David Lynch: from worst to best

David Lynch Rabbits

David Lynch: from worst to best

By Jordan

David Lynch has long been a favourite director of mine. Born in the early 90’s, I missed experiencing the impact and critical diversion that films such as Eraserhead and Blue Velvet had upon release, but when I saw Mulholland Drive, completely unaware of the visionary at the helm, I instantly fell in love with the Lynch brand of cinema.

From 1977 to now, the cow-loving auteur has directed 10 feature films; here they are ranked in order of quality (from brilliant, to stunningly brilliant).

Note: If I were including films he’s produced also, his daughter Jennifer Lynch’s superbly twisted Surveillance (2009) would be right near the top of the list, and Werner Herzog’s quietly troubling curio with a now regulatory exceptional performance from Michael Shannon My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done? (2009) would rate a mention also.

10. Dune (1984)

OK, so this one isn’t quite brilliant. Kyle MacLachlan can be a terrific actor (as evidenced in films below), but when he’s not at his best his chin becomes far more noticeable, and thus distracting… although it’s hard not to be distracted when watching a long, incomprehensible Dino De Laurentiis production also starring Sting and the forever weird Brad Dourif about intergalactic ‘Spice’ disputes. I’m being too harsh, however, as it is an easy film to poke fun of. It’s obvious that Lynch had a vision with Dune that could never be properly realised, and while it is indeed muddled, its none-the-less ambitious, and after its failure it encouraged the great man to shift gears completely for what would follow in 1986, which we should be forever thankful of.

9. The Straight Story (1999)

Easily the most touching (and linear) project Lynch has embarked on, The Straight Story tells the tale of 73 year old Alvin Straight, who travels from Iowa to Wisconsin on a ride-on lawnmower to visit his ill, estranged brother Lyle. Also featuring the forever beautiful Sissy Spacek and cult actor Everett McGill (Silver Bullet, Twin Peaks, The People Under the Stairs), this is an endearing and warm film that while distant from the expected style, remains relevant and pleasant viewing.

8. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992)

Exploring the final days in the life of Laura Palmer, Fire Walk with Me is certainly not of the same pedigree of the television series preceding it, but with its sudden plot changes and extremes in style (particularly audible) it represents Lynch at his most opaque and niche.

7. Inland Empire (2006)

Re-teaming with Laura Dern and shooting in harsh digital, in Inland Empire Lynch created an unexplainable head-trip of a movie for his most die-hard fans only. Most will be put off by the lack of involvement it offers, others, like me, will be hypnotized by the rabbits… the rabbits…

6. Wild at Heart (1990)

Wild at Heart, Lynch’s take on the all-American road/outlaw movie, is at once his best and worst movie… which is why it sits near the middle in the scale of quality. The heights it reaches takes the viewer on a journey with two crazed, passionate lovers as they escape a terrifying Dianne Ladd and her lackey (Harry Dean Stanton, in one of his many memorable performances) and travel into the constantly contorting sunset of unabashed love and power, but the lows offer such ugly brutality it’s hard to ever completely warm to what is offered.

On a separate scale of Good and Bad Nicolas Cage, this is up with the very best, as he casually commands the role of snakeskin jacket wearing bad-boy Sailor. Also, his hair looks quite normal in this.

lost highway

5. The Elephant Man (1980)

Nominated for 8 Academy Awards, and ranked #121 in IMDBs top 250 movies of all time, it’s safe to say that The Elephant Man is the most critically acclaimed chapter in Lynch’s filmography, and considering it was only his second attempt in the medium, that is a monumental effort. One of the most heartbreaking and powerful of all films, The Elephant Man is also incredibly well shot, scored, and features stunning performances from Anthony Hopkins and John Hurt.

4. Lost Highway (1997)

There probably aren’t too many others that would rate Lost Highway in Lynch’s top 5, let alone top 4, but every time I consider rating another film above it I remember the incredible impression it left on me the first time I witnessed it in all its hyper-weird, gloriously twisted, Patricia Arquette starring glory and I stop myself. Need I provide any other positives? Or is the thought of Arquette in her dazzling, stupendous prime enough? Just in case I’ll throw in the fact that Bill Pullman plays a jazz saxophonist who inexplicably morphs into Balthazar Getty at the halfway point, and that Robert Blake as the ‘Mystery Man’ is one of the most ominous figures of ‘90’s cinema.

3. Eraserhead (1977)

“A dream of dark and troubling things” reads the complete synopsis on the back of the recently released Eraserhead blu-ray. It’s not an understatement, and it’s completely appropriate. Lynch’s debut became the face of the Midnight Movie movement as it was quite like anything previously played at a cinema, and not since has any film come close to matching its disturbing, distorted take on mundane life.

2. Blue Velvet (1986)

An American masterpiece and an essential chapter in the history of film, Blue Velvet takes us on a journey beneath surface pleasantries and deep into the dark recesses of human desire and uncontrolled physical and emotional excesses. Now its dark…

1. Mulholland Drive (2001)

Proudly sitting at number 14 in my Top 30 Films of all Time, Mulholland Drive represents the pinnacle of Lynch’s career and exists as a culmination of everything the maestro has perfected.

Mulholland Drive

24 responses to “David Lynch: from worst to best

  1. A great list! My top three would be your top three simply reversed, haha. Lynch is a true master with a number of masterpieces under his belt … I wonder when/if we’ll see another full-length from him.

    • Thanks man. On a down note, I doubt we’ll ever see him make another full-length film… but at least we can be thankful for what we have! Oh, and I can certainly see why some would rate Eraserhead as his no. 1!

      • Eraserhead was the first Lynch film I ever saw and I remember drawing so many parallels to its contents with my own life at the time. It’s a paradoxical film because it’s a very recognizable, unique and defined piece of cinema yet it is also so vastly open to interpretation that every invested viewer can experience a wholly different film by injecting his or her own experiences into the film experience itself. No doubt, Eraserhead is a true masterpiece.

  2. Lynch is a genuine genius, but he is undisciplined and self-indulgent, and Eraserhead portended a better career than the one he actually had. IMO he started repeating himself with Wild At Heart.
    My favorite Lynch creation–in fact, my favorite TV show, period—is Twin Peaks.

      • On The Air was a sitcom about the production of a fictional television variety show. It was VERY surreal, and the network pulled it after Twin Peaks plunged in popularity. It’s not available commercially, but the last time I checked, the pilot was online. As a Lynch fan. you should check it out.

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  4. Great list and pretty much exactly as I’d put it! Mulholland Drive is maybe my favourite movie, which I’m going to shamelessly self-plug here: http://somefilmsandstuff.com/2013/05/02/mulholland-drive/

    Blue Velvet is a close second and Eraserhead definitely third. I’ve still never actually seen Lost Highway and really need to sort that out. Fire Walk with Me is a great, if very disturbing horror film, though I’m not sure who the audience was. Fans of the series hate it and casual movie goers can’t get into it. I really wanted to love Inland Empire. I’ve sat through it twice and never engaged with it. I think Mulholland Drive covered the same ideas, but in a far superior way.

    Great list!

    • You’re love of Mulholland Drive certainly shines through there! I’m glad you agree with the list and order.
      I absolutely adore Blue Velvet, my major film back in year 12 was very much referenced by it (and even featured a clip playing in the foreground, then background of the shot in which the protagonist is introduced). Lost Highway is basicly more opaque than Mulholland and Velvet put together… it truly fries the logical brain, but is incredible, and Patricia Arquette is smoking in it. I pretty well agree with your other thoughts too – Inland seems like more of a collective of left over thoughts (or “ideas” as i’m sure Lynch would put it).
      Cheers, Jordan

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