Withnail and I: Recently screened this to some people who hadn't seen it. This is a film remembered for its dialogue exchanges but I had forgotten a lot of them which freshened up the film no end. Perfect pacing and expert recall of what it means to be young and on the brink of missing out on making that big scratch on the world. Grant, McGann and Griffith all play and different pitches which should be disastrous in such a tightly cast film but here works like a perfectly arranged piece of music. And it's bloody funny.
Eraserhead: Does it to me every time.
I Walked With a Zombie: Jacques Tourner's second contribution to the Val Lewton canon keeps to the voodoo mythology but adds Jane Eyre. The walk through the cane fields still sends a shiver and then the socio-political harmonics start ringing in and you've got something typical of Lewton's efforts, a reach well beyond the basic requirements of genre into something other, rich and strange. I think of the Lewton canon as the chief precursor to Cronenberg and Lynch.
Night of the Living Dead: Story of the end of life doesn't need to be scary beyond that single thematic arc but plays beautifully on both genre cliche and new elements. One of the chief success stories of American independent cinema and it's very easy to see why. Romero stripped the magic away from the situation and refused to offer a sci fi cause for the phenomenon. There are zombies. They will get you. All you need. It works.
The Tenant: Paranoia films don't come more threatening than this. Polanski himself is centre screen as the shrivelling emigre in a Paris populated by crassness, manipulation, ugliness, loneliness, violence, weirdness and Isabelle Adjani.
Fight Club: Because I knew nothing about it before I saw it and left with another favourite. I saw it new in a packed cinema. I was still thinking about it weeks afterward and giggling at most of it. Fincher when middling or poorly still has legs as a stylist but when his style is met by material like this (including the cast) he makes contemporary classics. See also, Seven.
Naked Lunch: How do you film the unfilmable novel? You leave the text aside and look at where it came from and go from there. Cronenberg's take on the Burroughs confronting epic of addiction and alienation offers companionship with the source rather than a version of it. This film is better with a reading of the novel. The reverse, dare I say it, is also thus.
Bringing Up Baby: When romcoms remembered to be both romantic and funny, people like Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn who could walk through a great range of roles through their sheer presence walked here. But both when still young were like power appliances when plugged into comedy. This one is all about sex and repression. Grant is a paleantologist headed for a sexless marraige with another paleantologist. As soon as the elegant chaos of Hepburn enters the scene, the dinosaur skeleton Grant is working on is relieved of a bone by Hepburn's pet leopard. It doesn't stop from there until the credits. This is one of the funniest movies you are ever likely to see. An ex of mine, however, sat through the entire thing without as little as a smile but did like the leopard. There's your caveat.