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Criterion Collection, A Personal Ranking

by W. White

Created 03/07/17

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A subjective and ever expanding and evolving ranking of all the Criterion Collection films, including Eclipse and Essential Art House releases, that I have seen with pertinent comments on the films’ greatness or not-so-greatness.

  • After watching it a half dozen times, it has lost none of its initial power. Ralph Meeker's Mike Hammer may not quite have been the one Mickey Spillane hard-boiled into a dozen novels but that does not mean that Kiss Me Deadly's Hammer is soft. Just the opposite. Ralph Meeker's Mike Hammer holds the law and its enforcers in contempt, uses and abuses any woman who gets too close, and will go through any obstacle or person with whatever force is necessary to get what he wants. He charms, cajoles, beats, and breaks in search of "the great whatzit." And every minute, no matter what he does, you cannot help but want him to come out on top. Of course, it is always "the great whatzit" that will get him in trouble.

    Kiss Me Deadly may sound like B-Movie nonsense and would be but for the quality of cast and crew. Ralph Meeker gave the performance of a lifetime in the starring screen performance he would be wrongfully denied the rest of his life. In more injustice, "Le Gros Bob," as Claude Chabrol dubbed director Robert Aldrich, directed an anti-vigilante film that was misunderstood and ran afoul of the Kefauver Committee on violence. Perhaps that is why Aldrich may have influenced directors from French New Wave to Japanese horror, but most American film buffs see the name Robert Aldrich and think it is a typo for Robert Altman. But, to paraphrase one of Kiss Me Deadly's characters, "Remember this film."

  • Only six episodes! At the end, you are gasping for more Fishing with John like a red snapper John Lurie "caught" in Jamaica gasping for air. Lurie may not know anything about fishing, Lurie's guests may be cheerful, angry, introspective, dull, or psychotically high on sugar, and narrator Robb Webb may be intoning meaningless drivel; but at the end you may think Fishing with John is one of the greatest comedy series of all time. Lurie's behind-the-scenes commentaries are nearly as entertaining as the shows themselves; after all, did you not wonder why those seabirds squealed like pigs?

  • One of the most beautifully moving films I have ever seen. It is nearly a silent film with Olmi creating a striking portrait of love and loneliness out of his actors' expressions as much as with dialogue. If you do not feel Giovanni's isolation during this film, then you have a hard heart indeed.

  • If it was a movie, it would be considered one of the great works of cinema. But it is not a movie; it is documenting real events happening to real people. That makes it something else, something even greater but simultaneously something so horrible. You may get emotionally invested at characters in a movie, but what about becoming emotionally invested in real people in a documentary, especially when you can see where they are going and they cannot?

  • Bottle Rocket may have put him on the map, and Rushmore continues to get more acclaim, but I believe that Wes Anderson was at his peak and has never made a better film than The Royal Tenenbaums. All his previous films built up to this one, and all his subsequent ones are merely faded copies de-evolving into a series of almost parodistic tropes. The cast, the cityscape, the cinematography, the dialogue, the design, even the font are pure distillation of perfect Wes Anderson, and no one, not even Anderson himself, can make a better Wes Anderson film than this one, though so many have tried.

  • "It's Sousé, accent grave over the 'e'."

    Comedy does not always age well; so, The Bank Dick shows why W. C. Fields is one of the greatest ever. I have never failed to laugh as Fields, as the souse Egbert Sousé, mocks American work ethic, the film industry, people's hypocrisy, and nearly everything else while stumbling, pratfalling, and drinking around Lompoc. Criterion should work to reaquire the video rights and bring The Bank Dick back into print, in addition to adding other great W. C. Fields films to the Collection.

  • "Folks, what can I tell you about my next guest? This cat allowed himself to be adored but not loved. And his success in show business was matched by failure in his personal relationship bag. Now that's where he really bombed. And he came to believe that work, show business, love, his whole life, even himself, and all that jazz was bullshit. He became numero uno game player to the point where he didn't know where the games ended and reality began. Like to this cat, the only reality...is death, man. Ladies and gentlemen, let me lay on you a so-so entertainer, not much of a humanitarian, and this cat was never nobody's friend." Any autobiographical film where the auteur would write that about himself is an intriguing self-examination of an equally intriguing psyche.

  • In a Criterion essay, film critic Molly Haskell calls Ace in the Hole a "Noir in Broad Daylight." I would argue that it is psychologically an inverse film: the black of the hole and the light inside contrasting with the light of the world outside and the deepest black festering in the bright desert light. Sixty-five years after it was released, I say Billy Wilder is a genius for seeing humanity with such cynical eyes. On some of my more cynical days, I say that Wilder was too much of an idealist; just look around today and you might wish you were in Wilder's New Mexico desert, where the inhumanity was so innocent.

  • "Brazil, where hearts were entertaining June.
    We stood beneath an amber moon,
    And softly murmured 'someday soon.'
    We kissed and clung together then,
    Tomorrow was another day.
    The morning found me miles away,
    With still a million things to say.
    Now, when twilight dims the sky above,
    Recalling thrills of our love.
    There's one thing that I'm certain of.
    Return I will to old Brazil."

    I think that says all one needs to know about Brazil, because once one watches it, one can never separate those innocuous leitmotif lyrics from the film. They just do not mean the same thing anymore.

  • My greatest ever movie watching experience was with Being There. It was on TCM late one night about a decade ago. I had never heard of the film, did not know who was in it, and had no preconceived notions whatsoever about what the film would be. I muted the late Robert Osborne's introduction and then just watched the film. It was an eye-opening experience to just be swept into the film with no idea what I was being swept into. Since then, I have tried watching every film that way, and it has led to some excellent experiences watching films that, had I known the plot and other information, I might never have watched (The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant is an example).

  • Bicycle Thieves is just one of those films that one watches and cannot unwatch. It stays with you, not through blood or guts or shock horror, but through through the characters, their actions and their humanity. It features one of the greatest movie endings (no spoilers), that moved me as much with the fourth viewing as the first.

  • While one would be hard pressed to withstand the silence and isolation portrayed in them for an extended, continuous length of time, In the Mood for Love would make a compatible double feature with I fidanzati. Both are visually masterful, sparsely dialogued examinations of two individuals and the connections they make with each other. In the Mood for Love is simply a masterpiece.

  • If Kirk Douglas's Chuck Tatum from Ace in the Hole had not been marooned in Albuquerque, who would he have been? Director Alexander Mackendrick and writers Clifford Odets and Ernest Lehman give us a glimpse into that alternate fiction, with J. J. Hunsecker (played by a similarly ruthless, in real life, Burt Lancaster) both modelling actual 1950s journalistic figures and providing a template for six decades of jingoistic, moralistic, and ubiquitous media personalities. A Face in the Crowd (not in the Criterion Collection but it should be) is another great film in a similar vein.

  • On a visceral level I loved Fantastic Mr. Fox. It has Wes Anderson's trademark excellent use of music (any film with both Georges Delerue and The Bobby Fuller Four is a musically excellent film). George Clooney is great at playing George Clooney-as-a-fox. It is a great, fun film as long as you do not think very much about the underlying message, which is to be yourself, even if yourself is a nasty little fur ball full of envy or an arrogant, lying thief who manages to endanger and permanently, negatively change the lives of his family, friends, and neighbors.

  • Informative and entertaining - everything a documentary should be. Zwigoff staged scenarios that allowed Howard Armstrong and company to be at their best. Zwigoff's commentary on how he put together this film is also enlightening as it shows how constructed supposedly "real" films are.

  • An uneven film that gets better as the film moves along. The beginning "third" starts off shakily with an unneeded narration that thankfully was not continued in the other two sections. The second section is the longest and is a biting, unsentimental look at an interconnected group of characters. The final section is a more sentimental look at an older couple whose life together is only the Roseland. Still a good film, just an uneven one with its first and third sections in the Magic Realism tradition and its second one a study of several flawed characters.

  • Excellent performances against type by Alec Guinness and John Mills.

  • Wes Anderson's debut film, which I swear is an inferior knock-off of Takeshi Kitano's Boiling Point.

  • A good crime film with believable and engaging heist scenes; nice performances by James Caan, Jim Belushi, Tuesday Weld, and company; and pretty good pacing that never makes the film seem two hours long. Mann's use of Tangerine Dream at various points borders on the garish. There is just something missing (which I cannot figure out) that prevents this film from being great.

  • Unlike Armageddon, this Michael Bay "film" does kind of deserve its place in the Criterion Collection. It is a good, exciting action film. The presence of Sean Connery, Nicolas Cage, and Ed Harris will go a long ways towards making any film good, which aside from some situations requiring tremendous suspensions of disbelief, this film is.

  • This rating is for De Sica's original Terminal Station, included as part of the Criterion Collection release, not for the shortened cut released in the United States as Indiscretion of an American Wife.

  • I am not a fan of melodramas, even from an acclaimed master of them like Douglas Sirk. Someone who enjoys the genre more than I would certainly rate this film much higher on their personal ranking. That being said, Magnificent Obsession is not a bad film.

  • Eyes Without a Face is a widely acclaimed film. Perhaps expectations of greatness stunted my enjoyment of the film because I found it to be somewhat flat. I neither liked it nor disliked it, though I appreciate its role in the development of "serious" horror films.

  • The Great Dictator is a mixed bag of a film. There are outstanding individual scenes, particularly the globe, shaving, and final speech scenes, but I did not find most of the film to be a very enjoyable watch. A historically important film, but not one that has aged well.

  • A strange film by William Klein. While I was watching it, I alternated between loving it and hating it, and I still cannot decide how I feel about it. Yet, it is a singular and unique film that I am glad exists and was released (even in Eclipse form) by Criterion.

  • Samuel Fuller's ham-fisted racism allegory. If not for the furor that embroiled its aborted theatrical release, it would only be (barely) remembered as a terrible film at the closing of a memorable film career.

  • Yukio Mishima's ode to seppuku. At least it is a short ode to a repugnant subject. The disc features were far better than the film. If I was ranking them, the film would be much higher up the list.

  • This ranking is only for the series' first six episodes. I simply could not bring myself to watch any more. Tanner '88 is not actively or willfully bad, but it is just too boring.

  • It's Armageddon, where did you think it would end up? Admittedly, it is not a plague upon humanity as some hyperbolic amateur internet film critics have claimed. But it faces very stiff competition in any ranking of the Criterion Collection, so is bound to end up at the bottom.

  • Joe Shishido's chipmunk face expressionlessly noirs its way through a bland Japanese underworld. That would rank it as a below average but still good film. It ranks as the worst thing I have seen in the Criterion Collection due to terribly written, poorly acted, and utterly cliched supporting characters that take up far too much of the movie's 84 minutes.

8 comments

  • By Eric Levy
    March 30, 2017
    03:03 PM

    Wonderful list and commentary! I've seen most of these. We have similar taste. Thanks so much for favorting two of my lists!
    Reply
    • By W. White
      March 31, 2017
      08:50 PM

      Thank you for the comment. The list is a work in progress as I am re-watching some films that I have not seen in several years (The Manchurian Candidate and Branded to Kill are next to be watched), as well as films I have never seen before (such Green for Danger, among others). You have many excellent lists, but I had to favorite "Jonathan Rosenbaum's 1000 Favorites." Although I have never met him, we are both from the same town, Florence, Alabama. When I was very young, I used to live close to the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Rosenbaum House.
  • By Eric Levy
    April 01, 2017
    07:09 AM

    Hi again. Looks like you tried to respond. The Reply button hasn't been working properly for years now. Just leave a new post to respond. Sometimes they show up if there's a new post. Fingers crossed!
    Reply
    • By W. White
      April 02, 2017
      04:40 AM

      I actually lost an earlier version of this list that I was editing in February as Criterion's list feature suddenly quit working for several weeks. I had to do this list all over again. In just the short time I have used the Criterion website I have noticed that it is a little balky. I think their tech people are spread too thin between this website and Filmstruck. I had Filmstruck for a little over six weeks just after it launched, and it never really worked properly. The watchlist did not work; films sometimes loaded slowly; and some films started registering DRM errors preventing me from watching them more than once. That was the worst problem as it kept me from watching Takeshi Kitano's Boiling Point and Sonatine for a couple of weeks. I had never seen them before signing up for Filmstruck. By the time I cancelled my subscription, I had seen them a half dozen (or more, I lost count) times each. They are masterpieces!
    • By W. White
      April 02, 2017
      04:41 AM

      I actually lost an earlier version of this list that I was editing in February as Criterion's list feature suddenly quit working for several weeks. I had to do this list all over again. In just the short time I have used the Criterion website I have noticed that it is a little balky. I think their tech people are spread too thin between this website and Filmstruck. I had Filmstruck for a little over six weeks just after it launched, and it never really worked properly. The watchlist did not work; films sometimes loaded slowly; and some films started registering DRM errors preventing me from watching them more than once. That was the worst problem as it kept me from watching Takeshi Kitano's Boiling Point and Sonatine for a couple of weeks. I had never seen them before signing up for Filmstruck. By the time I cancelled my subscription, I had seen them a half dozen (or more, I lost count) times each. They are masterpieces!
    • By W. White
      April 06, 2017
      10:00 PM

      Yes, I have tried leaving replies a couple of times, but they just never show up.
  • By Eric Levy
    April 01, 2017
    07:11 AM

    Worked! How cool! I was very fortunate to visit Mr. Rosenbaum's childhood home and meet his mother back in 1995. A beautiful house. He details growing up there in his first book MOVING PLACES.
    Reply
    • By W. White
      April 02, 2017
      04:32 AM

      Yes, it is a neat house. An architect friend of mine has told me about helping Mildred Rosenbaum take care of the house in the Eighties and Nineties.