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My Criterion Top 10

Updated on January 2, 2015
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Happy New Year, everyone! I'm going to kick off 2015 by engaging in the oh-so-mature activity of pretending to be a celebrity.

One can't help but fantasize about the perks of fame. Some like the idea of getting a table at a five-star restaurant just by mentioning your name, while some dream of having designers fight over who gets to dress you for an awards show (goodness knows I've fantasized about my Oscar dress more than once). I for one have a more cerebral dream in mind: giving my two cents (natch) about my 10 Criterion Collection films.

Like most film geeks, I love the Criterion Collection. God bless 'em, they've restored and brought to the mainstream films that were previously enjoyed by only an elite group of movie buffs, such as The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp and the films of Douglas Sirk. While some of their choices are a little head-scratching (Armageddon? WTF?!), they have continued on their noble quest of presenting important movies to their best advantage, and since the advent of blu-ray, Criterion is even better than ever. On Criterion's Facebook page, they'll often have notable figures give their list of top 10 films from the Criterion library.

So, in a gesture of fun and presumption, I thought it only fair that a nobody like myself pretend to have her 15 minutes by giving her own list of favorite Criterion films. Remember, these are just my personal choices, feel free to agree or disagree. This is my Criterion Top 10 List.

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Garbo said it best: "Give me back my beautiful Beast!"
Garbo said it best: "Give me back my beautiful Beast!" | Source

1. Beauty and the Beast (1946)


Beauty and the Beast has always been my favorite fairy tale. I don't know why, maybe because it features a proactive heroine, a relationship that actually blossoms and develops, and for once the prince needs to be rescued by the girl, not the other way around. My inner child has always loved the 1991 Disney version, while my outer adult adores the 1946 adaptation directed by Jean Cocteau. Jean Cocteau may as well be French for "jack of all trades". Cocteau was (I'm quoting directly from IMDb) "a director… a poet, novelist, painter, playwright, set designer, and actor." At least he could never complain of having nothing to do.

What's so remarkable about Cocteau's version is how beautifully it holds up. Even if some of the effects are a little obvious, they are more memorable and effective than the majority of what's done with CGI. While the Disney version is bright and cheery, this Beauty and the Beast creates a more haunting, almost gothic atmosphere. Shot in dreamy black and white, the interior of the Beast's castle contains arms growing from the walls holding candelabras, and faces in the fireplace that react to everything that goes on. The grounds are wild and overgrown, with animal statues casting gloomy silhouettes against the sky. In one of the most famous scenes, our heroine Belle faints in horror at meeting the Beast, and he carries her to her bedchamber, her peasant's frock transforming into a shimmering gown, her upswept hair magically unbound before he places her on her bed. Pure-hearted Belle is played by that French Garbo Josette Day, who gives her just the right combination of simple goodness and inner strength. She needs the latter, considering she has the absolute worst siblings ever.

The real standout, though, is Jean Marais as the Beast. The makeup is nothing short of astonishing; his face completely hidden beneath fur, whiskers and fangs, Marais conveys the Beast's inner torment and passion with just his eyes, his growly, pack-a-day smoker's voice, and his body language effortlessly switching between regal and feral. Nearly 70 years after its release, the Beast's makeup is still a remarkable achievement; in fact, they even gave him ears that prick.

The one complaint I have is the same as everyone else's: while I don't mind that the Beast turns back into a prince at the end (otherwise, what kind of a relationship could he and Belle have?), did they have to make him look like that? Garish, over-embellished costume, more makeup than Belle, and a ruffle? Seriously?! Marais was a naturally handsome man, so why did they have to make him look so prissy? I certainly have my gripes about Disney's Beast-turned-prince, but at least he was allowed to look dignified!

Still, I love this magical movie with all my heart, so in the number one spot it shall remain.

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Mustn't cry, mustn't cry, mustn't cry...
Mustn't cry, mustn't cry, mustn't cry... | Source

2. City Lights (1931)


Everyone has their own personal issue with silent films, but mine is that too many of them suffer from lumbering, padding-stuffed plots that have beginnings and endings, but a mass hysteria of nothingness in the middle. Since they are obviously trying to follow the three-act plot structure, this is problematic. Still, there are definitely some silent films worth checking out, and there are always two that I automatically recommend to people: Fritz Lang's masterpiece Metropolis, and, my second Criterion pick, 1931's City Lights.

Directed by and starring the great Charlie Chaplin, I personally consider City Lights to be his finest achievement. A winning combination of laughs and heartbreak, City Lights features the iconic Little Tramp (guess who?) falling in love with a sweet, blind Flower Girl (Virginia Cherrill, who would later become the first Mrs. Cary Grant). She mistakes him for a wealthy man, and, not wanting to disillusion her and wound his own pride, the Little Tramp continues the ruse (you'd think, being a bum, his smell would give him away, but no matter). In the meanwhile, the Little Tramp befriends a real millionaire, who is friendly towards him when he's drunk, but can't remember him when he sobers up. This creates plenty of the usual comical mishaps, and some of Chaplin's best slapstick and situational comedy, especially at a posh soiree, when the Little Tramp starts burping bubbles. When the Little Tramp discovers that there is an operation that can restore the Flower Girl's sight, he does everything in his power to raise the money. But desperate times call for desperate measures, and he is forced to part with her….

I don't want to give away too much, because you owe it to yourself to watch it all the way through to experience the legendary final scene firsthand. If it fails to elicit even a lump in your throat, then I have nothing more to say.


The things we do for art...
The things we do for art... | Source
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3. Tootsie (1982)


The greatest compliment any actor can receive is that they're a "chameleon", that they can literally play anyone or anything they want. All actors dream of being this, and only a precious few achieve it. Dustin Hoffman is one of those actors. Yes, some of his choices in recent years have been inexplicable (Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium, anyone?), but no one can take away Hoffman's incredible resume of characters which have included a disenchanted college graduate, a white man raised by Indians, a street hustler, an autistic savant, a divorced father, Lenny Bruce, and Captain Hook (what? Hook has its defenders!).

But in my not so humble opinion, Hoffman's greatest performance is in the wonderful 1982 comedy, Tootsie. Hoffman plays Michael Dorsey, a struggling actor with no filter, inflexible opinions, and the artistic temperament from Hell. In other words, he's pretty much like Hoffman, minus the success, accolades, and respect. Desperate for work, Michael decides to basically steal a part that his platonic friend Sandy (Teri Garr) auditioned for and lost on a soap. Michael Dorsey may not get work… but surely someone will give sweet, matronly Southern belle Dorothy Michaels a chance?

It's a gamble to use men in drag as comedy, because it's not enough to just have a man in a dress, you have to do something with it, and that's where Tootsie succeeds. Michael experiences firsthand the tactless chauvinism that goes on in show business, from muttered insults from cameramen, to pushy, hands-y co-stars who can't take "no" for an answer. It doesn't help that Michael's fallen in love with one of show's lead actresses, the vulnerable Julie (Jessica Lange, in her Oscar winning role). He of course can't tell Julie the horrible truth, but when "Dorothy" becomes world-famous, Sandy begins to suspect something's up, and Julie's father (Charles Durning) falls for Dorothy, Michael realizes he has dig himself out of his pit of lies however possible.

Tootsie has received criticism through the years for sexism, stating that Michael as Dorothy is a "better woman" than other women. I disrespectfully disagree. This isn't about Michael being a better woman, or even a better man; it's simply about being his becoming a better person. As a woman, he sees how the fairer sex is treated, and as a man he learns how to approach women with tenderness and honesty. A worthy moral if ever there was one. Besides, weren't Velvet Brown and Mulan better than the men they were impersonating?

Tiresome Complaint of the Day: Is it bad that I preferred funny, neurotic Sandy to the somewhat bland and mopey Julie? Teri Garr has never gotten the credit she deserves as an actress, and she makes Sandy someone you really root for. No offense to the normally awesome Jessica Lange, but her Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Tootsie was most likely a consolation prize for losing the Best Actress Oscar that same year for Frances. Remember, she was up against Meryl Streep for Sophie's Choice. Had Streep lost, there would have surely been riots in the streets.

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Thumbin' it.
Thumbin' it. | Source

4. It Happened One Night (1934)


I think Frank Capra was at his best when he was't being FRANK CAPRA. You know, the peddler of sentimental, rather didactic hokum that will all but torture tears and feelings patriotism out of you. I'm not completely cynical, I like feel-good films, but I hate being bullied into feeling good. That's why Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, It's a Wonderful Life, and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington leave me cold. Now, when Capra isn't peddling Capra-corn like it's his own brand of crystal meth, he's actually quite engaging. Platinum Blonde is an underrated romantic satire that made a star out of Jean Harlow. Arsenic and Old Lace is a deliciously outrageous screwball comedy where Cary Grant really lets his goofy side bust loose.

But It Happened One Night is Capra's finest hour. It stars the King himself… no, not Elvis, Clark Gable, and the lovely Claudette Colbert, and what a shame that these two never made another film together, for they are truly magical. It Happened One Night is a sparkling, warm-hearted, witty comedy which may or may not have been the first in the screwball comedy genre (some argue that Twentieth Century was). It swept the 1935 Oscars, winning for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Director, and allegedly killed undershirt sales due to Gable not wearing one in the film.

The plot is too simple to be believed: Ellie Andrews (Colbert) is an heiress on the run to reunite with her worthless new husband, and Peter Warne (Gable) is a snarky, recently fired reporter itching to get his job back. They meet on a bus to New York, and in exchange for her story, Peter offers to see Ellie safely to her destination. What follows are epic bus rides, cramped quarters, the "Wall of Jericho", brushes with the authorities, sleeping in barns, and the most memorable lesson in hitchhiking you'll ever see. Gable's familiar swagger meshes perfectly with Colbert's saucy primness and, again, it's a relationship that grows out of mutual respect and camaraderie rather than mere physical attraction.

Tiresome Recommendation for the Day: If black and white films aren't your thing, there is a wonderful, unofficial remake of It Happened One Night in Rob Reiner's oft-overlooked 1985 comedy, The Sure Thing. It's one of the sweetest romantic films to come from the Decade of Greed, and John Cusack and Daphne Zuniga do Gable and Colbert proud.

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Kristofferson!!!
Kristofferson!!! | Source

5. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

Wes Anderson is definitely an acquired taste, and when I saw the trailer for Fantastic Mr. Fox back in 2009, "skeptical" doesn't begin to cover how I felt. This doesn't look like Roald Dahl, I thought bitterly, it just looks like every other Anderson film, only with stop motion animated animals! I wound up seeing it anyway out of perverse curiosity, and I was never more pleased to be wrong. While it is definitely an Anderson film that plays to the usual Anderson rhythms (constant use of subtitles, surreal touches, wry asides), it expands Dahl's simple story while staying true to the rebellious spirit of the book. It even references Dahl's other works, such as the blueberries laced with sleeping powder from Danny the Champion of the World. I became an instant fan when, in the the very first shot of the movie, a paw is shown holding what looks like a well-worn library copy of Fantastic Mr. Fox (complete with a call number sticker). Fantastic Mr. Fox manages to deal with themes such as alienation, mid-life crises, acceptance, and balancing individuality and community. And, yes, it does have some of Anderson's BFFs, including Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, and Owen Wilson. I normally don't care for George Clooney (he seems to stink of smug), but he is delightful as Mr. Fox, as is Meryl Streep as Mrs. Fox. Delightful bonus? Anderson gives us two marvelous new characters in Kylie (Wallace Wolodarsky), a quirky possum prone to blackouts, and Kristofferson (Eric Chase Anderson), a mild-mannered fennec fox whose adorability could rival that of Bambi's.

Both kids and adults will love the old-fashioned animation, gorgeous autumnal color palette, the sly, absurdist humor, and one of the best euphemisms ever, "What the cuss?!"

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The only thing scarier is this God-awful, pre-Criterion DVD cover.
The only thing scarier is this God-awful, pre-Criterion DVD cover. | Source

6. The Innocents (1961)

I've never been a fan of ghost stories. They are never particularly scary, and they always strike me as silly at best, excruciatingly boring at worst. There are always two possible outcomes: either there are ghosts, or there aren't, and neither outcome is ever very satisfying.

The Innocents, however, never indulges in any of that cliched garbage. Based on The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, The Innocents tells the story of Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr, never better), a governess for a negligent millionaire's two small children. The kids, Flora and Miles, win over Miss Giddens but immediately arouse the viewer's suspicions: they're too sweet, too complimentary to Miss Giddens, spend too much time together, and then there's that weird habit they have of lurking around outside in the dead of night. Miss Giddens becomes convinced that the house is haunted by the ghosts of two former employees who died horrible deaths, and that they're now possessing the children. But in spite of Miss Giddens's pluck and determination to save the kids, the answers aren't that simple, and there are consequences for meddling with forces you can't control or understand.

There are ingredients to a good ghost story, but The Innocents is the only one I've seen that uses them. The movie's atmosphere is pitch perfect: the sense of dread escalates to such a degree that your knuckles are completely whitened until the end, and, oh, what an ending! I would never in a million years spoil it for you, but it is one of the all time great endings to a horror story. The cinematography has a way of drawing you into a state of complacency, only to violently shake you out of it. This is exquisitely illustrated in one scene in which Miss Giddens admires a statue of a cherub in the garden, until a beetle crawls out of its mouth. I also must give the story credit for having a reasonably intelligent heroine with agency and gumption, who figures what's up, and takes great pains to do something about it. What's truly going on is left open to interpretation; I have mine, and you're sure to have your own, and it's rare when a horror story treats its audience like thinking adults, rather than hashing and re-hashing it their point because they think we don't get it.

From the chilling opening credits to the very end, The Innocents is a thinking person's ghost story that never panders to your expectations, but instead rewards your intelligence.

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Oh, man who is in no way the guy indirectly responsible for my husband's death, I think you're swell!
Oh, man who is in no way the guy indirectly responsible for my husband's death, I think you're swell! | Source

7. Magnificent Obsession (1954)

A lot of people don't like Magnificent Obsession, or they only like it ironically. I will admit it's not perfect: when critics call it "over the top", they know of what they speak. The not-so-subtle moralizing rubs people the wrong way. A heavenly choir is frequently used in the score whenever someone is intoning something of great importance, and by the second or third time, you start to lose a battle with the giggles. To be brutally honest, I'm not even sure if Douglas Sirk was being serious or if we're even supposed to take Magnificent Obsession seriously. Really, I think Written on the Wind is more fun in terms of tawdry, unintentionally hilarious entertainment courtesy of the good Mr. Sirk.

So why is Magnificent Obsession on my list and not Written on the Wind? Why do I chuck aside my irony glasses when viewing it? Maybe it's just my pious side talking, but as someone who is reminded just how much the human race sucks whenever she reads the news, who has seen downright nasty behavior in the service industry, and who is just sick and tired of hateful fictional characters being wrongly glamorized, Magnificent Obsession's moral of being a better person holds a special appeal to me.

Sirk's ultimate soaper tells the tale of reckless, feckless millionaire Bob Merrick (Rock Hudson), who crashes his speedboat and is revived by a resuscitator . Unfortunately, at that very second, Dr. Phillips, who provided the darned thing, suddenly drops dead of a heart attack. Cruel and ironic deaths, they're the worst, am I right?

Bob becomes a bit of a pariah, for Dr. Phillips wasn't just a doctor, but a saint on earth who lived his life in almost perfect selflessness. Dr. Phillips's widow Helen (Jane Wyman) grows to hate Bob, which is inconvenient for all concerned, for he has fallen in love with her. Unfortunately, his Hollywood leading man persistence gets Helen blinded in a car accident. Assuming a different voice and identity, he woos her in a gentler manner, all while deciding to study medicine and live his life by Dr. Phillips's self-abnegating philosophy (he keeps his nice house and butler, but whatever). Will Helen learn Bob's true identity, especially if or when her sight is restored?

It's a sudser to say the least, and I know I sound snarky, but I do like, even love, Magnificent Obsession, because it's about a worthless jerk who decides he's tired of being a worthless jerk and turns his life around. If this were made today, Helen would be the one who has to change, not Bob. The whole "faking being someone else to a blind person" somehow- somehow! - never feels as creepy as it could be, so points to the screenwriters. Some people like to sneer at the romance between Hudson and Wyman, claiming that Wyman is "too old" and "not pretty enough" to tempt young, virile Hudson. Okay, first of all, I never hear any gripes about aging, wheezing leading men having onscreen romances with women 15, 20, 30 years younger than they are, and Wyman was about 8-12 years older than Hudson (I've read conflicting sources on her birth date), and I would never call her ugly, so I don't see what the big deal is. Besides, if Adam Sandler can always get the girl, then surely Jane Wyman can get the man.

Currently, Magnificent Obsession is still on DVD, but I desperately hope 2015 will see a blu-ray release, if only to see that satiny Technicolor in all its glory.

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A legitimate ballerina who could also act. Chew on that, Natalie Portman.
A legitimate ballerina who could also act. Chew on that, Natalie Portman. | Source

8. The Red Shoes (1948)

I have a rather complicated relationship with The Red Shoes; in fact, it borders on dysfunctional. Of all the Powell/Pressberger films, it's the one that I connect with the most plot-wise, and it is certainly one of the most stunningly gorgeous films ever made, especially about ballet. Its star, Moira Shearer, is a revelation: a real ballerina who'd never acted before, she nevertheless graces The Red Shoes with a raw acting talent and an almost heartbreaking beauty. She primarily focused on ballet, and only made a handful of films before retiring altogether from show business, which is a pity, because she has more screen presence and charisma than most seasoned actresses.

Still, this doesn't change the fact that I have a million issues with the plot and central conflict of The Red Shoes. It presents a dilemma that was often addressed in movies back then: can a woman have love and a career? Our heroine, ballerina Victoria Page (Shearer), is torn between her passion for her career in dance, and her love for husband Julian (Marius Goring). She makes her choice, and pays the ultimate price for it.

Again, can a fulfilling career and romance coexist in an artist's life, especially if she's a woman? Perhaps I'm just naïve, but I believe the answer is yes, if that's what the she (or he, let's be fair) wants. It won't be easy, but things worth having never are. But The Red Shoes falls into exactly the same trap as so many movies in this era did, which is that a woman absolutely must choose between marriage or her career, that it's impossible to have both, and if she chooses her career, she must be punished for her selfishness. Here it's done in a very dramatic, memorable fashion, but it is entirely unfair, because I don't think Victoria did anything all that wrong. There are also plot holes I take umbrage with:

-Good heavens, it's one of those movies that think that ballet is like Broadway, where there is only one star, when ballet companies in fact have numerous principal dancers. Something happens to the star ballerina… and they don't have an alternate. The hell?

-We're really supposed to believe that young, beautiful, healthy, acclaimed dancer Victoria can't find work in another company after leaving her old one? Other companies aren't chomping at the bit to snatch her up?

-Boy, tyrannical Lermontov (Anton Walbrook), the one who warned Victoria she couldn't have it all, is a big ol' hypocrite, hiring a recently married and retired ballerina back after Victoria leaves, which just goes to show that a woman can have it both ways. Or, wait, does this mean the other ballerina's marriage isn't going well? We're given no hint that it isn't, and not many people would draw that conclusion.

I might have found it all more palatable if Victoria's dilemma actually felt like a dilemma, which it doesn't, because Julian is one of the most unappealing love interests I've ever seen. A dull, unpleasant sourpuss with a face like a fist, there is absolutely no reason Victoria would ever, and I mean ever, give this loser the time of day, let alone leave the ballet company where she had a fulfilling career. Maybe if Julian had been nicer, more attractive and charismatic, I'd be able to see why she'd ditch her career for this dream of a man. But Julian is such a miserable, unsupportive drip, I wanted nothing more than to shake Victoria back to her senses.

So why include The Red Shoes? Aside from the gorgeous cinematography, the famous titular ballet is a triumph of choreography, editing, and Shearer's peerless dancing. Her tremulous passion shines through in her technique and subtle acting. At one point, she dances with a newspaper, which briefly transforms into a man covered in words before switching back. A special mention goes to Leonide Massine, who plays the unspeakably creepy, devilish shoemaker in the ballet. The ballet is so breathtaking, so transcendent in its realization, that it makes the movie as a whole above reproach.

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Roy Scheider as Bob Fosse. Why mince words?
Roy Scheider as Bob Fosse. Why mince words? | Source

9. All That Jazz (1979)

Fosse, I think, came to a high point in his life, with an Oscar, a Tony and an Emmy, and asked himself, "Do they think I'm really that good? They don't know I'm really a sham, a hoax, a phony, a lousy human being, not much of a friend to anybody and a flop ... they don't know I'm covered with flop sweat". That's an expression Bob uses a lot -- flop sweat. ~ Roy Scheider on Bob Fosse.

Like most artists, Bob Fosse loved to wear different kinds of hats, and I don't just mean his trademark bowler. He started out as a dancer on stage and screen (you can spot him in the MGM musical Kiss Me Kate) before finding his niche as a choreographer. Fosse is now considered one of the all-time great choreographers, and with good reason. He ushered in a new and modern style of dance, one that alternated between lightning grace and marionette jerkiness, and always infused with jazz club suggestiveness. Sweet Charity, The Pajama Game, Chicago, and Cabaret are just a few Broadway shows that bear the Fosse stamp.

Fosse also had a surprisingly successful career as a film director. He directed the film versions of Sweet Charity and Cabaret, the latter picking up Oscars for Best Director, Best Actress (Liza Minnelli) and Best Supporting Actor (Joel Grey). No small achievement, considering that Cabaret came out the exact same year as The Godfather.

Yet Fosse seemed just as attracted to directing dark biopics, such as Lenny (which starred Dustin Hoffman as Lenny Bruce, as I mentioned earlier), and Star 80, the searing account of ill-fated Playboy centerfold Dorothy Stratton. It was understandable why Fosse was drawn to the darker side of life; a renowned womanizer and workaholic whose personal demons were enough to help fill Sam Wasson's doorstop biography, Fosse was nothing if not complex.

It seemed only natural, then, to combine his love of dancing, the dark side, and himself into a a semi-autobiographical musical, 1979's All That Jazz. The film did merely okay upon release, but has grown in reputation through the years. In it, our Fosse avatar is Joe Gideon (Roy Scheider), a black-clad, chain-smoking, pill-popping, lady-loving choreographer who is working on a new musical on Broadway, editing his full-length movie about a stand-up comedian, and trying to be a halfway decent boyfriend to Katie (Ann Reinking) and father to little Michelle (Erzsebet Foldi). Joe is gifted at his job, but as a human being, he leaves quite a bit to be desired. It's hardly a spoiler that Joe's lifestyle will be the death of him, as he carries on private conversations with a mysterious woman in white named Angelique (Jessica Lange, trying and succeeding at making us forget her debut in 1976's King Kong).

All That Jazz has been criticized for being "too dark" and "self-indulgent", but I think those are actually its strengths. Fosse had something too few performers possess: self-awareness. He knew he was a lousy husband (he had an extremely open 27-year marriage to actress Gwen Verdon), a so-so father at best, and that the Angel of Death would visit him a bit sooner than others (he died in 1987 at the age of 60). All That Jazz approaches Nietzsche-ian territory, making us wonder if the great art Joe creates on stage justifies any of the more grievous errors he makes in his personal life.

But enough with the boring, literary analysis, how about those musical numbers?! From the opening audition montage set to "On Broadway", the writhing, hip-swiveling, Fosse-iest Fosse number "Take Off With Us", with lyrics that are about as subtle as a nudist colony, and the head-spinning finale, a twisted and melancholy parody of "Bye Bye Love", led by the normally affable Ben Vereen, which culminates into the darkest conclusion to a movie musical you'll ever see.

An American in Paris this assuredly isn't.


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Peter O'Toole as Jesus? Well, he would certainly enjoy turning water into wine...
Peter O'Toole as Jesus? Well, he would certainly enjoy turning water into wine... | Source

10. The Ruling Class (1972)

In 2013 we lost the great Peter O'Toole. A superbly talented and fascinating actor who was born to be immortalized on film, O'Toole is remembered for many great performances, the most famous one being his star-making turn in Lawrence of Arabia.

I agree that he's quite good in Lawrence of Arabia (please check it out on blu-ray if you haven't already), but here comes an unpopular opinion: O'Toole's performance in Lawrence pales in comparison to my tenth Criterion pick, 1972's The Ruling Class.

If Edward Albee wrote a Monty Python sketch, it would look something like The Ruling Class. A cruel and blistering satire about old money and societal double standards, The Ruling Class tells the story of the dying blue blood Gurney family, and how the next in line for the title of Earl is Jack Arnold Alexander Tancred Gurney (O'Toole). There's just one problem: Jack is institutionalized because he believes he's Jesus Christ. He wears his hair and beard long, dresses primarily in white, is prone to hanging from crosses, and spouts platitudes that vary from wise to nonsensical (he throws in "The Varsity Drag" during a speech for good measure). Everyone is mortified and disgusted by Jack's behavior, but decide to treat him for the sake of the family name. Eventually, Jack stops behaving like Jesus, and no one bats an eyelash when he becomes fascinated by another, strangely more acceptable historical figure, until it's too late...

There are brave comedic performances, and then there's O'Toole in The Ruling Class. Tossing aside all inhibitions, shame, restraint, and even sanity, O'Toole makes a jaw-dropping spectacle of himself, so much so that I doubt even comedic actors today would want to attempt it. But there are dark recesses to Jack's character, and it took a legitimate actor like O'Toole to bring them to the forefront. The Ruling Class exposes how those dangerous recesses are unleashed when society rejects the positive, compassionate person Jack's trying to be, and only accepts him when he becomes colder and more callous. Yes, it's a bit nutty how he thinks he's Jesus, but couldn't they have helped Jack channel his emotions and urges into more sane and productive activities, rather than obliterating them? Eventually, everyone suffers for their short-sighted meddling. The movie takes a sickening, terrible turn for the worst, but that only adds to its power.

O'Toole famously never won an acting Oscar, despite being nominated several times (he won an honorary award in 2003). The Ruling Class was overshadowed by The Godfather the year it was released, so that was a contributing factor to his loss, and the fact that The Ruling Class tends to get overlooked. Don't make that same mistake, please check it out to see one of the most fearless performances ever captured on celluloid.

Tiresome Rant of the Day: The Ruling Class was also among the last few film roles for the great Alistair Sim (a.k.a. most people's favorite Scrooge). A friend of O'Toole's, Sim was able to sweet-talk his way into being cast as the hilariously doddering Bishop Lampton.

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