Two great milestones for Lynch: his debut masterpiece and his most recent masterpiece. Eraserhead is the truest representation of a dream (or nightmare) I’ve ever seen put to film. Lynch’s debut was one of the ultimate midnight cult films of its time, and the Criterion package also includes all of his early short films.
Mulholland Dr. is Lynch at his best, combining Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks into a hypnotic mystery that only gets better (and makes sense) with multiple viewings.
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Inside Llewyn Davis
Like Lynch, I chose to go with another pair of career milestones. Blood Simple put the Coen brothers (and cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld) on the map with their unique visual style and storytelling and remains one of the greatest film debuts ever. And Llewyn Davis shows that even three decades later, Joel and Ethan can still top themselves.
Dazed and Confused
Slacker introduced Linklater to us indie-film fans, and Dazed and Confused introduced him to the world. Slacker spawned so many indie filmmakers and established Linklater’s walking-and-talking style, which he continued through the years with other films like Before Trilogy and Waking Life.
Dazed is a picture-perfect time capsule with an amazing wall-to-wall soundtrack. It’s for the seventies what American Graffiti was for the sixties and Fast Times at Ridgemont High was for the eighties.
This Is Spinal Tap
Sadly, this Criterion edition isn’t available anymore on DVD, but back in the nineties this was my quintessential laserdisc (along with the Criterion lasers for Boogie Nights and Taxi Driver). This was the only place you could get a commentary track by Rob Reiner as well as an alternate commentary track with Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer out of character.
It also contained the original twenty-minute demo reel Spinal Tap: The Final Tour and the band’s first performance on TV five years before making the film. Thank God I still have my laserdisc player!
Harold and Maude
One of my all-time favorite films. I actually woohoo-ed out loud when I saw the announcement of a Criterion release of it! Hal Ashby was one of the greatest American filmmakers of the seventies, and his death was such a loss for the film community. It’s sad to think of what else he could’ve made. The use of Cat Stevens’s music in this film is a great example of a musician’s music forever being linked to a particular film and utilized so effectively.
Lars von Trier
Breaking the Waves
My favorite von Trier film. Everything from Emily Watson's breakthrough, tour-de-force performance (I’ve never seen an actress break the fourth wall to the camera like this before) to the haunting title cards set to Jethro Tull, Deep Purple, Elton John, David Bowie, and Procol Harum. Such a heartbreaking story of what desperate measures love can drive you to.
Blue Is the Warmest Color
My favorite French film of this century that wasn’t directed by Gasper Noé. Even though it’s mainly infamous for its three very explicit sex scenes, this is really an intense love story—girl meets girl, girl loses girl—and completely heart-wrenching at times. It’s three-hour length flies by. I easily could have watched another three hours of these absolutely incredible performances. I can’t wait to see what Adèle does next. I could not take my eyes off of her.
I love that Criterion not only focuses on the classic work of the Fellinis, the Bergmans and the Kurosawas of film history but also gives attention to controversial, camp, and cult films like Salò, Head, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, and Pink Flamingos. And none is more strangely perfect than House.
One of the most beautifully strange and original films I’ve ever seen. Almost like a psychedelic, live-action Japanese version of an episode of Teletubbies, H.R. Pufnstuf, or Scooby-Doo. The fact that both this and Eraserhead came out in the same year leads me to believe there were some really good drugs floating around in 1977.
Rémy Belvaux, André Bonzel, and Benoit Poelvoorde
Man Bites Dog
This is my most wanted Criterion Blu-ray upgrade (pretty please!!!). A gruesome yet hilarious mockumentary about a serial killer and the film crew that slowly crosses the line from reel to real with him. Picture David Brent from The Office starring in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.
The most recent Criterion release on my list is Kieślowski’s masterwork. Ten short films (two of which were expanded into full features) each based on one of the Ten Commandments. One of the greatest achievements I’ve ever seen in modern film.
Tracy Letts’s Top 10
Tracy Letts is an American playwright, screenwriter, and actor. He received the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for drama for August: Osage County and a Tony Award for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?