So how does one go about choosing just a handful of films from Criterion’s 800+ film collection? I haven’t picked what I’d call the best films in the collection because I fear that I would be stuck sitting here for days making alternate lists. Instead, I’ve chosen films that I’d be delighted to receive as gifts during Christmas, and happily sit down and share with anyone over the festive period.
There’s something in all of these films that can be enjoyed with family, discovered with friends and explored with relative strangers at house parties when the DVD collection comes under scrutiny during New Years. These are films that will take you from the glittering heights of Christmas Day excitement, to the lazy comfort of New Year’s Day when last night’s resolutions already seem ludicrous. Including everything from pick me ups and heart warmers to the sparks of a revolutionary moving image experience, these films are all stand alone classics that reveal more with each viewing.
M by Fritz Lang (1931)
A little flourish of world cinema. There’s no better way to slowly integrate subtitles to viewers unaccustomed than with this German masterpiece. When a child killer cannot be caught by the police, other criminals join the hunt in a cat and mouse game of social fears and community strengths. An understanding of the powers of subtly suggestion mark this as a truly forward thinking piece of cinema, and contributed significantly to the way film is utilised as a tool for the study of social mores.
The Red Shoes by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (1948)
The combination of two skilled art forms, ballet and cinema, mark this an extremely forward thinking piece of cinema that would later be appreciated for setting the standard for the exploration of the life of an artist. The Red Shoes is not just for enthusiasts of the ballet, but also for those who can admire the wonderful cinematography and inventive techniques of the late Jack Cardiff. The film’s lasting impression lies predominantly in the execution of the dancing and Moria Shearer’s performance as the dancer that must choose between the man she loves and becoming a prima ballerina. This is industry wowing and visually stunning cinema, bound to please and surprise.
The Blob by Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr. (1958)
There had to be a monster movie here somewhere. The blob is a glorious space creature that has landed on earth, consisting of seemingly nothing but a gelatinous mess. In classic small town America format, initially no one will believe a group of teenagers after they witness the destructive powers of the blob – until it’s far too late. This beloved science fiction film makes for great late night entertainment. Starring Steve McQueen in one of his early roles; he’s still the king of cool as he battles his way through the perils of alien invasion.
City Lights by Charlie Chaplin (1931)
Light hearted comedy antics from the master of comedic timing, the bright lights of the city have never been so full of charm for Chaplin’s classic Tramp. The down and out doesn’t have much luck, but when he sees a blind flower seller he realises he’s not the only one. Instantly falling in love, but too shy to express himself, the Tramp goes about helping the girl in any way he can. Chaplin’s perfectly executed choreography is matched with an uncomplicated script that ticks all the boxes for a Hollywood silent era comedy. Poetry in motion, Chaplin will warm hearts and lift spirits with the simplicity of the narrative and wide eyed wonder of his Tramp character. Slapstick and near misses open this one up to all demographics.
Kes by Ken Loach (1969)
Kes is possibly the most powerful film on this list. Working class social problems are a key theme for director Ken Loach, but here he presents a ‘through the eyes of a child’ narrative that will touch the hearts of all viewers. Focusing on strange and harsh characters that aren’t always directly relatable, Loach manages to emotionally engage us anyway, with the realisation that for these characters, actions speak louder than words. Billy Kaspar is a misfit struggling to make his way and carve an identity that’s meaningful in a bleakly painted England. A brilliant child performance, and a film of many endearing qualities worth sharing with family during the festive season.