My Criterion Top 20

by Omkar Gaitonde

Created 05/21/17

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This is a list of 20 films that I have chosen for my unofficially official (since a film geek's list can never be truly official) Criterion List. Among my favorite films, but also very "Criterion" films, meaning well-known movies that these mofos RESTORED, so "Grand Budapest Hotel" and just about every Wes Anderson film, aren't gonna be on here; everyone has seen them. Not all of these movies are super obscure, but they are at least indie enough or unknown enough to be legit Criterion Movies. My 20 favorites among those. Here Goes!!

  • De Palma is one of the great directors of all time, unquestionably; one of the supreme postmodernists of cinema. This was not his "actual" debut, since he started off with these radical student films "Greetings" in '68 and "Hi Mom" in '70 (among the first films to star De Niro) but this was his "official" debut. A great tongue-in-cheek thriller, one of the great debuts of all time.

  • Just to add another directorial debut: the greatest of all time, hands down. Michael Mann is a master, a genius, a man who makes such intricate, meticulous, heavily-researched films. But this was his first ever movie, and for this to be as intricate, meticulous, and heavily-researched as it is, is an insurmountable achievement. One which future directors can only aspire to, but never top.

  • One of the most iconic revenge movies, this was the key template for "Kill Bill"; a badass (and quite lovely) chick played by Meiko Kaji's out for revenge after the death of her mother; she was trained for it all her life! It is a poetically violent movie. You gotta watch 'em both; the second one, a lotta people said "where's the revenge in that" and "why does the story continue once the main story was pretty much over" and "how the fuck did she get back up"!!!! (okay, bit of a spoiler there). Well, that last one is funny as shit, and I like it being open-ended, but the second movie in general is basically revenge against a political system, so it still is a revenge movie. So it continues the story in an INDIRECT fashion, which I like.

  • The most artistic martial arts movie until Tsui Hark and Yuen Woo Ping took over. But it paved the way for all that stuff, and this COULD have been the direction of kung fu cinema in the 1970s, but that was taken over by the Shaw Brothers (still great though). Obviously, being a wuxia film, there would have been no Crouching Tiger or Hero if it weren't for this King Hu masterwork; generally though, pretty much EVERYONE wanting to make a martial arts movie of any kind owes something to "Touch of Zen".

  • You can't have a list of independent films and not include this one. The ultimate American indie film. Jarmusch is cinema's ultimate urban poet, or poet period. One of the greats. A brilliant, diverse, prolific filmography started with this gem, and paved the way for American independent cinema of the 80s and 90s.

  • This is an awesome, action packed, gory series o' six movies, made in the '70s, about an executioner-turned-assassin and his baby (and his baby's cart!). One of my favorite movie series' of all time, with anime-like violence in a live action movie!!!

  • One of the great gangster comedies of the '50s (maybe ever); pretty much the Analyze This of that time. Like Analyze This capitalized on the success of movies like Goodfellas and Casino, this movie popularized on the success of heist movies comin' out in Italy at the time. Made by maybe the most legendary director of Italian comedy.

  • This is sorta the martial arts/Asian "Batman v Superman". Cause, Zatoichi (the blind swordsman) and the one armed swordsman, the two most iconic heroes, from essentially feuding countries, get into a fight, so maybe even more tense that Batman v Superman. But this is just a great "versus" movie; Criterion's got pretty much all the Zatoichi, but none of the One Armed swordsman!! Whatever, this way, they both get on my list!

  • Everyone thinks Coppola stopped being relevant after the '70s. Not entirely true: he had this great movie in the '80s, and Dracula in the '90s. He already did The Outsiders and now, he adapted this SE Hinton book; only, the approach is very different. This is more of an expressionist painting about teen gangs, rather than just a straight-up narrative approach, like in The Outsiders, but it's still great, and has this oddball feel to it. This is my fave Coppola film, after Apoc.

  • How dope is Cassavetes; he was like the first TRULY indie filmmaker, coming up in the '50s, and basically defined what that was. Except, in the '50s, he was known (and still is) for his black and white movies; in the '70s, he made basically New Hollywood movies, and this is like one of the ultimate New Hollywood movies. He just shows a club owner guy, played by Ben Gazzara (who already was with him on Husbands, and one year after this one on Opening Night) who has a debt to pay off to some gangsters, and they make him whack a guy (well, a Chinese guy). But at the same time, they really go into this arc with him and his club and his showgirls. Cassavetes, in this sorta verite way, just shows you his life, and ya got the main arc which is...ya know, the main arc, but ya got the club arc too, since that's part of his life. And the lighting in the club scenes is amazing; very lively.

  • Now, when watching this movie, understand that it's not just about Lee Marvin and Clu Gulager (the two killers). It has a lotta back story to it, with Angie Dickinson, John Cassavetes, and even Ronald Reagan. I thought during the first fifty minutes of the movie the backstory was a complete waste of time and, well, it's called "The Killers" so I thought it was gonna be a brutal Lee Marvin movie, but the backstory, I'm tellin' ya, is really worth it. And it's cool to compare this to the Bob Siodmak version, which was actually released in 1946 (this was 1964!) cause this is sort of a "technicolor noir" version of that movie. But they're both great!

  • What Sergio Leone did with the western, Seijun Suzuki did with the Yakuza film. He satirized it while showing his love for it. This movie is just insane, weird, funny, violent, subversive as is Japan's epitome of cool!

  • The "Le Samourai" of Japan. Tokyo Drifter is more on the tongue and cheek side; this is a straight up, existential yakuza movie.

  • Truffaut loved to play around with the movies; he's such a fuckin' child! And this movie, I mean, it's a movie about a guy having an affair, but it's all set up like a dark noir. But this is Truffaut, so ya know, it's all for kicks!

  • SENOR ALMODOVAR!!!! One of those filmmakers that, after three decades, is still fresh and exciting! But this was back in the day, when he was young and hip (and he's still hip!).

  • The grandaddy of monster movies: need I say more??!??!?!??!?!

  • Pretty much everyone who makes a Criterion list has a Kurosawa on there so I figured I'd just put on his debut. This is a cool early martial arts film, about Jujitsu vs Judo.

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