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30 Great Movies You Probably Haven’t Seen

Who needs new movies? In this week’s issue of the magazine, our critics show us what’s in their personal collections of old culture, much of it you might’ve missed. All of it is available online, somewhere. Herewith, David Edelstein and Bilge Ebiri’s list of 30 great movies you probably haven’t seen, plus Edelstein’s list of 20 commercially unavailable movies you can only watch online (and only if you know where to look).


1. The File on Thelma Jordon (1950)
In Robert Siodmak’s underrated noir melodrama, Barbara Stanwyck seduces and lures unsuspecting, desperate assistant D.A. and family man Wendell Corey into doing her bidding.

2. Battle Cry (1955)
Tough-guy director Raoul Walsh’s emotionally exhausting, earnest World War II epic, focusing on the Marines in the Pacific, is beautiful, almost Dickensian in its expansiveness.

3. The Sound of the Mountain (1954)
One of the great Japanese master Mikio Naruse’s most observant films, this look at the complex dynamics within a family where the parents are living under the same roof as their troubled son and his wife is slowly, subtly brutal.

4. The Baron of Arizona (1950)
Samuel Fuller made some of the oddest movies in history, and this pseudo-Western is one of his oddest, starring Vincent Price as a man who tries to forge and fake his way into owning Arizona. Based on a true story!

5. Stars in My Crown (1950)
Minister Joel McCrea preaches the Gospel in a small town and finds himself at odds with some in the populace. That description does no justice to Jacques Tourneur’s gently hallucinatory and deeply spiritual masterpiece.


6. Pretty Poison (1968)
Right on the border between thriller and sick comedy, Noel Black’s debut pits Anthony Perkins against a far more resourceful (and beautiful) psychopath, Tuesday Weld.

7. Burn! (1969)
Marlon Brando gives a sardonic, self-disgusted (and brilliant) performance as the capitalist predator William Walker, sent to the island of Queimada (“Burnt” in Portuguese) to foment a slave revolution.

8. Spider Baby (1968)
Jack Hill’s bargain-basement black comedy with Lon Chaney Jr., Sid Haig, and other weirdos centers on a genetically demented family and influenced so many hip genre directors that you need to get in on the fun.

9. David Holzman’s Diary (1967)
Pre-iPhone, pre-every-day videotaping, Jim McBride’s vérité documentary laid the foundation for so many of the rambling first-person docs to come—and, in a time-travel sort of way, sent them up!

10. The Passion of Anna (1969)
It’s Ingmar Bergman, who’s not exactly off the map, and stars Liv, Max, Bibi, and Erland. But it’s lesser-known top-flight Bergman, a stark ensemble psychodrama with savage undercurrents. Amazing use of the zoom lens—usually so tacky!


11. The Long Goodbye (1973)
Philip Marlowe reimagined as a disaffected hipster (Elliot Gould) in Robert Altman’s shambling yet harsh noir.

12. Night Moves (1975)
Wanna know what mid-seventies malaise was about? Arthur Penn and Gene Hackman captured the sense of hopelessness in this bleak gumshoe noir.

13. Citizens Band (1977)
Jonathan Demme finds his humanist spirit in this whimsical ensemble comedy about CBers and their secret lives.

14. The Ascent (1977)
Soviet filmmaker Larisa Shepitko was killed in a car crash not long after making this grueling but finally uplifting World War II picture (a Christian allegory about two soldiers on a hunt for food).

15. Deep Red (1975)
The Italian giallo comes of age in Dario Argento’s most weirdly mesmerizing hack-’em-up.


16. Salvador (1986)
Jittery, driven James Woods was the perfect carrier of Oliver Stone’s viral style, a conversion melodrama with all kinds of charge.

17. Casualties of War (1989)
Brian De Palma uses all that technique to show how a great artist can make violence (the kidnapping and murder of a Vietnamese girl by U.S. soldiers) cinematically thrilling and morally so horrible that it sears itself into your brain.

18. The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)
One of Woody’s favorites, and you can see why. Mia Farrow disappears into the movie screen, and rarely have parody and melancholy fused so perfectly.

19. Ariel (1988)
Perfect intro to the whimsically offbeat yet pensive (and often sad) world of Finnish mini-master Aki Kaurismäki.

20. Yol (1982)
Turkish director Yilmaz Guney’s grim portrait of five prisoners on furlough touches surprisingly universal chords.


21. La Cérémonie (1995)
French New Wave crime master Claude Chabrol directed this masterful slow-build suspense film, adapted from a Ruth Rendell novel, about two maids who killed the family they worked for. Sandrine Bonnaire and Isabelle Huppert are perfect in the lead roles.

22. The Man in the Moon (1991)
Director Robert Mulligan’s tender southern coming-of-age tale is one of the lost classics of the nineties­—and features a very young Reese Witherspoon in the lead.

23. Endurance (1999)
Produced by Terrence Malick (and bearing many of the hallmarks of his style), this nonfiction movie about the life of Olympic runner Haile Gebrselassie (occasionally starring as himself) is an otherworldly hybrid—part dreamlike fable, part intense sports documentary.

24. Swordsman II (1992)
One of Jet Li’s greatest and strangest films, this frenetic, mystical martial-arts fantasy epic is full of gender-changing bad guys, explosive special effects, and some of the darkest gallows humor you’ll ever come across.

25. Before the Rain (1994)
Milcho Manchevski’s stylishly tragic Macedonian film, nominated for an Oscar, is one of the seminal works of Balkan cinema—a three-part journey through the open wounds of war and thwarted love.


26. Infernal Affairs (2002)
Wai-keung Lau and Alan Mak’s ferociously pretzeled Hong Kong police thriller is so much more inventive and smartly paced than its American remake, The Departed. Just see it—and its nearly equally great sequels, which fill in the spectacular canvas.

27. Bus I74 (2002)
The most wrenching doc of the decade centers on a stoned Brazilian street kid (whose pregnant mother was murdered before his eyes when he was a boy) who takes hostages on a city bus—for no other reason, it seems, than to say, “I exist!” What he does to the people on that bus is horrifying, but what has been (and will be) done to him is much crueler.

28. L’Iceberg (2005)
So weird, so wonderful. If you’re not familiar with commedia dell’arte, you might peg this rambunctious Belgian clown odyssey as avant-garde. On the contrary, it is derrière-garde, like a kick in the derrière, a procession of gorgeous slapstick set pieces at sea. Buster Keaton would be in heaven.

29. Waltz With Bashir (2008)
“Speak, memory,” commanded Vladimir Nabokov, and in Ari Folman’s animated Israeli masterpiece, memory stutters, yowls, and babbles in tongues. The movie finds a new form, with more fluid boundaries between documentary and fantasy, reality and dreams, life and art, until a civilian massacre during the 1982 Lebanon War is indelibly burned into our minds.

30. Monkeybone (2001)
Sometimes you’ve got to go back and watch the notorious flops with new eyes, perhaps with a little chemical help. In this case, you might find that Henry Selick’s giant mess of an underworld fantasy about a comatose cartoonist and his filthy monkey is chock-a-block with brilliant lines and sight gags, and its theme is touching. Selick’s touch is a little, uh, Germanic for comedy, maybe.

Twenty Commercially Unavailable Movies You Can Only Watch Online (and Only If You Know Where to Look)

1. Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003)
Thom Andersen’s epic documentary explores both the ways in which L.A. has been portrayed in film and the profound influence of those portraits on the still-evolving city. It’s a vital work of cultural history. It’s also a rights nightmare, and due to copyright concerns, it won’t be on DVD anytime soon.

2. Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (1987)
This 43-minute stop-motion Barbie-doll film by Todd Haynes is every bit as mind-blowing as you’ve heard—and as inspired. Somehow the absurdist stylized distancing device ends up intensifying your connection to poor Karen and her body-image issues. Richard Carpenter will never let the film see the light of day, and I honestly can’t say I blame him. Haynes is, after all, using his music and portraying him as a bit of a closet case.

3. Flight of the Eagle (1982)
The Jan Troell film is the true story of S.A. Andrée’s 1897 balloon expedition to the Arctic, which ended badly. No spoiler: The movie opens with photos of the actual long-dead bodies. It would probably be easier to get to the North Pole than find a physical copy of the film.

4. Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1977)
Richard Brooks’s adaptation of Judith Rossner’s best-selling novel (loosely based on a real murder) is an important chapter in late-seventies Hollywood pop culture: a moralistic treatment of what happens when the repressed (a Catholic schoolteacher played by Diane Keaton) meets the dangerously forbidden.

5. Truly, Madly, Deeply (1990)
And truly, maddeningly, unavailable. This goofy, melancholy ghost movie (it has no genre; it’s sui generis) is the best and most personal work of
a well-known Oscar-winning director (Anthony Minghella) and has gorgeous performances by two major British actors, Juliet Stevenson and Alan Rickman.

6. Show Boat (1936)
The 1936 version of the Jerome Kern–Oscar Hammerstein musical features Paul Robeson doin’—I mean doing—“Ol’ Man River,” and was directed by none other than James Whale, shortly before his star began to plummet. It’s better than the others, even with Irene Dunne in blackface, and has never been on DVD. It keeps on rollin’ on YouTube, though.

7. White of the Eye (1987)
You won’t find it on DVD, but Donald Cammell’s psycho-marriage picture, starring David Keith and Cathy Moriarty, is unnervingly good.

8. Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests (1964–1966)
We can argue forever about the aesthetic value of these tests, but they’re an essential part of our cultural history—and the DVD, featuring thirteen of them, with music by Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips (of Luna), is pricey. You can watch it, though, on YouTube.

9. Wind Across the Everglades (1958)
A mostly terrible bird-poaching thriller starring Christopher Plummer and Burl Ives that’s a must for auteurist darling Nicholas Ray completists. Ray was fired from the film for eccentric behavior, and the cast referred to it as Breaking Wind Across the Everglades.

10. Pennies From Heaven (1981)
Pauline Kael called this Dennis Potter–penned movie (with Steve Martin, Bernadette Peters, and an electrifying Christopher Walken) about a loser whose dreams transcend his reality one of the most emotional musicals she’d ever seen.

11. Burlesk Queen (1977)
Filipino film-enthusiast friends put me on to this amazing and political showbiz melodrama from Celso Advento Castillo, in which a young assistant (Vilma Santos) must fill in for her drunken burlesque-star employer and becomes the new queen—empowered and then martyred. It’s exactly the sort of movie you can’t find anywhere but online. See it on a big TV.

12. The Train (1965)
The Third Reich’s defeat in sight, Paul Scofield’s Nazi colonel tries to smuggle some of the world’s greatest paintings back to Germany—but not if French train engineer Burt Lancaster can stop him, in this terrific thriller by John Frankenheimer.

13. High Tide (1987)
One of the terrific Aussie director Gillian Armstrong’s best films stars Judy Davis—never better, and you know what that’s saying—as a drug- and drink-addled backup singer to an Elvis impersonator who stumbles on the daughter she abandoned years before in a trailer park.

14. All the Vermeers in New York (1992)
A relatively (very relatively) commercial work from experimental filmmaker Jon Jost, this moody, quasi-romantic museum piece can’t be purchased on DVD for less than $249. But you can find it online.

15. Tokyo Olympiad (1965)
Kon Ichikawa’s masterpiece—one of the greatest sports documentaries ever made—is no longer available on DVD at a sane price. It must
be seen, if for no other reason than to counter the grinding banality of most TV sports coverage.

16. Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)
Werner Herzog’s remake is closely based on F. W. Murnau’s silent classic, but Klaus Kinski manages to be scarier than Max Schreck because he’s … Kinski and a psychopath, and the sound of him slurping is hard to forget. The English-language version was laughed off the screen. Watch it in German.

17. Let It Be (1970)
No, it’s not a great movie—it’s sour and weird and most of the major unpleasantness was going on out of camera range. But it’s the Beatles. In the same room. Therefore, watch.

18. Decline of Western Civilization II: The Metal Years (1988)
Penelope Spheeris’s drug- and sex-soaked sequel is more engaging than the original and has had serious problems getting a U.S. DVD release. It’s highly sought-after online, for obvious reasons.

19. The Hart of London (1970)
No less than Stan Brakhage called Canadian Jack Chambers’s nonnarrative meditation on nature vs. the city (London, Ontario) one of the greatest films ever made.

20. The Day the Clown Cried (1972)
No, you can’t see it, unfortunately. Or, maybe, fortunately. But arguably the most famous too-awful-to-release movie finally has footage available online. And as a bonus you can listen to audio of Harry Shearer (one of the few humans to have seen it) attempt to convey the horror, the horror on “The Howard Stern Show.”

*This article originally appeared in the November 18, 2013 issue of New York Magazine.

30 Great Movies You Probably Haven’t Seen