Jean-Luc Godard famously said, in his Cahiers du Cinema days, "If the cinema no longer existed, Nicholas Ray alone gives the impression of being capable of reinventing it, and what is more, of wanting to." Sure, you could watch Rebel Without a Cause, again. But why not jump instead into this unhinged domestic melodrama that is more than sufficiently entertaining on the surface, all the while seeming to be some kind of grand metaphor for anything and everything, and which Godard (again) named one of the ten best American sound-era films ever made (as of 1963). Not a claim I'd quibble with. Easily my favorite James Mason performance, and a pure master class in lighting, editing, production design and gloriously wide Cinemascope cinematography.
18 years later, Breaking the Waves might still be the grand accomplishment of Lars Von Trier's lifelong ambition to make his viewers feel terrible. Only, when I say it like that, it sounds like a bad thing. Von Trier, the consummate provocateur, is - whatever you may think of his movies - one of the most talented directors working anywhere in the world today. Breaking the Waves was the film that took him from something of an arthouse cult superstar to something very like a household name. Their shattering performances likewise raised the profile of stars Emily Watson and Stellan Skarsgard.
If you've liked the documentaries of Frederick Wiseman (whose recent At Berkeley and National Gallery seem to suddenly have netted him a new generation of fans), Les Blank seems like a natural next step. Simple, honest, life-affirming documentaries on occasionally surprising subjects. You'll like 'em.
Luchino Visconti's 1943 debut is a stunning take on James M. Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice, is possibly the first film in the Italian Neo-Realist movement, and is a film that shows up occasionally on the periphery of discussions of the medium's Greatest of All Time. Cain's novel has been made into no less than seven different movies, most famously this one, the surprisingly poor 1946 version featuring a startlingly miscast Lana Turner, and the better-than-you've-heard 1981 Jack Nicholson/Jessica Lange version. Doing a side-by-side-by-side wouldn't be the absolute worst way to spend 6+ hours.
Satyajit Ray's defining masterwork - the same as ever, but now bearing the Criterion logo - made the late Roger Ebert's Sight and Sound ballot of the 10 greatest films ever made, until said publication got all "three movies is not a movie". You don't have to let such a technicality stop you.
One of the primary inspirations for Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill, Toshiya Fujita's Lady Snowblood and it's sequel came hot off Toho's presses on the heels of excellent (and very similar) Lone Wolf and Cub series. If your preferred samurai ratio is one part vengeance to two parts spurting arterial blood, then this is the Criterion Collection release for you.
At long last, Penelope Spheeris' out-of-print music documentary trilogy finally sees official release on DVD. 1981's The Decline of Western Civilization documents Los Angeles' fertile hardcore scene, featuring ferocious live performances by Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Fear and - most importantly - X. 1988's Part II: The Metal Years has become something of a cult touchstone largely because of Spheeris' decision to allow the musicians to choose the setting in which they were interviewed, leading to some farcically over-the-top hair-metal posturing, though (and amusing as it is) the film is more than just another Heavy Metal Parking Lot. 1998's self-financed, never-released-on-home-video Part III - Spheeris' avowed favorite - is a deeper look at the culture of homeless gutter-punk teenagers living in Los Angeles. Essential.
Burt Lancaster, standing at a pool party, realizes there's a river of swimming pools that line up house-by-house all the way to his. And darned if he's not going to swim home. Lancaster's Odyssey through modern (circa-1968) suburbia is one of the cinema's great visual metaphors. The New York Times' Vincent Canby noted the fascinating combination of the film's simple, literal style, and the "shape of an open-ended hallucination... grim, disturbing and sometimes funny." (Echoes of Bunuel?) Roger Ebert called the Swimmer, "a strange, stylized work, a brilliant and disturbing one."
Probably the greatest ever film that is just a Rube Goldberg machine going through its machinations. Fascinating.