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This is the best film I’ve ever seen in my entire life, hands down. There will never be a film as good as this, in my mind, because this is the perfect film. Combining the intelligence of a good samurai film, the pinache of a classic gangster film and the cool vibe of the 60’s, this is Alain Delon and Jean-Pierre Melville at their absolute finest. This is the only film that I would theoretically share with someone, and if they couldn’t watch it and tell me that it is awesome, I wouldn’t want to be their friend.
Terry Gilliam is perhaps one of the most creative men directing and writing films today. With this 1984-esque film mixing dark satire amidst an insane and dystopian landscape, Brazil is definitely Gilliam’s finest work, and the director’s cut of the film is out-of-this-world brilliance. (Side note: it took all that I could to not just throw every Gilliam offer from Criterion on this list, but I somehow managed. However, Time Bandits almost made the list. Almost.)
When it comes to Chaplin, this really is a no brainer. It’s a beautifully poetic film, ushering away the silent film era with a brilliant little satire featuring a gorgeous soundtrack and true heart that is still often unmatched by 90% of films released today. Modern Times, despite being fairly controversial during its original release, is one of the classic examples of how beautiful and powerful films can be.
Funny story: when I was in college, one of my friends tried to set me up with a friend of his girlfriend, and all I knew about her was that her favorite film was Withnail and I, so I saw it so I’d have something to talk about. In the end, I ended up liking the movie a lot more than the prospective date, and I still find the movie absolutely hilarious today. A sharply written film with stand-out performances, this is the perfect film for an English major who also quite enjoys a drink (or two).
Like Modern Times, I saw this long before it came to Criterion, but its current inclusion is a testament to its stature. 12 Angry Men is a classic in every sense of the word, with perhaps one of the most intelligent and well-plotted out scripts, and any film that can take place in one singular room and be effortlessly engrossing is worth its weight in gold. (Side note: I’ve been on a jury before. It was nothing like this film. I can’t express how disappointing that is to me.)
Kurosawa is a fantastic director, and it came down to a battle of this film vs. Seven Samurai. However, despite the obvious classical epic that that is, Rashomon is just too fantastic of a film. I originally saw this film in college in a class dedicated to satire, and it blew me away. You’ll often see films or shows like this, featuring stories within stories about the ever-changing notion of perception, but Rashomon, in its own way, is the original court room drama, and is a perfect example of Kurosawa’s ability to draw captivating performances from his actors and actresses.
I’m a huge fan of Mamet. I think he’s a fantastic writer, and he has in many ways founded the style in which I attempt to emulate in my own writing. While I doubt I will ever reach his mastery of dialogue, House of Games is a great example of Mamet’s talent in crafting devious webs of lies amongst the world of con men, and its even more impressive when you realize this was the first film he ever directed. (Side note: Mamet’s other film on Criterion, Homicide, is quite good as well, although I’m still confused about the ending, truth be told. I hear that this is on purpose.)
Truth be told, I only knew of this film and saw it because of my work on Study Hall for the comic Morning Glories (it is referenced in issue #6, and I saw it in preparation for the Study Hall that Crit and I did for that issue; turns out I didn’t need to at all, but whatever). It’s a vicious little film, and is a true horror story if I’ve ever seen one, featuring captivating performances, beautiful and dark cinematography, and an incredibly devious ending. It’s definitely the obvious precursor to Hitchcock’s famous work with films like Psycho, and it shows from every corner.
Most people, when citing the excellence of Godard, will probably pick Breathless. I can’t blame them. Breathless is a fantastic film. However, it was Pierrot le Fou that really challenged my notions of cinema when I first saw it, in a madcap but intriguing tale of runaway adventure. It’s entirely existential, but its absolutely beautiful in its execution of freedom and love, and while Godard has certainly made quite a few films that your average movie goer could call esoteric (I just saw Made in USA and can spot a lot of similarities), this is quite simply my favorite of the bunch.
I am an absolute sucker for thoughtful science fiction films, and Solaris is one of the best. Made as an antithesis to Kubrick’s 2001 (a favorite of mine), the movie challenges the average notions of both science fiction and psychological mastery, and it certainly hits a lot of the high notes that 2001 did in its own way, and is one of my favorite examples of my favorite “subgenre” of ‘astronaut marooned on space station’ (to which I think there is no proper name). Solaris is an epic of a film, and a thrilling example of how great science fiction films can be if we just get past the need for aliens popping up at every corner.