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This set has been discontinued for a long while, which is a shame because it's a good place to start if you want to get into Hitchcock. Each of the five films in this set are extraordinarily good, and are strong showcases of Hitchcock's unmatched filmmaking mastery. "The 39 Steps" is an outstanding blend of suspense and adventure, with a pinch of screwball comedy. "The Lady Vanishes" is a sharply-written mystery that holds up to repeat viewings and is one Hitchcock's absolute best. "Rebecca", which won the Academy Award for "Best Picture" of 1940, is a superb gothic tale with some really fine performances. "Spellbound" is an exceptional thriller with some great psychiatric underpinnings. And, finally, you have "Notorious," which is perhaps the most emotionally-investing spy pictures ever made. In short, this is a collection of films you just can't go wrong with.
Note: Even though the set as a whole has been discontinued, you can still purchase Criterion editions of "The 39 Steps" and "The Lady Vanishes" on DVD and Blu-ray, and they're easily the best versions you can find on home video.
This film isn't just in my Criterion Top 10; it's one of the ten best films I've ever seen. Nichols' directs this film with a rare and consistent precision. The screenplay is both witty and poignant, tackling issues that can still resonate with young people today. You also have a star-making performance by Dustin Hoffman, as well as one of my personal favorite performances in Anne Bancroft's Mrs. Robinson.
We're going from Dustin Hoffman's breakthrough role to (in my view) the greatest performance of his career.
My personal favorite film of the silent era, "The Passion of Joan of Arc" is one of the most beautiful and heartbreaking films ever made. Dreyer's brilliant use of close-ups creates an emotional experience I've felt with no other film. And, if your soul isn't moved by Maria Falconetti's performance as Joan, I question if you actually have one.
"This is Spinal Tap" was not the first mockumentary ever made, but it is easily the best. It captures the form of documentaries, while seamlessly mixing in the silliness. Strangest thing of all is how accurately it depicts where rock and roll was, at that time.
I rank Jack Nicholson as one of my two or three favorite actors, and his performance as Bobby Dupea in "Five Easy Pieces" (an excellent drama and character study, in it's own right) is, in my opinion, his best. His finest moment may be the scene near the end, where Bobby has a highly emotional talk with his invalid father. The vulnerabily that Nicholson displays is endlessly moving.
"Rosemary's Baby" is more of a supernatural drama than an out-and-out horror film, but that does not make it any less engaging. Polanski is a proven master of placing his audience in the shoes of his protaganist: what they feel, we feel. It's that ability that makes the film the classic that it is.