Called the Ulysses of movies, and while challenging yet rewarding with riches, Jacques Rivette's magically fanciful and wantonly elliptical 3 1/2 hour 1974 classic, "Céline and Julie Go Boating" is many different things to many different people and often all at once. Part Alice In Wonderland-like fantasy, part absurdist comedy, part feminist manifesto and part post-psychedelic escapade, 'Boating' is bizarre, nonsensical and masterfully oblique; a hypnotically surreal experience to be sure. Subtitled, "Phantom Ladies Over Paris," the film is a long-winding and circuitous loop (or "story"); one half about accidental friendship and intertwined identity and a second section that somehow evolves into a madcap murder mystery via psychedelic candy with a ghost story in it to boot. While lopsided, inexplicably light-hearted and long, Rivette’s opus and its circular oddness is exhilarating and essential.
A mercurially oblique and unnerving surrealist classic, it's a bit of a shock to see Alain Resnais' 1961 inscrutable classic missing from the S&S 100 list. Glacially paced, chilly, and hypnotically equivocal -- not to mention lavishly stylish -- its provocative abstraction is not for the impatient at heart. Resnais’ film exists in a dream-like state with no real stated context to what is outside the walls of Marienbad, leaving a good deal of space for the viewer to decide on the meaning and where in reality the story takes place. Set in an elegant chateau, a well-to-do socialite stranger tries to persuade a married woman to run away with him, but it seems she hardly remembers the affair they may have had the year previously. She entreats him to surrender this notion, and yet he persists and the film ambiguously continues with this narrative like a slow-moving puzzle box game with no solution. A fascinating exploration of the formal possibilities of film with an eerily arresting command of mood and tone, “Last Year at Marienbad” is a haunting and enduring examination of seduction.
For the final film in his Three Colors Trilogy -- which explored the themes of the three colors represented in the French Flag, liberty, equality, and fraternity -- Polish auteur Krysztof Kieslowski once again tapped into the everlasting ideas of personal history, identity and ultimately, possibly the notion of rewriting time. Starring muse Irene Jacob and French icon Jean Trintignant, the film examines the lives of two strangers that meet by chance and how their lives become prophetically intertwined the more they get to know one another. Moving, enigmatic and gorgeously loaded with motifs, symbols and clues by Piotr Sobociński while rapturously scored by his longtime composer Zbigniew Preisner, "Red" is Kieslowski's magnum opus. The director declared it his final film, retired and then died one year later suddenly at the early age of 55. Another classic and a must-see pick if you haven't already is Kieslowski's "The Double Life of Veronique," which just made the top 250 S&S cut and once again stars his beautiful muse, Irene Jacobs.
If "Singin' in the Rain" is arguably the world's greatest musical, then perhaps "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" is Europe's finest entry into the canon of the genre ("The Red Shoes" being more of a filmed ballet, rather than true musical). Though while the technical artistry of Stanley Donen’s film is unparalleled, arguably it does not hold a candle to Jacques Demy's picture emotionally. Starring Catherine Deneuve and Nino Castelnuovo as star-crossed lovers who fatefully fail to find themselves in each other arms, 'Cherbourg' is breathtaking to look at it with its pop-soaked colors, but it is also devastatingly heartbreaking both through its story, performances and songs (written by the great Michel Legrand) that evoke an aching longing that quivers with a deeply felt melancholy. An indelibly moving picture. An equally good alternate pick is Demy's "Lola."
While Italian filmmaker Bernardo Bertolucci arguably has at least "The Last Emperor" up for consideration on any greatest of all time list, if forced, we would choose his searing, beautiful and deeply sinister 1970 political drama “The Conformist.” Starring Jean-Louis Trintignant, Bertolluci’s moody and gripping psychological case study on fascism centers on a weak-willed coward, desperate to “belong,” who becomes a political lackey and goes abroad to arrange the assassination of his old teacher, now a political dissident. The director's always-controversial take on things identifies childhood guilt and sexual (and homosexual) shame as the roots of fascism, which gives the film yet another level of shocking emotional grotesquery. The co-star of the picture is arguably Vittorio Storaro’s visually stunning cinematography, which has been rightfully heralded the world over. With its masterful use of angles, shadows and light, Storaro practically redefines the word chiaroscuro in cinema, and adds plenty of atmospheric psychological texture to this desperate man willing to acquiesce to whatever ideological fashion of the day. This is a film that begs to be seen on the big screen in 35MM. It’s a bold, stunning masterpiece like they don’t make anymore.
Francis Ford Coppola's already got three films in the top 50, thanks to the first two "Godfather" films and "Apocalypse Now." But we'd argue his very best is the film he made in between mob movies: taut, experimental thriller "The Conversation.” Starring a career-best Gene Hackman as a surveillance expert who loses his sanity after recording a conversation between a couple that suggests a young couple is about to be murdered. Heavily influenced by Michelangelo Antonioni's "Blow Up", it’s a fascinating and surprising character study as much as a thriller, it's also as much editor and sound designer Walter Murch's film as Coppola's: creating a puzzling, immersive world that rattles around your head for days afterwards.