This has to be number one because it’s the film that opened the door to foreign cinema for me. I first saw it at the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1967. I was stunned by the playful mix of romance, jazz, gangsters, and Paris. I must have seen it fifteen times since. In 1976, I played the lead in an homage to Breathless, Amos Poe’s Unmade Beds—though my connection to Belmondo sadly ends there.
The Soft Skin
It’s impossible to pick just one Truffaut, but I keep going back to this, partly for the luminous performance by the late Françoise Dorléac. Truffaut’s adoration of his leading ladies always translated beautifully to film. The story is of the adulterous-homicidal type that Simenon favored.
This film is another touchstone for me, and I have based several paintings on it (as well as on many other films on my list). Toulouse, France, during the German occupation. A very odd romance blooms between the mismatched young couple. Aurore Clément is fabulous. Pierre Blais died soon after. Great Django Reinhardt soundtrack.
I Knew Her Well
A cautionary tale of a sexy girl on the go in swinging Rome. Nineteen-year-old Stefania Sandrelli imbues her bubbly ingenue with undertones of desolation. The camera stays very close to her and records every nuance of her passing moods in a palpable way, as she is exploited over and over while managing to maintain a fragile dignity.
The 39 Steps
This classic adaptation of John Buchan’s book is one of Hitchcock’s last British features and is filled with brilliant and funny set pieces. Dapper Robert Donat and plucky blonde Madeleine Carroll on the run from the good guys and the bad guys, moving from London to the Scottish highlands.
This film knocked me out. A quiet tale of a likable young Englishman, it charts his course from signing up for the army to participating in the Allied invasion on D-Day. His story is brilliantly intercut with footage of the actual war in Europe from the Imperial War Museums’ archives. Devastating.
No Criterion ten-best list would be complete without an Antonioni. L’eclisse has his signature combination of modern and ancient Italy, architecture, desire, sports cars, and alienation, and perhaps the most photogenic of all screen couples, Monica Vitti and Alain Delon. Accompanied by a fragile bit of music by Giovanni Fusco, the last few minutes are almost Japanese in their Zen-like minimalism.
Gary Giddins’s Top 10
In honor of his participation in our release of Louis Malle’s jazzy noir classic Elevator to the Gallows, we invited music critic Gary Giddins to contribute a list of his ten favorite Criterion films.
John Bailey’s Top 10
About selecting his favorites from the collection, world-class cinematographer John Bailey (Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters) says, “One of the greatest challenges in trying to compile a list like this is to separate the objectively ‘great’ fil…
Guy Maddin’s Top 10
Canadian filmmaker and writer Guy Maddin’s Brand Upon the Brain!, featuring Isabella Rossellini as the narrator, was released on DVD from the Criterion Collection in 2008. Maddin also contributed an essay on Kirk Douglas for our release of Billy Wi…
Keith Gordon’s Top 10
Filmmaker Keith Gordon has directed the features The Chocolate War (1988), A Midnight Clear (1992), Mother Night (1996), Waking the Dead (2000), and The Singing Detective (2003).