Movie lists are ten-a-penny online. When you read a lot of them though, you realise that the vast majority fall back on obvious and staple choices. My aim here is to create an A-Z of films that are perhaps undervalued, unknown, or just not the “obvious” choices. I am not saying that all of these films are “alternative” – in fact many could be considered quite mainstream – but I hope to highlight some films which may not be widely known, while still being important/interesting films in their own right. There are undoubtedly other films that should make the list, however for now I am concentrating on the films I actually own. I’ll divide the list up into 3 sections to avoid fatigue. On with the show!

A La Antena (2007)

A love letter to the silent films of the early masters – Lang, Murnau, Dreyer, Méliès et al. Using contemporary effects to create stunning expressionistic visuals, a brilliant concept and an engaging poetic story make this my first choice. Some knowledge of the aforementioned directors and era is useful in appreciating the feel of the movie, but by no means a prerequisite. A beautifully different film.

Honorable mentions : Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed (1926) , Ansatsu (1964) , Altered States (1980), Andrey Rublyov (1966), Amarcord (1973), Amores perros (2000)

B – Baraka (1992)

A wordless, yet profound visual documentary. Some of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring images our world has to offer, set to the music of Dead Can Dance. Despite the lack of narration the film manages to instill a sense of wonder, while showing us the devastating impact our presence is having on the planet. The BluRay disc is reference quality and highly recommended.

Honorable mentions : La battaglia di Algeri (1966), Bronenosets Potyomkin (1925)

C – Crna Macka, Beli Macor (1998)

Emir Kusturica’s “Black cat, white cat” is pure bedlam, complete chaos orchestrated by a maestro. A quirky, musical, romantic, action-packed story of gypsy life, the film bombards you with wild situations and leaves you dazed. The most accessible of Kusturica’s work, and also one of the most heart-warming and enjoyable.

Honorable mentions : Chung Hing sam lam (1994), Cidade de Deus (2002), La cité des enfants perdus (1995)

D – Dung che sai duk (1994)

Dripping in Wong Kar Wei’s trademark visual and narrative style, Ashes of Time is a philosophical morality drama. The film is worth watching for the visuals alone, which are some of the most incredibly striking, deeply saturated images you will ever see. Don’t let the marketing fool you, while there are moments of brief, heavily stylised action, this is a contemplative thinker of a film. Not Kar Wei’s best work (that honour would have to go to the flawless “In the Mood for Love”) but a great introduction to his unique style of film-making.

Honorable mentions : Les Diaboliques (1955), Dead of Night (1945), Delicatessen (1991)

E – Eraserhead (1976)

While this is now pretty well known, this list wouldn’t be complete without a David Lynch film, and this is probably the most alternative of the lot in terms of style and substance. Surreal, nightmarish, morbid, frightening, this is required viewing for anyone who wants to step outside their cinema comfort-zone. It contains a beautiful ear-worm of a song, which will force the film to stay in your head for days, if not weeks.

Honorable mention : Eagle vs Shark (2007)

F – Forbidden Zone (1982)

There are no words that can aptly prepare you for this film. It’s a very low budget, poorly acted, quirky comedy horror musical, starring frog-headed butlers, scat-singing boxers, the dwarf from “The man with the Golden Gun”, a half-man half-chicken, jive gangsters and Satan himself. Mixing cardboard cut-out sets with Gilliam-esque animations, it’s an assault on the senses. Where the film truly excels though is the music, written by none other than the now-legendary movie composer Danny Elfman, brother of this film’s director. Elfman takes punk, ska, jazz, swing and scat singing and creates an addictive, foot-tappingly awesome soundscape, and the film is worth experiencing for this alone.

Honorable mention : Freaks (1932), Fitzcarraldo (1982), Funny Games (original – 1997), The Fountain (2006), Fa yeung nin wa (2000), For All Mankind (1989)

G – La gueule ouverte (1974)

Directed with a subtle touch by Maurice Pialat, this is a sombre, realistic study of a family dealing with the slow death of it’s matriarch from terminal cancer. Beautifully simplistic and poignant, a film that is likely to move anyone who has been touched by cancer. Natural, nostalgic and realistic, without stooping to sentimentalism, this is trademark early Pialat.

Honorable mention : Gwoemul (2006), Gojira (1954), Gandahar (1988)

H – Hausu (1977)

Hausu – while essentially a horror of sorts – is a film that defies description. To put it crudely, it’s Amityville’s hyperactive, LSD-influenced little brother. A frenetic, madcap, surreal mishmash of visuals, animations, stop motion and soundbites, it’s an experience like no other, and one which will leave you at best with a headache, or at worst with a full blown epileptic fit. Director Nobuhiko Obayashi was a pioneer in the field of Japanese advertising, and was largely responsible for what is now seen as trademark Japenese advertisement style – psychadelic, fast paced, quirky – and this is felt in the movie as it disjointedly mixes styles and changes mood every 30 seconds. That’s not to say it isn’t worth watching though. It’s full of laughs and scares in equal measure, and the surreal visuals and mix of audio styles make this a unique film that demands attention.

Honorable mention : Häxan (1922), Harold & Maude (1971), Harvey (1950)

I – Idi i smotri (1985)

“Come and See” has a unique quality that I can apply to this film, and no other. While it is almost certainly in my personal favourite top 10, I have only seen it once and have no desire to watch it again. This may sound strange, but it’s because the film does such a perfect job of harrowing and disturbing the viewer with the atrocities of WWII, that to willingly put yourself through the experience again is not something you approach lightly. The film has a gritty, realistic documentary feel, and characters peer into the camera, begging you for help. The “barn scene” is one of the most terrible things ever committed to film, and it isn’t enough to repeat “it’s only a film, it’s only a film” because events just like this did happen. While difficult to watch, a film which can stir up this level of powerful emotion is not one to be missed, and should be experienced by anyone who lives in blissful ignorance of the horrors of humanity.

Honorable mention : Ivanovo detstvo (1962), If…. (1968), Innocence (2004), Ikiru (1952)

On to part 2 >>