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I have yet to see the breadth of Criterion's catalogue (has anyone, really?), but so far, this is what I've got.
The first Criterion I ever owned, and probably my favorite still. I distinctly remember being taken by the front cover art; spare, yet brutal and pure noir, a true standout in a collection of over six hundred similarly well-packaged movies. After buying and watching this, I knew I had found not only an excellent new collection obsession to have (my other is vinyl), but I also began my still-running love affair with noir and Jean-Pierre Melville. Now, he's my favorite director of all time, and Le Doulos is definitely the strongest of his noirs. The script is appropriately twisty, and the performances, mainly Belmondo, are some of the Nouvelle Vague's finest.
Melville is so good he gets two spots! Effectively the blueprint for the modern "lone killer" trope, Le Samourai is the most minimalistic of Melville's films, but it nevertheless pulls some serious punches. The final scene is one of the most harrowing in the history of noir.
Is there a more honest depiction of modern marriage in cinema's history? I haven't seen it yet, if that's the case. Bergman is hailed for iconic works like The Seventh Seal, but from what I've seen this is his masterpiece. The truncated film version is strong, but nothing can top the six-scene miniseries. Bergman's script has the strength of all the greatest plays in history, to the point that I'd like to see a stage adaptation. Along with The Wire, this is the greatest work of television ever made; I'd go so far as to say this is the best story that's been filmed, ever.
This became an instant favorite upon the first viewing, and I can tell I'll be watching this one quite a bit. Noirs are known for their twists, but some are better than others, and Youth of the Beast is the ideal example of how to stage a double (and triple) cross. The plot, about a former cop trying to play two mobs against each other by working for them at the same time, is masterfully directed by Suzuki here. The script is an obvious progenitor to Infernal Affairs, the Chinese film that became the source material for The Departed, one of the greatest cops vs. the mob movies ever made. One thing that sucks about seeing a movie like this, though, is how plainly obvious a lot of the foreign noirs were because US directors were still under the stipulations of the production code at the time. There's a lot of frank discussion about drugs and prostitution that you wouldn't see in American films of the time. I'd love to see this one get a Blu-Ray upgrade; I was stunned at the quality of the DVD transfer, one of the best I've seen.
War tears the human fabric apart, even amongst those who consent to participate in it. That fact, amongst many others, is beautifully conveyed by Terrence Malick's masterpiece, one of the greatest documents of warfare ever shot. Characters drift in and out; despite the all-star billing, some people show up only for five minutes. And amidst the beauty of the South Pacific, we are constantly made aware of the looming threat of destruction around the corner.
I was impressed when I first saw this film, but for some reason it didn't stick in my memory. After a second viewing, this time of the gorgeous Blu-Ray transfer, I know it'll be a long time before this one is out of my head. A war film that really isn't, L'Armee des Ombrees is about life in the underground, where instead of being on the front lines with a machine gun you're left with just a pistol in a dark alley. All this does bear some semblance to Melville's forays into noir, but this isn't a gangster film. These characters only look like gangsters because they're forced to live a life in the shadows, as there is no looming threat greater than the Nazis. Though Le Doulos is my favorite, it's hard to deny that this is Melville's best.
Mamet has studied the confidence game unlike no other writer in history, and this is one of his most unique. He was still finding his footing as a director back then, but given that this is debut the material is excellent. This is also unique amongst his oeuvre in having a female lead; Lindsay Crouse's performance is nuanced and exactly what is needed for a role like this. She ends up becoming something of a meta-commentary on what it's like to be a woman in Mamet's world and, more importantly, how women can fare just as well as men at the art of the con.
This is the strangest and most difficult work of Mamet's. I still don't know exactly what happens at the end; as the police procedural gave way to the reflection on Jewish self-hatred, the lines between reality and deception began to blur. This is, of course, one of Mamet's greatest skills, the art of deception and of the confidence game. At any point it seems like Bobby Gold (Joe Mantegna) is getting hustled... it's just never clear by whom. I'm enthralled Criterion picked this title up; a true masterpiece.
The script to Kicking and Screaming is one of the most true-to-life examinations of post-graduate paralysis, especially for those graduates who devoted themselves to the (sadly) unmarketable humanities, like myself. All of the bizarre inside jokes and run-ins throughout the movie feel just like all the weird jokes we're likely to have with our friends (as in the ever-elusive Cookie Man). Because of how funny and relatable it is, it's the Criterion I've watched the most. An essential of indie cinema.
Guillermo del Toro is a storyteller of the first rate in the traditional sense, but he has a flair that's contemporary and, more importantly, all his own. I understand why Criterion might hesitate to put out their own edition of Pan's Labyrinth, his true masterpiece: the film already has two exhaustive editions, in a two-disc DVD and a blu-ray, so it'd be pretty hard to add anything more than a cool booklet and sleeve art. (Regardless of redundancy, though, I'd still buy it if they put it out!) Though Cronos is not del Toro's strongest moment (which he himself admits in the very thorough interview included amongst the extras here), but it is a fine film. I've done thorough research on immortality throughout the ages, and this is a unique creation amongst the many narratives that exist. What's refreshing watching the film now, amidst the unbelievably annoying vampire craze, is how subversive it deals with vampirism. The word "vampire" is never uttered throughout the movie, though it's obvious that's what Jesus (Frederico Luppi) is becoming. As far as directorial debuts go, this is outstanding, truly peerless in its boldness and uncompromising vision. Along with Jean-Pierre Melville, Guillermo del Toro is my favorite director of all time.
A very difficult thing to watch, Hunger is. Not because of director Steve McQueen's well-documented penchant for long shots, but instead for its unflinching depiction of the Maze Prison. Every blow of prison brutality is felt, as the actors really give this their all. The centerpiece of all this, a twenty-minute dialogue between Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender) and his priest, is the single best scene in a film I have ever seen.
I didn't expect a blatant B-movie to convey as powerful message about American racism as this one does, but it does it in spades. Samuel Fuller has made more technically proficient films than this one, but there's something truly unique about it that's hard to shake off. The scene where the dog's initial trainer encounters the lead character sends all kinds of chills down my spine. Unforgettable, throat-gripping stuff.
Wes Anderson's Criterion releases are always stellar, but this underrated gem tops them all. Bill Murray is a more genuine lead than any other of Anderson's eccentric patriarchs (topping even Gene Hackman's turn in The Royal Tenenbaums), and it's really interesting to see this director's take on an action movie. The scene where the Filipino pirates just walk on board while the guitar player sings David Bowie slays me every time.
(Everybody always seems to add an 11th, so I thought I'd join in!) A light, bouncy piece compared to the rest of Jean-Luc Godard's oeuvre, Une Femme est Une Femme is nevertheless brimming with satirical claims about the state of modern love, life, and culture. Anna Karina, ever beautiful, absolutely steals the whole movie, with a little help from her two excellent male cohorts.