A few weeks back, I started running contributions from some of my favorite film critics, writers, and theorists from around the internet. The series ended… but has officially been resurrected, as I’ve obtained a few new contributions. This is the last one I have (for now). Each writer is listing their top 10 from the Criterion Collection. Today’s entry is from Ryan McNeil, proud Torontoan (Torontite?) and proprietor of The Matinee. Ryan’s site is loaded with passionate and profound reviews about a wide array of genres, from blockbusters to festival films to indie cinema to classics (foreign and otherwise). In particular, I admire Ryan’s dedication to indie cinema and his continuing “Blind Spot Series” in which he tries to fill in the cracks in his movie-viewing history. He always has something thought-provoking to say, and he does so respectfully and without vitriol. That’s my kind of writer. In addition to The Matinee, you can find Ryan on Twitter @matinee_ca.
Ace in the Hole (1951)
Given the cost, I try not to do too much upgrading of dvd-to-blu ray, but the arrival of this cynical Billy Wilder title on hi-def will probably test that. One of the best scripts in the whole collection.
Broadcast News (1987)
There’s a strange stigma around comedies. A notion that they cannot endure, cannot elevate, and are merely trifles to be joyfully consumed and forgotten. The truth is that the very best comedies do in fact endure, and do indeed elevate. They remain relevant for years and still spark laughs and reflections well after they’ve been released. Few comedic talents know this better than James L. Brooks, so the fact that he has a spot in the Criterion Collection is a nod to the power of great comedy in film.
Ambitious films like this tend to have very limited audiences. Who has four hours and twenty minutes to dedicate to the life of one guerilla? But when sets like this honour that sort of ambition, it’s difficult not to get swept up in its lustre.
Chungking Express (1994)
Bought sight-unseen. All I knew about it was that it was the film Criterion mastered on to blu-ray to test out the format, and once they successfully did it, they shortly thereafter ended its pressing. Buying it without watching it first admittedly smacks of compulsion, but my enjoyment of it turned it into a wise decision. Good luck getting “California Dreamin” out of your head.
Days of Heaven (1978)
A gimme. Every Terrence Malick movie should be on Criterion. The fact that Tree of Life and The New World aren’t (yet) is a crime against cinema.
The Complete Monterey Pop Festival (1968)
Joplin. The Who. Otis. Simon & Garfunkel. Mamas and Papas. You’d almost be tempted to hit play, turn it up loud and walk away to do whatever you needed to do around the house. Almost. The fact that it includes so many amazing visuals, like Mama Cass mouthing the word “wow” at the conclusion of Janis’ set, and Hendrix’s iconic moment of lighting the guitar on fire almost demand that you sit and watch. This set gets bonus points for some of the best musical writing you will ever read in its accompanying booklet – profound words from, of all people, Armond White.
A year or so ago, Criterion started getting a little more tactile when it came to the packaging of their blu-ray releases. Aesthetically, this might be their prettiest packed title, and one of their best conceived pieces of box art. Its epic soundtrack also sounds amazing, and with so much on this soundtrack, like Monterrey it can almost be played like a live album.
Every Wes Anderson movie just feels so much more perfect when its inevitable Criterion edition drops.
The Third Man (1949)
What’s the only thing more annoying than a deleted Criterion title? A title that gets deleted *twice*. In the second edition of this film, there’s a great commentary track laid down by directors Terry Gilroy and Steven Soderbergh. So besides the gorgeous imagery, and tight-as-a-drum writing, you get a great deal of insight into the film from two well-spoken directors. Right down to the iconic final shot.