Criterion Closet picks, documented
Michael Shannon visits the Criterion Closet, courtesy Criterion
Criterion Closet picks, documented

Since 2010, Criterion has recorded visits from filmmakers, writers, musicians, and more to their film closet. The small room, lined wall-to-wall with Criterion Blu-rays and DVDs, exists as a Mecca-of-sorts for cinephiles. The videos, release primarily on YouTube, give incredible insight into the inspiration behind some of the greatest film professionals living and working today.

In a 2018 visit by actor and blogger Tavi Gevinson, she remarked on how useful it would be to see some sort of accounting of what had been selected by those who had preceded here.

“I’d love a chart of who has taken what. A graphic of that would be great.”

I couldn’t agree more. I love lists and stats. Part of what makes Letterboxd so special as a platform is the ability to see, in aggregate, how any film in the world has been received. Scores are one thing. Their inclusion in lists are another. So I thought I’d apply the same processing I used in my Closing The Loops list to all ~160 Criterion Closet Picks. To do this, I created a new Letterboxd account specifically for this purpose.

The reasons were three-fold.

  1. I didn’t want to clutter my own account.
  2. It’s easier to automate the processing a full set of lists from one account through the Letterboxd API, rather than many.
  3. I liked the idea of a single account with all individual closet pick lists, tagged with categories like year or occupation.

Account made, I started creating the lists. This process took a few weeks and became more streamlined over time. I created Text Expander snippets for the description to give them some consistency and form. All descriptions retain the original caption for each video, a link to the video, and a link to the Criterion shop page for each visit (if available).[1]

As I mentioned previously, the All Time Top Criterion Closet Picks list is generated using similar code to my Closing The Loops list. It sorts through all of the available lists (tagged closet picks), filters them to a list of unique pictures, then sorts them by their occurrences. This gives me a CSV I can upload to replace the previous version of the list as new closet picks are published. I’ll automate this when I do so for the other list.

It was interesting to see the list change over time. Picks in early videos were very similar. They’ve become more varied over time as the Criterion Collection and the demographics visiting the closet have grown. This got me thinking that I should use additional tags to filter on these demographics and occupations. This is still in progress as I go back through each list.

Some additional “Top” lists I’m planning to generate:

  • Top Criterion Closet picks by directors
  • Top Criterion Closet picks by writers
  • Top Criterion Closet picks by actors
  • Top Criterion Closet picks by cinematographers
  • Top Criterion Closet picks by women
  • Top Criterion Closet picks by men
  • Top Criterion Closet picks by members of the LGBTQ+ community

In addition to these lists, there are some minor improvements I’d like to make to the top lists notes. For instance, I’d like to include links to each individual pick list for further discovery. I’d also like to start compiling lists for the closet visit Polaroids that Criterion share on social media. These sometimes preclude a full video. Other times they do not. Lastly, I plan to generate a list of all the films that have never been picked in the closet.

This project wouldn’t have been possible (or would have taken much longer) without the help of the many Letterboxd users that have previously compiled these lists. As the project has gone on, I’ve relied more on a handful of trustworthy list-makers to accelerate progress. Of course there are bound to be mistakes and omissions. I watched through many of the early ones myself to catch the picks that weren’t outwardly discussed and will probably continue to do so, but this is time consuming. What’s present now is an accurate, if not entirely complete representation of the history of closet picks. Any additional changes aren’t likely to change the top-most selections.[2]

I haven’t been feeling all that great mentally, lately. Projects like these that scratch the part of my brain that likes to organize and tag things soothe—or perhaps distract—the bad feelings for a while. I hope I’ve been able to channel that into something useful or otherwise interesting. More to come.

  1. I’ve since started going through and adding Letterboxd links to persons or titles called out in the description. ↩︎

  2. The Cassavetes, Varda, and Tati boxsets are very popular. ↩︎