Twice a year, Barnes and Noble becomes the cinephile’s favorite place on Earth when they mark all of their Criterion Collection titles 50 percent off.
For the unfamiliar, the Criterion Collection is a prestige home video company that releases and re-releases “important classic and contemporary films.” They’re the company known for popularizing bonus features, commentary tracks, special edition artwork, and remastered picture and sound.
Oh, and they’re almost single-handedly responsible for making sure that important foreign films remain available in the U.S.
They are, quite possibly, the most important film-related company of the last 50 years. They’re tastemakers, archivists, and more than anything else, educators.
In fact, had I never fallen in love with the Criterion Collection, I’d likely never have attempted to make a film of my own. And I probably would never have studied film to the degree I have.
In the last 36 years, Criterion has released well over a thousand titles and, like most cinephiles, I’ve at least read about every single one of those films.
Also, like most cinephiles, I collect Criterion titles, which tend to be quite pricey. The average Blu-ray starts at $40 while DVDs start at $30. Box sets usually range from $80 to $200. That’s a lot of money to spend on what a lot of folks think is an archaic indulgence.
And so when the Barnes and Noble sale hits, film fans show up.
While I could easily write about literal hundreds of Criterion titles I’d endorse, I’m going to limit myself to six titles.
Me and You and Everyone We Know
Director: Miranda July
The one-of-a-kind outsider dramedy from first time writer/director Miranda July helped to establish her as one of the most unique creative voices of her generation.
Beautifully designed, poetic, and featuring some of the most unexpected and memorable dialogue ever, Me and You is a true indie classic, featuring then-unknown actors and shot on an early digital cinema camera you can now buy on eBay for about $600.
Here’s hoping July is someday able to live up to the promise of this film. Look out for her third feature, Kajillionaire, coming out this fall.
Eric Rohmer’s Six Moral Tales
director: Eric Rohmer
Briefly released on DVD, this Blu-ray reissue is essential viewing for the hyper-literate cinephile.
Featuring six feature films released between 1963 and 1972, Rohmer’s work here is philosophical, calm, gorgeous, articulate, and unflashy. They are existential character studies about, well, men and women. There’s nothing quite like this set of films in the history of cinema.
John Cassavetes: Five Films
director: John Cassavetes
Most days I call John Cassavetes my favorite director.
He’s not, but his influence on cinema language is so great — especially in regards to what I personally find valuable about the artform — that I hold very romantic feelings about him and his work. This box set is the reason for those feelings.
In addition to a three-hour documentary about JC called A Constant Forge, you get five of his most essential works, including The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, Shadows, Faces, Opening Night, and the all-time great A Woman Under the Influence.
These are the films that invented independent cinema.
director: Krzysztof Kieslowski
Often considered to be one of the greatest achievements in cinema history, Kieslowski’s Dekalog collects 10 one-hour films based on The Ten Commandments. This collection also includes the full-length cuts of A Short Film About Killing and A Short Film About Love.
If you’ve not yet committed a couple of weeks of your life to Krzysztof Kieslowski’s masterpiece, then I’d suggest that you’ve not yet lived. It’s a religious experience.
Mikey and Nicky
director: Elaine May
A gritty gangster-ish buddy flick starring John Cassavetes and Peter Falk about two friends running from a mob hitman. SOLD.
While Elaine May did a lot of great work over her storied career, Mikey and Nicky might stand as her most important single work. Ned Beatty, M. Emmet Walsh, William Hickey, and Sanford Meisner all co-star in this often overlooked American masterwork.
Until the End of the World
director: Wim Wenders
Of all the great films mentioned, this is the one I’m the most excited about. Wim Wenders is one of the most interesting directors ever. While he is best known for Paris, Texas and Wings of Desire (both great, and both also released by Criterion), I’d suggest that Until is his most important film.
Initially a 158-minute arthouse flop that came out in late 1991, this release is the version of the film Wenders wanted.
Clocking in at just under five hours, this gorgeous, Robby Mueller-shot futurist road film’s plot and style is too expansive to cover in this week’s column. It’s one of the best Criterion releases ever.
Did you pick up anything at this summer’s Criterion sale? Are there titles you want to tell me about? Is there a movie you wish Criterion would reissue?
Send all your Criterion Collection-related thoughts my way at email@example.com.