Ivan’s Childhood was one of the first films I watched in film school. We did not have many opportunities to watch these kinds of films back then, and the rental places mostly had newer, popular films, so I had to borrow the DVD from my teacher, who recommended it to me. It was my first lesson in how to create beautiful compositions and poetry in film. I was a young person who had mostly watched movies in color up until that point, so Tarkovsky introduced me to beautiful black-and-white imagery. I can almost watch it without sound. The light, shadows, compositions, and depth of field are simply perfection.
Luc Dardenne and Jean-Pierre Dardenne
Rosetta is a character who’s always in my head. Everything about her is memorable: her energy, her rebellious behavior, her walk. Even after watching other Dardenne films like The Son (2002), L’enfant (2005), and Lorna’s Silence (2008)—which stars two Albanian actors from Kosovo, Arta Dobroshi and Alban Ukaj—I couldn’t get Rosetta out of my mind. I’ve rewatched it several times. I love the casting and how the directors chose to stay close to Rosetta and capture her anxiety through realistic camera movements that make you feel like you’re running with her as she tries to find a job and make a living for herself and her alcoholic mother. I referred to Rosetta a lot when I was making my first film, Hive; it’s one of my all-time favorites.
The 400 Blows
It’s hard to choose only ten films, but I can’t leave out the one that introduced me to the French New Wave. The famous last shot comes to mind every time I hear French cinema mentioned. It’s such a powerful choice to focus on the circumstances of a boy who is labeled a troublemaker by his teachers and parents, even though a lot of the time it’s not him causing the trouble—often it’s the grown-ups. In one of my favorite scenes, he’s caught returning a typing machine and thrown in prison; they put him in a van with adults and drive around the city. I like how he witnesses the dark side of Paris at night looking out the window of the van with pure, innocent eyes. It’s magnificent. I am always impressed and interested to explore how sometimes humans, especially adults, make big mistakes by thinking they’ve figured out how to fix someone. It is the adults who turn Antoine into a troublemaker by putting him in jail and a youth correctional center, and by making him want to run away, which he succeeds in doing in the final scene, when he gets to the beach and sees the sea for the first time like he’s always wanted. The simplicity of the film and its joyful, funny little moments allow you to follow Antoine in a beautiful way.
I love British social realism, so I was feeling torn about whether to choose Ken Loach’s Kes, Lynne Ramsay’s Ratcatcher, or Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank. Kes is a film close to my heart, and I love showing it to people, especially younger filmmakers who want an example of a simple, well-told story. Every moment in the film is true, honest, and believable, and I always learn from it. I love Billy’s world, and his moments training the kestrel are magnificent. I like the sense of freedom and happiness that is conveyed when he is on the field and how moments in nature are contrasted with industrial ones. The way Loach deals with subjects like the education system and dysfunctional, working-class family life through Billy’s character is so elegant and natural. It’s such a satisfying moment when Billy speaks so passionately about Kes to his class, because the film sets you up to feel the same way.
Wong Kar Wai
In the Mood for Love
The colors, the beauty, the loneliness, the music—simply magical. I could probably watch In the Mood for Love every day. It reminds me of Sundays, when I would stay at home all day watching films with my sister. In the Mood for Love is one we watched several times. The soundtrack is something I listen to when I walk home, and almost every time I write a script. It’s one of the only soundtracks that’s stayed with me. It’s usually the images that stick with me, but this soundtrack is unforgettable. I love how Wong Kar Wai paints each shot with beautiful colors, and how he frames the set, directs performances, and uses architecture to tap into the loneliness of each character. When I watch In the Mood for Love, I feel like I’m dancing with the characters through their pain and solitude.
Lars von Trier
Breaking the Waves
This was my first Lars von Trier film and the first film from the Dogme 95 movement I’d ever seen. It’s a beautiful introduction to von Trier’s work and other Dogme films, like those by Susanne Bier and Thomas Vinterberg. It’s a story of love and spiritualism told in a bold, authentic, and aesthetically interesting way. Beautifully performed by Emily Watson, Bess is one of those characters you never forget. Though it broke with some of the Dogme 95 rules, the film is a reminder that when a story is beautifully written and well cast, one does not need a lot of “cosmetics,” to use the Dogme founders’ term.
All About My Mother
All About My Mother is a story about love, loneliness, family, and loyalty, and it’s full of color and heart—as are most of Almodóvar’s films. I always enjoy how sincere and direct he is about sex and misfortune, while also using humor. Though his use of color is always bold, his characters and the situations he creates for them feel very real—you laugh, cry, and fight with them as if you’ve known them and their surroundings for a long time. I always feel this way when I watch an Almodóvar film, even though I used to live in a completely different and very traditional place.
I don’t watch many surrealist films, but the work of David Lynch has always impressed me. When I was a teenager, there were no television programs in our language due to the political situation, and the cinemas only played blockbusters. The films and series that played on television were the only good content we had access to. Twin Peaks and Blue Velvet were my introductions to Lynch, and as weird as they seemed to me back then, I loved watching them and inhabiting their worlds—though Twin Peaks still scares me. It wasn’t until I became a film student that I finally watched Eraserhead, and it blew my mind. Its black-and-white cinematography, shot compositions, and performances make it the best Lynch movie for me. Many scenes are hard to watch, but Lynch’s imagination, and the bizarre situations and characters he’s created, keep you hooked and wanting to know where he’ll take you next. It’s a beautiful mixture of narrative and experimental storytelling in that it gives you enough to follow along but is also full of surprises.
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days
Two young women work together to arrange an abortion at a time when it was considered a serious crime—those of you who know about Nicolae Ceaușescu’s dictatorship should be able to understand just how serious. In 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, Cristian Mungiu puts you in the shoes of his characters. We experience their feelings of discomfort and injustice, but the film never feels forced. It slowly reveals what people are capable of when they don’t have a way out of a bad situation. I love the camera angles; they’re perfectly chosen. The balance between what Mungiu decides to leave in and what he decides to leave out of the frame is impactful. The way he shoots the rape scene involving the abortionist and Olivia always reminds me that, sometimes, showing less is more.
Watching road movies always comes with a certain satisfaction, but Paris, Texas may be the best one I’ve ever seen. Every time I watch it, it makes me really sad. The sense of loneliness, longing, and loss paired with the beautiful imagery is unforgettable. I love all of Wim Wenders’s films, and I’ve learned a great deal from them, but I have a special place in my heart for Paris, Texas. The sense of melancholy is felt in every moment. Harry Dean Stanton is breathtaking as Travis; he may be the only perfect actor for the part. When the film starts, you feel Travis’s lost soul immediately, and as you walk and drive with him you sense his estrangement from everyone. The scenes when Jane and Travis are talking over the phone are so touching and well thought out. The way they’re positioned in relation to one another as they talk, and how they face each other without really seeing each other, is so meaningful. Travis leaving after watching his son hug his mother is such a real, heartbreaking, and beautiful way to end the film.
Monte Hellman’s Top 10
I’ve fulfilled a dream to become a part of the Criterion family. Criterion has helped to preserve not only the films I grew up with but also the ones I’m now trying to keep up with. Picking ten is worse than trying to choose between my wives, my…
Wendell B. Harris Jr.’s Top 10
The director of the award-winning indie classic Chameleon Street sings Orson Welles’s praises, pays tribute to Paul Robeson and Lorraine Hansberry, and reflects on his longtime dream of remaking Nightmare Alley.