A free way to build your virtual collection, make lists, and share them. It’s your new home on Criterion.com.
Learn More »
Thanks to My Criterion, I am finally able to fulfill my desire to do a Top 10 list. That said, actually narrowing it down to 10 titles has proved more difficult than anticipated, so some films got paired up. Here goes nothing.
At once both sprawling and intimate, compassionate and harshly critical, High and Low is my favorite Kurosawa film. Beginning as a chamber play revolving around a hostage negotiation, the film shifts in its second half to become a powerfully observed police procedural, and over the course of two and a half hours the breadth of Kurosawa's skill is evident (the first hour alone is a master-class in filmmaking). The film's final scene, between Toshiro Mifune and Tsutomu Yamazaki, stands as one of the finest of Kurosawa's career.
I saw The 400 Blows for the first time when I was around 11, and though I had yet to fully absorb all the film had to offer, it nonetheless left an indelible impression. Perhaps it was because I was around the same age as Jean-Pierre Léaud, but I had an emotional reaction to the film that I had trouble articulating at the time. The 400 Blows, Stolen Kisses, Bed and Board, and Love on the Run make up Truffaut's cinematic quartet chronicling the the life of Antoine Doinel, one of the great screen characters (also see the short Antoine and Collette, for completionists sake).
Bergman once described this film as "a declaration of love for life", and I'm hard-pressed to find a better description than that. Ostensibly a film about two children, Fanny and Alexander crystallizes so many of the themes Bergman had been exploring throughout his career, and it's filled with so many wonderful characters that it's difficult to sum up in a paragraph. It's warm, heartfelt, and features two beautiful performances by Bertil Guve and Pernilla Allwin. And it's five hours long. We should all be so thankful.
Harriet Andersson, ladies and gentlemen.
Wim Wenders and Sam Shepard bring us one of the all time great "American" films. Harry Dean Stanton and Dean Stockwell are incredible, and Shepard's script is devastating and beautiful. The film just gives us perfect moment after perfect moment. By the time Travis delivers his final monologue to his wife, turned away from her through a two-way mirror, I'm an emotional wreck, no matter how many times I've seen it.
Powell and Pressburger made some of the most intensely vibrant and passionate movies you're likely to see, and these are my three favorites. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp is is a magnificent character study, movingly intimate and sweeping in its scope. Black Narcissus is a dark and stunning exploration of faith and sexuality, shot by the great Jack Cardiff. The Red Shoes, also shot by Cardiff, is quite possibly the most exquisitely photographed film of, well, ever. If you're ever given the opportunity to see it on big screen, you should jump at the chance if for no other reason than to see the film's hypnotic dance sequences and incredible use of Technicolor.
Brian De Palma at his finest. Blow Out is a mean little cocktail that's part crime saga, part political conspiracy thriller, tinged with B-horror irony and a bit of tragic romance thrown in for good measure. It's The Conversation filtered through De Palma's unique sensibilities, masterfully constructed and featuring a great performance by John Travolta.
Le Samourai is one of the most stylish movies ever made. Alain Delon is impossibly awesome. A minimalist art-film/hitman thriller, Melville took the framework of a samurai tale and drenched it in 60's cool. I love the image of Delon sitting in his empty apartment with only a caged canary for company. I love his suits. I love the tension. The film is like a zen garden, boiling itself down to essential elements and then using them to perfection.
Another great crime film from Melville, and one of the precursors of the French New Wave. This one finds Melville playing around with the conventions of 1940's gangster films, centered around a plot to rob a casino that unravels before it even begins. I haven't seen Roger Duchesne in much else, but he's great in this, and the film itself is quite funny.
The Three Colors films were my first introduction to Kieslowski. Blue features what I think is Juliet Binoche's best performance to date. These were the first films I had seen shot by Slawomir Idziak, and his work here is masterful. Just gorgeous, gorgeous stuff. Red was also my introduction to Irene Jacobs, which lead me immediately to...
...where she completely blew me away. This is also shot Slawomir Idziak, and it's cinema of pure feeling and beauty. These are the only Kieslowski films I've seen thus far, but I plan to rectify that as soon as possible, as each of them are incredible.
Alexander Mackendrick makes it look easy with Sweet Smell of Success. Shot by James Wong Howe, scored by Elmer Bernstein, and starring Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis -- everyone involved is in complete control of their craft. Mackendrick was an immensely skilled director, and his book "On Filmmaking" is one of the best practical filmmaking guides I've read.
This is jazz cinema. Orson Welle's playful, free-form examination of fakes and forgery also serves as a very strange little window into his mind as a filmmaker. It manages to feel both highly calculated and completely off-the-cuff. Also, at this point in his life, Welles had completed his transition into a big, jolly, mischievous grandpa. It suits him.