John Powers

Critic at Large, Fresh Air with Terry Gross

Voted for

An Angel at My Table1990Jane Campion
The Birds1963Alfred Hitchcock
A Brighter Summer Day1991Edward Yang
Deep End1970Jerzy Skolimowski
Flowers of Shanghai1998Hou Hsiao-Hsien
His Girl Friday1939Howard Hawks
Late Spring1949Yasujirō Ozu
Professione: reporter1974Michelangelo Antonioni
The Quince Tree Sun1992Víctor Erice


An Angel at My Table

1990 New Zealand, Australia, United Kingdom

In the maligned -- and usually dire -- genre of the biopic, Campion's film stands supreme. Avoiding all the obvious crap, it shows us artistic self-creation from the inside.

The Birds

1963 USA

Yeah, yeah, Vertigo is probably greater, and naturally film critics -- a collection of Scotties who chase images for a living -- love it. But in a way, it's been talked and written out. Not so The Birds. So yeah, yeah (pt. 2), Tippi Hedren can't act, but 60 years on, this movie remains mysterious, its depths unplumbed.

A Brighter Summer Day

1991 Taiwan

That most chameleonic of directors, Yang channels Hou Hsiao-hsien to produce his masterpiece that earns every one of its nearly 240 minutes.

Deep End

1970 Federal Republic of Germany, United Kingdom

When I showed this to a class of filmmakers right before the pandemic, they couldn't believe it hadn't been made in the last ten years. Shot through with alienation, dislocation, and Skolimowki's sense of cosmic comedy, this isn't merely one of the greatest (THE greatest?) of all teen sex films, but masterful in its witty use of color and decades ahead of its time in its way of playing with gender roles.

Flowers of Shanghai

1998 Taiwan, Japan

As exquisite as Vermeer, as refined as Henry James, as quietly cruel as life itself.

His Girl Friday

1939 USA

Brash, hilarious, gleefully amoral, and starring peak Cary Grant, this is filmmaking at its most enticingly American. And I still haven't mentioned Rosalind Russell and her hat, Howard Hawks's effortlessly immaculate directing, the clever play with gender roles, and its love of newspapering in all its breezy cynicism.

Late Spring

1949 Japan

I'm always startled when TOKYO MONOGATARI gets named the "greatest Asian film" when Ozu himself made one that strikes me as better -- briefer, richer, and more profoundly moving.


2003 Korea, Republic of

I realized that I should choose at least one movie from the last 50 years that the public actually enjoyed.

Professione: reporter

1974 Italy, France, Spain, USA

A film that shows us, in more ways than one, what's on the other side of the window.

The Quince Tree Sun

1992 Spain

I once met Monty Python's Terry Jones. Hearing I was a film critic, he said he'd just seen something that he'd assumed was a lethal parody of art cinema yet turned out to be an actual trailer. When I told him that I'd seen this film and thought it was a classic, he gave the indulgent smile Brits give particularly gullible Americans. Neither he nor the last 30 years have changed my mind. At once modest and exquisite, Erice's film about a man painting (or more accurately failing to paint) a quince tree is a meditation on light, passing time, and art's attempt to capture nature in its mesh.