Harlan County USA
There may be nothing more emotionally riveting than the story that unfolds in Barbara Kopple’s documentary. It blends together as a work defined by its intimate and sensitive accounts while still maintaining the immediacy and urgency of the issues addressed by the subjects of the film. The discoveries of voice and activism in each individual’s moment are inspiring and enlightening.
McCabe & Mrs. Miller
Truly haunting and memorable, the opening sequence of this film changes the way you view the experience of cinema. Leonard Cohen’s soundtrack weaves perfectly into the narrative as a form of isolation, desperation, and determination. The sound of the wind heard during the title sequence is hypnotizing and also interactive—it sends a chill through one’s body that follows the viewer until the final moment.
Sissy Spacek as Pinky Rose, Shelley Duvall as Millie Lammoreaux, and Janice Rule as Willy Hart, in combination with the California desert and Bodhi Wind’s murals, make for iconic cinematic imagery and narrative. Strange and wondrous . . . these characters intermingle almost like a dream . . . Millie unpacking her groceries and narrating it to herself . . . Pinky dressed in her many nightgowns, longing to be anyone but herself . . . and Willy, desolate, standing amid her pastel, surrealistic murals. Each viewing leads to a new fondness for Altman’s boundless understanding of the cinematic art form.
Our vision of the French seaside will always be informed by this film, perhaps because Eric Rohmer’s storytelling becomes for the audience a faint and subtle memory buried in one’s mind—much like a passage from Proust. The imagery is soft and delicate and allows one to escape into the film’s seductive yet slightly perverse narrative.
An Autumn Afternoon
Ozu’s final film, often described as a beautiful farewell, is for us a celebration of his individualistic manner of storytelling. Each film he made is timeless. His work is defined by his minimalism and rule-breaking methods. He created his own narrative language that lingers on in all forms of filmmaking today. His love for nontraditional storytelling and his acceptance and reverence for the “banal” allow one to experience his film in a way similar to how one experiences life.
The Spirit of the Beehive
The story of Frankenstein and James Whale’s screen adaptation are used exquisitely in Víctor Erice’s film. The naïve imagination of a young girl is hauntingly contrasted with the harsh reality of a postwar world. Set in the countryside in Spain, this film carefully weaves together a complex series of moments and inner conflicts, all heightened by the danger and beauty of the beehives that surround the child at home.
La Pointe Courte
Agnès Varda’s body of work completely defines the French New Wave. Her vision, voice, and power as an auteur are gutting. Each of her films is to be celebrated as deeply invigorating, experimental, groundbreaking, and profound. Her subjects are fascinating, and her body of work is deeply important.
Perhaps one of the best titles—and best final sequences—in a film. Hal Ashby’s surrealistic masterpiece is quiet in its confidence. Each scene is a revelation—and Peter Sellers delivers his most nuanced and intriguing performance. He is caring yet charming, simple and wondrous.
Cries and Whispers
Ingmar Bergman’s use of the color red in this film is inspiring and artful. The four female characters seemingly walk into the color, and rage, horror, death, and redemption pulse through them. Red is used as a wash of meaning over each narrative moment, blending the surrealism of the characters’ memories with the starkness of the home in which they interact.
The folktales explored in Masaki Kobayashi’s Kwaidan have left such a lasting impression on us. Each sequence is defined by an overwhelming sensory experience, asking the viewer to fall deeply into the visual language of the film rather than the spoken narrative. The exquisite beauty, in combination with the horror, is so powerful, it’s hard to erase the shots from one’s memory.
Jennifer Reeder’s Top 10
Jennifer Reeder’s award-winning personal fiction films, which explore relationships, trauma, and coping, have screened at Sundance, Berlin, Rotterdam, and several other festivals.
Robin Wood’s Top 10
This month we asked critic Robin Wood—whose books include Hitchcock’s Films and Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan and who recently wrote essays for the Criterion releases The Furies and Le plaisir—to pick his ten favorite films in the collection…