As David Lynch turns 75 today, there's one thing that can be said looking back over his work - it's weird. Very, very weird.
In fact, his style is so recognisable that it's coined the term Lynchian - a mixture of the familiar, the absurd and the surreal all meshed into one. Beginning his career by studying fine arts in Philadelphia, his short films gained him enough success and notoriety - something he's always actively courted - to produce his first feature-length film, 'Eraserhead'.
Since then, David Lynch has been credited as director on at least 48 pieces of work, including several episodes of the cult TV series 'Twin Peaks' and directing every episode of the follow-up series, 'Twin Peaks: The Return'.
For this ranking, however, we're only including his movies and none of his shorts.
It's hard to believe, but David Lynch was one of the first directors approached to take on 'Return of the Jedi'. So to was David Cronenberg. However, when both passed, the job went to TV director Richard Marquand and the rest is history. However, Lynch must have felt something like regret when he passed and so decided to take on Frank Herbert's 'Dune', easily one of the most densest novels in science-fiction. From the very beginning, Dune was tough for directors to get a handle on. Alejandro Jodorowsky originally planned a massive, sprawling universe that featured Salvador Dali and his own son as the film's protagonist and Orson Welles as its villain, production designs by H.R. Giger and Moebius and a soundtrack by Pink Floyd. Lynch's version, however, was equally weird - but in a much different way. It's probably the closest thing he's done to a blockbuster, but Lynch takes a harsh view on it and has pretty much disavowed the film entirely. It's a shame because, although it's a bit of a mess, there are some moments of brilliance in it and you can see that Lynch was fighting through studio controls to get his version made.
9. 'INLAND EMPIRE'
If 'Lost Highway' was David Lynch experimenting, then 'INLAND EMPIRE' - and those capital letters are determined by him as being important - is that experimentation's final form. Like so much of Lynch's work, explaining it out loud or summarising it would make it sound like you're recounting a dream. It gets weirder, of course. For the Oscar campaign for Laura Dern's performance, Lynch parked himself on a visible stretch of downtown Hollywood with a cow, a poster for the movie marked 'For Your Consideration', an a director's chair where he sat, smoked and drank coffee for a few hours. Yes, really.
8. 'TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME'
Conceived as a sort of prequel to 'Twin Peaks', 'Fire Walk With Me' never answered questions that the TV series left hanging on. Instead, Lynch ploughed ahead with something tangentially related to 'Twin Peaks' and something much, much more darker than anything he'd done before. As Lynch himself described it, 'Fire Walk With Me' was about "the loneliness, shame, guilt, confusion and devastation of the victim of incest." Heavy stuff, to say the least. Sadly, 'Fire Walk With Me' is only just now receiving the accolades it so richly deserves. It's an intriguing companion to piece to his most well-known work with some incredible performances by Kyle MacLachlan and the sadly departed David Bowie. As a movie, sure, it's absolutely weird - but David Lynch's work is never supposed to be taken as a narrative. They're more closer to an experience, if anything.
7. 'LOST HIGHWAY'
It's hard to know precisely what goes in David Lynch's mind when he creates new work. He's frustratingly guarded about divulging meaning in his movies, instead preferring for people to take on their own and discuss it themselves. 'Lost Highway' is an example of a movie needing guidance rather than trying to figure it out by yourself. It's so desperately weird, so fully off the rails, that it doesn't so much verge on incomprehensible as it embraces it fully. It's sinister, it doesn't make a huge amount of sense, but you know it's unmistakably David Lynch's work.
6. 'WILD AT HEART'
David Lynch taking on a pulp novel and turning it into a quasi-'Wizard of Oz' musical comedy with Diane Ladd, Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern feels like it's just what you'd expect from him - and it is, to be fair. As much as any of his work is known for its bizarre breaks into music, dancing and general weirdness, 'Wild At Heart' has all of them in one. Nicolas Cage, a deep Elvis aficianado, was as electric as he's ever been and including the radio 'Wicked Game' on the soundtrack definitely helped it become a crossover hit. Still, 'Wild At Heart' didn't go over with audiences or critics at the time, but like so much of Lynch's work, subsequent years have allowed for reappraisal.
5. 'THE STRAIGHT STORY'
Americana has always influenced and permeated David Lynch's work, but it's always come at it from an angle of it being a cover for something rotten under the surface. 'Twin Peaks' and 'Blue Velvet' were part of this, but 'The Straight Story' felt more like an honest and forthright examination of it. Folksy charm and warm humour lines the movie and Richard Farnsworth, who audiences would best known as the sheriff from 'Misery', embodies all of it and then some. That his finest work would be his last adds a poignancy to 'The Straight Story', and makes for one of Lynch's most touching movies.
From the very outset, it's clear that David Lynch was going to be unlike any other director working. The experimental nature of his work, combined with his frequent themes and motifs, are all on shown in his first feature-length film, 'Eraserhead'. Trying to describe the plot is like trying to describe a dream, but that's how Lynch wants it. It's supposed to be off-putting, surrealist and dream-like, but not a good dream - a weird dream where everything's in black and white, industrialised and frequently disturbing. The performances are heightened, the constant low-level noise in the background is off-putting, the music is jarring and scary. From the very beginning of watching 'Eraserhead', you're on tenterhooks. In fact, that sense of dread and foreboding was exactly what Stanley Kubrick wanted in 'The Shining'. Kubrick even screened 'Eraserhead' for the cast and crew of 'The Shining', explaining that the tone and feeling was what he wanted to recreate in his movie.
3. 'THE ELEPHANT MAN'
Probably the most accessible film - if you can call it that - Lynch has ever made, 'The Elephant Man' still has elements from 'Eraserhead' and his future works as well. Mel Brooks - yes, that Mel Brooks - acted as the film's producer and hired Lynch after a screening of 'Eraserhead'. Brooks specifically refused a credit as producer, fearing that people would confuse the film with one of his own comedies. John Hurt stars as John Merrick, the titular character, who is taken in by Anthony Hopkins' kindly doctor in Victorian London. At first viewed as a freak, Merrick struggles to bring out his humanity and move past his horribly disfigured visage. It's as touching a film as any you're likely to see about how what is on the outside has no bearing on the inside. Hurt's makeup took approximately seven to eight hours to apply with just under two hours to remove it. Widespread criticism of the Academy Awards' failure to recognise the incredible makeup effects meant that a category was created the following year.
2. 'MULHOLLAND DRIVE'
Originally borne out of an idea for a spin-off for 'Twin Peaks', the twisty psychological horror / thriller 'Mulholland Drive' feels like a companion piece to his most celebrated work, 'Twin Peaks'. When you watch it back now, it's clear that Lynch was working with motifs and themes that he's familiar with, but it's intriguing to think that it was once intended to be a TV series. That idea of continuing story, that it never ends and loops back in on itself, can be seen in the likes of 'Lost Highway', but 'Mulholland Drive' is the most effective execution of it. Weird is an understatement, but that none of it makes sense is kind of irrelevant. You're just on for the ride.
1. 'BLUE VELVET'
One of the main arguments put forth by David Lynch's detractors is that his work is impenetrable, that it's too dark and violent and often with a hint of misogyny tinged with it. Whatever your opinion on the subject, one thing is clear - 'Blue Velvet' is every bit as disturbing, beautiful and mysterious as you've heard. Isabella Rosselini, in a career-best performance, is a nightclub singer who is brutally tormented by a raging psychopathic crime boss with a gas-mask, played by Dennis Hopper in one of his most iconic roles. Kyle MacLachlan, a frequent collaborator of Lynch's, plays Rosselini's love-interest whilst Laura Dern and Dean Stockwell act as the supporting cast. Like 'Twin Peaks', 'Blue Velvet' was as much about the line between waking life and dreams as it was about the facade of modern life; white picket-fences and what goes on behind closed doors. He'd later expand on those themes in 'Twin Peaks', but he arguably never did it as well as he did it here.