Criterion is one of the greatest imprints of the home-video era, perhaps the greatest. For well over a decade, from Laserdisc to DVD to Blu-ray, their logo has represented excellence, from frame-by-frame and often director-supervised audio/visual restoration to in-depth bonus content to elegant original cover art. Their upcoming high-definition releases include Down by Law (1986), Weekend (2011), Quadrophenia (1979), and The Game (1997). Below are my twenty-five favorite films in this most elite film collection:
(Note: In compiling the list, I focused on DVD and/or Blu-ray releases with official spine numbers. An honorable mention goes to 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner, From Russia with Love, Halloween, Trainspotting, and other fine films only released by Criterion on Laserdisc.)
1983 - Canada - Spine #248
1966 - Italy - Spine #249
1971 - Australia, United Kingdom - Spine #10
1987 - China - Spine #422
2000 - United States - Spine #151
1977 - Australia - Spine #142
1975 - France - Spine #571
1970 - United States - Spine #99
1965 - United Kingdom - Spine #483
1994 - United Kingdom - Spine #616
1968 - United Kingdom - Spine #391
1987 - United States - Spine #552
1989 - New Zealand - Spine #356
1940 - United States - Spine #135
1993 - United Kingdom - Spine #307
1970 - United Kingdom - Spine #561
1986 - United Kingdom - Spine #107
1992 - United Kingdom - Spine #488
1991 - United States - Spine #277
1960 - France - Spine #408
2008 - France - Spine #492
The great Mathieu Amalric and Catherine Deneuve shine in this epic French comic drama. Set over the course of the holiday season, the film depicts an estranged, extended French family's hesitant reunion after their stately, ailing mother (Deneuve) is told she will need a bone marrow transplant from a blood relative. With its stylized and tender vision of familial discord, this film at times plays as a Gallic, even more pensive variation on the no. 1 film on this list.
1946 - United Kingdom - Spine #31
The best film of the first half of David Lean's career, before the up-and-coming British editor-turned-director became known for such epic productions as Lawrence of Arabia and A Passage to India. He and his co-writers capture the atmosphere, the rich characters, and the poignant elegance of one of the 19th century's greatest novels, a nuanced chronicle of social rise and hesitant love.
1975 - Australia - Spine #29
The film which introduced my favorite director, the Australian New Wave's Peter Weir, to international audiences. The late Vincent Canby perhaps said it best: "Horror need not always be a long-fanged gentleman in evening clothes or a dismembered corpse or a doctor who keeps a brain in his gold fish bowl. It may be a warm sunny day, the innocence of girlhood and hints of unexplored sexuality [which]...produce a euphoria so intense it becomes transporting, a state beyond life or death." This is a film with the courage to leave its central mysteries (where did those beautiful, vanished schoolgirls go?) unsolved, rendering it far scarier than most traditional genre films. Convincing costume and production design and a haunting theme played on a pandean pipe are other highlights.
1994 - Hong Kong - Spine #453
A beautiful, complex, rapid-fire, and stylish tale of crime and romance in Hong Kong. Produced during a brief reprieve from the engorged, troubled production of the martial arts epic Ashes of Time, this intimate, fast-to-complete film became a sensation among festival and art-house crowds, with Quentin Tarantino emerging as perhaps its most spirited champion. It is the first and best example of director Wong Kar-wai and d.p. Christopher Doyle's distinct style, which would continue to develop in films such as Fallen Angels and In the Mood for Love: the neon and nocturnal color palette, the dramatic use of slow motion, etc.
2001 - United States - Spine #157
Wes Anderson's third feature is important to me: it is, alongside the Coen brothers' O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Steven Soderbergh's Traffic, one of the films which inspired my love of cinema as an artistic medium. I saw it on the big screen two or three times when I was twelve and found the experience magical, and the film remains a favorite of mine. Not a single performance rings false, and the best moments--such as Margot Tenenbaum's (Gwyneth Paltrow) gorgeous, slow-motion exit from the bus as Nico's plaintive "These Days" plays--never lose their hypnotic power. Anderson has made great films since, but this remains his crowning achievement.