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Lena Dunham's Top Ten for Criterion Includes 'Days of Heaven,' 'Broadcast News,' 'Straw Dogs' and Four Agnes Varda Films

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by Beth Hanna
June 25, 2013 7:31 PM
3 Comments
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Lena Dunham

Check out Lena Dunham's well-curated Top 10 for Criterion, which includes plenty of ties (making the list's grand total 15 films) but it's worth it to see so many Agnes Varda titles make the cut. Dunham's also a fan of Rainer Werner Fassbinder ("Ali: Fear Eats the Soul" and "The Marriage of Maria Braun," both of which she calls "perfect"), Terrence Malick ("Days of Heaven") and James L. Brooks ("Broadcast News"). 

Dunham's funny commentary on her selections is here. Her 2010 film "Tiny Furniture" is a Criterion title.

1. "Fish Tank" (dir. Andrea Arnold, 2009)

2. "Days of Heaven" (dir. Terrence Malick, 1978)

3. "Broadcast News" (dir. James L. Brooks, 1987)

4. "Weekend" (dir. Andrew Haigh, 2011)

5. Tie: "La Pointe Courte" (1955), "Cleo from 5 to 7" (1962), "Le bonheur" (1965), "Vagabond" (1985); all directed by Agnes Varda

6. Tie: "The Marriage of Maria Braun" (1979), "Ali: Fear Eats the Soul" (1974); both directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder

7. "Picnic at Hanging Rock" (dir. Peter Weir, 1975)

8. Tie: "Straw Dogs" (dir. Sam Peckinpah, 1971); "Dead Ringers" (dir. David Cronenberg, 1988)

9. "Through a Glass Darkly" (dir. Ingmar Bergman, 1961)

10. "The War Room" (dirs. Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker, 1993)

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More: News, Lena Dunham, Criterion Collection, News

3 Comments

  • rocky | July 20, 2013 7:50 PMReply

    I guess that's a top 15, then.

  • P | June 26, 2013 7:11 AMReply

    Not really what I would've expected, given her character's dumbass diss of subtitles in Tiny Furniture. This woman's taste is extremely similar to mine a few years ago. Both Picnic at Hanging Rock and Straw Dogs were in my top ten or even maybe top five films ever, and although she claims Picnic... inspired everyone in NYC, I don't see much evidence of that. Both those movies are famous, even notorious, but as far as popularity, I rarely encountered anyone else- let alone women- who would put them in her all time top ten. The political incorrectness of those films (dealing with issues of race and sex, respectively) has apparently been lost with time, as has the disrespect of their genre elements (horror and action, respectively) as their greater truth has been recognized. I still doubt those movies are common fodder for every Greenpoint hipster these days. It seems more specific to Dunham, perhaps because her arty parents had been fans of the movie, which did make a lot of impression when it first played in the '70s- I already noticed she referenced Picnic in some dialogue in Tiny Furniture.

    I also adored Fassbinder and Bergman in equal amounts and those particular films, Fear Eats the Soul and Through a Glass Darkly, were the first ones that made me love them (I had already seen a couple others by Bergman but they made less impression). Of course I love Days of Heaven as well, and Malick redefined my view of cinema as a kid when Thin Red Line came out (surely an experience shared by Dunham and many in my generation).

    Oh yeah, and Fish Tank is brilliant. Easily one of the best of Criterion's often questionable acquistions of recent titles. Also one of my favorite movies of the 2000s.

    I would've expected more of the James L. Brooks and Weekend (as opposed to Week-End) side of things from her, given her own work, in fact I'm surprised either of those movies are on Criterion at all, and my take on her taste is that it probably tends toward the movies that never really needed a Criterion release, just as her own movie didn't. If she wanted to showcase some European films I wouldn't have been surprised to see some of the driest, darkest Eastern European comedies, particularly Czech films like Daisies. I was surprised to see more dramatic (even if also comic) works in her list. Varda is particularly surprising because she's a more socially and politically oriented filmmaker. From Dunham's blurb, it seems she wanted to showcase Varda because she's a woman, rather than because she deeply connects with her work. I get a sense Dunham has shied away from any cause other than presenting rich young women's lives honestly. While her love of Cleo... and La Bonheur is understandable since superficially those stories focus on similarly privileged subjects, and I can understand her appreciation of La Pointe Courte due to its unusually honest depiction of a relationship, I wonder what her take is on the second best film (after La Pointe Courte) in that Varda package, Vagabond, let alone, on the rest of Varda's work, which often tends toward (formally and politically) radical documentaries, where her playfulness is in service of ideas that Dunham might find difficult to deal with. As an Oberlin student, Dunham clearly encountered all sorts of leftist ideas, but she seems to have intentionally parodied and rejected them ever since (how else to account for favoring the decent The War Room over any number of more eye opening political films), and the fact that her thesis on Fassbinder managed to do away with issues of race and class entirely, in order to focus on the story as merely an allegory for the (relatively minimal, by comparison) repression a 1970s gay West German faced, is an example of her mindset, which as she herself admits, is questionable.

    It should be noted that it wasn't Dunham's choice to showcase those particular four Varda movies- those titles were released that way by Criterion. And they are in fact the only Varda titles released by Criterion, an oversight which other companies have not done very well to make up for- otherwise, only The Gleaners and I, Daguerrotypes and The Beaches of Agnes are available at all in region 1- since The Beaches of Agnes is basically a retrospective of all Varda's work, it's unfortunate that it's been released instead of most of that work. Varda made countless documentaries on subjects ranging from the Black Panthers and Cuban revolution, to street art in its 1980s heyday in Los Angeles. Her documentaries (which might better be considered as "essay films," alongside the works of her friend Chris Marker and their forebear Joris Ivens) are by far her greatest works, and The Gleaners and I is really the best Varda film currently available on DVD.

    Overall I get a sense that although she's seen quite a lot of movies, Dunham isn't all that passionate about the form anymore, and she's relying on old favorites here, which is positive in the sense that her taste in college resembled that of other college students, as opposed to rich hipsters in Greenpoint who collect Criterions but can't be bothered to care about the form, much less about the lives of mere ordinary people.

  • wimpy | June 25, 2013 11:24 PMReply

    Tiny Furniture didn't make the cut? Bloody outrage!

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