Barnes & Noble: Half off all Criterion movies through Nov. 21
By Dappered Arts and Culture Correspondent Ben Madeska. For more from Ben, see this archive. For more on literature, art, food, wine, and a real perspective on the news these things seem to make, follow Ben on Twitter.
Ikiru – Akira Kurosawa
Where to start with Kurosawa? One of the most influential filmmakers in history, his career lasted almost 60 years during which he made 30 films. Begin with the genre-defining Seven Samurai? The tragic, epic Ran (now out of print, but available used)? Rashomon? Stray Dog? It’s hard to go wrong with Kurosawa, but I suggest the powerfully moving Ikiru. The story of a dying Japanese bureaucrat, Ikiru is, in the words of Roger Ebert, “one of the few movies that might actually be able to inspire someone to lead their life a little differently.”
For All Mankind – Al Reinert
Twenty-four astronauts have left Earth orbit for the Moon. For All Mankind tells their stories in the footage they shot, with their own words. For this movie, Reinert cleaned up much of the NASA footage, so it looks better here than anywhere else. Even shots familiar to every kid in America look new here. Though not a historical documentary – Reinert splices footage from all the missions together, often without context – no other movie better captures the simple human awe of what these people achieved.
8 1/2 – Federico Fellini
The most Felliniesque of Fellini’s films (how many other directors have coined their own adjectives?), 8 1/2 is a movie about making a movie and is the sort of thing people have in mind when they say they hate arty, foreign films, without having ever actually seen one. The story here follows director Guido Anselmi as he may or may not be having a nervous breakdown, and the narrative skips between his present, his memories, and his fantasies. It’s a movie anyone who has struggled with the personal and public demands of creative work will understand and appreciate.
Traffic – Steven Soderbergh
Traffic follows the illegal drug trade across the Mexico-United States border from the points of view of a number of its players: users, politicians, cops. Suspenseful yet restrained in its treatment of the Drug War, Traffic can be a difficult movie to follow at times. But in avoiding easy answers it does justice to the complexity of its subject. Soderbergh uses a unique, raw style that earned him a Best Director Oscar and is still exhilarating to watch.
Days of Heaven – Terrence Malick
A simple, spare story, Days of Heaven is probably the most beautiful film I’ve ever seen. As always, Malick lets the movie unfold carefully, at its own pace, with lingering shots of WWI- era Texas farm life. The narrative is ultimately unimportant, Days of Heaven is a movie of haunting images and emotions, both subtle and violent.
Breathless – Jean-Luc Godard.
With Breathless, Godard wanted to pay homage to the noir crime movies of Humphrey Bogart and Edward G. Robinson, and ended up reinventing them. It’s as famous for its raw, revolutionary film making techniques as its portrayal of a young, modern generation. Since Breathless, every too-hip criminal on film (think Tarantino) owes a debt to the cool, amoral, wannabe gangster Michel.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – Terry Gilliam
Probably no other director but Terry Gilliam could bring Hunter S. Thompson’s hallucinogenic masterwork to the screen. Originally sent to Las Vegas to write a short caption about a motorcycle race in the desert, Thompson spins this out into a meditation on the American Dream as it was blowing apart. Depp and del Toro, as Thompson and his attorney Oscar Zeta Acosta, capture the profound lunacy in all its darkly comic glory.