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While I have yet to see every Criterion film, these are the twenty that I return to over and over again. This list is dynamic and is likely to change.
Perhaps the truest depiction of adolescence and its trials and tribulations ever committed to film. Truffaut hit the nail on the head with his very first film. How many can say that? I'm a sucker for great final shots, and this one takes the cake. I can't imagine what seeing this back in 1959 would have felt like.
Like 400 Blows, this film tackles the trials and tribulation of youth, albeit in a much different and humorous way. Max Fischer is one of my all-time favorite movie characters. One needn't ask why after watching this film (O R they?). With just enough quirk, We Anderson toes the line (and something I think he doesn't do as well in his subsequent films) between hipster film and true art. The closing scene on the dance floor, in slow-motion, with Faces' Ooh La La playing gives me chills every time I watch this. Without a doubt the best closing scene of any film I've ever seen. Maybe the best soundtrack of the last 25 years?
Typically minimalist, Jarmusch's Down By Law gives us the story of three "criminals" who break out of jail together. The dynamic between the three is anchored by the comedic performance of Roberto Begnini, who I simply love in this film. The photography in this film is second to none - Robby Muller at his finest. The tracking shot of the bayou as the boat rides the river is truly haunting.
A technicolor dream. Saw this on the big screen at The Music Box in Chicago during a Sirk retrospective and fell in love with it. The scene with the deer had my wife in tears. Hudson and Wyman play very well off of one another and create a really true portrait of 50s life and all of the prejudices that played into everyday life then. Agnes Moorehead is typically fabulous in her supporting turn.
The most "real" feeling terrorist film I've ever seen. The explosion at the disco/dance club looked as if it had been filmed this year. A terribly pertinent film even to this day. Among my highest film recommendations to anyone who is willing to give it a shot.
Without a doubt, this film features what I believe the finest performance committed to celluloid in Rowlands' role of Mabel Longhetti. She is the embodiment of that character and she had me completely entranced in every move she made and how it might affect her and her family in the next scene. Rarely has a character been able to do this with me. Pure cinema. Cassavetes is a MASTER. It's a shame he left us so early.
If it gets cooler than Delon's Jef, then I don't know where. Melville's choice to go with so little dialogue in this film was such a correct move. This allows us to focus on Jef and really see what his motivations are and how he is or is not able to get himself out of the situations he finds himself in. Flawless. Perfection. I expect nothing less from Melville.
Perhaps a choice that too many wouldn't make in the Criterion Universe. However, fewer films seem to capture their time period as well as this film. The overwrought, pseudo-intellectual babble perpetuated by the characters sums up the excessive, gaudy and over-the-top disco era. I love the characters in this film so much despite the fact that I'd probably punch them all if they were in my circle. This always makes for an interesting time...and so does a Whit Stillman film.
Clearly a progeny of Stillman's films, the super-talkie Kicking and Screaming hit me right as I fell into a similar situation as the main characters - post-graduation in a liberal college town with no motivation or desire to do much of anything at all. Baumbach and the actors are able to create believable characters that you want to drink with. My desire to go to Prague has still not been fulfilled even though we've all BEEN to Prague, right Grover?