July Theme Month

Matt Schlee’s Top 10 Criterion Films

This month, a number of our critics share their 10 favorite titles from the Criterion Collection in celebration of the Barnes & Noble Criterion Collection July sale.

10. Barry Lyndon

mv5boddkmjqynwmtnzewmi00njjjltgxogqtzjewmwm5njblmzbjxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvyndkzntm2odg-_v1_sx1777_cr001777999_al_Often overlooked among Kubrick’s slew of masterpieces, Barry Lyndon is perhaps the most compelling, balanced, and brilliantly structured of his films. Its script is tightly written, packing a tremendous amount of content into the three hour run time which seems to fly by. Like many of Kubrick’s films, there is a surprising sense of humor in it too. I was reluctant to watch this one for the first time, having mixed feelings on period pieces in general, but it has proven to be a film that offers far more than elegant sets and costumes. It is an epic and wildly entertaining story of success and failure.

9. Playtime

mv5bmtyxnjm5ntm5nf5bml5banbnxkftztcwnzy0mtewnw-_v1_Jacques Tati’s Monsieur Hulot films have a unique charm and a fascinating complexity about them. While they play to many of the sensibilities of slapstick comedy, there’s a degree of nuance and cleverness that puts them in a category with more experimental films, artistic films. Playtime is the perfect confluence of these traits and it is one of the most unique and detailed films ever made. Aside from being hilarious from beginning to end, the bustle of activity in every shot means that there are always new jokes to discover when watching the film.

8. The Night of the Hunter

mv5bngezyjiwn2itmdgyyi00othmlthim2ytzwfinja0mwexyjkyxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymte2nza0ng-_v1_The Night of the Hunter is one of the earliest Criterion films I really fell in love with. The shadowy, gothic settings and fairy tale-like atmosphere are the perfect ingredients for a young film lover. Robert Mitchum’s portrayal of the big-bad-wolf-esque Reverend Harry Powell is the stuff of nightmares and will forever remain one of my favorite on screen performances.

7. The Emigrants/The New Land

mv5bzjlin2e1otetytkxzs00mtq0lwe0mgqtnzriyjlizjzhntdjxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymjuyndk2odc-_v1_sx1777_cr001777999_al_This series really stands in my mind as one monumental work. It plays as both a historical epic and a family drama chronicling the lives of a couple, played wonderfully by Max Von Sydow and Liv Ullman, who decide to come to America in search of prosperity. The films can be painful as the harsh reality of this dream reveals itself again and again, but the couple persists. In telling this story, Jan Troell manages to be utterly captivating for the entire six and a half hour run time. This series is perhaps film’s greatest representation of the American Dream.

6. Cries and Whispers

3945If there were a Mount Rushmore of film directors, Bergman would almost certainly occupy a space. His filmography is so vast, it’s difficult to pin down his greatest work. For me, Cries and Whispers belongs here not for it’s formal beauty, but for the way that it impacts me. Few movies have struck such a powerful emotional blow on my first viewing, and Cries and Whispers has held up on each subsequent viewing. In Bergman’s vision of three sisters, one of whom is dying, and a housemaid, he displays levels of both tenderness and utter cruelty that resonate on near primal levels of human emotion.

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