I saw this movie at Film Forum when I was in college. I remember watching all three hours of it with my mouth open. It fueled my interest in so many things: monks, bells, medieval Russia, structuring movies and plays like novels . . . I was taking a really dumb screenwriting class at the time, and this contradicted everything I had just been taught.
Fanny and Alexander — The Theatrical Version
I’ve seen this movie more times than I can count. I think it’s the best movie about being a kid ever made. It’s a fairy tale and a nightmare and a totally believable portrayal of a Swedish family in Uppsala at the turn of the twentieth century, all at the same time. It has always reminded me of one of my favorite novels, Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks. It’s also a movie about the weird magic of theater . . . Both the opening sequence and the reading from Strindberg at the end kill me. And the way Bergman shoots inanimate objects . . . The statues and the toy angels and the clocks and the puppets and the lamps . . . They’re all watching Alexander, the whole movie.
Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles
I saw this when I was twenty-five or twenty-six and really confused about my work. I was so discouraged and had stopped writing, and this movie made me excited to start working again. Akerman was doing something with pace and composition and time that I’d always wanted to do but had been too chicken to acknowledge or go toward. Watching this made me realize that you should make the kind of art you want to see, which sounds kind of obvious but was a big revelation to me at the time.
Rohmer is one of my favorite filmmakers (A Tale of Winter and The Green Ray have always been the closest to my heart), but I watched La collectionneuse for the first time this past year through my Hulu Plus/Criterion streaming thingie membership and was blown away by it. Nestor Almendros’s cinematography is just out of this world (I think it’s Rohmer’s best-looking movie), and it has one of my favorite endings of all time.
This is my favorite Fellini movie. It’s so fun and sweet and bold and effortlessly weird. You feel this young filmmaker surprising himself. It also captures the claustrophobic yet epic feeling of growing up in a small town and hanging out with your childhood friends all the time. And the whole carnival sequence is so great . . . especially the aftermath, when Alberto Sordi is wandering around the town square at dawn dragging an oversize clown head.
Diary of a Country Priest
I really love all of Bresson’s movies, but I’m picking this one because it was the first one I saw by him and one of the first VHS tapes I ever bought. I still own that tape. There’s this beautiful, tender, awkward quality to all of Bresson’s movies that I really love. You feel like the actors might forget their lines at any moment . . . but then they don’t, and it just feels so transcendently real . . .
Pierrot le fou
This, like my Bresson pick, is sort of a stand-in for Godard’s entire body of work. But this is one I saw on the big screen when I saw it for the first time, and I think Godard, more than anybody, needs to be seen on the big screen. I was so happy watching this movie . . . I almost never laugh out loud at movies because I’m a curmudgeon, and I remember cackling through the whole thing.
Vanya on 42nd Street
I saw this movie at the Academy of Music in Northampton, Massachusetts, when I was thirteen. It was my introduction to Chekhov, and it changed my life. I think I went into the theater in large part because of this movie . . . I didn’t see much theater as a kid, and this was my first clue as to what it could be like. They really nailed what’s so great about Chekhov, and it made total sense to a thirteen-year-old girl in Massachusetts. Then all the Chekhov I saw after that as a young adult that was so terrible and haughty and faux-British . . . I’m just really grateful that this was my first encounter with his work. Wally Shawn’s performance is incredible, too.
This is a weird tie. But A Room with a View was my favorite movie when I was nine. And it really screwed with my head. It’s so over-the-top romantic, and I remember it made me dizzy with desire. I really expected nothing less than Julian Sands in a Tuscan poppy field from my adult romantic life. And Criterion is about to release it . . . I’m really excited about this. Honestly, I haven’t seen it since I was like fifteen, so it’s high time to revisit it. But I’m a little scared to revisit it, too, so I’m pairing it with another about-to-released Criterion movie, Agnes Varda’s Documenteur, which I saw recently at Lincoln Center and really, really loved. Documenteur is this gorgeous, weird portrayal of heartbreak and aimless wandering through a strange city trying to find an apartment. Watching it gets you in touch with all the times you’ve felt horribly depressed and also overwhelmed by the beauty and color of everything around you. It’s kind of about what happens after you get together with Julian Sands and have a kid with him and then you separate and suddenly you’re a single mother wandering around Los Angeles crying.