I can’t think of a filmmaker who I did more of a 180 about than David Lynch. When I was in college getting into the great American directors, I simply couldn’t grasp Lynch and his industrial weirdness. I remember being so baffled by Lost Highway, for example, that I turned it off around the time Robert Blake is standing in front of Bill Pullman, telling him to ask him a question on the phone. It still doesn’t really make sense to me. But, about five years later, I reassessed Mr. Lynch and while I would never say I know what every one of his movies is about, I can now appreciate the unique artistry of a guy who basically has his own genre. So, without further ado (or adieu even), here are my five favorite Lynch flicks.
5) The Straight Story (1999)
Perhaps the weirdest movie in David Lynch’s catalog, simply because it’s the least in keeping with the things he’d made before or since. It’s G-rated, for crying out loud! This is such a sweet little movie, all about a man named Alvin Straight (Richard Farnsworth, who got a posthumous Oscar nomination for his performance) in rural America who wants to visit his dying, estranged brother (Harry Dean Stanton) and can’t drive a car anymore, so he takes a riding lawnmower. It’s just a delight. Sissy Spacek gives a really fine supporting performance as Alvin’s daughter. Try to watch the movie without crying, I dare ya.
4) Wild At Heart (1990)
From Lynch’s most wholesome movie, we go to what might well be his least wholesome one, despite it taking some of its visual cues from The Wizard of Oz. The only one of Lynch’s movies to win the prestigious Palme d’Or at Cannes, Wild At Heart is about two young, reckless lovers named Sailor (Nicolas Cage) and Lula (Laura Dern) and their batshit insane road trip being pursued by the various weirdos and nutjobs Lula’s mother (Diane Ladd, who is Laura Dern’s real mother) hired to kill Sailor. Willem Dafoe plays maybe the grossest, least appealing screen character in history and is perhaps only not the scariest character in the film because of the utterly terrifying visage of Grace Zabriskie. This might be what David Lynch would consider a western, now that I think about it. But, it does give us the recurring line about Sailor’s jacket: “Did I ever tell ya that this here jacket represents a symbol of my individuality, and my belief in personal freedom?”
3) Mulholland Drive (2001)
This is generally considered Lynch’s best movie, and it’s certainly one of his most distinctive, but for me, it loses its way (perhaps like one can on the actual Mulholland Dr.) somewhere toward the end. And it makes sense; this project began life as a TV pilot that didn’t get picked up, and so Lynch enweirdened it further and made it into a feature. The movie’s all about identity and dreams and memory and perception, but also has a terrifying non sequiter scene with a creepy face person causing a heart attack, and a cowboy who’s just a cowboy for seemingly no reason. This was the movie that specifically made me want to revisit all of Lynch’s work, so it will always hold a special place in my film memory. There’s a LOT to unpack and multiple viewings are almost necessary.
2) The Elephant Man (1980)
Even though this was only Lynch’s second feature, this still stands out as one of his most impressive, taking all the cinematography and sound effects techniques he used in Eraserhead and mixing them with a real life case of a famous outcast, that being John Merrick, the Victorian man with a rare disorder that gives his body enormous features. It’s a very sad film, but also a very uplifting one, which is something Lynch does wonderfully when he allows himself to do that (see #5). John Hurt is dazzling under all that effects makeup and Anthony Hopkins as the kindly but opportunistic Dr. Treaves is also quite wonderful. This is certainly a weird movie, because it’s David Lynch after all, but it’s possibly one of his most linear and literal outings. A film that never gets old.
1) Blue Velvet (1986)
This to me is still the quintessential David Lynch film, and the apex of his early career mentality of showing how middle America was deeply disturbing and seedy just behind its pleasant, Eisenhower-regime veneer. The awesome Kyle MacLachlan plays a normal suburban teen who’s in love with the sweetest girl in the world (Laura Dern, a very different role to the one she’d next play for Lynch), but when he discovers a human ear in a field he goes down a spiral into hell, and has to meet the Devil himself. After becoming fixated with a troubled lounge singer (Isabella Rossellini), he runs afoul of her mobster/ether-huffer/psychopath boyfriend (Dennis Hopper at his chillingly unhinged best) who only likes Pabst Blue Ribbon and will *ahem* anything that moves. This was actually the last Lynch movie that I attempted to watch and I loved it immediately. Along with Eraserhead before it and Twin Peaks after it, Blue Velvet creates a creepy-ass picture of the American Ideal, and it’s not particularly idyllic at all.
And there we have it, my five favorite David Lynch films. Which ones are your faves? Let me know below!