James L. Brooks
I was a kid when I first saw this and it probably did more to mold my view of adulthood than anything else. “Wouldn’t this be a great world if insecurity and desperation made us more attractive?” A couple decades later I started to wonder if I’d been misled, if in fact these characters were no more grown up than any John Hughes adolescent hero. And now a decade or two even further along—I’m older than these characters!—I am still aspiring to their maturity.
WR: Mysteries of the Organism
One of the mysteries of the cinema organism is how some movies live and die with their eras while others retain full electric charge no matter how many years pass during which their innovations are mimicked, absorbed, and turned over—though, really, in this case, few filmmakers have been intrepid enough to even attempt to follow Makavejev’s lead. The vastness of spirit required is not common.
Je tu il elle
It is perhaps a little unfair to Chantal, who has the most diverse (yet consistent) portfolio of masterpieces of any auteur, that I still gravitate to her raw first feature. I can’t help it. At an impossibly young age, she’s got everything working already. Fully formed voice, piercing gaze, fearlessness, humor, invention, and—with apologies to Delphine Seyrig, Aurore Clément, Sylvie Testud—her finest leading lady.
The experience of certain movies changes your breathing, reconfigures your synapses. Cronenberg is never not brilliant, but this particular nightmare is so rich and expansive that you could easily take up permanent residence in it. Or it in you.
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me
I am wary of clubs and cults, but I will always line up to drink David Lynch’s Kool-Aid. The fact that this was so poorly received upon its release of course just seems to me like further proof of its greatness. Speaking as a Twin Peaks ride-or-die fan (and season 2 apologist, and lover of all Dick Tremayne scenes), I am comfortable saying that it’s all great, but this is the absolute . . . peak. Write it in your diary.
D. A. Pennebaker
Dont Look Back
How much time is covered in this documentary? Two weeks? Less? I recall reading somewhere that the shooting ratio was shockingly low, that essentially everything Pennebaker shot was fucking gold. When I teach directing workshops I like to show students the scene featuring Dylan and the Time journalist, aspirationally—even with all the tools of fiction at our disposal, it’s damn hard to come anywhere close to anything so dramatically compelling.
Life Is Sweet
Oh geez, Criterion Collection, there’s so much I long to rip off from you. I’ve seen a lot of Mike Leigh movies and read plenty about his unique and demanding methodology, but I’ll still never understand how he gets performances so grotesquely gonzo while simultaneously mainlined straight to the heart.
Love & Basketball
I’ve got a brain for watching movies, not watching sports, so I’ll never appreciate the intricacies of the game, but fate has made me the dad in a basketball family, and now I talk/think about it more than I would have ever imagined. Since love happens to be my way into basketball, this movie totally speaks my language—and it has a terrifically bold and successful novelistic structure that, once again, I wish I could figure out how to steal.
Fate also made me an Austinite. When I arrived here this movie was my guidebook. A lot of those places were still there; in fact many of these actual people were still wandering the streets. Now more and more are ghosts, haunting the condos and yoga studios and boutique-whatevers, but I suppose I still like to imagine that thirty-some years after that camera was thrown off Mount Bonnell, somehow the narrative baton is still getting passed around among some noble weirdos somewhere nearby . . . One of these days I’ll force my kids to watch this so they understand where they come from.
Okay, I lied. I’ll do a ranking. Other Cassavetes movies may be more pure, more raw, and certainly more widely appreciated, but I don’t care, this is not just my favorite of his but also the #1 GOAT movie, argument settled, mic dropped.
Michael Atkinson’s Top 10
Michael Atkinson writes film criticism for IFC.com, Sight & Sound, and Moving Image Source. His books include Exile Cinema: Filmmakers at Work Beyond Hollywood and the novel Hemingway Deadlights.
Ricky Jay’s Top 10
Author, actor, and historian Ricky Jay first worked with director David Mamet on House of Games. They have since collaborated often, including on seven films, the TV show The Unit, the one-man Broadway show Ricky Jay and His 52 Assistants, and Redbel…
Richard Ayoade’s Top 10
The British comedian, actor, writer, and director Richard Ayoade is best known for his starring role on the UK television series The IT Crowd and his successful directorial debut Submarine, which was released in the U.S. in 2011.
Richard Hell’s Top 10
Richard Hell was a founding member of the early CBGB bands Television, the Heartbreakers, and Richard Hell & the Voidoids. His Voidoids album Blank Generation (Sire, 1977) is generally acknowledged as seminal to “punk.”