Every month, the Criterion Collection asks a friend – a filmmaker, a programmer, a writer, an actor, an artist – to select their ten favorite movies available from the Criterion Collection and jot down their thoughts about them. The entries (from people like Jane Campion, Jonathan Lethem, and Sonic Youth) are often surprising, and always entertaining.
Big thanks to Aaron, Kristina, and Ruth for organizing the Criterion Blogathon and for allowing me to craft my own Criterion Top Ten List. I love lists. Not in the sense that they represent any kind of canonical statement of anything, but in the way that they reflect certain perspectives. Good lists say as much about their authors as they do about the films they include, and Criterion’s Top Ten Lists are loaded with as many insights about their “friends” as they are about the films themselves, making those lists doubly valuable to us cinephiles. In truth, when picking between the hundreds of masterpieces amassed by Criterion, it’s hard to imagine anyone coming up with a bad Top Ten and I’m not sure anyone reads a Criterion Top Ten List to applaud or gripe about what got included. I read them to see what speaks to these individuals and what personal insights or connections they can share. Isn’t it great to see how classy Roger Corman’s keeps his Top Ten, how absolutely characteristic Chuck Klosterman’s List proves to be, how amazing is Kim Newman’s choice to include The Human Skeleton, and how utterly greedy Guillermo del Toro is by stuffing 21 films into his Top Ten? I love it.
My Criterion Top Ten List has been a thornier process than I imagined, with only about half of my initially considered titles actually withstanding the months-long screenings and re-screenings done to prepare a list I feel fairly confident in. In selecting these 10 films, I asked myself why I liked them, why they stay with me, why they resonate, and how I came upon them. In doing so, these films not only reflect my tastes in film but also trace my relationship with the Criterion Collection over the last 15+ years. It includes the third Criterion title I ever bought and one that I saw for the first time less than 3 months ago. There are themes: unrequited love, seriocomedy, ensembles, meticulous production design, dream sequences, widescreen black and white. And there are, for me, many surprising exclusions. No Godard, no Kurosawa, no Powell and Pressburger, and no Maddin. There’s no Days of Heaven, The Firemen’s Ball, Close-up, When a Woman Ascends the Stairs, A Night to Remember, The Tin Drum, Good Morning, Les misérables, Divorce Italian Style, The Night of the Hunter, the Flamenco Trilogy, Forbidden Games, The Battle of Algiers, Il Posto or Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, if just for the DVD’s menu screen. (I’m already way over 10 films just talking about what didn’t make the cut!) But the best thing about this Top Ten List is knowing that it’s not permanent, that I might reach into some box set later tonight, read Criterion’s next monthly announcement, or simply grow into being a slightly different (and hopefully better) person and find myself connected to another film that forces its way into my imagination and onto this list.
For the moment, here is my Criterion Top Ten List, arranged for ease of reading (and not for ranking) and including a plain text portion that I imagine would accompany each title in the usual fashion of the Criterion website and an italicized portion that serves as a more personal annotation for each selection.