If there’s one thing I like more than my very own life, it’s The Criterion Collection. With a Barnes & Noble half-off Criterion sale looming (the rumor is it’ll be arriving near the start of November), and nearly 700 films to its name, it’s tough to curate the Collection, as it contains an equal amount of brilliant classics and unsung gems. Here are 10 releases that you may have skipped over since their initial release that are worth buying as soon as possible.
10.) Alan King Eclipse Box Set
While any box set from the Eclipse lineup could be seen as overlooked, some have become rather well-loved members of Criterion’s long time off-shoot. Take this set, “The Actuality Dramas Of Alan King.” A Canadian documentarian, King was a pioneer of the cinema verité movement, crafting a handful of vital and intimate proto-documentaries. The real achievement here is a film called A Married Couple, which follows a husband and wife as they deal with a marriage on the rocks and a late-’60s landscape teeming with social change. There are a lot of sexual politics is at play here, and its fly-on-the-wall aesthetic makes this in my opinion the greatest documentary ever made.
9.) People On Sunday
Silent cinema is an interesting beast. Most silent films have become tough to sell to this generation without the names Keaton, Chaplin or Lloyd. However, there’s one silent Criterion release that deserves to be owned by each and every one of you. Titled People On Sunday, the film comes to us from a group of German filmmakers including the likes of Robert Siodmak and Billy Wilder, all of whom collaborated to make what is one of the most thrilling and haunting meditations on Weimar-era Germany ever produced. With its blend of documentary and narrative aesthetics, this film is a percussive masterpiece of the craft, and also a great historical and sociological curio for those interested in delving a bit deeper. It’s an experimental masterpiece, a masterful film with a hell of a Criterion Collection release.
8.) The Furies
A classic Anthony Mann Western with enough familial strife to put most melodramas to shame, The Furies has become something of an unsung masterpiece in its own right, but what makes this release so special is its supplements. Its large packaging owes not to a multitude of discs but the inclusion of the Niven Busch novel it’s based on. That’s right, Criterion nabbed themselves a new printing of this legendary novel, and included it (as well as their amazing spine design) for this release. That itself makes this a must-own, as does the Jim Kitses commentary, which is one of the most insightful this writer has ever heard. Toss in some interviews and you have a release that needs to be at the top of everyone’s must-own list.
7. ) Bad Timing
Yet another experimental stunner from director Nicoles Roeg, this Art Garfunkel-starring erotic drama is one of a handful of films the director has within the ranks of The Criterion Collection, yet many of them have been forgotten. An oddly inexpensive release for having such a bevy of interviews and deleted scenes, this discounted release ($30 instead of $40) is chock-full of extras, and the film itself is as thrillingly dark as anything Roeg ever made. An exploration of about sexual obsession, this isn’t one for the children, but those willing to delve into a deeply troubling meditation on sex will not only enjoy the superb score with music from Tom Waits to Billie Holiday, but the performances from Garfunkel, Theresa Russell and even Harvey Keitel.
Actually a combination of two films (Symbiopsychotaxiplasm Take One and Take 2 ½), these two ground-shattering documentaries are true examples of how the form of non-fiction cinema is always evolving. Director William Greaves’ film follows a film crew deciding what type of film they want to make, and the result is a bewildering picture with an equally intriguing sequel. The epitome of a counterculture, cult masterwork, this release comes with great supplements, and it doesn’t deserve to be skipped over.
5.) Martha Graham: Dance On Film
Possibly the least-known Criterion film, this box set is also one of the most entrancing collections of visual pieces ever put on home video. A look into the work of legendary choreographer Martha Graham and the equally influential TV pioneer Nathan Kroll, the set features a handful of dance pieces, including two Graham ballets. A perfect second step for people enthralled by Wim Wenders’ Pina, the collection is rounded off by a cavalcade of features probing deep into the life of Graham, and also Kroll, who is just as big a star here as the choreographer. Pair this with the sadly out of print Eclipse series “Carlos Saura’s Flamenco Trilogy” and you have a one-two punch proving just how visceral dance can be when photographed.
4.) Antonio Gaudi
From director Hiroshi Teshigahara comes a documentary unlike any you’ve ever seen. Named after the legendary Catalan architect, the film doesn’t dig into the artist’s life as provide a glimpse into just how awe-inspiring and unforgettable his works truly are. It’s a bombastic aesthetic experience that additionally boasts a gorgeous cover and a handful of documentaries that give further insight into Gaudi’s importance and influence. As much a piece of poetry as a film, Teshigahara’s movie is an experience unlike any the Criterion Collection offers.
3.) The Golden Age Of Television
Few of Criterion’s box sets have become so well-loved by those who own them yet scoffed at by those who don’t as The Golden Age Of Television, which is a perfectly curated collection of pieces that mark not only the real birth of television, but its growth into something far bigger than anyone could have imagined. A series of teleplays, these films boast directorial credits from Delbert Mann and John Frankenheimer among others, plus the star power of the likes of Paul Newman and Mickey Rooney. While the release itself is light on features (just commentaries and interviews), the films themselves are genuinely exciting and kinetic pieces of work that highlight a point in television that has yet to be duplicated. Here’s to hoping this is merely the first of a series.
2.) Sólo Con Tu Pareja
Director Alfonso Cuarón has often been cited as a filmmaker who deserves some strong representation in The Criterion Collection, particularly in the form of the oft-hinted at Y Tu Mamá También. However, what many people likely don’t know is that one of his best films is already there. Sólo Con Tu Pareja was Cuarón’s first picture, and it’s one of this writer’s favorites. With stunning photography from Emmanuel Lubezki, this superb and heady satire is a breathless debut from a game-changing auteur. Packaged with a making-of supplement and a handful of shorts from Cuarón and his brother Carlos, this is a really underrated film that most people don’t know even exists among Criterion’s spines.
1.) Science Is Fiction: 23 Films By Jean Painlevé
This is the greatest Criterion release that you’ve probably never heard of, and it’s also their best package, period. Including 23 films from the legendary nature documentarian Jean Painlevé, the release itself features a handful of the most viscerally and aesthetically thrilling short documentaries ever committed to celluloid. Deeply influenced by surrealism, these shorts are both visually boundary-pushing and also genuinely enthralling pieces of short cinema. But Criterion doesn’t just place these films on a collection of discs and put it in stores. This gorgeous box set (featuring some of the greatest artwork of any Criterion release) includes the aforementioned 23 films, an eight-part TV series Jean Painlevé Through His Films, an entrancing essay from scholar Scott MacDonald, and a feature on Yo La Tengo’s eight scores called “The Sounds Of Science.” It’s simply a masterful bit of film school in a box.