To get it out of the way, no I don’t work for Criterion, hell I don’t own a single film in their collection (although I would like to), but they are without a doubt my number one source for those more off the wall or harder to find choices of films, and I’m usually in for something new when I pick up a film from their collection.
I was browsing their website the other day when I came across this list, and I hope it hasn’t been there for ages and this is old news for all of you. About two dozen celebrities, including Steve Buscemi, Jane Campion, Guy Madding and Nicholas Roeg were asked to list their ten favourite Criterion films. It seemed most chose their favourite films that just happened to included on the list, occasionally extras or the actual DVDs themselves are mentioned. Most of the people ask add blurbs for each films and that’s the real joy of the list. While listing films is fun, knowing why is the real joy of list making.
I recommend checking out all the lists, as there are some interesting overlaps and original selections. What really surprised me was the inclusion of I Know Where I’m Going! on SIX of the lists. In other words, more than a quarter of the lists included the film. While Powell and Pressburger were a very popular pair, I think this film is the one (perhaps competing with Black Narcissus) listed the most times. Personally, I really adore the film, but had no idea it was seen and loved by so many people. A lot of the reaction I had encountered was rather mixed.
D.A. Pennebaker (of Don’t Look Back fame) writes:
“This was the first Powell film I ever saw. I saw it when it first came to New York, where it played for only a few days in its initial run, or so I figured when I tried to go back and see it again. I fell in love with that film, partly because of where it took place, partly because of who was in it, partly because of the way the music slipped in and out of it, and mostly because I could see that Michael Powell, whoever he was, was my leader. Years later, when I finally met him (I was trying to make The Riddle of the Sands with him, but couldn’t raise the money), I spent an entire lunch recalling all his lines from I Know Where I’m Going! In the face of my slavish foolishness, I remember he was most gracious.”
Inspired by these wonderful lists, I decided to make my own. The selection is based purely on my love of the film over the extras provided, because I haven’t taken too much advantage of them and have difficulty comparing anyway. It was a painstaking decision and honestly, changes on whim. I’m putting them in alphabetical order instead of listing them preferentially or I’d never finish the list!
I feel overwhelmed whenever I want to talk about 8 1/2, it’s such an expansive and original film that words never seem enough to explain not only how it works, but the effect it has on me. It’s still my favourite Fellini, and few films have left the same impression on me as it has. I first watched 8 1/2 three years ago, when I was 14 or 15. Even then I knew I was watching something truly special, while I had been interested in film for a while before that, this is the film that opened my eyes to the power and magic of film. A groundbreaking moment in my viewing history.
This is for the television series of Fanny and Alexander, rather than the theatrical version, which I’ve yet to see. Not only my favourite Bergman, this film stands above most films as an incredible portrait of family, life, love, religion and passion, ideas explored throughout Bergman’s filmography. Thematically and visually rich, it’s an incomparable film experience. One day I’ll have to watch all six hours in one shot.
In the Mood for Love, is one of those films that I remember every detail surrounding my first viewing clearly. It was two days after Christmas and I was in bed recovering from a cold, I had just finished watching Black Orpheus (another beautiful Criterion, that unfortunately misses the cut), and I don’t think I could have ever expected what I had got. Poetic and meditative, Wong Kar Wai perfectly evokes a mood of a place and time, as well, with so few actions (even less words) let us into the minds and motions of two characters who are alone in the world. It defies all my ideas about romance, especially romance on the screen. What I thought was restraint in some of my favourite classic films was nothing compared to the quiet reservation of the characters in this film.
While I was already fairly well versed in Godard’s work, Jules et Jim opened my eyes to the French New Wave like no other film. Definite and intangible, the film tapped into all my desires and fears. It’s a nightmare as much as it is a dream though, and perhaps that’s the beauty of it. It’s shocking and unpredictable without ever feeling contrived. Catherine may be my favourite film character, and Jeanne Moreau delivers one of my favourite performances. I actually would love to see the Criterion version of this film, as of yet, I own a very shoddy transfer. Perhaps one day I’ll make the investment, I doubt I’ll regret it.
I suppose I’m not alone in feeling a deep adoration for Hitchcock. He’s one of those first filmmakers I latched onto as a budding cinephile, and have never let go of. It’s a near impossible task to choose a favourite among his filmography, but somehow Notorious shines a little brighter than the rest. Only ever so slightly though. For me, it’s Hitchcock at his best, playing with similar themes and ideas, but somehow there is a sense the characters have thrown themselves into the mess wilfully and knowingly, rather than it being delt by faith. The performances are astonishing, as are some of the brilliantly conceived shots. It’s the last moments that get me though, it feels as if this is a precursor to Psycho when the car is “sinking”. What a genius moment.
I love me some silent films, and while Pandora’s Box isn’t my FAVOURITE, it comes damn close. Brooks is one of those screen presences that is more than radiant or beautiful, she dominates and destroys the screen. Like her character in Pandora’s Box, this power proved to be her downfall and her career was cut far too short by studio heads who disapproved of her disobedience. There is a wonderful static nature of Lulu’s personality, as in the end there is a sense that the character has no degraded or improved, but she’s somehow clearer. It’s as if there is a veil obscuring our view of her that are slowly peeled away by Pabst, who’s direction is so unfairly forgotten.
Preston Sturges is a joy! I seem to fall in love, at least in part, with all of his films, but none compare to the joyous vibrancy of Sullivan’s Travels. It’s an essay of sorts in defence of comedy and it’s value, the genre could not have asked for a better man to do the job. Lake is vibrant and beautiful, it reminds me that I truly need to see more of her films because she has a great presence, I suppose making up for her small size. The laughs are genuine, as are the tears. It’s obviously a huge influence on the Coens, two of my favourite modern filmmakers, as they took the title O’ Brother Where Art Thou? from the fictional character’s film idea.
While making this list I debated long and hard if I was just going to include one film by director, but I couldn’t bear to do it. As you can see, this is my second Hitchcock… and he’s not the only one to get a double appearance. I’m not sure if the 39 Steps is my second favourite Hitch’ or not, but it’s up there. It’s just so delicious, exciting and defining. It’s as if you’re watching someone discover not only he’s good at what he does, but he enjoys the hell out of it. The film is coherent and incoherent all at once, tied together by motifs rather than plot. If you haven’t seen it you should do so now! I can’t imagine anyone would regret it.
I love Powell and Pressburger almost unconditionally, their films are like drugs, wonderful, wonderful drugs. mmm…. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp is an astonishing film about war, and about life. It’s incredibly mature and insightful as it follows Clive Candy through his millitary career. The friendships and relationships he makes and breaks during this time are beautiful and poignant. Livesay gives one of the best performances ever committed to celluloid, and I was sure different actors had played Candy through the different periods of his life. Few films begin to even compare to the visuals of this film, it should be a point though, that few films compare to any of Powell and Pressburger’s work.
Although this list is alphabetical, it’s strange that my favourite film of the list ends up here at the bottom. More than any other film I’ve ever seen, the Red Shoes has marked my life, especially my cinematic career. It was among my favourite films as a child, and after not seeing it for nearly ten years, I revisited it last year, and I could not believe a film could be so wonderful, so perfect. Passionate and expressive, the film runs deeply with my own fears and desires. While an updating of the story, it still has the air and atmosphere of a fairy tale, and is appropriately treated as melodrama, but with the most tender and gentle touch so that it never feels overwrought. If there was one film I had to recommend to people I know, it’s this. This for me is the reason for cinema, the reason why I’m here right now writing.
Speaking of the Red Shoes, don’t forget the Powell and Pressburger Blog-a-thon taking place in December! Tell all your friends!