|A Hard Day's Night
|Odd Man Out
|Bless Their Little Hearts
|ALICE IN DEN STÄDTEN
|TIREZ SUR LE PIANISTE
|Harold and Maude
A Hard Day's Night
There has never been another film which captures the exuberance of a fan's experience of a favorite band, and yet is not told from that fan's point of view -- it's crazy! Ironically by showing us a day in the life of The Beatles, which is full of endless mundane tedious requirements of them, we get not only great music and killer fashion and wit, but as fans, we are rewarded with validation that all that excites us is genuine. Incredibly, as producer Walter Shenson told me when I presented this film at UCLA as one of my desert island picks, they had no idea if this band would even be relevant by the films' release. Made for 100k and shot beautifully in black & white on multiple cameras, the music is actually not shot live and is not always in sync, and yet it's virtually unnoticed, because the perfect marriage of the visual style and sound together achieved here is so deeply satisfying. Whenever I'm having a bad or grumpy day those who love me know, "I think somebody needs to watch A Hard Day's Night." It works every time.
These three stars, Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean, were never more beautiful or better than in this George Stevens masterpiece. Not generally a fan of sprawling family epics, everything I dislike about them dissolves with every single frame in this gorgeous movie. Like A Hard Days Night, I have surely seen this movie hundreds of times, and it never fails to engage me and restore me. The supporting cast is one of the best ever assembled - Mercedes McCambridge, James Dean's unlikely BFF Jane Withers, Dennis Hopper, Earl Holliman, Carol Baker, Paul Fix and Chill Wills at his absolute most, and the never seen enough Mexican actress Elsa Cardenas who gets a full rich character to play here. The cinematography of the Texas landscapes and stunning compositions make one wonder why William Mellor is not celebrated more for his work with Stevens, Anthony Mann and more. There is an American heartbeat in this movie, as a couple navigate world change from within, often driven by Elizabeth Taylor's character Leslie's first-wave feminism and compassion. And every single moment of James Dean is a treasure.
Odd Man Out
When I recently chose this favourite of mine to present at American Cinematheque's Sunday Print Edition series, I pointed out that anyone who still believes Orson Welles actually directed The Third Man just needs to look at this gem, ALSO directed by Carol Reed. A most accomplished film that gives us some of the great James Mason's finest work, in a career full of wonderful performances -- this was one of his personal favourites. Like all the others I've chosen, you have this incredible supporting cast - Robert Newton, Cyril Cusack, Robert Beatty, F.J. McCormick and the hauntingly beautiful Kathleen Ryan, who I have yet to see again. One of the most heartbreaking endings ever, and a gorgeous score by William Alwyn (yeah Joe's great granddad!), it will leave you feeling all too much, and you will be better for it. Unforgettable moments...Mason in the snow, girls talking on the phone in the phone box, him slipping away....
An absolute masterpiece. There is no other film like this one. And there is no other character like Wanda which Barbara Loden created in her screenplay, in her direction and in her performance. It's a film only enjoyable in its brilliance, and it is that in every single frame. Gorgeously shot, beautifully paced, this tiny epic of a very complicated woman's life, is every bit as great as any film about a multi-faceted male anti-hero.
Bless Their Little Hearts
Thanks to Milestone Films and Criterion Channel I'm so happy that this extraordinary LA Rebellion jewel is finally available for people to fall in love with it as I did in the 1980s when I first saw it. Written and shot by Charles Burnett, Billy Woodbury's masterwork is a devastatingly beautiful story of a man trying to find work in Los Angeles and the hits this struggle takes on his soul as he's unable to provide for his family as he would like to. Woodbury encouraged my first film with Kurt Voss and Dean Lent Border Radio and we have a poster of this movie in our film as a small gesture of debt and respect. Phenomenal authentic performances by Nate Hardman and Kaycee Moore. There is a handheld 9-minute take of one of the greatest scenes between a husband and wife I have ever seen. And that scene, that 9 minutes, has been and remains my aspiration through my entire career.
ALICE IN DEN STÄDTEN
One of my favourite films of all time by one of my favourite filmmakers and mentors. Wenders' work with children is astonishing because he finds the magic as well as the beating heart of childhood. In this movie, while Philip Winter (Rudiger Volger) is our main character, 8-year-old Alice (Yella Rottlander) drives the movie...literally. She is such a fully realized character I can always picture her life ahead, the mannerisms she will keep, the wonder she will lose. Shot so beautifully by Robbie Müller with a Japanese-infused score by German prog rockers Can (which only exists in the film itself) it never ceases to elevate cinema for me. And anytime I can see Lisa Kreuzer on the screen, I feel seen too. I understand this mother, I understand this child, I understand this man.
TIREZ SUR LE PIANISTE
This is my favourite French New Wave film. Based on American writer David Goode's novel Down There, Truffaut transposed this neo-noir story from Philadelphia to France. Marie Dubois was a revelation to me when I first saw an actor on screen be so natural, so sweet and mischievous, and then ultimately deeply soulful. Beautiful Raoul Coutard photography and an ear-worm of a score by Georges Delerue, and the haunted performance of Charles Aznavour makes this one of the greatest movies of my lifetime. I go back to it so often to find more.
Every single thing that makes a movie great is in this one. When your lead characters are named The Driver, The Mechanic and The Girl (non-actor musicians James Taylor and Dennis Wilson and model Laurie Bird) and your supporting cast includes two of the finest Kentucky has to offer -- Warren Oates (GTO) and Harry Dean Stanton (Oklahoma Hitchhiker) - I think Hellman had to have known he had something incredibly special from the start. The idea of the road in America at that particular time and being sure of where you're going and feeling how lost you are all at the same time is its genius. It's the most American existential crisis film ever made. My mother and I lifted a sign-off from this movie and say it to each other when parting, "I sure did see ya". I sure did.
Harold and Maude
Though rarely cited as such, this single movie by Hal Ashby from UCLA alum Colin Higgins' screenplay has probably influenced more great filmmakers than any other. The deadpan delightful performance by Bud Cort as Harold, and the brilliant hard-won rebellion in Ruth Gordon as Maude were only part of the wonder of this true black comedy, a genre bandied about but far more difficult to pull off than it seems. Ashby decided to use individual tracks by a single musical artist Cat Stevens as his score. Ashby also took a device first used in A Hard Days Night for the "That Boy" pop music montage sequence for the dramatic climax of his movie with the Cat Stevens track "Trouble". There were so many firsts in this film and needless to say it's so beautifully shot by John Alonzo.
Sally Bowles was always a marvellous character, but it was not until Liza Minnelli was cast in the film version of Christopher Isherwood's play that this character would not only come to natural exuberant life but become the closest match for Isherwood's description of his Weimar Berlin pal Jean Ross, upon whom he based Bowles character, green fingernails and all! The production design by Rolf Zehetbauer of not only the dreamy decadent Kit Kat Club but the rooming house, the streets of Weimar Berlin, and the encroaching threat on every corner is unmatched for its time or since. And sigh...the most delicious costume design by Charlotte Flemming who created iconic looks for Minnelli and her co stars Michael York, Joel Grey, Marisa Berenson and the Kit Kat club dancers. Bob Fosse's unique vision is fully realized here - a multilayered story, to be experienced as a musical, perceived as a personal story of sexual adventure, and received as a social-historic commentary and warning. It so beautifully succeeds in all of it and is forever lasting. I love it as much as I always have, and it's become ever more enjoyable and meaningful.
Who knew I loved the early 70s so much? Well unsurprisingly the 70s is where I became a conscious cineaste, before then I just simply loved and devoured movies, like most kids in my generation. Each of these films for me are favourites, very important to me as a filmmaker, but also ones I feel have earned their places in the highest esteem: they speak to everything great art must, and they pull it off beautifully.
There are so many greats I could have included -- Lind" (1929) by Dorothy Davenport Reid which proved she could direct the pants off any of her accomplished colleagues. Dorothy Arzner's The Bride Wore Red (1937), A Letter To Three Wives by Joseph Mankiewicz (1949), Robert Altman's 'The Long Goodbye' (1973), Anthony Mann's The Man From Laramie (1954), Nicholas Ray's The Lusty Men (1952), Frank Borzage's Living On Velvet (1935), Billy Wilder's The Apartment (1960,) The Accident by Joseph Losey (1967), Ninotchka by Ernst Lubitsch (1939) for heaven's sake! And god knows Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore by Martin Scorsese (1974), a film which means so much to me and my own work and hasn't diminished one bit since it was made.
And it pains me that I did not include a single Douglas Sirk film. There's Always Tomorrow (1956), had I been able to include an 11th, would have wrestled with All That Heaven Allows (1955) for that spot. One gorgeous black and white, one magnificent Technicolor, both heartbreakingly beautiful.
But I selected the films here based on greatness likely to be overlooked, either because they are small films or subtle films or giants obscured by their own populist praise. Or forgotten altogether or slowly slipping away from our consciousness.
This was a very tough assignment because every film I've listed would be included in a vaster list of my favourite films. But when speaking of the greatest of all time -- the standard to me is what would speak to all of us. I knew that Sirk's greatness would find its way to the ultimate list somewhere, just as The Apartment has in the past, along with Fellini and Citizen Kane -- so I could put my focus on other examples of great filmmaking.
And of course I found myself less inclined to go into the years when I started making movies myself cause I don't feel I have the greatest objective perspective on the past three decades of cinema.
I'd like to approach watching movies like A.C. Lyles who applauded after every single movie, no matter what was on the screen, because he felt any film that made it up there was so incredibly hard to make. I'm with him! But we know he had favourites, and he knew great ones when he saw them, it's what drew him to come west to California to work in the movie biz. And it's what drives all of us.
Thanks for inviting me!