Max Carpenter

Film programmer

Voted for

QIANXI MANBO2001Hou Hsiao-Hsien
The Searchers1956John Ford
La CARROZZA D'ORO1952Jean Renoir
Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles1975Chantal Akerman
Primate1974Frederick Wiseman
Sieranevada2016Cristi Puiu
Looking for Mushrooms1959–67/1996Bruce Conner
Popeye1980Robert Altman
They Live by Night1948Nicholas Ray
The Heartbreak Kid1972Elaine May



2001 Taiwan, France

Simply nothing like it.

The Searchers

1956 USA

A film that never fails to metamorphose into an ever more complicated and richer work with each new viewing. Almost every director whose films I have listed in this poll has some claim to ultimacy, but, if I'm being completely honest with myself, none of them is on a level with Ford.


1952 Italy, France

The late films of Jean Renoir are among some of the greatest pleasures in cinema history, though I will admit that when I first encountered this film it fell completely flat for me. After years passed by and I had combed through Renoir's myriad other masterworks, I revisited The Golden Coach and: unparalleled ecstasy. I'm not sure what needed to click in my brain. Perhaps a greater familiarity with The Rules of the Game?

Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles

1975 Belgium, France

The first time I saw this I felt compelled to immediately rewatch it; that's a day of riches I'll never forget. Akerman is one of the great film artists no matter how small a pool we're talking. While I have toyed with the idea that Je tu il elle is more personally meaningful to me or that D'Est is a greater distillation of her genius, upon revisiting Jeanne Dielman for this poll I was bowled over by that rare feeling of being in the presence of an epochal work of sheer brilliance.


1974 USA

A film straight from hell. (I almost double-listed Wiseman with this and Belfast, Maine, but Primate felt more necessary.)



A mesmerizing achievement layered with most every bit of subtext that our present age has to offer.

Looking for Mushrooms


Looking for Mushrooms threatens to be a messy, culturally-omnivorous gallimaufry and yet it is guided by a strong spirit of transcendent focus. The journey never fails to blow my mind. The Terry Riley–scored 1996 slow re-edit is especially wondrous.


1980 USA

Every ingredient (Altman's aloof astuteness, Shelley Duvall and Robin Williams' transmogrified selves, Harry Nilsson and Van Dyke Parks' music, Jules Feiffer's script, Popeye itself) blends into a beautiful, brimming whole. Popeye is a film whose treasures so perfectly align with my sensibilities that it sometimes feels more likely that I made it up than that it actually exists. (I felt similarly about Éric Rohmer's Perceval when I first saw that.)

They Live by Night

1948 USA

A love story with an aura like no other. Cathy O'Donnell's longing face sears into my heart. How is this Nicholas Ray's debut?

The Heartbreak Kid

1972 USA


Further remarks

I don't know what weird logic guided my ranking—for some reason alphabetical and chronological felt off (I think I simply wanted Mambo to go first, but I wouldn't say the rest of the list is in any fully-baked order).

The films here are united by their exceptional transportive powers. Out of the thousands of moving image works I have seen in my life, I particularly remember the rawness and stupefaction of my first, second, third, etc. brushes with all of these, each experience its own distinct flavor.

What I found in reviewing the many dozens of films that I have at times claimed to be my favorite or among the best of all time is that the prospect of including any such film in this ultimate list brought certain qualities into sharp (skewed?) focus. What only days before seemed like magnum opuses felt entirely overwrought, what once felt like unsung strokes of genius seemed to shrink under the spotlight, filmmakers whose oeuvres I've cherished precisely because of their avoidance of white elephants suffered for just that reason. I'm not sure that the truth that one feels in touch with when one is in sniffing distance of a living canon is at all an ultimate truth, but the prospect of 'the canon' is certainly a leveling force and not without its tokens of wisdom and humility.

I'm not sure there's anything more deeply fulfilling or more crazymaking than a multi-day marathon viewing session of my personal canon of the greatest films of all time. I hope that if anyone stumbles upon my list and finds even a tinge of resonance with their own experience that, exploring further, they can tap into some of this energy.

Most importantly, I now feel I need to watch soooo many more eminently crucial films, and I feel uniquely recharged in this lifelong pursuit.