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In no particular order, my Criterion top 10. I am forced to omit works by Godard because he would dominate and unbalance the list, as well as make it a bit commonplace. Here we go...
There are not many films that I would call "perfect". Of those that do exist, Hitchcock made more than any other director. This film is one of them. It is so effortless. A wonder to behold. The master at the absolute top of his game. I particularly love the "meet cute" scene between Redgrave and Lockwood in her hotel room. It has always struck me as an effective and dynamically-edited passage, cinematically speaking.
Another "perfect" film. So many elements to admire, from acting to music to cinematography. It has been said before, it will be said again here: there is no better final scene in the history of cinema. Maybe there is also no more iconic a city in the history of cinema, in terms of actual mise-en-scene.
I like to call this the moment that the hip-hop film was aestheticized. A searing drama with a bumper crop of talented actors, certainly among the greatest ensembles in (post)modern cinema. No matter how many times you see it, the ending tenses you up and breaks your heart. The great Robin Harris as comic relief is outstanding.
As textbook an example of classic film noir as can be found. The opening sequence is so iconic. Every shadow, every line of terse dialogue, the long wait for that door to burst open with the fury of a violent death. Here we also have a great ensemble. One of the best collections of noir character actors ever assembled. Their personae spell the definition of hard-boiled tough guy-ism. "You've got a reputation as a troublemaker. Okay...make some!"
One of those films that makes you want to rush out with a camera and shoot your own masterpiece, because it feels so easy and so accomplished. I love the sensation that Willie gets when cousin Eva leaves his apartment. That aching emptiness coming from a suddenly absent house guest that you grow to love is so familiar and palpable. Just one of the many little pleasures this great film has to offer.
The most flawed film in my top 10. I think the first half (LA, NYC, Paris) is masterful and the second half (Rome, Helsinki) is forgettable. Something about that first half pulls me in with such a strong attraction. Ryder's telephone book; Esposito's sneakers; de Bankole's band-aid. A poetry of objects. I use this film like a classic album I love -- I am perfectly happy listening to the cuts I like whenever I want, then skipping the rest. Though ironically, this may be Jarmusch's least musical film.
The film is like a force of nature. What more can be said? The work of a brilliant director who knows all the secrets. One of the genuine cornerstones in the history of European cinema. I really like the impossible setting of a dark prison cell, a sparse torture room, a stately office, and a decadent lounge, all side-by-side, as if in grotesque parody of each other. It's a surreal set piece, a hellish nightmare of a world that we can't escape once we arrive at the final section of the film.
Film noir gone crazy. Its heady mix of generic pulp and high culture is intoxicating. There are so many codes to unravel in this film that it feels like a Rosetta Stone. The seeds of cinematic postmodernism are planted here. "And just who do you think you are that you think you can raise the dead?!"
Another film I consider to be "perfect". The non-linear/non-oneiric heist is so breathtaking and influential. Maybe it can challenge "The Killers" for greatest assembly of noir character actors. Though here, we see them in their swan song. The morbid shot of them all crumpled up together in a tangled pile of corpses is both hilarious and tragic.
The film is a dream that you never enter and never leave. Deneuve is the ice princess extraordinaire, here in her definitive role. I would have loved to see Hitchcock work with her. Imagine her as Marnie, or Madeline. Anyway, she is perfect here, and Bunuel gives her a good Hitchcockian torturing.