With the Barnes and Noble 50% off Criterion Collection sale running through the end of July, the ReDVDit team of writers thought it would be a great idea to present each of our Top 5 Criterion Collection Blu-rays.
Joshua Jenkins is one of our newest writers on the team, but he brings a wealth of film knowledge and impeccable taste to ReDVDit. Joshua presents his favorite Criterion Collection Blu-ray releases, as follows.
Honorable Mention: The Devil’s Backbone
Guillermo del Toro’s third feature film received the Criterion treatment in the last few years, but while the director is perhaps better known for Pan’s Labyrinth, it could be argued persuasively that The Devil’s Backbone is his best film. Building on the mood work he showed great talent for in Cronos and learning from the mistakes that plagued Mimic, del Toro delivers a ghost story of small scale but epic power and gravity. Do not miss it.
Last Year at Marienbad
Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad is one of cinema’s most enduring mysteries. With no easy answers and no reliable characters to suss out the “truth” of the story, Marienbad is often divisive amongst those who have seen it. For my money, this film is perhaps one of the most engaging mysteries in all of film, as a man and woman struggle with a case of mistaken identity (or is it?) at a party the man claims they both attended the year prior. Camera tricks and striking cinematography distinguish Resnais’ from his French contemporaries, making Marienbad a one of a kind film experience. If you’re feeling especially adventurous, pair a viewing of the film with a read of The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares which some have claimed is the spiritual inspiration for the Resnais’ film.
La Jetée / Sans Soleil
A double feature from Chris Marker, this release deals in extremes between its title. Perhaps the more famous (or infamous) work is La Jetée (The Jetty), a short film comprised entirely of still photographs and voice over work. The film’s fame mostly revolves around the fact that La Jetée was adapted by Terry Gilliam into the film 12 Monkeys, stretching out the plot laid down in Marker’s short. However, the radical approach that Marker takes in telling the story in La Jetée marks it not only as a highly successful experiment, but a moving meditation on fate. The other film, Sans Soleil, is more difficult to pin down in a certain genre. Somewhere between video essay and documentary, Sans Soleil reveals a narrative about life’s extremes (relying mainly on shots of Guinea-Bissau and Japan) through fabricated letters read aloud to the viewer. Blending multiple types of footage together, Marker’s work feels incredibly personal.
Exquisite lunacy and delightful special effects are the sign of any good Cronenberg film, and Criterion’s treatment of Scanners gives my favorite director the respect he so rightfully deserves. A favorite of cult and B-movie fans, Scanners sees Michael Ironside delight in wanton murder and destruction as near everyone finds themselves at the mercy of the emerging psychic threat. Criterion pulled out all the stops on this release, I was practically giddy when I went to purchase it on release day and I was not disappointed. If you’re a Cronenberg fan then you already know what awaits you, if not, saddle up. Things are about to get weird.
The Night of the Hunter
One of the most terrifying film experiences to ever grace a screen, The Night of the Hunter is all the more impressive as it is director Charles Laughton’s sole film. Laughton was a respected and beloved actor, but his singular vision for this film sets it apart from anything before or since. Blending aspects of German Expressionism into his cinematography and narrative approach, Laughton has crafted a simple tale that has been a critical darling for decades now. Robert Mitchum’s portrayal of Rev. Harry Powell is one of the great villainous portrayals in film history. Aided by the striking visual style, Mitchum stalks his young prey with an uneasy confidence that chills viewers to the bone. This film is one that truly stands the test of time, and Criterion did a great service bringing it to home video in a lavish release.
Wings of Desire
This is my favorite film, and thus it would be easy to gush at length about it. Wim Wenders meditates on the division in Berlin as he weaves a tale of love and loneliness between the angels that watch over mankind and a lonely trapeze artist hoping for a connection. The always amazing Bruno Ganz turns in some of his finest work here as the tender and loving angel Damiel while his counterpart, the gone-too-soon Solveig Dommartin (Wenders’ muse for a time) carefully balances a feminine mystique with an identifiable longing. The angelic aspects of this film may seem almost unscripted on first viewing, but Wenders holds viewers tightly in his grip as you sail through this dream of a Berlin that was divided and fractured, much like the film’s characters. With a stunning guest appearance by Peter Falk and a final act that will move one to cheers and tears, I can’t recommend Wings of Desire enough.