Guillermo del Toro Creates a List of His 20 Favorite Art House/Criterion Films

When it comes to films released by the Cri­te­ri­on Col­lec­tion, we’d all strug­gle to nar­row our favorites down to only ten, but we prob­a­bly would­n’t have quite as hard a time as Guiller­mo del Toro. The direc­tor of Mim­icHell­boy, and Pan’s Labyrinth char­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly takes it to anoth­er lev­el, bemoan­ing the “unfair, arbi­trary, and sadis­tic top ten prac­tice,” craft­ing instead a series of “thematic/authorial pair­ings” (and in first place, a tri­fec­ta) for his Cri­te­ri­on “top-ten” fea­ture. The list, whether he meant us to take it lin­ear­ly or not, runs as fol­lows:

  1. Aki­ra Kuro­sawa’s Throne of BloodHigh and Low, and Ran, the Emper­or of Cin­e­ma’s “most oper­at­ic, pes­simistic, and visu­al­ly spec­tac­u­lar films.”
  2. Ing­mar Bergman’s The Sev­enth Seal and Fan­ny and Alexan­der (the­atri­cal ver­sion), which “have the pri­mal pulse of a children’s fable told by an impos­si­bly old and wise nar­ra­tor, both “ripe with fan­tas­ti­cal imagery and a sharp sense of the uncan­ny.”
  3. Jean Cocteau’s Beau­ty and the Beast and Georges Fran­ju’s Eyes With­out a Face, both of which “depend on sub­lime, almost ethe­re­al, imagery to con­vey a sense of doom and loss: mad, frag­ile love cling­ing for dear life in a mael­strom of dark­ness.”
  4. David Lean’s Great Expec­ta­tions and Oliv­er Twist, two “epics of the spir­it [ … ] plagued by grand, utter­ly mag­i­cal moments and set­tings” and laced with pas­sages that “skate the fine line between poet­ry and hor­ror.”
  5. Ter­ry Gilliam’s Time Ban­dits and Brazil, the work of a “liv­ing trea­sure” who “under­stands that ‘bad taste’ is the ulti­mate dec­la­ra­tion of inde­pen­dence from the dis­creet charm of the bour­geoisie” and tells sto­ries in elab­o­rate worlds “made coher­ent only by his undy­ing faith in the tale he is telling.”
  6. Kane­to Shin­do’s Oni­ba­ba and Kuroneko, a “per­verse, sweaty dou­ble bill” fus­ing “hor­rors and desire, death and lust” that, when del Toro first saw them at age ten, “did some seri­ous dam­age to my psy­che.”
  7. Stan­ley Kubrick­’s Spar­ta­cus and Paths of Glo­ry, which “speak elo­quent­ly about the scale of a man against the tide of his­to­ry, and both raise the bar for every ‘his­tor­i­cal’ film to fol­low.”
  8. Pre­ston Sturges’ Sul­li­van’s Trav­els and Unfaith­ful­ly Yours, “mas­ter­ful films full of mad ener­gy and fire­works, but Sullivan’s Trav­els also man­ages to encap­su­late one of the most inti­mate reflec­tions about the role of the film­mak­er as enter­tain­er.”
  9. Carl Theodor Drey­er’s Vampyr and Ben­jamin Chris­tensen’s Häx­an, the for­mer “a memen­to mori, a stern reminder of death as the thresh­old of spir­i­tu­al lib­er­a­tion” and the lat­ter “the filmic equiv­a­lent of a hell­ish engrav­ing by Bruegel or a paint­ing by Bosch.”
  10. Vic­tor Erice’s The Spir­it of the Bee­hive and Charles Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter, “the two supreme works of childhood/horror [ … ] lamen­ta­tions of worlds lost and the inno­cents trapped in them.”

Hav­ing already fea­tured a tour of del Toro’s man cave and a tour of his imag­i­na­tion by way of his sketch­es here on Open Cul­ture, it makes for a nat­ur­al fol­low-up to offer this tour of his dis­tinc­tive cin­e­mat­ic con­scious­ness. A direc­tor since his child­hood back in Mex­i­co (then equipped with his dad’s Super 8, his own action fig­ures, and a pota­to he once cast as a ser­i­al killer), he went on to study not film­mak­ing, strict­ly speak­ing, but make­up and spe­cial effects design. The resul­tant mas­tery of visu­al rich­ness, espe­cial­ly in ser­vice of the grotesque, shows up even in his ear­li­est avail­able works, such as the 1987 short Geome­tria we post­ed a few years ago.

Del Toro’s next fea­ture, a fan­ta­sy adven­ture set in Cold War Amer­i­ca called The Shape of Water and involv­ing a fish-man locked away in a secret gov­ern­ment facil­i­ty, will no doubt make even more use of all the tastes the direc­tor’s favorite Cri­te­ri­on films have instilled in him: for grand spec­ta­cle, for freak­ish­ness, for the uncan­ny, for “mad, frag­ile love,” and for sheer dis­tur­bance. May he con­tin­ue to do “seri­ous dam­age” to the psy­ches of his own audi­ences for decades to come.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Geome­tria: Watch Guiller­mo del Toro’s Very Ear­ly, Ghoul­ish Short Film (1987)

Sketch­es by Guiller­mo del Toro Take You Inside the Director’s Wild­ly Cre­ative Imag­i­na­tion

A Guid­ed Tour of Guiller­mo del Toro’s Cre­ativ­i­ty-Induc­ing Man Cave, “Bleak House”

Mar­tin Scors­ese Names His Top 10 Films in the Cri­te­ri­on Col­lec­tion

120 Artists Pick Their Top 10 Films in the Cri­te­ri­on Col­lec­tion

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, 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.

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