The Spirit of the Beehive
I’ve probably seen this film more than any other. Nestor Almendros turned me on to it when I was looking for a DP to shoot Iguana. He recommended Luis Cuadrados, but I soon discovered he’d died of a brain tumor, having shot Spirit while 95 percent blind. He had his assistant describe the sets to him, then told him where to place the lights, and the intensity of each. The film itself is one of the greatest homages to movies ever made, but it’s also a poignant study of that traumatic moment in everyone’s childhood when you discover the reality of death.
The Double Life of Véronique
My students always ask me to explain the ending, or what the film means. I can’t. I only know it has a powerful effect on me. The documentary on the making of the movie, in which we discover Kieslowski’s philosophy and methods, has become required viewing in all my classes.
This beautiful high-def transfer has made me see the movie with fresh eyes. I’m now convinced that Ingrid Bergman’s performance is arguably the greatest female performance in the history of cinema. Cary Grant’s no slouch either. It’s my favorite Hitchcock. Leaving the highball glass on the chest (breast) of the passed-out party guest is on a par with putting the cigarette out in the jar of face cream in Rebecca. I must say, though, that the new transfer of The Lady Vanishes is pretty amazing as well.
Another film I watch over and over. I always begin thinking I’m only going to watch the great opening shot, then wind up watching it till the end. A classic of economy. Like the way Michelangelo created Moses from a block of stone: cut away everything that isn’t Moses.
The Lady Eve
This is a film I enjoy as much for the pleasure it gives to each new person I show it to as for the film itself. The combination of physical comedy and verbal wit is unmatched. Fonda makes those pratfalls look so easy. It’s worth watching the movie just for the last line.
Port of Shadows
It seems I’ve been watching Children of Paradise all my life. I remember taking my son to see it when he was seven. When I was trying to convince Brando to play Garrett in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, he told me that, along with the master swordsman in Seven Samurai, the thief in Children of Paradise was the greatest performance on film. I came to Port of Shadows much later in my life, and the Criterion transfer really enhanced its beauty. Jean Gabin became a prototype for me of a kind of actor difficult to find today. And the dialogue inspired me to attempt to re-create its poetic realism.
I had the privilege of being a member of a festival jury led by Jean Renoir, and subsequently replaced him as a cameo actor in a film. (There obviously were no physical requirements for the role.) I think Grand Illusion may be the most humanistic film ever made, but it’s no more humane than its creator.
Scenes from a Marriage
At the time the film first played theatrically in the U.S., I was invited to a private screening of the five-hour television version. As one who’s addicted to marriage, it was a devastating experience. The final segment in particular made an indelible impression, and I’ve watched it many times. My only regret is that Criterion didn’t include the alternative dubbed soundtrack, on which Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson re-create their performances in English.
Nights of Cabiria
Fellini. Here it’s absolutely impossible to choose. What a gift to have such a complete selection of a great artist’s oeuvre. I had the pleasure of watching Fellini shoot a scene from City of Women at Cinecittá. I was flattered when he said, “Ah, you’re the young director I’ve heard so much about,” although I was barely younger than he.
Jesse Malin’s Top 10
After playing in hard-core and glam bands throughout the 1980s and ’90s, Queens-born singer-songwriter Jesse Malin released his first solo album, The Fine Art of Self Destruction, in 2002.
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.
Alison Maclean’s Top 10
Canadian-born director Alison Maclean’s films include Jesus’ Son (1999) and the newly released The Rehearsal, an official selection of Toronto International Film Festival and New York Film Festival.