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30 Essential Films Missing From The Sight & Sound Top 100

by The Playlist Staff
August 16, 2012 12:20 PM
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Empire Of Passion
7. “Empire of Passion” (1978)
Perhaps the most famous of the Japanese New Wave in the late ‘50s through the '70s, due to his preeminent taboo-busting ways, Nagisa Oshima is still largely unknown outside of hardcore cinephile circles (though that’s slowly changing). While his best known work is “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence” starring David Bowie, and the controversial, pretty much soft-core porn “In the Realm of the Senses,” it's the erotic and haunting "Empire of Passion" that is perhaps his most unrelenting and potent experience. Nightmare-ish in tone, blending horror and the sensual, “Empire of Passion” is essentially a chilling ghost story that leans heavily on the themes of guilt, murder and retribution, not unlike Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” (a play one could argue the film is loosely based on). Centering on the aftermath of passions and the haunting sins of crimes, the plot of “Empire of Passion” (also known as “Phantom Love”) focuses on a an adulterous couple -- a peasant woman and her younger concubine -- who conspire to murder her husband and dump the body down a well. The act is simple. The consequences: gossip, which turns to suspicion and culminates in the husband's apparition returning to stalk her as the law investigates ratches up in a frenzied pitch of anxiety and unease is anything but. And swirling mists and tenebrous cinematography make for a sinister patina of dread that is unparalleled.

Straw Dogs
8. “Straw Dogs” (1971)
Ugly and vile, exploring some of the darkest corners of man’s id, Sam Peckinpah's "Straw Dogs"  is often hard to stomach. An arresting examination of violence, masculinity and lack thereof, the noxious potency of the picture lies in what the picture dispassionately suggests yet never quite states. Famously dubbed a “fascist work of art” by Pauline Kael in a rare positive review of the largely excoriated film, "Straw Dogs" holds very little quarter in its Darwin-ian and Nietzsche-esque look at the survival of the fittest. Dustin Hoffman plays a nebbish American math scholar who provokes the envy and ire of the local working class English by settling down with one of their own (Susan George) in their rural countryside town. Masculine, class and nationality politics are chaffed from the start. Hoffman is a rich American deeply out of his element and in marrying the gorgeous (and provocatively dressed) Amy, and hiring the local underclass to fix up his posh cottage, the picture falls just short of saying that he has earned their envy and deserve what's coming to him. A controversial rape in the picture does little to quell the queasy air of disgust one gets from these rancid circumstances and offensive people, but further demonstrates Peckinpah's masterful way of staying mostly detached, while provoking his audience and refracting back the notion that all humans are capable of wretched acts of violence. In forcing Hoffman's character to defend himself in a bloodthirsty rage, the director throws a molotov cocktail at the screen making the viewer complicit in these harrowing and base acts of vengeance. There is no morality in "Straw Dogs," the picture stripping down all elements to their most primal and raw. It's deeply unsettling and unforgiving, which makes Peckinpah's missive on man, passiveness and aggression still shocking and haunting til this day. Directors often talk about pictures' controversial taboos reflecting back the ugliness of life back at them with a mirror, but rarely follow-through. "Straw Dogs" is the real deal that takes a hammer to the reflection and then stuffs the shards down your throat.

Last Picture Show
9. "The Last Picture Show" (1971)
The break-out film -- and still the best -- from Peter Bogdanovich, "The Last Picture Show" (an adaptation of Larry McMurtry's novel) remains both one of cinema's most indelible coming-of-age tales and one of its most unforgettable love letters to itself. Duane (Jeff Brdges) and Sonny (Timothy Bottoms) are two small-town Texas teens caught between a girl (Cybil Shepherd) and mourning the death of their mentor, movie-theater owner Sam The Lion (an Oscar-winning Ben Johnson). Deeply felt, heartbreakingly elegaic and perfectly performed by all, it stands head and shoulders above the rest of Bogdanovich's work to an almost alarming degree.

Wings Of Desire
10. "Wings of Desire" (1987)
We pretty much had to flip a coin to choose between this and 1984's "Paris, Texas" in terms of Wim Wenders' filmography. But ultimately, it was the magic-realism beauty of "Wings of Desire" that won out for us. Set in West Berlin, it follows a pair of angels, Damiel and Cassiel (Bruno Ganz and Otto Sander), the former of whom falls in love with a trapeze artist after he chooses to become mortal. A deeply weird, of-the-moment tone poem (featuring an appearance from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and Peter Falk -- playing a version of himself as a former angel), it's gloriously shot by "La Belle et La Bete" DoP Henri Alekan, and dedicated to the then-recently deceased Andrei Tarkovsky, Yasujiro Ozu and Francois Truffaut (three of Wenders cinematic idols). One senses they would have been delighted by the pure cinema on display in Wenders' picture.

La Belle Et La Bete
11. “La belle et la bête” (1946)
Opening with a chalkboard scrawl that asks viewers of filmmaker Jean Cocteau’s classic 1946 film “La belle et la bête” (“Beauty and the Beast”) to give up their ideas of what is real, and give into the imagination and ridiculous nature of fantasy, and it's a take that continued to define the cinematic fairy tale right up to the present day. Cocteau’s film still resonates today; even if the sweet 1994 Disney musical version of the tale is worth a watch as well, it's Cocteau's that balances the fantasy with the parable; never losing site of either for long. It's also a visual wonder, with many flourishes that are still breathtaking today -- the hallway with human arms holding candelabras is a standout -- and it’s easy to see the seeds of Cocteau’s film in dozens of baroque fantasies that have followed since.

12. "Repulsion" (1965)
What many critics frame as “the inverse of ‘Psycho,' " Roman Polanski’s elegant horror thriller is every bit as powerful and shocking as Hitchcock’s masterpiece. Catherine Deneuve, radiant and owl-eyed, plays a Belgian manicurist living in London who slowly goes mad. The movie, an early gem from Polanski, whose obsession with madness and closed spaces would continue with two later films to form his “apartment trilogy” (with 1968’s “Rosemary’s Baby” and 1976’s “The Tenant”), has a wonderful sense of perspective – since we see everything through Deneuve’s eyes, we can’t be sure of what’s really happening and what’s just a side-effect from her tortured psychological state. The movie eventually drifts into the surreal, and you can’t help but feel helpless for her – she seems a victim of circumstance that just happened to bite back. The film’s moody black-and-white photography by Gilbert Taylor only adds to the sense of claustrophobia, and it’s a testament to the movie’s raw power that it works as an arty character study and a splashy bit of genre shock. Deneuve, too, gives the performance of a lifetime -- and she’s even adorable as she decays.

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  • mass | August 21, 2012 2:56 AMReply

    You forgot about Lumet's masterpiece, "Network".

  • Blessing | August 21, 2012 1:06 PM


  • bob hawk | August 20, 2012 4:25 PMReply

    Thanks for including COME AND SEE -- a masterpiece worthy of anyone's top 100 of all time. I first saw it at the Roxie Theater in S.F. I knew nothing about it except for the calendar blurb. To say that it blew me away is an understatement. At certain points I could barely breathe, the imagery was stunning, and the "content" (the innocent POV amidst the mesmerizing devastation) was profoundly affecting. When it was over, I could hardly believe what I just saw, went to the concession stand for reinforcements, and sat through it again. In the following days I recommended it to as many people as possible, and went back two more times.

  • JAMES SMITH | August 19, 2012 5:31 PMReply

    How about: The French Connection; The Philadelphia Story; All About Eve; High Noon; Dinner at Eight; Dodsworth; The Letter; The Maltese Falcon; Network; The Exorcist; Patton; The Graduate; Judgement at Nuremberg; Our Hospitality; The Painted Veil (2006) - shall I go on?

  • Bill Murray | August 17, 2012 9:12 PMReply

    There Will Be Blood.

  • Adam Pelletier | August 17, 2012 11:50 AMReply

    “pretty much soft-core porn In the Realm of the Senses,”
    Nice one dick, thanks for shurgging off a great movie like that. I watched a lot of porn in my days, hardcore and soft, kinda remember jerking off to that. I don`t recall having the urge to do it during In the Realm of the Senses. Instead I was blown away by a truly great film, not a soft core dope.

  • Fry | August 16, 2012 11:56 PMReply

    I already mentioned this some time earlier in another post, but Sergei Parajanov's 'Shadows of our Forgotten Ancestors' really deserves consideration, to me it's an unparalelled masterpiece. And maybe some Nicholas Ray?

  • StephenM | August 16, 2012 7:44 PMReply

    "Three Colors Trilogy --which explored the themes of the three colors represented in the French Flag, fraternity, justice, love" ----Umm, not to be too much of a pedant, but the themes are Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. Getting them wrong is kind of like misquoting the Declaration of Independence or something, and it can totally screw up your reading of the films.

  • Rodrigo | August 16, 2012 11:58 PM

    Whoops. Thanks for the flag, not pedantic at all. You are very correct. I wrote this on the subway and put in fillers cause i couldn't remember it offhand (you can tell Fraternity was in caps while the others were not) and meant to switch out and forgot to do once it went live. i should have just used the standard TK and it woulda been caught in the edit.

  • Lucy | August 16, 2012 6:44 PMReply

    Great list! Sullivan's Travels and Le Bête et la Belle are two of my favorite films!

  • Wes | August 16, 2012 6:43 PMReply

    Here, here for: La belle et la bête, Last Picture Show, Conversation, and Badlands!

  • E'le | August 16, 2012 6:30 PMReply

    Cria Cuervos is a good pick (especially in comparison to The Spirit of the Beehive, which I wasn't crazy about).

  • Wes | August 16, 2012 6:44 PM

    I feel the same way about the Conformist, but I might be a minority there.

  • Wes | August 16, 2012 6:41 PM

    I agree about Spirit of the Beehive. The only thing I liked about it was the cinematography.

  • Wes | August 16, 2012 5:53 PMReply

    This is my current (probably for the last two years or so) list of favs (in no particular order): No Country for Old Men, Persona, Vertigo, Citizen Kane, 2001, Mirror, Raging Bull, Apocalypse Now, Fargo, and Chinatown. However, I've been inspired by the Olympics to create a tournament bracket of my favorite 50 or so films. I'll watch two per week, and this list will likely change in the next year or so. Haha.

  • tristan eldritch | August 16, 2012 3:09 PMReply

    Great list. I really agree about La Notte - it's as formally brilliant (if not more so) than the others in the trilogy, and has that emotional accessibility (even warmth, I think) that you mention. And some of the most rapturously gorgeous b and w cinematography ever committed to film. Man, I love that film!

  • Wes | August 16, 2012 6:40 PM

    I always go back and forth between La Notte and L'Avventura. I remember really liking La Notte as I was watching it for the first time. I don't remember enjoying my first experience with L'Avventura. However, with repeated viewings of the latter, it has grown on me very much.

  • Rodrigo | August 16, 2012 5:21 PM

    Nice to hear someone agree. Outside of L'avventura, it's tops of his 4-tryptch.

  • yer | August 16, 2012 2:00 PMReply

    Malick is an arthouse god. How are none of his films on the list??

  • Lucy | August 16, 2012 6:47 PM

    I love Malick! The New World is in the top tier of my favorite film list! I was in high school when the film came out and I had the best film experience I was so moved. The same happened with the Tree of Life, his films affect me in ways many other films just don't.

  • Wes | August 16, 2012 6:38 PM

    All of his movies are awesome! Badlands, Days of Heaven, Thin Red Line, New World, and Tree of Life! What's wrong with these people?

  • E'le | August 16, 2012 6:33 PM

    Is there one Malick film you're thinking of in particular? I've been disappointed by all I've seen of his except for Days of Heaven.

  • yer | August 16, 2012 2:21 PM

    JT, stick to Chris Nolan films buddy!

  • jt | August 16, 2012 2:04 PM

    Yer, not all of Malick's films are great ( or even good) , but they are great to look at. Thats for sure.

  • [A] | August 16, 2012 1:11 PMReply

    Terrific list! And I've seen many of these movies, too.

  • Anton Jacoves | August 16, 2012 12:26 PMReply

    I mean look this can go on forever really

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