The Best Criterion Releases of 2016

The Best Criterion Releases of 2016

Any ardent film fan can attest to the fact that the number of titles released by The Criterion Collection every year makes a considerable impact on discussions of cinephilia in film communities from every corner. With their reputation unwavering, especially in a banner year like 2016 which saw them leap to the digital streaming domain by collaborating with TCM on FilmStruck, Criterion put out some exceptional, major works of art on Blu-ray and DVD this year, many of which are making their high-definition debuts. To give some input, we at Talk Film Society decided to highlight our favorite Criterion releases from 2016, ones that are worthy of a spot on any serious film collector's shelf.


Lone Wolf and Cub (1972-1974)

Shintaro Katsu was more than Zatochi: The Blind Swordsman, he also started his own production company (who produced the later titles in the Zatoichi movies) and his real life brother Wakayama Tomisaburo, played none other than the former Shogunate executioner turned wandering assassin Ogami Itto with his baby son Daigoro, better known as the Lone Wolf and Cub. For years The Lone Wolf and Cub films were a treasured series, artfully gory, technically superior, and stylistically assured. The level of wanton bloodshed would be comical in other hands (after all, don’t buckets of blood become humorous, ala Monty Python?) but Kenji Misumi, a director I’ve championed with unbridled enthusiasm helmed the best in the series. Each entry has their virtues, but the four directed by Misumi are not only the best within the series but some of the the highest ranking chambara films of all time. While I might wax nostalgic for the AnimEigo DVD's of The Lone Wolf and Cub films, this Criterion Set doesn’t just do the films justice, it includes them in the consecrated ground of superlative Samurai Cinema. There’s also a sweet easter egg placed in the spine of the cardboard case, look carefully, and you’re in for a treat. I’m not wild about English language dubbing or recutting the original films, but I think it was cool to include the first Shogun Assassin (the recut version of Volumes 1 & 2 from Daigoro”s point of View) as a bonus feature. I might have held back on the Zatoichi set, but I scooped up Criterion's Lone Wolf and Cub collection the day it came out, and if you haven't done so I’d suggest you follow suit. It’s a bloody good time. (Alex Miller)


Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

The first Coen brothers film in the Criterion Collection wasn’t the one we were really expecting or hoping for. Other titles like Barton Fink, The Hudsucker Proxy, and Raising Arizona are just a few films that are in need of a restoration and more expansive special features. Thankfully, Blood Simple finally received a worthwhile Blu-ray release from Criterion in July (I wrote about the film here and the special features here), but Inside Llewyn Davis didn’t seem like it was all that deserving of its own release. The original Inside Llewyn Davis Blu-ray from 2014 already featured a pretty in-depth making-of documentary and seeing that it was released two years ago, did we really need a double dip on this one? The answer was a 'yes', absolutely. The previously mentioned making-of doc is carried over here, along with a feature length concert documentary, a new audio commentary by authors/music historians analyzing the real life folk music scene covered in the film, a conversation with T. Bone Burnett, and more. The highlight is a new conversation between Guillermo del Toro and the Coen brothers where the brothers recount their ever-evolving approach to filmmaking. The film itself is just as effective now as it was on its initial release and is near the top of my best rewatches of the year. There’s something to be said about the turmoil that Llewyn Davis goes through and how the year 2016 pretty much kicked our collective asses. We all are Llewyn Davis. (Marcelo Pico)

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970)

Most of the time, I only glance at the announcements each month for upcoming Criterion releases. This is because I know that A) they won’t include a Dario Argento film (or worse, it will include one but it will be something post-Opera) and B) it won’t include Miller’s Crossing. When I learned Beyond the Valley of the Dolls was getting the Criterion treatment, I was excited. It is one of the most bat-shit crazy things I’ve ever seen, and I’ve watched a lot of movies. I think we all know at this point Roger Ebert wrote the screenplay for it. Sometimes, when I’m in the middle of this film, I have to remind myself of this fact. He wrote the words “Ere this night does wane, you will drink the black sperm of my vengeance!”, one of the greatest, most memorable lines in cinema history. Russ Meyer manages to cram his film with 109 minutes of sex, music, and all-out degeneracy. The Criterion release features an HD digital restoration, with special features including a new John Waters interview, and a ton of extras from a previous DVD release. (Sarah Jane)


Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

A new Stanley Kubrick film in the Criterion Collection is usually met with overwhelming cheer from the film community, given the amount of love that goes into the label’s releases. So far they have put out earlier Kubrick films like The Killing, Spartacus, and Paths of Glory, but the Cold War satire Dr. Strangelove, in which an ill-advised nuclear attack on the USSR attempts to be thwarted by the powers that be, marks Kubrick’s first true masterpiece that has become the most notable film of its subject matter. The amount of work that went into this release is phenomenal; the film is presented in a restored 4K digital transfer that preserves the film’s original aspect ratio, accompanied by an uncompressed monaural soundtrack as well as a 5.1 surround soundtrack in DTS-HD master audio. New interviews with Kubrick scholars, archivists, and cinematographers are included, not to mention one with the son of the author of the book Dr. Strangelove was based on. We even get archival interviews with Kubrick and Peter Sellers, and a series of documentaries on the film’s production period. But the best part of the release is the packaging, in which a ‘Top Secret’ military envelope, much like the one housing the Wing Attack Plan R orders in the film, presents the usual Criterion essays and credits in a fake 1960s-style gentlemen’s magazine and miniature Holy Bible/book of Russian phrases, respectively. Even if you already own Dr. Strangelove, this release is the definitive edition to date, and worth the double-dip. (Rob Trench)


A Brighter Summer Day (1991)

Edward Yang’s sprawling achievement, A Brighter Summer Day, had finally managed to acquire a proper American release as a result of the Criterion Collection. The late Taiwanese filmmaker had already managed to land a spot with his swan song, Yi Yi, but it was about time his own magnum opus, a four hour-long epic about the turmoil in regards to Taiwan’s own search for cultural identity has finally entered the Criterion library. But what exactly is it about this particular Criterion release that makes it stand out amongst all others that have come out this year in my eyes? Maybe I’m inclined to have it so high up because it happens to be a close contender for my favourite film of all time but all of that aside we still have a phenomenal release in our hands. Prior to Criterion’s release the only available versions of A Brighter Summer Day that were set to be found are in terrible VHS quality but Criterion’s new restoration fixes this problem and fixes damages present in previous restorations both picture and sound wise. Not only that but the extras are amongst some of the very best to come around on any Criterion release all year, with an exclusive Chang Chen interview as well as a documentary, Our Time, Our Story detailing the work of the New Taiwan Cinema movement where director Edward Yang was a prominent figure. It’s easy to say that one of the greatest and most underseen movies of the 1990’s decade could only be done justice with the best Criterion release of 2016. (Jaime Rebanal)


Chimes at Midnight (1965)

The Criterion Collection has long had a love affair with Orson Welles. This goes back to the days of Laserdisc when Citizen Kane was a part of the Collection, continuing onward through the years with the addition of F for Fake and this summer with the Blu-ray debuts of The Immortal Story and Chimes at Midnight. Long unseen thanks to distribution rights, which seem to be the case with many Welles pictures, Chimes at Midnight has recently gone under a new high definition restoration thanks to the saints over at Janus Films, and the results are mesmerizing. On a personal note, the new Blu-ray release led me on a statewide hunt in order to procure a copy. Over the course of an afternoon I drove a total of 3 hours just to find one, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. As a huge fan of Welles, I needed to see what many consider to be the Holy Grail of his efforts. A brilliant adaptation of numerous Shakespeare plays, Chimes follows the fool Falstaff in his misadventures with King Henry IV’s son Prince Hal. Welles plays the overweight buffoon who is eventually exiled from the kingdom in a heartbreaking parallel of Welles’ own experience with Hollywood throughout his career. Even casual fans of Orson Welles should seek this out as this is one release that is not to be missed. (Matt Curione)


Pan's Labyrinth (2006)

Criterion’s release of Guillermo Del Toro’s 2006 neo-baroque masterpiece Pan’s Labyrinth is a largely stunning compilation of one of the finest films of this past decade. Though, since the film is barely a decade old, the restoration isn’t an enormous leap visually from its original release nor its subsequent Blu-ray release, where the Criterion edition thrives is in the supplements. With the disc, you get a short foldout personal essay by Michael Atkinson entitled “The Heart of the Maze”. The clean, unobtrusive pop-up menu UI guides you to an audio director commentary - with a quick select menu should you want to hear his thoughts on a specific scene, a short director’s introduction to the film recorded in 2007, a brilliant interview between Del Toro and Cornelia Funke - author of Inkheart - about fairytales, an interactive version of selected pages from Del Toro’s pre-production notebook, four mini-documentaries on the special and visual effects of the film, an interview with Doug Jones - the actor who portrayed both the Pale Man and the Faun, and, finally, an interactive prequel comic that chronicles the history of each of the creatures in the film. It would have been nice for Criterion to record a new introduction to the film though, because as it stands the aforementioned one runs a bit short - roughly fifteen seconds - and it stands out against an otherwise beautifully compiled ode to this wonderful fairytale. Still, if you have yet to pick up Del Toro’s seminal masterwork, there’s never been a better time to take the plunge. (Aaron Hendrix)

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