Jeff Wilder's Top 12 Criterions.

by Jeff Wilder

Created 10/01/17

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Pretty self-explanatory. Decided to do 10 and a couple bonus ones. Hence 12. There are many ones I had to leave off to keep it at 12 so a few runners up include: Life Of Brian, All That Jazz, Time Bandits, Boyhood, Slacker, Chasing Amy, Tootsie The Apu Trilogy etc etc etc. So these are not necessarily the 12 best Criterion films. They're 12 Criterion films that I love, of which there are numerous ones.

  • Kubrick the master at his most brilliantly subversive. Satire is so hard to do well. There are many efforts that fail and many that work for the time they were in, yet do not hold up well 5 let alone 50 years later. This one does so brilliantly. It's one movie that will never go out of date, which is both a good and a bad thing. In some ways, with the stand-off with North Korea going on now, it's even more relevant for the age of Trump and Kim Jong Un than it was in the cold war era.

  • No, nothing to do with the recent TV show. This film is easily (no offense to Magnolia, which would also be on this list if it were part of the Criterion collection) the best ensemble film ever made. Using the country music capital as a microcosm, Robert Altman depicts the transient nature of American life quite well. And speaking as one who has never been the biggest fan of country music outside of a few select artists, the music here is superb.

  • What's there to say really? Kurosawa's masterpiece (with some very stiff competition).

  • Like the first two on this list, one film that never goes out of date. A film that manages to mix laugh out loud funny humor and tear-inducing drama and make both work equally well? Check. Where many films that delve into sociopolitical subject matter go wrong is that they either come off as preachy or they put the issue ahead of characters and story. Here, Spike Lee sets out to make a film that makes larger points about the world in the context of telling a personal story. He succeeds and the result is a film that does not come off like an editorial, the same way the not bad but overpraised at the time Crash did.

  • Elia Kazan and Brando at their best.

  • Of the myriad films about high school, this one easily stands as the best. This is mainly because it is the most honest in its depiction of it. I say that as one who attended high school 2 decades after the events depicted in Dazed And Confused (graduated in 1997). It doesn't go for the bubblegum nostalgia of the likes of Grease or the high school is hell approach of the likes of Welcome To The Dollhouse. Instead it shows it as what it is for so many: neither heaven or hell. But a place where many people try to do the best they can while they are stuck there. It doesn't fall into the cliches that a lot of the John Hughes movies fell into and thus has aged better than a lot of them.The film is fun yet it also has a melancholy undertone. To me, it hits the perfect balance: not totally nostalgic but not focused only on the pain. That's why, to me, it's the best movie about HS ever made.

  • I rank this with Dazed because if I were to rank high school movies this one would be in the top five, a notch or two after Dazed and Fast Times At Ridgemont High (surprised that one hasn't gotten Criterion treatment yet). If Dazed is a depiction of HS life as it actually is for most people, Alexander Payne's film is a biting satire of what's ridiculous about so much of HS while also scoring much damage on the American political scene as well.

  • Truffaut may have been the filmmaker who best understood life for young people. This brilliant film proves it. Easily the best coming of age story ever.

  • To me, this is the greatest cinematic love story of all-time. If any filmmaker can be called the American Truffaut, it's Richard Linklater. In these three great films, he depicts a romantic relationship far closer to reality than it is depicted in sappy love stories of the Sandra Bullock variety. His natural style means that nothing comes off as feeling forced. And he doesn't sugarcoat anything, especially in the third movie which shows cracks starting to appear. The characterization is excellent.

  • A cult film that manages to skewer the mainstream and celebrate the counterculture, yet also doesn't hesitate to depict the counterculture as being less than perfect in more ways than one. One of those mvoies I can put on at any time and watch.

  • Why, you may ask, am I ranking these two together? The simple answer is that they're both 1984 cult movies (although technically I cheated so I could fit both on the list and keep it at 12). But both work well as satiric films that offer laughs and heart at the same time. Excellent alternatives to many of the melodramatic indies and big budget nothings of today.

  • Brian De Palma's masterpiece (No offense to Carlito's Way, The Untouchables, Scarface, Dressed To Kill or Carrie). A well-done thriller that combines political intrigue wiht a story about those who specialize in sound and pictures. In some ways, this re-imagines American history in a terrifying fashion. John Travolta gives what is by far his best performance.

  • There haven't been that many films about Thanksgiving. When it comes to comedies about that holiday, Planes Trains And Automobiles takes the top spot. This one is easily the king of the dramas. A lot of people note how Ang Lee was only a young boy who had never set foot in America in 1973. To me, that helped him bring the objective balance this film required to really work. It doesn't fall into the soap opera cliches that many films about dysfunctional families do. What it shows is a family that's caught up in the changing times of the era and is struggling to figure out how to deal with them. A lot of times, the problems families face cannot be easily fixed and this film understands that. Plus, Lee get the era down pretty well, according to people i know who lived through it.

  • By far, this is easily my favorite sports film and definitely a contender for top documentary ever. If this were a regular film made form a script, people wouldn't believe it or dismiss it as cliches. But the fact that it's real life unfolding on camera in front of us makes it even more poignant. A true story of growing up, of coming of age in circumstances that are often dire, yet still keeping on. The question of whether or not the teenage boys will make it to pro sports isn't the main point here. There's an old expression about how it doesn't matter as much whether you win or lose as long as you play the game right. This film is a perfect illustration of that.

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