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My favourite films from The Criterion Collection have always stood out to me because they seemed to exemplify the cinematic language: a certain syntax that has a magic not found in other art mediums, or simply a culmination of all the other primary arts. I haven't seen every film in the collection but I think I've viewed most of the anchoring titles. I've to be frank and say I've a bias towards a certain modernist æsthetic. Most of my tastes are on par with Stravinky's given definition of music - an alternating succession of exaltation and repose - and fit the mould of chaos meets harmony.
The Cahiers du Cinéma thought Resnais' Hiroshima was a lot of things; for me, they were right. It is literature, it is poetry, it is music, it is innovation, it is beautiful. It is a film! And while it compares the complete obliteration of a city to the destruction of a woman's heart, it is also very bold. Surely a defining work in the history of the cinema out of the Left Bank directors.
For many, Antonioni is too dry. Perhaps they are right, but perhaps that's the point. His cinematography is more on the level of high-art photography and only affirms the degeneration of modernity. The finale of his commonly proclaimed 'alienation trilogy' is easily his most haunting. Monica Vitti and Alain Delon together in the same film? Yes, please!
Throughout Kurosawa's highly notable and prolific career, he's been considered one of the greatest Japanese auteurs (at least from a Western perspective) with Shimura and Mifune in suits and samurai robes by his side. Seven Samurai is probably his most epic and renowned. Upon viewing it, one can easily understand why; its three-and-a-half hour length flies by with every bit of meticulous character build and beautiful sword-clashing action. An easy start for a Kurosawa day-in marathon.
No other Godard film could encapsulate his style like Pierrot le Fou. As far as Godard goes, if his Breathless gave birth to the Nouvelle Vague, Pierrot was the movement's apex. Of course featuring his two most famous, defining actors, Godard couldn't be more pulp, experimental, and French! It is a spectacle!
It's a shame that Powell and Pressberger's masterpiece is sometimes compared to Aronofsky's Black Swan to-day, for there is no comparison. The Red Shoes is a beautiful classic that contrasts the sublimation of artistic creation against the frivolities of human emotion. Everything about the film is in extraordinary form and the magic it beholds on the screen is indelible.
If there is a modern political masterpiece that manifested the malaise and tribulations of the underclasses, Kassovitz's film would be it. The in-your-face Americanised style is so undoubtedly appropriate for the belligerent characters and explosive themes, it's not only impossible to look away, it's also difficult to not empathise with them.
I cheated! This is three films... But three amazingly inspirational films for me. Along with Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, World on a Wire, and Querelle, the entirety of The BRD Trilogy is so cinematographically beautiful, they're difficult not to watch back-to-back as if addicted to one contiguous film. If only to-day there were such a productive film prodigy as there was in Fassbinder...
Opulence. Grandeur. Brilliance. The endless details with the relentless wide-shots combine for a subtle masterpiece that could challenge the scope and majesty of any other operatic period film. Lancaster's mere presence is extraordinary. Certainly a film to soak up every little bit of splendour and sentiment.
This is another comfort film of mine. Renoir does his father justice here and has forged a beautiful painting of both India as a resplendent country of its own unique people and culture, and then of a bygone romanticised era of British colonialism in Bengal without the exoticism of 'elephant and tiger hunts.' I find the intermingling of both, without stereotypes or politics, to be interesting and refreshing. Surely an underrated work of art by the great Renoir.
Watching Salò is like being an audience member for a game show based on the Holocaust, casually reading and illustrating Dante's Inferno with colourful crayons, and/or skipping through the daisies while snickering at the sound of 'Hutu and Tutsi'. It's a film that if you can get through the first viewing, it warrants subsequent viewings just to immerse oneself in the masterpiece that this film really is. I could keep going, but let's just say it would be impossible to describe Pasolini's last film with words like 'pleasant', 'innocuous', and 'light-hearted'. If anything, it's a film that needs to be experienced through one's own human condition instead of merely read about. Not enough can be said about this film, regardless.