The Criterion Collection has long been known for offering a world-class presentation of its carefully curated library of films from around the world, but we’re more impressed with each passing year at the growing diversity of the movies included. Each month, Criterion releases DVDs and Blu-Rays of films both contemporary and classic—landmark works you’ve definitely heard of and plenty you almost certainly haven’t; well-regarded critical favorites and weird cult classics.
In recognition of the return of our semi-annual Criterion Collection 50% off sale, now through August 4 in stores and online, we’re highlighting 10 of our favorite recent releases—though there are plenty more where they came from.
Alfred Hitchcock’s incredibly long career is virtually unmatched in not just quantity, but in the number of his films that can be justifiably be considered among the best ever made (there are seven of them in the Criterion Collection, for one thing). Notorious is sometimes eclipsed by Hitchcock’s later works, but it’s a masterpiece on par with anything else he directed—if not the best film he ever made. Ingrid Bergman is the daughter of a German spy recruited to infiltrate a Nazi cabal, and Cary Grant is her handler. The two develop and attraction that can’t interfere with her mission: seduce a Nazi industrialist hiding in Brazil. It’s an incredibly effective thriller a black & white visual stunner, made more clear than ever by this new 4K restoration.
It’s tempting to call this David Lynch’s most mainstream film, but that’s true only in the sense that it’s his most seen and talked about, a pre-Twin Peaks sensation that’s been wildly influential even if no one has ever been able to duplicate its disturbing, darkly funny, but somehow still human touch. It begins with Jeffrey Beaumont’s (Kyle MacLachlan) discovery of a severed ear in a field and leads into a mystery that rips the pleasant veneer off of small-town life. The cast, including Laura Dern, Isabella Rossellini, and Dennis Hopper, is one for the ages, and the new Criterion edition has features an incredible array of special features, including almost an hour of deleted scenes curated by David Lynch himself.
Do the Right Thing
Spike Lee’s first masterpiece is thirty years old and has never been more relevant, nor more essential. Lee himself stars as delivery man Mookie for a pizzeria owned by Danny Aiello’s Sal. On one particularly hot day in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn tensions between the neighborhood’s strata of residents explodes into violence. While the film pulls no punches, especially with regard to police violence and racism, Lee’s portrait of a community of eccentrics (played by a talented cast that includes Rosie Perez, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, and Samuel L. Jackson in his first major role) is so well-drawn, the humanity shines through. The Criterion edition includes a commentary track and vintage music videos among its many extra features.
The BRD Trilogy
Courting controversy throughout his short, prolific career, Rainer Werner Fassbinder created films that were provocative and art-minded, willfully throwing aside commercial concerns in favor of smaller budgets and more personal stories as he developed a filmography that would make him one of the leading lights of what came to be called New German Cinema. His BRD trilogy (for Bundesrepublic Deutschland, the common name for what was then West Germany) includes three of his most beloved (and successful) works, tracing the story of postwar Germany through the lives of three different women in The Marriage of Maria Braun, Veronika Voss, and Lola. All three films are newly restored and accompanied by commentary tracks, vintage documentaries, and much more.
Michael Haneke’s thriller Funny Games does not mess around. A pair of white-gloved young men break into the vacation home of an upper-class couple and subject them to relentless and escalating tortures over the course of a single night. With fourth wall-breaking asides, the young men draw us into their sadistic games, making the movie into something of an statement about our fascination with film violence. It’s sometimes hard to watch, but impossible to look away from. This fresh, director-supervised restoration includes new interviews among its special features.
The newest sci-fi addition to the Criterion Collection is a film with remarkable currency in our own time—said everyone since the original George Orwell novel was published shortly after the end of World War II. This visually striking and emotionally harrowing British production, directed by Michael Radford (Il Postino) came out in the year of the novel’s title and setting but is no mere opportunistic cash-in, bringing the stark oppression of the classic text to vivid life. In a time of endless surveillance and constant war, John Hurt stars as a disaffected citizen who risks everything for a relationship with a rebel, defying culturally mandated conformity in the name of freedom and individuality. The new 4K restoration presents the cinematography of Academy Award-winner Roger Deakins in its best light, and the bonus features include a choice of alternate scores—one in the classical mold from Radford’s preferred composer Dominic Muldowney; the other a studio-mandated ’80s pop take from the Eurythmics.
Though perhaps not as well known today as some of the other groundbreaking American films of the early 1970s, Alan J. Pakula’s conspiracy thriller Klute deserves to be remembered, if only for Jane Fonda’s Oscar-winning performance. She plays Bree Daniels, a woman central to a missing-person investigation led by Donald Sutherland’s John Klute that only grows twistier and seedier as he dives deeper into a world of corruption. It’s Fonda’s frank performance as a call girl and aspiring actress that’s the real highlight here—she owns the screen, creating a woman who doesn’t play to any of the good girl/bad girl notions of earlier (and later) films—film critic Roger Ebert even suggested the movie should’ve been named Bree, after her character. In the bonus features, Fonda appears in new and vintage interviews.
Police Story/Police Story 2
Jackie Chan broke out of his native Hong Kong to become an international icon with this pair of action comedies, which stand with the very best of their kind—that being over-the-top ballets of brilliantly choreographed, over-the-top action . Chan plays Hong King police inspector Ka-Kui alongside his long suffering girlfriend played by Maggie Cheung, who also became a star thanks to these two films. It’s non-stop action of the wildest, most inventive kind, backed by an ’80s-style electro soundtrack. It seems like an odd inclusion among the Criterion Collection’s library of more staid dramas, but the fight choreography alone makes this duology a wildly entertaining work of art, presented here in a revelatory restoration that has then looking better than ever before.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Utterly unclassifiable, this modern queer classic from director John Cameron Mitchell (adapting his Off-Broadway one-woman show, revived years later on the Great White Way) is a pulse-pounding rock opera starring Mitchell as the genderqueer Hedwig Robinson, an East German boy who reinvents herself in America as a stunning and glamorous rock diva with the help of music inspired by the androgynous, David Bowie-esque rock of the ’70s, made timeless by composer Stephen Trask. Hedwig’s journey of self-discovery and search for love is gorgeous phantasmagoria that was ahead of its time when released in 2001, and is only slightly less so today. Never before available in high definition, it has been newly restored for this long-anticipated special edition, which includes deleted scenes and a documentary tracing its journey from the stage to the screen.
If you’re looking for a musical romp that represents the golden age of Hollywood, you’d have a hard time topping this quintessential Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers fantasy. Astaire plays Lucky Garnett, a gambler who has to earn $25,000 in order to prove himself to the father of the woman he intends to marry. The set-up leads to a run-in with dance instructor Penny (Rogers), but the plot is entirely secondary to the gorgeous black-and-white cinematography and the stunningly choreographed and impeccably performed dance numbers. Many of the songs are classics, but the real draw is the perfect chemistry between the leads: Astaire is everything, and Rogers is everything… in heels. This newly restored edition includes a documentary on the film’s music and choreography.