The 39 Steps
Hitchcock’s great mystery includes a wonderful character called Mr. Memory, not present in the novel by John Buchan. He was based on a drop-out know-it-all autodidact named W.J.M. Bottle, who was billed in vaudeville as Datas, The Memory Man.
Children of Paradise
In my formative years I was completely taken by this combination of low life, stage pantomime and romantic twizzle. Jean-Louis Barrault, Etienne Decroux, Arletty and Pierre Brasseur on the boulevard of crime. Now, in my dotage, I like it more than ever.
F for Fake
As a longtime student of deception, and occasional practitioner, I find much to admire in this playful paean to the psychology of the con.
When I first came to Los Angeles I became addicted to Japanese cinema at the Toho La Brea Theater. Criterion has reissued many of Kurosawa greatest films, and my list could easily have consisted solely of his titles.
The Lady Eve
My love of confidence games, card-sharps and great filmmaking makes this the most obvious choice on the list.
I managed to survive the sixties with very long hair and very little insight into politics. Everything I didn’t want to think about Richard Nixon was brought to life in a remarkable performance by Philip Baker Hall in Robert Altman’s underappreciated classic.
My fondness for hooks, stalls, and dips made it difficult to choose between the pickpockets of David Lean and those of Robert Bresson. Both great, but Criterion’s transfer of Guy Green’s painterly cinematography put this one over the top. Please sir, I want some more . . .
Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto
I cringe whenever I think of Pat Morita grabbing a fly with chopsticks. Toshiro Mifune’s original display of this technique is what film characterization is all about. His remarkable portrayal of Musashi Miyamoto grows in richness and complexity with each episode.
Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
I Know Where I’m Going!
My wife worked with Michael Powell, and treasures this as her favorite movie. Although I am genuinely fond of the film, it did not make my first cut. Upon reflection, however, its inclusion seems prudent.
Night and the City
What could be better than this riveting romp through the demimonde of London? Richard Widmark’s performance is a testimonial to excess, and, for my money, The Rock can’t hold a half-nelson to the wrestling or acting skills of Stanislaus Zbyszko.
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.
Sonic Youth’s Top 10
Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo, Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon, and Steve Shelley ganged up for this Criterion top ten—or twelve, as it turned out. The New York–based no wavers have been making music together since 1981. Their albums include Daydream Na…