Down by Law
One of my favorite films from Jim Jarmusch; I can never get enough of it. Beautifully shot by Robby Müller in Louisiana, a jailbreak with Tom Waits, John Lurie, and the first time many of us were to see the amazing Roberto Benigni. The Defiant Ones meets the Marx Brothers and even better. Jim is one of the last true stylists left in this “sad and beautiful world.”
12 Angry Men
A great statement on human nature made by one of my favorite directors, Sidney Lumet. Early Jack Klugman, Jack Warden, and Martin Balsam are brilliant here, as well as the messenger/angel Henry Fonda. If you have any doubts about jury duty, please watch this. As for justice, there is just us . . .
I once met Harry Dean Stanton in Los Angeles. He told me at that time he had made eighty-eight films. I asked him which one was his favorite, and he said this one. His silence and facial expressions convey so much without saying a word. A journey of regret and remorse—trying to find a way to set that feeling free. Again, shot wonderfully by Robby Müller, with the perfect soundtrack by Ry Cooder.
Paths of Glory
Very early Stanley Kubrick, the true hard-core grit of World War I. Down in the trenches with one of my favorite performances by Kirk Douglas. The beautiful blonde woman, who sings away the pain for a bunch of soldiers at the end of the film, would soon after become Mrs. Kubrick.
The Royal Tenenbaums
Wes Anderson shines here with his own style, sense of humor, and great use of music. A killer cast. The scene where Gene Hackman and Anjelica Huston are arguing on the street has so much underlying love in it. I’ve never seen anything like that between two actors—saying one thing and creating the opposite feeling.
Perfect road movie, history lesson, and rock-and-roll emancipation. (First feature film with a complete rock-and-roll soundtrack. I believe Fonda’s personal record collection was used to set the tone.) Everything about this film, including Jack Nicholson’s monologue about freedom, sent a message much needed and yet to be told. And remember to always watch out because “the man is in the window.”
I took this title for one of my songs on my third album and dedicated it to my sister; she loves this one too. The last John Cassavetes film . . . I heard he was ill throughout a lot of the making of this and, in the final scene, he waves good-bye. It’s really touching. His real-life wife, Gena Rowlands, is one of my all-time favorite actresses.
The Fugitive Kind
How can you go wrong with a Tennessee Williams script (originally his play Orpheus Descending) directed by Sidney Lumet, with the great Anna Magnani, Joanne Woodward, and Marlon Brando (playing a retired guitar player named Snakeskin, who is trying to turn over a new leaf in a very racist southern town). An obscure classic.
Cassavetes is the man. He changed filmmaking forever, in the most radical way. He is sensitive and loving in his approach. The acting is so good, sometimes you forget that it’s just a movie. The message is always love and the struggle it brings. The best part of this collection might even be the bonus documentary, A Constant Forge.
Rian Johnson’s Top 10
We asked director Rian Johnson, whose “high school noir” Brick was one of the most acclaimed films of 2006, what his favorite Criterion releases were. Johnson said: “I'm a huge Criterion fan. My first exposure to many of my favorite films came…