The Battle of Algiers
This might be the next best thing to placing I Am Cuba on the list, which totally makes the cut if we’re including Criterion laserdiscs. Gillo Pontecorvo took real people and showed how real guerilla warfare goes down. Even more powerful is how he did it, and modern-day “documentary-style” filmmakers could take a page out of his book on restraint. The camera is not all over the map; it stays where it needs to and still grabs the immediate, important points in a way that feels involved and true. Then Ennio Morricone boxes your ears with flair and bravado.
The Golden Age of Television
Look at it this way: The Twilight Zone is your memories of growing up, of learning to understand a certain language of cinematic storytelling that embraces fantastic twists of plot and character. Then, when you’re older, and it occurs to you to ask your parents what things were really like back in the day, the answer is Patterns, Requiem for a Heavyweight, and The Comedian, all written by Rod Serling. Of course, there’s more than Serling’s writing to love here: the immediacy of the productions and the adrenaline of the performances make for a perfect record of this incredibly pivotal era of storytelling.
It’s funny how in the modern era of filmmaking (even in CG animation), we’re so infatuated with achieving a “real” look. Design is often tossed aside in favor of a more “relatable,” grounded aesthetic. It’s refreshing to watch something like Kwaidan (or even Kurosawa’s Dreams), where soundstages are embraced and dramatic, and colorful lighting is boldly employed. This is the way to haunt your audience: long, quiet, surreal moments.
There’s a sultriness about Notorious that puts it over the top for me: the lighting, the compositions, the way the camera walks you through the plot by emphasizing the incredible acting. Even after all this time, and after repeat viewings, this ensemble continues to reveal new bits of cinematic love. The understated score adds something unique as well, but really, that pivotal push-in to the wine cellar key is what it’s all about. Bold, elegant style.
Pickup on South Street
It kicks your face in while you’re watching it. The economy of true noir is evident in the pacing, the language, the looks . . . the characters. Lowlife as hero. Fuller nailed it here. Plus, Thelma Ritter. God, someone should build a shrine to that woman, you know? Any time you’re wondering where the great character actresses went, pay your respects to her in this flick.
Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
The Red Shoes
Hey, storytellers: if you’re adapting a classic, this is film school 101. Never before or since (though I love Black Swan for trying) has anyone achieved what Powell and Pressburger did here, in terms of character and theme. Add the beautiful work of Jack Cardiff and you achieve something of which I, personally, can only hope to replicate a glimmer as a visual storyteller in comics and animation: Technicolor atmosphere that conveys immediate emotion and also has a lasting impact.
I love that Jules Dassin took an archetype like the mentor and turned him into the main character. One of the greatest heist films I’ve ever seen, Rififi employs character for the sake of plot progression, resulting in a unique economy of filmmaking. Pure entertainment. Plus, the details: padding a hammer not leaving matches or cigarette butts during a heist, catching debris with an umbrella. And that’s just one scene.
Yep. A symphony of visuals comes together to communicate the essence of basic humanity. There’s no suitable combination of words to match the combination of cinematic choices that Kurosawa made here. I was lucky enough to see it on film the first time I saw it, on a big screen, with good sound, sitting next to my wife, who was also seeing it for the first time. That’s a combination of beauty that’s hard to replicate.
The Third Man
While working in story on an early version of Wall-E, I boarded a sequence featuring a chase through a cityscape. Andrew Stanton, the film’s director, called me on it: “This is so Third Man!” He had a big smile on his face, and why wouldn’t he? I’ve learned where to find tough guys who cast long shadows. And I’ve also learned where to milk a character reveal: Carol Reed plus Anton Karas plus Robert Krasker equals Harry Lime, and cinematic perfection.
Only Bugs Bunny rivals the Man with No Name trickster/puppeteer that Toshiro Mifune graced us with here. This might be the perfect popcorn movie. The music alone pops the clutch of this joyride, and a joyride it is: this car’s been stolen more than once, and with good reason.
Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr.
Screw it—I’m breaking the rules. I’m building a ’31 Coupe with my dad right now, all hopped up and ready to steal pink slips. Couple that with a new book I’m working on called Ten Against the World, about teen angst in the fifties, set against big ol’ Jack Kirby–style monsters, and you might begin to see why I hold The Blob so dear to my heart. It’s just fun. Live a little.
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.
Bill Hader’s Top 10
In compiling his top ten Criterion editions, Hader says, “I couldn’t pick ten . . . sorry. So I programmed Criterion double features, which is what I tend to do on Sunday nights anyway.”
Hossein Amini’s Top 10
The Iranian-British Hossein Amini received an Academy Award nomination for his 1997 screenplay adaptation of Henry James’s The Wings of the Dove and wrote the screenplays for Jude (1995), The Four Feathers (2002), and Drive (2011).
Ramin Bahrani’s Top 10
Iranian-American writer and director Ramin Bahrani’s feature films include: Man Push Cart (2005), Chop Shop (2007), Goodbye Solo (2009), 99 Homes (2014), and Fahrenheit 451 (2018).