Year in Review: The Best Criterion Files of 2010

Upon discussion and deliberation between Landon Palmer and Adam Charles (the two primary authors of the Criterion Files column) it was decided that due to the column’s state of near infancy and a small number of articles to choose from they would not reflect upon each other’s incisive works throughout the year of what was considered, or what they felt to be, the articles each were either most impressed by from the other, or considered the most indicative of what the column represents – and instead opted to choose 10 releases of the Criterion company in 2010 they felt most noteworthy of attention.

Delving into each other’s works even if the output was extended to 26 articles each over the course of a full year to choose the favorites from would actually prove to be a much simpler task than what was done for this year’s Year in Review. Trying to narrow down a list of the most significant Criterion Collection releases of any given year to a list of 10 is like…well, trying to list the 10 best of anything of which everything deserves attention. So, take these not as a slight against any of the other releases by any means (please, see every film they include in the library because they’ve selected it for a reason), these just happen to be a consolidation of releases Landon and Adam considered either significant for the availability on home video, marked a trend of the company’s direction of material to include in the library, personal affections, or were simply just incredible works in presentation of the picture previously not able to be experienced from prior releases.

In no particular order of “Importance” whatsoever:

#504: Hunger (2008)

Criterion’s undefined relationship with IFC Films sounds like a risky idea on paper, as it forges a business-based preference of including contemporary international cinema into the collection specific to a single studio’s output. However, it just so happens that in the past few years IFC Films has brought some of the greatest, most challenging, and most important works of international cinema to the US, and as long as this pattern continues we’ll be seeing great recent cinema from all over the globe getting the same extensive treatment as the classics.

Steve McQueen’s gorgeous and harrowing Hunger is a prime example of the benefits of this unlikely union: a fantastic, criminally underseen film that otherwise may not have had an American DVD release at all, much less an HD transfer and special features that extensively explore the history of the subject portrayed. -LP

#544 – 550: America Lost and Found: The BBS Story (1968 – 1972)

Encompassing the first five years of BBS Productions, this set represents the origination of the American counter-culture of the 1960’s igniting a surge of an entire decade of experimental and daring cinema. Whereas many countries had already experienced their cinematic revolutions, such as the Italian Neo-Realism of the 1950s and French New Wave of the 1960s, The United States was beginning to make its move in terms of a new focus of cinema and boldness of content in the mid-1960s, but it’s Easy Rider (the second film in this set) that’s oft-credited as the film that bridges the origins of New Hollywood with what would become an explosion of influential American cinema.

This set contains BBS Productions’ first seven pictures (two of which previously unavailable on any digital format) starting with Bob Rafelson’s surreal satire Head and ending with Rafelson’s The King of Marvin Gardens in 1972 (However, BBS Productions is also credited as the production company for the 1974 Peter Davis documentary Hearts and Minds, spine #156 in the Criterion Collection). In between you’ll find Five Easy Pieces which contains one of Nicholson’s greatest performances, The Last Picture Show (one of the premiere films of the 1970s), and the two pictures previously unavailable on dvd or blu-ray the Jack Nicholson helmed Drive, He Said and the first picture from Henry Jaglom 1971’s A Safe Place starring Tuesday Weld, Nicholson and Orson Welles (a working a relationship that would extend to the great filmmaker’s final years).

Most sets released in the Criterion collection are director-centric and focus on a filmmaker’s collective works over a period of time. By focusing their attention on the output of a particular production company that played a major role in helping to shape the landscape of 1970s American cinema Criterion presents a set of seven films that represent a turning point in American cinematic culture. -AC

#507: Bigger Than Life (1956)

One of the reasons Criterion is so beloved by cinephiles is that it shapes and adds to the canon as much as it embraces the existing entries. Nicholas Ray has been a preoccupation of everyone from academics to the classic Hollywood movie fan, but the brunt of the focus on him has been on better-known works like Rebel Without a Cause. Bigger Than Life is a welcome edition to the 50s melodrama canon, and through their restoration Criterion has brought much-deserved attention to one of the most bizarre and revealing films about Eisenhower-era conformity.

It’s as beautifully insightful as it is over-the-top, literalizing the struggle for the perfect household through the prescription drug addiction of James Mason’s oddly cast “all-American” dad. This Technicolor gem is a discovery of film, the type of which makes you ask yourself why you hadn’t seen it before. -LP

#44: The Red Shoes (1948) (blu-ray)

This is one of a few pictures that already existed in the collection, but was restored and re-released as an upgrade over the prior release. The significance of this release is that it marks, hopefully, an evolution in careful film restoration to display older, classic pictures in ways not seen and experienced since fresh off the print; and, by God, did they select not only one of the most colorfully vibrant pictures of the 1940s to work modern technology on, but also one of the most easily to continue to revisit.

Its graceful story of obsession and conflicting passions is timeless, the dance sequences mesmeric, and, now thanks to this restoration and impeccable visual quality it’s one of the most gorgeous representations of what the blu-ray format can offer in terms of being as close to cinema-perfect as we can currently be. -AC

#543: Modern Times (1936)

As comprehensive as Criterion has become in establishing a canon of essential cinema, many silent works have yet to be included in the collection despite a few great entries. 2010 took a significant step forward in changing all that by releasing Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times (the first of purportedly several Chaplin releases) and the box set 3 Silent Classics by Josef von Sternberg. While both sets are incredible and belong on the shelves of any serious movie lover, Modern Times is as great a release on its own as it is a harbinger of future great silent entries in the collection.

Commercially available on DVD well before this release, Modern Times shows how uniquely different it is to experience a film when its given the Criterion treatment despite being pervasively accessible elsewhere. It’s hard to believe that a film nearly 75 years old could feel like it was made for home viewing, but silence has never been so plentiful. -LP

The final five best Criterion releases await you…

The FSR Staff is an author similar to Hydra. Its articles have many authors. It has many heads. Please don't cut off any of its heads, we're trying to work here.

Read More from FSR Staff
Get Film School Rejects in your email. All the cool kids are doing it:
Previous Article
Next Article
Reject Nation
Leave a comment
Comment Policy: No hate speech allowed. If you must argue, please debate intelligently. Comments containing selected keywords or outbound links will be put into moderation to help prevent spam. Film School Rejects reserves the right to delete comments and ban anyone who doesn't follow the rules. We also reserve the right to modify any curse words in your comments and make you look like an idiot. Thank You!