All That Jazz
This is probably my favorite film in the whole collection. It’s a solid kick in the seat. Stellar staging, camera, choreography. Every inch of this film has a pulse. It’s the story of a director (Roy Scheider) who, at the end of his life, is editing a film and mounting a production. He knows he’s dying, but he doesn’t engage with that fact. That’s exactly how I would like to go: deep in my work. There were at least two periods in my twenties when I listened to Ben Vereen’s closing number, “Bye Bye Life,” multiple times a day for months on end. Looking back I don’t think I was having the best time in my head, but the song was very danceable.
Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Ali: Fear Eats the Soul
Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Beware of a Holy Whore
I was introduced to Fassbinder’s plays at nineteen and his films at twenty. His humor is handled with a kind of wonderful seriousness. Theatrical and absurd and full. The blocking alone makes me weak in the knees. In Beware of a Holy Whore, there’s a scene in which a woman is slapped in the face. It’s really not great, but the degree of detachment after this moment is so severe that it makes sense—not that she was hit but that people hit and get hit. Feelings are constant and often uncontrollable. I think in a past life I must have been German.
A Senegalese woman moves to Antibes to work for a white family. I’ll give you one guess as to how that goes. Her life in France is totally oppressive and not at all romantic. At just under an hour the film plays out like a Greek tragedy. Lyrical and elegant and pointed.
Do the Right Thing
I moved to Brooklyn from Panama when I was twelve going on thirteen. I saw Do the Right Thing on VHS. No film has struck more of a chord with me on the subject of race in America. It’s funny and saturated and larger than life. There’s a danger lurking early on. The film’s explosive opening signals that something big will happen. When that big arrives, it’s a knife in the middle of your chest.
Don’t Look Now
After I saw this, I was certain I was being pursued . . . for months. I think I’ve avoided all of Italy because of this film. The score rocked me to my core. To this day I can not. This film has no chill. The side characters are also really upsetting. It’s peak stressful. Just so wonderful. And in it there is the best lovemaking scene I’ve ever seen in my life and, trust me, I have seen plenty of sexy.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Juliet of the Spirits
Ripe with tenor and trouble. The former film aggressively male, the latter aggressively female. I’ve paired them because after viewing each I felt as though I had been placed under a spell. I’ve seen both more than twenty times, and every time I see something new. I don’t know how they did it, but have you ever watched something and felt like you were stuffed with drugs? This is Johnny Depp’s best performance, and Benicio Del Toro is a revelation. The physical embodiment of both these men . . . Bravo! And let’s not forget the always magic Giulietta Masina in one of her last collaborations with Fellini. She is absorbing and taut. Each of these films is a feat and a feast. An exercise in the grotesque.
See above . . . the French really know how to do sex and bodies and affairs and palettes. Never had I seen a film on this subject treated and shot with such levity and ease. I also feel it’s necessary to note how major Agnès Varda is as an individual, having made a lane all her own alongside so many a male contemporary.
Anything that revolves around John Cassavetes has my vote. Anything that revolves around Gena Rowlands has my vote. Anything that revolves around the theater and aging and legacy and panic has my vote. So much anxiety, so much chaos. It’s human and imperfect and porous.
Both of these ruined me. They are what nightmares are made of: slippery women and unsavory dynamics. Things go sour when people get close fast. Which, according to both of these films, is like having your spirit sucked out of you without you knowing. 3 Women I watched my first year in LA; I’ve been here for ten. At the time I was living with two women, and the movie made me so nervous I couldn’t look them in the eye for days. Mulholland Dr. I watched last year. I should say I tried to watch it before, but the thing behind the garbage can left me so shook I stopped. Having finally made it all the way through feels like a personal victory. And what a glorious bummer it was.
Jonathan Lethem’s Top 10
Winner of a 2005 MacArthur Foundation Fellows Program genius grant, Jonathan Lethem is one of America's premier contemporary writers. His works include the novels The Fortress of Solitude and Motherless Brooklyn.
Michael Imperioli’s Top 10
The Emmy-winning actor, best known for his work on The Sopranos, shares his list of Criterion favorites, lavishing special attention on three masterpieces by John Cassavetes.