July Theme Month

Matt Schlee’s Top 10 Criterion Films

5. Sansho the Bailiff

mv5bmjk1ntnindctognlni00ywjhlwjmmzqtyze0njljndlhztq1xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymjcxnji4ntk-_v1_Mizoguchi has always been my favorite of the early Japanese directors. He had an incredible ability to cut to the core of human emotion and emphasize the tragic struggles inherent in normal life. He was also one of the earliest directors to pay true reverence to the plight of female characters in a misogynistic society. Sansho the Bailiff is, on the surface, a well constructed folk tale about the old power structures in Japan. However, it is the heart-wrenching family dynamic that makes it such an impressive work. It never fails to move me in its serene moments of tragic loss.

4. The Color of Pomegranates

mv5botzkyjkxodctzjdlni00ntrhlwe1owitntrknmvly2jjnwjlxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvyoduwntm2odi-_v1_The Color of Pomegranates is an extraordinarily challenging film, but when you begin to peel back its layers you find a masterful work of poetic filmmaking. Sergei Parajanov tells the story of Armenian poet Sayat Nova through a series of motifs and poetic images and sounds which add up to less of a biography than a moving tableau. It is a film which I’d like to somehow hang on my wall to play in endless repetition as every instant of The Color of Pomegranates is a beautiful work of art worthy of framing.

3. Dekalog

mv5bmtuxndy4ntu4n15bml5banbnxkftztgwmzk3odiwote-_v1_While Dekalog walks a tricky line between movie and TV, it is undoubtedly one of the great works of filmmaking in history. Ten episodes, loosely derived from the Ten Commandments, fascinatingly expose Krzysztof Kieslowski’s artistic voice and set the stage for the four masterpieces with which he would close his career. While it’s quite the time commitment to re-watch this work, repeat viewings have continually tied these stories together in a way that reviews a profound statement about life.

2. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

mv5byzy5yzewmtitmmq3yy00zgvmlthjntytzjyxnzvmnjjkndk4xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvyntc1ndm0ndu-_v1_I think I watched The Umbrellas of Cherbourg three times in the week after I first saw it. There’s something so beautiful and endearing yet utterly heartbreaking about the film. It’s like no other musical I’ve ever seen. Michel Legrand’s score is both catchy and operatic, and it perfectly emphasizes the emotional undertones of the movie. Jacques Demy made so many spectacular movies, but something about Umbrellas really sets it apart for me. It’s the sort of movie that I can return to time-and-time again and still feel the emotions as if it were a first viewing.

1. The Third Man

mv5byzk2zgfjntgtowuzmy00mgi4lwi1mzatmdy2ymiwyzdhzgi4xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvynzyyotcwnjk-_v1_The Third Man will forever serve as evidence for me that it is possible for a work of art to change your life. The first time I saw this film I was a college kid with a slightly-more-than-passing interest in classic film, but no genuine comprehension of what cinema could accomplish as an art form. The experience of watching Carol Reed’s masterpiece has such a momentous effect on me that I still distinctly remember watching it and audibly saying “wow” at the perfect use of the score, the Dutch angles, the shadows which perfectly obscured that which was supposed to remain in the darkness. It genuinely altered the way that I viewed the intentionality of filmmaking, and I don’t know if there will ever be another film that I have such a personal attachment to.

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