Russian Ark (2002)
The entire film is a 96-minute single take, done back when it was still cool. This technique serves to give the film a unique oneiric quality. Our unnamed narrator wanders through St. Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum, encountering figures from Russia’s past.
Havoc in Heaven (1961, 1964)
Havoc in Heaven (aka Uproar in Heaven) is the best-known telling of The Monkey King stories from the Chinese classic Journey to the West. One of the most celebrated Mandarin-language movies ever made, it was released a year before the Cultural Revolution shut down Chinese film production.
The Lord of the Rings (1978)
Many people born before the 1990s remember *this* as “The Lord of the Rings movie.” It covers all of Fellowship of the Ring and half of The Two Towers from J.R. R. Tolkein’s trilogy. The animation used a new technique in which the characters were captured via live-action and animators then traced the frame.
The ancient Greek story of Orpheus, set in 1960 Paris. Director Jean Cocteau wrote, “While Orphée does encounter some lifeless audiences, it also encounters others that are open to my dream and agree to be put to sleep and to dream it with me.”
The Malian film Yeelen (aka Brightness) is set in the 13th Century Mali Empire. The main character is a magician who must escape his father, an evil wizard set upon killing his son after receiving a vision in which his son kills him.
Spirited Away (2001)
Less than two decades old, Hayao Miyazaki’s film is widely regarded as the greatest animated Japanese film ever made. The story of a 10-year-old girl moving between worlds resonates deeply, reminding one of Alice in Wonderland alongside older Western and Japanese myths.
This fairy tale through Georges Méliès eyes is every bit as enchanting as Disney’s version. The fairy godmother transforms the mice and the pumpkin, and Cinderella must run from the ball at the stroke of midnight on the clock. This surreal climax includes dancing clocks, taunting Cinderella as they ring out their chimes. This was Méliès’ first major success and led him to focus his career on these lavish spectacles.
This telling of Dante’s Inferno was the longest, most expensive movie ever made at the time. It was heavily marketed to appeal both to the Italian intelligentsia and masses alike. Many of the imaginative, wild demons and monsters that inhabit Hell were inspired by artist Gustave Doré.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)
The stop-motion Christmas special has delighted children with its songs and stories for generations. It’s the longest continuously-running Christmas TV special for good reason – the 55-minute movie is packed with characters like the Abominable Snow Monster, Hermey the Dentist, and of course, Rudolph.
Princess Mononoke (1997)
The anime fantasy adventure puts a young prince in the middle of a battle between a mining colony and an ancient forest. Along the way, he meets a young woman who was raised by wolves and has turned on her human forebearers.
The Little Mermaid (1989)
The Little Mermaid is one of the most fun movies ever to come out of Walt Disney Studios. Those of us who saw it in theaters have been singing the songs for 30 years.
Suspiria is a horror film that doesn’t rely on sudden volume spikes or shoehorned “twist’ endings or even really gore to earn its scares. It is patient and takes its time telling the story. The bright Technicolor expressionist sets, the intelligent sound mixing, and the wonderfully terrible score by Goblin work together to create a nightmare world.
All That Jazz (1979)
Director Bob Fosse essentially created a musical autobiography in All That Jazz. The film seems to be an exercise in self-flagellation. The protagonist is a cigarette-smoking womanizing jerk. But isn’t the film also an old-fashioned humblebrag? Fosse appears to be saying, “I’m a jerk, but I still have more women than I can handle!”
The Man with the Rubber Head (1901)
One of Georges Méliès’ early silent shorts. The French director explored and experimented with the magic made possible by the new art form of film. In this movie, a chemist puts a head on a table and using his science to make it grow.
Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons (2013)
A hilarious, unique take on the classic novel, this broke box office records for Chinese-language films. Director Stephen Chow, famous for Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle, created this movie about an aspiring demon hunter.
The most direct comparison to David Lynch’s Eraserhead is some of the early works of Luis Buñuel. Both are surrealist Gothic artists, consciously informed by Freud. In this film, Lynch is clearly working out his own anxieties over fatherhood and carefully crafts images and sounds that can convey his horror.
Le Diable au couvent (1899)
The devil rises out of a baptismal font in a French convent. He disguises himself as a priest and preaches a sermon to a group of nuns. As the tension builds, your eye is forced to dart between the nuns and the devil. What is he saying to them? Do they believe him? Then the scene suddenly changes in a blink, and the incredible kinetic energy director Georges Méliès built is unleashed on screen in a terrifying frenzy.
The movie about a pig who wants to be a sheepdog was a surprise hit of the mid-1990s. Nominated for Best Picture, Babe featured characters that were a mix of real animals and animatronics. Amazing special effects just before the era of CGI-everything.
The record-setting blockbuster is part-sci-fi, part-fantasy, as well as part-animated and part-live action. A Marine uses new technology to live inside an “avatar” and infiltrate an alien people who are protected by their nature goddess.
The Double Life of Veronique (1991)
Véronique and Weronika are two women who live in different countries and don’t know each other. However, they are identical, and their lives are intimately connected in ways that illude explanation.
Patala Bhairavi (1951)
This Indian classic is a significant part of Telugu culture and is considered one of the country’s greatest films of all time in any genre. It tells the story of a poor man who must amass enough wealth to marry the princess he lives.
No animated movie this century has had such a huge cultural impact in short a time. Frozen was a classic right out of the gate, and years later, the movie and its songs are instantly recognizable across the globe. It’s also funny. And moving. Frozen is almost universally beloved — the only people who hate it are the parents of children who have been playing “Let It Go” nonstop for years. For Years.
Toy Story 2 (1999)
When Woody is stolen by an obsessive toy collector, Buzz must come to his rescue. Disney originally planned this as a direct-to-video sequel, but it was so good, they decided to release it in theaters. Its success notably changed the studio’s attitude toward sequels.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001)
The first in the eight-film Harry Potter series, Sorcerer’s Stone showed it could be done. Harry grows up not knowing he’s a wizard or what really happened to his parents. But that all changes when he turns 11 years old.
Tropical Malady (2004)
This celebrated Thai film tells two stories. The first is of two men who fall in love as they journey across the country. The other is of a soldier who goes into the woods to find a lost villager. Both are beautifully shot and put director Apichatpong Weerasethakul on the world map.
Controversial director Lars von Trier made this early on in his career — it’s only his third feature film. In it, a young American hopes to help out Germany after World War II. As with most of von Trier’s films, not everything goes as planned.
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972)
A group of aristocrats gather to dine but cannot eat. One of director Luis Buñuel’s most acclaimed films, he humanizes the characters we meet while also keeping us at a certain distance from them.
A Chinese Ghost Story (1987)
This romantic horror-comedy is a cult classic among the Chinese of a certain generation. In it, a debt collector spends a night in a haunted temple and is enchanted by a beautiful young maiden who may or may not be already dead.
Super Xuxa Contra o Baixo Astral (1988)
This crazy, creative film tells the story of a demon who battles a TV star who just wants children to make the world a better place. A capsule of Brazil in the 1980s, it’s known in the U.S. as Super Xuxa Vs. Satan.
Coco is a heartwarming, tear-jerking family film about a boy who visits the land of the dead. The musical is one of Pixar’s best (perhaps its very best?)