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Directors Cuts: Top 5 David Lynch Movies

Directors Cuts: Top 5 David Lynch Movies

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!

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Comments

  1. al says:

    In this order:  Inland Empire, Mulholland Dr., Blue Velvet, Elephant Man, Eraserhead.  If you struggle to understand Mulholland Dr., then I you’ll never get to Inland Empire.  Too bad…

  2. zombo says:

    1. Twin peaks fire walk with me 2. Mullhuland drive 3. Lost highway  4. blue velvet 5. Inland empire

  3. tiff says:

    Lost highway!

  4. Scotty J says:

    Inland Empire, Mulholland, Velvet, Eraserhead, Walk with me 

  5. Lou Filosa says:

    LOst Highway, Mulholland Drive, The Straight Story, Blue Velvet, Eraserhead.

  6. Trent Daniel says:

    My top 5: Mulholland Dr, Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, Elephant Man, The Straight Story

  7. mr green says:

    This is incorrect. Mulholland Dr should be number one. Try again.

  8. Corby Ziesman says:

    I appreciate a lot of David Lynch including Twin Peaks, but god help me Dune is still my favourite.

  9. Selin says:

    Eraserhead is missing..

  10. spinifex says:

    1. Wild at Heart, 2. Twin Peaks, 3. Dune, 4. Blue Velvet, 5. Mulholland Drive.

  11. Michael says:

    Lost Highway, Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, INLAND EMPIRE, Mulholland Dr. (if we can’t count Dumbland and Twin Peaks amongst them.)

  12. Reynolds says:

    INLAND EMPIRE is the best yet. Lost Highway is a close second.

  13. John McHugh says:

    I have a theory that Lost Highway and Mullholland Drive are two halves of the same movie, or at least two different takes on the same story.They have the same plot: the protagonist murders his/her partner after discovering the partner is cheating (porn in LH, prostitution in MD), and then retreats into madness.

     It’s just the movies reflect differences in the male and female psyche (they’re also structured differently, which is my favorite thing about both movies. LH is a mobius strip and MD is a knot). LH is all about becoming a different person to avoid your fate, but still succuming to violence, crime and sex whereas MD’s fantasies are all about having a second chance to preserve to succeed and your innocence at the same time. I don’t think they can be viewed as anything as two different sides of the same whole.

  14. John says:

    I have a theory that Lost Highway and Mullholland Drive are two halves of the same movie, or at least two different takes on the same story.
    They have the same plot: the protagonist murders his/her partner after discovering the partner is cheating (porn in LH, prostitution in MD), and then retreats into madness.

     
    It’s just the movies reflect differences in the male and female psyche (they’re also structured differently, which is my favorite thing about both movies. LH is a mobius strip and MD is a knot). LH is all about becoming a different person to avoid your fate, but still succuming to violence, crime and sex whereas MD’s fantasies are all about having a second chance to preserve to succeed and your innocence at the same time. I don’t think they can be viewed as anything as two different sides of the same whole.

  15. NatalieShark says:

    Seriously? Wild at Heart beat out Eraserhead? Wild at Heart is like the bottom of the list for me when it comes to Lynch. It’s goofy, it hasn’t aged well, and the screams of the girls during the serenading scene is so clearly a synthesiser that it’s painful.  

    • Michael says:

      I partially agree with that. Wild at Heart is the most overrated and the least complex. It is goofy, and it feels like schtick compared to the other films of a deeper examination of the unconscious, time, representation, and simulacra. Wild at Heart is the most basic motion picture satire that falls towards parody, that being said, it’s still far better than most other movies, and if another director had made it, it might be the best film in their catalogue.

  16. machiel says:

    Lost Highway, Blue Velvet, Erasurehead, Mulholland Drive, Fire Walk With Me

  17. Martin says:

    Dune?

  18. Kemal Alican Kaya says:

    I like watch like these films

  19. ed says:

    BLUE VELVET for me, just for the complete package of the bizzareness that it was. I think it was ERASERHEAD at a repertory house that was my first Lynch and warped my mind on what cinema can convey in mood thru its sound and visuals. (Or does DUNE count?) Like Gilliam, I’ve got to rewatch the newer ones for properly ranking them…

  20. Kelli says:

    You pretty well lost my interest when you confess in the first paragraph that you “did a 180” with Lynch. If you needed to be convinced, I just don’t trust your “expertise” on the subject. I also would suggest in the future that you don’t state in the beginning of an article that you don’t understand what you’re about to discuss.

  21. Frankster says:

    Richard Farnsworth’s Oscar nomination was not posthumous… he died the next year.

  22. Nick says:

    I actually think Inland Empire is his masterpiece.

  23. 1-Mulholand Drive2-Los Highway3-Eraserhead4-Blue Velvet5-Fire Walk With Me

  24. Andrea says:

    Fire Walk with Me is one of my favorite 

  25. Irgo says:

    I would include the first episode of Twin Peaks. Even though we’ve had Mad Men, Sopranos and Breaking Bad, TV has never been better!

  26. Mat says:

    Pretty similar. Blue Velvet, The Elephant Man, Wild at Heart, Mulholland Drive and Dune.

    • Dune says:

      finally someone who likes Dune

      • kultgirl says:

        I really like Dune, and I rewatch about once/year with my dad.  I can’t sat that about any other Lynch film! 

      • Lord Abaddon says:

        Dune is a great movie. To me it’s the only “Gone with the Wind” type of scifi epic.  I wish that he could put the whole thing together as the clips from the “crap” Smithee version are great too!

    • spinifex says:

      I love Dune. Watched it again the other night. Holds up great.

  27. jose says:

    i have to say lost highway is missing, it is for me top 3 of his movies.

  28. matt says:

    ‘it doesn’t make sense to me?’ what kind of movie reviewer are you?? this is a lightweight lynch post with no real substance…what is the point of it?

    • Mat says:

      If you’re going to crticise every person who has ever remarked at some point that a David Lynch film doesn’t make sense, you’ve got a tough slog ahead.

      • matt says:

        things in art don’t always have to ‘make sense’ leave the interpretation up to the viewer to decide the meaning.

        • Lee says:

          David Lynch would tell you that even if your brain tells you that the film “doesn’t make sense”, on an intuitive level it actually does.  The first time I watched “Mulholland Drive” I couldn’t make heads or tails of it, but after 2nd and 3rd viewings I felt all of the pieces fall into place like a jigsaw puzzle.  With that preface in mind, here’s my personal Lynch Top 5:1) Mulholland Drive2) Eraserhead3) Blue Velvet4) Lost Highway5) The Straight Story

  29. Mark Savage says:

    Lost Highway, Eraserhead, Mulholland Drive, Blue Velvet, The Elephant Man.

  30. Travis Garden says:

    I would have chosen the same exact line-up.