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My top ten favorite Criterion titles. In something like, but not necessarily, any semblance of an order.
All right. Prepare yourself for a ridiculously over the top review- The Seventh Seal is the most powerful, devastating, beautiful, and important film I’ve have ever had the pleasure of seeing. It sounds like hyperbole but this film destroyed me. Its like a great purging of the soul. Whatever bits you have in there that ring false are burnt away. Bergman’s endless questioning becomes your own. This film is not just about what religion is or means, its about what being human is and means. Honestly if I were asked to pick one film to represent humanity and the human condition I would have no hesitation in picking The Seventh Seal.
This is not only my favorite Wes Anderson movie, but really my favorite movie period. Every time I watch this movie it shifts to reflect my mood. Its either painfully funny or painfully depressing. This is ground Anderson often treads but its really the subject matter/milieu that pulls me in to this one. I love stories about ocean adventure and exploration but what Life Aquatic does is take that great adventurer and age him just past his prime. Even in this pathetic state Bill Murray, as Steve Zissou, is infinitely like-able and its hard not to sympathize with him. And on top of the adventure and Murray’s performance, you get Willem Dafoe in a ridiculous pair of shorts as a bonus. Just thinking about this movie makes me want to watch it again.
Blow Out is easily my favorite of De Palma’s films. It combines aspects of the Kennedy assassination, a murder mystery, behind the scenes of film making, and John Lithgow as a villain. All great things. As well as being a ‘taut thriller,’ this movie is beautiful. De Palma’s use of split-screen and even more interstingly, split diopter, is stunning. Blow Out also features my favorite Travolta performance as a sound man on crappy horror movies.
Probably Kurosawa’s most famous (at least most remade) film and my favorite. Granted Hidden Fortress is close but I’m a sucker for team building… and there’s loads of it in Seven Samurai. Just about the first half of this 207 minute epic is team building. You know the story- pathetic villagers enlist the help of mighty warriors to defend their village- but this is it done first and done best. On top of a great story, and Kurosawa’s masterful directing, the score is amazing and Mifune is mesmerizing as usual. This film and Bergman's Seventh Seal define Criterion.
The Thin Red Line is one of Malick's masterpieces. One of the few modern masters, Malick weaves this world war two story together with incredible poetry. The cast is vast, the scope is immense, and the visuals are stunning. Watching this film is a religious experience.
Charade is a movie I think everyone can enjoy. It has the suspense and style of a Hitchcock film with the charm of Breakfast at Tiffanys. It doesn’t get much better than Carey Grand and Audrey Hepburn. Made as a response to the over-the-top Bond films, Charade has all the great parts of the 60s without all (but still some) of the silliness.
Sidney Lumet has a small presence in the Criterion collection, but this entry is massive. Twelve brilliant actors talk for 96 minutes while remaining in a single room and it's completely riveting. 12 Angry Men is filled with some absolutely thrilling reveals, every one of which is completely earned just like every word uttered has importance and weight. It feels like Aaron Sorkin learned most of his stuff from this film. 12 Angry Men is an absolute must see.
Gilliam is one of the few true masters that is still among us and Brazil is one of his masterpieces. A movie that makes you feel like you’re going insane as it goes along, and then continues after it ends as you realize how right Gilliam was about the future. When I hear the theme in my regular everyday life I still question whether it’s just in my head. Brazil is a dystopian nightmare that really only could have come from a mind like Gilliam’s.
Written by, starring, and directed by Charlie Chaplin, The Great Dictator is an absolute masterpiece (a word I will use a couple more times before this list is through). Released before America had joined the war, its a call to action. A call to stop putting up with bullies, and to defend the defenseless. The film does a great job of luring you in with some of Chaplin’s most iconic (and ripped off) sequences, but then hits you in the gut with a genuine plea for humanity. The end was panned by most critics at the time but that last ten minutes are ten of the greatest minutes ever committed to celluloid. If it doesn’t have you in tears, the Nazi’s might as well have won.
A completely engaging workplace comedy/romance from the master of both, James L. Brooks. Starring Bill Hurt, Holly Hunter, and Albert Brooks as a slightly moronic but charming anchor, a producer, and a copywriter in that order. I’ve cared more about these characters (namely Albert Brooks’) than I have most real people. It’s not only a great romance/comedy similar to the UK Office, but it’s also an incredibly accurate behind the scenes look at the people putting out the news in the mid 80s. Broadcast News captures that moment in television history where news went from being important to merely being entertainment.