OMG – have you seen the Criterion Top 10 lists? “Hey guys, I really love The Rules of the Game. You should check it out!” Really? A cinema classic that’s considered one of the cornerstones of humanist moviemaking? You think it’s good too? Here, let’s high five with our butts.
Anyone can do better than that. Even me. So here’s my Criterion Top Ten, done as double features, with an A-feature and a flawed but still awesome B-feature.
1) HOUSE – MR. FREEDOM
There is no movie in the world like HOUSE (aka HAUSU). A go-for-broke visual wonderland, it is cinematic expression as a do-or-die break for freedom.
MR. FREEDOM is messy, all over the place, about as arrogant as you’d think a French movie about America would be, and it misses more than it hits, but it’s decidedly ambitious, and when it’s hitting it’s hitting like a tab of the good acid. Not the brown stuff that’s been making the rounds.
2) ROBOCOP – ARMAGEDDON
If they’d had Starship Troopers, I would have gone for that, but ROBOCOP will do for now. Few movies deliver action with one fist, while critiquing it with the other, and still manage to be non-stop awesome. ROBOCOP is one of them.
12 years later came ARMAGEDDON, the ultimate Michael Bay/Jerry Bruckheimer movie that attempts the impossible: it’s an action movie without a bad guy. Think of it as a louder version of Sylvester Stallone’s underrated Daylight…in space!
3) BLOW OUT – SISTERS
Superior to Blow Up in every way, BLOW OUT is Brian De Palma’s best movie, full stop. It’s tight, it’s taut, it’s tragic, and even the very horrible Nancy Allen grows on you. Also, it features John Travolta’s best performance before he became chubbly. (Science fact: Chubbly John Travolta is a better actor than skinny John Travolta.)
SISTERS is jokey, not-taking-anything-seriously De Palma, packed to the gills with every single trick he learned making experimental movies, plus Margot Kidder has an outrageous French accent, and it ends with one of his funniest punchlines.
4) MERRY CHRISTMAS MR LAWRENCE – INSIGNIFICANCE
Never underestimate the power of pretentious cinema, because sometimes the pretentious pills give a director the courage to go further and be stronger. In MERRY CHRISTMAS, MR. LAWRENCE, Nagisa Oshima unleashes the force of two rock stars (David Bowie and Ryuichi Sakamoto), counters them with two very good actors (Tom Conti and Takeshi Kitano), and sets his controls for the heart of the Emo Nebula. The result is a movie where the brilliant sits right next to the balderdash, but the brilliant wins in the end.
I don’t know why INSIGNIFICANCE is as good as it is, because it really shouldn’t be. Nicolas Roeg enlists Gary Busey, Theresa Russell, Michael Emil, and Tony Curtis to play Joe DiMaggio, Marilyn Monroe, Albert Einstein, and Joseph McCarthy who all cross paths one night in a hotel in Manhattan. This is one of those movies you’re glad Roeg made. The world’s better for it existing.
5) WALKER – SOMETHING WILD
How did Alex Cox make three movies as good as Repo Man, Sid & Nancy, and WALKER? And why does the fact that WALKER is political disqualify it from greatness in so many people’s opinions? This movie is shamelessly amazing, and I like to imagine arch-conservative, Chuck Norris, being forced to sign WALKER DVDs by unsuspecting fans.
SOMETHING WILD gives us a Melanie Griffith back when she was sexy, a Ray Liotta before he was a cliche, and the birth of the Magical Pixie Girl. Jonathan Demme’s secret? He knows that behind every Magical Pixie Girl is a psychopath. Destined to be remade with Zooey Deschanel and to suck.
6) THE TIMES OF HARVEY MILK – HARLAN COUNTY, USA
You may have seen Milk but nothing – nothing – will prepare you for THE TIMES OF HARVEY MILK. One of the great cinematic tributes to human decency, and the forces that seek to destroy it.
You like a 40 hour work week? Thank a union. You like the fact that kids don’t work in factories anymore? Thank a union. You enjoy your paid vacation time and sick days? Thank a union. They’re not perfect, but they’re all the working class has got, and nowhere is that more clear than in Koppel’s documentary. HARLAN COUNTY, USA is Exhibit A in the chronicle of how hard we had to fight to get what we take for granted today.
7) TOUCHEZ PAS AU GRISBI – QUAI DES ORFEVRES
Cocoon with hand grenades, TOUCHEZ PAS AU GRISBI is a French crime film drowning in savoir faire. The main character, Max, is an over-the-hill crook, but despite his age, he’s pure sex: confidence is his cologne, and by the half-hour mark he’s scored with three different women. What else would you expect from a man who keeps his safe-house fridge stocked with nothing but Champagne and pâté?
As sure-footed as anything Alfred Hitchcock ever made, Henri-Georges Clouzot’s QUAI DES ORFEVRES should become a Christmas classic, like a cynical, venomous version of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
8) YOUTH OF THE BEAST – A COLT IS MY PASSPORT
It’s not Suzuki Seijun’s deepest film, nor his most sophisticated, but taking both barrels of YOUTH OF THE BEAST in the face is an essential thrill. This is Suzuki Seijun going for broke and unloading every single visual trick in his arsenal, for so much as to make your head explode.
A COLT IS MY PASSPORT (Best. Title. Ever.) requires a lot of patience – the very definition of a slow burn. But it’s all building to a point, and the point is the climax in the post-apocalyptic wasteland that explodes off the end of this quiet movie like a nitroglycerine exclamation mark. Sit throw those talky scenes, because you need them to prepare you for that finale, which is savage, funny, and explosive.
9) SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS – THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY
Two long, merciless trawls into the darkest parts of the criminal (and quasi-criminal) souls, these are both movies where the greatest special effect is an actor’s face. The long, static shot of Bob Hoskins at the end of THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY is a master class in acting. And what movie monster has ever sported a cold, inhuman, soulless stare the way Burt Lancaster does in SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS, gazing out at us from behind the icy, brutal lenses of his eyeglasses?
10) SHORT CUTS – BROADCAST NEWS
What’s up with all the white people? Somebody should make a movie about them or something. Oh, wait? They already did? One’s a comedy about dithering white people falling in love, and the other is a movie about all the white people who live in LA? Sign me up for SHORT CUTS and BROADCAST NEWS – stat! I mean, just look at this combined cast list, it’s a like a convention of the whitest actors in the world: Matthew Modine, Julianne Moore, Huey Lewis, Lyle Lovett, Jennifer Jason Leigh, William Hurt, Holly Hunter. True time capsules of white people in America, from 1987 – 1992.