by Rob DiCristino
semiannual sale with a look back at a few favorites.
It’s time again for the famous Criterion Collection sale, those wonderful few weeks out of every year when Barnes & Noble stops being the absolute worst retailer in America long enough to take 50% off your film school syllabus. My snarky nonsense aside, those of us who still collect physical media consider this a holy time of celebration. We gather eagerly around each display, combing through titles row by row. “Which Antonioni film did I forget last time?” we ask ourselves. “Has enough time gone by that I can pick up Blue is the Warmest Color without seeming like a pervert?” Probably not. Anyway, here’s a look at some of my favorite Criterion releases:
1. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998, Dir. Terry Gilliam)
2. Ikiru (1952, Dir. Akira Kurosawa)
already written at length about my love for Akira Kurosawa’s somber exploration of life and death, but it always bears a revisit. Now that I think of it, Ikiru is an ideal film for the upcoming holiday season, one that confronts the futility and impermanence of mortal existence while also celebrating the eternal resonance of a life well lived. Though Kurosawa has probably made “better” films, there’s something about Ikiru’s clean, quiet presentation (brought to life by Takashi Shimura’s haunting performance as Watanabe), that makes it feel very special. The crown jewel of Criterion’s release is the feature commentary track by Kurosawa scholar Stephen Prince, author of The Warrior’s Camera. Prince offers crucial insights into both Kurosawa’s approach to making Ikiru and the ways in which the film fits into the context of (and, at several points, functions as a commentary on) post-war Japan. It’s a beautiful release for a beautiful film.
3. Brief Encounter (1945, Dir. David Lean)
4. Chasing Amy (1997, Dir. Kevin Smith)
earlier this year, we gushed about our affection for Criterion’s excellent release, which – despite the film’s seemingly dated sexual politics – cements our special appreciation of Chasing Amy as a time capsule of ‘90s indie cinema. Its best feature is the commentary track (you’re noticing a trend here) featuring Smith, Ben Affleck, Jason Mewes, producer Scott Mosier, Miramax executive Jon Gordon, and producer Robert Hawk (whom Smith credits with discovering Clerks). While it’s nearly impossible to talk about Miramax with any kind of wistful nostalgia at this point (rightfully so), the track features a pre-burnout Smith ruminating on his new indie cred, a barely-conscious Mewes deep in the throes of his storied drug addiction, and an anonymous doofus named Ben Affleck who doesn’t know that the film he’d just finished shooting (Good Will Hunting) will soon propel him to Oscar glory.
5. Do the Right Thing (1989, Dir. Spike Lee)
What are some of your favorite Criterion releases? Leave them in the comments.