Cream of the Cinema Crop

Our Top 10 Criterion Collection Movies


Culture By Photo by Henry Phillips
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We love Hollywood blockbusters as much as the next guy. Big explosions, epic story arcs, soft and sentimental piano music: at the end of a long week, we’re all for it. But great cinema isn’t about how big a movie’s budget is, or valued by the number of soft-core scenes within the first hour. It’s better to look for wonderful acting, tighter writing, breathtaking cinematography and a soundtrack to match. Maybe it really is the piano that gets you. You be the judge.

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Cinema is subjective, and greatness hits us all in different ways. For many, however, these tastes, conscious or not, have been benchmarked by The Criterion Collection, a movie publisher dedicated since the mid ’80s to bringing audiences across the world, old and new, the best of the best in the wide world of film. Over 800 films belong to their vast, ranging catalogue, all released (often painstakingly) in optimum format; mainstream hits such as Michael Bay’s Armageddon find place next to arthouse experimentals named Koyaanisqatsi and the ever iconic L’aaventura.

Every month, The Criterion Collection asks a famous personality — perhaps an actor, filmmaker, critic, or Anthony Bourdain — to publish a top-10 list from their catalogue. The lists are unique lenses into both the tastes of those assembling them and the Collection itself. If you’re new to The Criterion Collection, let this be a brief, and by no means comprehensive, introduction. Like everyone else, we’re still exploring the wonderful world the collection offers.

Editor’s Note: This list is subject to change.
Band-of-outsiders-gear-patrol Band of Outsiders (1964)
Godard pioneered French New Wave, directing everything from politically charged treatises to ridiculous crime capers. One of his most famous, Band of Outsiders, is the latter. But it also has this looseness to it: multiple levels of narrative, romance, cruelty, an amazing dance scene, all of it absurd. It’s a date movie, a buddy movie, and something you can watch with your film geek friends, all wrapped up in one.
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On-the-waterfront-gear-patrol On the Waterfront (1954)
No one combines despondence, angst and rage like Brando. In On the Waterfront, his talent shines through as a tormented ex prizefighter torn between testifying against a ruthless longshoreman union mob boss and protecting his own hide. Anyone else in the lead role, Terry Malloy, would’ve been unconvincing. But Brando gives the performance of a lifetime. The film garnered eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Actor and Director.
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Days-of-Heaven-Gear-Patrol Days of Heaven (1978)
Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven is a quiet epic set on a farm in Panhandle, Texas. After a few days of filming, Malick threw out his original script in favor of finding the film’s story as they went along. The vignettes combine to create a dreamy, expansive tale of the four main characters’ relationships. Every shot is a perfect explanation of a cinematographer’s job. Shot almost entirely during the magic hour (time period slightly after sunrise and before sunset where the light is redder and softer), each frame is breathtakingly impressive.
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Brazil-Gear-Patrol Brazil (1985)
When Brazil came to North America in 1985, Sid Sheinberg, then head of Universal Studios, took shears to the script, cutting it from 142 to 94 minutes and tacking on a happy ending. His version has been informally deemed the “Love Conquers All” cut, never finding its way into theaters due to a hard-fought case by director Terry Gilliam. As a tribute to the struggle, this edition contains both versions, which is good for viewers. Mirroring Orwell’s 1984, the film’s satire is timeless and Jonathan Pryce brings a performance that is both horrifying and hilarious.
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8-and-a-half-gear-patrol (1963)
matches equal parts wit and candor in a film about the ultimate director’s block. Taking quintessential Fellini themes — life’s circus (real and metaphorical), Rome, childhood, women — the film weaves a baroque tapestry around the difficulties of the creative process. It’s an honest look at artistic constipation and a transparent perspective on man’s darker desires (to control his women, for starters). Every moment is charged with Fellini-esque opulence and a raw humanism that makes audiences both laugh and stare deeply. Fellini takes chaos and confusion and gives it new purpose: our great carnival of fun.
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Rushmore-Gear-Patrol Rushmore (1998)
The film’s main character and tongue-in-cheek antihero, Max Fischer, is the most active student at the preparatory Rushmore Academy, and also its worst. He’s developed a professional relationship with industrialist Herman Blume (Bill Murray) and an amorous one with teacher Rosemary Cross (Olivia Williams). Imagine if The Graduate were set at a Houston private school and nothing went according to plan. One of the defining and earliest Wes Anderson films (and the first with a serious budget), Rushmore is hilarious proof that a coming-of-age film doesn’t have to be stereotypical, and of exactly why Anderson has become a fixture among both mainstream and niche audiences alike.
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Carlos-Gear-Patrol Carlos (2010)
Carlos opens with this message: “This film is the result of historical and journalistic research. Because of controversial gray areas in Carlos’s life, the film must be viewed as fiction, tracing two decades in the life of a notorious terrorist.” What follows is five-and-half epic hours tracing the rise and fall of real-life revolutionary Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, more famously known by media and audiences in the ‘70s as Carlos the Jackal. Released in three parts by French director Olivier Assayas, Carlos stars Edgar Ramirez, who portrays Sánchez with convincing authority across three continents in a number of different languages.
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Still-Walking-Gear-Patrol Still Walking (2009)
Well-known in Japan, filmmaker Hirokazu Koreeda is famous for focusing on the details and routines of everyday domestic life. Still Walking is perhaps his most intimate to date, and loosely based on his own family. The film largely takes place over the course of a single day, but exposes a rich and very personal history of a family over multiple generations.
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Eddie-Coyle-Gear-Patrol The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973)
One of the greatest noir actors of all time, Robert Mitchum, plays Eddie Coyle (a.k.a Eddie Fingers), a weary arms trafficker caught between the feds and the underground Boston crime syndicate he works for. Upon this movie’s release, legendary critic Roger Ebert gave it his highest accolades with a four star review, explaining, “[Coyle’s] a man who has been hurt too often in life not to respect pain, a man who will take chances to protect his own territory.” Based on a novel, Peter Yates’s film is gritty and cool.
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Dazed-and-Confused-Gear-Patrol Dazed and Confused (1993)
The antithesis to John Hughes’s dramatic high school flicks of the ‘80s (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles), the plot of Dazed and Confused is relatively flat, following a number of teens on the eve of the summer of ’76 in a small town in Texas. A consideration of the angst and boredom of teenage suburbia, the film centers largely on its characters driving around, getting high, and listening to rock ’n roll without much resolve. Linklater’s teenage rebellion stoner classic birthed the career of many now famous stars, and the infamous “Alright, alright, alright” line from one of America’s favorite leading men.
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