Seeing House for the first time is probably my fondest film-watching experience of the past couple of years. I’m drawn to the idea of creative purity, something House emanates in a way no other horror film I’ve ever seen does. That’s if you can even call it a horror film (the director himself doesn’t). Obayashi found his own moviemaking solution to Picasso’s lifelong goal of creating like a child: sourcing ideas for the script from his ten-year-old daughter. The result is a heartful, imaginative, creepy, weird, and wonderful dream come to life. It’s sort of like John Hughes, Miyazaki, Evil Dead 2–era Sam Raimi, and bizarre 1970s children’s TV rolled into one. The score in its more sincere moments is also incredible. I’m still in the totally infatuated honeymoon stage with this one, recommending it to people any chance I get.
The masterpiece. I keep an American Cinematheque membership; they do an amazing job of regularly screening classics (including many from the Criterion Collection) at two great theaters in LA. Bronwyn and I had the privilege of attending their screening of Seven Samurai at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica last year. Seeing this on the big screen, among the more talked-about aspects of this film, the unexpected humor really shines. It was the shortest, most engaging three and a half hours I’ve ever spent in a theater.
Another classic foundation piece of modern cinema. My personal favorite thing about this film is the relatable dynamic of the two main characters’ somewhat undefined relationship, a dynamic that after fifty years still feels as modern as ever. For different reasons, I’m also a big fan of the widely panned 1983 remake starring Richard Gere, in arguably the coolest role of his career. The remake is no Godard—really it’s a different film—but I challenge anyone to forget that they’ve ever seen the original for ninety minutes, revisit the remake, and not admit its criminally overlooked qualities!
Dazed and Confused
My favorite from Linklater. A timeless capturing of the high-school experience. I wasn’t in high school until several decades after this film was set, yet I went to school with every one of these characters.
Brian De Palma
Two films from the same year, each the start of my favorite run of movies from its director. Brian De Palma is my favorite director of all time, in the sense that I get more “if I was making films, I’d want them to look and feel like this” moments watching his movies than anyone else’s. For me, it’s with Dressed to Kill and then Blow Out that De Palma really homed in on the look, feel, and all-around aesthetic that I love from him and it’s something he brought with him to his next two films, Scarface and Body Double (which, along with Carlito’s Way, round out my favorites of his career to date).
I love Thief for being Michael Mann’s incredible feature film debut as well as a blueprint of sorts for a number of films that came after it. It’s the first of my three favorites from him, rounded out by his next two films, the often panned but visually amazing The Keep (again with a great Tangerine Dream score) and Manhunter.
Had to at least include one from the master Hitchcock. Being the huge De Palma fan that I am, it would be tough to not be a huge Hitchcock fan as well. Bronwyn loves Ingrid Bergman and was the person to introduce me to Notorious when we were younger. What I love about this film is that you get this sincere, Old Hollywood romantic chemistry between Bergman and Cary Grant, in addition to some classic Hitchcock greatness. We project films while we write and record, and this film played a lot during the making of our debut album.
Fritz Lang is another one of the greats who I had to have on this list. I first discovered his films through Giorgio Moroder’s 1984 restoration of Metropolis, whose iconic image of the robot on the soundtrack and posters always intrigued me as a child, and once I eventually saw the film, it quickly became one of my all-time favorites. Most who have seen it, The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, and M will agree that Fritz Lang is one of the best to have ever done it, but perhaps no one film has earned him that reputation more than M.
One of the best of the past decade. I love that Criterion has already championed this, as it truly deserves to be among many of the classics in the collection. This is one of those rare movies that have the power to make you forget you’re even watching a movie in the first place, instead making you feel you’re witnessing someone’s life unfold. The main character (played by an actress who is so underrated for this sole role of hers) reminds me a lot of a cousin of mine when she was at that age, enough so that for me, watching it almost seems like personal insight into where her head was at in those years. Fish Tank also contains one of the most real, unique, and effective uses of classic hip-hop in a film that I’ve ever seen.
Blue Is the Warmest Color
A lot of what I love about Fish Tank as a film applies to this as well, though Blue Is the Warmest Color stands uniquely on its own. Again, it’s that magic of making you feel like you’re not even watching a movie but instead really seeing someone’s life happen.
The father of a good friend of mine back in Canada used to own a video store in the VHS days. Once it closed down, he let me pick from a bunch of leftover, discarded movies nobody else wanted, which led me to my VHS copy of this that I still own (with Ronald Reagan on the cover!). Though they’re both great, I prefer this 1964 version to the 1946 version, largely due to its unique focus on the story through the hit men themselves (though I’ve never read Hemingway’s original story).
Sometimes my biggest reasons for connecting to a film are simple, primitive, just about a feeling. Videodrome and Repo Man are two that fit into that category. In addition to the fact that it costars Debbie Harry in my favorite roll of hers, I love Videodrome for its particular use of my hometown, Toronto. Sure, Toronto is used in films all the time, but usually disguised as New York, or Chicago or Detroit. No filmmaker has used Toronto better and more consistently over the years than our hometown hero Cronenberg, though, and Videodrome he shot and set in the downtown Toronto of my childhood, complete with a central part of the story revolving around our local cable station CityTV (as “Civic TV,” the station James Woods’s character, Max Renn, works for), which really did play soft-core porn if you stayed up late enough. To this day, my dad lives on the street Max Renn lives on, and Barry Convex’s Spectacular Optical is a bakery on the same street as the Electric Youth studio downtown, just a minute away, making the connection both past and present.
Repo Man has my favorite Criterion release cover art; it’s amazing and designed by movie poster artist Jay Shaw, who also designed the artwork for singles from our album Innerworld. With Repo Man you get Harry Dean Stanton in his first big-screen lead role, Emilio Estevez as his partner, and the streets of Reagan-era Los Angeles set to a classic punk soundtrack. What more would I need to love this film? Nothing. But like with all great Criterion selections, there’s always something new to take from it with every watch.
Lev Kalman’s Top 10
In this list selected with his filmmaking partner Whitney Horn, the codirector of L for Leisure and Two Plains & a Fancy lingers on the weird and wonderful details in some favorite movies.