45 movies to see before you die

I’m posting this because I want you to recommend me some movies. Little gems I haven’t seen, but would enjoy. Check out my list (and watch the movies!) and tell me what I’m missing. The mini reviews are from my facebook flixster app ratings.


Whit Stilman Trilogy
Metropolitan (1990), Barcelona (1994), The Last Days of Disco (1998)

Not one film, but three, Whit Stilman’s charmingly barbed portraits of a group of archetypal upper class Manhattan neurotics, rival anything Woody Allen has produced. Stilman manages to effectively satirise his characters, while whilst drawing them humanely, and with great affection. These movies exist in a kind of glossy nostalgic realm, a quirky modern American Merchant ivory of débutante balls and fairytale discotheques. Stilman’s dialogue is absolutely superb, Noel Coward crossed with Richard Linklater. Highly recommended.

Twin Peaks – Fire Walk with Me

Amazing, Lynch’s distinctive noirish fusion of utopian suburbia and it’s unseemly underbelly at its most visually esoteric and disturbing. Amazing performances by Sheryl Lee as Laura Palmer, and Ray Wise as the macbethian Leland Palmer. Last but not least, a David Bowie cameo. Astonishing stuff. For those who say it lacks the series distinctive comedy, watch the first twenty minutes (almost a separate movie) again.

Before Sunset

The (second) greatest love story ever filmed. Two people talking for an hour and twenty. That ladies and gentlemen is why Richard Linklater is a genius. If you have a soul you will cry like a pussy.

Waking Life

Linklater, director of Before Sunset and Before Sunrise, and the dreamy 70’s highschool comedy Dazed and Confused, creates his most personal and experimental work, a trippy rotoscoped voyage into the nature of dreams, consciousness and life itself. Unmissable.

Ringu (Ring)

Perhaps the most genuinely terrifying movie ever made. Ringu uses ambient sound, atmospheric staging and subtle performances to disturb on a unconscious level. Forget Sarah Michelle Gellar, ignore the weak sequel and prequel. This is the greatest Japanese horror of all time.

Chasing Amy

The movie that finally made it ok to be bisexual in America. I kid. Easily Kevin Smiths best (and most underrated) film. An honest, and very funny, exploration of sexual orientation and the relationship between the sexes. Why did he have to go back to fart jokes?

Empire Records

Funny, sexy, singable, danceable; and infinitely memorable. This is the movie American teen comedies aspire to be. Watch it for a young Rene Zellweger and Liv Tyler, burning holes in the celluloid. Watch it for the deadpan Zen of Lucas. Watch it for the pitch perfect stoner abandon of Mark. Watch it for a portrait of the pre-grunge 90’s. Just watch it.


To cite a cliche, Tarnation is a film that raises more questions than it answers. For all it’s flaws, a glimpse of the future of film-making, both in terms of it’s dynamic and fluid fusion of drama and documentary, and in it’s use of the montage of found footage to construct a narrative. Worth seeing, once, with friends.

Capturing the Friedmans

A harrowing documentary and an intriguing puzzle, Capturing the Friedmans is unlike any movie you’ve seen. Jarecki’s superbly paced film is composed primarily from found footage, acres of home movies made during a paedophile scandal by the close but tragically conflicted Friedman family. The evidence against the accused son and father is gradually wound out like a lure, and each time we feel close to uncovering the truth around the films central mystery, we become again uncertain. A wonderful, terrifying film about family, and it’s disillusion, which touches on a variety of important and ambitious themes, from sexual abuse to moral panics and the ambivalence of eye witness testamony.


The early 90’s in a movie. Irreverent, both to it’s caricatures and it’s audiences expectations, clueless is a much much smarter and better made movie than is readily understood. The movie is a pitch perfect social critique, an audacious Jane Austen update, and a genuinely funny teen comedy.

Koyaanisqatsi – Life Out of Balance

A stunning documentary, made years before the derivative Baraka; which explores mans relationship to nature. Like nothing you’ve ever seen, or heard. The soundtrack from Philip Glass, and cinematography from Ron Fricke are outstanding. A perfect trip movie.

Blue Velvet

Lynch at his most disturbing. From the opening shot, to the closing frame, the glossy surface of a parodically stereotyped American dream, is pulled aside to reveal a mutant underbelly of freakish sexual desire and tragedy; an allegory of almost Greek intensity. Unsettling and beautiful, Blue Velvet epitomises Lynches thrill of the bizarre; often copied, never equalled.

A Very Long Engagement (Un long dimanche de fiançailles)

Wonderful, beautifully filmed comic love story. Which sacrifices neither its humour to its narrative, nor its drama to it wit. Audrey Tautou is almost unbearably sad and lovely as the reserved but indomitable Mathilde.


A perverse, unique look at 21st century sexuality, as epitomised by the lives of a group of esoteric libertines. Intriguing, though deeply twisted.

Before Sunrise

The greatest love story ever filmed. Utterly believable performances and improvisation from the two leads, and a witty, naturalistic and subtly ambitious script. Sublime.

Sin City

Underrated flawed classic. Easily one of the most visually interesting films ever, Sin City’s frenetic pace never lets up, even over a 2hr running time. Memorable characters and a baroque narrative, make up for the occasionally so so performances. Mickey Rourke steals the show.

How To Get Ahead in Advertising

Shocking, thrilling, absurd comedy, from the team behind Withnail and I. A deeply unsettling and confrontational film; remorselessly critical of modernity and deeply silly. Wunderbar.


Larry Clark’s genre defining film, captures the lives of working class new york kids, and they smoke dope, chug nitrous, drink, beat one another up, and most controversially, have sex. More than a ‘realistic depiction’, kids (written by Harmony Korine – himself a street kid) succeeds brilliantly in getting under the skins of it’s characters, and exploring the nature of urban adolescence.

The Devil and Daniel Johnston

A beautiful and moving documentary, following a disturbed outsider musician, who skirts the proverbial line between genius and madness.

Four Weddings and a Funeral

Proof, if proof were needed, that Richard Curtis was once funny. Most emphatically not the chick flick it is sometimes mistaken for, Four Weddings is a superb comedy of errors. Genuinely moving moments.

Pulp Fiction

Hyper kinetic, startling, hip, and timeless; Pulp Fiction is Quentin Tarantino’s magnum opus. A movie nerds dream of obscure references and knowing dialog. Pulp fiction manages to be subversive, clever, and utterly watchable. Even Bruce Willis and John Travolta are cool; and Sam Jackson at his scene chewing best.

Broken Flowers

A truly unique film. Jarmusch’s narrative touch is light as a dream, and much of the film resembles the internal emptiness of Bill Murray’s aging lothario. Somehow, the movie is so uniquely made as to convey this quiet desparation watchably. A little heavy handed in places, Broken Flowers has perhaps the greatest sound track of all time.

Lost In Translation

Sophia Copola captures Bill Murry at his most endearingly curmudgeonly, Scarlett Johansson before she burnt out in the bottom of a dye bottle, and Japan as you’ve never seen it. Tender, bitter sweat and utterly charming.

Me and You and Everyone We Know

A melo pearl of eccentric charm, Miranda July’s first feature manages to portray subtle human universals, aspects of love and longing rarely if ever portrayed on film. Touching and delicious.


A dreamy formal experiment. Less about high school shootings per say, than the intrusion of sudden violence into the flow of life, Elephant is a brave, beautiful film. Glacially slow moving and deeply romantic.


Robert Crumb is a biographers dream, a painfully awkward artistic genius, his comics redefined the nature of illustrated narrative. Here he is portrayed as the demented but high functioning survivor of a family of broken misfits. Zwigoff (who plays with Crumb’s old timey band ‘The Cheap Suit Serenaders’), provides us with a stylised, charming glimpse into a life utterly unusual, and wonderfully absurd; and a hint of the importance of creativity and individualism, as antidotes to consumerist conformity.

Ghost World

Stunningly effective comic adaptation of Daniel Clowes distinctive surreal noir. Thora Birch shines as the confused, but always stunningly dressed Enid. This movie has everything – bollywood, steve buscemi, and a rambling ice cool storyline.

Being John Malkovich

Spike Jonze mind bendingly epic trip through the mind of John Malkovich, by way of ape trauma, bizarro world cameron diaz and masterpiece puppetry. Like nothing else.


Perhaps the best articulation of Charlie Kaufmans surreal narcissism to date, Adaptation is a postmodern take on the facets of identity which define a life, and the aspects of reality which suffuse fiction. A wonderfully madcap observational comedy, featuring an incredibly unexpected performance from Nicholas Cage. Adaptation is only let down by it’s sentimental ending.

The Shining

Kubrick does horror. An operatic vision, complete with ghostly tempters, rivers of blood, an icy maze, and a haunted mansion. Jack Nicholson’s pitch perfect performance combines with John Alcott’s magnificent cinematography to produce an unequalled sense of menace. The films introductory shots from the air are still copied, and it’s use of point of view is the gold standard for the development of disturbing tension. The lengthy, taut conclusion defines cinematic nemesis. Ludicrous and terrifying.

2001: A Space Odyssey

Perhaps the greatest film of possibly the greatest director of all time. 2001 is near perfect; a tone poem vision of mankinds voyage from primeval ape to star faring superman. A classic of paleo-futurology, and an utterly spell binding beatific vision, 2001 was literally decades before it’s time. Ignore the stony performances and the glacial pace, this film is magic.

Fight Club

A directorial tour de force by David Fincher, from the cult Palahniuk novel; fightclub manages to articulate the angst of a generation born under consumerism – whilst being a hip, expensive hollywood star vehicle. An ironic, but astonishingly successful contradiction.

The Hitcher

A schlocking thrill ride, The Hitcher is one of those films – like Jonathan Demme’s ‘Silence of the Lambs’ – which transcends the conventionality of it’s premise, to produce a work of real terror. Rutger Hauer has never been better (including his turn in Blade Runner), as the mysterious, psychopathic killer.


Wes Andersons sad tale of quixotic outsider Max Fisher, is stunningly original. A true unaffected indie classic, and possibly the best of Anderson’s low energy comedies.


Nabokov’s controversial novel, brilliantly interpreted with an emphasis on it’s comedic elements. James Mason is excellent as a repressed but debonair Humbert Humbert. Peter Sellars is suitably terrifying and ambiguous as the monstrous Clare Quilty. Lacking the eroticism of the novel, but darker than many of its critics credit.


An effective noirish thriller, built around thoroughly original premise, and an excellent script. Nolan’s direction is workman like but effective. Guy Pearce is vulnerable and stunning.

The Silence of the Lambs

A beguiling thriller with captivating cinematography, a stellar cast and tight suspenseful direction. Endlessly imitated, from a wonderful novel by Thomas Harris, Silence of the Lambs is easily the best ‘serial killa’ thrilla’ of all time. Hopkin’s portrait of the insane genius Hannibal Lector is as memorable as it is unequalled in the later sequels.

Forrest Gump

Robert Zemeckis has a rare gift for infusing tacky premises with magic, and Forrest Gump – the fictive biopic of an idiotic accidental hero, is no exception. Hanks manages to transform an Adam Sandler stereotype into a character of real depth. Although it’s easy to see how film buffs can their noses up at this big budget, arguable tasteless and deeply conventional film; they’re missing the point. Gump is an inspirational, original and deeply affecting parable. A lovely film, that only Hollywood could produce.

Back to the Future

No modern childhood would be complete without a trip to Marty McFly’s sentimental portrayal of 1980’s and 1950’s America. Proof positive that Robert Zemeckis is up there with Spielberg as one of our greatest popcorn directors. A smart, slapstick sci-fi classic.

Mulholland Drive

The best recent Lynch movie, a meandering soap opera from hell; Mulhollad Drive is sexy, disturbing and surreal without being confused. A twisted joy. Naomi Watt’s role’s are two of the finest performances you’ll see in any film.

Bad Taste

In a just world, Peter Jackson wouldn’t have bothered with the over long, over dull and over rated LOTR trilogy, and would have continued to make absurd, hilarious splatter movies like Bad Taste. Possibly the second goriest film of all time (the first being Jacksons later comic horror ‘Brain Dead’), Bad Taste was made over a period of years, on a minuscule budget with a cast of amateurs. It’s makers clearly loved every moment of the process. Not a great film, a great experience.


Insane, fearsomely clever (from a Tom Stoppard script), and utterly unique; Brazil is probably the most unsettling distopian vision ever filmed. Influenced by everything from Blake to Francis Bacon to Philip K. Dick, and unequalled since, Brazil is a momentous achievement, and an unflinching look at the cowardice and hypocrisies that allow evil to proliferate.

Groundhog Day

When romantic comedies are done right (both comic and poignant), they can be as entertaining as great drama. The rarity of a film like Groundhog Day demonstrates that they are at least as great an achievement. Bill Murray makes the picture.

3 thoughts on “45 movies to see before you die

  1. Good list, glad to see so many of my own faves there. Recommendation: The Lives of Others. Blew me away, it’s heartrending but strangely affirming.

  2. If you haven’t seen it, check out The Right Stuff. It’s one of the best movies ever made, we get a version of the story of breaking the sound barrier and the mercury space programme, we get their home lives, from their wives perspective. We get the politics behind it – at one point Johnson asks if it was the Soviets German scientists who got them into space first, then a Greman voice from the shadows says “No Senator, it was not. Our Germans are better than their Gremans.” I could go on for ages about this movie, but I won’t because you also have to see The Unbareable Lightness of Being, which is a beautiful movie.

    There’s also Hitchcock’s version of The 39 Steps, it’s still the best adaptation, and it’s much better than the book.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s