Director Christopher Nolan has selected his Top Ten films for Criterion. His choices are varied, and the themes unsurprising: morality, mortality, life-or-death decisions, larger-than-life situations, and characters pushed to their total limits. The films he selected — from Erich von Stroheim in 1924 and Orson Welles in 1955 to Terrence Malick in 1998 — share ambition. Watch the trailers and clips from Nolan’s selections below. The full list is here, published in the Criterion newsletter.
“The Hit” | 1984 | Dir. Stephen Frears
Starring John Hurt, Tim Roth, Terence Stamp, and Laura Del Sol, this breakthrough 1984 feature has music by Eric Clapton. The gangster flick was famously difficult to find until Criterion claimed it. Nolan says: “That Criterion has released this little-known Stephen Frears gem is a testament to the thoroughness of their search for obscure masterworks. Few films have gambled as much on a simple portrayal of the dynamics between desperate men…”
“12 Angry Men” | 1957 | Dir. Sidney Lumet
Nolan praises this black-and-white classic and Frears’ “The Hit” for exploring the actions of “desperate men.” This hour and half film takes place almost entirely in one room– allowing the focus to remain on group dynamics and moral deliberations. The whole film is available on YouTube here.
“The Thin Red Line” | 1998 | Dir. Terrence Malick
With an exceptional cast including Sean Penn, James Caviezel, Ben Chaplin, Elias Koteas, and Nick Nolte, and gorgeous cinematography, Nolan calls this World War II movie an “extraordinary vision of war.”
“The Testament of Dr. Mabuse” | 1933 | Dir. Fritz Lang
The clip shows disorienting Expressionist imagery and heady themes that characterize German director Lang’s wild 1933 follow-up to his silent 1922 feature, “Dr. Mabuse the Gambler.” The movie is all hallucinatory horror and dramatic realizations – clear influences for Nolan. The whole film is available on YouTube here.
“Bad Timing” | 1980 | Dir. Nicolas Roeg
This Roeg clip displays the mind-bending twister “Bad Timing,” starring Theresa Russell and Art Garfunkel. Nolan says: “Nic Roeg’s films are known for their structural innovation, but it’s great to be able to see them in a form that also shows off their photographic excellence.”
“Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence” | 1983 | Nagisa Oshima
Nolan credits the film, with a brilliant soundtrack by Ryuichi Sakamoto, as one of the few that could “capture David Bowie’s charisma.” Along with the Thin White Duke, Nolan acknowledges Tom Conti as “a sympathetic guide for the audience’s emotions.”
“For All Mankind” | 1989 | Dir. Al Reinert
Nolan calls this documentary about NASA’s Apollo missions “an incredible document of man’s greatest endeavor.” This clip shows the carefully shot dramatic arc of these expeditions – the movie includes 80 minutes of real NASA footage, interviews from astronauts and recordings, and magical views of earth from space.
“Koyaanisqatsi” | 1982 | Godfrey Reggio
Also known as “Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance,” this movie features compositions of Philip Glass and cinematography by Ron Fricke. Nolan writes: “An incredible document of how man’s greatest endeavors have unsettling consequences. Art, not propaganda, emotional, not didactic; it doesn’t tell you what to think—it tells you what to think about.”
“The Complete Mr. Arkadin” | 1955 | Dir. Orson Welles
Trailers from Hell called this “nobody’s favorite Orson Welles,” and they don’t necessarily need to retract their statement. Nolan writes: “No one could make much of a case for Welles’ abortive movie overall, but the heartbreaking glimpses of the great man’s genius preserved here are the most compelling argument for the value of Criterion’s dedication to cinema.” See this clip of the Georgian toast.
“Greed” | 1924 | Erich von Stroheim
Nolan justifies including this film even though it is not actually in the Criterion Collection: “‘Greed,’ Von Stroheim’s lost work of absolute genius. Which is not available on Criterion. Yet. Here’s hoping.” The clip below shows the last three minutes of the film.