I’m running contributions from some of my favorite film critics, writers, and theorists from around the internet for the next few weeks. Each writer is listing their top 10 from the Criterion Collection. The fifth contribution in The Criterion Top 10 Series is from my great friend, Martin Bruckner. This list is extra special because Marty was such a huge inspiration in sending me down the Criterion rabbit hole. For several years, it was almost a competition between the two of us to see who could get to certain Criterion films first. And Marty is also the one who really pushed me into creating this site. In addition to all of that, Marty is the best artist that I know. His current creative passion is Creatureland Studio, a venture in which he takes children’s drawings and turns them into tremendous hand-crafted interpretations for the child to put on their wall. You can find him on Twitter @CreatureLStudio.
I’m a huge fan of Kurosawa and Mifune, but i’m not sure that even these two masters ever made a better movie. “HaraKiri” is very easily one of the best movies i’ve ever seen.. in any genre. It’s very well paced and deliberate. It’s full of beautifully filmed scenes of desperation, and great symbolism of Japanese society during the 60’s and during the time it takes place. Kobayashi took the most simple of scenes and turned them into immensely powerful moments. “HaraKiri” to me, is the definition of cinema.
Woman in the Dunes
Every film teacher in the world should make this a manditory watch for “Film making 101”. It should be shown at the beginning and then again at the end of each year. It’s not very often that you come across a film that is made almost flawlessly. “Woman in the Dunes” comes extremely close. Who knew sand could be that amazing and interesting to look at for 2 1/2 hours. The attention to detail throughout makes this truly one of the best in Japanese cinema. The story is slow and you get to know the characters through their quiet actions, but the sand is the real star. Watching it may sound terribly boring, but when you see it’s movements and patterns and how it lends itself to the story it’s something that you won’t soon forget. One sidenote: the movie is closer to 150 minutes than 127, but when you get into this film you’ll hardly notice. This might not be for the casual filmgoer, but if you enjoy the slow, methodical, quiet classics.. this one is a must.
Closely Watched Trains
If you have never seen a film out of the Czech New Wave, this is a great one to start with. Menzel and Milos Forman made some absolutely amazing movies during this time. “Closely Watched Trains” has the same whimsical playfulness that is seen throughout these movies. Along with that it also has the well preserved charm that is so strong in Forman’s “Fireman’s ball” and “Loves of a blond”. It’s a simple story about simple people, but it is done so well that it will stick with you for a long time. Filled with sexual tension and the fear of war, Menzel does a great job of taking ordinary people and making them an absolute joy to watch. This movie isn’t for everyone and may be considered boring and pointless to some, but to me boring can be amazing. These movies rely not upon special effects and crazy stories, but on direction and acting.. and to me, it’s done perfectly.
The Killing of a Chinese Bookie
Cassavetes is a freakin’ rock star. This movie blew me away. I understand that it is slow and probably not for everyone, but the feel, the direction, the acting.. man.. what a movie. Having only seen some of his early works I had waited for a while before checking out some of the mid to late 70’s movies and now I’m hooked. The story is simple.. a nightclub owner loses a ton of money to the wrong people and is forced to do some bad things to pay off his debt. The plot gets a bit diluted at times with random nonesense from the nightclub, but I loved those parts.. and Gazzara is so perfect in this. He’s not quite a dirtbag and not quite a stand-up guy all at once. His acting is so real that I’d be shocked if he wasn’t adlibbing almost all of his lines. I do see how this one could get on people’s nerves though.. there’s not a lot of action, it’s full of random dialogue and the ending may not be wrapped up in a nice little package.. but something about it really did it for me. If you aren’t familiar with Cassavetes just think about early Scorsese and it’s totally that feel. Give this one a shot.. and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.. if you don’t.. my apologies.
Brand Upon the Brain
For some reason Guy Maddin films intimidate me.. I know there’s a good chance I’m going to love it.. but it takes me a long time to commit to watching it. Well.. after finally watching “Brand Upon the Brain” I will watch every movie he puts out as soon as it hits the shelf. “Brand Upon the Brain” is polished and beautiful. The story is so awesome and ridiculous. A man returns home to his lighthouse island where he thinks back upon his strange-to say the least-childhood. It’s impossible to hit on everything you witness after one sitting and pointless to try to commit it down in a review. If you’re new to Maddin.. be warned.. he is not for everyone. But I highly recommend to anyone and everyone who loves cinema to give him a chance.. at least once.. I’m pretty sure you’ll know if you like him rigth away. This is one of those movies that probably needs to be watched at least 3 or 4 times for you to fully appreciate and understand.. well.. I don’t know if we’ll ever understand Maddin.. but it’ll still be a joy to sit down and watch the “undressing gloves” at work again. Jolly well done, Guy.
Corridors of Blood
Karloff is most famous for playing Frankenstein’s monster. But it was this kind of role that dominated is career. After going through and watching a ton of old Karloff “mad scientist” movies I’d have to say that this is one of the best. But let me clarify, instead of him trying to bring his dead wife back to life or trying to swap people’s brains he’s actually working on a credible invention. Obviously not based on fact, “Corridors of Blood” is the story of a man desperately trying to come up with a pain-free method of surgery and amputation.. basically trying to invent anesthesia. This is a great movie.. really.. the story is solid, the supporting cast is good.. including a very young, but still creepy Christopher Lee. And This may be one of Karloff’s best performances, and the fact that it’s a legitimate cause makes this one seem to be a little more important and likeable than your run of the mill everyday madman B-horror flick. A great opening scene with Karloff sawing off some poor dude’s leg leads into a really interesting little story. Overall I highly recommend this for those who either love Karloff, old horror movies.. even though it’s really not a horror.. or fans of historical medical-type dramas. I was a bit disappointed at the lack of blood filled corridors.. but no movie can be perfect.
The Two of Us
Loved it, loved it, loved it. This movie is fantastic. It’s everything a movie should be and that sadly, we never see anymore. It’s wonderfully written, powerfully acted and beautifully directed. “The Two of Us” is the story of a young Jewish boy in nazi occupied France who is forced to go live with an old couple in the country while his family tries to survive. The relationship between the boy and the old man is one of the best in movie history if you ask me. Simon is brilliant as an old bulldog of a man who loves his dog more than his wife and has more fun than any old fat man should ever have. And Alain Cohen matches him scene for scene as an innocent boy who has a hard enough time trying to figure out life.. let alone life as an 8 year old jew in 1943 Europe. This movie is hilarious and heartbreaking all at once and the ending is perfect. This is such an anti-hollywood film in every way shape and form and I loved it. Just know that it is indeed heartwarming, sentimental and wholesome.. well.. if you can forgive the old man for his views on certain things.. but it’s not overly gushy and should be a treat for any movie lover.
Touchez Pas au Grisbi
Jean Gabin is easily one of the biggest studs in the history of cinema and “Don’t Touch the Loot” is a shining example of this. It starts out normal enough with a few night club scenes, the mention of a $50 million heist and goes a bit deeper into the goings on of the French underworld. Gabin plays Max, a tired gangster itching to fade into the sunset. The only problem is his good buddy Riton, who has screwed up Max’s plans for years and is personally responsible for each and every gray hair on Max’s head. Max loves Riton to death.. but will he be the death of them both? Hmmmmm. Throw in some dames, some more wiseguys, and an ending straight out of a 1930’s Cagney gangster flick and “Touchez Pas au Grisbi” is a spectacular film. Gabin is tough as nails here and has one of the best “slapping” scenes I’ve seen.. I feel bad for the poor actors who took the beatings in that awesome scene. Overall, this is great no matter who you are, fans of Gabin, French films and/or gangster movies will love it.. and if you’re new to any of the genre’s.. this is a great place to start. A movie full of style, class, charm, mixed perfectly with machine guns, gold bars and lots and lots of bullets. 5 easy stars.
How is it that I’ve gone my entire life without hearing about Antonio Gaudi? I even took art history for crying out loud. Oh well, the important thing is that I know about him now.. thanks to Teshigahara. This short little documentary blew me away. It’s absolutely breathtaking what this man, Gaudi, did in his lifetime. You will find yourself trying to figure out how in the world this man’s mind worked… how he put down on paper what would eventually be some of the most interestingly detailed pieces of architecture ever made. The abstractness of his work is made even more unbelievable by the exactness of it. The movie is simple, it takes long, slow shots of several of Gaudi’s works, intertwined with scenes of everyday life in Spain. It alternates between shots accompanied with music, to shots shown in complete silence. Both options are striking to say the least. I will agree here with some other reviewers, there’s little to no dialogue and/or information on the man himself..so if you’re looking for the story of his life or how he managed to do what he did.. you might want to look elsewhere, but if you can handle simply looking at pure art for 72 minutes… this is definitely for you. The last 20 minutes focus on the Sagrada Familia church in Barcelon and had me in awe.. maybe more than anything else I’ve ever witnessed.. I honestly had to rewatch the ending 3 times to take it all in. Completely amazing. A Japanese legend of film taking on a Spanish master of visual architecture.. 5 stars.
Band of Outsiders
I have a love/hate.. well .. not hate.. but serious disdain, relationship with Godard. I’ve loved loved loved the early “dime store” novel films that he put out in the early/mid 60’s. The beginnings of “New Wave” are a true joy for me to watch and “Band of Outsiders” is right up there with the best. It’s when we get past that to the late 60’s and films such as “Weekend” that I just get lost. Anyway, the story here is so secondary to the techniques and performances we get to see. The cast is so cool that they unknowingly spawned a generation of Godard-smalltime thug wannabes. Karina is perfect as the sweet, innocent.. not so innocent leading lady and the guys are the definition of style. This is also a film filled to the brim with memorable scenes, from the very opening, to the dance scene.. to my favorite, the running of the Louvre. After a long break from Godard after veiwing “Weekend”, “Band of Outsiders” comepletely restored my faith in Godard and I’m very excited to hit up the rest of the early works by the master of “New Wave”.
I hadn’t been this excited to see a movie in a long, long time. All the elements have aligned for me here. John Huston meets Brad Dourif (a terribly underappreciated actor) meets Southern religion meets the Criterion Collection. Umm.. okay.. Yes Please! “Wise Blood” is a fantastic movie. Dourif, a slightly “off” war vet returning home from the war enters a small southern town with one thing on his mind, he’s going to do all the things that he’s never done before.. and by God (pun intended), he’s going to do it all without Jesus Christ and/or religion. Our protagonist.. or is he an antagonist? anyway, he goes about his days encountering various quirky characters including Harry Dean Stanton.. another underrated actor, Ned Beatty, Amy Wright and who doesn’t love shrunken bodies and men in gorilla suits? Huston is at his best here and it’s interesting how much music sets the tone for this movie. It could have been a very dark and brooding film without the presence of the whimsical and playful banjos and guitars. All performances are great and my only gripe is that I would have loved to have seen a little more of the flashbacks including Huston himself, but I know that they were done perfectly, just giving us a taste of Dourif’s madness. Highly recommended for fans of Huston.. especially his later works, fans of cinema that challenges religion, and pretty much just anyone who loves a good old fashioned southern tale.
Tom and Jerry: Spotlight Collection
Tom and Jerry spotLight collection volume number two (2) is not as good as Harry Potters.