even be honest with ourselves.”
4. Cries and Whispers (1972)
Director: Ingmar Bergman (4)
Bergman manufactured an inscrutable film. One that is constantly gasping for air, existing within the confines of the human psyche, and a film that truly understands suffering at a fundamental level. A film that excels in every facet, the red rooms representative of inside the human heart, the incredible performances, the best editing ever, and a deeply impactful story. It’s Bergman at his most complete and evocative. A surreal masterpiece of great emotional capacity. Every scene is a marvel.
“Agnes, my dear child, listen to what I tell you now. Pray for those of us left behind on this dark and miserable earth beneath a cruel and empty sky. Lay your suffering at God’s feet and plead with him to pardon us. Plead with him to free us of our anxiety, our weariness, and our deepest doubts. Plead with him to give meaning to our lives.”
3. Barry Lyndon (1975)
Director: Stanley Kubrick (8)
The epitome of art and character in film with Stanley Kubrick’s illustrious Barry Lyndon. A film so meticulously detailed as if the camera lens is the brush painting onto a canvas, carefully placing each object in the frame to spark emotion. Redmond Barry (Ryan O’ Neal) is a character I find endless intriguing in his travels. It’s a perfect film. Exquisitely beautiful in look, feel, sound and character.
“Barry’s father had been bred, like many other young sons of a genteel family, to the profession of the law. And there is no doubt he would’ve made an eminent figure in his profession had he not been killed in a duel, which arose over the purchase of some horses.”
2. Harakiri (1962)
Director: Masaki Kobayashi (2)
In terms of crafting a narrative, Harakiri is perfect. Each passing scene is impactful beyond words and the visual storytelling of this tragic story of pride and desperation is incredible. Tatsuya Nakadai shows the dying age of the samurai through his brilliant performance. Legendary film. Flawless from a technical and narrative standpoint.
“What befalls others today, may be your own fate tomorrow.”
1. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
Director: Stanley Kubrick (9)
The best screenplay ever written. The greatest collection of characters and performances, three of which are performed by Peter Sellers. A devilishly clever approach to nuclear war introduced through the paranoid General Ripper (Sterling Hayden) and brought home from the glorious lust for war from George C. Scott. It’s such a brilliant film that is hilariously dark. Vera Lynn taking us out to mushroom clouds is one of a million reasons why it’s the best film of all-time. It’s everything I want from a film…
“Now, I don’t *avoid* women, Mandrake, but I *do* deny them my essence!”
Note to readers: Thanks for reading the top 251 (that has since been expanded to 256) and for making it another great year to love film. I will be back next year with a top 500! For now, enjoy the vast selection of great films on the 251. Every film on the list is phenomenal and as always the rankings different quite a bit from last year. I encourage everyone to make their own top films list and do it every year.