30. “Blue Is The Warmest Color” (2013)
Dogged by silly scandal-mongering in the months following its unprecedented triple-Palme d’Or win (for director Abdellatif Kechiche and stars Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux), thankfully the controversies have abated and the film’s real legacy is coming to the fore. A simply transcendent, shining story of the ecstasies, agonies and even ennuis of a formative long-term relationship, ‘Blue’ is as pure an example of the cinema of empathy as the 21st century has given us.
29. “The Diving Bell And The Butterfly” (2007)
In 1995, journalist Jean-Dominique Bauby had a stroke that left him with locked-in syndrome, able to communicate only by blinking his eyelid. It would seem unfilmable, but Julian Schnabel’s film (adapted by Ronald Harwood) does a remarkable job, with a near-experimental, dreamlike style, brought to life by some of Janusz Kaminski’s best photography, that feels utterly inseparable from the substance. A rich, dark vein of humor and unsentimental turns by Mathieu Amalric, Emmanuelle Seigner, Anne Consigny and Max von Sydow make it feel vibrant rather than bleak, too.
28. “Syndromes And A Century” (2006)
Picking between the utterly, transcendentally magical films of Thai master Apichatpong Weerasethakul is a bit like being forced to pick your favorite dream — from 2002’s romance “Blissfully Yours” to last year’s feverishly beautiful “Cemetery Of Splendour,” they seem to seep and bleed into one another. If pushed, today at least, we’d go for “Syndromes And A Century,” his tribute of a sort to his parents (both doctors), set in the same hospital but spread over 40 years, a film that captures the poetry and supernatural magic of attraction as if in a bottle.
27. “Stranger By The Lake” (2013)
A sexually graphic erotic murder mystery set on the “gay side” of a popular country lake in rural France, Alain Guiraudie‘s transgressive and mood-heavy ‘Stranger’ is reminiscent of a Highsmith/Hitchcock collaboration, but one in which the training wheels are off and subtext can freely become text. Heavy on oppressive atmosphere and authentic in its details about cruising lifestyles, ‘Stranger’ is a deeply sunburnt thriller in which human desire is the weirdest mystery of all.
26. “Everyone Else” (2009)
One reason the snubbing of Maren Ade‘s third film, “Toni Erdmann” at this year’s Cannes felt like such a travesty was that her second film, “Everyone Else” had also been unjustly neglected in the years since winning the Grand Prix in Berlin. A coolly observed, minutely choreographed portrait of an incrementally toxifying relationship, it shows the director’s brilliant command of interpersonal dynamics and her almost architectural precision in engineering scenes so bitingly real they become semi-surreal.
25. “Oldboy” (2003)
Korean master Park Chan-wook has made elaborately constructed, sumptuously shot, gorily imagined visions of revenge his stock in trade, and his 2003 take on manga title “Oldboy” is probably the pinnacle of both his thematic and his aesthetic concerns. Several hall-of-fame horror/thriller/action sequences (the live octopus eating, the passageway fight, the elevator gag) lead to surprisingly effective reveal — no mean feat for a film that could be all high-concept premise and no payoff.
24. “The Hunt” (2012)
An utterly chilling evocation of terrifying mass hysteria in the wake of a very young child’s false accusation of sexual assault against a local teacher (Mads Mikkelsen, on unimpeachable form), Thomas Vinterberg’s “The Hunt” is basically the definition of an uncomfortable watch. Also featuring a ghoulishly self-contained performance from tiny Annika Wedderkopp as the accuser, the witch-hunt aspect of the film, while devastating, is possibly not as upsetting as the suggestion that a child can be less than innocent.
23. “No” (2012)
The culmination of Pablo Larraín’s “Pinochet Trilogy” (comprising the also-excellent “Tony Manero” and “Post Mortem“) “No” not only boasts those titles’ intelligence and flair, but also shows off Larraín’s formal and narrative command. Shot in fuzzy VHS, evoking the home-video craze of the period in which it is set, it’s the story of the final anti-Pinochet advertising campaign and the complicated, compromised people (personified by a top-form Gael García Bernal) who nevertheless managed to change history.
22. “What Time Is It There?” (2001)
Critics of Tsai Ming-Liang would argue that he constantly makes the same film, meditations on loneliness, loss and longing told through utterly unhurried, gorgeously made images. His fans would possibly agree, but would argue that that was the whole point. Either way, “What Time Is It There?” might be his finest hour, following Tsai’s muse Lee Kang-sheng, who falls for a Paris-bound customer and begins setting every clock he can find to Paris time. It’s an unforgettable film about the space between people.
21. “The Beat That My Heart Skipped” (2005)
Jacques Audiard reached a wider audience with “A Prophet” in 2009, and won the 2015 Palme d’Or with “Dheepan,” but his wonderful take on James Toback‘s 1978 “Fingers” is what put him on the map for us. Remarkable as the rare French remake of a U.S. original, it’s also rare in improving on its predecessor, with language barriers and Romain Duris‘ soulfulness layering melancholy onto this story of a criminal pursuing his talents as a pianist.