FlixList: Best of the Criterion Collection


There is just a day and a half left in Barnes & Noble’s 50% off art-house DVD/Blu-ray sale, and your friends at Flixist are here to tell you how to break your bank. We’ve collected 19 of our favorite Criterion Collection releases and listed them in a completely random order for your enjoyment. What makes the Criterion Collection so special though, and why we recommend purchasing all of the films below rather than getting yourself a Hulu Plus subscription and seeing them that way, is the brilliant work that is put into the special features. Hell, special features basically exist because of the Criterion Collection, and nobody does it better. Some packages are obviously better than others, because some films just have more to work with, but I always trust the good people over at Criterion to present a film in a way that is worth my money.

The only downside of the Criterion Collection is its cost. DVDs have an MSRP of $30 and Blu-rays of $40, and the average sale doesn’t bring them down too far. In a world of $5 DVDs and $10 Blu-rays, sometimes it’s hard justifying the quadrupled (or more) expense to the cash-strapped. So here’s your chance to experience what the Criterion Collection has to offer at a pretty sizable discount. But if you purchase any of the films below, we can essentially guarantee your happiness, even if it makes your wallet cry a little bit.

Beauty and the Beast

Disney don’t know shit. You want to see where they got all their ideas for Beauty and the Beast turn Jean Cocteau’s classic film. Not only is the movie stunningly gorgeous, but it’s a technological marvel. Cocteau pulled off some of the greatest special effects ever with this film, all while directing a movie that’s as much art as it is fairy tale. He even turned his dependence on multiple film types — thanks to the lack of film after the war — into a way to make the even more striking. Even today this film is stunning despite the years that have passed.  Matthew Razak

Even after seeing Wes Anderson’s latest film, Moonrise Kingdom, I still feel that The Darjeeling Limited is Anderson’s best. Adrien Brody, Owen Wilson, and Jason Schwartzman star as brothers on a spiritual journey through India. While it features some of Anderson’s whimsical character quirks/traits, the film feels much more grounded than his previous efforts. Also, come on, Adrien Brody’s in it.  Geoff Henao

Max writing about Kubrick? What’s the world coming to?! But in all seriousness, Paths of Glory is criminally under-seen in the context of Kubrick’s filmography. This is the film where Stanley (Is it alright if I call you that, sir?) really starts to figure out his style as a filmmaker. Every hallmark of the master is here: long tracking shots, one-point perspective, limited dialogue, etc. Plus, it focuses on World War I, and how often do you get to see films revolve around that conflict? Oh, and Kirk Douglass plays a French general. That alone should sell you on how brilliant Paths of Glory really is.  Maxwell Roahrig

For many years, Brazil was my favorite movie. While it’s no longer my top of the pops, it’s still in my top five, and it’s one of Terry Gilliam’s undeniable masterpieces. Brazil is set in a dystopian nightmare of the future full of bureaucracy, clerical errors, and terrorism — but it’s really like the present. And yet the movie remains timeless, partially because of that retro-future look. If Franz Kafka and Monty Python co-wrote 1984, the result would be Brazil. — Hubert Vigilla

Life of Brian

For some reason (probably having to do with who owns what) this is the only Monty Python film in the Criterion Collection. It’s not like you can’t get the others with good quality, but I find that a bit strange. Maybe it’s because Life of Brian is their most often ignored film and yet probably their smartest. Tackling religion full force this is easily Python’s wittiest film that eschews their absurdist humor for a bit more satire… sort of. There’s still a Roman emperor named Biggus Dickus. The movie also features the song ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,’ which is still the greatest song ever made.  Matthew Razak

Modern Times

I don’t know if I would say that Modern Times is Charlie Chaplin’s best movie, but it serves as an excellent example of his work. Made after the end of the silent era, the film takes advantage of synced sound capabilities without really giving a voice to its protagonist (he ;wouldn’t speak until The Great Dictator, another excellent Criterion Collection pick). It’s somewhat bizarre, but it works, and it makes me wish Chaplin could have added sound effects to his earlier work. If you are the kind of person who refuses to watch silent films (awful) but still want to experience one of the best comedians of that era of filmmaking (great), then you should definitely pick up Modern Times. — Alec Kubas-Meyer

Yojimbo and Sanjuro

Required viewing for anyone that fancies themselves a fan of Kurosawa’s work, both Yojimbo and Sanjuro are two of his most exciting films (amongst so many amazing others). I know the first thing that comes to mind when people think of samurai and Kurosawa is Seven Samurai, and rightfully so as that film is an epic landmark for the director, but for me these two films will always stand out because Toshiro Mifune stars as the titular samurai, and he is frankly one of my favorite actors of all time. A long time collaborator of Kurosawa’s, you owe it to yourself to not only watch these two films, but to see everything they ever worked on together — and yes that includes Seven Samurai.  — Thor Latham

The Passion of Joan of Arc

If you want a single film that brilliantly demonstrates many of the most significant filmmaking styles of the silent era (Russian Montage, German Expressionism, and even a bit of French impressionism), you need to see The Passion of Joan of Arc. The film was thought to be lost for over half a century before an original, un-censored print was found in a Norwegian asylum, and that is the version that the Criterion Collection has released. What makes the Criterion release so special, though, is its addition of the “Voices of Light” soundtrack. The “Voices of Light” was a composition made in 1994 inspired by The Passion of Joan of Arc, and the geniuses at Criterion decided to pair them together. It’s a truly, truly incredible film, and it should be required viewing for anyone who wants to be considered a film buff. — Alec Kubas-Meyer

The Game

David Fincher has become an iconic director not only for his visual style, but for the edginess of his work. Renown for films such as Se7en, Fight Club, and the more recent remake of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, he’s work is immediately recognizable. Yet it is The Game that I’ve always had a special affection for, because it is a masterwork of a thriller without the extreme violence or shocking characters that can be found in Fincher’s other films. If you have never seen it before, it is an amazing puzzle you will be trying to wrap your head around until the very end, when suddenly the curtain is raised and all is revealed and you are left flabbergasted. I only wish I could experience it for the first time again, yet even now I still find subsequent viewings enthralling. I think that says it all.  — Thor Latham

Hunger Michael Fassbender

Before he made Shame, Steve McQueen partnered with the brilliantly-endowed Michael Fassbender for Hunger, a film about the 1981 Irish hunger strike. It’s awesome. In some ways, Hunger is two different films, one which shows the abuses that went on in Irish prisons and the other which focuses on the plight of Bobby Sands, the leader of the hunger strike movement as he slowly shrivels away. These two films-within-the-film are connected by a 17 minute long shot, a static image of a discussion between two characters, and that shot alone is worth the price of admission. If that isn’t enough to convince you, though, I’m pretty sure that Michael Fassbender’s penis makes a cameo appearance in there somewhere. — Alec Kubas-Meyer 

Much to Geoff’s disdain, this movie had to be included. Well, at least for my sake. See, this film has a lot of meaning to me. I first saw Tenenbaums back in 2002, and it was one of my first introductions into independent film, let alone my introduction into Wes Anderson. I really liked it, but didn’t fully understand why. Parts were funny, but not the “Ha ha” funny that I was used to. Then, a couple of years later, everything clicked. And it was spurred on by the loss of my dad. Brilliant in its execution, and it only gets better with subsequent viewings. I can’t recommend this movie any higher.  Maxwell Roahrig

Harlan County, USA may be one of the best quintessentially American documentaries ever made. It chronicles the 1973 Brookside Strike, in which Kentucky coal miners fought for better wages and safer working conditions. Director Barbara Kopple gives a great look into the hardship of these workers and their families, and also celebrates their undying courage and American grit. (On a related note, Criterion really needs to do a release for John Sayles’s Matewan.) — Hubert Vigilla

If you see one western in your life, this should be it. If you hate westerns, you should still see Stagecoach because it will make you love westerns. Directed by the legendary John Ford and starring a John Wayne so young he puts the boy in cowboy, the movie is simply brilliant and defined the genre for years to come. Ford and Wayne would go on to basically create the best the genre has to offer, but this is where it started and could easily lay a claim to being the best.  Matthew Razak

Gotta admit, I was heartily surprised when Godzilla (Gojira) was added to the collection. It’s rare that Tokusatsu (basically, the guy in a suit genre. Think Power Rangers) films get love outside of Japan, but Godzilla seemed to surpass all of that because he’s the freakin’ King of the Monsters. Godzilla perfectly showcases the kind of amazing things you can do with practical effects given a litlle ingenuity. Even if those effects are little dated when you compare them to the more popular (and darker films of the Heisei era) Godzilla films like Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah, the original Showa era run has a special place in my heart and should have a space in your Blu-ray/DVD collection. GOJIRAAAAAA!!  Nick Valdez

Rarely is satire ever done to this degree. Sure, you see elements, or sometimes entire scenes, mocking politics, religion, social issues, etc. But leave it to a master such as Chaplin to make an entire film based around the satirization and condemning of the Nazi party. Not only is the film ballsy for releasing at the height of Hitler’s power, it’s also Chaplin’s first talkie. But the real clencher is the final scene, where Chaplin’s dictator delivers easily one of the most powerful speeches in film history. It’s shocking how relevant that scene is to this day, 72 years after its release.  Maxwell Roahrig

Fishing with John collects all six episodes of John Lurie’s hilarious 1991 comedy fishing show. Each episode features a different guest (save for the two-part giant squid finale with Dennis Hopper). The best ones are shark fishing with Jim Jarmusch, looking for Jamaican red snapper with Tom Waits, and ice fishing with Willem Dafoe, which has the best ending in the entire series. It’s ahead-of-its-time cult television at its finest. — Hubert Vigilla


The La jetée/Sans Soleil package contains two of French filmmaker Chris Marker’s cinematic masterpieces. La jetée is notable not only for being influential in the genre of Science Fiction (there’s time travel and whatnot) but also in the great art debate of medium, media and post-modernism. La jetée is comprised of a series of photo-montages and the story is told entirely by a narrator, yet it is presented in cinematic form. Marker’s innate discussion of encapsulation of time and experience and assemblage of medias prove La jetée to be an unforgettable piece. Also it’s the inspiration for 12 Monkeys starring Bruce Willis. Sans Soleil on the other hand, delves into the slippery issue of human memory, both collective and personal, through the gravitational format of a documentary. The essay-film is completely different from La jetée, but both compliment each other in this essential art house duo. —Liz Rugg


M is one of German Expressionist Fritz Lang’s most famous works, and curiously his first film to include sound. And what a use he makes of it. M was one of the first films to use a leitmotif, which is a song or sound that the audience is to associate with a certain character, which he borrowed from operatic traditions. M stars Peter Lorre as a mentally-ill serial killer who targets children, and he became internationally famous for the role. M is a legitimately creepy movie, even though it was made during the fledgling years of movie making. Fans of Noir and crime thriller movies should definitely check it out. —Liz Rugg


Oh man, Rashomon. Rashomon is widely considered one of renown Japanese director Akira Kurosawa’s finest epics. Seriously, if you aren’t that big into Japanese culture or if you haven’t seen a Kurosawa film before – this is the one to watch. Rashomon is more than your typical samurai movie, it delves into the idea of the naturally sinful human, how the truth can be totally subjective, and essentially if mankind has any hope of redemption and uprightness at all. Don’t let the film’s black and white pallet scare you, Kurosawa’s phenomenally expert use of contrast on film paints a dappled display of light and dark on the screen. As I said, if you are a Kurosawa virgin, Rashomon‘s the one to take a chance on. — Liz Rugg