Joshua’s Five Favorite Criterion Collection Releases From 2013 (So Far)

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With June now on its way 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 have, to be a truly superb year, and these are a few of the crowning gems. Here are Joshua’s picks for the five best Criterion Collection releases of 2013, so far:

5. The Ballad Of Narayama

The most recent release from Criterion of a film from director Keisuke Kinoshita, this bare bones release gets the award for being possibly the best value for your dollar of the year so far. With a definitive 4k restoration of this beautiful, brooding, kabuki-influenced look at the literal weight of past generations of the growth of new ones, this release (for a discounted price of $30 for Blu-ray, $20 for DVD) is more than worth a blind buy. Philip Kemp’s supplementary essay looking at the picture is a super bit of contextualization surrounding a film, and a filmmaker, that doesn’t have the historical impact a director of his talent truly should. Yuko Shimizu’s artwork is quite possibly the best art found within a Criterion Collection release this year so far, and while people may scoff at a supplement free release making this very list, a film this beautiful and this evocative deserves to be discussed amongst these ranks. Toss in a score that sounds utterly fantastic with this new transfer, and you have one of the better bare bones releases Criterion has tossed our way. (Read my review HERE)

4. On The Waterfront

Quite possibly the type of release directly opposite my number five, number four is Criterion’s definitive release of Elia Kazan’s On The Waterfront. While getting publicity for including three different versions of the film in three different aspect ratios, the film itself is inarguably Kazan’s masterpiece, and is treated as such. The 4k restoration is, again, definitive, and the supplements here make this heighted price tag more than worth it. With interviews with Kazan, director Martin Scorsese, Eva Marie Sant, Thomas Hanley, writer James T. Fisher and even a visual essay on the beautiful score from Leonard Bernstein, this film is an absolutely breathtaking “film school in a box” revolving around one of the greatest American dramas of all time. Oh, and did I mention, there are three cuts in three different aspect ratios. This thing is stacked.

3. Pierre Etaix

One of the more interesting box sets released this year (of which we have seen an all-time high), Criterion not only made a case for Harold Lloyd as one of the greatest film comedy stars of all time, but released the entire filmography of one Pierre Etaix, proving once again that film comedy has more than just its Chaplins and its Keatons. Including five films and three shorts, the box set is both a collection of deeply touching comedies, and also a thrilling look at a director and screen star who grew to become a presence unlike anything we’ve ever seen. Starting out deeply rooted in the simplistic stylings of Tati, Etaix would later become a director so assured in his own style that he’d create a handful of emotionally powerful pictures, ultimately culminating in a Godardian documentary The Land Of Milk And Honey. All the transfers here are utterly superb, and while supplements are short, it’s hard to argue with a complete filmography, especially one as diverse and entrancing as Pierre Etaix’s. (Read my review HERE)

2. Marketa Lazarova

The greatest thing one can say about The Criterion Collection is that, at its very best, it introduces a world of film fans to pictures that have fallen through the cracks of history. Be it a release like People On Sunday, or this year’s Chronicle Of A Summer, their best releases are the ones that come as a total surprise, and also introduce the world to truly great motion pictures. And very few, if any, have been as huge a revelation as Marketa Lazarova. A startling blend of Herzogian man-vs-nature and Bela Tarr-esque realism with a pinch of Tarkovsky brood, this meditation on the battle between organized religion and paganism is truly unlike anything before and after it.  One of the prettiest films this writer has ever seen, it’s also one of the most rewarding to watch multiple times, with every viewing unleashing more and more ideas for the viewer to ponder. Toss in a handful of truly entrancing supplements, this release is the definition of the Criterion ideal of being a “film school in a box” type home video outlet.

1. Safety Last

There is something to be said for a re-introduction being just as important as being shown a film for the first time. While their releases of films from the Charlie Chaplin filmography have been seen as perfect entry points for those looking to get into both Chaplin and The Criterion Collection, the company’s release of Harold Lloyd’s masterpiece Safety Last is just as important. While there are a handful of supplements here, including three really great short films, this is as great a silent film transfer as the company has ever given us. Looking as crisp as it ever has, if not more so, Lloyd’s film is a moving and genuinely exciting bit of comedy, that is as thrilling in its iconic action set piece as it is creative in its comedic gags. Without a single mean bone in its body, Safety Last is a pitch perfect laugher to introduce new viewers to a true screen legend, and prove to fans that Harold Lloyd is just as great a comedic legend as Chaplin or Keaton. (Read my review HERE)

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