The Third Man
What can I say about The Third Man that hasn’t already been said? This is the first film that made me look at movies in a new way. It made me fall in love with everything about them. You’ve got to hand it to Carol Reed for making a movie that is all about a character (Harry Lime, played by Orson Welles) who doesn’t even show up until three-quarters of the way in. The Anton Karas score remains one of the best ever for a film. I bought a zither just to learn to play Harry Lime’s theme. If I’m having a hard time getting into working, I often put The Third Man on in the background, as it always puts me in a mysterious and creative mood. The music is truly upbeat.
Brand upon the Brain!
I saw this film in its original run, with foley artists, a live orchestra, and live narration by Crispin Glover, which was a profoundly unique cinematic experience. It is not often you see modern filmmakers experimenting with older techniques and to such great effect. Seeing it again on DVD, I found it equally incredible; its story about a fictional Guy Maddin is compelling. Guy has been a real influence on my film work, and his films just seem to get better and better. As a fellow Winnipegger, I can truly say that Canadians are very lucky to have him.
The Fire Within
It was a struggle for me to choose just one Louis Malle film, so I chose two to count as one. This one is particularly exceptional, thanks in part to the amazing performance by Maurice Ronet. Pushed by Malle to lose forty pounds, Ronet gave a hard, hopeless portrayal of a despondent and suicidal man saying good-bye to his disdainful and shallow youth. Though he originally shot the film in color, Malle switched to black and white to more accurately depict the subject matter. Listening to the commentary, I learned that Malle used this film as a sort of exorcism for himself, feeling that he had already done everything at such a young age. Deeply personal, it was his favorite of his own films.
Murmur of the Heart
The other Louis Malle I chose, my favorite of his and the first one I saw. I was lucky enough to take a class on Malle in university, and so I was exposed to this great filmmaker at a young age. This is by far the best coming-of-age story I have ever seen. The incestuous mother/son relationship is surprisingly underplayed and comical. In a scenario that would otherwise be shocking, Malle doesn’t judge his characters, he just tells their story. Also notable is the beautiful Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker soundtrack. A wonderful, rare movie.
My Life as a Dog
Another coming-of-age story, this one is about a young boy sent to live with relatives in the countryside when his mother is unable to take care of him anymore after falling ill with TB. The boy, Ingemar, barks like a dog to avoid difficult situations. He is too young to face his predicament and very sweetly navigates his way through an eccentric cast of characters in a small Swedish town. A really loving and heartwarming tale with an amazing performance by a young Anton Glanzelius.
The Red Shoes
Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
The fifteen-minute ballet sequence is so unforgettable. The cinematography is rich in a painterly, reddish-hued Technicolor. I resisted seeing this movie for years, thinking I wouldn’t be into it, but ended up completely absorbed and fascinated. Now I’ve seen it many times and still can’t get over how amazing it is. The ballerina played by Moira Shearer is torn between two men, and strangely, it’s the villain who I find myself rooting for.
In my drawings, I’ve been basing characters on Peter Lorre ever since seeing M. There is something so intriguing about a pathetic character. And no one has ever been this villainous and pitiful. He is one of my all-time favorite screen characters. I still get alarmed if I hear someone whistling “In the Hall of the Mountain King.”
Heaven Can Wait
A real classic, perfectly executed by Ernst Lubitsch. Don Ameche gives a winning performance as a man trying to get permission to enter the gates of hell. Laird Cregar’s Satan is lovable and makes eternal damnation seem not such a bad fate. I can appreciate an imaginative, feel-good film about Satan.
Michael Atkinson’s Top 10
Michael Atkinson writes film criticism for IFC.com, Sight & Sound, and Moving Image Source. His books include Exile Cinema: Filmmakers at Work Beyond Hollywood and the novel Hemingway Deadlights.
Megan Abbott’s Top 10
Megan Abbott is the award-winning author of seven novels, including Dare Me and The Fever. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Guardian, and the Wall Street Journal.