One of the greatest sources for rare Art House films, the Criterion Collection delivers high quality releases, cleaned up and with a ton of special features (the original laserdiscs, in particular King Kong, invented the concept of a director’s commentary). However, not every great film makes the cut, and the company has specific styles of films it chooses. So I’ve taken it upon myself to pick a few titles that I feel deserve to be part of the collection.
My criteria (no pun intended):
Has to be good, or at least made in a way that pushes the limits of filmmaking, is innovative, and/or helps to advance the craft
Has a cult status, is something die-hard fans would want to spend money to have in their collections
Is rare, not something that is readily available but is worth owning
Is quirky, unusual, or out of the ordinary
American Movie (1999) – A documentary about an indie filmmaker’s struggles couldn’t be more fitting for the collection, a film by, about and for those who love movies. Mark Borchardt’s Coven (the film he’s trying to make in the doc) would make an excellent special feature for the blu-ray.
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) – Its unlikely, given Wes Anderson’s deal with Criterion, that this film won’t get a release, however, if ever a movie deserved to be included, it’s this one, with its offbeat plot, incredible cinematography and inspired performances.
The Fall (2006) – I’ve already mentioned Tarsem’s masterpiece in my top 10 favorite movies of all time. Given how the film itself, besides being breathtakingly beautiful and a love letter to the art of telling stories, manages to visually preserve a number of UNESCO World Heritage sites for future generations, it makes the Criterion treatment a no brainer.
The Tenant (1976) – The missing film from Polanski’s informal Apartment Trilogy (the other two being Repulsion (1965) and Rosemary’s Baby (1968), both already released by Criterion) the film features the director himself, playing a lowly clerk who fears the other tenants of his apartment are conspiring to drive him insane. As if the atmosphere of existential dread wasn’t frightening enough, it features Polanski in drag.
Any movie by Alejandro Jodorowsky – This man needs to make a Wes Anderson-ian deal with Criterion, any and all of his bizarre, avant-garde work would fit the bill for a release.
Amadeus (1984) – Another film from my top 10. All I’ll add is that there’s no excuse for this not to have gotten a Criterion release, none.
La Grande Bouffe (1973) – A precursor to The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, Her Lover (1989), and arguably a sort of unofficial companion piece to Pasolini’s Salo (1975) in terms of setup (though not nearly as mean-spirited or violent as either, yet still scatologically repulsive), Marco Fererri’s film follows four wealthy men, with three prostitutes and a teacher in tow, to a secluded mansion in order to engage in a decadent orgy of food and sex. Unlike Salo, however, the goal is not murder but suicide, as the four intend to eat themselves to death. An offbeat but highly underrated masterpiece.
Ghostbusters (1984) (again) – There are few who would deny that this is one of the greatest comedies ever made, though few would think it was the type of film Criterion would pick. Guess what? It did get a Criterion release, on laser disc, though its one of several selections that never made it past that format. However, the film is still widely available and has gotten a decent extras-laden release on blu-ray.
A collection of 26 short films by directors across fifteen different countries, each dealing with death and centered around a letter of the alphabet. Because they vary so wildly between directors, I’ll judge each film on its own merits:
A: Okay, but not really all that memorable.
B: Typical horror movie fare, with a very predictable ending. Also, Bigfoot and the Abominable Snowman are not the same thing.
C: Interesting, but still has a very familiar theme to it.
D: A well done short, and the first bit of brilliance to pop up, both in terms of story and production values.
E: An unmemorable take on a common urban legend.
F: Incredibly stupid and perverse.
G: Relies on a gimmicky use of POV that’s done more effectively in U.
H: An attempt to portray a live-action cartoon. Good production values.
I: Fairy disturbing, but without enough context to get the audience involved.
J: Completely bizarre and demented.
K: Dumb scatological animated short.
L: Gratuitous but effective (think Takashi Miike directing a pornographic version of Saw).
M: Very short and very pointless, little more than a visual gag.
N: Cute, amusing short.
O: An experimental short, using only imagery to express feeling. Well done.
P: One of the best, which manages to get across a moving and relatable story without dialogue. The ending will make you cringe.
Q: Lame attempt to use postmodernism as a cover for a lack of original story, though there is at least a coherent and somewhat entertaining plot. Also tits and blow.
R: Gods help me, this film thinks it’s trying to say something meaningful about the hardships of being a director, but all its really doing is giving me a Pavlovian aversion to bacon.
S: A decent grindhouse-era throwback.
T: The third film revolving around the porcelain idol, presumably claymated by a kindergarden class.
U: Effective use of POV.
V: Good story with an interesting plot and decent production value.
W: Just throwing random shit around to freak out the audience does not a decent short make. Also see the postmodern complaint from Q.
X: Extremely gory, but makes a valid point about our image-obsessed society. Also has a very effective soundtrack.
Y: Whatever tension might have been built up is ruined by the bizarre 80’s soundtrack
Here you get the good with the bad. Not a complete waste of time, though sadly the bad tend to outnumber the good. By all means watch, but have your fast forward ready.
Having already posted about my top 10 films of all time, I felt it was important to share some of my favorite documentaries (as of 2013). In no particular order:
The Bridge (2006) – In 2004, Eric Steel, inspired by a news article entitled “Jumpers,” set up a camera to film the Golden Gate Bridge continuously for one year. He and his crew managed to capture footage of no fewer than 23 of 24 known suicides that occurred, the site being a popular method for those who wish to end it all. Steel wisely avoids providing any narration or hand-holding, letting the interviews with the victim’s loved ones (none of whom were informed about the existence of the footage beforehand) speak for themselves. The film has an almost eerie stillness about it that fits the subject matter, but also keeps it from feeling sensationalized or preachy.
In The Realms of the Unreal (2004) – In 1973, shortly after the death of eccentric recluse Henry Darger, his landlords entered his apartment and found among his belongings a typed 15,145 page manuscript entitled The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion, along with several hundred watercolor paintings. Both served to flesh out an elaborate fantasy world that Darger spent most of his private life creating. Jessica Yu’s documentary explores the work and the man behind it, putting aside the interest they have generated (today Darger is hailed as an example of outsider art, and his watercolors fetch upwards of $80,000) to focus on why and how it all came about. Though many have called it a travesty, the animation of Henry’s drawings, used to illustrate passages from The Realms, helps to bring his world alive for the audience. Be warned: his tendency to draw his young heroines in the nude, coupled with his being altogether innocent of the difference between males and females, results in some…uncomfortable imagery.
Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son about His Father (2008) – This is a doc that, as a film major, I shouldn’t like nearly as much as I do, as it fails the test of objectivity; right off the bat, director Kurt Kuenne makes his bias and objectives quite clear, though given the circumstances, you can hardly blame him. On November 5th of 2001, Dr. Andrew Bagby was shot to death by his sociopathic ex-girlfriend, Shirley Jane Turner, who was released on bail and later fled to Canada. Soon after, she announced that she was pregnant with Andrew’s child. Kuenne, a filmmaker and Andrew’s best friend, set out to make a documentary so Andrew’s son could learn about the man his father was, obtaining interviews with all of the many people whose lives he touched. However, as time went on, the focus shifted to David and Kate, Andrew’s parents, who struggled to obtain custody of their grandchild, as well as justice for their son. What the Bagbys were forced to suffer through as a result of this woman, as well as the Canadian court’s complete inability to do right by Andrew and his son, is heartbreaking. Note: if you have any interest in this film, DO NOT look up anything about the case before you see it. And make sure you have tissues on hand.
The Woodmans (2010) – Another tear-jerker, and another on the topic of suicide, the film examines the Woodman family, all prolific artists whose lives were shattered by the suicide death of young Francesca, a promising photographer with severe emotional problems. Like The Bridge, no narration is given, and the audience is left to their own judgments. Was Francesca a free spirit who burned out too soon, or was something lacking in her life that led to her demise? Are her family genuinely torn apart by her death, or are they shallow individuals who are simply annoyed by the attention it takes from their own work? And is great art – and more importantly, the pain and suffering that often begets it – worth the life of the artist?
Midnight Movies: From the Margin to the Mainstream (2005) – It’s odd to think that movies like “Rocky Horror,” “Eraserhead,” and “El Topo” had a major effect on popular culture, seeing as how they were regulated to the midnight hour in seedy, underground cinemas. But without them, for better or worse, we likely wouldn’t have the permissiveness that we do today. Stuart Samuels’ Midnight Movies provides insight into a world long gone, where late night screenings provided a forbidden access into counter-cultural debauchery, bizarre mysticism and social commentary provided by directors who were ahead of their time. Much of the impact, sadly, may be lost on today’s audiences (Divine eating dog shit in the final reel of “Pink Flamingoes” won’t mean much to an audience raised on Fear Factor, for example), yet it’s because of this impact that writers and directors have the freedom to tackle subjects that only thirty years ago would have been off limits.
Tonight at midnight I will be watching a low budget horror movie that was chosen at random, Chad Ferrin’s “Someone’s Knocking at the Door” (2009). Never seen this flick, know nothing about it. I will be live Tweeting during the show (@rowand60). If you want to follow along, the movie is available on Netflix streaming. (No guarantee that it will be any good, you have been warned…)[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W8Ltdi0Bnu8/%5D