Ten more films that should be in the Criterion Collection


As many of you already know, Barnes & Noble is doing their 50% off sale for the Criterion Collection. We offered some staff recommendations for available Criterion Collection titles earlier in the week. This is a time when many of us go on diets of rice and potatoes in order to satisfy our needs. It’s also a time when I wind up thinking about movies that are missing from the Collection. And there are plenty.

Our own Alec Kubas-Meyer had a great list earlier today of films that should be added to the Criterion Collection. As he noted, I’m Flixist’s resident snob, so I’d be remiss if I didn’t add my own list of films that the Criterion people should get on. (I’d also have my snob privileges revoked if I didn’t use the word “remiss” somewhere in this introduction.)

Check out my Criterion wish list after the cut, and feel free to suggest some of your own in the comments.

Heathers is one of the great dark comedies of the 80s and a film that could never be made today; influential but incapable of being reproduced. If they made it today, would it be called Zooeys? All the uncool kids loved it, and very few movies will dare to be this uncool, let alone this blunt and satirical. Heathers sneers at the cruelty of class politics in high school and merges it with cold-blooded murder. And it’s somehow hilarious. There are quotable lines from beginning to end, and the slang in it is so damn very. But at its heart I think there’s something hopeful about Heathers: it’s good to know that someone else out there had the gall to say what was on my mind as an uncool teen.

I don’t think Criterion currently has any animated titles in their catalog. They released a laser disc version of Akira way back in the 1990s, but I can’t think of anything else off the top of my head. Part of this may be rights issues rather than lack of merit since there are plenty of Disney, Pixar, and Studio Ghibli movies that should get the Criterion treatment. Outside of that, I’d nominate René Laloux’s Fantastic Planet since the previous releases of the film could use a good restoration. It’s a surreal, psychedelic science fiction allegory for the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. Beyond its story, the animation is incredible to look at. It was accomplished by manipulating paper cutouts on static backgrounds. The effect is hypnotic. A Criterion release would need to include Laloux’s short films as well.

The DVD transfer of Matewan that I saw several years ago was downright criminal. It looked like a fourth-generation VHS copy of the movie. I think it was even full frame. It’s a shame since Matewan is one of John Sayles’s best films. Set in 1920s West Virginia, the film is all about coal workers struggling to unionize. This is a battle for decency and dignity, and it winds up becoming bloody. Matewan is such an underrated film, a real gem of a movie that’s constantly overlooked and unjustly unremembered. It would make a fine pairing with the documentary Harlan County USA, which is currently part of the Criterion Collection.

I first saw Memories of Matsuko at the 2007 New York Asian Film Festival and it surprises me that it never received distribution in the United States. The film looks back on the strange, tragic life of a woman named Matsuko and the many men she loved. This is a tale of loneliness and heartbreak told in highly stylized fashion, like a big garish commercial or music video, but somehow in a good way. And it’s also a musical melodrama. The thing I remember most about watching it that first time was trying to stop myself from sobbing uncontrollably at the end. Like the people around me, I failed. Memories of Matsuko is one of the few movies that makes me misty-eyed just thinking about it.

This is a given. Of the many movies released in the first decade of the 21st century, I think Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is the most deserving of a Criterion release. Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman have made a poignant and bizarre movie about relationships and why, as Woody Allen once put it, we need the eggs. What’s said at the end is familiar, but novelty is breathed into the message through the film’s imagery and the little observations. What is it about watching the circus come into town that feels like magic? What is it about a crumbling house that makes me want to cry? Eternal Sunshine also features some of Jon Brion’s best film music.

DVD releases of Béla Tarr’s films have been generally so-so, which is why I think Criterion should step in and do his entire catalog. Before they do his seven-hour-plus epic Sátántangó or his final film The Turin Horse, they should start with Werckmeister Harmonies, which is my favorite. There are some incredible long takes in Werckmeister Harmonies, and the moments in them wouldn’t be as effective if they weren’t long takes. Sure, Tarr used hidden cuts in the unforgettable hospital raid, but hidden cuts don’t matter. There’s such raw emotion in the sequence. The opening and closing scenes play off each other so well, and the perfect timing with light is punctuated by Mihály Víg’s score. Víg’s two melodies in Werkmeister Harmonies are the best he’s done for any Tarr film.

I’m always surprised that Paper Moon isn’t considered a truly great film, though that might be because it’s such an unrepentant work of popular entertainment. I only saw it for the first time three or four years ago and fell instantly in love. It’s a con man movie, it’s a road movie, it’s a subversive Depression-era movie, but mostly it’s a buddy movie built on the chemistry of father-and-daughter stars Ryan and Tatum O’Neal. Something about Paper Moon manages to be adorable but not cutesy; sweet but not saccharine. A lot of that is thanks to the way Ryan and Tatum work together. Even when they seem to hate each other, you know deep down they couldn’t stand to be apart.

Between 1996 and 2006, Christoher Guest and Eugene Levy collaborated on four ensemble mockumentaries: Waiting for Guffman, Best In Show, A Mighty Wind, and For Your Consideration. The first of these four, Waiting for Guffman, is still my favorite and I think it’s definitely Criterion-worthy. The core ensemble of Guest, Levy, Fred Willard, Catherine O’Hara, and Parker Posey was perfectly cast, and each character had an opportunity to shine. (This became more difficult with each film, and the cast wound up way too packed by For Your Consideration.) I think Guffman hits the right note in terms of laughing at and with the characters, and the musical numbers are so goofy that they’re almost legitimately good.

It’s a little surprising that none of Kitano “Beat” Takeshi’s movies are in the Criterion Collection. For his inaugural entry into the Collection, it came down to Sonatine and Hana-bi (Fireworks). I went with Fireworks since it was the first Beat Takeshi movie I watched, an international breakthrough (it won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival), and it made many in Japan reconsider Kitano’s importance as a filmmaker. It’s a tough, glum, poetic melodrama about a cop’s burden of loyalty when it comes to the people he cares about. Fireworks includes paintings from Beat Takeshi himself as well as a haunting score by the great Joe Hisaishi, both of which combine for a memorable moment in the film.

Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, and Julie Delpy have done something unique with their three Before films: they’ve engaged in an 18-year-long conversation about love in its different forms and how time affects people in love. Before Sunrise was a dream about the possibilities of young romance. Before Sunset was about second chances (maybe last chances, given its urgency). Before Midnight, one of the best movies of 2013, is about what real love looks like after the gloss of infatuation has faded. If there’s another Before film (Before Noon?) in nine years, I hope it can live up to the quality of these three.

Honorable Mentions

I could have gone on much longer, but I’ll stop here. Let me just give honorable mentions to three more Criterion-worthy films:

  • Upstream ColorShane Carruth’s Upstream Color is going to be in my top five of the year if not the top three. It’s a great misfit love story that stresses the importance of free will and reasserting control when life seems out of hand. It’s a bold vision, enigmatic though not incomprehensible, from a director tapping into what interests him most intellectually and emotionally.
  • Kafka – While many considered Steven Soderbergh’s second film a misfire, I remember parts of Kafka fondly and think it’s probably worth reconsideration. Now that there’s a proposed director’s re-cut of Kafka, I think a Criterion release would be great. Both the old version of Kafka and the new cut would be in the same package, sort of like the box set for Terry Gilliam’s Brazil.
  • Airplane!Airplane! is one of the highwater marks of the spoof genre, right up there with the first Naked Gun. All spoofs and parodies wind up in the shadow of Airplane!, and the vast majority of them are so bad they don’t even belong in the shade. This is a classic comedy for its joke-a-second pace and sheer brilliant lunacy.
Hubert Vigilla
Brooklyn-based fiction writer, film critic, and long-time editor and contributor for Flixist. A booster of all things passionate and idiosyncratic.