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My Top 10

by Brandon Wilhelm

Created 07/20/12

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Criterion has such a vast array of incredible titles that creating a list seemed pointless. Nonetheless, as pointless as they are, lists are fun to make, so here are my ten favorite titles from the Criterion library.

  • The only film I have ever considered to be perfect, and most likely the only film I ever will consider perfect. The characters, the story, the symbolism--Everything is just...symphonic. I must admit, though, that I did not think so highly of it when I first saw it, but after quite a few viewings and more than a few analytical excursions into Fellini's opus, I came to the realization that it was the film that summed up everything I love about the cinema. And I do love the moment when Guido whistle-taps down the hall in the hotel. It's a pitch-perfect moment of sincere charm.

  • A true work of art in every single sense. Powell & Pressberger created a unique parable to the original fairy tale, while also remaining firmly rooted within the tale itself, using lucid imagery and gorgeous, colorful cinematography to drive the point in that we may or may not be residing inside a dream world. It is a cinematic triumph. Nothing less.

  • Another fairy tale, but this is a straight-up adaptation rather than a revisionist take. And instead of bright colors, we have dark, atmospheric black-and-white to set the mood. Jean Cocteau never soared higher (he came exponentially close with Orpheus) and every single second of this beautiful fable shows his gift for cinematic mastery.

  • So many people I know love to describe certain films as "epic", but I've never really agreed, much to their chagrin. But when one has seen the greatest cinematic epic ever made, all other so-called "epics" just pale in comparison. Honestly, no film that I can recall contains the vast scope of Kurosawa's beloved opus. There are many characters, yet we know every one of them. The story is long and winding, but it holds you in its grasp from start to finish. And the battles themselves are the only scenes I can say that have had battle trumpets echoing in my head. It is the epic to end all epics and nothing anyone says about a Hollywood blockbuster will ever change my mind of that.

  • Poetry. Sheer poetry. Only instead of words, we bear witness to some of the most breathtaking imagery committed to celluloid. That's Malick for you, though. His stories are always told in short gasps, but yet we get the sense that he's giving us the whole story through his striking images of a wheat farm and the tribulations of the owner and his workers. It's a rarity to see such beauty in a mainstream work, and I can only hope that Malick keeps on doing what he's doing. The Tree of Life is his masterpiece, but Days of Heaven is his triumph.

  • A horror film that invites genre conventions, only to sway them aside in favor of truly unsettling gestures and dark-as-the-void-of-space comedy. Yes, Roman Polanski deserves every accolade he's gotten for this masterpiece of terror and suspense partly because he creates such a unique atmosphere. The dream sequences are all so strange, yet entice us further into the twisted world that may be lying behind the shiny exterior of luxury. I often wonder if the ending is as it presents itself, or if Rosemary's paranoia finally overcame her. Such is the mark of a true master when you know that virtually any theory can work so long as the logic applies...or lack thereof.

  • Once again, a cinematic fable, though I'm more inclined to say that Bergman has created his own unique tale rather than adapt from the ancient classics. The chess match between Death and the Knight has been often parodied since, but the film itself offers insight into life and all its complexities. But, above all, it is a display of Bergman's unique style.

  • This makes the list simply because it is one of the few films that keep me smiling from the opening credits until the final title card. Along with City Lights, I'd say this is Chaplin's finest hour.

  • Beautiful, haunting, sexy and romantic, Wong Kar-wai (It's funny that I've seen his name arranged every way possible in some of the US ads for his films) creates an unrequited atmosphere without acting on the most obvious instincts that would come with a story like this. They never kiss or have sex, but yet the love is there. It's so palpable that you can see it in your mind, if you're willing to, of course. Without a doubt, it is my favorite love story.

  • Shakespeare has had a long and tumultuous past with film, but for every ten pieces of coal that come along, the diamond waiting at the end is always worth trudging for. Such is the way of Kurosawa's adaptation of MacBeth, with its setting appropriately placed in feudal Japan. MacBeth has always been my favorite work of the Bard, and here it gets the best treatment I've ever seen given to one of his immortal works. The arrow sequence at the end always has me on the edge of my seat.

  • It's a cheat, I know, but The Royal Tenenbaums has such a tender spot in my heart that I had to give it a spot here. The introductory sequence is one of the best in all of film, effectively establishing the mood as well as our eclectic cast, and the many relationships that decorate the film are all superb and richly drawn. Like all Wes Anderson films, it is a masterclass in character development.

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