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For those who collect Blu-rays and DVDs, one name stands above the rest: Criterion. With its impeccable eye for curation and excellent restorations and bonus features, the Criterion Collection has established itself as the definitive home video release company. The Criterion Collection is reserved for “important classic and contemporary films;” for directors, receiving that stamp of approval is almost as good as an Oscar. Criterion honors obscure foreign films and popular contemporary work with equal zeal; the only criteria is the brand’s high standards.
Many movie lovers outsource the legwork of collecting to Criterion, using their annual releases as a barometer of the films that are worth owning. Browsing the Criterion website is an excellent way to find a great movie you’ve never heard of, but the Criterion Collection is more than individual DVDs. Some take an expansive view of a filmmaker’s career, others are more precise, and they all look beautiful on a shelf. Keep reading for our favorite box sets from the Criterion Collection.
For Bergman fans who want to go big or go home, this massive set contains 39 films from one of Sweden’s greatest filmmakers. It would be easier to make a list of filmmakers who were not influenced by Bergman than those who were, as his ability to make stark, cutting films without depriving them of warmth changed cinema forever. From ruminations on death such as “The Seventh Seal,” to romantic comedies including “Smiles of a Summer Night,” Bergman’s filmography is as versatile as any auteur’s, so you won’t regret owning the expanded collection.
Satyajit Ray’s “Pather Panchali,” “Aparajito,” and “Apur Sansar” represent the gold standard of Indian cinema. Telling the coming-of-age story of a young Bengali man named Apu over three films, the realistic films are deceptively simple. The elegant narratives can compete with the best works of Italian neorealism because they are heartfelt, well-crafted, and most of all, human. Everyone from Francois Truffaut to George Lucas to Wes Anderson has cited Ray as an influence, and it is not hard to see why. In addition to writing and directing, the filmmaker served as editor and designed title sequences.
In addition to being a great filmmaker, Scorsese is one of the best advocates for film history. For years, his infectious enthusiasm and encyclopedic knowledge has inspired cinephiles to look beyond Hollywood. He also founded the World Cinema Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving and restoring celluloid copies of forgotten films and introducing them to the world. Criterion has released several box sets of these films on Blu-ray, and this one includes six little-seen gems from around the globe.
Like Picasso or Bob Dylan, Federico Fellini is one of those great artists whose artistic evolution illustrates his biography. From neorealism to more expressive, circus-tinged films to meta masterpieces like “8 1/2,” each film stands on its own but viewed with historical context, his oeuvre is a rich depiction of an artist’s journey. That makes this box set worth owning, no matter how many times you’ve already seen “Amarcord.”
The road movie has proven itself to be an ample canvas, but Wenders might be the king of the genre. His Road Trilogy, consisting of “Alice in the Cities,” “Wrong Move,” and “Kings of the Road,” is one of the defining works of the genre. His sprawling films take their time, but they capture the feeling of wanderlust better than anyone before or since.
Buñuel sits in the rarefied class of filmmakers who can be instantly recognized by their last name. The Spanish auteur got his start in the Surrealist movement in the 1920s, collaborating with the likes of Salvador Dali. He always maintained a connection to surrealism over his five-decade career, even as his work evolved into a style that was almost a genre in itself. This box set contains three of his best films, although if you’re looking forward to hosting dinner parties again once you’re vaccinated, you might want to skip “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie.”
Cassavetes was key to the development of the indie film aesthetic. His works as a director are stripped down, prioritizing raw emotions from great actors over conventional storytelling. His films are just as effective today as they were upon release, because real human emotion doesn’t change. This five-disc box set contains “Shadows,” “Faces,” “The Killing of a Chinese Bookie,” “A Woman Under the Influence,” and “Opening Night.” It’s essential film history worth owning.
In the canon of Italian Neorealism, “Roberto Rossellini’s War Trilogy” is perhaps only bested by Vittorio De Sica‘s “Bicycle Thieves.” His highly realistic portraits of Italy illustrate the effects of World War II on the nation, but the stories are a human scale that makes them timeless and universal. Scorsese cited Rossellini as a major influence, and the first two films in the trilogy sport screenwriting credits from Fellini.
Richard Linklater’s “Before Sunrise,” “Before Sunset,” and “Before Midnight” may be one of the all-time great cinematic love stories. The banter- between Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delpy) is well-known to movie lovers, but the series becomes more impressive with each viewing. It begins with a chance meeting on a train, and the two decide to spend one magical night together in Vienna and never see each other again; by “Before Midnight,” they are married and confronting mortality. Each film works as an insightful exploration of a different type of relationship, but taken as a trilogy these films represent a masterful exploration of time.
The Criterion Collection loves highbrow foreign art films, but it honors any cinema worth preserving. That can certainly be said about the films of Bruce Lee, who defined the martial arts genre. This collection contains five of his best films, and it’s a great way to remind yourself that movies don’t need to be black-and-white with a four-hour running time to be great works of art.