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Kenneth Souza's Criterion Top Ten

by Kenneth Souza

Created 07/05/12

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Here's a list of my Top Ten Criterion Titles that were released on the DVD and/or Blu-ray format. While there are many other classic offerings released on the now-defunct laserdisc format that would have made the cut (John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN and Alfred Hitchcock's NORTH BY NORTHWEST, just to name two), I've limited this list to DVD/BD only.

  • This remains the quintessential Criterion release not just for the brilliant film itself, but also for providing three different versions of Terry Gilliam's magnum opus and revealing how studio tinkering basically ruined the director's vision.

  • One of the best things about Criterion is how an underrated and nearly-forgotten film like Brian De Palma's BLOW OUT can find a new lease on life. Everything about this movie is pitch-perfect, and it remains John Travolta's single greatest acting achievement to date.

  • A stunning work of art that oozes mood, director Carol Reed's THE THIRD MAN is probably best known as the vehicle for one of Orson Welles' most mesmerizing (and very brief) roles as the notorious Harry Lime. Welles only shows up about three times in the movie, but he makes every second count. And Reed's deep, shadowy compositions are just amazing.

  • This seemingly plotless, stream-of-consciousness peek at the final day of school for a group of Texas teens was indirectly responsible for launching the retro '70s craze and launching the careers of people like Matthew McConaughey and Ben Affleck. But director Richard Linklater's classic pays just as much attention to character development and relationships as it does to period details.

  • Although director David Cronenberg's previous film SCANNERS was the one that notoriously depicted a guy's head exploding, for me his VIDEODROME is the movie that really blew everyone's mind -- mine included. It's the perfect Cronenbergian blend of cold technology meets pulsating flesh and it features great performances from James Woods and Deborah Harry of Blondie fame. The Criterion disc also boasts a great interview with horror greats Cronenberg, John Carpenter, John Landis and future director Mick Garris that is worth the purchase price alone.

  • My introduction to Michael Powell's PEEPING TOM was through the original Criterion Collection DVD release, and it remains one of those great, unexpected gems. Unfairly maligned and critically-bashed upon its release, it paved the way for Hitchcock's similarly-themed but ultimately more audience-friendly PSYCHO the same year and it is every bit as shocking and disturbing as Sir Alfred's masterpiece.

  • Speaking of Hitchcock, this slot could have been occupied by any one of his films that the Criterion Collection has released over the years, but my personal pick remains the captivating and heartbreaking NOTORIOUS. It is frequent Hitch leading lady Ingrid Bergman's greatest performance for the Master and she and her co-star Cary Grant (another Hitch fave) generate as much chemistry and sparks as Bogie and Bergman do in a little film called CASABLANCA. Speaking of which, the always-reliable Claude Rains turns in another sincere supporting role here as the spy Bergman is forced to marry.

  • Before he came to the U.S. to helm projects like FACE/OFF, action director John Woo made his mark in Hong Kong with relentless, over-the-top films like THE KILLER and HARD BOILED. While both are superb, the latter just edges out its predecessor in terms of sheer momentum and a sense of kinetic timing that pummels you from the get-go. Shot in the days before CGI and digital tweaking, the stunt work and choreography here is just dizzying. Lead actor Chow Yun Fat can often make Indiana Jones look lazy by comparison.

  • The vastly underrated Carl Theodore Dreyer fashioned many influential films in his day, but his two biggest achievements remain THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC (also a great Criterion release) and this stark, chilling black-and-white spin on the vampire tale. Considering the limitations of film "special effects" when this was made, Dreyer manages to conjure some startling visions here -- many of which were paid homage to in Francis Ford Coppola's DRACULA years later. This movie is every bit as influential as F.W. Murnau's NOSFERATU in creating today's Hollywood vampire mythology.

  • Writer/director David Mamet is an acquired taste, but his 1987 directorial debut is one of those films that still resonates no matter how many times I see it. It's also one of those rare movies (like CITIZEN KANE, to a certain extent) that seems a bit different every time I watch it. Even though you know the big plot twist on repeat viewings, it's so meticulously crafted that it still catches you off-guard. Peppered with a cast of Mamet regulars (led by the smooth Joe Mantegna), HOUSE OF GAMES is an addictive puzzle-box I enjoy deconstructing again and again.

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