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My Criterion Top Ten; a work in progress

by Jason Brice Stewart

Created 07/24/12

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There are so many Criterion titles I could put on so many various lists because so many of them have meant so very much to me.

Whether it's pure entertainment, cinematic study, cultural enlightenment, or simple obsessive devotion, I could name a film (or 2 or 5) that would meet those interests.

So I decided to limit my list to Criterion titles I actually own. And yet, still, I had to leave many darlings on the cutting room floor... but I did cheat, so...

  • This was the first Criterion I owned. I came upon this VHS at a rental place many years ago. The box had Martin Scorsese's and Francis Ford Coppola's names on it, saying something like they had helped revive interest in the film.

    I was intrigued. I went home and watched it and was completely blown away. I hadn't even heard of Michael Powell before, but on the strength of this one film, I knew he was a titan.

    This is the most disturbing film I have ever seen. And not because it's overwhelmingly horrific or in any way gory. It's because it so completely implicates the audience. We, too, have 'the morbid urge to gaze.'

  • I can't seperate these two films. They're both just so... talky... so NYC (in a preppy fairy tale kind of way)... so WASP-y and bourgeois... They're just so... Whit Stillman. These are two of the most literate movies I've ever seen. They're so superbly scripted.

    "Metropolitan" is one of my greatest cinematic 'finds,' and it never would have happened if not for my interest in the Criterion Collection. What a marvelous cast of characters. Once you get past the stilted acting (intentional, I'm guessing) you can't help but love them, with their searching, curious intellects, their hard won AND half-assed opinions, their naive and innocent entitlement. Their names alone are totally charming.

    "The Last Days of Disco," for me, represents all of the best aspects that particular music had to offer: guilty pleasures, reckless abandon, getting blissfully, wonderfully lost in whatever medium you prefer, be it books, music, film, or other. And, aside from disco, it represents some heady, heady conversation.

    But what I love the most about these two films is the fact that they introduced me to Chris Eigeman. He absolutely OWNS both roles. Just slays 'em.

  • This film resonates with me on a purely raw emotional level more and more every time I see it. It's gotten to the point where I have a hard time keeping it together towards the end. It's the moments that get me. Those profoundly touching, Wes-Anderson-heavy moments.

    Like when Royal admits to Richie that he can't give him any advice and says, "No, it's not" when Richie tells him, "That's okay."

    Like when Royal gives the dalmation to Chas and Chas says, "I've had a rough year, Dad," and Royal puts his hand on his son's shoulder and says, "I know you have." Damn, there's so much feeling there.

    Like when Royal and Margot are at the ice cream parlor and he refers to her as his daughter for the very first time. And then she eventually says, "I bet you don't even know my middle name." That whole exchange is golden.

    This whole film is. I don't know if Wes Anderson will ever make a better one. I hope he does. That would be awesome for all of us.

  • Terrence Malick might be cinema's greatest poet.

  • Stanley Kubrick is my favorite director, and there are times when I think this is my favorite of his films. Watching "The Killing" and "Paths of Glory" back to back is kind of like seeing one artist's big bang happening right before your eyes.

    And how about Kirk Douglas? I don't know if I've ever seen him better. With equal parts bravado and compassion, he absolutely nails the tricky role of anguished Colonel Dax. The first time I saw this movie, towards the end when he delivers the line, "You can go to hell before I apologize to you now or ever again," I swear, electric shivers exploded all throughout my body.

    My goodness, what a powerful moment. What a powerful film. It's so beautifully and tragically humane. And so fallibly human, too.

  • One of the more haunting and frightening films I've ever seen, and there's not a ghost or scary monster in sight (other than Mrs. Appleyard, maybe). Practically every element in this movie works towards casting a seductively sinister spell, from the gorgeous cinematography to the sumptuous score, from the unsettling circumstances to the alien rock itself. The whole thing just feels like it's suspended in some preternatural place, like the whole world could just split at the seams at any given moment. It's Victorean era romance written as gothic horror. It's an Edgar Allan Poe lullaby. What DID happen to those girls. The beautiful and magical thing happens when we realize we'll never really know.

  • Another of my Criterion 'finds.' Olivier Assayas is a filmmaker who simply speaks to me. I really don't know how else to describe it.

  • The first time I saw this movie the second that trash can flies through the window of Saul's Pizzaria, I was very angry with Mookie, the character, and with Spike Lee, the filmmaker. Now... I'm still pretty angry with Mookie, but I'm completely overwhelmed with Spike Lee's courage and commitment to character.

    What he put up on screen is real, and sadly, there's no better proof than the tragic riots in Los Angeles that happened three short years after this film's release.

    Spike Lee was a profit, and he did Right by all of us by capturing the messy, sweaty, teeming life of one Brooklyn neighborhood on one hot summer's day.

  • Two of the Master's gems from his pre-Hollywood era that are just a TON of fun.

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