The Criterion Collection has long been the gold standard for home video releases, a ‘film-school-in-a-box’ that offers the best-looking and most comprehensive editions of classic, contemporary, art house, foreign, and cult films alike. Featuring gorgeous covers, booklets filled with film critique and interviews, and video transfers that simultaneously restores and preserves the original film quality, the Criterion edition of a film is largely considered the definitive edition.
But that quality doesn't come cheap though, as most Criterion releases carry a premium price tag - unless those films are on sale, that is. And right now, Amazon is hosting a huge blow-out on virtually all of Criterion's catalog of films for up to nearly half-off the retail price for the whole month of March. With over 800 films in the Collection, from indie filmmakers like Jim Jarmusch, to Hollywood titans like Michael Bay, looking for the right movie can be overwhelming. That's why I've compiled a list of some of the most essential releases no film fan should be without. It's by no means exhaustive (if I included all of my favorite Criterion releases, we'd be here all day) but it should get you started on a collection of your own.
Note: these DVDs and Blu-Rays are Region 1/A only, as Criterion only receives the license to release its films in North America. If you're looking to import them, they do work on region-free players, though.
On the surface, Godzilla is an exciting thriller about an actor in a giant lizard costume rampaging through Japan. But take a closer look, and you'll see a film about a country dealing with the repercussions of World War 2 and the atomic bomb. The great thing about the Criterion edition is that it includes the original Japanese cut of the film, as well as Godzilla, King of the Monsters - the Americanized cut from 1956 - and both are presented in stunning high-definition.
Sometimes you find the perfect apartment only to discover that your neighbors are the worst - in Rosemary's case, those neighbors turn out to be Satanists. This deeply disturbing film put director Roman Polanski on the map, and the Criterion release includes a ton of great interviews and featurettes about its cultural impact.
Yes, this is the one where the dude's head blows up real nice. Scanners is David Cronenberg's thrilling Hollywood debut, featuring a version of our world where people gifted with mind-controlling powers are fighting for world domination. The great thing about the Criterion release is that, in addition to the standard bonuses, it also includes an entire second film: a high-definition restoration of Stereo, Cronenberg's first-ever feature-length movie.
The Complete Lady Snowblood
If you're a fan of Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill, you owe it to yourself to pick up this collection. A young woman accepts her mother's dying wish for revenge, and takes out the criminals who destroyed her family one by one - if this sounds familiar, let's just say Tarantino, ahem, borrowed from both Lady Snowblood films fairly liberally. Once you watch them, you'll know why he did, though; both are fantastically over-the-top samurai movies with style to spare, and Criterion's digital restoration makes them sing.
The Devil's Backbone
Guillermo del Toro first made a splash in the Mexican and Spanish film community before moving on to Hollywood movies like Hellboy and Pacific Rim, and The Devil's Backbone is perhaps the best summation of his early work. A young boy loses his family during the Spanish Civil War, and is sent to live in a terrifying orphanage. If you liked Pan's Labyrinth's blend of fantastical horror and grounded history, you'll love The Devil's Backbone.
Wes Anderson's first film, Bottle Rocket, is a fun indie romp, but it's his second film where he finds his directorial voice: a unique combination of witty dialogue, story-book set designs, and French New Wave-inspired verve. Pitting Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray against each other as increasingly petty rivals, Rushmore is one of the greatest American comedies, and in a catalog of stellar films, still one of Murray’s finest.
Akira Kurosawa is one of the most influential filmmakers in history - you can see his mark everywhere, from Star Wars, to Mad Max: Fury Road, to A Bug's Life. Seven Samurai remains his most fascinating film, an explosive, three-hour-long epic loaded with equal parts action and philosophical subtext. The Criterion release continues to be the best-looking and most comprehensive edition of this cinematic classic.
The Complete Monterey Pop Festival
This two-disc box-set is effectively a greatest hits collection of some of the most iconic rock 'n' roll acts of the 1960s. Featuring legendary performances by Simon and Garfunkel, The Mamas and the Papas, Otis Redding, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix (the one where he sets his guitar on fire), plus over two hours of additional outtakes, The Complete Monterey Pop Festival is basically the mother of all concert DVDs.
This is what I love about Criterion: that they will treat art house darlings with the same reverence as Repo Man, a cult punk-rock classic starring Harry Dean Stanton and Emilio Estevez about an alien Chevy Malibu that vaporizes people. It's as hilariously subversive as it sounds, and the Criterion edition comes in a fantastic package, loaded with special features.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is one of the craziest films ever committed to celluloid, a psychadelic two-hour descent into drug-induced madness with Johnny Depp, Benicio del Toro, and director Terry Gilliam as your guide. Criterion outdoes itself here with the film's special features, including three commentary tracks, multiple documentaries about the film and Hunter S. Thompson book it's based on, as well as a selection of Thompson's writings, read by Johnny Depp.