13 November 2008

My Criterion Top 10 (For Now)

I just received an e-mail from the Criterion Collection, notifying me that they are having a giant sale (40% off everything) in order to move to a new warehouse. While guiltily perusing through their collection to see what I can (beg my wife to) splurge on using spend-money-to-save-money logic I started to look through some of the Top 10 lists they feature by noted film peoples. As a lover of lists and the Criterion Collection I thought I would make my own for the hell of it (as everything on this blog is "for the hell of it"). Here's what I have so far.


1) Seven Samurai / Ran
Akira Kurosawa

Honestly, I would probably pair more Kurosawa films along with these two (especially High and Low, Ikiru, and Yojimbo), but these are the two which I feel most personally endeared to. I can watch Seven Samurai endlessly. To me it nearly reaches perfection in every aspect of its construction as a film - script, camera work, editing, pacing, acting, etc. Ran is paced more slowly, but its effect by the last few shots is completely overwhelming. The totality of its emotional force never fails to affect me. Not to mention the color. Oh, the color!

2) 8 1/2
Federico Fellini

This film is filled with a feeling of surrender - to dreams, fantasies, memories, confessions, desires - that is intoxicating. Guido is charming to the point of forgiveness for all of his shortcomings, and every time I watch this movie I feel like joining that last circus parade and being led around with the rest of Fellini's crazy world. Not to mention the fantastic widescreen cinematography.

3) Written in the Wind
Douglas Sirk

I saw this in a film class and wrote a paper about it. The lecture, discussion, and repeated viewing for the paper allowed me to really appreciate this technicolor gem. The utter sense of hopelessness is delivered through brilliant colors and a fantastic cast - Dorothy Malone was imprinted in my mind for a while after that initial screening.

4) Two-Lane Blacktop
Monte Hellman

My favorite road movie. It perfectly captures the open road through naturalistic sound (that engine never stops running) and widescreen composition. Beyond that there are the enigmatic main characters who exist just to drift, to keep going. When I watch this movie I want to do the same. This also features the extraordinary Warren Oates as GTO who broke my heart more than once, and James Taylor in the role that redeems him of whatever Hallmark Christmas CDs he puts out for the rest of his life.

5) Days of Heaven
Terrence Malick

I wrote about this film in another blog. This film flew over my head the first time I watched it, but after a while it started to seep into me. The images and sounds are sublime and Malick's vision is singular. This is a valuable DVD in my collection.

6) Le Samourai
Jean-Pierre Melville

Le Samourai is all style. Jef Costello is the stoic loner played to perfection (I don't know if a tan trench coat and gray fedora have ever looked so good.) Something about Costello's isolation and the muted colors of '60s Paris at night hook me. The existential philosophy that informs the plot is perfectly delivered through Melville's attention to detail and careful pacing.

7) Bicycle Thieves
Vittorio DeSica

Everything about this movie feels authentic and it emits an honesty so earnest it is heart-breaking. It is cinema stripped down to its bare essentials, redefining what the camera can do, what film can do. Beyond it's historic significance, however, this film is just wonderful. Its hopelessness is made even more poignant to think it does not stray far from the actual conditions of that time in history.

8) Harakiri
Masaki Kobayashi

Easily one of the most powerful samurai films I have ever seen. It displaces action for an intensely sad story that aims to expose the false veneer of beauracracy, honor, and empty tradition. And after all of that the action kicks in for a finale that is sad, beautiful, uplifting, and hopeless. It was either this or Samurai Rebellion, but decided to go with this one because it feels more devastating.

9) Ali: Fear Eats the Soul
Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Fassbinder's ode to Sirk's All That Heaven Allows manages to evoke pure emotion while injecting political/social criticism in ways that go beyond Sirk. The care he feels for the characters in this film is sincere and his portrayals of them are balanced by their innate goodness as well as their shortcomings.

10) Woman in the Dunes
Hiroshi Teshigahara

This absurdist story by Kobo Abe recalls Camus's take on Sisyphus. The images are what is really so fantastic about this film. The composition is beautiful and the shots are both poetic and daring, making the claustrophic sandpit interesting enough to watch for the duration of the entire film. Every part of this movie is done to perfection, keeping the original integrity and feeling of the source novel.


James said...

I gave into your urging and created my own list. It was quite difficult. There are some on there you'll expect; others, perhaps not. I must say, I did not expect to add so many Asian films ... most due to your influence. For that I think you. I wanted to have a tie at number one in honor of Bergman like you did for Kurosawa, but I thought it better to choose. AS we watch more, I'm sure the list will transform. The only surprise on your list is BREATLESS ... I would have thought you would have chosen BAND OF OUTSIDERS.

James said...

I meant THANK YOU not THINK YOU in the above comment.

Shino Takahashi said...

splurge splurge! Like you, I am asking (eh. more like begging) my boyfriend to let me "splurge to save" on a few electrical items on Black Friday. :P It's hard to resist good bargains like these!

On the site I found a certain movie made by a certain murdered director named Pier Paolo Pasolini. Crazy, I never thought I would find it! But.. from the bits I have seen (it's a movie based off Marquis DeSade's 120 Days).. I may be asking for a series of nightmares. I am excited about the Kurosawas however and considering them.. :) Will you buy all that you listed, and more?