The Night of the Hunter
A very theatrical construct of noir. Black humor, nursery rhymes, expressionist lighting, a zoological boat ride, Shelly Winters underwater, and Robert Mitchum cackling when getting shot. I can hear Charles Laughton chuckling in every scene. Best use of frightening artifice. If Mitchum only acted in one movie, if Gish only appeared in one movie, they should be proud for this to be the one. As it is, Laughton only directed one.
John Huston had an incomparable late run—The Misfits, Fat City, Under the Volcano, Prizzi’s Honor—but Wise Blood is my favorite. William Hickey, Harry Dean Stanton, and Brad Dourif kill it with a baby Jesus; bent religious fervor second only to Ken Russell’s The Devils.
Lars von Trier
The Element of Crime
My introduction to Lars von Trier, a breath of stale, musky air when I found it in 1990. A circular story in a sodden netherworld. Before his naturalism period, Lars explores studio trickery, and, as always, with guilt and repression bubbling under the surface.
I love too many Antonioni films, but this is my favorite. La notte is second. The power of slow observation. Here he massages color, industry, and fog as antagonists to femme urban madness. My favorite use of Design by Location Curation. An opposite influence for me on Her. A companion piece to Todd Haynes’s Safe.
G. W. Pabst
Louise Brooks defines screen presence. She is so mesmerizing, vulnerable, beautiful, and strong/silent that I had to seek out every one of her performances. There is no other like her, as there is no other Marcello Mastroianni. Diary of a Lost Girl may be even better. If you need to coax a friend to lose their dramatic silent film virginity, start with these . . . and then move to Greed.
Some films are peculiarly unique to their era. Where did actors like Warren Oates come from? Like with his solo burn in Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, he conducts this symphony of a race to nowhere all by himself.
Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters
I rarely single a film out solely for production design, but this is an exception. It influenced me before I worked in film. The stage sets by Eiko Ishioka of the Temple of the Golden Pavilion alone are striking. Inspired use of nonlinear storytelling and
Gus Van Sant
The Spirit of the Beehive
I’ve given all these films to friends for enlightenment.