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5. Inland Empire (2006)
The ultimate Lynch-fan litmus test, this three-hour collection of tragic prostitutes, anthropomorphic rabbits, and unexplained musical numbers is like soaking in a deep bath of someone else's nightmares. Inland Empire shows that if he wanted to, Lynch could be one of the greatest horror directors of all time.
4. The Elephant Man (1980)
Lynch supposedly agreed to make this movie based on the title alone, having no other idea what it was about. As his most conventional film, this serves as a good example of how an artist can channel his vision into material that, in different hands, could be boring or trite. Just because John Hurt is covered in makeup and pumping for a Best Actor nomination doesn't mean he isn't incredibly moving.
3. Blue Velvet (1986)
The breakthrough movie in Lynch's career, this is still as powerful and shocking as ever in its mixture of sadism, voyeurism, and Oedipal madness. Dennis Hopper was never better than as gas-huffing sociopath Frank Booth. The only thing holding this movie back, for me, is the slight smirk in its depiction of small-town life.
2. Mulholland Drive (2001)
Almost certainly the best thing to ever be salvaged from an abandoned TV pilot (there's still hope, Wonder Woman!), Mulholland Drive is the greatest blend of dreamlike weirdness, black comedy, and heartrending drama of Lynch's career. A huge amount of credit has to go to Naomi Watts, who delivers an amazing performance (or two) as the small-town girl gone adrift in the city of dreams.
1. Eraserhead (1977)
This is the one that started it all, the purest distillation of everything Lynch has ever done in one ninety-minute package of industrial decay, hideous puppets, and the deadest of deadpan humor. Lynch's other films mesmerize us with visions of murder, chaos, killers, and freaks; in this film, Lynch shows us the horror inside the typical American family, from a disastrous dinner with the in-laws to the terror of mishandling a baby. It's not the kind of movie you follow for story or character — it's something you just have to feel.