With June out the door, it’s time to reflect on what has been one hell of a 2013 so far. Be it the best home video releases or the best theatrical releases, 2013 has shaped up, at least in its first half, to be a truly superb year, and these are a few of the crowning gems. Here are Sean’s picks for the five best Criterion Collection releases of 2013, so far:
Probably the half-year’s dark horse, Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin’s Chronicle of a Summer is the most influential movie that most people didn’t know about – including me. The film, which birthed the now ubiquitous term “cinéma- vérité,” shows us an examination of pure truth with the ordinary elevated to the extraordinary. Rouch and Morin begin their experiment with the simple question “Are you happy?” and expand outwards to engage a group of varying Francophones in socio-political critiques and personal struggles. A scene in which a French Holocaust survivor walks alone through the Place de la Concorde speaking to her dead father will bring you to tears while also appealing to the intellectual foundations of the film’s “vérité.”
4. Safety Last!
When Criterion reaches back to the beginnings of cinema to add a new film to their ranks they usually go all out, especially when it’s a landmark film like Safety Last! Directed by Fred Newmeyer and Sam Taylor, the film is a perfect introduction to Harold Lloyd – the silent film star that ranks with Chaplin and Keaton as one of the best comedic actors of all time. The package includes three restored Lloyd shorts, a great commentary by Leonard Maltin and Lloyd archivist Richard Cornell, and the absolutely brilliant documentary called Harold Lloyd: The Third Genius. But the real gem is the film itself which gives you an exuberant look at a true genius at the top of his game. The climbing sequence—featuring the iconic image of Lloyd hanging from the face of a clock that wisely also serves as the release’s cover art—is basically worth the price of the package alone.
3. 3:10 to Yuma / Jubal
I cheated a little bit here, but the two films are obviously meant to be companion pieces so I don’t see why I can’t count these Delmer Daves-directed western masterpieces as one! The 4K restorations done on both the titles are spectacular, with Jubal’s lush Cinemascope brought to its original beauty while Yuma’s crisp black and white photography reflecting the cool precision of the film itself. Both films are anchored by two tonally different performances by the great Glenn Ford with strong supporting performances by Rod Steiger and Van Heflin in Jubal and Yuma respectively. The releases are pretty light on supplements—there’s a few interviews on 3:10 to Yuma while Jubal is absolutely bare-bones—but the greatness of the films speak for themselves pitting man against man with the backdrop of the gritty American west behind them. It’s a one-two punch of American mythology, and both are unquestionably essential.
2. Pierre Etaix
Harold Lloyd isn’t the only comedy genius in the first half of 2013, and I’m not talking about Chaplin’s Monsieur Verdoux either! I’m talking about Pierre Etaix, the French actor/director whose films went unseen for decades and are now available in one complete set. As you progress through each film you see the history of cinematic comedy being absorbed and molded by Etaix who then attempts to insert himself into that history, especially with Yoyo – what I think is his masterpiece. The influence of Etaix’s mentor, Jacques Tati, can be seen in the earlier titles like The Suitor and some of the shorts, while he later progressed into more experimental territory with Land of Milk and Honey. It’s releases like these that make me feel spoiled for being a film fan, because where else can we get a complete filmography of this caliber all in one place?
In my Criterion profile, the one movie that was listed after “Most wanted in the collection” since I started it was Badlands. In a unique move, the folks at Warner Brothers wised-up and let Criterion do their thing to put out Terrence Malick’s debut film in the lavish presentation it deserves. Though the notoriously reclusive Malick is obviously nowhere to be found on the release he remains a potent force behind the proceedings, especially in the director approved4K restoration. Some of the images in the film—especially that shot with Martin Sheen holding the gun on his shoulders in the moonlight—should be put in a museum gallery somewhere. This is unquestionably a work of art. It was also a surprise to note that the childlike cover art—most likely meant to reflect the innocence of the two main characters—was based on a painting commissioned by Malick as well. It’s a truly monumental film that heralded the arrival of one of contemporary cinema’s greats and is absolutely my favorite release of the year so far.
Writer’s note: I haven’t had a chance to check out the releases of On the Waterfront or Shoah so they couldn’t be included on the list, but I fully intend to check out those important releases during the BN sale this week!