The Willenial Criterion Library

I think I first discovered the Criterion Collection sometime in high school. I consistently went to Bull Moose (which I still claim as my second home) and perused their endless selection of DVDs. Every once in a while, I would see the bold white “C” of the Criterion logo on the spine of a film case. I was curious as to what that meant and why certain films would be embossed with this sigil of “Great Filmitude”. After scouring the internet, I felt educated enough to make some conscious choices about which Criterion-distributed films I would seek out for myself. Some films received their Will Lane Stamp of Approval and ended up somewhere in my collection for one reason or another. Some films received their Will Lane Stamp of Approval and ended up somewhere in my collection for one reason or another.

Godzilla (1954)

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The Toho Original

My childhood was full of b-movie grade monster films that I’d see with my dad. Most of the endless sequels that spawned from Honda‘s original film were butchered Americanized versions of the King of Monsters itself. I enjoyed watching the giant sort-of-lizard terrorize cities and fight other enormous kaiju (not unlike the film that’s coming out soon).

If you’re only really familiar with the Raymond Burr Godzilla films, this film is the real starting point in the Godzilla canon. Having been written and filmed just after World War II, it paints a grim picture of Japan dealing with an immense superpower that they cannot contain or counter. Of course, Godzilla is a giant metaphor, but that doesn’t detract from the carnage and distraught people running through Tokyo. This is the film that solidified Godzilla as a mainstay in pop culture, despite its initial message.

Silence of the Lambs (1991)

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“Well Clarice, have the lambs stopped screaming?”

Silence of the Lambs is easily in my top ten favorite films of all time. Any horror fan would tell you the same thing. It features a generous blend of gross-out gore and psychological terror, and boasts an incredible cast of Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, and Ted Levine. It spawned several more adaptations of Thomas Harris’ work (that were unfortunately sub-par in comparison).

I saw this film for the first time in high school. I paired it with the inferior sequel, Hannibal, which also featured Hopkins in the lead role, but did not carry the same suspenseful heft as Silence. We aren’t really going to talk about the nonsense that was Hannibal Rising. Even Hannibal was better than that. Red Dragon had all the right pieces to make it a successful and interesting film, but knowing Brett Ratner’s name is on it gave me pause. Regardless of the films that succeeded it, Silence of the Lambs is the only truly remarkable film in the franchise.

Antichrist (2009)

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There’s a lot to unpack here.

Lars von Trier‘s style of film-making does not show much in the way of restraint. That much is clear in most of his films, but perhaps none more so than Antichrist.

When I was in college, I went on a “controversial film” binge. Binged films included Irreversible, The Human Centipede, Enter the Void, Caligula, Cannibal Holocaust, Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom, among others. Antichrist ended up being the subject of an essay I wrote in college, comparing it to Milton’s Paradise Lost.

The film follows a husband (Willem Dafoe) and wife (Charlotte Gainsbourg) who lose their son in an accident. The wife takes this traumatic event and falls into despair and madness, blaming herself for her son’s death. Her husband, a psychiatrist, attempts therapy with his wife at a secluded cabin in the woods. It goes downhill from there, including some incomparable, soul-shuddering, and grotesque violence to elevate the horror of the story. It’s a film that deserves a viewing, even despite the cataclysmic third act.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

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This David Fincher film is often chalked up as being overrated, too long, boring, and stale. If compared to the rest of his work, it’s certainly feels like an outlier. What it lacks in suspense, it makes up in the inevitable and heartbreaking death of the titular character as he ages backwards. Fincher knows how to evoke strong emotions in his audience and his films challenge you to not feel something.

Benjamin Button breaks the streak of “once you’ve seen a Fincher film, you’ve seen them all.” Fincher’s known for handling stark subject matter (see Se7en, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011), Zodiac, and Fight Club), but this romantic tale is charming and fresh. If we’re being honest here, it was also the first film my wife and I ever watched together. So there’s that, too.

Blue Velvet (1986)

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Technically Blue Velvet is one of this month’s Criterion Blu-Ray releases, but that won’t stop me from talking about it. Blue Velvet is another film that I watched in college, at the behest of my friend, Todd. Since then, it has stuck with me and I reference it fairly often.

The thing that sticks out to me is the bizarre nature of the film. That much is not different than, say, any other of David Lynch‘s films. The script is a great example of putting one’s protagonist in an uncomfortable spot and watching them writhe in confusion. With every location Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) visits, everything continues to get more and more insane. Dennis Hopper‘s deranged and powerful performance is the cherry on top of this film.

My first foray into David Lynch was Eraserhead, easily the only film ever to give me nightmares. After Blue Velvet, I watched Mulholland Drive, another film I found alluring and confusing simultaneously. I purchased it on Blu-Ray when it was re-released a couple years ago. I have had every inclination to watch it again, but have yet to do so. Jim and Teal also have recommended Lost Highway, which has been added to my endless queue.

What’s next?

My list of movies that I need to see seems to grow longer every day. Right now, the films in my sights are the newest Godzilla film from Michael Dougherty, the Deadwood movie coming to HBO, and catching up on What We Do in the Shadows that I’ve missed on FX.

Thanks for reading!

-The Willenial

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