Luc Dardenne and Jean-Pierre Dardenne
When I graduated from high school, I worked at a video store in Philadelphia with an extensive selection of international films. La promesse became one of my first favorites because of the real, raw quality of the acting and the Dardenne brothers’ brave and unflinching look at racism and prejudice. When I rewatched the film recently, it felt especially meaningful given the ongoing plight of migrants around the world today.
Vive le Tour
I came across this at a time when I was obsessed with Louis Malle and purchased the box set of films that he made between his features. Vive le Tour shows his passion as a camera operator and cycling fanatic. Malle really gets in the mix with these guys, driving alongside the riders and capturing the race at another time. You can see Eddy Merckx swing into a café for a beer, stuffing a can in his jersey on the way out. Nuns, priests, cats, dogs, and the rest of the population of France gather on the roadside and cheer the racers through the villages on this seemingly national holiday. The film is a poetic series of candid snapshots from one of the best eyes in cinema.
First of all, how can you go wrong with a cast that includes Dennis Wilson, James Taylor, Harry Dean Stanton, Warren Oates, and of course Laurie Bird? I often imagine how great it would be to go back in time and see this film in some half-empty cinema when it opened. I discovered this film while working at the video store, when there was renewed interest in it in the late nineties. I even went so far as to reach into my video-store earnings and buy the deluxe edition, which came in a tin can with a comprehensive book. Well worth it for the unseen photos. The beginning scene, with its utter lack of dialogue, has to be one of my favorite pieces of cinema. Much of the acting feels improvised, which adds to the lost, directionless quality.
This film is energizing, depressing, and beautiful. I suppose it’s a combination of a great American story and a great film.
This film caught me by surprise. It’s one of those films that you can’t stop thinking about. I went on a whim to see it at Anthology Film Archives in New York, not knowing anything about it. It floored me.
A Poem Is a Naked Person
This film was long very difficult to see; it was tangled in legal battles and became mythic as a result. I first saw the film with Les Blank present during his residency screenings at the Maysles Cinema in Harlem. Blank had an incredible ability to blend in with the surroundings and be a literal shadow on the wall or friend on a bar stool while shooting. For this film, he moved onto a boat on Leon Russell’s property and subsequently filmed for the next half-year, only to be told toward the end by Russell that he didn’t like the film and didn’t want it be released. After Blank’s untimely death, his son restored the film and thankfully put it into circulation. I think this film captures a little of what it must have been like during that time: an inexplicable, strange dream. A fascinating film from an inspiring and visionary filmmaker.
David Maysles, Albert Maysles, and Charlotte Zwerin
Every once in a while I revisit this film, and I always notice new things. This is the statement that ends the hippie era. It’s also my favorite era of the Stones, with Mick Taylor accompanying Keith Richards on guitar. It’s the best live footage of the Stones that I have seen; they’re at the height of their powers.
Ahmed El Maanouni
I discovered the music of Nass El Ghiwane during my travels in Morocco, and I was thrilled to finally see a restored version of this film. Apparently Martin Scorsese caught this movie on late-night public access television in New York and fell in love with it. He helped with the film’s restoration and rerelease. The footage of these guys playing and their political charge are incredible. Thank you, Marty!
Another film about wandering and landscape. I love Harry Dean Stanton’s character, that sense of going nowhere. Ry Cooder’s great soundtrack adds to the sense of endless, dusty expanse. Harry’s monologue at the end makes me tear up every time.
Neil LaBute’s Top 10
Neil LaBute, director of In the Company of Men, Your Friends and Neighbors, and Nurse Betty, has contributed supplemental interviews to two Criterion DVD editions: Mike Leigh’s Naked and Eric Rohmer’s Love in the Afternoon, the latter available i…
Michael Atkinson’s Top 10
Michael Atkinson writes film criticism for IFC.com, Sight & Sound, and Moving Image Source. His books include Exile Cinema: Filmmakers at Work Beyond Hollywood and the novel Hemingway Deadlights.