Frederick Elmes has served as cinematographer on some of the most acclaimed American movies of the past four decades, including Eraserhead, River’s Edge, Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart, Broken Flowers, and Synecdoche, New York. The films in the Criterion Collection he shot include Night on Earth, The Ice Storm, and Ride with the Devil. In compiling his top ten Criterion list, Elmes chose those films, he says, “that influenced me most.”
I put myself through college working as a projectionist for the film program, and this was the first film I showed. Its images still haunt me. This film first brought Bergman together with his acclaimed cinematographer Sven Nykvist, and it brought them to me.
This was Fellini’s first film in color. Fellini, along with cinematographer Gianni di Venanzo, experimented with this exciting new medium. There’s an enthusiasm and boldness to the use of color in it, and it shapes the way I think about color in film even today.
The disturbing images in this Polanski film have stayed with me since I first saw it. Catherine Deneuve’s descent into darkness reminds me that powerful cinema can take you inside another person’s head and show you horror through their eyes.
Stan Brakhage looked at film in a way that was exciting for me. He was never hampered by traditional storytelling or theatrically crafted scenes. Or even by cameras themselves. The images in his groundbreaking films set my imagination free to look at the medium in a new way.
This brilliant film about a boy’s coming of age introduced me to French cinema. Malle creates a fascinating picture of French family life; it’s both a comedy and a story of alienation. The mood of the more intimate scenes stays with me, as does the great jazz score.
Eric Rohmer’s films appeal to me because of the moral tales he presents. His characters confront inner conflicts where there are never clear answers. The adventure is in watching human nature take its course.
The images in this film still scare me, though I’ve seen it many times. I first watched it late at night, alone, in my empty apartment. The story isn’t that compelling, but the juxtapositions of frightening images will keep you up all night.
Playtime is a masterpiece. The intricate detail and exacting comedy are why this film still resonates for me today. I’m a fan of all of Tati’s films, but this one stands out for finding humor in small things we all experience every day.
The power of this film is in the way it sustains the sense of mystery throughout. A young girl disappears, and we never really learn how or why. Cinematographer Russell Boyd helps create the ominous mood with photography that is beautiful and threatening at the same time.
This film about intimacy and longing was the first movie I saw by Wong Kar-wai. He has found a way to draw you into the personal lives of strangers and wrap you in their secrecy. The visual style and sense of color still intrigue me.