The good news is that this edition of Criterion Collected gives me an excuse to highlight the just-announced February 2012 releases and also recommend some of my favorite releases as Barnes & Noble’s biannual 50% Off Criterion Sale enters its final week and a half.
Unfortunately, unreleased or pre-order titles aren't eligible for the sale. I recommend one of the two titles pictured in said banner (the ones that doesn't involve Brad Pitt). You can shop our B&N store by clicking on the banner below. The sale ends on November 22.
February 2012 Releases
It’s a big month, as Criterion hits spine #600 and announces what has already proven to be a hotly-debated recent release, among some other cool stuff.
La Jetee/Sans Soleil Blu-ray Upgrade Chris Marker’s two films included here were made 20 years apart. La Jetee is a time travel short that heavily influenced Twelve Monkeys, and Sans Soleil is a documentary. I saw La Jetee some time ago, but have still not seen Soleil. This gives me a good excuse to catch up with it.
Three Outlaw Samurai Blu-ray and DVD Light on extras (just a trailer and a booklet), this one is a great addition to your collection if you dig samurai movies but only know Kurosawa for the most part. We screened this just in advance of Fantastic Fest here in Austin, and our own Lars Nilson described it better than I can: “When we think of samurai cinema many of us only know the (admittedly) brilliant films of Akira Kurosawa, but if we only examine these high-art films, we are missing out on the vitality of the genre as a whole. It’s a little like judging all westerns by Brokeback Mountain. One director who made superior mainstream, commercially viable chanbara (swordplay) films was Hideo Gosha. Recently Japanese director Takeshi Miike has sung his praises and identified him as a great influence on his own work. Three Outlaw Samurai was Gosha’s first film as a director and it has the vulgar energy of exploitation film although it is exceptionally well made. It’s a hugely action-packed story of the collision of three Samurai in a small town wracked by social division. There are phenomenal action sequences as the conflicts reach their resolution in the only way possible, with slashing steel and flowing blood.”
Tiny Furniture Blu-ray and DVD I’ve already seen my Twitter feed blow up with people complaining about this movie getting the Criterion treatment. Some are saying it’s a worse injustice than including Armageddon. Folks, calm down. Don’t be dicks just because you don’t like the movie or don’t think she paid her dues or whatever. I liked the movie just fine, and I especially like that the set includes Lena Dunham’s first feature, Creative Nonfiction, as well as a selection of her shorts (films, not garments). It also includes an interview with Dunham conducted by Nora Ephron. I’m confused that it also lists an interview withwriter/director Paul Schrader, which might just be a momentary typo.
World on a Wire Blu-ray and DVD More Fassbinder is a good thing. A cybernetics engineer discovers a corporate conspiracy in thie 3.5-hour film originally made for German TV. Janus Films started touring it across the country in 2010. The set includes a 50-minute doc about the making of the movie and an interview with a German film scholar. Criterion’s description includes the words “Kubrick”, “Vonnegut”, and “Phillip K Dick”. I think those comparisons either mean nothing to you or they make you infinitely more interested.
Vanya on 42nd Street Blu-ray and DVD Criterion has really gone hardcore when it comes to filling out their collection of Louis Malle movies. Vanya was Malle’s last film, and it captured a really stellar production of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya as adapted to English by David Mamet, directed by André Gregory (of My Dinner with André), and featuring performances by Wallace Shawn, Julianne Moore, and others. I first saw it on an overpriced VHS tape back when I was a way-too-serious high school actor who did things like read Chekhov for fun. I can’t wait to re-watch it, along with the newly-recorded documentary featuring interviews with Gregory, Shawn, Moore, and other actors and production staff.
Anatomy of a Murder Blu-ray and DVD If you ask me, this is the real beast of the month, and it’s fitting, since it doubles as spine #600, something that means more to Criterion nuts like me than people browsing store shelves for Gnomeo and Juliet. This is arguably Otto Preminger’s best film (along with best-known), alongside movies like Laura and The Man With the Golden Arm. The set is packed full, with interviews and featurettes on everything from Preminger’s relationship with designer Saul Bass to the score by Duke Ellington. Vintage docs and new ones alike are on here. The original sound mix is available as an uncompressed audio track, as well as a newly-mixed 5.1 track. I love that the option is there and that the disc defaults to the original mix (unlike many vintage releases that default to mega-loud modern mixes). The cover wisely doesn’t try to outdo Bass’ iconic artwork. This one is a no-brainer.
Barnes & Noble Recommendations
I figure the most effective way to put together these recommendations is to do a bunch of double feature recommendations, since I prefer the idea of themed double features and on top of that, the 50% off pricing makes it kind of like buy one get one free. This should help narrow down choices if you have a fixed budget you’re trying to spend. Almost all of my recommendations are Blu-rays, which are definitely the way to go if you’re buying physical media these days.
Blu-graded 90’s Classics Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Dazed and Confused Universal put out Blu-ray upgrades of both of these titles this year that lack much in the way of extras, have lousy cover art, and substandard AV transfers. The legendarily great Criterion DVDs get the deluxe treatment with all the old extras and flawless transfers. The nifty clear slipcase from the Fear and Loathing DVD is replaced with a Criterion-standard thick plastic case. Dazed retains the beautiful cardboard digipack, even preserving the packed in mini-poster.
Schoolboys in Disgrace The Complete Jean Vigo and If… The Jean Vigo set includes all of the films that the French auteur directed before his young death due to tuberculosis, one of which (L’Atalante) is considered one of the best films of all time. The whole lot of them and the accompanying extras (including commentary on all films by the same scholar) are truly eye-opening, and they comprise what I consider one of the best releases of the year. Vigo was an enormous influence on not only some of the greatest French directors, but loads of others since. Another film in the set (Zéro de conduite) inspired countless schoolboy films in the coming decades, ones like Lindsay Anderson’s If…, which includes a Malcolm McDowell performance that landed him his breakout role in Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. Speaking of…
Three by Kubrick The Killing (with Killer’s Kiss) and Paths of Glory These are Kubrick’s earliest films, and they’re easy impulse buys for fans of the director. Not only does The Killing feature some great extras, but it also includes Kubrick’s first feature, Killer’s Kiss, on the same disc. The Killing is a heist movie set around a big horse race, and is often overlooked in favor of Kubrick’s later, higher-profile work. When I’m pressed for an answer, I usually say that Paths of Glory is my favorite Kubrick film. Kirk Douglas’ performance here is a perfect example of why he will be considered one of the greats for all time.
Chaplin at His Best Modern Times and The Great Dictator Criterion have only done two of Chaplin’s movies thus far, but they definitely chose wisely. If you know who he is and have seen clips, but haven’t actually seen one of his movies all the way through, don’t hesitate to start with these. I should note that Dictator features the first instance of Olly Moss art in the Criterion Collection.
Golden Silence People on Sunday and The Phantom Carriage Silent films can’t get no respect most of the time, and these two are probably ones you haven’t heard of. I’ll admit that I hadn’t until Criterion announced them. People on Sunday united the talents of a quintet of filmmakers who would go on to be some of the greatest of their generation, including Robert Siodmak (The Killers, Criss Cross), his brother Curt (writer of the 1941 classic The Wolf Man), Edgar Ulmer (Detour, The Black Cat), Fred Zinneman (High Noon, From Here to Eternity), and Billy Wilder (The Apartment, tons of others). The movie was an experimental docu-fiction hybrid about various people on a weekend outing, and I found it really charming and fun. The latter has a really great myth at its center. The last person to die on New Year’s Eve is cursed to collect souls for Death for the entire next year. Phantom Carriage is now the oldest film in the Collection, and it features some special effects that are pretty amazing, considering they were composed 90 years ago as of this writing. Both are packed with great extras.
Genre Island of Lost Souls and Robinson Crusoe on Mars The just-released Island of Lost Souls restoration is really outstanding. Often overlooked amongst other Universal Monsters classics, Criterion did this one right and then some, with great interviews on the disc including luminaries such as recent Fantastic Fest Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Rick Baker. Robinson Crusoe on Mars is one of the weirdest inclusions in the Collection since there’s so little else like it in there. It’s classic science fiction, and I wish there were more like it. This Blu-ray upgrade really shows off how great mid-60’s Technicolor photography could look.
Aside from those 12, I also highly recommend all of this month's releases, especially today's Blu-graded releases of of The Rules of the Game (already a Criterion title) and The Three Colors Trilogy (newly-added to the Collection). I bought both myself on my lunch break, and I'm very eager to dive in. I'll be reviewing both soon. I'm not sure if next week's Twelve Angry Men and Rushmore will qualify (I think they do), but I'd recommend them sight-unseen as well.
I might have another installment of this ready very, very soon. This is thanks to the fact that I've drafted bits and pieces of a followup column and they just about look like one coherent thing.