Not only my favorite Criterion movie, but also my favorite movie ever. I love it so much that I’m struggling to find words to express how important it is to me. It explores many of Ozu’s most frequently recurring themes but with the humor of his later work and an unequaled degree of empathy for every character’s point of view. It expresses what it was like to be alive in Japan at a very particular moment, but it also captures what it means for anyone, anywhere, to be a human.
Fanny and Alexander: Television Version
I did not like this film the first time I saw it. Granted, it was the theatrical version, but I don’t think that was the reason. At twenty, I wasn’t able to appreciate its patience, its gentleness, its humor. Though there is tragedy in the film, the overwhelming takeaway is that the time we have with the people we love is the most important thing we have.
The Last Days of Disco
One of the greatest, funniest, and truest reflections on trying to become an adult, The Last Days of Disco is also one of three movies that have the most lines of dialogue perpetually floating around in my head (the other two being A Night at the Opera and Clueless). Right now I’m thinking of Chris Eigeman telling his friends, “I wish we were yuppies. Young, upwardly mobile, professional. Those are good things, not bad things.”
Three Colors: Blue
Juliette Binoche takes on grief and the struggle to make sense out of a cruel world. Her visceral performance is shockingly vulnerable without playing to melodrama. Narrowly personal and impossibly vast. Never has the look of a film been more emotionally in tune with its central character.
Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday
I could have selected any of the Hulot movies to include on this list, but Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday is the one I have come back to the most over the years. Though I love the encroaching modernity in Mon oncle and PlayTime, sometimes I need the soothing world and narrative pace of Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday.
I saw Le samouraï for the first time at Cinema 21 in Portland, Oregon, when I was a teenager. The main reason I went was because of an ad in the alternative weekly that said it was John Woo’s favorite movie (which meant a lot to me when I was sixteen). Over the last twenty or so years I have enjoyed it for many reasons: Alain Delon’s embodiment of cool, its evocation of 1960s Paris, its melancholy reflection on self-sufficiency and isolation.
News from Home
One of the most intimate films I have ever seen. With nothing more than recited letters from Akerman’s mother and largely static shots of streets and subways, the film is an impossibly personal portrait of New York, young adulthood, parents, and the inexorable passage of time.
The Bank Dick
W. C. Fields doesn’t get credit for antiestablishment chaos the way the Marx Brothers do, but his nonsensical visions of getting rich quick deserve no less notice. This movie would still make my list if it only consisted of the sequence in which the con man J. Frothingham Waterbury’s junk bond pitch turns gleefully absurdist when recounted by Fields’s Egbert Sousé.
Though so much in The Killer came to be parodied by others or exaggerated by John Woo himself, it is a monumental achievement in camera direction, atmosphere, stylized violence, and genre storytelling. Woo is at the peak of his directorial powers, and Chow Yun-fat is at his most charismatic. Action really doesn’t get any better than this.
A pure expression of what it’s like to visit an amazing city by yourself. It captures the joy and romance but also the ephemerality and loneliness of travel. This is also the movie that made me love Katharine Hepburn, after years of thinking of her as hammy and unfunny in the context of her screwball comedies.