Our Favorite Criterion Collection Releases From The First Half Of 2011

We are half-way through 2011. This Tuesday marks the release of the last three June titles that Criterion is releasing: Zazie Dans Le Metro, Black Moon, and People On Sunday. We thought that we’d take some time out of our busy lives to reflect upon the past six months of releases (34 releases, not including the Eclipse sets) from the Criterion Collection, and share our thoughts on our favorite releases.

Top Ten lists are usually formed around the end of the year, but it’s a nice exercise to keep those titles that were released in the first half, so we don’t fall prey to our short attention spans and heap praise on those titles that were released closer to the winter.

When I proposed this assignment to the group, I just asked for their “X” favorite titles of 2011 so far, with very little direction given as to how many to choose, or how much to write about each film (I suggested a few sentences). I mostly just wanted to see what everyone would pick, working independently on their lists. It’s pretty interesting to see which releases ended up on everyone’s (or almost everyone’s) lists. I have a feeling that those are the discs that will be praised at the end of the year as well, when we create our final lists, and record our year-end retrospective podcast.

It should go without saying that these are all subjective choices. These are not some definitive list of the objectively best releases from the Criterion Collection in 2011 so far. These are our favorites. These are the releases that we find worth owning, that we’ll come back to again and again.

I’m linking the cover art to the corresponding Amazon pages, should you wish to add any of these films to your own collection, and linking the titles to their pages on Keep in mind that there is a rumored Barnes and Noble sale right around the corner (we are all hearing that it starts on July 12th), so you may want to bookmark this list for future reference.

What are your favorite releases from 2011 so far? Leave your thoughts and lists in the comments below.

Travis’ Picks

Buy the DVD from Amazon

3. Diabolique

Testament to Criterion’s perpetual striving to showcase the finest quality home video releases, the “before and after” effect of this reissue paired with its predecessor is remarkable.

Criterion doesn’t wash its hands of the care and restoration of a film after its release, and attention to every detail of this reissue is front-and-center (including my personal favorite artwork of 2011).

Buy the Blu-ray from Amazon

2. Topsy-Turvy

“Never bear a humorous baby.” Leigh uses his brilliant go-to ensemble cast for what they were born to do – theater. Sensational costumes, quirky mustaches, and Jim Broadbent in perhaps the finest role of his career.

Every character in this film (and there are quite a few) is lovable and expertly-realized. I’ve yet to watch Criterion’s MIKADO release, but can surely count its coupling with this film as something greater than the sum of their parts.

Buy the DVD from Amazon

1. The Great Dictator

A masterpiece, in every sense of the word. A devastatingly-beautiful and heartbreakingly-hilarious masterpiece. It’s as simple as this: That THE GREAT DICTATOR and films of its caliber exist … is why we bother to do this thing in the first place.

I count our podcast on this film among the best episodes of this show – Ryan, James and I couldn’t contain our excitement and appreciation.

James’ Picks

Buy the Blu-ray from Amazon

5. The Great Dictator

Charlie Chaplin, his first full length talkie, is as brilliant today as it was when it came out. The satirical look at the Nazi party and Hitler himself, it’s some of the funniest and saddest stuff Chaplin has ever put to screen.

And the speech at the end of the film gives hope to the world and makes one wonder, “Where did we go wrong?”

Buy the Blu-ray from Amazon
Buy the Blu-ray from Amazon

4. Shock Corridor and The Naked Kiss

I put these two together because it deserves as much attention as possible. I didn’t even want to put films that were already in the collection, but what Criterion did with these, from the artwork by Daniel Clowes, to the new stunning transfers and the poignant special features that give you so much bang for the buck, these two films showcase why Samuel Fuller is one of the top filmmakers of all time.

Pulpy goodness.

Buy the Blu-ray from Amazon

3. The Sweet Smell of Success

A release that I was excited to know was being released. One of the best packaging Criterion has ever done (rivaling Night of the Hunter in my opinion), a film that shows how ruthless the news business can be, with kinetic performances by Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis.

Buy the Blu-ray from Amazon

2. The Times of Harvey Milk

Having New York just passing the right for gays to marry, this film is as relevant now as it has ever been. One of my favorite episodes of the podcast involved this film, and it still touches me every time I watch it. Fantastic edition for a fantastic film.

Buy the Blu-ray from Amazon

1. Blow Out

Already loving this film and being a huge DePalma fan in the first place, I’ve watched this new Blu-ray probably 5 or 6 times already. The language of sound is amazing throughout, John Travolta, Nancy Allen and John Lithgow are all amazing and it has one of the most messed up endings in film history. Yes, I said it.

Joshua’s Picks

Buy the Blu-ray from Amazon

5. Fish Tank

Why?: Not only is Fish Tank one of the best films from the last five years, but along with three shorts from director Andrea Arnold and a cavalcade of interviews, the Criterion release of this film is breathtaking, and one of the most rewarding discs of the year so far.

Read Joshua’s full review of Fish Tank over at Gordon and the Whale.

Buy the Blu-ray from Amazon

4. The Great Dictator

Why?: Along with a dense release featuring a commentary and numerous documentaries and essays, The Great Dictator is one of the funniest films ever put to screen, and also one of the most important motion pictures ever made. And it’s never looked better.

Read Joshua’s full review of The Great Dictator over at Gordon and the Whale.

Buy the Blu-ray from Amazon

3. Kes

Why?: As a fan of Ken Loach, Kes is a film that’s always been one that has seemed impossible to see. However, thanks to Criterion, not only do we get his masterpiece, but we also get an extra Loach film in the form of Cathy Come Home, and various other supplements that does one thing that the Criterion Collection does best; add context.

Read Joshua’s full review of the Kes Blu-ray over at Gordon and the Whale.

Buy the Blu-ray from Amazon

2. People On Sunday

Why?: A time capsule of pre-Nazi run Germany, People On Sunday is both a vibrant piece of experimental filmmaking and a melancholy time capsule of a nation before it became the Third Reich. Oh, and the film is pretty damn good itself too.

Buy the Blu-ray from Amazon

1. The Times Of Harvey Milk

Why?: Simply the best release Criterion’s given us in a very long time. Featuring hours upon hours of supplements, following in the heels of the legalization of gay marriage in New York state, this film may never be more prescient than it is at this very moment. One of, if not the very best documentary ever made.

David’s Picks

Anyone who follows my writing here or on my blog knows that I spend most of my movie watching time either in the Eclipse Series or in Criterion’s back catalog as I make my slow but relentless progress through the years (the big news from me is that I’m just about finished with the 1950s!)

As a result, I’ve only seen a few of the newer Criterion releases all the way through, though I sample them all as I add new titles to my nearly-complete collection. So I can’t say what my favorites are so far but here are the five new 2011 releases that I’m happiest about as things stand right now.

5. Pale Flower

I’ve immensely enjoyed discovering over the past few years other sides of Japanese cinema beyond the samurai epics and crazy rubber monster sci-fi flicks that I grew up on and still enjoy.

The emergence of film noir and New Wave sensibilities in Japan during the late 50s and early 60s really intrigues me and Pale Flower looks from its trailer (and from reviews I’ve seen) like a marvelous synthesis of those styles.

4. Still Walking

Also really glad to see some more recent Japanese offerings coming to Criterion. This film from 2008 easily and obviously prompts comparisons to Ozu to the point that it already seems like a cliche’ summary of the film, but I have no problem at all with the notion of someone bringing Ozu’s steady gaze and compassionate insights into human nature into 21st century film-making.

3. Senso

When I reviewed Le Notti Bianche last year, I was very impressed at the sheer beauty of the visual compositions. The level of accomplishment in that film really jumped out at me and I couldn’t help but wonder how Luchino Visconti got so good.

Getting a gorgeous Blu-ray of one of his earlier films, and in Technicolor no less, is a real treat, and I respect Criterion’s willingness to take the risk of releasing lush sentimental melodramas even though that’s really not such a fashionable theme or attitude to market these days. And what an amazing, comprehensive package of supplemental features!

2. The Great Dictator

Even though the frustration of having only a slow trickle of two Chaplin titles on disc ever since Janus purchased the rights to his films is mitigated by much of that trove’s availability on Hulu Plus, I’d still like to see Criterion pick up the pace a bit.

Oh, I suppose they have their reasons for taking their time (hey, everyone has their reasons, right?!) If it takes a few extra months to put together all the extras that make the hard-media release of The Great Dictator so essential, then go ahead, Criterion, get it right! You certainly did with this one.

1. The Times Of Harvey Milk

The film I’m most pleased to see benefit from the high profile that comes with the Criterion imprimatur is The Times of Harvey Milk. Beyond the inspiring and intense history it documents and the incredible abundance of additional goodies contained in the special features portion of the disc, I feel a closer-than-usual connection to the film because I was a teenage high school student (class of ’79) living across the Bay in Alameda CA when all that stuff happened.

Harvey Milk’s Times were also amazing, eye-opening times for me, and watching it all on screen brings back a lot of memories of my own sojourns into the city and coming of age at that time.

Ryan’s Picks

Buy the Blu-ray from Amazon

5. People On Sunday

I had a feeling, as soon as I started reading about People On Sunday, that it would be among my favorites of June 2011. I had the opportunity to go through the Blu-ray, and it exceeded many of my expectations. Travis has often said on our podcast that the silent films that Criterion releases are among his favorites of all time. While I haven’t loved every silent film that has come across my desk from Criterion, People On Sunday deserves your attention.

What’s strange is that it is so unassuming, and some might write it off based on the description of the plot. It is essentially a structured presentation of daily life in Germany, in the late 20s / early 30s. What follows in the documentary could almost serve as a silent version of human nature in industrialized society, in any time or place. You watch the lives of the folks, as they work their way to the weekend, and enjoy their day off. The imagery can be a little rough, given the nature of the materials that Criterion had to work with, but I found it beautiful, rewarding, and something I’ll return to often.

Buy the Blu-ray from Amazon
Buy the Blu-ray from Amazon

4. The Naked Kiss And Shock Corridor

I wasn’t the biggest Samuel Fuller fan before we decided to review both of these films earlier this year on the podcast, with our friend Damon Houx. I’ve recently been called a “new edition snob” in that I’d rather wait to watch the updated releases that Criterion has in the works, or has released, rather than going back and watching the original DVD releases.

In the cases of The Naked Kiss and Shock Corridor, both were in desperate need of an overhaul, both in the packaging and in the supplements. Criterion went above and beyond in both categories, creating a fascinating Samuel Fuller experience. I can’t really recommend buying one over the other, despite the fact that I find The Naked Kiss to be a better film overall. I think both serve to show different sides of Fuller as a filmmaker, during a very specific time in his career. The restored transfers are gorgeous, the interviews are interesting, and the Fuller documentary, starring Tim Robbins and Quentin Tarantino, is almost worth the cost of the disc alone.

Buy the Blu-ray from Amazon

3. The Times Of Harvey Milk

I think everyone above me has chosen Harvey Milk for many of the reasons that it made it to my list (before I had seen theirs).

Watching it on Blu-ray this year was my first exposure to this documentary, despite knowing of it’s existence since the release of Gus Van Sant’s Milk biopic.

What makes this release ultimately so rewarding for me, apart from the compelling nature of the subject matter, is the supplemental materials that accompany the feature. The hours of extra interviews, which had hit the cutting room floor initially, provide such a fuller picture for me, of the time, the place, and the person that was Harvey Milk.

Buy the Blu-ray from Amazon

2. Solaris

Clearly I’m a science fiction nerd, and there aren’t too many films in the Criterion Collection that fall into that category. This film was among my first picks here on the podcast, and I’m sure that we’ll revisit the film one of these days to discuss this Blu-ray release. Much to-do was made about the fact that Criterion went back and restored the blue tint on the black and white sequences. I thought it was a wise decision, and it made this latest viewing to be among my favorites, despite having only seen the color stripped version previously.

I’m also obviously a big champion of Criterion using Sam’s Myth’s artwork on their covers and interiors, and this cover doesn’t disappoint. I’ve read elsewhere online, that the transfer isn’t quite as sharp as some would like, but I found it to be a beautiful experience, as haunting as ever. If you end up picking up this Blu-ray, make sure you read the two essays included in the booklet, which have been available before, but I found them to be especially insightful. I actually ended up reading the Kurosawa essay right before going into the Tree Of Life, and it was fascinating to see some similarities in theme and style.

Buy the Blu-ray from Amazon

1. The Great Dictator

This release is on all our lists for a reason: Criterion’s work on the Charlie Chaplin titles (so far only Modern Times and The Great Dictator) is among the best that they’ve ever done, and provides the definitive version of the film. I’d recommend you check out our recent episode discussing the film for some more in depth thoughts, but I’ll echo my colleagues in saying that this is the Criterion Collection release to own so far in 2011.

The documentary included, The Tramp and the Dictator, is a beautiful way to put the film, as well as the real events that led up to, and after the release of the film, into context.

I cannot wait to see which Chaplin film comes next.

Ryan’s Runners Up:

3. Blow Out

2. Topsy Turvy

1. Sweet Smell Of Success

Ryan Gallagher

Ryan is the Editor-In-Chief / Founder of, and the host / co-founder / producer of the various podcasts here on the site. You can find his website at, follow him on Twitter (@RyanGallagher), or send him an email: [email protected].