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A Personal Top 10

by Ash Atchison

Created 07/19/12

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It's one thing to have a "Top 10 Greatest" released by Criterion, but it's another thing entirely to make a list of films that truly emotionally resonate with me. I feel that these films, and indeed any films which elicit strong emotional responses, probably say a lot about who I am.

In this list, I stipulated for myself that I could only include one film from a particular director, which is why several Bergman's, "Paris, Texas", and probably others are absent.

  • When I first saw this film as a blind buy around 2002 (based solely on the cover for the MGM DVD), I had no idea it would be such a profound and moving work. I love films that are melancholy and meditative, and this is probably the most of both. I especially love the somber ruminations of the angels, and of the hopes and dreams they overhear from the rest of the world. Peter Falk is especially good here.

  • Though I had seen several Bergman films before watching the so-called "Silence of God" trilogy, it was this, the second film in the trilogy, that especially struck an emotional chord. The pivotal moment is when Bjornstrand's priest "consoles" his doubting parishioner (Max von Sydow), only to dissolve his sermon into a bitter monologue about God's absence. Also notable is Nykvist's genius use of naturalistic light manipulation, which was reproduced on a set in a studio. Not the best Bergman film (which is likely Fanny & Alexander theatrical), but I keep coming back to this one.

  • I first caught the second half of this by accident one night on cable TV, some time in the 90's. I had no clue what it was, but recognized Cronenberg's name. It left an impression on me, and after becoming a film fan much later, I gave it a proper watch and was captivated. I think there's an important message about sexuality and violence in here, but it may be lost to all of the bizarre and surreal imagery, which plays out like a grotesque nightmare. James Woods is perfect as a sleazy TV producer, and this has one of my favorite endings to any film.

  • A great experimental film about a clash of civilizations. Roeg had impressed me with "Don't Look Now", which was rather compelling and experimental for a thriller/horror. Walkabout is pure Roeg, with experimental superimpositions, editing, and sound design, giving the film a unique, avant garde quality. The introduction is as disturbing as the ending is heartbreaking.

  • Whenever I hear a film described as poetic or "visual poetry", this is the film that immediately comes to mind. The story is so threadbare that the film could have easily been a bore in lesser hands. But the cinematography and the skilled direction of Malick (whose deft editing catches an Altman-like glimpse of conversation here, a snatch of symbolic imagery there) make this unforgettable.

  • Mike Leigh's improvisational masterpiece. This was recommended to me by an anonymous online poster in 2002 who shared my love for Herzog's "The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser". Going in blind, this film's stark acerbic attitude hits you like a freight train. David Thewlis as Johnny, a homeless man with a high intelligence who rants and waxes philosophical, is mesmerizing. I'm convinced it is impossible to be bored by this film.

  • This is certainly not a perfect film (what film is?). But it is an animal all it's own, the single member of a hybrid species of saccharine fairytale and expressionist horror. Laughton's direction is remarkably brazen and artful, given it was his first and only feature as director (it saddens to think that we lost out on what could have been a masterful directing career), and Mitchum's chilling performance is one of the great landmarks of cinema. I still get shivers when Pearl sings her lullaby on the river ride.

  • A truly disturbing film. To this day, I'm still unsure about whether or not I can say that I "enjoy" this film, but it's definitely affecting and I do think it is important. Dustin Hoffman's mostly-subdued performance is perfect in contrast to his surroundings, which seem hell bent on making his life miserable, seemingly as punishment for his meek personality. It's a film that will have you asking questions about notions of "manhood", sexuality, and the uses of reason in the face of stark cruelty.

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