My Criterion Suggestions

With Criterion having just announced their releases for June of this year (I’ve never heard of Judex before but now I WANT IT), I was thinking about the movies I would really love to see get the wacky C. So after emailing Criterion with my suggestions because yes, I am that kind of dork, I thought I might share them with you all, as it both a) gives me a chance to talk about several films that I really enjoy at once, and b) might possibly convince some of you it’s worth bugging Criterion about such things yourselves. Follow me!

Pi: One of several “first films” on the list, and by far the most obvious selection for me, Pi was Darren Aronofsky’s debut, and it’s just as stylish and bitter and gripping as you’d expect from him. With gorgeous, stark B&W cinematography layered over a creepy and sparse story that falls somewhere between Kafka and Snow Crash, not to mention a great central performance by Sean Gullette, Pi strikes an intriguing balance between meditative eeriness and frantic action. It’s definitely closer to the Fountain/Black Swan end of Aronofsky’s spectrum, and that’s where I like him.

Chopper: Another first film (from Andrew Dominik), which was also the breakout performance for Eric Bana, if nothing else Chopper works as a great precursor to Bronson in terms of subject and style. Buoyed by a stark visual style and driven by Bana’s mad performance, Chopper keeps a loose, anecdotal structure, but never feels directionless or without purpose. Instead, it clearly establishes Dominik’s interest in celebrity-as-mythmaking (further explored in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and, one assumes, his upcoming Marilyn Monroe movie Blonde); the way that perceptions are built, nurtured and manipulated for the desired result, particularly by the celebrities themselves. Bana’s Chopper Read is a total con artist, both to the people around him and to himself, and the result is a man even more dangerous than the one everyone thinks he is.

Memories of Murder: Bong Joon-ho is perhaps my favorite Korean filmmaker, even beyond Park Chan-wook and Kim Ji-woon (I’m very excited to finally see Snowpiercer this summer). And since Korean film has yet to be represented in Criterion (as far as I’m aware) I think Bong’s sophomore feature would be as good a starting place as any. Memories of Murder surprised me as a truly terrific modern crime thriller. It is reminiscent of Zodiac in all of the best ways, while still maintaining the slight air of absurdity and humor that many Korean movies have. At the center of all of this is yet another great performance from Song Kang-ho, one of the major figures in this Korean New Wave, an actor that I wish was doing Hollywood work as well. Finely-tuned in both style and structure, Memories of Murder is incredibly assured and smart, and gives a good name to police procedurals of every language.

Hard Eight: It’s Paul Thomas Anderson’s first feature… do I really need to explain more than that? Well, I guess I’m already here. Hard Eight is a very small-scale film, unlike most of PTA’s subsequent work, but it’s still a perfect stylistic and thematic predecessor to Boogie Nights and Magnolia. It’s not really a crime film, but perfectly captures a bitterness and sadness and loneliness that exists on the fringes of polite society. Featuring great performances from Philip Baker Hall and a young John C Reilly, it’s also exciting to see PTA telling such a small-scale and focused story, and I hope that he does one or two more films of this size before he’s done.

Iron Giant: By far the biggest reach here, but no doubt in my mind it’s worthy of a Criterion label. Iron Giant is a modern classic in every sense of the word, a movie that didn’t get proper respect from Warner Brothers when it was released and still doesn’t get enough respect from them now (there’s still no Blu-ray release). Brad Bird’s leap to feature filmmaking is gorgeously animated, and features the same sort of simple, moving story that Bird does so effortlessly. It’s a beautiful, poignant story that never fails to bring me to tears, and a reminder that animation, whether for children or otherwise, is as powerful a film discipline as any other. One of my all-time favorite films, and one of the best films made in my lifetime, Iron Giant deserves every ounce of respect possible, and then some.

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2 Comments on “My Criterion Suggestions”

  1. Louis says:

    Great article! Thanks for writing it. Here’s a thought, though. Paul Thomas Anderson, who until surprisingly recently went by P.T. Anderson in order to distinguish himself from the director of the first Mortal Kombat movie, has been my favorite director for a long time. So it sucks to admit I’ve never liked Hard Eight as much as I wanted too. It has its moments of brilliance for sure (the entirely off-screen scene in which Philip Baker Hall arrives at the motel to find his protege in the middle of a botched kidnapping attempt is especially cool). So it’s a shame that it ends with just about the most poorly executed plot twist imaginable. (Also a particularly bad performance from Samuel L Jackson.)

    • brendanfh says:

      Thanks for reading Louis! I wouldn’t argue that Hard Eight is a perfect movie; it certainly has its flaws. However I still think that it’s a great test bed for the style and themes that PTA has continued to explore throughout his career, and in that regard is very much worth revisiting and exploring further, which is exactly what Criterion excels at.


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