10 Of My Favorite Films on Criterion

by MarkoAndric76

Created 07/27/17

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I don't think this list has been published properly due to some website glitch or mistake on my part. Either way, I'm going to try to write it again. Typically, I don't like ranked lists as it implies that films further down a list are less good than those at the top. Even if its a subjective lists of one's favorites, they ignore how people can have simultaneous favorites without necessarily thinking one is so much better than another. Yet as a long time Criterion customer and fan, I might as well write one, making clear, however, that this is a subjective list that is not meant to be exhaustive but only include 10 random Criterion titles that I love, listed in no particular order. There's just so much I love on Criterion (and that's not on Criterion) that not everything is going to make it to this 10 Favorites list. Its just a random sampling. Yet I'll try to keep it as representative of my taste as possible. Also, for diversity's sake, I'll try to include one film by a different director for each choice. But, if I may cheat, I'll count an entire box set or film set as one movie choice. Or I'll tie some movies in the same rank. Hey its my list. Okie Dokie, here it goes:

  • I know what I said about rankings but hear me out. Jean-Luc Godard is my favorite filmmaker. He understands and LOVES film. Every one of his movies is a reflection on the form and function of cinema, celebrating and critiquing its forms, conventions and limitations. He always tries to and succeeds in pushing the limits of what cinema can accomplish, while celebrating its past. Of his key 60's French New Wave classics, Vivre sa vie has always stood out to me for both its reflection on the ability of cinema to shape the soul and its devastating portrait of a young French newbie prostitute who has dreams of being an actress and living life on her own terms, only to be shown the hard way how that is not the case. His scene of Nana crying while watching Carl Dreyer's silent masterpiece on Joan of Arc in the theater is deeply moving and tells us how Nana sees herself. The scene of her tearful face as she's watching the Dreyer film is an iconic one in cinematic history. Not to mention that scene of her dancing in a cafe to the tune of a jukebox, much to the consternation of her pimp handlers. Truly a masterpiece.

  • Jean Vigo only died at the age of 29 but in the four films he directed, he already demonstrated artistic gifts that could only be dreamed of by most filmmakers twice his age in those days. Its agonizing for cinephiles to wonder what great films we missed out on due to his untimely death from tuberculosis but the work he did leave behind already ranks among the greatest works of cinema ever produced and secure's Vigo's place among the master filmmakers. This lovely dvd set collects all four of Vigo's films including his early masterpiece L'Atalante, perhaps the crowning achievement of 1930's poetic realism and one of the greatest films ever made, not to mention a huge influence on the French New Wave that came more than 20 years later. Vigo's depiction of Paris and the common bars and underlife of the city stand out in this film as do the ordinary boatmen who have dreams of their own, including the husband of the protagonist husband-wife duo who struggles to please the material appetites of his new bride. Their conflicting desires and capacities tear them apart, only to leave them empty without each other, starting a long journey to bring them together again. In addition to showing the every day marginalized underclass of French society so unique to French poetic realist cinema, Vigo was a master of underwater shots and L'Atalante makes great use of them in the couple's daydreams of each other as they are separated and pining for each other's company. Vigo tested these magnificent underwater sequences in his short film about French swimming champion Jean Taris, which is also in this beautiful set. Also included in this set is a lovely early little tourist documentary of Nice and Vigo's second big accomplishment - the 45 minute film Zero de Conduite about students who revolt and take over a boarding school. Its such a brilliant attack on authority and traditional educational power structures, not to mention a fascinating early portrait of pre-WW II youth rebellion. It was a major influence on Lindsay Anderson's classic film if.... and should be treated as a classic in its own right. A wonderful set all around and a must have for any cinephile. I know its one of my all time favorite, tied with Vivre sa vie by Godard.

  • Whenever one mentions the Surrealist movement, Salvador Dali's name is always likely to come up first. Yet Luis Bunuel was equally instrumental to the development of surrealism, given how he brought surrealism to cinema and pushed boundaries with it. His films played with the viewer's sense of reality while mounting powerful attacks on the socio-economic hierarchies of deeply Catholic Spain and Mexico. The Exterminating Angel is a great showcase of these themes, following up on the general ideas of his earlier film L'Age d'Or. Here, we have a party of decadent aristocrats who are suddenly unable to leave their party after a mysterious force keeps them in. Only the help and the police are kept outside, unable to enter. They suddenly decay into a primitive state and its up to Bunuel's leading lady Silvia Pinal (who plays the young foreign guest Leticia, also called "La Valikiria") to snap them out of their barbaric state to break the spell. A similar incident happens towards the end of the film when a bunch of aristocrats attending mass are mysteriously prevented from leaving the cathedral, while a popular riot is suppressed outside, with only the sheep allowed in. His attack on Spanish aristocratic-Catholic hierarchy is so perfect. There are many great Bunuel films but if you have to watch just one Bunuel film, watch this one.

  • Godard referred to Bresson as being to French cinema what Dostoevsky was to Russian literature. Watching his films, its easy to see why Godard thought so. Bresson mastered a minimalist style that made use of naturalist cinematic elements and coupled them with profound and deep examinations of human struggle, perseverance and tragedy. Au hasard Balthazar is particularly noteworthy for its examination of the hypocrisy and ills in seemingly idyllic country life and the struggle of characters to preserve their humanity in the face of this dehumanization. To be honest, this theme can be found in some form in two other Bresson masterpieces: Diary of a Country Priest and Mouchette. Yet it is here where Bresson's mixture of Catholic angst and country murkiness is perfectly realized. Plus I love donkeys so a story about a noble, de-anthropomorphized donkey is always something I'm interested in.

  • Fritz Lang was a master not only of film noir but of looking at the seedier side of mass behavior and how it always turns its wrath against the weak, the defenseless and the outsiders. Fury was his example of this for American audiences but it wouldn't exist but for his German masterwork M. In this chilling portrait of popular justice gone wrong, we see how the manhunt for a serial killer of children turns into a full-blown mob witchhunt which leads to the killer being brutally trapped and dragged to a "popular tribunal" by the city's common criminals and underworld (afraid of being blamed for the killings themselves) where he's "tried" and condemned, with only one man to defend him. The poor, yet guilty, party makes an impassioned appeal to their human values asking if its right for a mob to exact vengeance because of the actions of one man, as opposed to the law's own justice. The film ends with the authorities finally coming in to take custody of the man and try and sentence him legally but the question reverberates as well as the sad realization of the mother of one of the murdered children: that they failed the dead victims too and that no punishment meted out to the murderer would change that. She concludes that "one has to keep closer watch over the children" as the film ends. A masterpiece of noir and social critique.

  • Few filmmakers ever really captured war well the way Roberto Rossellini did and that is on full dislay in his neorealist masterwork trilogy of war films: Rome, Open City, Paisan and Germany Year Zero. These films capture not only the humanity, pathos and endurance of Italians fighting the Nazi occupation but they also capture the humanity of the German people themselves and how they'd been indoctrinated, manipulated and destroyed by a savage fascist dictatorship that promised them the world and empowerment after the humiliating Treaty of Versailles. Rossellini's humanism and empathy at a time when most wanted bigoted revenge showcases his importance as the giant of Italian neorealism, something he would go on to perfect in his many brilliant films after this trilogy, including his seminal work with his then-wife Ingrid Bergman.

  • Michelangelo Antonioni brought something new to cinema. He really pushed the boundaries in the perception of space and dimensions in a film and how they shaped the mood of the characters, in particular their alienation from each other in a modern, technological, capitalist society. Of his so-called "Trilogy of Modernity", I could have chosen any of the three (L'Avventura, La Notte, and L'Eclisse). I count all of them as favorites of mine. L'Avventura in particular is important for its portrayal of a young woman and her best friend's husband and how they become attracted to each other as the best friend/wife goes missing during a boating trip to the Aeolian Islands off the coast of Sicily. The loneliness they feel as they try to communicate their love for each other and alienation from the wealthy elites they call their friends is a testament to the power of Antonioni's critique of the alienating affects of late capitalism in his films and his understanding of how a viewer should see that alienation on screen. Truly a beautiful film among a master's great oeuvre and a special experience for any movie fan.

  • This is an essential Criterion set to have, containing five of the best films made by one of America's innovative and radical filmmakers - John Cassavetes. John was a master at using film to follow the emotional turmoil, twists and turns of his characters and that is on display in these five beautiful films: Shadows, Faces, A Woman Under the Influence, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie and Opening Night, easily all among the best films ever made. My only complaint about this set is that Cassavetes classic Husbands is missing from it. It has its place among the best of his work and should have been included. That aside, this is a fantastic box set of American film classics and a must have for all Criterion fans and movie buffs alike.

  • Science fiction films can be risky to make. There's so much repetition with the different scenarios and a risk that the same thing will be repeated over and over till it becomes formulaic and predictable. Sometimes, people try to do something more mind blowing yet if not done right, the results can either fall flat or go over the heads of the audience disproportionate to anything of substance in the film itself. Yet there are always classics that change the way we think about science fiction on film and about film itself. Kubrick did it with 2001: A Space Odyssey and Soviet filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky did it with his films Stalker and Solaris. Stalker has been a favorite of mine for a long time. Based on the equally innovative science fiction novel Roadside Picnic by Soviet sci fi writers (and brothers) Boris and Arkady Strugatsky, Stalker is a contemplative and moody work of art, depicting an industrialized, polluted Soviet city in the future after a collision created an "uninhabitable" area called the Zone which civilians are not allowed to enter. A guide, or "stalker" (one of many), helps people get across the checkpoints to visit the Zone itself and, in particular, a special building with a room that grants the desires of those in it. The film concerns one such trip with the Stalker and two others, a Writer and a Professor. They go into the zone and discover the room, only to learn that the room shows the deepest subconscious desires that people may not want to acknowledge. The Writer and Professor decide not to go in and the Stalker is left despondent over his failure to realize for them what he felt he was trying to do for everyone else: namely, bring hope and salvation to people by taking them to the Zone and the room. Tarkovsky is a master of slow tracking and he uses it to great affect in this film, honing in on the lives of his characters in the polluted industrial town and their reaction to the lush green world of the zone. He also has a great color scheme to contrast the effects of the industrial Soviet city with the carefree wild world of the Zone, with the City shown in sepia and the Zone shown in regular real life colors, highlighting how liberating and natural the Zone is v. how confining the City is. Tarkovsky was able to mix an examination of spiritual alienation with a revolution in cinematic form, going a step or two beyond Ingmar Bergman (not that I mean that as an insult to Bergman). Watch this on big screen if you can. Its easily one of my top favorite science fiction films, alongside 2001: A Space Odyssey.

  • Everyone knows David Lean for his big sprawling epics from the 50's and 60's like Lawrence of Arabia, Bridge on the River Kwai, and Doctor Zhivago but before this, he was best known as a director of focused and intimate films exploring human frailty and desperation. To me, these were his most interesting works, be it his Dickens adaptations, Hobson's Choice or the films he did with his then-wife Ann Todd. The best of this lot, however, was his 1945 romance Brief Encounter, starring Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard. This intense film about an almost-romance that was never consummated is a brilliant depiction of love lost and the pain it causes the respective parties, particularly the woman Laura Jesson (played by Johnson) whose loss of Alec Harvey (played by Howard) breaks her in ways that break us too. Also of interest is how Lean uses the dark suburban alleyways and railways to define Alec and Laura's relationship as one that is both secretive and easily scattered by the train schedules outside of their control. In many ways, this film reminds me of one of Graham Greene's adultery-themed works, but without the consummation or the Catholicism. One of my favorite films of all time and perhaps the best romance film ever made. Blows Casablanca out of the water.

  • If you strip away the controversy and the scandal this film caused with its graphic depictions of sex, rape and defecation, this is actually brilliant attack on both fascism's indifference to human suffering and bourgeois liberal critics obsession with sexual libertinism. Pasolini made this film at a time when he felt that his trilogy of adaptations of classical story collections (Trilogy of Life, also with Criterion) had sparked the wrong views from critics and had been co-opted by a liberal and politically quiescent discourse that was smug to the core in its celebration of libertine sexuality as an affirmation of its values. He wanted to poke fun at this type of libertine self-righteousness by showing how such attitudes could even be held by the most disastrous political ideology of the 20th century. That's what makes Salo such a brilliant and radical film, in addition to its artistic approach to film where Pasolini sets up his scenes like canvass paintings and portraits. While some misinformed critics complain that he was more interested in theory than cinematic form, I think Pier Paolo Pasolini was easily the most revolutionary and dangerous of Italian filmmakers. Salo is his masterpiece. That said, its not for everyone. Watch it only if you can stomach the unthinkable and the unwatchable. If you can get past both, hopefully you will discover a film that is both politically radical and a consummate work of art.