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Although my personal collection of Criterion releases is depressingly small compared to what I'd like to own (all of it), I've seen a large percentage of the films in the collection through rentals, Hulu, etc., and these are my favorites from what I've seen thus far.
I could go on all day about the themes and formal elements of this movie, but to get to the point, no movie has ever had as much of an emotional effect on me as this one, and that's why it's my top pick.
This is an obvious choice for a list like this, and I suppose this could even be considered the single most popular film in the whole Criterion Collection. Once in a blue moon, however, rampant popularity is richly justified, and that is certainly the case here.
This is one of those movies that made me reassess my entire perception of what cinema could be. Kiarostami is one of the few living filmmakers who consistently reestablishes the concept of film as high art.
Ozu didn't know this was going to be his last film, which makes it almost eerie that there's such a pervading sense of finality here. All of the themes that he explored throughout his career--Japanese identity, generational relations, the family, changing social values, etc.--are encapsulated in "An Autumn Afternoon," making this the summation of Ozu's nearly peerless filmography.
Having said that, "Tokyo Story" is a masterpiece too, and it would be my choice for the #5 slot on this list, but since I wanted to include some more variety, I'll just give it an honorable mention here.
I saw these movies for the first time when I was only sixteen. Unfortunately I saw them on VHS copies that I'd rented from the video store (remember those?), but despite the lackluster quality of the video and audio, they still had a profound effect on me. I think I can fairly state that this trilogy was my first true love in arthouse cinema, and I've only grown to like the films more as I've gotten older. And of course, I'm so grateful that Criterion has put out a wonderful box set so I can now enjoy them as they were meant to be seen and heard.
This movie drips beauty and sadness from every frame. The basic premise is so simple, but in such an intoxicating way (I see that adjective used to describe this movie a lot, but it's appropriate). Its themes are direct and universally relevant, and of course Wong's style gives the movie the feel of a late-night buzz that you weren't sure existed in a moment of nocturnal longing or in some achingly beautiful dream. I could watch Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung pass each other in lonely corridors in red-tinted slow motion to the strains of "Yumeji's Theme" all day---or better yet, all night.
There is at once a youthful naivety and a world-weary cynicism present in "Rushmore," and the movie manages to beautifully reconcile the two in order to create a funny, sad, unique, and shockingly moving film. It's certainly one of the best movies ever made about adolescence.
"La Jetée" is arguably the greatest short film of all time, and "Sans Soleil" is my personal favorite documentary. How great of a package deal is that?
I highly recommend James Naremore's commentary track for an even deeper appreciation for what is already obviously one of the smartest Hollywood movies ever made. It's one of the few films to which the word "perfect" might conceivably apply.
I have to admit that I didn't quite "get" this movie when I first saw it, but its truly singular atmosphere and unforgettable imagery stuck with me until I finally had to watch it again, and this time, it all clicked. Charles Laughton designed "The Night of the Hunter" to be a dark children's fairytale, and its haunting simplicity is what elevates it to the level of timelessness. It also happens to be one of the most beautiful movies I've ever seen.
This is unfortunately out of print, but if you can get hold of it somehow, I strongly recommend doing so. This was Buñuel's own favorite of his films, and I'm inclined to agree with him. It's absurd, hilarious, provocative, mischievous...basically all of the things you'd want a Buñuel film to be. I'm always astonished how he can make something seem so ridiculous and illogical (for instance, the famous sequence in this film involving a "missing" girl) and manage to play it out in such a way that it makes perfect sense. It's really not since Lewis Carroll that an artist in any medium has been able to bridge the gap between the logical and the illogical so playfully and brilliantly.