Tim Lucas

Critic, novelist, and audio commentator

Voted for

King Kong1933Ernest B. Schoedsack, Merian C. Cooper
Jeux interdits1952René Clément
The Mystery of Picasso1956Henri-Georges Clouzot
Last Year at Marienbad1961Alain Resnais
HISTOIRES EXTRAORDINAIRES1967Roger Vadim, Louis Malle, Federico Fellini
Ma nuit chez Maud1969Eric Rohmer
Once upon a Time in the West1968Sergio Leone
The Devils1971Ken Russell
Trois couleurs rouge1994Krzysztof Kieslowski
Synecdoche, New York2008Charlie Kaufman


King Kong

1933 USA

Having seen the film again recently in a theatrical setting, I am all the more impressed by its tremendous leap of imagination. Yet what most impressed me is the fact that - once Kong is introduced - the film never stops in its exciting forward movement. For a 1930s picture, and early 1930s at that, this is generally unheard-of.

Jeux interdits

1952 France

It was important to me to include at least one title to represent the relationship between people and animals, so this one was slugging it out against UMBERTO D., BAMBI, and AU HASARD BALTHASAR. I ultimately chose this film because it's also about the world of childhood in an historical moment that discouraged anything but the numbest adulthood. This is a powerful, uncompromising film that nevertheless preserves its senses of innocence and poetry; I'm very pleased to have found room for Clement on my list, and this particular film also encompasses a spirit I also recognize as Cocteau.

The Mystery of Picasso

1956 France

In coming up with my list, I found it very difficult to balance narrative cinema and documentary; it disturbed me that I could find no room at all for non-narrative cinema. It seemed to me that my list had to be all of one kind, or nothing. Then this film occurred to me, which is a marvelous composite of all three, and an invaluable record of the creative process of one of the great geniuses of 20th century art. This is the kind of film whose negative I can easily imagine trying to save from a burning building.

Last Year at Marienbad

1961 France, Italy

The single greatest film on my list. Anyone who reads the published screenplay by Alain Robbe-Grillet must admit that Resnais was more of a conductor of this film than its auteur; with the exception of a single excision, all of its direction stems from the written word. So I feel Robbe-Grillet must share the directorial credit. For me, an ideal distillation of the conscious and subconscious, open to any number of interpretations, an art object in and of itself.



In my initial drafts of this list, I included Fellini's TOBY DAMMIT as a stand-alone short, as it is sometimes shown. After much consideration, I came to the conclusion that I find this segment works best as the culmination of its original three-story anthology form. It's long been the going idea to embrace the Fellini episode and dismiss the other two, but I find those two among the most personal work from either director. I've written an entire book in defense of SPIRITS OF THE DEAD (2018, Electric Dreamhouse/PS Publishing), in which I show that all three Poe tales tell essentially the same story and that they need each other. It is also important to note that the English version is the only way anyone should watch the Fellini episode (French works just as well for the Vadim and Malle segments), as it preserves Terence Stamp's vocal performance for his greatest character and the often impenetrable morass of language assailing him from the time he reaches the airport in Rome.

Ma nuit chez Maud

1969 France

Rohmer is one of the most important directors in my personal pantheon, and this is the first film on my list to star Jean-Louis Trintignant, my favourite actor, and one who starred in at least a half dozen other films I could have included. I most identify with him here. It's 90 minutes of people talking in different rooms but it conjures just as much suspense as one might want from Hitchcock or Clouzot, but with different stakes. My list leans somewhat toward the fantastic, but what I find endlessly appealing about this film is how well it evokes the magic that dwells just below (or above) the skin of reality: friendship, community, religion, Christmas, bookishness, morality, moral dilemma, the need to know and admit what we want. This film led me to read Pascal, far off my beaten path, just as Rohmet's later THE GREEN RAY led me to finally read Jules Verne, who became a much greater obsession.

Once upon a Time in the West

1968 Italy, USA

I first saw this film at the age of 12, intending to see the co-feature (Elvis Presley in CHARRO!) and due to a mix-up in scheduling having to sit through the Leone first. I hadn't seen any of the DOLLARS films yet; I didn't much like Westerns. Unexpectedly, it towered over me as no other film had done; I was terrified by the sheer symphonic magnificence and force of it, the depth of its passion for cinema. I didn't know the Western genre well enough to catch its scholarly quotations and references, but once it was over, I felt ravished by it. I staggered out without seeing the co-feature because I knew no other film could stand up to what I'd just experienced. I look back on this as the first adult decision of my life. When I see it now, with a hundred or more Westerns in my frame of reference, it only gets bigger, richer.

The Devils

1971 USA, United Kingdom

Ken Russell had to be represented here, as my late teens and twenties coincided with the period of his great reign in British cinema. His WOMEN IN LOVE (which brilliantly streamlined Lawrence's novel to its most essential material) had the greater personal impact on me, but I recognize THE DEVILS as his magnum opus, a harrowing, dizzying, non-stop tour de force that helped solidify my thinking as regards politics, organized religion, and the idea that Hell is other people. Above and beyond this, I tend to find it faultless on every level: it's a masterpiece of design and conviction, full of exquisitely etched performances and host to any number of Marlovian "mighty lines."

Trois couleurs rouge


When I discovered Kieślowski's films with THE DOUBLE LIFE OF VÉRONIQUE, it was the first time I fully identified with a film on a spiritual level; I felt not only that I had seen something extraordinary, I actually felt seen. This feeling that his films were showing me the world as I see and experience it continued to the end and was most powerfully conveyed in RED, which allowed him to work with Jean-Louis Trintignant and the remarkable Irène Jacob. For me, the greatest of all narrative themes is an unexpected meeting of two people that changes their lives, or their awareness of life; it doesn't have to be a love story, as this film proves, but love is involved somewhere, somehow that it's left to us to decide. With an assiduous use of orchestrated details and manufactured coincidence, Kieślowski exposes the invisible net encompassing all of us, discernible in bits of coincidence and layered harmonics that point to some form of intelligence. Of the three films in THREE COLORS, the whole trilogy is most important to its overall clarity and success, but it stands on its own as a very great film.

Synecdoche, New York

2008 USA

When I first saw this densely layered film about an artist's life (or even THE artist's life), I laughed all the way through it - partly from catching the subliminal touches that showed how rapidly time was passing, and also because I recognized so much truth in it - divine truth, bitter truth, awful truth. I couldn't wait to see it again. The second time, I watched it alone late at night and found myself weeping through it, as much as I'd laughed before. For the past 15 years, I've been scared to see it again, afraid that it might not be all I'd built it up to in my memory, but I needn't have worried. Watching it again while compiling my list, along with several other runners-up from this more recent era, I found myself laughing and also weeping at times but always profoundly impressed by the scope and concentration of Kaufman's idea, its execution and sensitive casting. Those 15 years have only served to make time's haste seem all the more merciless, and the maze of art stacked up around the protagonist at the end poor recompense for a life mostly untasted.

Further remarks

The older I get, the more oppressive the word ‘greatest’ becomes. Generally speaking, I avoid writing about what I perceive as obvious greatness. I prefer to live with its mystery and focus on genre films.

"Greatest" suggests a colossus, a thing of immense weight and stasis, yet some of the greatest films I've experienced have been an unexpected, furtive and fleeting kiss in the dark. That's an idea I determined to preserve in my list, which to me is as much a list of great affairs as of great movies. I feel a list such as this should dispense with any fantasies of objectivity right away, and embrace subjectivity; such a list should serve as an X-ray snapshot of the individual curator and be exchangeable with others like a mix tape. It should tell others "This is who I am."

Who I am is a man now in my sixties, who started going to the movies for entertainment in my single digits, and who fell in love specifically with horror and fantasy cinema. At the end of childhood, I experienced a series of films that were quantum leaps in my education; they overturned my thinking, changed my life trajectory, and revolutionized my set ideas about what a movie can and should be. So it was toward those forms of greatness that I gravitated. After choosing this as my basic guideline, dozens of movies I habitually call my favourites fell off the list (some, like LA JETÉE and GHOST WORLD, just by a hair); of course, to compile such a list at all means agreeing to betray one’s own heart. It kills me that there's no Bergman, no Antonioni, no Godard or Kubrick here, but we know they remain great. Likewise, there are fewer of the more obvious planets of my known galaxy present than you might expect - no Mario Bava, no Jess Franco, no Joe Sarno - all of whom I've written hundreds of pages about. They are great in a different way, and I understand and appreciate this. Zuławski and Borowczyk came close.

I started by assembling a list of the most meaningful films to me from each decade, 1910 to 2010. This in itself was murder. Then I began to whittle away, trying as best I could to represent the whole timespan of cinema. The 1910s through the 1930s were easy, though TIH-MINH was ultimately scratched; a magnificent recent discovery, but my guiding light was impact rather than sentiment. Likewise, in the case of the 1940s, despite no shortage of worthy titles, they all fell short of the too-many titles I felt necessary to include from the 1960s (for me, cinema’s richest decade), so I bent my rule on their behalf.

I didn't pick any titles on the basis of self-evident stature or for their ability to entertain. Each of them has, in some way, been a lightning bolt in my life that caught me in its cross-hairs, showed me who I am or could be, or expressed to me in some way that I’m not alone.