Explains Whit Stillman, writer and director of The Last Days of Disco: “In trying to come up with a ten best list from the Criterion Collection I thought first of Trouble in Paradise and decided to go online to find the rest. But after only seven pages of Criterion’s online list I already had more than enough for ten ‘bests’—so apologies to Trouble and the films that come after it in the catalog. Those below are not in any order of preference.”
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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).
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. 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.
10. So beautiful and beautifully evocative—a film that allows space for imagination—but my gosh it’s long.