“There’s just too much good cinema here.” — Barry Jenkins in the Criterion Closet, 2017
The Film Daze team gathered together to indulge in our collective dream to visit Criterion’s little film haven. Choosing only one film each from the entire collection was no easy feat, but here are our picks!
Brief Encounter (1945, David Lean)
Part of love’s allure is the possibility of finding it just by chance – a small spark out of the banal everyday that transforms the nothing into our everything. In Brief Encounter, romance arrives in a speck of coal dust within a railway tea room. Through this sooty catalyst, Celia Johnson’s stoic but dissatisfied Laura is revived from a dull middle-class marriage by Trevor Howard’s Alec, a well-to-do (and also married) doctor from a neighboring town in Northern England.
At first a series of chance meetings, the pair soon become knowingly entangled in a tale of innocence-become-passion that could easily have been overly romanticized. Instead, Lean rarely loses sight of the very real dangers awaiting female adultery in pre-war Britain; Laura’s resigned acceptance of the affair’s impossibility possesses both narrative and historical value – an emotional gut-punch from the silver screen that asks (and reveals) much about gendered double standards and the notion of domestic sanctity. Its subsequent lineage, from Before Sunrise to In the Mood for Love (themselves two top-tier Criterion picks) only affirm its importance to the canon, and its place on my shelf. – Chris Shortt
Certified Copy (2010, Abbas Kiarostami)
Certified Copy, the literally timeless romance from master director Abbas Kiarostami, follows two people (Juliette Binoche and William Shimmel) on a day-long journey through Tuscany, Italy. When the film begins, it seems as if this antiques dealer and writer have never met before… but as their conversation unfolds, a strange uncertainty quietly creeps over them both — and us too. As their winding talk darts from the authenticity of art to the authenticity of love, the scope of an entire doomed romance plays out before our eyes. If I ever managed to weasel my way into that Criterion Closet, this austere, beguiling, and challenging meditation on human affection would be the first off the shelf. – Jack Bentele
Donkey Skin (1970, Jacques Demy)
Donkey Skin is a fever dream fairytale, an explosion of camp and electrifying color. Jacques Demy possesses some strange gift that allows him to create the closest thing to real-life magic I’ve ever felt, and its products are spectacular. A sweet, delicious, unruly exploration of what ‘fairytale romance’ really means, Donkey Skin is both an ode to and a reinterpretation of the classic fairytale. Based upon the French fable of the same name, the film follows a young princess (Catherine Deneuve) who is determined to escape her father before he can force their incestuous marriage. The princess, disguising herself in the pelt of a magic donkey, becomes a peasant farm maid, though her reprieve from royalty hardly lasts, as she is discovered by the prince of a neighboring kingdom.
Brilliantly fashioned, it is an endlessly fun exercise in exploring the fullness of our imaginations. As a massive lover of both fairytales and camp, Donkey Skin would absolutely be my first pick from the Criterion Closet! – Jenna Kalishman
Ghost World (2001, Terry Zwigoff)
Terry Zwigoff’s 2001 adaptation of Daniel Clowes’ eponymous graphic novel is not only one of the most mature and emotionally complicated coming-of-age films you’ll find, but also one of the best films about friendship ever made. It captures two cynical but playful best-friends, Enid (Thora Birch) and Rebecca (a young Scarlett Johansson), fresh out of high-school as they slowly drift apart, all the while befriending an awkward middle-aged record collector named Seymour (Steve Buscemi). It’s as iconically quotable as any other American teen classic, with Enid an avatar for every discontent teen who wants to be different from everyone else, and Buscemi’s Seymour providing an extra layer of tragic humor to the story.
However, it’s also remarkably wise in capturing the melancholia of that moment in young adulthood where we struggle to move past from an old version of ourselves, define who we want to become, and figure out the place our best friends may or may not have in our lives in the future. It has deeply stuck with me since I watched as a young teen, and it will for the rest of my life as I keep finding bits and pieces of myself all over it. – Pedro Serafim
L’argent (1983, Robert Bresson)
Robert Bresson’s L’argent is a disastrous comedy of errors that follows a counterfeit bill as it makes its way around Paris. This ingeniously simple plot is coupled well with the unexpected tonal shifts and the high stakes of each of the characters, many of whose reputation or livelihood rests on this bill. This would have to be my Closet pick given how apprehensive it manages to be in such a short runtime. Spanning only 87 minutes, the film is able to embrace the audience in its eternal, timeless qualities, keeping us all on the edge of our seats throughout. We want it to be over but we hope it never ends; to me, that’s the true tell of evocative filmmaking. L’argent perfectly ties up Bresson’s filmography, leaving us all with a disorienting and alluring look at his devotion to cinema. – Saffron Maeve
The League of Gentlemen (1960, Basil Dearden)
Dripping in English wit and style, this tongue-in-cheek heist film is a deliriously entertaining and exquisitely well-made yarn that follows a team of disillusioned London gentlemen from every class planning an elaborate “removal.” Featuring a who’s-who cast including heavyweights like Jack Hawkins, Roger Livesey, and Nigel Patric — alongside fresh faces like Bryan Forbes and a very young Richard Attenborough — Gentleman was released the same year the original Ocean’s Eleven tried the same formula (albeit with much more ham and pomp).
Basil Dearden’s clever, breezy crime caper effortlessly captures all the best elements of the bank robbery flick, but not without the director’s characteristically sharp indictments of the absurd hypocrisies and hoity-toity ennui of British society. The heist movie is one of my favorite genres, and this is one of the slickest ones out there — I’d take the whole Basil Dearden’s London Underground series, in fact! – Nathaniel Brimmer-Beller
Mulholland Drive (2001, David Lynch)
David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive is a mysterious and mesmerising journey. It follows aspiring actress Betty Elms (Naomi Watts) who crosses paths with a woman (Laura Harring) suffering from amnesia. Searching for clues and answers across Los Angeles, the pair are pulled into a twisting adventure that involves several other vignettes and characters — such as Hollywood film director Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux) who’s been having trouble casting his latest project. Mulholland Drive intertwines dreams and reality to create a twisted and intoxicating psychological thriller, and as my favorite Lynch film, this would have to be my Criterion Closet pick. It has stayed with me since I first watched it in 2016 and was completely blown away by its masterful filmmaking. It’s the ultimate cinematic experience! – Toni Stanger
Punch-Drunk Love (2002, Paul Thomas Anderson)
Surging with chaotic energy that’s as endearing as it is anxiety-ridden, Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love is a film laced with pure bliss. Barry Egan (Adam Sandler) is a small-business owner who juggles a budding relationship, pudding cup prizes, and a group of sex hotline scammers that are set on robbing him of all he’s worth. Despite its 96-minute run-time, Punch-Drunk Love is a film thickly lined and defined by its poetry. It’s visually simplistic, but stunning, with contrasting crimson and cobalt serving as its defining colors amidst the plain spaces in which the characters reside. Balancing delightful romance, melancholic undercurrents, and stiffening suspense with a masterful ease that submits my heart to its storm, it is one of the few films that makes me laugh, cry, and revel in its romance. It’d be the first film I’d pick from the Closet! – Peyton Robinson
Solaris (1972, Andrei Tarkovsky)
Andrei Tarkovsky’s 167-minute art film might be set in space, but it still explores human nature. The journey begins when psychologist Kris Kelvin (Donatas Banionis) travels to a space station orbiting the fictional planet Solaris. He is sent there to investigate the mental states of the station’s crew, who have fallen into complete emotional crisis; upon his arrival, he soon falls into a similar state. In this achingly slow yet beautifully constructed film, Tarkovsky explores human emotion and relationships on a deeply philosophical level. As a lover of space films and emotional storytelling, this one would be at the top of my list to snag from the Closet. – Emily Jacobson
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992, David Lynch)
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me is the best thing David Lynch has created. It, like many other things in Lynch’s career, is shockingly ahead of its time. There are moments of shocking brutality, perfectly cued dark humor, and even moments of such heart-stopping sadness of the sort you never knew Lynch was capable of hitting. As Laura Palmer, Sheryl Lee turned in one of the best performances ever put on screen. I know it has become “the cool thing” to say that Fire Walk with Me is actually a masterpiece, but it truly is one. It isn’t the quirky fun of the original Twin Peaks, but it is something altogether special. – Aaron Linskey
Y Tu Mamá También (2001, Alfonso Cuarón)
There is nothing quite like jumping in a car with your best friend and your cousin’s hot fiancée to wander around on the less-traveled Mexican back roads. I might not have ever been to Mexico, but I have experienced the summer of a lifetime over and over again just by watching Alfonso Cuarón’s coming-of-age film, Y Tu Mamá También. The incredible feeling of being just old enough to do what you want, but too youthful to understand that with age comes wisdom, is captured in this one-of-a-kind movie.
Moments of tenderness slowly tear away at the masks of compulsory heterosexuality that is translated into machismo behavior by the two main characters, Julio and Tenoch (Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal). Of course, the rollercoaster of emotions is accompanied by the beautiful long-takes and naturally-lit imagery that cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (aka ‘Chivo’) uses to bring the unique Mexican atmosphere into the viewer’s real world, making a screening of Y Tu Mamá También feel like a memory I want to revisit over and over again. – Shea Vassar