Army of Shadows
I’m always drawn to misunderstood movies, ones that were either ahead of or behind their times. This Melville crime film about the French Resistance was both. It took thirty-seven years to open in America, and when it did, it received great acclaim. A surprise happy ending for a complicated and unsentimental movie.
Au hasard Balthazar
This movie always makes me feel like the devout altar boy I once was. With due respect to Willem Dafoe or Jeffrey Hunter, Christ was never as movingly portrayed as he was by Bresson’s donkey.
Beauty and the Beast
Here’s a great double bill: watch this film with its haunting original score by Georges Auric, then again as a Philip Glass opera. (Thank you, Criterion, for including both tracks.) This Cocteau-Marais collaboration still intoxicates. Not since Sternberg had a director put his star (also his lover) on such luminous display.
Clouds of Sils Maria
Olivier Assayas directs Kristen Stewart, having fun with her public persona, in a hall-of-mirrors movie that hinges on a mysterious disappearance. This is a fantastic film to rewatch, since it allows for so many interpretations. Recently I decided Kristen’s character never existed at all, except as a manifestation of Juliette Binoche’s younger self. But who knows?
The Ice Storm
The best tearjerkers are the ones where you find yourself moved without quite knowing why. The scene in the car at the end always leaves me sobbing along with Kevin Kline.
One Hour with You
Pop in 1929’s The Love Parade and watch the movie musical being invented. These pre-Code movies are sophisticated in a way that musicals weren’t again until Cabaret in the 1970s. (Although none of them holds up quite as well as Rouben Mamoulian’s Love Me Tonight, which is screaming out for a Criterion reissue.)
Make Way for Tomorrow
This film was a favorite of my late friend Damien Bona, and always reminds me of him. A humanist classic, it inspired another classic, Ozu’s Tokyo Story.
McCabe & Mrs. Miller
A movie that I dove into at age fifteen and have yet to emerge from. Warren Beatty trudging endlessly through the snow, trying to escape his fate: what better metaphor for getting through life—or making a movie?
The Night of the Hunter
If you’re only going to direct one film, make it a masterpiece. (It was also rejected in its own time.) Charles Laughton’s horror movie is so scary that it’s funny. And beautiful and mysterious and utterly unlike any movie ever made.
Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
I Know Where I’m Going!
Like so many films on this list, it straddles genres—thriller, romantic comedy, adventure movie—leaving you blissfully wiped out by the end. A great script, beautifully realized.
Iron and Wine’s Top 10
Samuel Beam is an American singer-songwriter (and former film studies professor!) better known by the stage name Iron and Wine. His last album was 2007’s The Shepherd’s Dog, and a follow-up is in the works.