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10 Essential Werner Herzog Movies, From Divine Wrath to Gonzo Docs

A quick what-you-need-to-see primer on the legendary German filmmaker’s work, from crazed conquistadors to 3-D cave tours

10 Essential Werner Herzog Movies,

From 'Aguirre' to 'Grizzly Man,' crazed Kinski collaborations to 3-D cave tours – the 10 essential Werner Herzog movies you need to see.

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For nearly 55 years, he’s chronicled the weird, the wild and the obsessed … and with two new films coming out in April (Queen of the Desert, starring Nicole Kidman and James Franco; and Salt and Fire, featuring Michael Shannon and a supervolcano) and having just taught a filmmaking seminar in Cuba, Werner Herzog is showing no signs of slowing down. Over the course of a long, storied career – either 70 or 78 movies, not even Herzog knows for sure – the German filmmaker has explored the notion of “how far is too far?” in both fictional features and way-stranger-than-fiction documentaries. In honor of Erik Hedegaard’s profile of Herzog, and for those who simply know the director as the guy who lent his Teutonic baritone to both foul-mouthed children’s books and The Simpsons, we’ve put together a quick Herzog 101 primer: 10 essential movies that exemplify the genius and the madness that characterizes what’s still one of the most impressive filmographies in modern cinematic history.

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‘Caves of Forgotten Dreams’ (2010)

You could argue that a huge portion of Herzog’s filmography, even his fictional entries, might qualify as “nature documentaries” in a broad sense; even something like 1992’s Lessons of Darkness, a narration-less, season-in-hell portrait of Kuwaiti’s burning oil fields, technically fits the category. This journey into France’s Chauvet Caves, home to paintings carbon-dated at 37,000 years old, is as close to a straightforward feature-length nature doc he’s made – and it’s one of the few movies shot in 3-D (a process Herzog had long dismissed as ridiculous) that takes complete advantage of the format. It’s filled with unbelievably beautiful imagery, a staggering number of the director’s parody-ready voiceover nuggets (‘It is as if the modern human soul had awakened here”) and a singular philosophical perspective on the orbiting rock we all live on. It’s truly unforgettable.

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