Armchair Vacation: Five Films To Watch Right Now From Directors In Criterion’s February Announcement

It’s the middle of the month, so we all know what that means, Criterion Collection announcement time. With the announcement now behind us, we can bask in the heavy glow that is the company’s February releases, including films from the likes of Elia Kazan (On The Waterfront) and (FINALLY) Keisuke Kinoshita (The Ballad Of Narayuma). Toss in a few fellow new releases and even a Blu-ray upgrade of Sansho The Bailiff, and you have a relatively surprise free release slate, but a thrilling one nonetheless.

However, what for those who can’t wait? With most of these films not readily available in any meaningful way (save for Waterfront and its previous releases), how can one experience works from these iconic filmmakers? Well, that’s what this list is for. With five filmmakers focused upon here, here is a film from each that is able to be streamed, right now, online.

5.47 Ronin Part 1 and Part 2 (Kenji Mizoguchi) Hulu Plus

With Sansho this month’s only Blu-ray upgrade, the film is also available to stream via Criterion’s Hulu Plus page, so frankly, any cinephile worth his or her weight in film stock has likely seen it. However, director Kenji Mizoguchi has quite a good deal of films available to stream right now. Along with the likes of The Life Of Oharu and Utamaro And His Five Women, Mizoguchi’s beloved 47 Ronin two-parter is available on Hulu Plus. A beautifully crafted take on Japanese story, the film was commissioned by the Japanese military, and tells the story of 47 ronin who look to take revenge for the death of their feudal lord. One of a handful of takes on the country’s most iconic legend, it’s one of the director’s most affecting features, and is genuinely thrilling. A dense and lengthy watch (both halves clock in at roughly two hours in length), anyone looking for a good revenge tale to make this weekend all the more exciting should look nowhere else.

4.The Son (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne) YouTube

I’m not one to watch a film on Youtube for too long, however, when it comes to directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, I’ll watch their films any possible way. With the director’s film La Promesse available on Criterion’s Hulu Plus page, that’s about it for streamable Dardenne films, unless you look to the online video juggernaut. One of their best films (and as Paste Magazine rightly put it, one of the best films of the last decade), The Son, is available to stream on Youtube, and it’s a must watch. Telling the story of an instructor at a rehab center who begins to watch a teen who is looking to become his apprentice, The Son is the duo’s acclaimed 2002 film, that is most often compared to their previous two Criterion releases, Promesse and Rosetta. It’s an absolute masterwork of suspense, and is genuinely one of their greatest efforts. The Kid With The Bike is their next one in the collection, but don’t be shocked if the big C gets its hands on this sucker.

3. Farewell To Spring (Keisuke Kinoshita) Hulu Plus

Frankly, it’s about damn time. With Kinoshita becoming one of Criterion’s most beloved directors to just thrust upon their Hulu Plus page, the director is finally heading back into the ranks of Criterion proper (not until after some prodding by yours truly, I mind you) with The Ballad Of Narayama. However, this just so happens to be one of the few films Criterion hasn’t put up on their Hulu page from Kinoshita, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any Criterion worthy releases from the director currently available to stream. One of the best? Farewell To Spring. Kinoshita’s beautiful and dark meditation on aging, the film follows a group of men who come to terms with their lots in life, and how no matter how hard they wish that they could go back to their simpler days as free-spirited young men, they simply can’t do so. The black and white photography adds to the melancholy, in what may be one of Kinoshita’s darker and more thoughtful efforts. It also happens to star Keiji Sata, one of the few constants within Kinoshita’s prolific career. It’s a brilliant feature, driven by top notch performances, and will hopefully make for a fantastic Criterion release one day. Until then, Narayama will have to do (and thankfully, it’ll do just fine).

2.Chronicle Of A Summer (Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin) YouTube

This is a bit of a cheat, but it’s worthy nonetheless. I have yet to see the film, but what makes this film so intriguing is that very fact. A film this writer had only heard about in passing prior to Criterion’s announcement of their pending release, Chronicle is currently available to watch online via YouTube, and I know I will be taking full advantage of that. One of the groundbreaking works of early cinema verite, Chronicle is best described as a series of interviews led by director Jean Rouch and sociologist Edgar Morin. One of the most intriguing and inspired releases from Criterion in months, this is simply one film that I can’t wait to check out. And thankfully, it’s readily available thanks to the biggest online video site on this planet.

1.The Visitors (Elia Kazan) Netflix

Yes. When anyone talks about a film from director Elia Kazan, it is usually On The Waterfront. With Criterion’s mammoth release set for February, the icon’s best film is getting its just due from the art house king itself. However, one film, streamable right now, deserves its own big time Criterion release. Entitled The Visitors, this is Kazan’s 1972 feature film, and with gorgeous super 16mm photography, this is one of Kazan’s most intensely personal and vital features. With a solid, early, performance from actor James Woods, the film is closest in intellect to a film like Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs, a comparison that is neither deep, nor rarely made. Driven by top notch performances and a director that is at his most raw and unrefined, The Visitors is one of Kazan’s most underrated feature films and is also one film that Criterion needs to give a proper HD transfer to. Toss in some solid supplements, and this would be a perfect fit for a late-year Criterion release. Again, just an idea.

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