Immersed in Blu-ray: Criterion Round-Up

It’s been another great year from The  Criterion Collection and I highlight some of my favorite must-own Blu-ray titles just in time for Christmas gift giving:

Being John Malkovich (1999) :  Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman prepped us for the 21st century with a post-modern, Alice in Wonderland-like surreal swirl into the cerebral mind of John Malkovich. A trippy,  multimedia delight with John Cusack, Cameron Diaz, Catherine Keener, and Orson Bean, Mary Kay Place, and Malkovich, of course.

Children of Paradise (1945):  Long before Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman toyed with surreal theatricality, Marcel Carne and Jacques Prevert experimented with poetic allegory and came up with a sublime French masterpieces. Made during World War II, they travel back in time to 19th century Paris teeming with iconic stereotypes that transcend their lot in life (especially Jean-Louis Barrault’s unforgettable mime). A magnificent restoration by Pathe makes this a feast for the eyes and ears.

La haine (1995): Mathieu Kassovitz’s gritty and violent cultural divide in modern-day France is a far cry from Carne, and his black and white world is visceral. A Jew (Vincent Cassel), an African (Hubert Kounde), and an Arab (Said Taghmaoui) are as mad as hell about being marginalized and fight back against their dead-end existence in concrete suburbia.

Harold and Maude (1971): Speaking of fighting back against a dead-end existence, Hal Ashby created an off-beat gem from Colin Higgins’ black comedy about the gentle bond between a troubled youth (Bud Cort) and free-spirited bohemian (Ruth Gordon). Cat Stevens’ soundtrack is a serendipitous delight in this timeless classic, and the late John Alonzo’s cinematography is darker and more saturated (per his notes) than the previous DVD.

Metropolitan (1990): Whit Stillman returned to the origins of Jane Austen in his witty and urbane debut feature to make sense of the confusion and loneliness that still haunt the New York debutante subculture. Talk about a time warp. Yet Park Avenue at Christmas is still a magical place. And wouldn’t you know it? Stillman helped usher in an Austen renaissance.

Rashomon (1950): This ground-breaking psychological thriller made Akira Kurosawa a legend and Toshiro Mifune a star with its innovative flashback structure in exploring four different accounts of a man’s rape and murder of his wife. How do you determine truth to arrive at justice when dealing with memory? “Since the advent of the talkies in the 1930s, I felt, we had misplaced and forgotten what was so wonderful about the old silent movies,” Kurosawa recalled. “I was aware of the aesthetic loss as a constant irritation. I sensed a need to go back to the origins of the motion picture to find this peculiar beauty again; I had to go back into the past. ” The Rashomon influence was profound and bears remembering today.

Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971): John Schlesinger’s most personal movie was a breakthrough in its naturalistic depiction of sexual liberation — both straight and gay. It explores a romantic triangle in London between a gay Jewish doctor (Peter Finch), a divorcee (Glenda Jackson), and a young bisexual artist (Murray Head). But, as always, love involves difficult choices and compromises:  “Half a loaf is better than nothing.”

Umberto D. (1952): Vittorio De Sica’s movie about a senior struggling to survive in post-war Italy is neorealism at its bleakest. The poor man is even forced to turn away his only companion, his dog. The long takes in which he excruciatingly tries to fall asleep are part of the pathetic awkwardness that De Sica strove for: ” to look ourselves in the eyes and tell ourselves the truth, to discover who we really were, and to seek salvation.”

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Blu-ray, Home Entertainment, Movies

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