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Friday, April 19, 2013

Not That Anyone Asked, But Here is My Criterion Top 10

Chris (South):

We here at North/South Films are devoted supporters of The Criterion Collection and everything they do. Besides being the greatest distribution house for classic, foreign, and independent film, Criterion also runs a pretty cool and interactive website with assists from their Facebook and Twitter feeds, e-mail newsletter, and the Criterion Corner blog on  

With a ton of special features (like commentary, documentaries, making-of, etc.) and typically flawless transfers and/or restored quality, Criterion does a fantastic job of providing the absolute best home viewing experience. One of their trademark features is the unique cover art for their packaging, certainly more interesting than generic old movie posters.  

At almost 700 titles, Criterions encompass most of the greatest films of all-time from every genre and era. All the legends are there: Kurosawa, Chaplin, Eisenstein, Bergman, Fellini, Truffaut, Buñuel, Renoir, and more, plus many titles from today’s best directors like Steven Soderbergh, Jim Jarmusch, Christopher Nolan, David Fincher, Wes Anderson, and even our friend Michael Bay makes a few appearances. Unfortunately, I only own a rather paltry seven Criterion discs (they can be pricy, but worth it), but you can actually watch many of them on Hulu.

Every so often they ask big name actors, directors, and others to give their Top 10 Films included in the Criterion Collection’s extensive catalog. Check out a few examples from James Franco, Wes Anderson, Guillermo Del Toro, Rian Johnson, Christopher Nolan, Edgar Wright, and Adam Yauch.

I love reading these lists. It is always interesting to know what films those in the business really respect, admire, and get inspiration from, plus it is a great place to discover new films worth checking out.

So not that they asked (or ever would), but here is My Criterion Top 10 – And boy, was it difficult to narrow it down. In fact, it was so tough that I cheated (in several different ways). So really here is my Top 11 (really 17) Top Criterion Films:

#1 – George Washington (David Gordon Green, 2000)

I love this film. To me it shows the power, beauty, and everything great that can be accomplished in independent film. I am so happy that there is a resource like Criterion to highlight smaller films like this.

#2 – Days of Heaven (Terrence Malick, 1973)

Dan recently highlighted Criterion’s new print of Badlands in his “Dan’s Discs of the Week,” which is a great film and wonderful inclusion to the Collection, but my favorite Malick film is Days of Heaven, a stunningly photographed snapshot of turn-of-the-century America.

#3 – The Last Picture Show (Peter Bogdanovich, 1971)
(Available in America Lost and Found: The BBS Story set)

Filmed in stark, sun-bleached black-and-white, this 1971 film is not only set in the 1950s, but it truly looks and feels like a movie made in the ‘50s. Of all the films on this list, I probably find myself thinking about this one the most. It is just such a haunting elegy – it has stayed with me forever.

#4 – Ikiru (Akira Kurosawa, 1952)

Japanese master Akira Kurosawa is more than well represented in the Criterion Collection, but of all those included titles and admired films, Ikiru is by far my favorite.

#5 – Au revoir les enfants (Louis Malle, 1987)

Another film that has stuck with me like glue in the years since I first saw it. A fascinatingly intimate and haunting portrait of childhood, memory, and regret.

#6 – Cléo From 5 to 7 (Agnès Varda, 1962)
(Available in 4 by Agnès Varda set)

I had to no idea what to expect from Cleo when I first saw it and was a little surprised that I liked it so much. A thoughtful examination of mortality, vanity, and desolation.

#7 – La Haine (Mathieu Kassovitz, 1995)

I had heard about this French film for many years before I finally settled down just last year to watch it and I was blown away. A raw and primal look at violence, crime, and hate in the poor, urban areas of France.

#8 – Tiny Furniture (Lena Dunham, 2010)

I am not trying to argue that this very recent little indie film is one of the best films of the Criterion Collection (it certainly is not), but it represents part of what I love about Criterion. Before her HBO series Girls made everyone either love her or hate her (I think it is a terrific show), writer/director Lena Dunham made a name for herself on the film festival circuit with her hilarious debut film. It is awesome that Criterion would add a film like this, and other similar indies, to their illustrious catalog.   

 #9 - The "Documentary" Group:
- Hoop Dreams (Steve James, 1994)
- Harlan County U.S.A. (Barbara Kopple, 1976)
- Crumb (Terry Zwigoff, 1994)

Criterion is rich with terrific documentary films and these are three of the best. Whether about a specific person, location, or society in general, documentary films need more exposure and greater mass appreciation.

#10 The "I Would Never Have Seen This Movie If Not For The Criterion Collection" Group:
- If… (Lindsay Anderson, 1968)
- Man Bites Dog (Rémy Belvaux, André Bonzel, Benoît Poelvoorde, 1992)
- Fat Girl (Catherine Breillat, 2001)

The fact that they make so many older, foreign, and/or obscure films readily available is perhaps my favorite aspect of The Criterion Collection. And these three films might not have even crossed my radar if they had not been released by Criterion (and even if they had, I probably would not have been able to find a copy to watch). So thank you Criterion, because I did get to watch them and found all three to be simply great.

#11The "I Could Not Pick Just One of These Films, So I Picked Them All" Group:
- The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (John Cassavetes, 1976)
- Paris, Texas (Wim Wenders, 1984)
- Down By Law (Jim Jarmusch, 1986)

When I first decided to do my list, two of these three were on my original Top 10 (when it was actually just 10 films). But as I explored more of the collection, there were others I wanted to add, but certainly did not want to cut out these original two (plus the third I added because they all remind me of one another, kind of my unofficial “Wandering Man Trilogy”). So I am glad I still got to include them all together in the last spot.

Just Missed the Cut: Dazed & Confused (Richard Linklater, 1994); Persona (Ingmar Bergman, 1971); Le samouraï (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1967); Repulsion (Roman Polanski, 1965); The Royal Tenenbaums (Wes Anderson, 2001)

So what are your thoughts on The Criterion Collection? How many of their discs do you own? And what is your Criterion Top 10?

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed reading through your list! Your choices are personal, from the heart, not just going by the "canon" of world-class masterpieces that Criterion has released over the years. Even though you cheated... ;)