Weekend Roundtable: Favorite Criterion Collection Titles

The Barnes & Noble semi-annual sale on DVDs and Blu-rays from the Criterion Collection is just around the corner (November 1st – get your wallets ready!). Let’s use this week’s Roundtable as an opportunity to identify some of our favorite titles from the esteemed collection.

The Criterion Collection first opened its doors for business way back in 1984 with the Laserdisc editions of ‘King Kong’ and ‘Citizen Kane’. In the ensuing years, the company established a highly-regarded reputation for the restoration and presentation of classic (and sometimes not-so-classic) films on LD, DVD and now Blu-ray. Criterion even issued at least one VHS tape when it couldn’t get optical disc rights to the movie: ‘Spirits of the Dead’. (Bet you didn’t know that!) For the purposes of this Roundtable, all of these formats are fair game.

This week, we also welcome Tom Landy to join us in the Roundtable. We’ll let him start things off.

Tom Landy

A long time ago, prior to George Lucas pushing his fans far, far away… there was a man named Akira Kurosawa. While I’m not sure if I’d even call the movie that heavily inspired ‘Star Wars’ my favorite Kurosawa film, never mind favorite overall Criterion title, I have a soft spot for ‘The Hidden Fortress‘ because it takes me back to my childhood – back to a time when it’s like I’m seeing Lucas’ space opera again for the very first time, before it was defiled by a madman’s incessant tinkering. From the two comedic, droid-like peasants to the scene transition swipes, and from the thick eyebrowed princess right down to the incomparable Toshirô Mifune (who is like Obi-Wan, Han Solo and a little bit of Boba Fett all rolled into one here), the similarities truly are uncanny at times. In fact, this movie’s influence may even still be at work in Lucas’ recent wave of godawful “tweaks.” One of the droid/peasants actually says to the other (and I swear I’m not kidding): “I hate the way you blink all the time!” Talk about spooky, huh? Anyway, here’s hoping for a CG-eyelid-free Blu-ray of ‘The Hidden Fortress’ in 2012.

Nate Boss

I have many films that I’d consider favorites in the expansive Criterion Collection, but out of sheer principle, I’d have to cast my vote for ‘Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom‘. Why? 1) I can’t stand collectors who just buy every damn film from the company – the ones who collect spine numbers more so than films. The thought of these chumps spending $600 some five years ago for the amazingly-rare, white-ringed nimbus spine #17 makes me as giddy as the fact that now said disc is worth less than $100 due to the reissue a few years back. 2) I love the thought of random people leaping into this film not paying close attention to the word “Sodom” in the title, and getting repulsed by the depictions thereof. 3) It’s actually a fantastic film that we might not have ever seen in the States had it not been for Criterion.

When the disc plays, you see an MGM logo before the film. How likely would MGM be to release this film on DVD or Blu-ray? That’s what I thought. This is the disc that helped make the Criterion Collection so legendary and famous/infamous. It has not been given a proper supplement package to date, sadly, which means that it isn’t the ultimate disc in Criterion’s series, but damn do I love the thought of people walking into this one blind. Call me sick, but I’d rather see more titles of this ilk than ones from Wes Anderson.

Mike Attebery

My favorite Criterion release is Richard Linklater’s ‘Dazed and Confused‘, which means October 25th is a big release day for me. Not only do we get ‘Jurassic Park‘, and both 2D and 3D concert Blu-rays from the always-mesmerizing Peter Gabriel, we also get the HD Criterion upgrade of one of my all-time favorite films, with all of the supplements and behind-the-scenes goodies that made the previous DVD edition so fantastic. There’s no filler in this release; it’s comprised of the kind of meaningful, revealing and touching details, tributes and revelations that make the best behind-the-scenes productions so powerful. From watching the supplements on this release, you’ll realize just how personal and meaningful this film is to everyone involved, especially David Wooderson himself.

M. Enois Duarte

When talking about movies with the worst history of home video releases, I always think of ‘Lola Montès‘, the stunningly gorgeous cult classic from the now mostly-forgotten director of excess, Max Ophüls. For me, it ranks as one of the most impressive films ever made. It’s best to pretend that the movie was never released on VHS, but the DVD from Fox Lorber is absolutely horrendous and one of the worst examples of the format. When Criterion brought the film to Laserdisc, improvements were clearly made, except that the picture quality remained poor. The LD was the edited version of the film and presented in the wrong aspect ratio. Years later, Criterion corrected its mistake and finally gave the 1955 drama a proper treatment. On Blu-ray, ‘Lola Montès’ is brought back to her former glory and looks remarkable, an example of what the format is truly capable of when the video transfer is made from the best available sources. It continues to be my favorite Criterion release yet.

Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)

I couldn’t have been more thrilled when I first heard that Criterion was bringing Jean Cocteau’s ‘Beauty and the Beast‘ to Blu-ray. Even all these many decades later, it remains perhaps the single greatest translation of a fairy tale to film, brilliantly capturing that childlike sense of awe and wonder. Once the setting shifts to the Beast’s castle, there’s hardly a frame in the film that isn’t infused with that rare sort of cinematic magic – endlessly ambitious production design, seamless effects work, breathtakingly gorgeous cinematography, and an incomparably surreal, dreamlike atmosphere. The most lavish modern CG effects budget couldn’t hope to match what Cocteau and his immensely talented crew accomplished in 1946. Its visual splendor and masterful storytelling ensure that ‘Beauty and the Beast’ remains one of the great wonders of the black and white era, and Criterion’s outstanding release on Blu-ray makes it that much more of an essential viewing.

Josh Zyber

Fellini, Fellini, Fellini! I can’t get enough Fellini, and the visual nature of the maestro’s movies practically demands high definition. Unfortunately, very few of his films are available on Blu-ray at present. Criterion offers a couple of his best. ‘Amarcord‘ is wonderful, but the director’s masterpiece (one of several) ‘8 ½‘ gets my vote here. After an early career in the Neo-Realist genre, this was Fellini’s first film in the sense of what would become his signature style. It’s a joyous celebration of life and art, of dreams and fantasies. In comparison to his later works, the Surrealistic elements are also straightforward and linear, which makes ‘8 ½’ very approachable and perhaps an ideal starting point for viewers unfamiliar with the director. The Blu-ray’s video has a couple of issues that keep it short of perfection, but on the whole, it’s a splendid-looking disc – one that I am thrilled to have in my own collection. I’m dying for ‘La Dolce Vita’ and ‘Juliet of the Spirits’ next!

Come on, Criterion collectors and general viewers too. Tell us about some of your favorite Criterion titles in the Comments below.


  1. Alex

    I am going to catch hell for this, but I love the Criterion Collection of “The Rock” on DVD. Naturally, I now have the Blu-ray (non-Criterion), but the DVD was terrific. It included a splendid essay by Roger Ebert praising the film as a paragon of the genre (the last time, I believe that Ebert said anything positive about Michael Bay), it was the only way to get an anamorphic version of the movie, and it had a slew of terrific extras. I know it’s a silly (emphasis on the “holy crap is this ridiculous) action movie, but I love it and I loved the Criterion version.

  2. I may get ran out of the forums for this, but I don’t have ANY! (Ducks). I actually thought I had a few Criterion Laserdiscs, but just looked through my discs and found out that I didn’t have any. Also thought I had a movie or two on DVD, but once again, I can’t seem to find any.

    As far as Blu-Ray, I got a couple in my rental queue – several sound interesting, but I usually don’t blind-buy movies. I have been wanting to pick up Au Revoir Les Enfants for a while now, but it never seems to be included in the sales, and while I liked the movie, I don’t like it well enough to pay full price for it. If I can ever find it for under $20, though, I may pick it up.

    • Just looked again. Turns out the movies I thought were Criterions on DVD were actually all Superbits, and the Criterion I thought I had on Laserdiscs were special edition THX certified CAV releases.

  3. i only have one. it’s silverado on laserdisc from 20 years ago. i respect them for their work but i buy for the titles and although great films , their titles are not for watching over and over.

  4. Jane Morgan

    12 CCs of Awesome, stat!

    The Thin Red Line
    The Red Shoes
    Robinson Crusoe on Mars
    Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas
    Seven Samurai
    The Seventh Seal
    Modern Times
    Black Narcissus
    Monsoon Wedding
    The Complete Metropolis

      • Jane Morgan

        Well, fuck my ass and call me Suzie.

        I went to look at my bookshelf, and you’re correct. How did that happen?

        I guess I need to buy another Criterion from Amazon.

        Maybe I’ll get ‘Three Colors.’ And ‘Rushmore.’ And ’12 Angry Men.’

        Assuming, of course, that HDD awards them 5-Star video scores.

  5. Dimwit

    I never jumped on the Criterion bandwagon because, here in Canada, Criterions never, ever go on sale. And the MSRP is higher than the US MSRP.
    Thank god B&N ships north. I’ve been slowly adding to my collection. Charade, Seven Samurai, Yojimbo/Sanjuro, High & Low and Cronos are here and I’ll probably get more.

  6. paramedic0112

    My favorites are:

    1. BBS Story

    2. Downhill Racer (DVD)

    3. The Thin Red Line

    4. Che

    5. Cronos

    6. Carlos

    7. Repulsion

  7. Prydie

    Sadly, we poor Aussies are denied the pleasure of owning Criterion blu-rays due to region locking. I still have a few Criterion DVDs though, my favorite being Gilliam’s Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas. Where are all the multi-region blu-ray players?!?

  8. Kevin

    Of the ones I own…

    For All Mankind
    8 1/2
    Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
    Le Cercle Rouge
    Army of Shadows
    Pierrot Le Fou
    Vivre Sa Vie
    Chungking Express
    Wings of Desire
    The Night of the Hunter
    Modern Times
    The Great Dictator
    Blow Out
    America Lost and Found: The BBS Story (all except “A Safe Place”, which I didn’t really care for)

      • Brian H

        Yeah, the Robocop Criterion really got me interested in DVD back in the late 90’s. (When I watched movies on a 19″ Magnovox with an Aiwa pro logic audio set up) Of course, when I got a dvd player (a used dvd drive and decoder off of ebay), the Criterion Robocop was out of print. I had to buy a sealed copy (more like resealed) off of ebay.

        I probably own 20 or so Criterion dvds. My favorites include Rashomon, the Seventh Seal, and Spartacus.

        I only own one Criterion blu ray, the Third Man. It was super cheap on Amazon right before it went out of print. I’ve yet to open it, but that’s Criterion for you- unique special features, film cuts, obscure picks, and constant license lapsing and spine numbers.

          • Brian H

            I hooked the tv out on the hardware decoder to a vcr, because my tv was rf only. Then I had to use a program to disable macrovision- as if anyone would want to dub a dvd onto vhs. About six months later, I bought a PS2, which also had macrovision. So I had to set up the PS2 to output l/r for my prologic audio, and r/f for the tv.

            It is really funny to think about now. The Bonus View should do a crazy set-up roundtable.

          • Sounds like you had the same setup as I did. Was it the Creative Labs decoder card? LOL, I actually DID dub a few shows I rented onto SVHS ET. Anime DVDs were rare back in 98 or 99, and expensive, and I was a struggling college student. VHS tapes were like a buck a piece, and I could rent movies for like a buck at Hastings. SVHS produced a pretty darn good picture on an SDTV, comparable to DVD (something like 450 lines of resolution). However, I think there was like one movie I did that on – to get decent quality at SVHS ET, you had to use the $5-$7 tapes, and recored in 2 hour speed.

            I do remember hauling my PC down into the dorm lobby on Friday and Saturday nights, and hooking it up to the projection TV and stereo system, and we would watch movies down there and just gasp at how much clearer DVD was over VHS, and how it was the future. I also then saw my first HDTV at the mall, and I swore that by around 2005 I would own one!

            Once DVDs started to drop below $30 a disc, though, I started buying them. LOL, I do remember the first time I saw a DVD player at the store, and the first time I saw DirectTV being demoed – I was up at the screen squinting my eyes trying to see pixilation blocks – I just couldn’t believe digital video had gotten THAT good – I knew it was getting there, and I had faith that we would be there some day, I just couldn’t believe we were there by the mid-90s.

            But I think I actually took the early Linux source code to disable Macrovision. Thing was, I had to boot back into Windows for watching some discs I owned such as Matrix and Tomorrow Never Dies because they were multi-angle, and the early Linux software didn’t properly read multi-angle discs. I think that was the only time I ever submitted code to the open source community – I can’t remember what I did, but I either fixed subtitle colors, multi-angle viewing or the ability to disable Macrovision, I cannot remember which. Basically, someone else had already written the code, but it wasn’t working right, and I did some debugging.

            I don’t miss those days at all.

          • Brian H

            Yeah, first I had a Creative labs decoder card. It conflicted with my 8mb pci video card, which I could only use the tv out. I ended up upgrading to a real magic decoder card.

            I did not even consider SVHS so that is a laugh. I remember though, the last VHS I bought was a collector’s edition of Army of Darkness (silly Anchor Bay, $16). And the first time I played it, there was tracking noise. Go to bread magnetic tape.

            Multi-angle viewing is another forgotten joke. Was there ever a DVD with can’t miss multi angle viewing? I know there were some animated shows/movies with rough animatics as a second angle, but that is all that comes to mind.

          • The Matrix used it – there would be a second angle with the white rabbit on it. If you hit the okay button, it would break from the movie to a clip talking about the making of the scene.

            Tomorrow Never Dies also used it for storyboards.

  9. No Criterion releases in Europe, unfortunately. Every time HDD posts an excellent review, I start complaining and crying.

    However, I just bought my very first Criterion last month (thanks to eBay): “The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg” (Les Parapluies de Cherbourg) on LaserDisc. Great movie, great disc. Hurrah!