I’m running contributions from some of my favorite film critics, writers, and theorists from around the internet for a few weeks. Each writer is listing their top 10 from the Criterion Collection. Today’s list comes from Dan Heaton, the only contributor I’ve ever accidentally seen in a bar. Dan is a fellow St. Louisan and a fellow Cardinals fan. For good measure, he also graduated from the University of Missouri. This contribution might as well come with a slice of pizza from Shakespeare’s and some Ted Drewes frozen custard. Dan operates Public Transporation Snob (a clever reference to a film on his list), where he writes gobs of sharp film reviews. Frequently, they revolve around a marathon- he chooses a theme, filmmaker, genre, or actor and tackles it all en masse. He has also written movie and TV reviews for both PopMatters and Sound on Sight. He can be found on Twitter @ptsnob.
DAN: There are far too many worthy candidates to choose 10 that constitute the “best” that Criterion has to offer. Instead, these choices have connected with me on a personal level and rank among some of my favorite films. Some like Kicking and Screaming were barely available on DVD before their Criterion release, and others introduced me to directors that I hardly knew like Chris Marker. The extra features avoid the typical fluff and include stunning information that enhanced my enjoyment. I don’t own as many Criterion discs as some of my counterparts, but these choices have seen a lot of time on my screen.
1. Metropolitan (Whit Stillman)
Whit Stillman has only directed four films, yet he still ranks among my all-time favorites. His characters are pretentious intellectuals, yet I still find them endearing. The dialogue crackles with wit, and actors like the wonderful Chris Eigeman are still likable even when they’re jerks. It was so refreshing when Criterion released Metropolitan along with a commentary from Stillman, Eigeman, and Taylor Nichols. I’ve watched it many times yet never grow tired of its unique look at yuppie life.
2. In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar Wai)
A few summers ago, I did an extended marathon through nearly all of Wong Kar Wai’s films. The inspiration was finally catching up with In the Mood for Love earlier that year. I’d heard plenty of raves but still wasn’t prepared for just how gripping it was. His use of color and music just enhances the excitement of a love story that comes from glances and rare moments. I can’t think of a better standard bearer for the Criterion Collection than one of the best films of the 2000s.
3. Days of Heaven (Terrence Malick)
Terrence Malick is a master at delivering inspiring beauty yet often risks losing the story in the process. Those concerns never arise in Days of Heaven, which easily ranks as my favorite of his work. The simple story of a couple posing as brother and sister to con a farmer is gorgeous yet also works as an emotional tale. It doesn’t overstay its welcome and includes some of the most impressive shots in any film I’ve ever witnessed. The restored version by Criterion brings out these images with even greater clarity.
4. La jetee/Sans soleil (Chris Marker)
I knew little about Chris Marker before picking up this Criterion release back in 2007, and both movies work for such different reasons. The short film La jetee offers such a unique take on the time travel genre and how little is needed to tell a story. I was even more impressed by Sans Soleil, which is a combination of the travelogue with a meditation on the reliability of our memories. The images wash over you and deliver an experience that’s hard to describe.
5. Notorious (Alfred Hitchcock)
One of my prized Criterion DVDs is the out-of-print Notorious, which is one of Hitchcock’s greatest movies. I’d place the spy thriller in the same conversation as Psycho, Rear Window, and Vertigo and enjoy it even more than those films. Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman have rarely been better, and Hitchcock employs some of his most impressive technical feats to heighten the story.
6. Kicking and Screaming (Noah Baumbach)
Another movie that really connected with me in the late ‘90s in college was Noah Baumbach’s Kicking and Screaming. He’s made quite a name for himself recently with Frances Ha, Greenberg, and others, but I’m still partial to his debut. Who can’t understand the feelings of guys who graduate from college and have no idea what to do? Eigeman again shines with his trademark dry sarcasm and delivers some of the best lines. This is one of the most quotable movies ever made, and the Criterion edition does it right.
7. Le Samourai (Jean-Pierre Melville)
Few characters in any movie are cooler than Alain Delon’s hitman in Le Samourai. The understated Jean-Pierre Melville film takes his time and builds the tension towards the surprise finale. The cat-and-mouse pursuits work so well, and the stoic assassin rarely shows emotion while frequently getting the upper hand. This highly influential film remains surprisingly modern and deserves more attention today.
8. Do the Right Thing (Spike Lee)
My appreciation for one of Spike Lee’s greatest films only increased with this Criterion release. The commentary and one-hour documentary offer so much insight about his thought process. We also see the notorious press conference at Cannes where Lee faced remarkable criticism for the divisive film. It remains a stunning movie that still has the power to shock 25 years later.
9. Antonio Gaudi (Hiroshi Teshigahara)
This is a perfect example of a movie that I probably wouldn’t have seen without the Criterion Collection. Hiroshi Teshigahara takes such an original look at the work of the renowned Catalan architect. The camera glides in and out of the remarkable structures, and he allows the work to stand for itself. It’s a mesmerizing look at art that seems from another world and comes alive on the screen.
10. The War Room (Chris Hegedus, D.A. Pennebaker)
I’ve seen plenty of documentaries about politics, but few are as thrilling as The War Room. The 1992 election was such a pivotal time for the Democratic Party, and it took an unlikely group of strategists to help push Bill Clinton to the presidency. This intriguing film by Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker puts us inside the back rooms as they react to each turn in the campaign. The best moment has a stunned James Carville unable to believe his luck after another crazy turn by Ross Perot. His amazed reaction has always stuck with me and is one of those great unplanned moments that make this type of film shine.