My Criterion Top 10: Anna/Defiant Success


I’ve been running contributions from some of my favorite film critics, writers, and theorists from around the internet for the past few weeks. Each writer is listing their top 10 from the Criterion Collection. This is the second to last entry in the series, and it’s a special one. That’s because Anna, today’s writer, was inspired by some of the other lists and offered hers. And this list is a gem. Anna has been running her blog, Defiant Success, since August 2009. In that time, she has compiled quite an impressive list of films reviewed. Anna may be found on Twitter @MovieNut14.

Ace in the Hole (1951, Billy Wilder)
You’re all familiar with Billy Wilder, yes? Well, if you’ve only seen Some Like It Hot or The Apartment, you’re gonna be in for one hell of a shock when you see Ace in the Hole. In addition to eerily predicting the media frenzy surrounding the 2010 Copiapó mining accident by a whole fifty-nine years, Wilder also paints a vicious portrait of questionable journalism and how the gullible masses will just devour these sensational stories.

the-night-of-the-hunterThe Night of the Hunter (1955, Charles Laughton)
It’s a shame that Laughton only directed one film during his career. Had audiences and critics back in 1955 been willing to explore this mystifying and frightening film, then it’s obvious that Laughton would have directed at least one more film. Alas, all we have to commemorate Laughton’s time as a director is this quiet, chilling film.

Bigger Than Life (1956, Nicholas Ray)
Ray was one of those directors who made films that were way ahead of their time, and the film that epitomizes that statement best is easily Bigger Than Life. Sure, there have been a number of “sensational” films of a similar nature from the same era, but they pale in comparison to Bigger Than Life. It’s practically a morbid mesh of Douglas Sirk and Mad Men.

3_reasons_SWEET_SMELL_screengrab_4_video_stillSweet Smell of Success (1957, Alexander Mackendrick)
Movies just don’t get as sleazy as Sweet Smell of Success. And so many of the film’s aspects just play that up. James Wong Howe’s cinematography, Elmer Bernstein’s score, Ernest Lehman and Clifford Odets’ script, Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis’ performances…sometimes it’s good to be bad.

The Fire Within (1963, Louis Malle)
This is one of those films that I went into without knowing anything about it. (Well, I knew a little thanks to this post by one Alex Withrow.) It’s one of the more unconventional films when it comes to alcoholism. It’s not about trying to lead a life surrounded by self-destructive heavy drinking; it’s trying to live life without it.

Film_667w_Seconds_originalSeconds (1966, John Frankenheimer)
When you think about it, the role of Tony Wilson was practically tailor-made for Rock Hudson: a man leading an ideal life in California whilst hiding his true identity from others. And it’s with this piece of meta casting (well, by today’s standards anyway; not so much back in 1966) that makes Seconds all the more effective. That, and having the director of The Manchurian Candidate on board.

A Woman Under the Influence (1974, John Cassavetes)
Cassavetes was one of those directors who didn’t sugarcoat any of the material in his films. If he did, A Woman Under the Influence definitely wouldn’t have the staying power it has now. Thanks to Gena Rowlands’ unflinching work and Peter Falk’s touchingly vulnerable performance, the film shows how fragile one person can become.

opening-night-1977-002-gena-rowlands-lipstickOpening Night (1977, John Cassavetes)
The same could be said about Cassavetes and Rowlands’ follow-up film. In a similar vein to All About Eve, Opening Night shines a light on the one’s fears of aging and mortality. It also contains (tied with A Woman Under the Influence) the best performance I’ve seen from an actress.

tJIC1jwqvqw5w73gjZhXH8iHo1_1280Withnail and I (1987, Bruce Robinson)
Sometimes all that’s required for a good film is something as simple as a solid script and strong performances. In the case of Withnail and I, Robinson’s semi-autobiographical script as well as the work from Richard E. Grant, Paul McGann and Richard Griffiths prove that. Now if only Criterion would re-release it…

Shallow Grave (1994, Danny Boyle)
Now this was a blind buy on my part and boy, did I choose wisely. I feel like this is one of those films that you should go in knowing pretty much nothing about. But I will offer this: it’s really (bleep)ing good.

The Red Shoes (1948, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger)
The Cranes Are Flying (1957, Mikhail Kalatozov)
12 Angry Men (1957, Sidney Lumet)
Le notti bianche (1957, Luchino Visconti)
A Night to Remember (1958, Roy Ward Baker)
Red Desert (1964, Michelangelo Antonioni)
Insignificance (1985, Nicolas Roeg)
The Double Life of Veronique (1991, Krzysztof Kieslowski)
Certified Copy (2010, Abbas Kiarostami)
Weekend (2011, Andrew Haigh)



Filed under Movies

10 responses to “My Criterion Top 10: Anna/Defiant Success

  1. Night of the hunter is great!

  2. jackdeth72

    Greetings, Anna:

    Superb selections in the B&W spectrum! 😀

    Some of the best cinematography and wire tight direction in film.

    Very pleased that Seconds made the cut, Also Cassavetes’ A Woman Under The Influence . No one does “Angry House Wife” better than Gena Rowlands!

  3. Dan Heaton

    Love the inclusions of both Ace in the Hole and Sweet Smell of Success. Both have such a biting look at the world yet are so intriguing because of the great writing and performances. Burt Lancaster in particular has such fun playing a real jerk.

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