- Brazil. It’s not enough to say this is an inspired dystopia, prescient to some degree, bitterly dark and screamingly funny. It’s also crammed with invention, replete with visual design, film history references, and Gilliam’s own madness.
- Ran. One of the greatest films of a Shakespeare play, Kurosawa’s version of King Lear is gorgeous and devastating.
- Tampopo. Maybe the greatest movie about food, one of the best comedies for decades, and also a movie about movies. It calls itself the first Japanese noodle western, and that’s about right.
- A Zed & Two Noughts. Peter Greenaway can push formal invention far beyond the bounds of narrative, and this film teeters on that brink. It’s about death, decay, mutilation, obsession, pattern recognition, and beauty, yet with something like ravishing elegance.
- Re-Animator. One of the best late 20th-century horror movies, based on a lesser Lovecraft tale, this gleefully wallows in gore, and a sick sense of humor. It has all the energy and creativity missing in the same year’s Day of the Dead. Call it screwball splatterpunk.
- Come and See. Soviet filmmakers lavished celluloid on their Great Patriotic War, but this film is unusually dark and savage. It ends on a patriotic note, a call to action, and wins the right to do so through unflinching horror. Come and See reminds us that WWII was a domestic event for the Soviet Union.
- After Hours. Martin Scorcese somehow remixed cubicle satire with Escape from New York to yield a terrific fish out of water comedy.
- The Quiet Earth. A wave of New Zealand and Australian films struck America in the 1980s, and this might be the best. It starts as a post-apocalypse story, lurches into darker territory, always with a deep sense of mystery and dread.
- Mishima. Faced with a biographical subject who lived an unusual life and created a striking body of work, director Paul Schrader aimed for the moon and crammed both into a single film. The framing devices is Mishima’s notorious last day of life, which structures riffs on his body of work, letting themes surface and build.
- Better Off Dead. The 1980s saw teen comedies a-plenty, but this is one of the most unusual and best. Teen sufferings become epic, surreal, dark, and outrageous, between a terrifying skiing bully named Roy Stalin and a tenacious group of outraged children.
- The Return of the Living Dead is the best zombie/punk rock mashup.
- Back to the Future
- Prizzi’s Honor
- Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure
- Fright Night. A genre-aware vampire story, with the famous line: “You’ve got to have faith!”
- Rambo: First Blood, part 2.
- Crimewave. Sam Raimi in his mad DIY days.
- Return to Oz. A more serious and elaborate Oz.
Very bad movies: Revolution (when will we get some excellent American Revolution films?).
Need to watch: Lost in America; Fool for Love; Mix Up ou Meli-melo; Fluke; Chain Letters; The Epic of Gilgamesh; DreamChild; Grim; Vagabond; When Father Was Away on Business; My Life as a Dog.