Under-Known Criterion Titles

by Jason W. Anderson

Created 07/18/12

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As anyone who has delved deeply enough into this site to read this paragraph would know, the Criterion Collection offers an embarrasment of riches to any and all fans of great movies, including many of the most famous titles in all of world cinema (Seven Samurai, 8 1/2, Wild Strawberries, the 400 blows, Wings of Desire, etc.) While I am a huge-mungous fan of all these films, this list is an attempt to bring greater attention to some (alas, just 10) of the other fantastic items available for our consumption, that, for whatever reason, don't pop up on many of these top-10-type lists; if you like, these are the "number 11's" that, like a middle child, deserve just a bit more attention than they usually receive. Onward!

  • This was one of the last films of Powell & Pressburger's golden 1940s period that I was exposed to; now I wish I'd had more years to appreciate it's overall wonderfullness. Like all of their finest films, it is both of its time and eternally fresh. It is a deliciously romantic film that is, nevertheless, nicely grounded in the late-war austerity of 1945 Britain. They don't make 'em like this anymore; then again, with the exception of the Archers, no one made 'em like this then.

  • A truly absorbing film by Sweden's 'other' master filmmaker, Jan Troell, this story of a seemingly typical wife & mother in the turn-of-the-century (who happens to have a sublime gift for photography) is, like so many great stories, a reminder that no one is truly 'typical', but that all of us have something unique to offer. Wonderful performances across the board, and images that will haunt you for days after. (Now, can we please have more Troell? Say, The Emigrants & The New Land?)

  • One of the best comic mystery-detective films, this gem by Mr. Gilliat achieves just the right balance between its suspense & humor elements to deliver a great roller-coaster experience for any audience. An 'old' movie for all ages. Alistair Sim, where are you now when we need you most?

  • Probably one of the most out-and-out entertaining movies in the entire Criterion catalog (yes, that's a grotesquely large statement...) A swashbuckler able to stand with the finest Hollywood offerings, laced throughout with a uniquely French wit and style, and starring two of the best-looking people of the silver screen, Gerard Phillipe & Gina Lollobrigida (boom-la-la-la!) Proof positive that French cinema had much to offer between WWII and the French New Wave,critical opinions to the contrary (see also Henri-Georges Clouzot & Jean-Pierre Melville for yet more proof...)

  • My favorite Eclipse set (so far...) Aki Kaurismaki does deadpan better than practically anyone (OK, tied with Jim Jarmusch...); these pompadoured, pointy-shoed fish out of (frozen?) water and their quest for musical success in the USA, where 'we'll buy anything', is an endearing tale, told over two movies, of perverse perseverance at the hands of their dubious manager, a there-and-back story that ends with a happy return to their frigid homeland; a Wizard of Oz for the iceberg set. Also, check out the concert movie; if there is such a term as 'surrealistically moving', this fills the bill.

  • After so many occasionally interesting, generally uninspiring 'educational' films that were required viewing back in my increasingly hazy schooldays, it is a blessing to find a collection of such films that are both informative and entertaining. M. Painleve's nimble mind and bottomless curiosity, and his willingness and ability to share both these traits with the world, are something all open minds should be grateful for. Who but Criterion would release a package like this? Bless y'all!

  • A fascinating record of a brief (1953-1958) but potent period of creativity & artistic achievement in our much-maligned medium of television. So many great stories, told for the first time (Marty, Patterns, Bang the Drum Slowly, Requiem for a Heavyweight); so many great writers (Rod Serling, Paddy Chayevsky) and actors (Paul Newman, Rod Steiger, Mickey Rooney, Jack Palance); most of all, such a unique blending of the spontaeity and energy of theater with the extra storytelling options (cameras, motion, editing) available to cinema. This is not your parents' television, this is everybody's.

  • Alec Guinness was one of acting's treasures, able to work both the comic and dramatic facets of the art as well as any, and often at the same time. The Horse's Mouth is a particularly good example of his ability to bring tickles and tears to a role, as the endearingly, gruffily talented painter/rascal Gulley Jimson; with all the social graces of a swamp adder, he nevertheless triumphs with his art in the face of (admittedly, self-generated) adversity. One of Mr. Guinness' most personal performances (also, his one and only screenplay).

  • The 1970's were a particularly interesting period in American filmmaking, with a particular emphasis on fresh stories, new methods, and younger filmmakers. Leave it to John Huston, one of the old masters (having directed for nearly 40 years by the time of this movie) to deliver one of the best of the decade. Brad Dourif, as Hazel Motes, the leader of his own 'Church Without Christ', is riveting; Harry Dean Stanton and Ned Beatty are equally compelling as 'fellow' preachers competing for souls on the Gothic side of the street(s).

  • In a now-legendary period of French cinema (1959-1960) marked by so many terrific feature film debuts by soon-to-be esteemed filmmakers (Truffaut, Godard, Chabrol, Resnais, etc.), this first feature by Claude Sautet can stand erect with the best of them (no slouch necessary). A taut, tense little gem about a gangster on the lam with his two kids in tow, with the great Lino Ventura and his blend of no-nonsense physicality and inner thoughtfulness, and Jean-Paul Belmondo's ingratiating ex-boxer-like charm, by a young filmmaker from outside the New Wave and inside the studios, yet with the fresh energy usually attributed exclusively to the New Wavers.

1 comment

  • By Spencer Lefevre
    September 23, 2014
    12:28 AM

    I love your mention of The Golden Age of Television. Rod Serling has done so much for all mediums.