Wednesday, September 6, 2023

My Criterion Closet Wish List

I really enjoy watching the Criterion Closet Picks videos where various actors and filmmakers get to choose movies to take home with them. Their selections reveal interesting details about their tastes and experience with film, although they do tend to favor certain genres, decades, and directors, partly because of the generational range of the guests themselves and partly because of the cinematic tastes cultivated by being in the film business. I don't own a lot of Criterion Collection discs because I spent many years building up a classic movie DVD collection back when they were more widely available and fairly cheap, but now that DVDs and Blu-rays of classic movies are much harder to acquire I am increasingly turning to Criterion and Kino Lorber to expand my collection.

The Closet Picks videos always make me wish I could afford a full scale Criterion shopping spree, but if, by magic or divine intervention, I got to be a guest on Closet Picks, what movies would I choose? I'd want to pick films I don't already own and that I have seen at least once and know I would enjoy owning. I'm limiting myself to eight movies because the Closet Picks videos only show a handful being selected, which means I spent a lot of time narrowing my list! 

Here's my fantasy Criterion Closet list:

I Know Where I'm Going! (1945) - I absolutely adore this comic gem from Powell and Pressburger, with Wendy Hiller as a headstrong young woman determined to marry a rich, older man in spite of the handsome Scottish laird fate suddenly throws her way. The location cinematography, the delightful visual style, and the wonderful characters make this movie truly special. 

Nightmare Alley (1947) - As much as I love the romantic swashbuckling version of Tyrone Power, I can't deny his brilliance as the scheming carny in this original movie adaptation of the novel. It's one of the weirder noir classics, but the carnival sideshow makes a perfect setting for noir's favorite themes. The Criterion Blu-ray has been in my Amazon wish list for ages, but other items keep taking precedence.

The Third Man (1949) - Carol Reed's fantastic post-war noir is such a great use of Orson Welles' sinister charisma. Who can resist Harry Lime? Joseph Cotten and Alida Valli are also terrific, and the musical score really gets into your head. I've seen this movie several times, but somehow I haven't managed to own it yet, even though I love it enough to build LEGO tributes to its more iconic scenes.

Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) - I would love to own all of the Ealing Studios films, but this one is especially hilarious thanks to Alec Guinness playing eight different characters. It's currently listed as out of print on the Criterion website, but I bet they still have copies in that closet. (It looks like Kino Lorber might have this and some other Ealing pictures available for those of us who can't get invited to raid the closet or launch a daring Ladykillers style heist.)  

Stagecoach (1939) - Along with My Darling Clementine (1946), this is one of my favorite John Ford Westerns, thanks to its amazing ensemble cast. John Wayne doesn't show up right away, but he has a tender romance with Claire Trevor that works beautifully and allows him to be sweet and vulnerable. I'm a sucker for great character actors, and this movie just bursts with them  - John Carradine, Andy Devine, Thomas Mitchell, and Donald Meek all have significant roles.

Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) - I don't have an actual Boris Karloff movie on this list, but he's present in spirit for this wacky Capra adaptation of the stage play, in which Karloff played the role taken by Raymond Massey for the movie version. This is one my top Halloween favorites, so it's a shame I don't own it yet, but I went with the Criterion edition of I Married a Witch (1942) the last time I had to pick which Halloween comedy to buy.

Beauty and the Beast (1946) - Jean Cocteau's dreamy fairy tale is a great starter choice for kids and people just venturing into foreign classics. It's both deeply familiar and hauntingly strange, and Disney borrowed heavily from it for their own animated version of the old story. Every frame is just gorgeous, and I'd love to be able to revisit it whenever I want.

Mildred Pierce (1945) - This Joan Crawford tour de force is another one I've seen several times but haven't managed to pick up yet for my personal collection. It's packed with so many of the things I love in classic movies - female narratives, noir style, romance and melodrama, great cinematography and costumes. Women's noir fascinates me, and this is one of the very best of the genre. I especially appreciate the way it focuses on Mildred's relationship with her poisonous daughter and the lengths to which the guilt-stricken Mildred will go to protect her.

Two Criterion films I already own (both great!).

That's my wish list! Some of the movies that almost made the final eight are To Be or Not to Be (1942), Heaven Can Wait (1943), Hobson's Choice (1954), 3:10 to Yuma (1957), and The Heiress (1949), but there are dozens of others in the Criterion catalog that I would love to own. What movies would you pick from the Criterion Closet if you had the opportunity?*

* Reminder! If, like me, you enjoy classic movies on a more modest budget, you can get access to a wide selection of Criterion titles by subscribing to the Criterion Channel, which is a great bargain at $11 a month.


  1. I enjoyed reading about your picks, Jennifer -- I still have yet to see an Ealing picture, and I haven't seen many Powell and Pressburger films, either. I'm interested to see what the hubbub is about! My picks would include Shanghai Express, The Lady Eve, and The Age of Innocence.

  2. Great picks and a lot of overlap between what I want. Didn't realize there was a physical release of Kind Hearts and Coronets after watching it and loving it on the Criterion Channel.

    I'm really dying to buy the Freaks/Unknown release next Barnes and Noble sale. Also wanting to add Trouble in Paradise and Underworld.