01 April 2009

Top Ten: James Franco, Ivy Student and Swanky Film-Star, Gives Criterion His Free-Form Version of a Top-Ten List of Films from the C. Repertoire

James Franco, graduate student at Columbia's School of the Arts, actor in such films as last year's Milk directed by Gus van Sant, and apparently likewise enthusiast of The Criterion Collection, has recently put together for the Collection a free-form list of his "Top Ten" favorite films from its renowned canon. I say "free form," because the list runs irregularly according to the premises of the "The Top Ten List" protocol: For one, it is clearly not just ten films long; for another, it's organized by director, not by film; and for still another, it isn't really comprised of the man's opinion of the "best films in the Collection:" Instead, the list reads much more like a playlist-type compilation of what's currently on Mr. Franco's DVD turn-table, with prefacing disclaimer that his experience and views are ever growing. Despite this overt flouting of Top-Ten rules, however, there's something thoroughly charming about such a fluid perspective on the arts coming from this student of a man; to me, such a perspective makes it clear that he has his heart truly in his work, that he recognizes that there is a lot still left for him to learn, and that he, taking such matters seriously, will by assiduous immersion into the respected history of his chosen medium emerge from therein a not only educated, but also elevated performer. Or maybe that's just a fellow twenty-something's peeraged, optimistic regard.
In any case, the 15 films on Mr. Franco's list, embellished by his equally free-form commentary, may be viewed at the Criterion website (here) or here (just below):


THE SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE
VÍCTOR ERICE

SPAIN
1973
99 MINUTES
1.66:1
1. Víctor Erice - This was such a surprise. I had never heard of this film. The premise is original and poignant, and the performance by the little girl is mind-blowing. It is about the power that movies can hold over us. It delivers the wonders of childhood and the saving grace of imagination.

MURMUR OF THE HEART
LOUIS MALLE

FRANCE
1972
118 MINUTES
1.66:1

LACOMBE, LUCIEN
LOUIS MALLE

FRANCE
1974
138 MINUTES
1.66:1
2. Louis Malle - Malle delivers stories that still resonate for their audacity of subject and unflinching portrayals of sorrowful characters.


MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO
GUS VAN SANT

UNITED STATES
1991
104 MINUTES
1.77:1

MALA NOCHE
GUS VAN SANT

UNITED STATES
1985
78 MINUTES
1.33:1
3. Gus Van Sant - Gus is the best. Idaho was one of the first movies with which I fell in love. I would watch it repeatedly when I was a teenager. River Phoenix gives the performance of a lifetime, original and inspiring. As a young actor, I needed nothing more than this performance for inspiration. The film is a collage of techniques, plots, and themes, expertly wound together as only Van Sant is able to do. When Criterion released this DVD with a film-length interview between Todd Haynes and Gus, it was a gold mine for an acolyte like me. There are also great old magazine articles, and an odd conversation with J. T. Leroy, before he was exposed. Mala Noche is Gus’s first film. He financed it with his own money. It’s a great early glimpse into many of the themes that continue to consume him.

A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE
JOHN CASSAVETES

UNITED STATES
1974
155 MINUTES
1.85:1

OPENING NIGHT
JOHN CASSAVETES

UNITED STATES
1976
144 MINUTES
1.66:1
4. John Cassavetes - Not much to add about Cassavetes, except that Criterion has put together an incredible box set, John Cassavetes: Five Films. There are alternate cuts, interviews, and documentaries, as well as the incredible films. Woman and Opening Night show Gena Rowlands at her best. These films contain performances that will never be matched, but are also structural innovations. I wish I could make movies like this.

THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS
GILLO PONTECORVO

ALGERIA
1966
121 MINUTES
1.85:1
5. Gillo Pontecorvo - I don’t know how he made this movie, except that he used the real people. This is where Soderbergh learned half of his shit (as I’m sure he’ll admit). This is an amazing three-disc set, with hours of documentary footage.

SALESMAN
ALBERT MAYSLES, DAVID MAYSLES AND CHARLOTTE ZWERIN

UNITED STATES
1968
91 MINUTES
1.33:1

GIMME SHELTER
DAVID MAYSLES, ALBERT MAYSLES AND CHARLOTTE ZWERIN

UNITED STATES
1970
91 MINUTES
1.33:1
6. The Maysles Brothers - The Maysles are masters. Their philosophy of Direct Cinema is proved in these films. Life is as interesting as fiction. This is not reality TV; it is observational documentation in the purest sense. It is not manipulated; the only filter is the obvious love the filmmakers have for their subjects. Salesman is as deep as Death of a Salesman or The Iceman Cometh, and Gimme Shelter is like Greek tragedy.

L'ECLISSE
MICHELANGELO ANTONIONI

ITALY
1962
126 MINUTES
1.85:1

L’AVVENTURA
MICHELANGELO ANTONIONI

ITALY
1960
145 MINUTES
1.77:1
7. Michelangelo Antonioni - Antonioni is still elusive, but these great discs help open an understanding of his work through documentary and illuminating commentaries.

IL POSTO
ERMANNO OLMI

ITALY
1961
93 MINUTES
1.33:1
8. Ermanno Olmi - What a beautiful film. Olmi was a documentary filmmaker who then switched to features. He explores young love in very simple, but deeply felt, terms. Even more exciting is the short film included on the disc, La cotta. This is like Rushmore in miniature. A young, imaginative kid in love. So fun and sad.

3 WOMEN
ROBERT ALTMAN

UNITED STATES
1977
124 MINUTES
2.35:1

SECRET HONOR
ROBERT ALTMAN

UNITED STATES
1984
90 MINUTES
1.33:1
9. Robert Altman - Altman is another hero. These films are hypnotizing because of their pace. Altman’s cameras swirl around and zoom in on his characters as they reveal themselves slowly. Altman said he let actors do what they became actors to do (meaning: Act! Create!), and these films are two examples of how this freeing process can create indelible performances.

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