James Franco’s Top 10

James Franco’s Top10

You can add James Franco to the list of Criterion’s most ardent fans. This month, the actor, seen left in a photo recalling My Own Private Idaho, taken by Gus Van Sant in Oregon in fall 2008, has contributed to our ongoing collection of Criterion top ten lists. Franco, who’s currently studying fiction writing at Columbia University and film direction at NYU, wrote to us, “I am obsessed with the Criterion Collection. I have included more than ten, but I have lumped them by director. After compiling this list, I realized that I don’t have Fellini, De Sica, Godard, or Truffaut on here. Or Kurosawa, Jarmusch, Buñuel, or Fuller. Basically, I have every disc in the collection, and I am making my way through them all. It’s rare that I watch one I don’t like.”

Photo by Anna Kooris

Mar 30, 2009
  • 1

    Víctor Erice

    The Spirit of the Beehive

    This was such a surprise. I had never heard of this film. The premise is original and poignant, and the performance by the little girl is mind-blowing. It is about the power that movies can hold over us. It delivers the wonders of childhood and the saving grace of imagination.

  • 2 (tie)

    Louis Malle

    Murmur of the Heart

  • Louis Malle

    Lacombe, Lucien

    Malle delivers stories that still resonate for their audacity of subject and unflinching portrayals of sorrowful characters.

  • 3 (tie)

    Gus Van Sant

    My Own Private Idaho

  • Gus Van Sant

    Mala Noche

    Gus is the best. Idaho was one of the first movies with which I fell in love. I would watch it repeatedly when I was a teenager. River Phoenix gives the performance of a lifetime, original and inspiring. As a young actor, I needed nothing more than this performance for inspiration. The film is a collage of techniques, plots, and themes, expertly wound together as only Van Sant is able to do. When Criterion released this DVD with a film-length interview between Todd Haynes and Gus, it was a gold mine for an acolyte like me. There are also great old magazine articles, and an odd conversation with J. T. Leroy, before he was exposed. Mala Noche is Gus’s first film. He financed it with his own money. It’s a great early glimpse into many of the themes that continue to consume him.

  • 4

    John Cassavetes

    A Woman Under the Influence

  • 5

    John Cassavetes

    Opening Night

    Not much to add about Cassavetes, except that Criterion has put together an incredible box set, John Cassavetes: Five Films. There are alternate cuts, interviews, and documentaries, as well as the incredible films. Woman and Opening Night show Gena Rowlands at her best. These films contain performances that will never be matched, but are also structural innovations. I wish I could make movies like this.

  • 6

    Gillo Pontecorvo

    The Battle of Algiers

    I don’t know how he made this movie, except that he used the real people. This is where Soderbergh learned half of his shit (as I’m sure he’ll admit). This is an amazing three-disc set, with hours of documentary footage.

  • 7 (tie)

    David Maysles, Albert Maysles, and Charlotte Zwerin


  • David Maysles, Albert Maysles, and Charlotte Zwerin

    Gimme Shelter

    The Maysles are masters. Their philosophy of Direct Cinema is proved in these films. Life is as interesting as fiction. This is not reality TV; it is observational documentation in the purest sense. It is not manipulated; the only filter is the obvious love the filmmakers have for their subjects. Salesman is as deep as Death of a Salesman or The Iceman Cometh, and Gimme Shelter is like Greek tragedy.

  • 8 (tie)

    Michelangelo Antonioni


  • Michelangelo Antonioni


    Antonioni is still elusive, but these great discs help open an understanding of his work through documentary and illuminating commentaries.

  • 9

    Ermanno Olmi

    Il posto

    What a beautiful film. Olmi was a documentary filmmaker who then switched to features. He explores young love in very simple, but deeply felt, terms. Even more exciting is the short film included on the disc, La cotta. This is like Rushmore in miniature. A young, imaginative kid in love. So fun and sad.

  • 10 (tie)

    Robert Altman

    3 Women

  • Robert Altman

    Secret Honor

    Altman is another hero. These films are hypnotizing because of their pace. Altman’s cameras swirl around and zoom in on his characters as they reveal themselves slowly. Altman said he let actors do what they became actors to do (meaning: Act! Create!), and these films are two examples of how this freeing process can create indelible performances.