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Kevin Jones’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. McCabe & Mrs. Miller

McCabe & Mrs. Miller

Robert Altman may very well be my favorite director. In making this list, I initially had McCabe & Mrs. Miller just outside this list, but it is inconceivable to leave Altman off this list. Of all of his works, McCabe & Mrs. Miller is my favorite for a variety of reasons. The gorgeous cinematography of Vilmos Zsigmond being chief among them, as well as being one of the finest realizations of Altman’s 1970s films that critiqued heroism, this time taking aim at the legendary frontiersmen of the old west via this, as Altman describes it, anti-western. Warren Beatty and Julie Christie are both incredible, and of course Leonard Cohen’s score is tremendous. Few directors are better at marrying score with content than Altman with Cohen’s score beautifully woven into the fabric of the film.

9. The Philadelphia Story

The Philadelphia Story

Directed by George Cukor, The Philadelphia Story has perhaps the best ensemble cast of all-time. Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, James Stewart, and Ruth Hussey are absolutely brilliant. James Stewart’s improvisation in this film and ability to catch even his castmates off-guard to elicit natural responses from them is astounding. I am not the best when it comes to rewatching – even with films that I own and love – but I watched The Philadelphia Story on back-to-back days when I first saw it and it was possibly even funnier the second time around. Even watching the special features on the Criterion release last year made me laugh at times as they poured over footage, to the point that I had to rewatch it after just seeing a few clips.

8. All that Heaven Allows

All that Heaven Allows

I love the work of Douglas Sirk, especially All that Heaven Allows. He was known for working with social issues – especially race and gender – with All that Heaven Allows being chief among this, exploring a romantic relationship between a repressed suburban housewife and a gardener. This romance is gorgeously brought to life with terrific performances from Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson, but the enduring legacy of this film in my eyes is the technicolor. Every frame is jaw-droppingly gorgeous. There are many great uses of technicolor in cinema, but in my eyes, All that Heaven Allows is the absolute best, capturing a warmth and comfort in its reds, oranges, and browns, that few films are able to possess.

7. Winter Light

Winter Light

When, after finishing a film, you realize you just saw a new all-time favorite, it is a truly great feeling. Winter Light provided this feeling not too long ago, cementing itself as an early front-runner to be my favorite Ingmar Bergman film (have a lot still left to see from the Swedish master) and perhaps one of the most quietly profound films that I have ever had the fortune of seeing. It is a film told with pretension, one littered with questions out of both this pastor’s doubts and Bergman’s own uncertainties. It is a tragic work, one that relies on Bergman’s humanistic instinct and ability to draw drama out of every pore of the human face. This is a film that just grabbed my heart from the very first frame, while refusing to let go.

6. Make Way for Tomorrow

Make Way for Tomorrow

Make Way for Tomorrow, directed by Leo McCarey, is a film that punches you in the gut and rips out your heart. An inspiration for Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story, Make Way for Tomorrow tells the story of an elderly couple who lose their home. Turning to their children for help, the couple are forced to live in different cities with different children as none of their kids agree to house both of them, viewing them solely as a burden who get in the way more often than not. Victor Moore and Beulah Bondi are tremendous as the elderly couple, with their performances proving to be one of the greatest elements of the film. The chemistry between Moore and Bondi, the authentic love they share with one another on the screen is incredible. The longing in their voice when apart and the joy when together, all juxtaposed by the lack of love and care shown to them by their own children is heartbreaking. It is truly impossible to not cry while watching this film.

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