Wes Anderson Names 12 of His Favorite Art Films

Image by Raffi Asdourian, via Wikimedia Commons

Asked to list their favorite films of all times, most directors tend towards the canon. And why not? 8 1/2--loved by Scorsese and Lynch and many others--is an indisputable masterpiece, for example. So is The Godfather, Rashomon, Vertigo, and any number of movies that make top film lists over and over. The point is, most of the time, these lists are samey.

That’s why this list from Wes Anderson is a hoot. Here he’s not asked to list his favorites of all time, but rather to create a Top 10 list of Criterion titles. Yet here's his M.O.: “I thought my take on a top-ten list might be to simply quote myself from the brief fan letters I periodically write to the Criterion Collection team,” he says.

A lot of these films are rarities, and Anderson admits he’s only just seen some of them for the first time. Martin Ritt’s The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is one. Roberto Rossellini’s The Taking of Power by Louis XIV is another. Of the latter, he says, “This is a wonderful and very strange movie. I had never heard of it. The man who plays Louis cannot give a convincing line reading, even to the ears of someone who can’t speak French—and yet he is fascinating.”

Anderson’s comments are often questions, not definitive statements. Like us, he is just as mystified by a film, and that feeling is probably why he likes them in the first place.

Of that Rossellini film he wonders “What does good acting actually mean?” And of Claude Sautet’s Classe tous risques he asks, “Who is our Lino Ventura?” referring to the Italian-born French actor who was once described as “The French John Wayne.” (So, the real question is this: who is our modern day John Wayne?)

We’ll leave the rest for you to read, but for a director so invested in artifice and nostalgia it was a surprise to hear how much he loves surrealist Luis Buñuel:

“He is my hero. Mike Nichols said in the newspaper he thinks of Buñuel every day, which I believe I do, too, or at least every other.”

Wes Anderson's Criterion Collection Top 10

1. The Earrings of Madame de... (dir. Max Ophuls)
2. Au hasard Balthazar (dir. Robert Bresson)
3.Pigs and Battleships/The Insect Woman/Intentions of Murder (dir. Shohei Imamura)
4. The Taking of Power by Louis XIV (dir. Roberto Rossellini)
5. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (dir. Martin Ritt)
6. The Friends of Eddie Coyle (dir. Peter Yates)
7. Classe tous risques (dir. Claude Sautet)
8. L’enfance nue (dir. Maurice Pialat)
9. Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (dir. Paul Schrader)
10. The Exterminating Angel (dir. Luis Buñuel)

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW's Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

Infinite Escher: A High-Tech Tribute to M.C. Escher, Featuring Sean Lennon, Nam June Paik & Ryuichi Sakamoto (1990)

When television appeared in Japan in the 1950s, most people in that still-poor country could only satisfy their curiosity about it by watching the display models in store windows. But by the 1980s, the Japanese had become not just astonishingly rich but world leaders in technology as well. It took something special to make Tokyoites stop on the streets of Akihabara, the city's go-to district for high technology, but stop they did in 1990 when, in the windows of Sony Town, appeared Infinite Escher.

Produced by Sony HDVS Soft Center as a showcase for the company's brand new high-definition video technology, this short film caused passersby, according to the video description, to "gasp in amazement at the clarity and sharp crisp focus of the picture."

Running seven and a half minutes, it tells the story of a bespectacled New York City teenager (played by a young Sean Lennon, son of John Lennon and Yoko Ono) who steps off the school bus one afternoon to find M.C. Escher-style visual motifs in the urban landscape all around him: a jigsaw puzzle piece-shaped curbside puddle, a transparent geometrically patterned basketball.

When he goes home to sketch a few artistic-mathematical ideas of his own, he looks into an awfully familiar-looking reflecting sphere and gets sucked into a completely Escherian realm. This sequence demonstrates not just the look of Sony's high-definition video, but the then-state-of-the-art techniques for dropping real-life characters into computer-generated settings and vice versa. In addition to the visions of the Dutch graphic designer who not just imagined but rendered the impossible, Sony also brought in two of the other powerful creative minds, Japanese musician Ryuichi Sakamoto to create the score and Korean video artist Nam June Paik to do the art direction.

Watching Infinite Escher today may first underscore just how far high-definition video and computer graphics have come over the past 27 years, but it ultimately shows another example of how Escher's visions, even after the artist's death in 1972, have remained so compelling that each era — with its own technological, cultural, and aesthetic trends — pays its own kind of tribute to them.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Take an Online Course on Design & Architecture with Frank Gehry, and Get Prepared by Watching a Documentary on His Creative Process

"Most of our cities are built with just faceless glass, only for economies and not for humanities." We've all heard many variations on that complaint from many different people, but seldom with the authority carried by the man making it this time: Frank Gehry, author of some of the most talked-about buildings of the past thirty years. You may love or hate his work, the body of which includes such striking, formally and materially unconventional buildings as Bilbao's Guggenheim Museum, Los Angeles' Walt Disney Concert Hall, and Seattle's Museum of Pop Culture, but you can't remain indifferent to it, and that alone tells us how deeply Gehry understands the power of his craft.

And so when Gehry talks architecture, we should listen. Masterclass, the online education startup that has produced courses in various disciplines with such high-profile practitioner-teachers as David Mamet, Herbie Hancock, Jane Goodall, Steve Martin, and Werner Herzog, has readied a rich opportunity to do so in the fall: "Frank Gehry Teaches Design and Architecture," whose trailer you can view above. The $90 course promises a look into the creative process, as well as into the "never-before-seen model archive," of this biggest of all "starchitects" whose "vision for what architecture could accomplish" has reshaped not just our skylines but "the imaginations of artists and designers around the world."

As with any educational experience, the more thoroughly you prepare in advance, the more you'll get out of it, and so, to that end, we suggest watching Sydney Pollack's documentary Sketches of Frank Gehry, recently made available online by the Louis Vuitton Foundation. "Pollack is not usually a documentarian, and Gehry has never been documented; they were friends, and Gehry suggested Pollack might want to 'do something,'" wrote Roger Ebert in his review. "Because Pollack has his own clout and is not merely a supplicant at Gehry's altar, he asks professional questions as his equal, sympathizes about big projects that seem to go wrong and offers insights."

Pollack also "has access to the architect's famous clients, like Michael Eisner," commissioner of the Disney Concert hall, "and Dennis Hopper, who lives in a Gehry home in Santa Monica" — just as Gehry himself does, in the house whose radical, quasi-industrial modification did much to make his name. Though he also brings in a few of the architect's many critics to provide balance, "Pollack's opinion is clear: Gehry is a genius." You may think so too, which would be a good a reason as any to take his Masterclass. Even if you think the opposite, the physical and cultural impact of Gehry's work, as well as his enduring relevance and industriousness — he continues to design today, in his late eighties, especially for his long-ago adopted hometown of Los Angeles — has something to teach us all.

Sketches of Frank Gehry will be added to our list of Free Documentaries, a subset of our larger collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

100 Years of Cinema: New Documentary Series Explores the History of Cinema by Analyzing One Film Per Year, Starting in 1915

Film has played an integral part in almost all of our cultural lives for decades and decades, but when did we invent it? "We have evidence of man experimenting with moving images from a time when we still lived in caves," says the narrator of the video series One Hundred Years of Cinema. "Pictures of animals painted on cave walls seemed to dance and move in the flickering firelight." From there the study of cinema jumps ahead to the work of stop-motion photography pioneer Eadweard Muybridge, Louis Le Prince's building of the first single-lens movie camera, the invention of the kinetoscope, and the Lumière brothers' first projection of a motion picture before an audience.

The birth of cinema, historians generally agree, happened when these events did, around the last decade of the nineteenth century and the first decade of the twentieth, and so the first episode of 100 Years of Cinema covers the years 1888 through 1914. But then, in 1915, comes D.W. Griffith's groundbreaking and still deeply controversial feature The Birth of a Nation, which the narrator calls "one of the most important films in cinema history."

100 Years of Cinema thus gives The Birth of a Nation its own episode, and in each subsequent episode it moves forward one year but adheres to the same format, picking out one particular movie through which to tell that chapter of the story of film.

For 1916 we learn about 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the first picture filmed underwater; for 1917, physical comedian Buster Keaton's debut The Butcher Boy; for 1918, The Ghost of Slumber Mountain, which dared to integrate live actors with stop-motion clay animation. And so does 100 Years of Cinema tell the story of film's first century as the story of innovation after innovation after innovation, doing so through obscurities as well as such pillars of the film-studies curriculum as Nanook of the NorthBattleship PotemkinMetropolisand Man with a Movie Camera.

The series, which began last April, has recently put out about one new episode per month. Its most recent video covers Scarface — not Brian de Palma's tale of drug-dealing in 1980s Miami whose poster still adorns dorm-room walls today, but the 1932 Howard Hawks picture it remade. Here the original Scarface gets credited as one of the works that defined the American gangster film, leading not just to the version starring Al Pacino and his machine gun but to the likes of The GodfatherBoyz N the Hood, and Reservoir Dogs as well. Cinephiles, place your bets now as to whether 100 Years of Cinema will select any of those films for 1972, 1991, or 1992 — and start considering what each of them might teach us about the development of the cinema we enjoy today.

You can view all of the existing episodes, moving from 1915 through 1931, below. And support 100 Years of Cinema over at this Patreon page.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

How Richard Linklater (Slacker, Dazed and Confused, Boyhood) Tells Stories with Time: Six Video Essays

The ever more critically acclaimed, ever more resolutely Austin-based auteur Richard Linklater grounds each of his movies in a particular place, but even more so in a particular time. His second feature Slacker, which broke him into the world of American independent film in 1991, takes place not just in Austin, but in a single day in Austin. Its much bigger-budget but also Austin-set follow-up Dazed and Confused takes place on May 28, 1976, the last day before graduation for its high-school-age characters. 1995's Before Sunrise began a trilogy of films released every nine years, each of which continues the story of the central couple by following them in near-real time around a different place: first in Vienna, then in Paris, then in Greece.

Linklater has maintained his penchant for temporal specificity, setting last year's Everybody Wants Some!! in southeast Texas in 1980, specifically on the day before the beginning of college for its characters. Before that, his low-key epic Boyhood made cinema history by having been shot over a period of twelve years, demonstrating definitively that the director's interest in time goes well beyond simply evoking periods or replicating the real flow of events.

"It's a big element, isn't it, of our medium?" he asks in "On Cinema & Time," the video essay made by "kogonada" for the British Film Institute at the top of the post. "The manipulation of time, the perception of time, the control of time — kind of the building blocks of cinema."

"What I'll say is, like, 'Carve out something of real time,' you know?" says Linklater, with his characteristic delivery of artistic insight in a highly casual, Texas-inflected locution, in the Film Radar video essay "Richard Linklater and Time" (not viewable in all regions). "Some kind of hyperreality, you know? Trying to make sense of the world in a movie way, of just how people live or think or interact." But would his time-carving, expertly though he does it, strike us as powerfully without he and his collaborators' equally high skill at crafting images (whether live-action or, occasionally, in animation, as in the rotoscoping of the philosophical dialogue-driven Waking Life, or his Philip K. Dick adaptation A Scanner Darklyexamined in Siobhan Cavanagh's "Form and Function")?

You can see that skill on display in the video essays "Cinematography in the films of Richard Linklater" and "Silent Connections" just above. In the latter, frequent Linklater collaborator Ethan Hawke quotes the director: "I've never been in a gunfight. I've never been involved in espionage. I've never been involved in a helicopter crash. And yet I feel like my life has been full of drama, and the most dramatic thing that's ever happened to me is, really, connecting with another human being. When you really connect, you feel like your life is different, and I want to make a movie about that connection." In a sense, Linklater has spent most of his career taking different approaches to making that movie, always drawing on his vast breadth of film knowledge; the video essay "Real Time and New Wave Heritage" just above looks at just a few of the parallels between his work and that of his predecessors in cinema.

"It's funny, the way memory works," Linklater says in a ten-minute Independent Film Channel featurette on the making of Boyhood. "I'm kind of obsessed with that." You can see a younger Linklater speak about his life as a filmmaker, then only just beginning, in the 1991 Austin public-access television clip just above. "I don't get work," he says. "For me, filmmaking's not even a job, it's not a career, it's just something I'm doing. For the first time it looks like I should be making money at it, but we'll see." Now we've seen what Linklater can do, though he'll surely surprise and impress us for decades to come with the ways he can dig, cinematically, into his obsessions — and the obsessions his films have let us share. To quote a 23-year-old Hawke in Before Sunrise, quoting Dylan Thomas reading W.H. Auden: "'All the clocks in the city began to whirr and chime. Oh, let not time deceive you; you cannot conquer time. In headaches and in worry, vaguely life leaks away, and time will have its fancy tomorrow or today.' Somethin' like that."

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Are Stanley Kubrick Films Like Immersive Video Games? The Case of Eyes Wide Shut

Video games have long attempted, to an ever more impressive degree of realism, to conjure up their own virtual realities. But then, so have filmmakers, for a much longer period of time and — at least so far — with more effective results. The most respected directors fully realize "virtual reality" with each film they make, and Stanley Kubrick stands as one of the best-known examples. During his almost fifty-year career, he immersed his audience in such distinctive cinematic worlds as those of Lolita, 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, and Full Metal Jacket, leaving us in 1999 with the final, much puzzled-over feature Eyes Wide Shut.

The atmospherically uneasy story of a doctor who spends a night in New York City wandering into ever stranger and more erotically charged situations, Eyes Wide Shut both adapted material not well known in America, the Austrian writer Arthur Schnitzler's 1926 novella "Dream Story," and starred two of the biggest celebrities of the day, the then-married couple Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman playing the married couple Bill and and Alice Harford. Kubrick made use of these qualities and many others to deal with such traditional subjects as love, sex, infidelity, and secret cults while, in the words of Evan Puschak, better known as the video essayist Nerdwriter, "making our engagement with these things one-of-a-kind."

"Reviewers complained that the Harfords were ciphers, uncomplicated and dull," writes Tim Kreider in "Introducing Sociology," his much-cited breakdown of Eyes Wide Shut. "These reactions recall the befuddlement of critics who complained that the computer in 2001 was more human than the astronauts, but could only attribute it (just four years after the unforgettable performances of Dr. Strangelove) to human error." He argues that "to understand a film by this most thoughtful and painstaking of filmmakers, we should assume that this characterization is deliberate — that their shallowness and repression is the point."

Puschak's video essay "Eyes Wide Shut: The Game" names those qualities, especially as they manifest in Cruise's protagonist, as among the techniques Kubrick uses to make the movie a kind of virtual reality experience for the viewer. "You're experiencing the night from the perspective of Bill, but not from a position of empathy — or even sympathy for that matter. Instead, the viewer engages in what philosopher Alessandro Giovannelli calls 'experiential identification,' in which the result of occupying Bill's perspective while not empathizing with him is that the perspective becomes your own."

What Kreider sees as ultimately part of Eyes Wide Shut's indictment of "the capital of the global American empire at the end of the American Century," Puschak interprets as Kubrick's "systematic effort to swap you in for the protagonist" in service of "an ode to the experience, to the raw impression, of seeing something marvelous." But both viewers would surely agree that Kubrick, to a greater extent than perhaps any other filmmaker, made something more than movies. One might say he crafted experiences for his audience, and in the truest sense of the word: like experiences in real life, and unlike the experiences of so many video games, they allow for an infinitude of valid interpretations.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Does Quentin Tarantino’s First Film, Reservoir Dogs, Hold Up 25 Years Later?: A Video Essay

When’s the last time you watched Reservoir Dogs? For myself, it really has been a while, but certain iconic scenes stick in my mind: the slo-mo walk (parodied endlessly since), the opening diner discussion, the “Mexican standoff” of guns. But there’s a lot I’ve forgotten (and since having been underwhelmed by Tarantino's last film, the relentless cruel and much too long The Hateful Eight), I wondered, much like Evan “The Nerdwriter” Puschak, does in his video essay above, "Has Reservoir Dogs Aged Well?"

Puschak’s quick answer is yes, and in his usual jam-packed but salient style he goes through the reasons.

Though this is Tarantino’s first feature (or rather the first fully surviving one), it contains the seeds of a style, but one held back by budget. A clip of Siskel & Ebert suggests that favorable critics knew this too. Siskel calls the film “an exercise in style” and wishes it went further. Pulp Fiction would grant Siskel’s wish.

Puschak points out the adrenaline of its in media res opening, with Mr. Orange (Tim Roth) bleeding out in the back of Mr. White’s car. We already know a heist has gone wrong, but not how, and we're not hopeful about Mr. Orange’s chances of surviving. Tarantino would go on to pull a similar trick in Pulp Fiction, but as he’s matured, he’s left this kind of jolting opening behind.

The film propels ahead not like a novel, as Tarantino once remarked, but, as Puschak says, more like a classic album, a perfectly sequenced selection of contrasting moods and pacing.

Where the film hasn’t aged as well, he continues, is in its use of dated references that don’t land like they once did 25 years ago. Yet, Puschak notes, this sort of pop-culture laden dialog still exists. In fact, it’s everywhere, from Marvel blockbusters to Netflix series.

If the film is one of the weakest in Tarantino's filmography--I would dispute that, actually, but feel free to hash that out in the comments--it does contain a thread that rises above its pulpy, referential style, and that’s the “commode” story, which we see Mr. Orange learn, rehearse, perform, and perfect through the film. Its examination of performance, of playing a role, would later get a full workout in Pulp Fiction and in many other Tarantino films, and here’s where that fascination begins. Lastly, why does the film still hold up? Simply: because of videos like this, and web articles also like this. We can’t help revisiting those Reservoir Dogs.

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW's Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

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