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My Criterion Top Ten

by Dexter

Created 02/21/17

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Making this list brought back a lot of memories. I worked at Blockbuster Video (when it was still around) for about eight years, and most of the films on this list I watched through the online program, or just outright purchased while I worked there. I often would talk my co-workers into watching these movies. I remember one Good Friday I was running a shift and made one of our newer employees watch “The Long Good Friday”. To my amusement, he loved it and yelling “RAZORS!” and “COLIN’S DEAD” to each other became an inside joke between us.

  • This is a *mean* movie. Not only has “Blast of Silence” (1961) aged extremely well, but its influence on the modern gangster genre goes almost unrecognized. The story behind the production of the film is an amazing testament to independent and guerrilla film making.

  • Razors: Who's big enough to take you on?
    Harold: Well, there were a few.
    Razors: Like who?
    Harold: Yeah, they're all dead.

    For some reason, since the first time I saw "The Long Good Friday" (1980), that conversation always stuck with me. I think it not only summarizes who Harold Shand (Bob Hoskins) is, a violent thug that killed his way to the top of the London Underworld, but foreshadows the violent conclusion of the movie.

  • I don't think any other actor could have captured the inherit masculine sadness of the role of Eddie "Fingers" Coyle like Robert Mitchum. Operating on the fringes of the Boston underworld, Coyle and his "friends" eke out a meager existence in low level crime. The release "The Friends of Eddie Coyle" is well timed in hindsight, given the revelations of Irish gangsters like Whitey Bulger cooperating with authorities while they continued to commit crime.

  • This is John Huston in top form. The brutish, yet human, Dix Handley, brilliantly portrayed by Sterling Hayden, makes this my favorite Huston film and Hayden performance.

  • What I love about "The Hit" (1984) is its basis in reality. In the beginning of the film, when Stamp is being led out of the courtroom after informing on his gang, the accused start singing "We'll Meet Again". This was a real event that happened to Derek Creighton "Bertie" Smalls, the first major informant, which they call "supergrass” that struck a deal with the government in exchange for testimony in 1974; sort of like a British Joe Valachi. Given a new identity, Smalls went to Spain, but quickly came back to London. But in the late 70s, several British gangsters would lam it in Spain, following the collapse of the extradition treaty between Spain and the United Kingdom.

  • David Mamet has a great talent for writing dialogue that convinces me that's how people really speak to each other; and the dialogue in "Homicide" (1991) boarders on poetry.

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    5. (tie)
    Thief

    Michael Mann

    What I love about "Thief" (1981), and can be seen in "Heat" (1995), is that Mann's criminal underworld is an ecosystem, filled with different criminals specified to do different jobs.

  • The first time I saw Ralph Meeker in a movie was his role as Bugs Moran in Roger Corman's "The St. Valentine's Day Massacre" (1967). I thought Meeker was the perfect fit for the role; he seemed like the only actor that could buck the great Jason Robards' over the top portrayal of Capone. I then saw Kubrick's "Paths of Glory" (1957), and his portrayal of Corporal Paris made the movie for me. By the time I got to "Kiss Me Deadly" (1955), I was excited to see Meeker in a lead role in a film noir. Meeker's viciousness as Mike Hammer makes "Kiss Me Deadly" one of my favorite noirs, with an apocalyptic ending appropriate for the closing of the classic period of the genre.

  • Can't say enough good things about "Night and the City" (1950). If not the best noir, it's definitely the most hard hitting and cruel.

  • Decades ahead of its time in realistic, police procedural dramas. Another film that doesn’t get the praise that it deserves for its influence on modern culture.

  • Richard Widmark and the beautiful Jean Peters lead this solid noir which adapts to the Cold War.

  • I love the dual portrayal of the Mafia in "Mafioso" (1962), from the more fraternal Sicilian Mafia, to the flashy, syndicated New York Mafia.

  • "The Killing of a Chinese Bookie" (1976) reeks of low level 70s sleaze; and that's why I love it.

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