The 400 Blows
It seems that any filmmaker’s first film idea is something about the mawkish predicament of a ten- or twelve-year-old child quite a bit like themselves—and usually their careers end with this choice (Sundance and other debut-oriented film festivals their final resting place). Truffaut took this dimmest of subjects and made one of the most radiant films of all time, in glorious black and white.
The Lady Vanishes
So well made, so clever, you have to laugh—perhaps the cleverest thriller ever. What I especially love in Hitchcock is the level of social detail: you get an intense feeling for the time, the place, the social structure, and all social forms. The two cricket-buff characters went on to have their own series of films.
The Harder They Come
As close as any film I know to folk art—how this film came about, how it could be the way it is, is a mystery and a miracle.
The Seventh Seal
A film that picks the viewer up and changes him forever. The first “art film” I saw, in a college screening, and I haven’t seen it since, perhaps not wanting to tamper with that memory. Memorable also for providing more parody fodder than any other film.
The Lady Eve
Sturges takes a whole assortment of disagreeable elements—cliché rich people, cliché cardsharps, snakes, and slapstick—and makes one of the greatest romantic and funny comedies. The cast one must adore—never better.
Big Deal on Madonna Street
I discovered the film on TV in Spain and still like the Spanish title, Rufufu—signaling it as a travesty of a Rififi-style clever caper. The original Italian title—I soliti ignoti (Persons unknown)— also becomes very good once you’ve seen the film. Just the way the characters eat food in the movie is delightful, and the filming style classic and brilliant—a comedy of great elegance. The only two autographs I’ve collected are Mario Monicelli’s and Diana Ross’s (whose “I’m Coming Out” greatly aided the Last Days of Disco soundtrack).
Gregory La Cava
My Man Godfrey
The first I ever heard from Criterion was a call to work on the commentary track for My Man Godfrey, but there’s still nothing I can say about it. There it is, and there are the magnificent contributions of William Powell and Carole Lombard, director Gregory La Cava, and writers Eric Hatch and Morrie Ryskind.
I love films that are great not only in themselves but in the idea of them that stays in memory. But this then can dwarf the actual film, which perhaps it has in the case of Black Orpheus—some aspects now try one’s patience slightly. A few years back a Brazilian film was touted as the realistic and gritty version of the story, by those who knew the actual milieu—another black eye for realism and grit.
The charms of the other Hitchcocks—I would like to have included The 39 Steps but don’t have the room—to which are added an atmosphere of such intense passionate tension and threatened betrayal, as well as a cast of archetypal beauty.
Children of Paradise
So beautiful and beautifully evocative—a film that allows space for imagination—but my gosh it’s long.
Dennis Lehane’s Top 10
Dennis Lehane is best known for his novel Mystic River, made into the acclaimed film by Clint Eastwood. When we discovered his love for Criterion, we asked him to write for us, and he did, contributing a terrific essay to our rerelease of The Wages o…
James Schamus’s Top 10
James Schamus is the former CEO of Focus Features; the producer of, among other films, Ride with the Devil (1999) and Brokeback Mountain (2005); the screenwriter and producer of The Ice Storm (1997); and a professor of professional practice at Columb…
Ana Lily Amirpour’s Top 10
Ana Lily Amirpour is an Iranian-American director, writer, producer, and actor best known for her award-winning debut film, the Persian-language vampire western A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014).