As compiled for a survey for Chlotrudis

1. Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN (Alfonso Cuaron, Mexico, 2001)

Name another film that’s a raunchy sex comedy and a Godard-ian deconstruction of regional social mores--but that’s irrelevant when ecstatic joy and anguish commingle as sinuously as they do here. Maria expresses the film’s joie de vivre most succinctly: “Life is like the surf, so give yourself away like the sea.”

2. BEAU TRAVAIL (Claire Denis, France, 1999)

Transporting Billy Budd to a French foreign legion post in North Africa, Denis creates a gorgeous Rubik’s Cube of a movie that is a paean to kinesis of the male form—especially in its surprising, euphoric final scene.

3. THE 400 BLOWS (Francois Truffaut, France, 1959)

As much as I admire Godard, this film is the most important one to come out of the French New Wave, with 14-year-old Antoine Doinel a touching representation for anyone struggling to be understood or even heard.

4. YI YI (Edward Yang, Taiwan, 2000)

A three-hour epic about a contemporary Taipei family where nothing happens, but everything shifts and rearranges itself as Yang completes his familial tapestry. A study on urban alienation, yes, but also human kindness.

5. TO LIVE (Zhang Yimou, China, 1994)

The first foreign language film I ever saw. I was suitably swept away by its ambitious scope, but it’s all the intimate, neorealism-derived vignettes that remain etched in memory, like the little boy exacting some spicy noodle-enhanced revenge for his teased sister.

6. PLAYTIME (Jacques Tati, France, 1967)

Possibly the most challenging film on this list, and probably the most rewarding after multiple viewings. Envisioning (and realizing) a modernist world made almost entirely of glass and steel, Tati took physical slapstick to cerebral heights with this meticulously-crafted confection.

7. IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE (Wong Kar Wai, China, 2000)

Simply the most devastatingly romantic film ever made, thanks to a swooning score, attention to detail worthy of Wes Anderson (all those vintage costumes Maggie Cheung wears!) and of course, the ineffably poignant idea that the romance is never fully acted upon.

8. WHAT TIME IS IT THERE (Tsai Ming-Liang, Taiwan, 2001)

A worthy successor to Tati, Tsai has developed just as unique an approach. His fifth, finest feature is a cinematic ballet that explores bereavement and desire as pure symmetry while never ruling out divine intervention in the grand scheme of things.

9. THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG (Jacques Demy, France, 1964)

Has any locale, real or imagined, ever appeared as breathtaking and heavenly as Demy’s vibrantly-colored Cherbourg, omnisciently accompanied by a Michel Legrand score and embodied by an adorably young Catherine Deneuve?

10. WILD REEDS (Andre Techine, France, 1994)

Probably the most honest coming of age film slanted towards gay youth that I’ve seen, but even that component’s only a fraction of this complicated, nuanced narrative set in early ‘60s rural France.

11. SPIRITED AWAY (Hayao Miyazaki, Japan, 2001)

I admit that most Anime gives me the willies, but this animator’s masterpiece transcends the genre. Exploding with painterly detail, this is a brilliant movie whose all-ages appeal stems from the utmost respect it lends its characters.

12. MY LIFE AS A DOG (Lasse Hallstrom, Sweden, 1985)

In the darkest tragedies he will probably ever face, a young misfit finds himself. It could’ve been cloying or maudlin, but Hallstrom’s film is engagingly off-kilter and at times, hilarious.

13. PIXOTE (Hector Babenco, Brazil, 1981)

Babenco revives post-war Italian neorealism for an arguably much crueler time and continent. So undiluted and unflinching that it makes CITY OF GOD look like FANTASY ISLAND.

14. THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC (Carl Dreyer, Denmark, 1928)

A well-known tale told almost entirely through facial close-ups and oblique, statuesque angles. Nothing matches Maria Falconetti’s purely physical, enthralling performance.

15. OHAYO/GOOD MORNING (Yasujiro Ozu, Japan, 1959)

I love TOKYO STORY, but this one’s in color (notice what Ozu does with that), a hell of a lot funnier, and in the end, just as endearing. Oh, and a few of the jokes revolve around farting.

16. THE WIND WILL CARRY US (Abbas Kiarostami, Iran, 1999)

No other contemporary director has done so much to reinterpret how we perceive film as a participatory experience. This is also where he wrenches poetry out of something as mundane as poor cell-phone reception.

17. THE RETURN (Andrei Zvyagintsev, Russia, 2003)

What’s in the box? That would seem to be the key question in this masterful debut feature, but when the credits roll, it’s merely part of a string of intriguing details where the journey is far more relevant than the destination.

18. BAND OF OUTSIDERS (Jean-Luc Godard, France, 1964)

I considered a half-dozen Godard films for this list, but I think this one sticks out because I saw it in a theater, and like Kiarostami, Godard sought to alter how people actively view a movie. This one also engages us as if we were co-conspirators.

19. AU HAZARD BALTHAZAR (Robert Bresson, France, 1966)

Bresson seemed fascinated by the choices his characters made and their inevitable, if not always predictable consequences. A shlepped-around donkey stands at the center of this graceful, brutal morality tale, and there’s no other film remotely like it.

20. SHOW ME LOVE (Lukas Moodysson, Sweden, 1998)

Before he got really, really pissed off, Moodysson was disarmingly warm and funny, and his tender, totally plausible teenage lesbian romance is the kind of film you just want to hug and protect from any destructive or cynical force.

21. THE HAPPINESS OF THE KATIKURIS (Takashi Miike, Japan, 2001)

Delightfully strange cross between a gory slasher film and an all-singing, all-dancing episode of THE LOVE BOAT. With sudden, gleeful forays into Claymation.

22. TALK TO HER (Pedro Almodovar, Spain, 2002)

Most of this film is exposition, like a superb novel that takes time to gradually establish itself. By its climax, you really feel the cumulative effect of it all--the passion, the warmth, the gentility, the quirky plot twists.

23. THE LOVERS ON THE BRIDGE (Leos Carax, France, 1991)

Juliette Binochet and Denis Lavant play not-necessarily star-crossed lovers in this daunting, opulent film that romanticizes as much as it documents. Don’t miss the astonishing fireworks sequence (or its collage-like soundtrack).

24. DELICATESSEN (Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro, France, 1991)

I own a cherished copy of AMELIE, but Jeunet’s best film is still this absurd, dystopian fantasy that plays like a post-apocalyptic Monty Python as imagined by Dali.

25. METROPOLIS (Fritz Lang, Germany, 1927)

This ridiculous, magnificent slab of art-deco expressionist sci-fi is surely one of the most visually dynamic and articulate of all silent films. Love Brigette Helm as she effortlessly vacillates between heroine/ingénue and sexpot/robot.