In Which It’s Basically Perfect

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My Top X Criterions

by Molly Lambert

If there is any test that can be applied to movies, it’s that the good ones never make you feel virtuous. — Pauline Kael

Screenbloggeur supreme Diablo Cody picked her top ten Criterion Collection films. This led me to spend two hours on the CC’s site figuring out what mine are. I’ve only seen a fraction of them, so bear that in mind when you are furious that A Story Of Floating Weeds isn’t listed.

a. The Adventures Of Antoine Doinel: Cheating and counting this box set of semi-autobiographical François Truffaut films and shorts as one. Antoine Doinel would approve of my cheating.

b. Alphaville: A Jean-Luc Godard movie for people who don’t like Godard movies. Alphaville is like Blade Runner gene-spliced with a Naked Gun film. Science-fiction, politics, and sight gags abound.

c. Fishing With John: A nature documentary starring Lounge Lizards leader John Lurie and other equally inexperienced adventurers like Tom Waits and Willem Dafoe. Directed with equal parts drollery and daftness by Lurie.

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d. The Passion Of Joan Of Arc: Carl Th. Dreyer’s silent classic. Thought to be lost, a perfect copy was found at a mental institution. A tied to the stake Renée Falconetti uses just her face to give the greatest acting performance you’ve ever seen in your life.

e. Rushmore: Wes Anderson’s sophomore effort, a sentimental favorite. I like to think about all the little Liz Lemons and Lisa Simpsons out there for whom Juno will be as seminal as Rushmore.

f. Le Million: “René Clair’s lyrical masterpiece had a profound impact on not only the Marx Brothers and Charlie Chaplin, but on the American Musical as a whole.” Just a great movie to charm even the worst cynics and musical haters.

g. The Lady Eve: Like the New Yorker’s other film critic Anthony Lane, I am a huge nerd for Barbara Stanwyck. I love Preston Sturges movies in general, and Henry Fonda and Stanwyck just murk it with the dialogue in this one.

h. Sullivan’s Travels: Another great from Preston Sturges, this might be my favorite movie ever. It’s either Sullivan’s Travels or Clueless, and Amy Heckerling’s masterpiece has yet to get the Criterion treatment.

i. How To Get Ahead In Advertising: I love you Richard E. Grant, I would like to make a sandwich with you and Alan Rickman. Just a cheese sandwich will be fine. No mayo. Thank you loves. This movie is dark, hysterical, and very English English.

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j. Trouble In Paradise: The Lubitsch touch is all it’s cracked up to be. The best Lubitsch films are insanely charming, witty and arch. But still winning, never cloying or glib. If I ever write a romantic comedy this good I’ll die of self-satisfaction. TIP was adapted from a play and rewritten by Samson Rafaelson, who wrote The Jazz Singer, The Shop Around The Corner, and Suspicion. Believe it or not, he’s Bob’s uncle.

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k. Children Of Paradise: Okay this is actually my mom’s favorite movie but I wanted to put it on the list. It’s a French epic saga, like Gone With The Wind. Speaking of Gone With The Wind, I just saw it on TCM and it was unexpectedly hilarious.

l. Through A Glass Darkly: I do not always need to laugh. Sometimes I like to brood and brood.

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m. Knife In The Water: Sometimes I like to have the fear, and this Roman Polanski three-person drama film is taut like a wire that is made of suspense.

n. Band Of Outsiders: I love both Truffaut AND Godard. I’m bitextual. If Todd Haynes read(s) This Recording I guarantee you he’ll be loling 4eva over it 2.

o. 3 Women: Robert Altman’s 3 Women is like Ingmar Bergman’s Persona reinterpreted as a Tennessee Williams play. Top notch performances from my favorite seventies superstar strangewaifs Shelley Duvall and Sissy Spacek.

p. A Woman Is A Woman: This is what I’d call a fun romp, as far as Godard movies go. Features the unearthly beauty of young Anna Karina.

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q. A Woman Under The Influence: John Cassavetes movies are not fun romps. They make you feel terrible; dislocated and depressed, like a Raymond Carver story made celluloid flesh. But you can’t be happy all the time and I think Cassavetes is a genius at depicting sadness and longing. Seventies indie goddess Gena Rowlands acts with her face as well as Falconetti in Joan Of Arc.

r. Opening Night: My favorite Cassavetes movie. It’s heartbreaking, and has plenty of the director’s trademark severe emotional discomfort. It evokes deep painful recognition in the audience with what might be called The Cassavetes Touch. Plus another astonishing performance from Gena Rowlands.

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s. Tout Va Bien: Another seventies superwoman, daughter of Henry, “Hanoi” Jane Fonda takes on class and gender politics in Godard’s Brechtian fantasia. Set in a Sausage Factory (an apt metaphor for La Nouvelle Vague itself), Jane and Yves Montand argue Marxism on a bisected set, like the one Wes Anderson later built for The Life Aquatic. There’s sex and supermarkets and subliminal imagery. It gave me college flashbacks.

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t. Jules and Jim: The allusions in Vanilla Sky to Jules and Jim was one of the more wildly egregious errors in that strange Scientologist crime against art. You should see Jules and Jim. Don’t see Vanilla Sky unless you really like hating bad things.

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u. Masculin Féminin: Yet another Godard movie, this time starring Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud) and yé-yé chanteuse Chantal Goya. Brutally awkward in portions, it’s the precursor to Andrew Bujalski’s films and a template for low-budget indies about young people.

v. The Spirit Of The Beehive: If you saw Pan’s Labyrinth or The Orphanage you might know that Spainards have an awesome horror tradition. The Spirit of The Beehive is one of the most beautiful movies I’ve ever seen. It’s about a little girl who gets obsessed with Frankenstein and it’s basically perfect.

w. La Haine: Wunderkind Mathieu Kassovitz’s sophomore effort about life in the banlieues is the French equivalent of Boyz N The Hood and Menace II Society. It is boss.

x. Veronika Voss : The original title of this Rainer Werner Fassbinder film is Die Sehnsucht Der Veronika Voss. Sensucht is the German version of saudade.

If any aspiring wealthy benefactors are wondering what to get me, I would like the Agnès Varda boxset please. She is the lone lady auteur of French New Wave, the Angie Dickinson of Le Pack Des Rats.

Molly Lambert is the managing editor of This Recording. The Prezler Award winner blogger can also be found tumbling here.

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More Recent And Upcoming CC Films I Am Stoked For:

Pierrot Le Fou

Drunken Angel

The Ice Storm

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Sawdust and Tinsel

Under The Volcano

The Lady Vanishes

Berlin Alexanderplatz

Days Of Heaven

This Sporting Life

Two-Lane Blacktop

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“Triangle Walks” – Fever Ray (mp3)

“Concrete Walls” – Fever Ray (mp3)

“Now’s The Only Time I Know” – Fever Ray (mp3)

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PREVIOUSLY ON THIS RECORDING

You gotta strike for your rights to porter.

Tess teaches you how to live to be a million years old.

Tyler Coates gets baptized in Hairspray.

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3 thoughts on “In Which It’s Basically Perfect

  1. So, so right-on. I’d quibble with Kael’s cameo, though; she started out mostly right and a little wrong and had completely reversed the proportions by the time that great red EXIT sign in the sky showed her out of the building. Also: what, Veronica Lake doesn’t merit a name-check? But, anyway: three thumbs up!

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