I make daily lists of things to do and catalog everything in my life in Lists. In fact, I have a List of My Lists. A Finalist List always numbers 3—like my Three Favorite Hotels… and the winner is the Umaid Bhawan Palace Hotel. I also have an Oscar-nominee-inspired List of 5, say, my Five Best Winter Wardrobe Items and a Complete Rendering List of 10, as in my Top Ten Broadway Musicals.
I can’t explain why Movie Predators went into 3 and Local Burgers into 5 while Donna Leon Books were grouped at 10…they just were. I do know that I never number outside these numerical structured sets—I mean why would I list my Nine Favorite Shirts? My Four Best Restaurants in Altoona? There is one unchangeable protocol for all Lists: regardless the amount of numbers, once numbered, every List is ordered from the last to the first—building a numbered crescendo in a system most likely pirated in the days when people actually watched the Miss America Pageant on TV. Not coincidentally, on all my Lists, being awarded First Runner-Up is an important distinction.
The Big Three Italian Moviemakers—alphabetically Antonioni, Fellini, and Pasolini—are all Giants, so their inclusion was never in doubt on my Three Favorite Italian Moviemakers List:
Third. Pier Paolo Pasolini. He makes the most intense movies of the trio—powerful movies, Mamma Roma, Salo, Teorema with powerful performances. In his controversial short, La ricotta, Pasolini fuses the Crucifixion and a monumental performance by icon Orson Welles; he guided diva Maria Callas to operatic acting heights in his adaptation of the Greek tragedy, Medea.
First Runner-up. Michelangelo Antonioni is the perfectionist, stylist, and greatest thinker of the three. Antonioni’s investigates Modernity, Neurasthenia, and Existentialism in L'Avventura, La Notte, L'Eclisse, The Passenger, The Red Desert, and of course, Blow Up. His first English language film Blow Up is about London, fashion, art, reality, and possibly murder, and is definitely the anthem of the swinging 1960s, the prototype for the International Art Film, and an unqualified masterpiece. Truth is, I have it for Blow Up and its Maestro. But let’s face it, Andrew Sarris didn’t coin the term “Antoniennui” without provocation.
And the winner is… Federico Fellini, quintessential Italian storyteller. La Strada is classic and Nights of Cabiria is unforgettable. Fellini movies happen in dreams and dream is the universal language. His genius was to make his Italian experience universal. La Dolce Vita jumpstarts global narrative; 8 ½, his esoteric aesthetic confession, spreadsheets human creativity; and his Amarcord evokes universal nostalgia for childhood; making Fellini the most emotionally resonant moviemaker of the three, perhaps the most cinematic storyteller of the last century.
There have been a lot of great movies, from Studio System films to Indies, in the 90 years since the first Talkies, and we are now almost fifty years into horizontal integration and global filmmaking. A 2006 Italian production, Golden Door (Nuovomondo) tops the list of my Ten Favorite Movies of This Century. I’m knocked out by Emanuele Crialese’s screenplay and his direction, as well as by the movie’s acting, music, and cinematography. The flawless casting culminates in a mesmerizing leading-lady performance by Charlotte Gainsbourg—you have to watch Gainsbourg on screen—just like you can never look away from Gainsbourg’s mother, Jane Birkin. Formal filmmaking elements mirror and carry the creative plot devices, that is, costume design is as perfect as acquiring the costumes is in the plot. The music is as rich and subtle as the silence is lush and loud. The production design elements are visually spectacular as historical idiosyncrasies are seamlessly assimilated. The location shots of stark, mountainous Sicily are as outrageously surreal as the New World’s fantasy river of milk. When a mysterious English lady insinuates herself into the Mancuso family passport photo as they are posed in preposterous sideshow cut outs, Lucy Reed completes their family and their spellbinding tableau foreshadows the American cultural mosaic. The cinematography from the elegiac shot of the ship’s separation from the old world dock through the intense close-ups and two shots of the claustrophobic voyage to the minimalist simplicity of the straightforward long shots of Ellis Island is engaging, exciting, and gratifying.
At root, Italian moviemaker Crialese’s perspective of life in America is spellbinding. He tells his epic story in gentle details. And his inspiration making his film? “I ventured out into a dream, into dreamlike images,” Crialese tells us, “keeping in mind the master, Federico Fellini.”