For decades, the Criterion Collection has been the gold standard when it comes to the preservation and presentation of classic, contemporary, and cult films for home viewing. The company’s releases offer remastered editions of “important” films with bonus features that place them into the proper historical and cultural context—and if that sounds a little stuffy, it’s worth emphasizing that Criterion’s definition of “important” isn’t limited to subtitled black and white arthouse dramas. The collection features art films, yes, but also commercial blockbusters, musicals, genre entertainment, and more—and it’s always growing.
In recent months, everything from obscure silent films, to melodramas from Hollywood’s golden age, to Japan’s most famous monster movies have gained acceptance into this cinematic honor society—and all of them are currently available at 50% off during our semi-annual Criterion sale, through December 1.
Godzilla—The Showa-Era Films
This colossal box set includes every Godzilla film made between 1954 and 1975. Oh, you need more? Up until now, the Godzilla films have been available only in a hodge-podge of formats—if at all—which is why it was such a kaiju-sized surprise when Criterion announced this collection of 15 (!) films starring the big green guy (and that’s not even counting several alternate versions of some of them). This formative period in Godzilla history sees the focus of the series go from thoughtful social commentary, to outer-space science fiction, to monster rally and back again, with the serious, scary, and silly sides of Godzilla all well-represented. Naturally there are plenty of extras on offer for each film, as well as a gorgeous hardcover book featuring glorious new illustrations for each movie created by popular artists. There has never been a better way to experience Godzilla’s reign of destruction—nor a better way for Criterion to celebrate its 1,000th release.
All About Eve
Fasten your seatbelts: one of the smartest and funniest comedies in Hollywood history is coming to Criterion, and it also happens to feature Bette Davis at her sharpest and best. Broadway star Margo Channing invites wide-eyed ingénue Eve Harrington into her dressing room one night, and soon discovers that her biggest fan is primed to become her biggest competition, and is ready and willing to use Margo and everyone in her circle to rise to the top. The catty dialogue from writer/director Joseph L. Mankiewicz absolutely sparkles, and the themes about the ruthlessness of show business and the particular challenges of being a woman who isn’t twenty-ish nor thirty-ish, but who still has the drive to fight for her spot at the top. This edition features a new 4K digital restoration and several lengthy documentaries delving into Mankiewicz’s career.
Bette Davis won raves for her performance as a frazzled spinster in this 1942 melodrama, now regarded as one of the classic “women’s pictures” of Hollywood’s golden age. Davis plays Charlotte Vale, whose childhood under a domineering mother left her deeply emotionally stunted. Until, that is, until a psychiatrist played by Claude Rains helps her to gain the confidence to take a South American cruise and see the world. In the process, she develops a doomed romance with an unhappily married man—a relationship that changes her life, if not in the ways she might have hoped. Davis’ turbulent journey to find herself is buoyed by a brilliant performance from the actress, giving her gloriously melodramatic journey real emotional weight. In addition to the gorgeous new 4K restoration, this edition includes a new commentary track from film critic Farran Smith Nehme and two different vintage radio adaptations.
As good a reminder as any that Criterion isn’t just about Hollywood classics and fancy foreign films: their embrace of John Waters continues with Polyester, his lurid first studio film. Inspired by melodramas of the 1950s, it follows Baltimore housewife Francine Fishpaw (played by drag icon Divine), who has to deal with a philandering pornographer husband, an obnoxious mother, and a couple of annoying kids—until Todd Tomorrow (Tab Hunter) enters her life. Oh, and Francine is blessed with a keen sense of smell, originally made manifest to viewers through the process of “Odorama,” which saw cinemas distribute a scratch-and-sniff card to ticket-buyers allowing them to smell along with Francine (as this is a John Waters movie, don’t expect them all to be flowers). Naturally, this edition features a recreation of the original Odorama card, as well as deleted scenes, new interviews, and absolutely flawless cover art.
This silent exploration of witchcraft is as fascinating as it is wildly entertaining. In 1922, filmmaker Benjamin Christensen set out to explore the idea that the witches of history were, in fact, sufferers of what was then referred to as hysteria, a psychiatric illness. In the process, Christensen uses every trick in the book to recreate images of demonic horror in vignettes that are sometimes scary, sometimes gory, and occasionally even funny. It’s ostensibly a documentary, but it also invents and anticipates any number of the horror tropes that we’re still watching movies for today, nearly a century later. It’s utterly unique and deeply weird in the best possible way. Among the many bonus features is an alternate version of the film from 1968, narrated by author William S. Burroughs.
When We Were Kings
One of the great cinematic documentaries, When We Were Kings revisits the 1974’s “Rumble in the Jungle,” a once-in-a-lifetime sporting event in what was then Zaïre, which represented the planned comeback for a late-career Muhammad Ali. Ali squared off against the much younger George Foreman in an event billed as “…a fight between two blacks in a black nation, organized by blacks,” and filmmaker Leon Gast was there to capture every second of the action. What he wound up documenting instead was not just a fight, but an exploration of Ali himself—proud, confident, and more than capable of taking on the role of American’s ambassador to post-colonial African nations even while struggling to prepare for what would be one of the toughest bouts of his career. This remastered edition includes the 2008 documentary Soul Power, about the Zaïre 74 musical festival that served as the backdrop for the Rumble in the Jungle.
The premise of director Greg Mottola’s 1996 debut is simple: Hope Davis discovers a letter suggesting that her husband, played by Stanley Tucci, is having an affair. Gathering a family that includes Liev Schreiber, Parker Posey, and Anne Meara in a station wagon, she sets out from Long Island to find the truth in Manhattan. This funny and bittersweet movie is an essential bit of indie filmmaking from the 1990s, with an incredible ensemble cast starring in a story about misunderstandings and unexpected detours that lead to important revelations. They don’t make them like this anymore: in 2019, The Daytrippers would undoubtedly debut on Netflix, which makes the attention Criterion has paid it—a new commentary and interviews, plus one of the director’s early short films—all the more welcome.
Traveling to France circa 1986, Betty Blue is the story of a wild and tempestuous romance between the title character and an easygoing writer named Zorg. Zorg meets Betty in an almost stereotypical sunbaked French town, kicking off a whirlwind love affair. The two quickly throw out the rulebook as alcohol-fueled hedonism becomes the order of the day—at least until Betty’s increasingly tenuous grip on reality makes her a danger to both of them. Unfortunately, there’s nothing she can do to bring an end to their passion. The sexy melodrama—digitally remastered for this release—is gorgeously photographed, and features an absolutely magnetic performance from Béatrice Dalle as Betty. This release represents the first time the director’s cut—featuring an additional hour of footage—will be available in the U.S.
Another sweeping, unconventional romance, this 2018 Best Foreign Film Academy Award nominee is set in post-WWII Poland. Wiktor is a musician tasked by the state with collecting folk songs for posterity, in the process encountering a young singer named Zula. He ultimately escapes to a life in Bohemian Paris, while she remains in the Communist Bloc, and their romance plays out of the following 15 years with moments stolen between them despite the obstacles in the path of their love. The story, filmed in lush monochrome, was inspired by the lives of director Paweł Pawlikowski’s own parents. In telling this fictionalized version of his family history, the director earned a spot on the short list of directors who earned Oscar nods for films not originally released in English. An unusual inclusion among the more standard (if excellent) bonus features is a recording of the press conference that followed the film’s premiere at the Cannes Film Festival.
Now we head to Scotland for Local Hero, the eccentric comedy that brought Scottish cinema into the world spotlight. A Texas oil executive played by Peter Riegert is sent by his boss (none other than Burt Lancaster) to a small seaside village in Scotland in order to make arrangements to buy up the whole place in anticipation of turning it into an oil refinery. In the process, the executive is charmed by the funny, bizarre, kooky residents. There’s mile-a-minute comedy to be found in the culture-clash elements of the story, but the movie also manages to slide in some sly commentary on conservation and corporate greed along the way. In addition to several vintage making-of features, this restored 2K release includes a new commentary track from director Bill Forsyth.
John Sayles assembled an exceptional cast for this tense, true story of a West Virginia coal town whose attempts to unionize lead to an all-out war in 1920. James Earl Jones, David Strathairn, Mary McDonnell, Will Oldham, and Chris Cooper star as a union organizer arrives to unite the wildly disparate members of the community against the leaders of a coal company who will do absolutely anything to provoke and prevent the people of the town from unionizing. The feel of 1920s Appalachia is palpable, and the themes of justice in the face of oppression resonate today. A 4K digital restoration presents the film in fine form, and the extras include a new documentary and a 2013 audio commentary featuring Sayles and the late cinematographer Haskell Wexler.
What new spine numbers are you adding to your collection? Our 50% off Criterion Collection sale ends December 1.