Friday, July 5, 2013

Actors, directors, critics & more choose their Top Ten films from the Criterion Collection

Jacques Prévert wrote the part of Garance in Les Enfants du Paradis for Arletty, France's biggest star in 1945.
The Criterion Collection of classic films have asked a polyglot collection of artistes to name their top 10 movies, with short explanations of each. Weighing in are film mavens such as Lena Dunham, Bill Hader, Alec Baldwin, James Franco, Diablo Cody, Jane Campion, Steve Buscemi, and the great cinematographer Haskell Wexler. One of Wexler's picks is on my top ten also: Les Enfants du Paradis (Children of Paradise) by Marcel Carné. I love his rationale for choosing The Cranes Are Flying by Mikhail Kalatozov:
A Soviet film, it came out when the Cold War was going full blast. American films celebrated victory without displaying the true extent of the cruelty of warfare, and the damages it inflicts on our humanity. Of particular technical interest to me was a combination handheld crane shot, which I duplicated in Bound for Glory with a new device called the Steadicam.
The project is fascinating, providing much food for thought and fodder for viewing (and re-viewing). I also resonated to Jane Campion's choice of La Strada (although I wish she'd referenced the heartbreaking performance of the incomparable Giulietta Masina, left). Just the other day I happened to catch Terence Stamp telling Charlie Rose about the pure ease with which Fellini conveyed his vision of a scene to an actor. Campion calls him "a deep, deep master of film":
As time goes by I adore him more and more. La strada is quite perfect. It is like “The Ancient Mariner.” A haunting film for all time; one cannot insult innocence without a lifetime of cost. I don’t know why it is, but it is so, a spiritual truth, that both Coleridge and Fellini knew and tell in their respective stories. Fellini is the most fluent filmmaker of them all. His shots and storytelling are so at ease and elegant, it’s as if he’s thinking his shots through a camera in his mind and straight onto a screen. I went to his funeral in Rome in 1993, where people in the crammed huge Piazza Republica gathered to salute farewell. It was also a time when no one wanted to see a Fellini film. Every year since then his legacy appears more remarkable and more incomparable.
I could go on and on quoting from this very cool feature. Here's Steve Buscemi talking about another of my favorite directors.
What can I say? Robert Altman interprets Raymond Carver [in Short Cuts] with an amazing cast of characters. Look at any of Altman’s films and you’ll find they are among the finest examples of collaborative efforts, yet unmistakably and uniquely his own. I was lucky enough to get to work with him on Kansas City, and briefly on Tanner on Tanner, and will always be inspired by his vision, independence, and generosity of spirit. About Kansas City he once said to me, “I don’t care if this film makes a nickel—I want it to be successful on my terms.” Then gesturing toward himself and me, he added, “Our terms.” We’ll miss you forever, Bob.
And John Schlesinger's Billy Liar is his No. 1—yes! Although I haven't had time to do a thorough analysis, Scenes from a Marriage by Ingmar Bergman shows up a lot, as does Kurosawa's High and Low. OK; I'm going to stop and let you do your own browsing (and commenting, I hope) with two choice choices by Diablo Cody. First, Grey Gardens by Albert Maysles:
I was reminded of this one the other day when I encountered a large female raccoon in the middle of Los Angeles. As she licked her paws with urbane nonchalance, I thought to myself, “Holy crap, Big Edie and Little Edie had one of those living in their wall. Hard-core.” I love how ceaselessly imaginative Little Edie is. “Staunch character” indeed. She’s like a fabulous nun in a one-woman order. And Big Edie is dry-as-a-bone hilarious. I don’t view this as a tragedy. There’s probably a Grey Gardens on every street in America.
 Next, Pandora's Box by Georg Wilhelm Pabst:
Whoever it was who said “There is only Louise Brooks” was right on. With those sad manga-heroine eyes and immaculate bob haircut, she’s become like Marilyn Monroe for nerds. This film is as full of dread and emotion as any modern-day thriller—and all without the benefit of, y’know, audible dialogue. Spectacular.
Louise Brooks as the ultimate amoral temptress in Pandora's Box
 I lied. Finalement, here's critic Gary Giddins (the author of Warning Shadows: Home Alone with Classic Cinema) on Les Enfants du Paradis:
The love story is so powerful, the spectacle so grand, that Marcel Carné’s masterpiece (an indispensable Criterion production) isn’t often regarded as a genre piece, though it is inhabited by every kind of criminal and involves an unforgettable murder in a Turkish bath—made particularly ghastly for occurring just off camera. Yet Marcel Herrand’s Lacenaire is one of the cinema’s most fascinating monsters, and his machinations resolve the fate of everyone else, including the muse incarnated by the great Arletty.

More classic cinema? It's just a click away!

12 comments:

  1. Here's to hoping there is a Grey Gardens on every street! I know one of the candidates lives across the street from me.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Without second guesses, my top ten would be as follows: 1)Short Cuts 2)Do The Right Thing 3)Harold and Maude 4)Gimme Shelter 5)Carnival Of Souls 6)Grey Gardens 7)This Is Spinal Tap 8)Brazil 9)Dazed and Confused 10)The Royal Tenenbaums
    EPIC movie marathon, anyone?!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Interesting choice--Carnival of Souls. Isn't that the B&W film about the church organist who may be a little dead? Scared the bejeebers out of me the first time!
      Liked the choice of William Friedkin--Night of the Hunter (the only film directed by Charles Laughton).
      And a special mention must go to The Red Shoes--a tale of how the love of an art can consume a life, told in a ballet, no less.
      An artistic obsession with a better ending is Portrait of Jennie, my sentimental favorite.
      I will work on the rest of the ten when my brain fog clears!

      Delete
    2. I have always wondered if I should tape Portrait of Jennie on TCM, and now I know!

      Delete
  3. Top 10 List:
    TOP 7
    1) Grey Gardens-Made me feel ok about wanting to eat corn on the cob in bed (I never have, but it's crossed my mind too many times to be a fleeting thought)and also made me feel really sad a the thought of becoming a lonely spinster whose dreams are dashed. Little Edie breaks my heart every time I see this film with her winter coat and her New England accent telling tales of her days of yore.
    2) Harold and Maude 3) The Royal Tenenbaums 4) Rushmore 5) The Thin Red Line 6) The Silence of the Lambs 7) Broadcast News

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am now resolved to watch thin red line, even though I'm leery of war films. Days of Heaven would definitely be in my top 10. I love Terence Malick and everything about that film.

      Delete
  4. Browsing through Criterion's selection I gathered a list of nearly a dozen must-see titles to hunt down. Until then, here are my Top 10:
    1)The Spy Who Came In From the Cold. Richard Burton gives great depth to the role of a morally spent, middle-aged spy. 2)Yojimbo. The always magnetic Toshiro Mifune is at his best here as the wily, charismatically scruffy ronin playing two warring gangs against each other. 3)Häxan. A classic piece of grotesque cinema masquerading as documentary. Like watching macabre medieval woodcuts brought to glorious black-and-white life. 4)The Third Man. Set in postwar Vienna this film is Noir at its shadowy finest, barring the oftentimes distracting soundtrack. Orson Welles performance is electrifying. 5) Do The Right Thing. Watching deep rooted tensions, frustrations, and assumptions is as disturbing and thought-provoking as watching it boil over into community-shaking violence. 5)Naked Lunch. Yes, the book is still unfilmable, but it's worth watching for Peter Weller's deadpan reaction to the disorienting insanity of Cronenberg's Interzone. 6)The Thin Red Line. Visually stunning, with spiritual contemplation interspersed with some of the greatest, most immersive World War II action this side of Band of Brothers. 7) Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The perfect use of Terry Gilliam's hallucinatory design sensibilities. And come on, who can't get into Johnny Depp grunting out Thompson dialogue? 8)Alexander Nevsky. Great director (Eisenstein), great composer (Prokofiev), a historical epic of the Soviet Union. 9) Dazed and Confused. The malaise of the mid 70's seen through and amplified by the malaise of being a teenager. Gotta love the dedication to period detail throughout. 10)Easy Rider. Two counterculture nomads ride across an America on the verge of the collapse of the 60's dream, encountering freaks and straights along the way.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Browsing through Criterion's selection I gathered a list of nearly a dozen must-see titles to hunt down. Until then, here are my Top 10:
    1) The Spy Who Came In From the Cold. Richard Burton gives great depth to the role of a morally spent, middle-aged spy. 2) Yojimbo. The always magnetic Toshiro Mifune is at his best here as the wily, charismatically scruffy ronin playing to warring gangs against each other. 3) Haxan. A classic piece of grotesque cinema masquerading as documentary. Like watching macabre medieval woodcuts brought to glorious black-and-white life. 4) The Third Man. Set in postwar Vienna, this film is Noir at its shadowy finest, barring the oftentimes distracting soundtrack. Orson Welles performance is mesmerizing. 5)Do The Right Thing. Watching deep rooted tensions, frustrations, and assumptions is as thought-provoking as watching it boil over into community-shaking violence. 6)Naked Lunch. Yes, the book is still unfilmable, but it's worth watching for Peter Weller's deadpan reaction to the disorienting insanity of Cronenberg's Interzone. 7)The Thin Red Line. Visually stunning, with spiritual contemplation interspersed with some of the greatest, most immersive World War II action this side of Band of Brothers. 8)Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The perfect use of Terry Gilliam's hallucinatory design sensibilities. And come on, who can't get into Johnny Depp grunting out Thompson dialogue? 9) Alexander Nevsky. Great director (Eisentein), great composer (Prokofiev), a historical epic of the Soviet Union. 10) Dazed and Confused. The malaise of the mid 70's seen through and amplified by the malaise of being a teenager. Gotta love the dedication to period detail throughout. Bonus: Easy Rider. Two counterculture nomads ride across an America on the verge of the collapse of the 60's dream, encountering freaks and straights along the way.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for including The Third Man. Best moment: when Joseph Cotton as the quintessential dumb American begins to realize that the foreigners are babbling about him as the possible murderer. Fritz Lang directed. Orson Welles gets to look down upon us little ants.
      A very different lofty perch for him in The Stranger (Welles directed; nothing to do with Camus).

      Delete
    2. Some great moments there. Top it all off with that final shot of the woman walking down the road, framed by trees on either side, our protagonist leaning against a cart. Gad, I wish I had that as a huge poster.

      Delete
    3. The visually magnificent piece of cinematography Alexander Nevsky blew my mind when I first saw it ... those awesome helmets in the battle on the ice scene ... pity, terror, awe and more.
      Love your beautifully annotated list & am glad it will be preserved on this blog's comments!

      Delete
  6. This is such an endlessly engrossing topic that I want to revisit and amplify it very soon. Thank you all so much for your wonderful comments and suggestions!

    ReplyDelete