In the day-to-day grind of posting the 29th “The Amazing Spider-Man” trailer or hearing about what shiny toy some Hollywood executive is going to spend $300 million dollars on bringing to the big screen, it’s easy to get cynical and wearied about movies. But if you’re looking to get inspired by the art and power of cinema, spend a few minutes with Martin Scorsese to remember why we huddle in the dark to watch flickering images in the first place.
The legendary filmmaker has shared his top ten films from The Criterion Collection, and as always, it’s a history lesson. Scorsese generously gives a full write up to each selection, detailing why the films are important and how they’ve touched or influenced him, and like we said, it’s inspiring stuff. You should read his full comments over at Criterion, but we decided to try and give a bit of context with trailers for each movie below along with a key quote. Note: for “Paisan” we couldn’t find a promo reel so instead included a featurette of Scorsese discussing Roberto Rosselini and the birth of modern cinema. And for “Ashes and Diamonds,” we included the trailer for Scorsese’s presentation of Polish cinema, which provides a nice overview of those films.
Check it all out below.
1. “Paisan” – Roberto Rossellini
“For me, it really was the beginning. I saw it for the first time on television with my grandparents, and their overwhelming reaction to what had happened to their homeland since they left at the turn of the century was just as present and vivid for me as the images and the characters.”
“I’ve said and written so much about this picture over the years; for me it’s always been one of the very greatest ever made, and every time I go back to look at it—about once a year—it’s new: it reveals another side, another level, and it goes deeper… there’s no other picture that dramatizes and visualizes the overwhelming obsession of art, the way it can take over your life.”
3. “The River” – Jean Renoir
“This was Jean Renoir’s first picture after his American period, his first in color, and he used Rumer Godden’s autobiographical novel to create a film that is, really, about life, a film without a real story that is all about the rhythm of existence, the cycles of birth and death and regeneration, and the transitory beauty of the world.”
4. “Ugetsu” – Kenji Mizoguchi
“Mizoguchi is one of the greatest masters who ever worked in the medium of film; he’s right up there with Renoir and Murnau and Ford, and after the war he made three pictures—’The Life of Oharu,’ ‘Ugetsu,’ and ‘Sansho the Bailiff‘—that stand at the summit of cinema.”
5. “Ashes And Diamonds” – Andrzej Wajda
“I saw ‘Ashes and Diamonds’ for the first time in 1961. And even back then, during that period when we expected to be astonished at the movies, when things were happening all over the world, it shocked me.”
6. “L’Avventura” – Michelangelo Antonioni
“It’s difficult to think of a film that has a more powerful understanding of the way that people are bound to the world around them, by what they see and touch and taste and hear.”
7. “Salvatore Giuliano” – Francesco Rosi
“… Salvatore Giuliano is, among many other things, a grand hymn to Sicily, the land of my family, and for that reason alone I cherish it.”
8. “8 1/2” – Federico Fellini
“8½ has always been a touchstone for me, in so many ways—the freedom, the sense of invention, the underlying rigor and the deep core of longing, the bewitching, physical pull of the camera movements and the compositions (another great black-and-white film: every image gleams like a pearl—again, shot by Gianni Di Venanzo).”
9. “Contempt” – Jean-Luc Godard
“… it is a profound cinematic encounter with eternity, in which both the lost marriage and the cinema seem to dissolve. It’s one of the most frightening great films ever made.”
10. “The Leopard” – Luschino Visconti
“The landscapes, the extraordinary settings with their painstakingly selected objects and designs, the costumes, the ceremonies and rituals—it’s all at the service of deepening our sense of time and large-scale change, and the entire picture culminates in an hour-long sequence at a ball in which you can feel, through the eyes of the prince, an entire way of life (one that Visconti himself knew quite well) in the process of fading away.”