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These are my favorite Criteria. I like movies that are from the 1960s, or that are avowedly leftist, or that say something smart about heterosexual desire.
Solves the one problem Godard has attempted to solve without success: the problem of how to use cinematic form in order to to theorize the politics of heterosexuality.
Heart of Darkness rewritten as a romantic comedy. Also my two favorite things are cats and records, and L'Atalante features plenty of both.
In a perfect world, this would be the only movie.
Chinese Roulette meets Black Narcissus meets Whatever Happened to Baby Jane meets 9 to 5, but as if that impossible hybrid were directed by Nagisa Oshima. I don't know if Oshima ever actually saw The Housemaid, but its overlapping of musical performance and sexual obsession (which I don't recall seeing in any movie older than this one) would later become *the* dominant motif of his mature style. He either got it from this film or he got it from the same place this film got it.
Bresson shows you a world too fallen to care about and then forces you to care about it anyway. This film is proof that the craft of acting belongs to the stage, and that "screen acting" is little more than a myth. That donkey gives the most psychologically nuanced performance in screen history just by letting himself be used as a prop.
The best silent movie, or at least by far my favorite silent movie (with thanks, of course, to Criterion's wonderful score). Naruse is the great poet of raw sadness, undiluted by Bresson's or Antonioni's, faith in the redemptive power of art, or Ozu's faith in the redemptive power of love, or Fassbinder's faith in the redemptive power of transgression. For Naruse, what redeems your sadness is just *more* sadness. Silence here becomes, as it was for Tati or for Chaplin in the 1930s, not a technical limitation but a potent stylistic gesture: the silence is actually an argument that talking won't do any good. I love all Naruse, and tend to like his films starring Hiudeko Takamine even more than his others, but for capturing my attention (when, normally, silent films are something I struggle with) this takes top spot among them.
If this had been made in 2005 it would have to be reclassified as a documentary.
Another movie about heterosexuality. Cocteau has a shockingly keen understanding of straight masculinity. He sees something about it most people don't seem to see - that its death drive has a whole erotic fantasy life of its own. Remade (unintentionally?) as Neon Genesis Evangelion.
Parts of this are too gross to watch, but the first half is pretty much the coolest thing I've ever seen. The relationship between commodity fetishism and erotic fetishism perfectly theorized in pictures.
Mouchette meets A Hard Day's Night but directed by Ozu.