I came to Larisa Shepitko through reading about Elem Klimov after watching Come and See. When I saw that Criterion had put out two of her films through their Eclipse label, I snapped them up. These discs are probably my most prized in my collection. Watching The Ascent feels like being punched in the nose and rolled in the snow. I felt like I’d time traveled to the Second World War and was there as a silent witness.
I remember seeing a trailer for Brazil in the cinema, and it was like nothing I’d ever seen. I was desperate to watch it; I remember cutting out magazine articles about it and daydreaming about what it was like. I was too young to get in to the cinema to see it, and it was five years before I finally got to view it. I loved it. To me, Brazil has everything: it’s funny, horrible, elegant, and messy. It has De Niro in and throws him away, has the hero . . . well, you know how it ends. From Brazil I went back and watched all Gilliam’s movies and was introduced to Python. I’ve bought this again and again and again. It felt right to have this on Criterion, to sit with my various VHS copies.
Alphaville is the New Wave grandfather of Blade Runner: a film that is at once in the past and far in the future. I’m a big Godard fan, and this is one of his great genre deconstructions: effortlessly cool and serious at the same time. Alphaville was my fourth Godard, and I saw it when I was nineteen. He’d already dismantled my mind with Pierrot le fou, Breathless, and Le petit soldat. I wish I could see those Godard films for the first time again.
The Battle of Algiers
I’d heard bits about The Battle of Algiers and knew I wanted to see it; I’m a big fan of Peter Watkins’s The Battle of Culloden and the whole mock-doc/social-realist filmmaking aesthetic. It makes interesting counterprogramming to our understanding through modern media of the difference between “freedom fighters” and “terrorists.” It’s just as relevant now as it was then.
The dark lord of midnight movies. Lynch films are scary in a way that modern horror films seldom are. He talks directly to my inner child, to the nightmares of my seven-year-old self. It’s a singular cinematic experience. I remember watching this whenever it was on in London—Eraserhead and Blue Velvet . . . double bills . . . mmm.
David Maysles, Albert Maysles, Ellen Hovde, and Muffie Meyer
A lesson in looseness for me. The camera wanders around and witnesses the house and the women. Dialogue happens off camera often, and nothing really happens, and yet it’s fascinating. Not one car explodes.
The first time I saw this film, I was totally mesmerized. Like Tarkovsky, Melville transports you to another place and you have to play by his rules, at his pace. It’s all about control. There’s no step out of place.
Director of photography Laurie Rose and I watched this before we made A Field in England. We were afraid of shooting outside in changing weather conditions and light. Marketa Lazarová shows that cutting between overcast/bright sunlight/no snow/suddenly snow . . . can work just fine.
Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters
I’d been after this for years, and it didn’t disappoint. It’s a neon acid trip of a movie. Incredible soundtrack as well. I think there’s a line where incredibly stylized movies can achieve an emotional sense that you can’t get to through documentary or traditional Hollywood styles.
A Woman Under the Influence
Pretty much American indie cinema in one film. Do-it-yourself, out-of-the-system attitude. A film about real people’s lives with astonishing performances.
Nathan Lee’s Top 10
Nathan Lee is a critic, curator, and unrepentant champion of Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle. A former film critic for the New York Times, the Village Voice, and NPR, he is a contributing editor of Film Comment and member of the National Society of…