Last Year at Marienbad
A rich and complex hypnogogic experience. Just where is this story taking place? In a dream, in memory . . . in the afterlife? Are these even questions that you can ask about a movie like this? Resnais structures the film in an ever looping pattern—everything turning in on itself again and again. The narrative seems to match the very patterns of how memory works. Every viewing reveals new layers of meaning previously unseen. A masterpiece.
Paddle to the Sea
I was thrilled by this short film when I first saw it at the age of seven in a public school gymnasium. I immediately went home and tried to carve my own little “paddle to the sea” (I quickly gave up—carving wood is hard!). The film still holds the same beauty and sense of wonder for me today. A perfect thing.
Austere, quiet, and sad. On the surface, a simple story—mundane, even—but Ozu’s understanding of the subtleties of real human behavior imbue the characters with an emotional depth that takes the film into the sublime. When I first watched Tokyo Story a couple of years ago, it immediately made me rethink my entire approach to writing characters.
I walked cold into this film, knowing nothing about it, when it first ran in the theaters back in 1990, and was utterly charmed by it. I’ve since watched it many times. A witty film but also touched with an elegiac quality because of its underlying theme of the passing of an era. Every time I watch it, I wish I were more like the character of Nick Smith. I love his narcissistic arrogance.
Nights of Cabiria
Sad and heartbreaking but still a celebration of life and individual spirit. Giulietta Masina’s performance is beautiful—unforgettable. The ending will stay with you.
Not so much a film about tragic loss as one about obsession. Intense, disturbing, and affecting. A film not easily forgotten. I’m not sure I actually liked any of the characters—but I felt for them. I thought about The Vanishing for days after watching it. It still creeps into my thoughts when I least expect it.
The Browning Version
This film is a real lesson in the potency of restraint in acting. Michael Redgrave’s performance is brilliant—quiet, nuanced and genuinely moving. The whole film builds to a single redemptive point, and as an ending, it pays off!
This was a surprise when I first saw it, and it remains a surprise. I initially viewed it on an old VHS cassette (lent to me by a friend) taped off of late-night TV back in the 1980s (commercials and all). It really wasn’t what I expected. Its low-budget veneer faked me out. I figured it for an amateur snore-fest, but the movie turned out to be a truly otherworldly experience capturing some quality of the dislocative feelings of a nightmare.
It was hard to pick just one Bergman film—so many brilliant choices. I suppose I picked Winter Light because it is so perfectly bleak, the very essence of the frozen grayness of winter. This is one of Bergman’s famous “God’s silence” films. The dilemma of Pastor Ericsson’s trying to find meaning in a godless universe (or at least a universe where God will not answer) is hard to watch without personally taking on his existential dread. Bergman never blinks. He doesn’t hand us any easy answers or life-affirming reassurances. It’s grim. A great work of art.
Tunes of Glory
A surprisingly complex film, especially considering its subject matter: Scottish military men and bagpiping! The contrast between the two commanders (Alex Guinness and John Mills) is a fascinating set of character studies. The film builds to a powerful emotional climax, which, at least for me, was completely unexpected. Guinness’s performance as Major Jock Sinclair is very rich and layered—especially for such a broad and bombastic character.
Bret Easton Ellis’s Top 10
Bret Easton Ellis sent us his ten favorite Criterion films in alphabetical order, with the caveat that his list “could have been different last week and it might be different next week.”