Most of my favorite films are those in which the lead character is in every scene of the film. When I was a teenager I saw Blow-Up, The Graduate, and Midnight Cowboy at a revival art-house cinema, and these films had an enormous impact on me. I’ve collected Criterion editions since the laserdisc days, and my favorite from that time was the Midnight Cowboy disc, with John Schlesinger’s commentary. But having two out of the three films available now on Criterion Blu-ray is great.
I love the package design and transfer of the Blow-Up disc, and the scene in the park where David Hemmings stalks the couple with his camera really comes to life with the new transfer—it’s maybe my favorite scene in any film ever made. And what can I say about The Graduate except that it’s the one film I never tire of seeing? I love all the extras and screen tests on the disc.
Five Easy Pieces
The Last Picture Show
Both of these films are in the box set America Lost and Found: The BBS Story, which is a masterpiece. It’s too bad companies like BBS don’t exist anymore.
These two films capture loneliness and melancholy in a way that affects me deeply, yet they also have humor and beautiful open endings. There are moments in the performances in The Last Picture Show—Cloris Leachman’s final scene with Timothy Bottoms, or Ben Johnson’s scene at the water tank, just to name a few—that are stunning. The film also has incredible mood and feeling, and sometimes that’s more important than anything.
Two great films about the search for meaning in the face of death. The scenes in which the main characters come to terms with their existence—the scene on the swing in the park with the snow falling in Ikiru, and the final scene in Wild Strawberries, where the main character calls across time to his parents and the past—are so powerful and beautiful. It saddens me that most modern-day films don’t approach this level of art and emotion.
A great collaboration between Wim Wenders and Sam Shepard. I love Robby Müller’s cinematography. They started the film with only part of a shooting script and then it evolved from the journey, the landscapes, and the shooting itself. That’s part of the reason the film is so special—it wasn’t all planned out ahead of time.
The 400 Blows
The Red Balloon
I saw both of these for the first time in film school, then I moved to Paris in my twenties and lived there for many years, always kind of romanticizing the Paris of the late 1950s that I saw in these two films but never quite finding it. You can still find a few little streets and alleyways in Ménilmontant where The Red Balloon was filmed, and a few years ago I found myself on the same beach in Normandy where Jean-Pierre Léaud runs in those beautiful long tracking shots that end The 400 Blows. Landscapes are just as important as story.
It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
I know this film may seem out of place on this list, but for pure entertainment it’s my favorite. As a child I got to see this in Cinerama. Criterion did an incredible job mastering it, and I love all the extras on the Blu-ray—especially the maps of locations in southern California where it was shot.
La dolce vita
La strada, 8½, and La dolce vita are my favorite Fellini films. It’s hard to pick one. But the ending of La dolce vita always moves me and sticks with me after the film has finished. It’s all done without words, just with images and the sound of crashing waves.
Vittorio De Sica
The film was shot entirely on location using non-actors, with many of them playing parts similar to who they were in real life. For me, it’s the greatest father-son story ever made and one of the most deeply moving film experiences.
Burden of Dreams
The Criterion Collection contains some of the greatest documentaries, and these are my favorites. These discs give you a good dose of Werner Herzog (in front of the camera), Les Blank, and Errol Morris. You also get the short Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe, which makes me laugh me every time I watch it.
I’ve always loved the mood of this film. This disc is worth buying just for the extras. The James Taylor screen test and interview and the acoustic version of “Riding on a Railroad” are so honest and beautiful.
Joel Potrykus’s Top 10
With his features and new short film, Thing from the Factory by the Field, currently playing on the Criterion Channel, the writer-director selects ten movies that influenced his style.