Armchair Vacation: Five Criterion-Approved Sundance Alumni Available To Watch Right Now

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With the 2013 Sundance Film Festival set to commence this very weekend, what films debuting at the festival could become members of the ever beloved Criterion Collection? Not ones to shy away from nabbing the best of the best with regards to modern American, and even foreign, independent cinema. Names like Shane Carruth have seen films debut there (both of the director’s films broke at Sundance, including his film Upstream Color which bows this year), and Criterion has made a business out of grabbing some of the biggest and best Sundance alumni and giving them extensive home video releases.

However, while most of us can’t make it to Sundance this year, the Criterion Collection has a bevy of Sundance alums that could make you feel as though you were directly in Park City, Utah. You know, just without the freezing weather. Here are five Sundance alum that Criterion has streaming right now.

5. Following

Allegedly overlooked by Sundance, only to find a home at its little brother, Slamdance, in 1999, the career of director Chris Nolan truly launched in Park City, Utah, thanks to the festival debuting his film, and only Criterion-approved release, Following. Beautifully crafted in black and white, the film doesn’t hold within it much of the same DNA that one would find within his string of recent releases, but it’s as intriguing a piece of work as the director has ever made. Strikingly brisk for a director whose films often feel slightly bloated (or more than slightly, if you’re someone like me), the film is a solid bit of neo-noir from a director whose films are so massively influenced by the noir genre, that you can see the earliest of fingerprints somewhere within this film. An auteur to the fullest, Nolan’s film is now streaming on Netflix.

4. Paris, Texas

Originally a premiere, and ultimately the Palme d’Or winner, at Cannes in 1984, Wim Wenders’ brilliant Paris, Texas has screened twice in Park City as part of the Sundance Film Festival, once as a premiere in 1985 and again as part of the “Sundance Collection” series in 2006. One of German cinema’s most important modern figures, Wenders set his sights on the American south for what is widely considered one of his greatest achievements. With a script from beloved playwright Sam Shepard, the film is a lusciously shot and beautifully written look at family in these United States, and features some of the most beautiful photography of any film Wenders has ever made. With a massive Criterion DVD and Blu-ray release for this film, one may be hard pressed to find a reason to simply stream it, but if you can’t hunt it down, it’s currently available on Hulu Plus.

3. Stranger Than Paradise

Another dual Sundance screener (this time in 1985 and 2005), Jim Jarmusch’s Stranger Than Fiction, his second feature film, is one of the most important members of a lineup featuring some of the indie world’s greatest auteurs. With new pictures from the Coens, John Sayles and Victor Nunez, this lineup was an absolute knockout, but it may be Jarmusch’s feature that is the cream of the crop. Unique and still, to this day, one of the most original and “fresh” features you’re bound to see, with stunning black and white cinematography, a ton of humor and startling meditation on the sense of American minimalism that would become the bastion of the American independent film scene for much of the following decade. Again, a dense physical release from Criterion makes this a tough one to sell streaming-wise, but if your library has it out, this is one that can be seen on Hulu or rented on iTunes.

2. For All Mankind

Most people may think that films from Sundance are either twee comedies or heavy coming of age stories, but if there is one thing true about the festival is that it is a bastion of true non-fiction filmmaking. For All Mankind won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary in 1989, and is easily one of the greatest documentaries ever made. Giving us the human view from space, the film is a gorgeous exploration into our place in the universe, and without any seemingly narrative narration or talking heads, it’s a breathtaking piece of non-fiction filmmaking that is currently available to stream online, on Criterion’s Hulu Plus page.

1. Slacker

The ‘90s American independent cinema scene is one of history’s most vital and vibrant cinematic generations. Birthing a cavalcade of auteurs ranging from the experimentation of someone like Steven Soderbergh or the pop art style of Quentin Tarantino, voices that are still the most pertinent names today got their start in this, the most important era in American filmmaking since the disenchanted BBS days. Coming off a generation of blockbusters, this launched an entire new collection of filmmakers, and with the help of Sundance, one film became the flag that would be flown by this collection of directors for this era. Slacker, Richard Linklater’s first feature, is one of the most important American films of its generation, and with its existential wonderment and bohemian aesthetic, the film is as vibrant today as it has ever been. The stylistic intimacy is a perfect pairing with the apathy that strikes our characters, and with a really great sense of humor to boot, this is an absolute gem of a film that will never be forgotten. Stream it on Netflix.

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