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I'm liking this new feature. I've wanted to do a Criterion Top Ten for some time now but have been too lazy to do it myself with all of the cutting and pasting involved. Thanks Criterion. As others before me have noted, making a Criterion Top Ten is difficult. If you add Eclipse titles it becomes even more difficult. That's why I'm going to do this slowly...perhaps over this Sunday. Yup...spending a gorgeous summer Sunday indoors! Feels like childhood all over again!
I always thought of these two guys as fancy-dancy melodrama artists that I'd have no interest in. Perhaps that was true of my former, collegiate self. And that was definitely true of my former, teenage self that thought that 'Tombstone' was the greatest thing since 'The Terminator'. But much has changed over the years and I finally decided to explore what once seems like a high speed ferry to dull island. You would think that a film about a bunch of nuns stuck in the mountains would be anything but this...a dark, gritty, edge-of-your-seat thriller with masterful performances and an ending as brutal as anything John Woo or Tarantino has ever put to screen! If I ever get my hands on a time machine...I'm going back to 1993 and giving myself a proper slap!
What can be said about this film that wasn't said on the (most) brilliant Criterion caption? When perusing my collection, I often pull this one off the shelf just to read the back of the box. Anything that starts with 'immediately suppressed by the soviets' is just so worth checking out! I like to use this movie as a test when talking with fellow film buffs. If you can make it through these 205 minutes...then your opinion just got a bit more valid! A bio pic of a painter that you never see paint. An opening scene that has nothing to do with the rest of the movie. A cow on fire. All brilliantly shot, edited and directed. Not my favorite Tarkovsky...but real, damn close.
I never knew of Melville til Criterion. Never heard of him in film school. Yet again proving that Criterion is the only film school you will ever need. Seriously kids...tell your folks that you want the entire collection instead of film school! As I joke with my wife...that's well money spent! Back to Melville...every title in the collection is excellent! This film is the crowning achievement! Lino Ventura is perhaps the most underrated film actor ever and their collaborations are as good as any Scorsese/DeNiro film. But the most amazing thing about this film is that it is just so quiet. For a WWII film and a film about resistance fighters, Melville cements the idea that it's not when things are exploding all around you that you need to be afraid...it's the quiet moments that hold the most fear!
Any top-ten list has to have a Clouzot film. And it is hard to choose. 'Wages of Fear' is one of the best thrillers ever. But this film, and the history surrounding it, crosses the finish line a nose ahead of both 'Wages' and 'Diabolique'. With a masterful performance from Pierre Fresnay, this anti-gestapo tale (made during the war) is absolutely riveting! Not only Fresnay but every single actor/character in this film could have a film of their own, their own prequel or their own sequel. Speaking of film school...one just need study the 'lightbulb' scene between Germain and Vorzet to know how to make the most of two heads talking at each other in a contained setting! Brilliant!!
Anyone who is worth their sand knows that Kurosawa is The Man. Everyone learned from him. Everyone stole from him. Picking a Kurosawa favorite is like picking your favorite Van Gogh. There is not a bad one in the bunch! An obvious front runner is 'Seven Samurai' - the greatest action adventure film of all time! I always thought it was 'Raiders'...which holds tightly on second position. 'Throne Of Blood' has the very best character death in cinema history. The old ghost in the woods had this 36 year old looking over his shoulder for weeks. And that wife. Kurosawa takes the bare bones awesomeness of Shakespeare, kicks out the obstructive language (yup, I said it!) and doesn't shy away from the brutality. Cinema of the highest order!!
I worked at a video store years and years ago and saw the box for this film, heard it was good...but I looked at the umbrellas and shelved it away in my mind. Then Criterion ran a front page piece about how it really is a horror film. I was intrigued. I immediately searched it out. Critics like to have their name on movie posters saying things like 'brilliant', 'masterpiece', 'absorbing'...just to get their name 'in lights'. This film...this film is all those things and more! Horrifying, hypnotic, mysterious. If 'Twilight: Breaking Dawn' is what Hollywood thinks all 15 year old girls want...'Picnic At Hanging Rock' is what the art world thinks all 15 year old boys want! Amazing!!!
The granddaddy of police thrillers. Fritz Lang made the first serial killer movie...and with this...made the template for all cop/mastermind films to follow! I can watch this film again and again. In fact...I'll watch it as soon as I'm done with this list. Goebbels hated it. You'll love it. Lang wore a monocle while making it.
The most searing portrait of alcoholism put to screen. Finney's performance is brilliant...and painful. From his rant in the bar with the chicken to his frantic search for booze the morning after, he reveals every sordid truth of an alcoholic's destructive obsession with a disturbing familiarity. It's also very funny! And that is the real power of this picture. For all of the grim realities lurking in the shadows, there are wonderful, hilarious, silly, fanciful and downright amazing moments for someone willing to take this kind of hell-ride. I never really 'discovered' John Huston until this film. I look forward to exploring more of his work.
Jean Renoir. No list is complete without his mention. So many to choose from but 'French Cancan' wins for no other reason than it's pure mission statement - fun! I'm a sucker for Technicolor. I'm also a sucker for hot chicks in dresses kicking their legs at me. In a fun way. And that's what this film is...fun, excitement, exuberance, celebration! The last 20 minutes of the film is so explosively robust that I've finally found where Claude Lelouch found his inspiration for the last scene/dance of his criminally overlooked and brilliant adaptation of 'Les Miserables'!
Cronenberg doesn't make bad films. While living in Dayton, OH...my friend and I watched everything he did up to that point which was 1996, I believe. I was about to put 'Naked Lunch' as my icing for this list as it is the greatest film ever about the creative process and writing in particular. But back in Dayton...'Videodrome' lead to the most laughs, the most discussion, the most examination and the most laughs...again. Nothing beats finishing 'Videodrome' for the first time, opening the windows to your apartment and yelling 'long live the new flesh' at the dumb college kids below. What was better than that!? Some of them yelled 'long live the new flesh' right back!!