Top 10s

Scott Morse’s Top Ten

Scott Morse’s Top Ten

Scott Morse is a storyteller with one foot in the world of comics and the other in the world of film. His books Soulwind, Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!, and the Kurosawa-inspired tale The Barefoot Serpent have garnered critical acclaim and a niche fan base. Currently working in the story department at Pixar, he’s helped shape Ratatouille, Wall-E, Cars 2, and numerous short films. “Picking a Criterion top ten is like picking which of your kids you love more,” Morse writes. “These choices of mine are a gunslinger’s reaction, shooting from the hip and plugging them in alphabetical order.”

  • The Battle of Algiers

    1.
    The Battle of Algiers

    Gillo Pontecorvo

    This might be the next best thing to placing I Am Cuba on the list, which totally makes the cut if we’re including Criterion laserdiscs. Gillo Pontecorvo took real people and showed how real guerilla warfare goes down. Even more powerful is how he did it, and modern-day “documentary-style” filmmakers could take a page out of his book on restraint. The camera is not all over the map; it stays where it needs to and still grabs the immediate, important points in a way that feels involved and true. Then Ennio Morricone boxes your ears with flair and bravado.

  • Look at it this way: The Twilight Zone is your memories of growing up, of learning to understand a certain language of cinematic storytelling that embraces fantastic twists of plot and character. Then, when you’re older, and it occurs to you to ask your parents what things were really like back in the day, the answer is Patterns, Requiem for a Heavyweight, and The Comedian, all written by Rod Serling. Of course, there’s more than Serling’s writing to love here: the immediacy of the productions and the adrenaline of the performances make for a perfect record of this incredibly pivotal era of storytelling.

  • Kwaidan

    3.
    Kwaidan

    Masaki Kobayashi

    It’s funny how in the modern era of filmmaking (even in CG animation), we’re so infatuated with achieving a “real” look. Design is often tossed aside in favor of a more “relatable,” grounded aesthetic. It’s refreshing to watch something like Kwaidan (or even Kurosawa’s Dreams), where soundstages are embraced and dramatic, and colorful lighting is boldly employed. This is the way to haunt your audience: long, quiet, surreal moments.

  • Notorious

    4.
    Notorious

    Alfred Hitchcock

    There’s a sultriness about Notorious that puts it over the top for me: the lighting, the compositions, the way the camera walks you through the plot by emphasizing the incredible acting. Even after all this time, and after repeat viewings, this ensemble continues to reveal new bits of cinematic love. The understated score adds something unique as well, but really, that pivotal push-in to the wine cellar key is what it’s all about. Bold, elegant style.

  • Pickup on South Street

    5.
    Pickup on South Street

    Samuel Fuller

    It kicks your face in while you’re watching it. The economy of true noir is evident in the pacing, the language, the looks . . . the characters. Lowlife as hero. Fuller nailed it here. Plus, Thelma Ritter. God, someone should build a shrine to that woman, you know? Any time you’re wondering where the great character actresses went, pay your respects to her in this flick.

  • The Red Shoes

    6.
    The Red Shoes

    Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger

    Hey, storytellers: if you’re adapting a classic, this is film school 101. Never before or since (though I love Black Swan for trying) has anyone achieved what Powell and Pressburger did here, in terms of character and theme. Add the beautiful work of Jack Cardiff and you achieve something of which I, personally, can only hope to replicate a glimmer as a visual storyteller in comics and animation: Technicolor atmosphere that conveys immediate emotion and also has a lasting impact.

  • Rififi

    7.
    Rififi

    Jules Dassin

    I love that Jules Dassin took an archetype like the mentor and turned him into the main character. One of the greatest heist films I’ve ever seen, Rififi employs character for the sake of plot progression, resulting in a unique economy of filmmaking. Pure entertainment. Plus, the details: padding a hammer not leaving matches or cigarette butts during a heist, catching debris with an umbrella. And that’s just one scene.

  • Seven Samurai

    8.
    Seven Samurai

    Akira Kurosawa

    Yep. A symphony of visuals comes together to communicate the essence of basic humanity. There’s no suitable combination of words to match the combination of cinematic choices that Kurosawa made here. I was lucky enough to see it on film the first time I saw it, on a big screen, with good sound, sitting next to my wife, who was also seeing it for the first time. That’s a combination of beauty that’s hard to replicate.

  • The Third Man

    9.
    The Third Man

    Carol Reed

    While working in story on an early version of Wall-E, I boarded a sequence featuring a chase through a cityscape. Andrew Stanton, the film’s director, called me on it: “This is so Third Man!” He had a big smile on his face, and why wouldn’t he? I’ve learned where to find tough guys who cast long shadows. And I’ve also learned where to milk a character reveal: Carol Reed plus Anton Karas plus Robert Krasker equals Harry Lime, and cinematic perfection.

  • Yojimbo

    10.
    Yojimbo

    Akira Kurosawa

    Only Bugs Bunny rivals the Man with No Name trickster/puppeteer that Toshiro Mifune graced us with here. This might be the perfect popcorn movie. The music alone pops the clutch of this joyride, and a joyride it is: this car’s been stolen more than once, and with good reason.

  • The Blob

    11.
    The Blob

    Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr.

    Screw it—I’m breaking the rules. I’m building a ’31 Coupe with my dad right now, all hopped up and ready to steal pink slips. Couple that with a new book I’m working on called Ten Against the World, about teen angst in the fifties, set against big ol’ Jack Kirby–style monsters, and you might begin to see why I hold The Blob so dear to my heart. It’s just fun. Live a little.