OPINION: Criterion Collection - A Guide Through One of the Best Film Libraries
By now, you may know or have an idea of what the Criterion Collection is (or Criterion). Maybe you’ve heard it in a show or movie, in your local Barnes and Noble, or from that guy you know that only watches foreign language films. But it’s more than that, their mission is to restore some of the best and influential films using modern technology. They’ve done plenty of great jobs restoring much older films, like Passion of Joan of Arc and Seven Samurai even the original non-Americanized version of Godzilla. They’re the reason it has become much more accessible and cleaner. Also, they’re a pretty big deal for amazing artists from the industry and you can watch on their YouTube channel some of your favorite filmmakers, actors, etc. choose their favorite films from the collection and why. Like Edgar Wright, Guillermo del Toro, and many more. It’s safe to say that Criterion’s impact can’t be ignored, it’s a great bridge for cinema lovers to explore movies out of their comfort zone. This guide is more for people who are starting their collection, although veterans are welcome to suggest films like Bergman and to traumatize people, Salò. As it’s library gets bigger, it gets taunting and some may not know where to start or if to start at all, furthermore with the Barnes and Noble sale going on, what great time to do a guide.
10. Before Trilogy
Highly regarded by many as one of the best love stories ever to be put on screen and it’s undoubtedly true. Coming from Richard Linklater, an already well regarded writer/director known for Dazed and Confused (also available) and Boyhood (oh, this one too). Linklater is a director that knows how to show his subject matter effectively, and has written some unique and memorable characters. Here he’s co-writer with Kim Krizan, also Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy co-wrote the sequels and star as an amazing couple. From two unique coming-of-age stories, now his realistic take in three movies on a relationship in which develops in a different way every movie in trips to Europe. Although he has many options in the Criterion, this one stands out the most.
9. Godzilla (1954)
This one is very interesting and you should own it not only because it’s a good metaphor about how the US really screwed up (to say the least) Japan during and after the war, it’s also an effective monster film. The film isn’t scaring you because “it’s the original and it’s always better” but because it meant something to the Japanese people damaged after the war. The most important thing about this film is that this version did not arrive to the US until 2006 in the DVD release by Classic Media. Criterion restored it into the director’s intended vision and the Criterion version is now considered the definitive edition. It’s a great honor to own this film, and to think all of the Americans criticizing this film upon release and they never watched the true film in its intended purposes because of ‘censorship’.
8. Bicycle Thieves
Say what you want about movies that make you sad, it’s hard to create fiction that makes people relate and cry. But there isn't anything sadder than a war movie, although this is an interesting take as it’s a post-WW2 movie about the Italians suffering after the war. It’s premise is simple that by today standards wouldn't work, a family man gets his bicycle stolen, sounds simple until you add in the factors. He gave a lot to just get that bicycle and to just have it stolen it’s a depressing tale on it’s own, it questions the basic morality and what can push a man to lower on such a level. A must-have, it’s important as for historical purposes, and awareness. Curious thing is that it didn’t win that much in Italy, since cinema is an escape and to watch what you’re living through, is just unbearable for anyone.
7. 12 Angry Men
The cinephile’s favorite black and white movie. It’s dialogue-heavy, an expertly executed film by Sidney Lumet (known for Network and Serpico). Starring Henry Fonda, it’s about a jury trying to decide to find a man guilty or not guilty for murder. The evidence all points to him doing, but as the film goes along it starts to put in question not only if he’s guilty at all, but the whole justice system. It’s a simple premise with complex themes that put morality under discussion.
6. Punch-Drunk Love
Director Paul Thomas Anderson runs film twitter with his amazing films such as There Will Be Blood and Boogie Nights. This is one of his lesser known films yet still has a passionate following, a love-story starring Adam Sandler in which has it’s comedic moments but showcases debatably the best performance by Sandler. The only PTA film in the collection, and it’s one of his strongest. It showcases a distinct direction that I can firmly say it has never been done in any love story I’ve seen. A unique type of rom-com in which the protagonist has a disorder, it is worthwhile watching, buying and appreciating.
5. Seven Samurai (Or any Akira Kurosawa film)
Akira Kurosawa has inspired many filmmakers. Even artists and others from different countries like Martin Scorsese, Bergman, Spielberg, here even George Lucas has said that Star Wars were inspired by Kurosawa films. Seven Samurai is important, a 3-hour epic about seven samurai saving a poor village from slaughter. The film is a masterpiece and has been remade, rebooted, Americanized, you name it. Memorable and a classic, you feel those three hours go like a breeze and the ending… Let me just stop before I spoil. But many Kurosawa films are available, and if you aren’t ready for a 3- hour Japanese black and white film, there’s more options to this prestigious director like Ikiru, Throne of Blood, Rashomon and many more. And they’re all as memorable as this one, just a personal pick since it’s my introduction to him and a great one to say the least.
4. Mulholland Drive (Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me and Eraserhead)
There’s many foreign films in the Criterion, but a great way to start out is with something out of the ordinary but at the same time in English, it’s any of Lynch’s films. I highly suggest Mulholland Drive. Eraserhead is also great, as it is mind-boggling. You can try to understand the man’s head with some short films included in the disc as to other supplements. Fire Walk with Me is a great film, and it is a prequel, but I suggest watching the series first then the film as it spoils the main theme of the series. Try Mulholland Drive and Eraserhead. I can honestly say that these are films that you will still be thinking about for a long time. Also, the packaging is pretty great, look at any un-boxing and all three of them have distinct packaging.
3. Moonrise Kingdom (or other Wes Anderson films)
The films by Wes Anderson are a great go to for anyone really, from Bottle Rocket to Moonrise Kingdom, his whole filmography (except his last two) is available and are great buys. An artsy director that isn’t short without his quirks, all of his films are loved by the fans, even the most critically hated (Life Aquatic) is a cult-classic after all these years. I suggest Moonrise Kingdom as it is his most loved movie, it portrays the innocence of kids while at the same time exhibiting the immatureness of the adults. I also suggest searching up his filmography, he has a variety from a teenage boy learning about love (Rushmore) to a dysfunctional family reconnecting after numerous years because of the medical crisis of the father (The Royal Tenenbaums). Say what you want about his film making, but his movies deliver one of the best feel-good vibes in all years, they have heart to them and are shot very uniquely.
2. Trilogía de Guillermo del Toro
Three amazing movies included in one great package, Guillermo del Toro has done everything. He’s directed 3 comic-book movies, won two Oscars including Best Picture, and showed how to do a real blockbuster film (Pacific Rim). He also has a video picking his favorites from the collection so you can also check that out, he’s a unique filmmaker and these three Spanish language films show his range as a director. The great thing about this one is that it’s optional to buy them separately or as a whole (which is the one I recommend). Cronos, Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth, a bloody yet delightful great ride all of them, an necessity to any collector.
1. Your Personal Preference
These are the essentials for me, they’re great and you should have them in your collection. But the most important thing about getting into something new, is starting out with something familiar. Do a little research, maybe a favorite movie, actress or director of yours is in the collection. For example, maybe you love Matthew Broderick, Alexander Payne and Reese Witherspoon, well they have an Academy Award nominated movie called Election. Which is a comedic criticism on the elections of the US in form of a High-School Student-body. Or if you loved Lady Bird by Greta Gerwig, she also has a film in the collection called Frances Ha, about the life of a dancer trying to achieve her dreams with many obstacles along the way, directed by Noah Baumbach. Everyone has a different taste in cinema, you should explore your taste and Criterion is the best place to do it.