Ranking the Greats

Lars Von Trier's 10 Best Films

by Bill Gibron

19 March 2014


5 - 1

#5 -  Melancholia

Having battled depression most of his life, Von Trier used a personal episode to help create the main narrative thread here. A pair of sisters, Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg, must deal with their lingering sibling issues just as the End of the World is announced. When the former becomes nearly catatonic from psychological stresses, the latter tries to rally her for fear of the approaching apocalypse. Instead, she learns what Von Trier learned—that is, that sometimes, the mentally impaired are the most calm and comforting force within the midst of chaos. It’s a very moving message and movie.

#4 -  Nymphomaniac

Sex sells. Everyone knows that. So why not use it to put forth a rather complicated commentary about love, life, decisions, and desperation? That’s exactly what Von Trier has done with his latest masterpiece, a messed up diatribe about human foibles situated within some very hardcore XXX content. Ms. Gainsborough is back, here taking center stage as the title diva, a woman convinced that her inability to control her lust has made her a wicked person. Over the course of its two part explanation, we learn that she is no different than anyone else, except she is honest in her inadequacies.

#3 -  Dancer in the Dark

As the third installment in his “Golden Heart” trilogy (the man loves trilogies), Von Trier brought on musical icon Bjork to aid in his creation of a musical. That’s right, he taps into his inner Busby Berkley (albeit, within the Dogme designs) to tell the tale of a young Czech immigrant who comes to America with her son. She is going blind and hopes to raise enough money to keep her child from suffering the same fate. Slipping into daydream—read: songs—she tries to forget her tragic fate. Then a horrible misunderstanding leads to one of the most brutal finales ever. A true artistic triumph.

#2 -  Antichrist

We place this slightly above Dancer for one reason and one reason only - the singular moment when Willem Dafoe’s character runs out into the woods and is confronted by an anthropomorphized fox, disemboweling itself and growling “Chaos Reigns!”  Otherwise, this matches our third choice in both chutzpah and horror. Really a meditation on how grief—especially the loss of a child—can affect each parent differently, Von Trier turns everything into a literalized psychological confessional, complete with genital mutilation and biological brutality. The opening set-up remains some of the most brilliant filmmaking of the man’s career.

#1 -  Breaking the Waves

At the end of the day, this will be the movie Von Trier will be remembered for. It contains one the greatest performances (by Emily Watson) by any actress he has worked with and a story with a moral that makes up for the numerous narrative and aesthetic oddities the filmmaker employs. After all, the main theme of this film is about serving God through having sex with strangers. Even more bizarre is the notion that said sacrifice may actually work. While not 100% in compliance with his Dogme ‘95 ideals, it remains a stunning masterpiece which proved greatness could indeed come from less frills and more “film.”

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