Each month, the Paste staff brings you a look at the best new selections from The Criterion Collection. Much beloved by casual fans and cinephiles alike, The Criterion Collection has for over three decades presented special editions of important classic and contemporary films. You can explore the complete collection here. In the meantime, here are our top picks for the month of December.
Directors: Adrian Wood, Jean de Rovera, Arnold Fanck, Othmar Gurtner, Wilhelm Prager, Carl Junghans, Leni Riefenstahl, André Michel, Castleton Knight, Tancred Ibsen, Hannu Leminen, Giorgio Ferroni, Peter Whitchurch, René Lucot, Louis Gueguen, Heribert Meisel, Romolo Marcellini, Theo Hörmann, Kon Ichikawa, Claude Lelouch, Jacques Ertaud, Jean-Jacques Languepin, François Reichenbach, Alberto Isaac, Masahiro Shinoda, Miloš Forman, John Schlesinger, Michael Pfleghar, Arthur Penn, Yuri Ozerov, Mai Zetterling, Tony Maylam, Jean Beaudin, Marcel Carrière, Georges Dufaux, Drummond Challis, Kim Takal, Bud Greenspan, Lee Kwang-soo, Im Kwon-taek, Lee Ji-won, Joe Jay Albert, R. Douglas Copsey, Carlos Saura, Kieth Merrill, Nancy Beffa, Caroline Rowland, Gu Jun
Years: 1912 – 2012
Obviously, we consider Criterion’s monthly offerings worth noting for film lovers. But 100 Years of Olympic Films: 1912-2012 is something truly special, even by the company’s already lofty standards. This mammoth collection includes 53 films spanning 41 editions of the Olympic Games. All of the movies are newly restored, with a number of important films receiving 4K restorations. There’s also a gorgeous 216-page hardcover book. (Even the traditional writeup gets an upgrade!) This is a collection with true cross-over appeal: film buffs (of course), sports lovers, and even that niche “just the Olympics” fan stand to be blown away by the sheer scope of this set. —Michael Burgin
Director: D.A. Pennebaker, Chris Hegedus
Year: 1968, 1986
D.A. Pennebaker, one of the deans of American documentary personally supervised the new 16-bit 4K digital restoration of Monterey Pop, one of the all-time great concert documentaries and a record of 1967’s Monterey Pop Festival. An argument can be made that musically, Monterey was more important than Woodstock, seeing as it was the first major U.S. performances by The Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Who and Ravi Shankar, as well as the first (and one of the last) major performances by Otis Redding, who died six months later. Additionally, the bill included one of the earliest performances by Janis Joplin, as well as Simon and Garfunkel, the Mamas and the Papas, the Byrds, Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead and Hugh Masekela. The camera crew on the shoot included Albert Maysles (Gimme Shelter) and Richard Leacock and captured Pete Townshend smashing a guitar and Jimi lighting one on fire. The set includes three films: Monterey Pop (directed by D.A. Pennebaker) as well as Jimi Plays Monterey and Shake! Otis at Monterey, directed by Pennebaker and his wife and frequent collaborator, Chris Hegedus, along with every available complete performance filmed by Pennebaker and his crew and additional rare outtakes. —Mark Rabinowitz
Director: Alexander Payne
When he’s not creating the most suicidally depressing take on the Rapture with HBO’s excellent The Leftovers, Tom Perrotta writes novels that strips the veneer of polite and “civilized” mid-American suburban life to expose it as the jungle with Starbucks that it is, where the most reptilian impulses of human nature can strike any time to dismantle the weak ones in the pack, or to at least flirt with pure narcissistic and hedonistic behavior. The two great films that were based on his work outline this thematic connection with equally creative takes. In Todd Field’s vastly underrated Little Children, the sexual indiscretions of a bunch of characters in a small town are narrated like an old school National Geographic documentary on wild animals. In Alexander Payne’s Election, the soundtrack blares with a screeching, angry tribal chant whenever a character feels slighted and is preparing for an attack to socially destroy an enemy. Perrotta and Payne’s surface narrative covers a rift between a high school teacher, Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick), who isn’t self-aware enough to realize how much of a selfish prick he really is, and a student, Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon), the embodiment of blind and ruthless ambition, during the election to appoint the new student body president.
Underneath the surface of this simple story rides a precise and nimble exploration about the lengths anyone might go to protect their fragile ego while stabbing many backs on the road to success. Witherspoon’s now iconic take on Tracy Flick is the embodiment of that person we’ve all encountered who will do and say literally anything to get ahead in life. (Hell, the movie might as well have been re-titled The Kellyanne Conway Story.) However, Broderick’s seemingly caring and guiding teacher also succumbs to his own basest desires. Which one perishes, and which one comes out on top depends not on any preconceived cosmic hierarchy of good morals (0r ethics—what’s the difference?), but on who can be the shrewdest and cleverest animal in the pack. Criterion’s new 1080p transfer of Election looks great, with a clean and crisp look that captures the cold and gray mood of suburban Omaha. I’ve never seen the previous Blu-ray release, so I can’t really compare the two, but it’s still an obvious improvement on the DVD’s A/V specs. The main reason to seek out this release lies in the new extras. Not only do we get a brand new interview with Witherspoon, but the disc also includes a relatively new hour-long expansive documentary by TruTV about the making of the film, and how the story and characters relate to the dirty politics of presidential elections. —Oktay Ege Kozak
Director: Barbet Schroeder
Who needs The Post when you can just watch General Idi Amin Dada: A Self Portrait? Barbet Schroeder is no Nostradamus, and yet here’s his third film (incidentally his first documentary), a ninety-minute close-up of one of history’s great monsters whose name is not Adolf Hitler. Like Spielberg’s latest joint, we can watch General Idi Amin Dada: A Self Portrait in 2017 and use it as a lens for the United States’ current political predicament; unlike Spielberg’s latest, sitting through Schroeder’s doc doesn’t mean having your ribs nudged until they crack. Grant that Schroeder didn’t have a crystal ball and thus never had the opportunity to make obvious allusions to other world dictators in his text. But also, who the hell cares? General Idi Amin Dada: A Self Portrait is still a masterclass in suggestion.
Odds are decent that if you’re an American moviegoer, you first experienced the gruff charisma and imaginative savagery of Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland, where Forest Whitaker takes Kerry Washington apart and puts her back together mostly correctly just for James McAvoy to cry in anguish over her corpse. The Amin we see through Schroeder’s camera isn’t too far off the Amin we see in Whitaker’s performance, but of course this is the real thing: He’s even more mesmerizing than should be possible for a mass-murdering egomaniac, hypnotic in his self-assurance, astounding in his near-peerless ignorance of literally every topic Schroeder talks to him about from off-frame. If we didn’t already have a good reason to prevent power from falling into the hands of thin-skinned idiot narcissist authoritarians, General Idi Amin Dada: A Self Portrait would give us reason enough. As it stands, the film reads as Schroeder’s exasperated emphasis of the old paraphrased adage: Those who do not read history are doomed to repeat it. —Andy Crump