Fear of abandonment is at the heart of The Vanishing. Lovers Rex and Saskia are separated on their way to France after the latter vanishes without a trace. For the next three years, Rex dedicates his life to finding out what happened to Saskia in whatever way possible, endangering his own safety in the process. George Sluizer’s chilling psychological thriller shows the evils that curiosity and obsession can bring, and is a uniquely perverse look at the ugly side of truth-seeking.
Discover the very best Criterionchannel suggestions. Everything you see here follows the agoodmovietowatch criteria: a viewer score of at least 7/10 (on IMDb for example) and at the same time a critic score of at least 70% (on Rotten Tomatoes).
How do you get rid of an irremovable stain? In Lodge Kerrigan’s psychological thriller, characters shave the dirt off in hopes of returning things to their original pristine state. In the process of doing so, however, permanent damage is incurred, which begs the question: is the eradication of filth correspond to cleansing?
Through erratic editing and an unsettling sound design, not only does Clean, Shaven put its audience in the disturbed mind of the protagonist Peter Winter, it also effectively depicts his struggle (and inability) to retain sanity amidst a prejudiced society. The film contrasts post-Cold War paranoia with the nobility of paternal love, and finds tragedy in Peter’s futile attempts to prove his “cleanliness” in a world intent to brand him as dirty.
It’s very interesting, if not startling, to see an earnest movie made about the white upper class these days. Metropolitan is one such film, and even though it was released in the ’90s, it still stands the test of time precisely because it neither judges nor defends the group of WASPs it follows. It simply shows them in all their elegance and sophistication, as well as their insulation and irony.
Metropolitan takes place in the upper crust of New York debutante society, during Christmas vacation, where soirees are rampant and afterparties even more so. The young-adult leads who navigate the scene in their expensive clothes and self-important aura recall a Scott Fitzgerald novel, or if you like, Gossip Girl episode. But instead of falling into tragedies, these characters just end up in silly but relatable mishaps and misunderstandings: they’re just kids after all. And as high and mighty as they may seem, whiling away in tall Park Avenue apartments, they’re still prone to the universal pains that haunt and shape teenagers. Expect to see heartbreak, jealousy, and longing even among the brightest and wealthiest of New York.
Dogtooth is a bonkers tale about three teenagers who live an isolated life on their family’s estate due to strict rules set by totalitarian parents. Their vocabulary is limited and their perception of the world is strange. They’re taught that cats are bloodthirsty monsters, that disobedience is grounds for horrific punishment, and that the world outside the house will kill them.
Equal parts bizarrely funny and disturbingly terrifying, director Yorgos Lanthimos pulls no punches with this fascinating examination of authoritarianism. As usual with his actors, they are directed to deliver lines in a matter-of-fact, often even deadpan manner, making the escalating lies and deceptions more and more unsettling as the film goes on. Thimios Bakatakis’ cinematography also places the twisted tale in a home that has a somewhat dreamlike beauty.
Those who enjoy dark, comical situations told with dry humor will be amused by Dogtooth. Those who enjoy stories that quietly build up to gruesome conclusions will also be amused by Dogtooth. It takes a unique mind to depict nameless children being subjugated and stripped of the fundamentals of conceptualization in an isolated world, and treat it as an absurdist comedy rather than a flat-out horror film. Lanthimos does it.
This tender, autobiographical coming-of-age story about a working class family in post-war Liverpool is Terence Davies’ masterpiece—evoking memories through a series of loosely connected scenes that highlight the joys and woes of growing up. It is comprised of two films shot two years apart. The first details the tribulations of a young family surviving an abusive father in the ‘40s. The second part follows the kids grown up and finding their way in the ‘50s, and the influence of music and cinema on their lives. Davies uses a series of beautifully composed tableaux to tell the tale, which bring the setting and the characters intimately to life. Distant Voices, Still Lives is regarded as one of the greatest British films of all-time.
Cure is about a mad society, where both cure and sickness might be one and the same. Director Kiyoshi Kurosawa subverts the police procedural into an interrogation without definite answers, an abstract study on the evil that resides and is suppressed in every person’s heart. Unlike most horror films, Cure’s scares are left in plain sight, hypnotically mesmerizing as they are gruesome, with a sense of mundanity associated with other Japanese masters like Ozu or Kore-eda. “At the time it just seemed the right thing to do,” a man answers when asked why he killed his wife, and it is this contradictorily calm, nonchalant demeanor that creates a feeling of unease in the film’s horror aesthetic.
Forlorn longing envelops Days of Being Wild, where the act of dreaming is as valuable as its actual fulfillment. “You’ll see me tonight in your dreams,” Yuddy tells Su Li-zhen on their first meeting, and indeed, this line of dialogue sets the film’s main contradiction: would you rather trap yourself in the trance-like beauty of dreams or face the unpleasant possibilities of reality? Wong Kar-wai’s characters each have their own answers, with varying subplots intersecting through the consequences of their decisions. In the end, happiness comes in unexpected ways, granted only to those brave enough to wake up and dream again.
Sisters Martine and Filippa, daughters of a founder of a religious sect, live a simple and quiet life in a remote coastal village in Denmark. Throughout the course of their lives, they reject possible romances and fame as part of their commitment to deny earthly attachments. This is upended by the sudden arrival of a French immigrant named Babette, who served as their house help to escape the civil war raging in her country.
Babette’s Feast is an inquiry into simplicity and kindness, and whether these would be sufficient to achieve a life of contentment. The religious undertones perfectly fit with the film’s parable-like structure, where bodily and spiritual appetites are satisfied through a sumptuous feast of love, forgiveness, and gratitude.
If you're a fan of musical theater of any kind, Topsy-Turvy pays tribute to that notoriously tricky art form with a stunning attention to detail and a dedication to telling its story without any unnecessary drama whatsoever. It's hard not to get swept up in the humor, entertainment, and simple joy found in the writing process and in rehearsals of entire scenes. Come for the Oscar-winning costumes and makeup, stay for the wonderfully old-timey musical numbers, the brilliantly grounded performance from Jim Broadbent, and the sense of satisfaction of just watching everything finally come together to thunderous applause.
What Lynne Ramsay's Ratcatcher intentionally refuses to give you by way of plot or resolution, it more than makes up for in sharp visuals, a beautifully sparse score, and an unscratchable feeling of restlessness. It's a downer for sure, watching 12-year-old James hounded by guilt as he navigates the mundane bleakness of his everyday life. But in every detail and in every interaction he has in this rundown scheme in Glasgow is a window into the simple joys James wishes he could be enjoying. The more trouble the boy walks into, the more the guitar string tightens, and the more you wish something could finally break the cycle. There's still beauty even in these conditions, Ratcatcher tells us—but it isn't right that anyone should have to live like this.
Asako is in love with Baku—deeply and almost delusionally, in a way that can only manifest in young love. But when the freewheeling Baku ghosts Asako for good, she moves from Osaka all the way to Tokyo to start a new life. Years later, she's startled to meet Baku's doppelganger in Ryohei, an office man whose solid dependability and lack of artfulness, while endearing, could not place him any further from Baku. Confused and lonely, Asako tiptoes around her feelings for Ryohei and, in the process, raises thought-provoking questions about the meaning, ethics, and true purpose of love.
By all appearances, Eliza and Louis have a charming marriage. They’re casual and good-humored in the morning and full of passion in the evening. So when Eliza finds a love note addressed to her husband one day, naturally, she freaks out. She enlists the help of her eccentric family and sets off to Manhattan, where they all try to get to the bottom of the affair; what follows is an endearingly awkward adventure around town.
Though the film often meanders both in plot and dialogue, the expert ensemble keeps things compelling with their convincing chemistry and wry, visual humor. Coupled with lush images of ‘90s New York and brilliantly droll writing, The Daytrippers is a joyride of a film, as unassuming as it is enthralling.
Even if you aren't familiar with Akira Kurosawa classics like Rashomon and Seven Samurai, Madadayo works as a portrait of a great man who seemed to feel nothing at the end of his career other than gratitude. Made up of long, wholesome conversations between real-life Japanese academic Hyakken Uchida (Tatsuo Matsumura) and his former students, the film finds plenty of wisdom in observing the little things. And as hard as his students try to make sure Uchida's twilight years are as comfortable as possible, there's still something elusive about this man overwhelmed by all the good and bad fortune in his life.
Written like a stage play, directed like the viewer is a fly on the wall, and shot with a love for deep shadows and warm candlelight, Flowers of Shanghai is about as immersive a chamber drama as one could ask for. Having most of the "action" take place off screen, director Hou Hsiao-hsien draws our eye instead to how his characters (including one played by an exceptionally stoic Tony Leung) continue to negotiate for their own freedom against patriarchal norms, pushing against cultural notions of proper decorum. It's a film brimming with repressed emotion, but without ever raising its voice. The vibes, as the kids say, are immaculate.
While it would be easy to make comparisons to The Good Place and other shows and films dealing with the afterlife, Hirokazu Kore-eda's film is devoted to a single thing: commemorating the ordinary moments that make our life precious. Through little more than workplace banter and documentary-style interviews (with an ensemble delivering uncannily naturalistic performances), After Life reminds us how beautiful the mundane can be and how important it is for us to be present for each other in the everyday. And as the fim's characters prepare to create reenactments of each person's most precious memory, Kore-eda also defines filmmaking itself as an act of comfort and empathy. No existential crises here; an overwhelming sense of peace floods After Life, making it all the more memorable.
The Promise has all the trappings of a sleazy crime drama, but there's a sense of innocence buried underneath all the dirt that helps set it apart. Even as Igor helps his father do the shadiest things to exploit the illegal immigrants under their care, you can see the boy slowly wake up to the realization that life can't just be a series of transactions, rewards, and punishments. As writers and directors, the Dardenne brothers present Igor's coming of age with frankness and without pretension—even when a hint of the mystical begins to compel him to tell the truth. It might not seem all that complex at first, but the details that make up this world are fully immersive from start to finish.
Mayor follows Musa Hadid, the mayor of the de-facto capital of Palestine, Ramallah, over two years as he tries to make his constituents’ lives better under occupation. With shootings, sieges, and a wide array of life-threatening situations taking place, his focus remains on cheesy Christmas decorations and funny city-branding attempts.
The director follows the mayor everywhere, including in his home and with his family, examining the toll of the unique job. Ramallah is portrayed like it were any other capital—except for the daily reminders that it’s very far from that.
The apex of Abbas Kiarostami’s monumental filmography, Close-Up is a testament to the late directors’ ingenuity and humanism. Kiarostami documents the real-life trial of a man who impersonated fellow Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf, and ingratiated himself to a family believing him to be the real deal. The courtroom drama and interviews are fascinating enough, but Kiarostami takes it one step further by having everyone involved reenact the events as they happened.
The result is an unparalleled piece of filmmaking that blurs the boundaries between documentary and narrative while posing vital questions about the exclusivity of cinema and the storytelling process. Despite its sophisticated constructions, Kiarostami’s direction is lucid and direct as it builds to a passionate and unforgettable conclusion.
Martin Bell documents the lives of youth living in the streets of Seattle in the early eighties with profound empathy. It's a type of filmmaking that doesn’t judge or condescend, but seeks to capture the humanity of its subjects. The result is a film bursting with life and laughter, and although tragedy lurks around every corner it isn’t over-sentimentalized or exploited, taking a backseat to the compassionate depiction of everyday moments.
The audience is left to its own devices to pull together the extent to which these youth have been failed by a broken safety-net and the expired promise of an American dream. These ideas rise to the surface naturally and serve as a testament to the power of the documentary form when it’s loosened from the grip of mawkish narrators and sugary moralizing.
Les Glaneurs et la Glaneuse (The Gleaners and I) is one of the late Agnès Varda’s great documentaries. The film follows “gleaners”—scavengers and collectors of discarded garbage or abandoned items—from the French countryside into the city. The first of Varda’s subjects recalls, “Gleaning, that’s the old way,” marking a clear distinction: old versus new, rural versus urban, wasted versus repurposed.
Fans of Varda will recognize the signature tenderness with which she approaches both her subjects and their objects. Those new to her work will be sure to find something familiar in this documentary: a film largely about loss, but which approaches its ideas of modernization and time with humor and lightness. Among the rubble, there is joy yet to be found—and in this documentary, there is a great comfort, too, to be gleaned.